Written By: Pat Kelly
Our small team at the Bronson Hub was just starting to get our federally funded seniors social inclusion projects off the ground, when the cataclysmic changes caused by the COVID 19 pandemic this past week brought a shocking and humbling reminder of how fragile we humans are.
While the early spring days grow sunnier and longer here in our Ottawa neighbourhood, the reality of life in a pandemic, seems to grow darker. We worry that the public safety measures of social isolation, handwashing, avoiding touching hands to face will not stop the virus spreading. It is hard to believe that the best we can do now is slowing the spread of the virus to keep the healthcare system from being overwhelmed, as has happened in Italy and elsewhere.
But believe it we must. All of us.
As the Globe and Mail health reporter Andre Picard wrote in his excellent article – Here’s how we’re going to survive this pandemic together – “social solidarity is needed now more than ever, and one senses it is building.”
While we practice good citizenship and follow the rules of social isolation, let’s be sure to include isolated seniors in our efforts.
Our Centretown neighbourhood is home to about 2965 seniors, 50% living alone, and many living on low income, which puts them at much higher risk for many serious health issues, including COVID 19.
Many older adults who live alone, may have disabilities or health issues, face challenges as older members of the LGBTQ community, whose first language isn’t English or French or who may be new to the country or struggling with homelessness or uncertain about where they can get food. Any one of these problems can be overwhelming, but when they happen to us when we are older, it can be devastating. This pandemic will add catastrophe to lives already feeling tragic and lonely.
“Make no mistake: The rapid implementation of social distancing is necessary to flatten the coronavirus curve and prevent the current pandemic from worsening. But just as the coronavirus fall out threatens to cause an economic recession, it’s also going to cause what we might call a “social recession”: a collapse in social contact that is particularly hard on the populations most vulnerable to isolation and loneliness —older adults and people with disabilities or pre-existing health conditions.
(Ezra Klein, Vox)”
As we safeguard the lives of our families, parents and grandparents, lets take a moment to look and see how our older Bronson Centre and Centretown neighbours are doing. They might feel too proud or vulnerable to accept a handout – but most will welcome a kind gesture (from a safe distance), a smile, a note in the mailbox or lobby of the apartment building offering to pick up groceries or medications or walk the dog. As we try and limit the spread of the virus, we can reach out to limit its social damage as well.
The downside of social distancing for seniors may affect their routines in ways that can compromise their vitality. Encouraging seniors to maintain good habits, including sufficient sleep, healthful eating and exercise – and some social connection with caring neighbours can go a long way in helping fight the long-term effects of the coronavirus.
“The brunt of Covid-19 will be borne by the poor, elderly, and sick,” says former US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, “and it is up to us to ensure they are not left behind.”
As with so much else in the coronavirus pandemic, the response here will depend on the level of social solidarity we feel, and the degree to which we’re willing to look out for each other. Social isolation and loneliness among older, sicker populations isn’t something caused by the coronavirus, but it will be worsened by it. The question is whether the intensity of the problem will force us to see, and respond, to pain we typically ignore.
“We’re going to learn a lot about who we are and what we value in the next few months.”
Eric Klinenberg, New York University sociologist
Here at the Bronson Hub, our team is reaching out to some of the more experienced senior services organizations in Ottawa to find out how we might help in this brave new world. Our team is being creative and looking for ways we can offer virtual programs – over-the-phone sing-alongs, kids sharing stories and reading with seniors to practice their skills, virtual yoga classes, book clubs and board games – these are just some of the ideas we are working on this week.
Included in this newsletter is a calendar of events offered by the Seniors Centre Without Walls at the Good Companions Centre in Ottawa.
Check out the calendar of events (here)
We would love to hear your ideas for how we reach out to seniors and tap into the rich social and cultural diversity and inclusiveness that is the heart and soul of the Bronson Centre.
Email us and let us know your ideas for making sure, our social isolation includes social solidarity and staying connected to our senior neighbours.
Stay safe. Stay strong.
The Bronson Hub Team