WINNIPEG (CityNews) — Feelings of loneliness and isolation related to pandemic lockdowns and restrictions have been affecting Canadians of all ages for more than a year.
But for many seniors in long-term care homes across the country, those feelings have been magnified.
Now families and advocates are calling for better mental health supports.
“We have seen terrible impacts for mental health for residents of long-term care, many of whom have been locked up for more than a year now,” said Laura Tamblyn Watts, president and CEO of seniors advocacy group CanAge. “Some of whom have been locked up in their individual rooms for months on end, and with no break in sight.
“People are starting to wonder, ‘is life worth living?’”
Dana Smith’s father, Tim Dokken, is one of the thousands of Canadian seniors navigating the COVID-19 pandemic while living in a personal care home.
Smith has been trying, unsuccessfully so far, to get mental health supports for her dad.
“I’m disappointed. I feel like a dog chasing my tail,” said Smith.
“The longer he sits in there without supports, for some people, they may not be able to recover from the isolation.”
Smith says she doesn’t blame the personal care home — she believes they are doing what they can to help by offering conversations and setting up games of bingo. But she feels it’s not enough.
“They keep them bathed and clothed properly and stuff like that, but their mental health deserves the same amount of care,” she said.
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Rules for personal care homes differ across Canada, but most provinces are still restricting visitors and not allowing residents to leave the facility with some exceptions.
Dokken has only been allowed to leave for doctors’ appointments.
“He’s asked me, ‘can you take me for lunch?’” said Smith. “I said, ‘no, I can’t because what happens is if we do that, dad, you’re going to have to go into quarantine for two weeks.’ And he’s been in quarantine before and that just devastated him.
“He shouldn’t have to just slowly wither away and suffer until it’s time for him to go home to be with my mom.”
Even as residents look toward future loosening of restrictions, Tamblyn Watts says much of the damage is already done.
“We need to make sure that we’re supporting the trauma that’s been experienced with grief programs, re-connection programs and opportunities to share their experiences,” she said.
“Don’t forget that many of our residents have lost their friends and neighbours and loved ones in the personal care home and have been unable to share that grief in any way.”
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