Fruitvale’s Harold Walker took the opportunity to vent to B.C.’s Seniors Advocate, Isobel Mackenzie, and a crowd of about 60 seniors Tuesday morning.
The special guest stopped into Fruitvale Memorial Centre to hear from Beaver Valley folks, who didn’t shy away from the mike when the floor opened up to questions around the challenges seniors face today.
“My mother is in Alberta in a care facility, my wife’s parents are living at home still at 96 years old in Kamloops. So (my wife and I are) kind of in the middle of it,” Walker, who himself identifies as a senior, explained.
His brother and sister-in-law are 75 years old and helping care for the elderly couple living in a suite off their home. The mother is bed-ridden, and her husband will not leave her side though his health his falling to the wayside.
“My father-in-law is getting very depressed because he can’t get out of the house; it’s killing him,” Walker continued. “He doesn’t want to be relieved; he wants to be with her in case she dies. That’s the only goal keeping him alive.”
The heart breaking but heart warming truth of it is that’s his choice. The unified message is seniors want their choices respected; Mackenzie said, even when it’s not the choice we think they should be making.
She broke down complex issues seniors are being dealt and added clear-cut explanations, which are being looked at by her office.
“We come in with our clinical perspective, and we start looking at the number of falls and other high clinical indicators to determine whether a facility is of high quality,” she said. “When really what matters, the only indication of quality really is how satisfied are the people who are living there?”
Her office is looking into just that via an in-house survey on home support and residential care.
A third of people caring for a frail senior at home are in distress, and yet some provincial supports such as adult day programs remain under-used, according to a report she touched on.
The” survey of health assessments for 30,000 B.C. seniors found that the majority of those who report fatigue and other stresses from caring for a relative or friend aren’t using provincial programs.
“It’s important to understand that almost two-thirds of people over the age of 85 years old are living independently with no ongoing government support,” added Mackenzie. “What are we doing to help these seniors?”
She is a true believer in home support but said the program needs to be adjusted to include housekeeping duties and meet its current criteria of meal preparation.
She would like to see more assisted living facilities open up and do away with red tape when it comes to securing financial assistance to keep seniors healthy and happy under their preferred roof.
She is pushing for quicker access to preferred residential care beds with and looks for a commitment that all rooms are single occupancy with an en suite bathroom by 2025.
Overall, there needs to be more accountability.
Of the 25,000 people in residential care, about a third are prescribed anti-psychotic drugs but only four per cent of them have been diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder, she added.
“The pervasive effect of being on that anti-psychotic is what some of you may see when you go into residential care facilities, which are people who are not engaged, not moving and not participating in life,” she added.
Her report also notes under half of residential care clients are being prescribed anti-depressant medications, but only 24 per cent have been assessed with depression. She said seniors are often over-prescribed medications in efforts to help them, their families and caregivers through potentially stressful and harmful situations.
This could certainly be what Gladys Todd sees when she volunteers at Columbia View Lodge. The Fruitvale senior is a familiar face, a friend to many who she said are left feeling lonely, and isolated in their golden years.
“We need to provide a person to come in and bring them out of themselves and take them back to those happy times in their lives because we are all happy when we were young,” she said.
The seniors advocate office is independent of the provincial government with a mandate of monitoring and analyzing issues that affect B.C. seniors.
Mackenzie said there is still time to make thoughtful non-invasive changes to better B.C.’s seniors, which currently make up 17 per cent of the population. By 2031, that number is projected to grow to 24 per cent.
“Just as they’re entitled to go up Mount Everest at 35, they’re entitled to go up those stairs at 90,” she said. “If that’s what they want to do, and we’re not very good at letting them go up those stairs.”