Government looks to visiting program to keep seniors happy, healthy
Senior citizen buddies Bert Reid, 84, (left) and Ed Leonard, 93, enjoy a game of 45s at Reid's house in St. John's. Photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram
Ed Leonard, 93, is the tall quiet one, while Burt Reid, 84, is shorter and chatty.
"Lord smoldering Moses," Burt says. "Another game for you, Ed."
They're playing forty-fives sitting at the kitchen table in Leonard's house.
"Generally speaking I think we can say that Ed and I get together on the average, perhaps about once a week or something of that nature," Reid says.
"We don't usually get together much in the daytime, we do most of our getting together in the evening. Now there's no reason why not, it's just that that's sort of the custom that we have. I believe it's about three years now that we first started together," he says.
"I'm a big mouth, so I'll gab and gab and gab until the cows come home," Reid says with a laugh.
The two men participate in the friendly visiting program with the Seniors Resource Center, where a volunteer is paired with a senior for regular social visits.
The program is funded as part of the provincial government's healthy aging strategy to deal with the growing number of seniors in the province, but a lack of volunteers means that only 44 seniors are currently enjoying the weekly friendly visits.
In this case the volunteer is Reid, who despite his age still has a driver's licence and likes to get out and help people whenever he can.
"He's a marvelous man," Leonard says. "He talks a lot. He's wonderful to me."
Leonard uses a walker, and isn't able to drive himself. So for part of their visiting they go to see Leonard's sisters in Placentia, or take a drive around the bay, and have lunch at Fong's restaurant in Carbonear.
"I like to go anywhere so that it's out of this house. After being in here day after day, I could go anywhere," he says.
Leonard doesn't say much else for the entire visit, but he does offer a jar of partridgeberry jam that he made himself, and a drink - rum and Pepsi or rye and ginger.
"When you get up to be our age, when The Telegram comes to the house, the first thing I look for is the obituaries. And so far I haven't seen my name there yet … so far. But I always check the obituaries because there's very few people now of my age that are still alive, that I knew and were friends. Certainly no relatives in my case," Reid says.
But seniors in 2018 will likely have the company of more people their age. The percentage of the Newfoundland and Labrador population who are the same age as Reid and Leonard now is expected to grow by 24 per cent. The increase expected for the over 65 age group is even more dramatic, at 57 per cent.
Almost half of the people living in the province are expected to be over the age of 50 by that time, and four per cent will be Reid's age or older.
Janice Dawe, the co-ordinator of the friendly visiting program says she's watching the number of seniors in the province grow, and bracing for the major demographic change in the province.
"With outmigration in Newfoundland, you may have had a family where you had six children, but five of your children or sometimes all six are living away. You find yourself, 95 and you have friends, but over the course of the years your friends are passing away as well, and you have no family because they're all living away, and simple things become much more difficult," Dawe says.
"Then you lose your driver's licence because of your eyesight or a health condition, and that affects your independence," she says.
Currently the program has 44 senior-volunteer pairs, and they are looking for more people of both types. Dawe says although the volunteers tend to be very happy participating in the program for a long time, their small number is an obstacle to growing the program.
"I see every day that the services available in the community are becoming less and less for the older population," Dawe says.
In particular, Dawe singles out the home-care program as one that is necessary but difficult for seniors to access because they find it hard to afford the client contribution.
"With the population aging and less services actually available in the community, the need for volunteerism and these types of programs are only going to increase," she says.
Health Minister Ross Wiseman says the friendly visiting program fits very well into the government's five-year healthy aging strategy.
"We tend to think of an aging population as being major consumer of health services and requiring extended periods of hospitalization and many doctor visits, but aging in and of itself is not the problem. Aging with multiple chronic illnesses is the problem," Wiseman says.
The provincial government's solution to the problems that may come with an older population is based on the principles of dignity, self-fulfillment, social inclusion, independence, safety and security, and fairness.
"One of the things that we need to be very cognizant of as people age is the whole issue of isolation. It's easy to become, in the city of St. John's for example, or in a large population you can become very isolated," Wiseman says.
"If you don't have the kind of social supports and if you don't have organizations that undertake these kinds of initiatives then social inclusion will not exist for that population," he says.