We need to talk about seniors care - The Orca

We need to talk about seniors care

Jody w Glasses 1

In an aging society, we need to be honest about the emotional and financial burden shouldered by so many families

What a relief.

Thanks to a newly-inked agreement this week, there will be no Care Workers strike.

Today I’d like to add a very personal plea to those same politicians. Please find a way to make Senior Care affordable for all British Columbians.

For me, it’s deeply personal; my father has Alzheimer’s.

At the time of his diagnosis, Dad asked that his journalist daughter talk/write about “what it’s like” to navigate the turbulent waters of decent into dementia.

It’s beyond sad and remarkably stressful.

We first saw the signs about a decade ago – we were all in complete denial.

We decided to have Dad “age in place” for as long as possible. We co-ordinated regular visits, phone calls, and even vacations.

Over time, and on those vacations specifically, it became clear: he required a higher level of day-to-day care.

He needed a level of care we weren’t equipped provide.

Years before, when I thought something seemed off, I put his name on a waitlist for an assisted-living care facility across the street from his alma matter Kits High and Connaught Park – home of his beloved Meralomas (where he’s a legend).

I thought he might find comfort in his long-term memory as his short-term memories disappeared.

Tapestry Arbutus Walk called as spaces came available, and I would tell them “not yet.” We couldn’t even get Dad to consider checking it out, until one day he acquiesced to my brother’s push to “just test it out for two nights.”

The staff was unreal, treating him – and us – like family immediately. Coincidentally, it was his birthday and it seemed everyone knew it: “Happy Birthday Bill, your table is right this way!”

I spent breakfast, lunch and dinner with Dad over those two nights. When we packed up to go home, he was more nervous to leave than he’d been upon arrival.

I offered the idea that he might stay. He said “yes please” and teared up. He never went back to his home of 40 years.

In hindsight, we likely waited too long.

We did the math on what it would actually cost for our able-bodied Dad to live there. If not for Dad’s penchant for penny pinching, real estate investments and his teacher’s pension…there’s no way we could have afforded this.

Over the first few weeks, it was incredible to witness Dad actually relax into his new normal. The pressure to hide his symptoms was gone. He clearly felt safe – it was harder for our family to adjust to the new normal Alzheimer’s brought us.

As his disease progressed, caregivers helped to guide and keep us informed and aware. Their wisdom and kindness were overwhelming.

It needs to be stressed to our government how access to such care is invaluable, and must be made available to more than just those like Dad – those with means – e v e r y o n e.

Every adult child wants to ensure aging parents are afforded care steeped in dignity. This is no small feat, leaving me to ponder how traumatic it would be with money issues.

Unimaginable – yet for the majority of British Columbians walking a similar path, reality.

Dad worked very hard all his adult life as a PE teacher at one of BC’s largest high schools, Britannia. He invested well, lived within his means, and has a pension — right now that money mindfulness is his life-saver.

Navigating the senior care system in BC is beyond difficult, and without his ability to support himself I’m not sure where our family would be.

The system in our province is fundamentally flawed. With a remarkably large nest egg, finding a space is turn-key. Without the money it’s a crap shoot. Get assessed, get on a list, wait for a bed…hope that bed is somewhere remotely close to family.

Not good enough.

Yes, we are extraordinarily fortunate to be able to afford the outlandishly expensive care Dad needs. But senior care should not be a “have or have not” situation. No one should have to watch loved ones shuttled away to the first available subsidized bed.

Boomers are aging, and their urgent care simply cannot be relegated to the political back burner.

If you are staring down this awful process, brace yourself: it can be easily $10,000 a month in a full-time care facility of your choice.

Today, I have more questions than answers. This is a plea for action.

To close on a positive note:

The words of my idol, BC Sports Hall of Fame broadcaster and long-time Canucks play-by-play man Jim Robson often echo in my head:

A special hello to all the hospital patients and shut-ins, those of you who can’t make it out to the game.

Until now, these kind words were a bit lost on me.


Jody Vance is a born and raised Vancouverite who’s spent 30 years in both local and national media. The first woman in the history of Canadian TV to host her own sports show in primetime, since 2011 she’s been working in both TV and radio covering news and current affairs.