By Rick Robinson
If the Bronson Centre is a community hub, then so is Rick Robinson. Rick is a retired public servant who also farmed for several years. He is extremely busy, but is an even busier volunteer — everything from grief counselling to senior advisory groups to disc jockeying — who interacts with people of all ages, backgrounds and interests. Bronson RISE at the Bronson Centre thought he’d be the perfect person to share his thoughts about senior inclusion and isolation, and his ideas about how society needs to see, treat and care for our seniors.
The pandemic has cut me off from my usual routine of exercise, social visits, going out to a movie or live music, eating out, the library, sports events and of course, volunteering. I’m tired of not being able to hug or kiss a friend or relative, and always being conscious of social distancing, wearing a mask and such. I try to cope by watching movies, reading, being in touch with people using the phone and social media, gardening — and of course, my wife is a great help.
So I can only imagine how many other seniors who are less active and have less resources and people in their lives are coping. Many are at higher risk for isolation, and are already isolated in apartments or homes or institutions, some with little or no communication technology, and few if any family or friends to rely on. The pandemic puts them at much greater risk of loneliness, fear, lack of transportation, possible food shortages, and more vulnerable to illness and not getting medical or domestic support when they need it.
I have often felt that at times, certain groups of people in our society are invisible, ghosts if you will. They are everywhere in our communities but are rarely noticed for who they are. They are the marginalized, poor, mentally or physically not well, old, young.
I feel seniors often fit this category. As we age many of us must leave our homes and often end up in seniors subsidized housing, or in senior retirement residences or maybe even long-term care facilities. Often, I feel people think that when this is done seniors are then looked after and therefore out of sight, out of mind.
I think we have lost that sense of respect for our elders and the contributions that they have made to families and society. Somehow, seniors have become a burden that must be endured, rather than an asset that must be mined for their knowledge and wisdom.
Seniors need to be seen as people that deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, revered for their lifetime of commitment to our communities and our democratic society. They bring a lifetime of living experience, knowledge, wisdom, and expertise in many areas, like volunteering, mentoring our youth, giving advice and guidance.
From silos to communities
During the pandemic, we have seen the weakness within the system in how seniors are taken care of and treated. No senior should be living in poverty, and we need to stop siloing seniors in institutional buildings. By having senior apartment buildings, senior retirement residences, senior long-term care facilities, senior recreation centres and the like, we have created an atmosphere of an artificial community living in isolation.
We must re-integrate seniors within regular neighbourhoods of our towns and cities, increasing the chance for them to socialize and feel less isolated from what they have known all their lives. Living within vibrant communities will help seniors immediately with their mental well-being and will provide them with a community to assist them when needed.
This will not be easy, and will require cooperation from multiple levels of government and a buy-in from seniors and the public. This will not happen unless we change entrenched ideas that seniors are somehow a burden, and instead realize the value seniors bring to enrich the lives of every Canadian.