The Covid-19 pandemic has presented unique challenges for seniors and Elders in Yellowknife.
Seniors, being physically more at risk of severe illness from coronavirus are subject to stricter isolation regulations than other age groups.
Regular event and activity groups have been scaled back or even suspended to minimize chances of spreading Covid-19.
“The thing that I hear about the most is the loss of personal networks,” said John Soderberg, president of the Yellowknife Seniors Society.
“We had to stop running the Lunch with a Bunch. People accepted it for a week or two but then they started saying they wanted and needed them again, ‘I can’t see so and so anymore,’ people told me.”
He said social interaction is “important.
“They want to talk to someone going through the same thing they are. That shared experience is missing because they’re not able to regularly see people they’ve known for 40 years.”
Before the pandemic, the lunch events drew 80 to 90 people in the many years the Society has organized them, Soderberg said.
Pandemic complicates life
The pandemic has also heightened the needs of many seniors since they can’t easily get out as much.
Some depend on old age security pensions. The Seniors Society has helped make sure they don’t run out of money at the end of the month by supplementing their food supplies with food hamper programs.
De Beers has helped contribute to the hampers and Copperhouse restaurant worked with the Society on the Community Table Program that offered pay-it-forward meals for seniors.
Knowing how important the vaccine is for seniors’ sense of security and mental health, the Society has worked to keep people up to date on the latest clinic information.
“(Some) seniors who got their first Moderna shots had their second dose appointments postponed. That hit a lot of folks hard,” Soderberg said.
“As soon as the notice comes out that appointments can be made, then we’ll be registering all the folks to arrange appointments. We’re trying to bridge the gap in accessibility.”
For Terry Warner, a semi-retired geologist, the added isolation itself is causing more tempers to fray among seniors.
He has noticed that when he and others have tried to book medical appointments over the phone.
Can’t get primary care
“You’re liable to get your ear chatted off when seniors call up,” said Warner, 65. “Some people are far more aggressive. There’s a lot of angry people trying to get a hold of primary care, and can’t.”
He said he’s walked into the clinic holding his phone, still on hold.
“When you walk into the primary care clinic and you’re still on hold, you have to wonder what’s wrong with the damn telephone system. And nobody (there) gives a shit.”
As seniors become more isolated in the pandemic, it’s leaving them more “forlorn,” Warner explained.
One result of that is that more people across the board in the NWT are consuming more substances to help them cope during the pandemic, including seniors.
“Some of us don’t drink anymore, but some consume cannabis,” he said with a laugh.
But in the circumstances of the pandemic he said he has learned who his real friends are.
“They’re the ones who’ll return messages and converse with you. Others just don’t get around to it.”
Warner sees hope on the horizon with the vaccines and is scheduled to get his second dose this week.
“It’s a piece of cake. It really rolled out. We’re doing really well in the NWT,” he said.
Former premier Stephen Kakfwi, 70, admits that even though he spent decades as a political leader, he’s actually an introvert and prefers to hang around people only when he has to.
He closed his public speaking consulting business in August 2019. These days he is spending more time at home and poring over old notes and journals he has written over the years.
Former premier on the phone
He plans to write up his notes and compile stories based on his childhood, his years in residential school, his time as leader of the Dene Nation and as premier of the NWT.
As such, the pandemic didn’t cause many immediate changes in his life.
He’s unable to meet regularly with people who need help, whether because of illnesses or because of the loss of loved ones.
“(I can’t) spend as much time with my children and grandchildren and my immediate family,” he said. “I try to stay in touch with friends on the phone.”
Kakfwi recalled a cousin in Fort Good Hope who lost his wife suddenly. He doesn’t have any siblings.
“It’s hard,” the former premier said. “I try to phone him on a regular basis and he’s actually in some of the stories I’m writing up. It’s been good for he and I to reconnect. He took me hunting a lot when I came out of residential school. He showed me how to hunt for ducks and moose and use high-powered guns.”
Still, he thinks the longer periods of time alone is making seniors “recheck” their relationships and think about what is most important to them.
He said Northerners who know how to live on the land can draw a sense of security from that ability to provide “fish, caribou and moose.
“Psychologically, that really sustains your spirit. Last year when people were stocking up on toilet paper and all kinds of things, some of us were more worried about how many boxes of bullets we have left in our hunting rifle and how much we have to go out and hunt.
“It makes you think about it.”