Seniors use gymnastics equipment to improve their balance and flexibility, one of the programs developed to keep B.C.’s growing number of seniors active and independent. These programs have been suspended, and seniors’ activity centres closed due to COVID-19. (Delta Gymnastics Society)

COVID-19 adds to burden of caring for B.C. seniors at home

Day programs, activity centres can’t operate in pandemic

B.C.’s public health focus in the coronavirus pandemic is on residential care and assisted living facilities, where 20,000 staff care for the most at-risk population of seniors.

But by far the largest group of B.C. care providers is more than one million unpaid family members caring for relatives at home. And their activities, outings and respite care have been mostly taken away by isolation restrictions imposed to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

B.C. Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie says the province has fewer options for direct support, but it is reaching out virtually with a toll-free help line at 1-877-520-3267, and a new website, familycaregiversBC.ca to provide support. The province has provided an additional $500,000 to the Family Caregivers of B.C. to better connect people who are taking care of elderly relatives.

“I know the help you really need right now is some relief from your caregiving duties, and some time for yourself,” Mackenzie said April 26. “That’s incredibly challenging to provide for you right now. But you may find some comfort, if you can share your burden with those who understand it best. Please call Family Caregivers of BC directly, or connect through 2-1-1 and allow them to help.”

Since March, B.C.’s 2-1-1 line and its website bc211.ca have been connecting the thousands of volunteers offering meal and medicine deliveries or friendly virtual visits for seniors isolated in the pandemic. In the first four weeks, it has delivered more than 12,000 virtual visits, nearly 3,000 grocery deliveries and 2,800 meals.

RELATED: B.C.’s 2-1-1 hotline expands to link seniors, volunteers

RELATED: Respite care, adult day programs expanded in 2018

“There are over 5,500 British Columbians who have volunteered so far,” Mackenzie said. “It grows every day. I see selfless acts of kindness being extended to seniors in every neighbourhood of this province.”

Even self-sufficient seniors currently don’t have the option of visiting activity centres or libraries, where some were getting internet service.

Providing adequate, affordable home care has long been a struggle for the province, and the pandemic has aggravated that problem with the suspension of day programs. She urged people to use 2-1-1 or the new support line for advice and assistance.

“Others might receive respite from a care worker who comes into their home and allows the family member to get out, run errands, and be out and about in the community and get some relief,” Mackenzie said. “Now, with COVID-19, we’re finding that some families are cancelling some, or all, of their home respite in order to control the number of people that are coming into the home.”

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said home medical and care visits are being managed differently than senior care facilities, where visitors are strictly limited.

“There is guidance that we’ve provided for home support and for home care, nurses that go into the home to provide support as well,” Henry said in her daily briefing April 23. “It involves things like minimizing the people in the room.

“If you have to provide direct support, making sure that you have the appropriate tools to do it safely, making sure that you can clean your hands, that you can wear gloves, if necessary, and masks, if necessary. But also, recognizing that we don’t want you having contact with all the other family members that might be in the home.”


@tomfletcherbc
tfletcher@blackpress.ca

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