Red Cross study finds seniors struggling most

By Matthew Sylvester, Special to The Record

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is shaking up the lives of all Canadians, but it isn’t difficult to see that seniors have had to deal with the worst of the fallout out of any other age group. Four months ago, the Canadian Red Cross began a voluntary study targeting seniors to see what the psychological impact of isolation have been on the most vulnerable age group.
The study was conducted in four segments between the months of April and July. Over that time, around 2,000 participants over the age of 18 – with an emphasis on seniors aged 65 and older – were polled on different questions relating to the psychological stresses they were forced to deal with.
After analyzing the results of the study, the Red Cross found that many long standing struggles faced by the senior population were exacerbated by the pandemic and quarantine. Nearly a third of those aged 65 or older reported that they couldn’t name anyone they could count on to get help from if they needed it. The same number reported feeling lonely often or even every day. Only half of respondents said that they had high hopes for the future.
Quebecers seemed to be better off in general than the rest of the country’s elders, but there was still a significant uptick in anxieties about food safety, health, depression, etc.
“The results are disconcerting,” said Dr. Paul Hebert, Medical and Science Advisor for the Canadian Red Cross. “While staying at home can be a life-saving measure for older adults, we also know that social isolation and emotional disconnectedness are major health concerns. They can worsen physical and emotional problems – particularly for the frail, who have far less ability to cope with even minor medical setbacks.”
Seniors were not the only group to experience a small monthly increase in feelings of loneliness, depression, and hopelessness. “There is considerable research linking prolonged social isolation and loneliness to higher risks of physical and mental conditions, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, cognitive decline and a weakened immune system,” says Dr. Hebert.
Hebert emphasized how important it is for the less vulnerable populations to stay aware of the conditions of seniors, and watch for signs of mental deterioration like anger, irritability, loss of appetite and weight, loss of interest in activities they would normally enjoy, and changes in sleep habits.
In the long term, Herbert said that this study has revealed how important it is to develop systems to help seniors cope with future emergencies, and even day to day life.
“COVID-19 has exposed flaws, but mostly it has illuminated long-standing issues regarding care for our aging population,” he said. “The sectors, systems and processes serving the vulnerable among Canada’s aging population are varied and complex, but right now there is also a strong common interest in collaborating and coordinating to pursue improvement.”
Hebert said that spirit of improvement has already manifested itself in the Pan Canadian Social Collaborative started by the Red Cross to deal with this issue. “We felt it appropriate to engage with leaders within the medical, social, academic and research communities to pursue policies and programs that address the needs of vulnerable groups and are based on sound evidence so that we improve the health of older Canadians and members of vulnerable sub-populations,” he said.

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