PEI

Life for seniors on P.E.I. improved over last year, geriatrician says

The quality of life for seniors in P.E.I. quickly dropped when the pandemic was declared in March, 2020 — but things are improving, according to an Island geriatrician. 

Vaccines were a ‘game-changer’ for Island seniors

Now that nearly 94 per cent of Islanders over 12 are vaccinated, Dr. Martha Carmichael says the risk to seniors is greatly reduced. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

The quality of life for seniors in P.E.I. quickly dropped when the pandemic was declared in March, 2020 — but things are improving, according to an Island geriatrician. 

CBC News spoke with internist geriatrician Dr. Martha Carmichael about a year ago. At the time, she said seniors and families were in a state of crisis — in the community, in their own homes and also in facility-based care. She said seniors were showing changes in cognition, function, mood and behaviour.

"But we are in a completely different place now than a year or more ago," Carmichael said. "The biggest thing for older adults and for all of us has been the game-changer, which has been vaccines." 

Looking back, she said she was "legitimately worried" about many deaths at long-term care facilities in the province. Now, there are almost 94 per cent of Island adults vaccinated.

"The risk of COVID-19, even in our most vulnerable older adults, is greatly reduced compared to even a year ago," she said. 

Dr. Martha Carmichael says vaccines were 'a game-changer' for everyone, and seniors in particular in the province. (Submitted by Dr. Martha Carmichael)

She said the second thing that's happened, because of the amount of illness and death in long-term care facilities across the country during early waves of the pandemic, is that a national committee is now creating more standards for long-term care homes. 

She said the first draft of that was released last week and is now in a public-consultation phase. Provinces and territories can implement those standards once they are complete.

But, while she said P.E.I. is in a "much better place," issues remain.

What I tend to say to my patients is 'Do whatever you can, when you can.'​​​​— Dr. Martha Carmichael, Geriatrician

"It's still been fairly difficult for older adults over the last year or so in general," Carmichael said. "We have seen a lot of people for whom the pandemic has been completely life-changing and life-altering."

She said the more subtle things to measure are physical decline, because of not being able to get out and about, and having activities cancelled as well as social isolation. She said "that's the stuff that is hard to track."

In her practice, she has advised patients to strike a bit of a balance over for the last couple of years.

"What I tend to say to my patients is 'Do whatever you can, when you can,'" she said. "We've gotten a little better at ramping up and down services when they are able to." 

With files from Island Morning

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