Recent flood highlights risks for elderly

Canada’s population is rapidly aging and Calgary is proving to be no exception.

According to the 2011 Canadian Census report, senior citizens make up almost 10 per cent of Calgary’s population — a figure that currently approaches 120,000 people.

An aging population presents many challenges, including the social isolation of seniors. The Calgary Seniors’ Resource Society aims to reduce this issue through a variety of programs and services aimed at connecting seniors and volunteers.

Jacqueline Miles, the agency’s coordinator of marketing and fund development, says social isolation is a concern because it opens the door to a host of other issues.

“Our clients don’t have friends and family to help them,” Miles says. “Many have mobility, mental health or physical health issues that often prevent them from getting out and participating in the community.

“It means that they are at much higher risk of abuse and fraud, and of injuries, accidents and health issues. We aim to end that from a variety of angles.”

Volunteers key to programs

Miles says that although senior isolation is a significant problem, it is also something that is “easy to end.”

Screened volunteers are matched up with seniors through a variety of programs that offer things such as telephone reassurance, assisted shopping and an adopt-a-grandparent opportunity over the Christmas holiday season.

Miles says that the agency’s work would not be possible without its hundreds of “dedicated” volunteers.

“We would not be able to do what we do without them,” Miles says.

Seniors at greater risk during natural disasters

Miles says that the recent floods in Calgary highlight how vulnerable isolated seniors can be.

While members of the agency’s outreach team went to various community relief centres to help those who were displaced from their homes, providing resources to seniors during an emergency can be challenging.

“Research has demonstrated that natural disasters are harder on seniors than on any other group,” Miles says. “They have mobility issues that make it much harder for them to evacuate. It can be difficult for them to move valuables or to take things with them.

“Their property can get destroyed much more easily.”

Miles also says that it can be difficult to convince seniors to evacuate. As well, the long-term financial and emotional impacts can more be devastating to deal with than for a younger person.

“Seniors are often less willing to leave because they are very attached to their homes,” Miles says. “If you are 85 and you have just lost everything, how do you move on from there? If you are on a fixed income, there is very little that you can do to rebuild yourself.”

Agencies offering assistance during a disaster also face challenges, Miles says, because seniors are less likely to reach out for help or to access available supports.

Funding for support can also be an issue.

“When organizations and corporations start handing out flood relief money, it rarely goes to seniors’ groups because people just don’t think of seniors in times like this,” Miles says.

“There ends up being less money for support, less support available and they are less likely to reach out — so they end up becoming even more isolated.”

Flood repair project

To help address the needs of seniors who may not have had to relocate but still suffered home damage during the flood, the agency has undertaken a new initiative.

Working with an initial $5,000 donation from Shell Canada, a volunteer pool will be established to help undertake smaller-scale flood repairs for vulnerable seniors.

Miles says the repair projects could be anything from re-painting rooms to helping move items to or from storage. Further fundraising for the initiative will continue.

“We are getting ready for the long-term because, while we are getting a few calls now, we are still going to be getting calls six months from now,” Miles says. “We are bracing ourselves for providing more than just immediate support.

“We really want to be there for seniors for as long as they need us.”

ktaylor@cjournal.ca