Fighting isolation on Valentine’s Day, one rose at a time

**Full disclosure: I fell in love with this story. 

On Valentine’s Day, Concordia Alumnus Timothy Thomas and his team from Home Care Assistance Montreal, partnered with Wish of a Lifetime, in an attempt to decrease isolation, if only for one day.

“Seniors’ isolation is huge,” said Thomas. “A lot of people we have come across have lost a spouse, maybe their kids don’t visit as often and they are feeling down at these times of the year. But it doesn’t take much; a rose, a smile and a hug.”

The team delivered more than 700 roses at three different home care facilities in Montreal; Le Cambridge, Sélection Vista and Chateau Westmount.

While this was the first year the franchise expanded the event to Canada, Home Care Assistance partnered with Wish of a Lifetime for the fourth year in a row. The latter Colorado-based non-profit organization is similar to Children’s Wish, but provides experiences fulfilling the dreams of underprivileged seniors.

“What we are here to do today, with Cupid Crew and Wish of a Lifetime, is to really give back to our clients and seniors communities,” said Thomas.

For Thomas, Home Care Assistance Montreal is a family business. Back in 2007, after his family struggled with finding a caregiver for his grandmother, his father saw an opportunity to offer home care services. He came across Home Care Assistance, a business based out of the United States, with about 90 locations across North America, and decided to buy the rights in Quebec.

In 2014, Wish of a Lifetime created Cupid Crew, which quickly became a national movement in the United States. This year, the event spanned over 500 cities, with the goal of delivering 50,000 roses nationwide. The idea behind the movement was to empower volunteers to deliver roses to seniors, spread love and raise awareness on Feb. 14 of the array of complications that can affect the quality of life for seniors.

“The Cupid Crew initiative from Wish of a Lifetime was showcased to our company at our annual conference in Miami last year,” said Thomas. “We loved the idea, it’s a teambuilding activity for our staff as well. A lot of our employees don’t get the chance to be out there in the field, where our clients and services meet and where we make great impact in the life of seniors.”

The feeling of loneliness and isolation has been widely reported among elders. Numerous studies show a direct connection between loneliness, heart disease and dementia, which can result in shorter lifespans for seniors.  An estimated 1.4 million seniors in Canada—25 per cent of men and 40 per cent of women—reported feelings of loneliness. The Canadian government defines a person from the age of 65 onwards as a senior. If one remains healthy, this could mean a good 20 more years of feeling alone.

Yet, home care centres can also be a place for love and friendship, as the event was trying to highlight. “Even if it’s on a general holiday, it connects [seniors] to each other with the roses,” said Vanessa Cannizzaro, the human resource coordinator for Home Care Assistance Montreal. “It’s something that brings them closer to the people around, and us closer to them.”

Indeed, Sélection Vista resident Bertha Van Frank believes she was lucky to find 94-year-old Claire Eidanger. “I was really shy and she was the first one to say hi to me when I moved here, and we became friends. We are celebrating Valentine’s Day together,” said the 88-year-old senior, as they both smiled, holding onto their roses.

Valentine’s Day might be perceived as a marketing holiday, as Thomas also pointed out, but this was ultimately an opportunity to make an impact on seniors’ lives.

“It doesn’t matter why we are doing it, it needs to be done,” said Thomas. “Yes, it’s corny at this time of year, but it’s also a time of year that is difficult for a lot of people. I think it’s worth it and it’s as good of a time as any.”


Photo courtesy of Timothy Thomas



When I was your age, cars didn’t even exist

In Sudbury, Ont., a new anonymous hotline will potentially be implemented in order for residents to be able to report seniors they think shouldn’t be on the road anymore.

The new anonymous phone line has been designed to warn officers about seniors which the caller considers unfit to drive. According to the task force, it was apparently created in order to protect seniors.

That may be the case, but let’s delve deeper into the problem here. The Ministry of Transport of Ontario’s most recent Road Safety Annual Report from 2008 includes information on the number of collisions, fatal or otherwise.

One section called “Occurrence of Driver Condition in Drivers Killed,” we can see only three criteria that might be applicable to the case of seniors. The criteria, such as use of impairing drugs, fatigue, and medical/physical disability, put together make for 6.1 per cent of all drivers implicated in an accident.

In the section on “Driver Age by Driver Condition in all Collisions,” it is shown that most accidents are not due to seniors. In fact, according to the data, it would be wiser to assess the driving abilities of 21-year-olds.

The report goes on to state that the age group 75 and older account for roughly three to five per cent of the total number of accidents. So if the number of accidents for this age group is not as big a concern as in other groups, what made the police consider this ridiculous idea?

Another reason might be the frequency and quality of the assessment of a senior’s driving ability. However, senior drivers fill out medical forms quite often. The medical examination form is filled out for different reasons, such as a change of driver’s licence, change in health status and/or age group and treatment or prescriptions taken. But there is a reason why this medical examination form is called medical: it needs a trained health professional to assess it.

And, after all, the police task affirms that the first measure taken after receiving the call would be to check its validity by requiring the expert’s opinion.

So what is the main purpose of this measure if its implementation would not drastically reduce the incidence of accidents? It just adds an anonymous intermediate, with an unknown qualification, where every single piece of information would have to be checked. Needless to say, this sounds expensive and useless.

Having a phone call made from an anonymous person is absolutely pointless. Seniors are those who produce one of the least elevated number of accidents and they are the group most frequently checked by a physician.

And after all, by definition this action could be called discrimination by age. Have they considered installing such a phone line in a hospital or at a local CLSC, for example? I think the seniors would be more grateful to receive a quick medical assessment instead of a convocation for a medical exam to determine their driving fitness.

Graphic by Jennifer Kwan

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