John Farrow introduced our guest speaker, remarking that Queen’s University is a great source of speakers for our club. The recent Alumni magazine had a feature article on Laura. A 1994 grad, she is a recognized expert in elder law an elder issues. Laura has started a program through Queen’s and also started a national seniors’ advocacy organization, CanAge
Please see the speaker’s slides: Rotary Club May 19 Social Isolation
Laura: (It's still dark here in British Columbia.) Thank you for the invitation. I have been connected to Rotary for many years. Our family has hosted two Rotary Youth Exchange students.
Kingston is about as COVID free as anywhere in the country, so stay there!
CanAge is a national not-for-profit which collaborates with Queen’s, government, and a variety of other agencies. It’s mission “is to advance the rights and well-being of Canadians as we age.” Its vision, “for older Canadians to live vibrant and connected lives,” is for the polar opposite of social isolation.
As a senior, if you’re well connected and don’t smoke, you’re probably doing pretty well. Laura shared some of her personal experience in dealing with COVID-19. Her parents are Queen’s grads and her son has finished first year at Queen’s. Her parents, 83 years old, have great social networks and are active and healthy. It took a while for them to get used to the COVID-19 situation. She had to tell them starkly that if they got sick, they were going to die and nobody would give them medical services. It was the first time in their lives that they had experienced social isolation and the first time that they had to ask for help, including for grocery shopping.
CanAge creates seniors' projects through partnerships. A most recent one links Queen’s students and senior alumni. In planning this, when Laura approached the V-P of Advancement, Laura told her that she hoped Queen’s was not asking elders for money at this time. Thankfully, it was not. Instead, the Office of Advancement collaborated in creating a friendship program. Laura asked the United Way for help, as she did with Canadian Frailty Network and Elder Abuse Prevention (ON). They had the program up and running within 1 1/2 weeks. Organizations are working together in a way she’s never seen in 25 years of work, launching new programs very quickly.
Laura gave us some background on social isolation and how bad it is for our health. One study out of Harvard compared the impact of social isolation to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. People need about 3 to 4 good relationships, including intergenerational relationships. It is very challenging to raise money for programs for seniors. But this one time, since all people have experienced some form of isolation, it has been easier. A phone call two to three times a week to a senior can have a huge impact on physical and mental health. Social isolation and loneliness are not the same thing. Social isolation is the idea that you really don’t have people to reach out to if you wanted. A recent study in Holland measured all the health indicators when a program for 4-year-olds was moved into a long-tern care centre. The functionality of residents increased remarkably.
Laura shared some statistics on social isolation among Canadians before COVID-19. Sixty-two percent or seniors would like more time with friends and family. During COVID-19, 54% of Canadians report feeling lonely.
Laura also shared info about abuse and neglect. No government has given any money to address this during the Covid Crisis. About one in five seniors experienced abuse and neglect before COVID-19, now the figure is possibly one in three. Two-thirds of this is propagated by family and friends. Financial abuse is also very high. Laura and the organizations with which she works are trying to figure out how to address this problem. COVID-19 frauds and scams came out very quickly.
The Queen’s program matches students with older people. Queen’s found about 6,000 Queen’s alumni across Canada who might have been at risk. Training for the students starts with various myths and ensures that they have a good understanding of who they’ll be contacting.  Only 8% of seniors will ever be in a nursing home. All are vulnerable to the virus, but many may not be otherwise vulnerable. It’s important not to treat seniors like children. About half of people over 80 have some cognitive impairment. Mild impairment starts showing up about 10 years before diagnosis of serious dementia. Families don’t necessarily take care of their senior parents, as many are physically distant from them. Often the older person is the one supporting the younger. Hearing loss is very common, so students need to take that into account in their conversations. Reading lips of people with masks is impossible, so this is a problem for those who rely on lip-reading.  Laura's mother can no longer read (some) people’s lips.
The program started early in the COVID-19 situation, and had 50 volunteers very quickly. Then Alumni Associations started participating. The program has been running for about three weeks and is already being much appreciated. Communities are being built. The United Way guidelines on communication are being followed.
Twitter: @ltamblynwatts
John Gale: How are you able to measure elder abuse?
Laura: It’s too early for absolute numbers. The Elder Mistreatment Survey, the largest of its kind, gives detailed background. Abuse takes many forms. We’re currently looking at agency response numbers, including from the police and seniors’ help lines. Call volumes are up about 10 times what they were in pre-COVID-19 times. Usually elder abuse is significantly under-reported.
John Farrow: Laura, first, I feel for you in dealing with your parents. It took my wife and her two sisters two weeks to convince her parents to return from Florida. What finally convinced them was that they couldn’t be guaranteed their health insurance coverage would hold if they got sick. Second, as an initiative of the Southern Frontenac Community Services, whose Grace Centre is closed, a group of volunteers led by its Executive Director David Townsend, are calling every senior they service once or twice a week.
Laura: I live in B.C. and Toronto. In Toronto, I’m seeing people checking in or their neighbours. Faith communities and others are doing a lot of work. Current restrictions limit support from family care-givers.
Robert Reid: Will your son stay in BC with Queen’s going online?
A: It depends on whether the community wants him back! He loves Kingston and Queen’s. “What would you like to do?” “I’d like to go back to Kingston.” The loss to students is big. They’re learning a lot about resilience.
Laura: It is interesting to hear stories about influenza pandemic and other past events. I really want to hear stories from our community. Please send them to me.
Ana Sutherland thanked Laura, explaining that we would normally give her a loaf of bread.
Laura pointed us two a major reference on elder abuse: Into the Light: National Survey on the Mistreatment of Older Canadians 2015 (NICE National Initiative for the Care of the Elderly. Dr. Lynn McDonald (University of Toronto), Principal Investigator/Author)