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Keeping older adults healthy through the pandemic

A resident of Chartwell Clair is comforted by a staff member during an outdoor concert. [Damon MacLean]

The coronavirus pandemic showing signs of slowing down, Waterloo Region is entering phase two of the province’s structured reopening plan. But a return to something like pre-outbreak normalcy is still a ways off, particularly when it comes to seniors, who remain among the most vulnerable of citizens.

A staff member and a resident enjoy Kevin Coates’ performance of classic tunes from a balcony facing the courtyard at Chartwell Clair Hills Retirement Residence. [Damon MacLean]

June is seniors’ month, and the Waterloo Wellington Older Adult Strategy (WWOAS) partners have launched the ‘Stay Safe – Lead the Way’ campaign. This was designed to keep older adults, who are at higher risk of developing a severe illness or social isolation, safe, healthy, and connected over the coming months.

The inspiration for the campaign came from the community as changes were made to services and supports to reach those who need access to them. The WWOAS realized that older adults needed information to not only keep themselves safe, but also connected with those around them as social distancing continued.

Dr. Carrie McAiney, an associate professor in the school of public health and health systems at the University of Waterloo, is part of the team that helped bring the Stay Safe campaign to the community. She says the campaign is meant to encourage people to stay connected to seniors during this time and give them the means to find supports to keep themselves safe and healthy when their family and friends are unable to connect with them.

“[This involves] making sure that people know about organizations such as Community Care Concepts… and thinking about these practical resources and organizations and how they can help you out in practical ways,” said McAiney. “But then there’s other information … tips on how can you stay socially connected, how you can still find joy even though you can’t go out and do a lot of the things we normally do.”

The campaign consists of flyers, kits, strategies and tips that can be spread out to the community in Waterloo and Wellington counties. It focuses on getting older adults to be involved and to stay connected socially, as well as remaining physically active while society adapts to the new normal. These resources can be found in grocery stores, churches and other places people may go during this time.

McAiney says there are many things that can be done to keep connected to seniors, especially if they don’t have internet, including phone calls, porch and lawn visits. She says the social and mental wellbeing is just as important as physical health.

“The main thing would be to keep active. So, keep physically active, keep mentally active, keep socially active, because that’s going to help us through the pandemic, and then afterwards as well. If we’re not keeping active then things are going to deteriorate, and we may have negative consequences on the other side.”

Another member of the WWOAS group that brought the campaign forward is geriatric psychiatrist Dr. Sophiya Benjamin. She says the social isolation seniors may be experiencing is one of the biggest problems they face.

Seniors can combat isolation not only by using the program to find resources to stay connected with others, but also by keeping to a routine each day. Whether that’s simply planning two good meals or incorporating some other type of physical activity, anything to keep the mind and body active is a good start, she suggested.

“I would also reach out to community members who are families over older adults to make sure they are calling them,” said Benjamin. “Or, if they are savvy with a computer or they have any type of phone or computer, (having) a virtual connection to setup with the family online… it benefits both generations greatly to do some of these things so we are staying connected.”

Information on the new Stay Safe campaign can be found online . Click here for more resources for older adults.

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