November 21st, 2019

To Your Health: We can’t forget the ‘societal blind spot’

By GILLIAN SLADE on May 6, 2019.

gslade@medicinehatnews.com@MHNGillianSlade

Seniors become more vulnerable as they age and as a society we tend to think of their children stepping in to help in those final years.

That support could be helping them to shop, cook, bathe, dress and perhaps accompany them to a medical appointment. Ultimately it may be making arrangements on their behalf to move into a long term care facility.

That help is invaluable. In general though we don’t even consider what happens if there are no children.

The percentage of seniors who have no children is expected to double in the next decade according to an international newspaper.

Before you judge those seniors for not having children let me remind you some did have a child or two and they died. Others may have desperately wanted children but it did not happen. For others the relationship with a child is strained or broken. In our multicultural society some have children and family members living on the other side of the world. According to one report about 90 per cent of LGBTQ people have no children.

Without that support from family, seniors are unsupported, at risk of complete isolation, lonely, ill, overwhelmed by their needs and can’t see a way to navigate the system and find a solution.

There is the added financial burden because they do not have access to the “unpaid” care that family normally provide. Having to pay for this help can be considerable and is often out of reach for most.

We have become a society that chooses not to get to know our neighbours let alone have a sense of duty to help those who may not be able to care for themselves.

Let’s take an example of someone who is, let’s say 87 and living alone. There are very few medical issues but walking is a problem beyond a few steps at a time in the home. They need help buying a few groceries every week because they can’t walk to the bus stop and do the shopping on their own. Of course there are stores that deliver groceries and taxis that can transport but not all seniors can afford that. If you are struggling financially the options are limited. How many of us would offer to take the shopping list and deliver the goods to that neighbour?

As this person’s needs change they may qualify for home care to get up in the morning and preparing for bed at night. The rest of the time they are alone.

Home care may be the resource that triggers the alarm for moving into a seniors facility. Who will help that senior with the process of clearing their home and making the move?

Perhaps we are at the stage where this category of seniors needs to be addressed by government and us as a society. These seniors have nobody/family to advocate for them when they are very vulnerable.

Age UK calls this category of seniors a “societal blind spot” making the assumption that there are always children or some family they can rely on.

Seniors in this situation are very vulnerable to scams and abuse. If the person also has dementia you have escalated the vulnerability astronomically.

Here’s to a more compassionate society that cares about vulnerable, aging seniors and here’s To Your Health.

To Your Health is a weekly column by Gillian Slade, health reporter for the News, bringing you news on health issues and research from around the world. You can reach her at gslade@medicinehatnews.com or 403-528-8635.

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