'I want to die': isolated and cold, senior seeking help in Prince George

A 92-year-old Prince George man is struggling to hold on as his age and cold weather conspire to isolate him from the only support system he has: a downtown drop-in centre.

Edmund Stefan is losing his memory, has trouble walking and is no longer allowed to drive

Edmund Stefan is struggling to hold on as mobility issues and cold weather make it harder for him to get around. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

A 92-year-old Prince George man is struggling to hold on as his age and cold weather conspire to isolate him from the only support system he has: a downtown drop-in centre.

Edmund Stefan lives alone in a Prince George trailer park. Most days he visits the Fire Pit, a downtown drop-in centre for a warm meal and to connect with other people. Staff were worried, however, when he didn't show up during a recent cold snap that had temperatures dropping to below –20 C. 

"I thought he was dead," said Dawn Agno, a support worker at the Fire Pit.

He wasn't, but it turns out the worry wasn't misplaced.

I'm to the point where, do I still live another day, or is it worth it?- Edmund Stefan

Stefan had spent three days trapped in his trailer, sick and unable to leave. 

"I threw up right in my bed, I couldn't even get out of it," he said. "I'm in horrible shape.

"I want to die."

Isolation a national problem for seniors

Up to 200 people use the Fire Pit drop-in centre for a variety of reasons, including connecting with community. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

Stefan has family but has lost contact with them. Most of his support comes from the Fire Pit, and he refers to Agno as 'his daughter.' Earlier this year, she helped him receive subsidized hearing aids, allowing him to hear.

He has other problems, though: a failing memory, difficulty walking and a devastating robbery.

He's going to die ... if somebody doesn't help him soon- Dawn Agno

"They broke into my house ... I was sleeping. They found my wallet," he said. "It had all my IDs. Where I was born. These important papers."

He lost cash, his birth certificate and his driver's licence, which he has been unable to renew.

Not being able to drive has been particularly problematic as winter settles in. The nearest bus stop would still require a one hour return trip of walking, so he has to choose between a difficult journey in the cold or another day of being alone.

"I want to get out into an old folk's home," he said. "I have no energy, and I'm to the point where, do I still live another day or is it worth it?"

Loneliness in seniors has been described as an 'epidemic' by some health experts. (Kalexander2010/Flickr cc)

A spokesperson for B.C.'s Office of the Senior Advocate said they couldn't comment on this specific case, but said many of the problems sound familiar. They pointed to numbers from Statistics Canada indicating as many as 1.4 million seniors report feeling lonely and the toll isolation can take on health.

The B.C. Care Providers Association has warned about the dangers of loneliness, particularly around the holidays.

The organization has said social isolation and loneliness are associated with a higher risk of mortality for people 52 and older — a problem it believes will worsen with an aging population.

Meanwhile, Agno is trying to stave off those feelings of isolation in Stefan. 

She's helping him navigate the system to recover his ID and has received support from the local MLA's office.

She's also managed to move Stefan into a temporary shelter closer to the Fire Pit but worries it won't be enough.

"I'm just trying to keep him alive," she said.

"He's going to die ... if somebody doesn't help him soon."

Contact Andrew Kurjata on Twitter: @akurjata.


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