Genevieve Sopel is bedridden in a Vancouver hospital after she fell off her bed at home in November, damaging her spine.
This is the second time the 70 year old, who lives alone in North Vancouver, has fallen in the last year.
“They (hospital staff) don’t have anywhere to put me, they don’t want to keep me here (but) they don’t want to send me home because I can’t function at all,” Sopel told CTVNews.ca in an interview.
“I have no one.”
Sopel is a part of a growing group of older adults in Canada who are referred to as kinless — people without immediate family to help them as they age. Without anyone around, Sopel’s only regular interaction when she’s not hospitalized is with a nurse from Vancouver Coastal Health, for 30 minutes each day.
As Canadians age, many start to experience health problems, need assistance doing daily tasks and sorting out their finances. Most people can turn to family for support but for Canadians like Sopel, that is not an option: they are aging alone.
“I have no one to help me…They keep pushing me from Coastal Health to the hospital and back and forth,” she said. “They want to get (me) into an assisted care building but there doesn’t seem to be anything.”
Sopel, who has been proactive in trying to find a care home to meet her needs and within budget, is not optimistic.
“I’ve heard that song and dance before,” she said.
According to a 2018 paper published in the Oxford Journal of Gerontology called ‘Kinlessness Around the World‘, about 11 per cent of Canada’s 55 and older population had no living spouse or child in 2011. Of the countries looked at in this study, Canada had the fourth highest percentage of older people without kin, with the U.S. placing lower with 7.22 per cent of its 55 and older population being kinless. Ireland, Switzerland and the Netherlands have higher kinless populations than Canada.
“Never before have so many people grown old, without traditional family around them,” Laura Tamblyn Watts, CEO of CanAge, an organization focused on helping older adults in Canada, told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview. “Sometimes, it can also mean people have lived longer and have outlived all of their connections.”
The Oxford Journal paper cites lagged fertility, mortality and marriage rates in countries with higher kinless populations as factors in more people aging alone.
‘I’M ON THE FLOOR, I CAN’T GET UP’
Sopel said she was a “career woman,” prioritizing her work at the Vancouver General Hospital where she performed various jobs for 32 years.
When she was 18, Sopel married a military man who was nine years older than her. He died after they were married for 10 years. She’s had two other relationships during her lifetime but never had children and is an only child.
All of her friends were in their 90s when they died, with the last one passing recently.
Before Sopel’s first life-altering fall in 2021, she was able to drive, get groceries and take care of herself.
Her health has quickly deteriorated since, said Corina Stainsby, a seniorsʼ real estate specialist in Vancouver. Stainsby connected with Sopel in 2021, when she decided to sell her home and try to get into an assistive care centre.
Stainsby told CTVNews.ca in an interview, Sopel called her in November during a fall because she has no one else.
“At one point she calls me at 1 a.m. or 4 a.m., and she says: ‘I’m on the floor, I can’t get up,'” Stainsby told CTVNews.ca in an interview.
Genevieve Sopel in her home in North Vancouver. (Contributed)
The isolation kinless seniors experience on a daily basis is very troubling, Watts said. When physical health starts to falter, people become less engaged and their brains can “go on vacation,” she said.
“Everyone needs help and support in some ways,” Watts said. “But aging (alone) is a circumstance that devolves into loneliness, and it devolves into lack of help and usually into lack of well-being.”
People living alone face more financial constraints and legal complications, Watts said.
“There are some real economic impacts to aging as an elder orphan,” she said. “Solo people have fewer taxable benefits, and our financial systems are set up for couples so it costs more to age alone.”
Financial constraints can even come down to not having another person to split bills with, Watts explained.
With high inflation rates, experts have said they are concerned about seniors who live on a fixed income such as pensions, which are rarely adjusted for increased living costs.
Aging, kinless people may also face legal difficulties without a family member to take on power of attorney duties if they become unable to make important decisions for themselves. People can hire a trust company to be the default decision-maker, but very few do that, Watts said.
Kinless seniors can give power of attorney to close friends but those friends’ advanced age also poses a problem.
“You can’t actually pick somebody to be your substitute decision-maker if you don’t have anyone to pick from,” Watts said.
Watts said if someone does not have family, friends or a trust company, the decisions fall to the government.
“And that’s the place most people don’t want to be, and the government doesn’t want you there either.”
Decisions are ultimately less personalized since the government does not understand someone’s specific needs as well as a close family member or friend would, Watts said.
HOW CAN SOMEONE BECOME KINLESS?
LeeAnn Jensen, 64, lives with her two dogs, Jasper and Harley, in Markham, Ont.
“My issue is I just throw myself into work…I’ve been a workaholic,” Jensen, who is a travel agent, told CTVNews.ca in an interview. “I think that’s my cover-up for not having anything.”
After divorcing her husband in 1999, Jensen found herself living alone. Both her parents, now deceased, came from small families. Her father was an only child and her mother’s only brother is also dead.
LeeAnn Jensen ‘getting up close and personal’ with an alpaca at a ranch in Ontario. (Contributed)
Jensen’s story is becoming more common as Canadians have fewer children.
Statistics Canada reported the country’s fertility rate continued to decrease from 1.47 children in 2019 to 1.40 children per woman in 2020. Data published in May of this year shows that in 2020 Canada experienced the lowest number of births since 2007 and the greatest year-over-year (-3.6 per cent) birth decrease since 1997.
Growing up as an only child, Jensen learned how to be on her own and copes with loneliness by surrounding herself with friends and work relationships.
“If I do think about it, it scares me a lot,” she said of aging alone.
Although she is still in her early sixties, Jensen said age sneaks up on her. She tries to avoid thinking about what she will do later in her life with no family around to advocate for her.
“Who’s around if you fall and break a hip?” she said. “I can’t imagine it, I don’t know what happens.”
Modern medicine is one of the reasons Canadians are living longer than ever, including those who do not have family around. According to the 2021 census, Canada had more than 861,000 people aged 85 and older, more than twice the number in the 2001 census.
“You may live longer, but you may not necessarily live better,” Watts said of the longevity paradox. “Relationships are really important in how we live. We know, for instance, that many older men in particular die by suicide…They’re literally dying of loneliness.”
Life expectancy in Canada has increased by almost seven years between 1980 and 2020 and is projected to increase in the coming decades, according to a StatCan report.
Despite an increase in life expectancy, women still tend to outlive men. Jensen, who has a positive outlook on life, joked that maybe she and some friends would have a “big ‘Golden Girls’ house,” referring to the television series about four older women who share a home in Florida.
Watts said Jensen is a part of one specific group of kinless older adults who had a small family. In her time working with seniors, two other patterns emerged as to how people ended up aging alone, she said.
In some cases, it’s “the last person standing” in their family, someone who has outlived their partner and children. This can be especially common for people fleeing war-torn countries, Watts said.
Complicated familial relationships and beliefs can also cause people to age alone, including people who have been rejected by their families due to their sexual orientation.
“These three groups have different experiences as their background, but they have a common experience, that they’re going to be quite alone as they age,” Watts said.
WHAT KINLESS ADULTS NEED
Watts said helping people live and age alone with dignity comes down to shaping housing, health care and planning systems to accommodate an increasing population of older kinless adults.
“Personal care navigators or elder co-ordinators exist much, much more in the U.S.,” Watts said. “In Canada, they can exist, but they’re rare.”
Companies that provide personal care can offer an extra set of hands to older adults to complete daily tasks such as laundry, cleaning and cooking, and their staff can also act as companions.
Watts highlighted gender-based violence and poverty as problems that can exacerbate the quality of life of older kinless adults. Providing tools to escape those problems will assist older people without families to live a longer, happier life, Watts said.
Connecting older adults with communities that are socially fulfilling is also important for someone’s mental health and physical well-being, she said.
“There are programs on social inclusion that really make a difference.”
Although there are a number of solutions to help Canadian like Sopel and Jensen age without family support, Watts said there is more to do.
“Canada has so much more work to do to make sure that we’re uncovering those hidden issues,” she said. “Addressing loneliness and social isolation, and rethinking what family means in a way that’s more inclusive can help people plan in their own older age, which may be aging alone.”
UPEI students offered $1,500 to leave residence during Canada Games – CBC.ca
Some UPEI students are earning extra money during the mid-semester break this year, simply by packing up and leaving campus.
The 2023 Canada Winter Games Host Society offered $1,500 each to students living in Andrew Hall if they give up their residence rooms to make space for arriving athletes.
The students have to leave a few days before the break starts, on Feb. 17, and can return March 7. They also had to give up their meal plan for the duration.
Many athletes are staying at UPEI’s new 260-bed residence, built to meet accommodation requirements for the Games’ temporary athlete village.
But Wayne Carew, chair of the Games, said there are 120 more athletes coming than originally planned.
“We ended up getting 44 rooms [in Andrew Hall] and that’s great,” said Carew.
He said the athletes staying at UPEI “are going to have a wild experience on the campus of the beautiful University of Prince Edward Island.”
Carew said the costs of doing this are a “lot cheaper” than arranging accommodations elsewhere. But he said the main reason is to provide all athletes the same, “once-in-a-lifetime” experience.
“Where they live, the food and the camaraderie and the experience of a lifetime: that’s what they’ll remember in 20 years’ time about P.E.I.,” he said.
‘Pretty good deal’
Some students were eager to take the organizers up on their offer.
“I’m going away to Florida during the two-week break anyways. So I was like, ‘May as well let them use my room then,'” said Hannah Somers.
“It’s $1,500. Pretty nice,” said Benji Dueck, who agreed to vacate the room with his roommate. “We’re moving out, living with a friend in the city. So, sounds like a pretty good deal to me.”
As part of the agreement, the students had to clear out their rooms. Canada Games organizers made arrangements so students could store their belongings.
But not all students thought it was a good deal.
“I’m not giving up my spot in Andrew Hall for $1,500,” said Maria de Torres. “It’s just too hard to pack up. It’s just too hectic. And since I’m an international student, I got a lot [of things] right now.”
Shelby Dyment is also staying in Andrew Hall. Dyment said she and her roommate are working as residence life assistants during the mid-semester break and she’s also doing directed study, so she has to stay on campus.
“There’s a lot of people doing it. It’s just for our situation it just wasn’t working for what we were doing,” she said.
In a statement, UPEI said that enough students had accepted the offer to host all the athletes.
It said the host society made all the arrangements with the students, including paying for their incentives and arranging for storage.
Organizers expect about 3,600 athletes, coaches and officials to participate in the Games. The event will run from Feb. 18 to March 5.
Germany won't be a 'party to the war' amid tanks exports to Ukraine: Ambassador – CTV News
The German ambassador to Canada says Germany will not become “a party to the conflict” in Ukraine, despite it and several other countries announcing they’ll answer President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s pleas for tanks, possibly increasing the risk of Russian escalation.
Sabine Sparwasser said it’s a “real priority” for Germany to support Ukraine, but that it’s important to be in “lockstep” coordination with other allied countries.
“There is a clear line for Germany,” she told CTV’s Question Period host Vassy Kapelos, in an interview airing Sunday. “We do want not want to be a party to the conflict.”
“We want to support, we want to do everything we can, but we, and NATO, do not want to be a party to the war,” she also said. “That’s I think, the line we’re trying to follow.”
Defence Minister Anita Anand announced this week Canada will send four Leopard 2 battle tanks — with the possibility of more in the future — to Ukraine, along with Canadian Armed Forces members to train Ukrainian soldiers on how to use them.
Canada first needed permission from Berlin to re-export any of its 82 German-made Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine. After a meeting of 50 defence leaders in Germany earlier this month, it was unclear whether Germany would give the green light.
But following what German Chancellor Olaf Scholz called “intensive consultations,” Germany announced on Jan. 25 it would send tanks to Ukraine, and the following day, Canada followed suit. It is now joining several other countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, and Poland, which are sending several dozen tanks to Ukraine.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said this week the tanks would allow Ukraine to “significantly strengthen their combat capabilities.”
“It demonstrates also the unit and the resolve of NATO allies in partners in providing support to Ukraine,” he said.
Meanwhile Sparwasser said Germany is “walking that fine line” of avoiding steps that could prompt escalation from Russia, while supporting Ukraine, and staying out of the war themselves.
“I think it’s very important to see that Germany is very determined and has a real priority in supporting Ukraine in its struggle for freedom and sovereignty,” Sparwasser said. “But we also put a high priority on going it together with our friends and allies.”
Sparwasser said despite warnings from Russia that sending tanks to Ukraine will cause an escalation, Germany is within international law — specifically Article 51 of the United Nations Charter — to provide support to Ukraine.
“Ukraine is under attack has the right to self defence, and other nations can come in and provide Ukraine with the means to defend itself,” Sparwasser said. “So in international law terms, this is a very clear cut case.”
She added that considering “Russia doesn’t respect international law,” it’s a more impactful deterrent to Russia, ahead of an expected spring offensive, to see several countries come together in support of Ukraine.
With files from the Associated Press
COVID: Canada retaining Evusheld – CTV News
While Health Canada says it is “aware” of the U.S. decision to withdraw the emergency use of Evusheld, a drug by AstraZeneca used to help prevent COVID-19 infection— the agency is maintaining its approval, citing the differences in variant circulation between Canada and the U.S.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced on Jan. 26 that its emergency use authorization of the drug was pulled due to its inefficacy in treating “certain” COVID-19 variants.
The FDA stated in a release on its website that as the XBB.1.5. variant, nicknamed “Kraken”, is making up the majority of cases in the country, the use of Evusheld is “not expected to provide protection” and therefore not worth exposing the public to possible side effects of the drug, like allergic reactions.
In an email to CTVNews.ca, Health Canada said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration pulled the drug as the main variant of concern in the U.S. is XBB.1.5.
“Dominant variants in the [U.S.] may be different from those circulating in Canada,” the federal agency said in an email. “The most recent epidemiological data in Canada (as of January 1, 2023) indicate that BA.5 (Omicron) subvariants continue to account for more than 89 per cent of reported cases.”
On Jan. 6 the FDA said in press release that certain variants are not neutralized by Evusheld and cautioned people who are exposed to XBB.1.5. On Jan. 26, the FDA then updated its website by saying it would be limiting the use of Evusheld.
“Evusheld is not currently authorized for use in the U.S. until further notice by the Agency,” the FDA website states.
On Jan. 17, Health Canada issued a “risk communication” on Evusheld, explaining how it may not be effective against certain Omicron subvariants when used as a preventative measure or treatment for COVID-19.
“Decisions regarding the use of EVUSHELD should take into consideration what is known about the characteristics of the circulating COVID-19 variants, including geographical prevalence and individual exposure,” Health Canada said in an email.
Health Canada says Evusheld does neutralize against Omicron subvariant BA.2, which according to the agency, is the dominant variant in many communities in Canada.
The drug was introduced for prevention measures specifically for people who have weaker immune systems and are unlikely to be protected by a COVID-19 vaccine. It can only be given to people 12 years and older.
“EVUSHELD is not a substitute for vaccination in individuals for whom COVID-19 vaccination is recommended,” the agency’s website reads.
Health Canada says no drug, including Evusheld, is a substitute for vaccination.
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