SENIORCENTRIC NEWS WEEK ENDING Apr 3, 2021

Scanning the globe for news by, for and about Senior Citizens

Quotables:

It is essential to ensure that seniors have access to the justice system and the protection it offers, like all other members of the population, the abuse and neglect they may experience has no place in Canadian society.

Marc Miller, federal minister of Indigenous services.
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A new report released by the Canadian Institute for Health Information found that the proportion of COVID-19 deaths in long-term care homes represented 69 per cent of Canada’s overall COVID-19 deaths, well above the international average.

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Long-term care and COVID-19: The first 6 months

The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected Canada’s retirement homes and long-term care (LTC) homes. Our release takes a closer look at the impact of COVID-19 on LTC residents and staff during the first 6 months of the pandemic (known as Wave 1) and provides early comparisons of outbreaks, cases and deaths between the first and second waves (to February 15, 2021).

  • COVID-19 cases among residents of LTC and retirement homes increased by nearly two-thirds during Wave 2 compared with Wave 1. 
  • Compared with pre-pandemic years, in Wave 1, LTC residents had fewer physician visits; fewer hospital transfers; and less contact with friends and family, which is associated with higher rates of depression. 
  • In all provinces where it could be measured, the total number of resident deaths was higher than normal during this period, even in places with fewer COVID-19 deaths.
  • Provincial and national inquiries (to date) on COVID-19 in LTC have made similar recommendations and speak to long-standing concerns in the sector.

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One bit of good news in Alberta’s recent COVID data: Cases are down among those aged 80+

The most vaccinated age group has seen its infection rates fall while cases rise among everyone else

oothold in the province. But there has been a spot of good news in the recent data — infection rates among the most vulnerable age group have been on the decline.

Back in January, people aged 80 and over had the highest rate of new infections.

But that rate has dropped precipitously since, as more and more seniors have been vaccinated against the disease.

In recent weeks, the downward trend has continued, even as case rates have climbed in every other age group.

“The continued decline in cases among Albertans age 80 and older is very encouraging,” said Alberta Health spokesperson Tom McMillan.

“This reflects both the fact that the public health measures have worked to limit spread to older Albertans, and that vaccines have a tremendous protective effect for those who are most at risk.”

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NEWS

What Seniors Hit Hard by the Pandemic Need Now

For over a year, many of us within the medical community have been sounding the alarm about how the COVID-19 pandemic will impact the mental health of individuals across the United States in the long term. The percentage of adults who have reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorders throughout the past year has remained consistently high, with the latest data from the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey showing that over 40 percent of the adults surveyed in January 2021 were still experiencing symptoms of these disorders. This is an increase of approximately 30 percentage points when compared to early 2019.

While we will likely begin to return to some semblance of normalcy as vaccination rates increase and new, more effective treatments become available, the psychosocial effects of the virus will linger long after the worst of the outbreak has been brought under control. Studies have found that elevated distress levels persisted among those who cared for patients with SARS and MERS for upwards of three years in the wake of those outbreaks. It is still far too early to understand the broader implications for the population in general, but it would be wishful thinking to presume that everyone will be able to simply process the events of the past year and healthily move on, especially those who became seriously ill. An Italian research team reported that over 30 percent of a sample of people who had been hospitalized with severe COVID infection and recovered met the diagnostic criteria for PTSD.

Anxiety, depression, and substance use disorders cannot be neutralized by a shot (or two) in the arm. These are complex and layered conditions that develop over time. More importantly, the longer these disorders are allowed to fester, the more entrenched they become.

What Needs to Happen

We need to help people. It’s really that simple. We need to perform outreach now to encourage those who need help to seek it. At the very least, we need to foster a more accepting environment by launching campaigns to eliminate stigmas about mental health. Dismantling them needs to be the highest priority because these stigmas can prevent individuals from engaging in earnest discussions about their mental health and, even worse, discourage them from seeking help.

Unfortunately, social stigma is not the only thing preventing individuals from seeking help. Issues like real or perceived cost, language, and distrust of mental health care workers are other barriers that can prevent help-seeking behaviors, and they tend to be the most difficult to overcome in the most vulnerable communities (i.e., the people who need help the most). Additionally, social media campaigns or other public service announcements may not reach everyone in this audience due to lack of internet access, inadequate familiarity with newer technologies, or physical impairment.

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Canada must radically reform disastrous long-term care system

Long-term care for the elderly is the weak sibling of Canada’s health system. If we did not know that previously, the COVID-19 pandemic has proven it conclusively.

During the first wave of the pandemic last spring, the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) reported that among a group of OECD countries, including the U.S., Australia, the U.K., Italy, Spain and France, Canada had the highest death rate from COVID-19 in long-term care homes.

Among CIHI’s other disturbing findings: long-term care residents received less medical care during the first wave of COVID-19 than in normal years.

Given there was a new and grave health threat, one might have expected seniors to receive more, not less, medical attention. That was not the case. The elderly in long-term care facilities, CIHI tells us, had “fewer physician visits and were less often transferred to hospital for the treatment of chronic conditions and infections.”

CIHI also affirms what most of us already knew, to wit, that during the pandemic the elderly “had fewer contacts with friends and family, which was associated with higher rates of depression.”

CIHI compares the carnage in long-term care facilities during the first wave, from March 1, to August 31, 2020, to what happened during the second, from September 1, 2020 to February 15, 2021, and finds no significant improvement.

In fact, the number of outbreaks in long-term care homes increased from the first to the second wave, from a bit fewer than 1,200 to almost 1,400. The number of individual cases — elderly residents who contracted COVID-19 — increased by more than 50 per cent, from a bit more than 21,000 to more than 34,000.

The only slightly good news is that the death rate relative to total cases went down from the first wave to the second, from 34 per cent, to a still frightfully high 22 per cent.

Put differently, during the first wave more than one in three elderly residents who contracted the disease died from it — a disastrous and gargantuan death toll. During the second wave, more than one in five afflicted with COVID-19 ultimately died. That would merely be a huge death toll. There were well over 7,000 deaths in each of the waves.

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