Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Ontario drownings: seniors

Up here in cottage country our seniors keep taking risks that others will not. Drowning deaths in the highest risk group (18 - 24 year olds) have gone down in numbers, but still remain a current risk. Often alcohol is a factor, as demonstrated in June, 2008. Common sense flees with young men (formerly the highest risk group) exhibiting grandiose gestures and showing off their high-powered machines. Just watching them they seem to put street racing into a whole new context. Snowmobiles fall into this same category. In the meantime, our seniors are quietly jumping in a canoe or the lake without a life jacket or a spotter. As a child the rule was that we never swam alone. With far too may seniors living alone, they are continuing to jump into the lake and not emerge.

The new report from the Lifesaving Society provides statistics from 2004, the latest StatsCan data on drowning risks.

Last year, on our small lake, a 90-year old man went into the water alone for a swim. No one found him for three days. I pity the person that found him. More recently, May 23, 2008, a 90 year old man went to sort out his dock in the high, cold, spring water. The police report says the empty canoe was found 2 km away, his body 100 m from the canoe. His wife of 65 years, alone and, no doubt, bereft. I know of an 88-year old neighbour who swims alone daily. She is frail, wobbly on her legs, and has trouble getting in and out of the water. I have suggested she is at risk, but have made no progress in convincing her that the cold water and the effects of hypothermia, can be lethal. Heart attacks and other physiological issues arise rendering the senior unable to save themselves. Two-thirds of victims over 50 years of age were alone.

For those who do not live in cottage country, and our beloved elders and seniors cannot walk out their front door and pop into a canoe, this seems like a useless report. However, it does demonstrate the risks that seniors will take with their lives. As risky as behaviours that we have seen in teens who act as if they are immortal. Our seniors live alone, without proper support services, and are failing to meet their Activities of Daily Living (ADL) and IADL needs. We have seniors with undiagnosed dementia, behaviours that seem odd are not reported to family members and I feel they should. As a family member, and concerned citizen, it breaks my heart to see our seniors without the simple supports, or a kind caregiver to check in on them periodically, someone who will help them stay in their own homes with moderate supervision. On the other hand, it is up to neighbours to report dangerous behaviours that put seniors at great risk, such as swimming alone. For those living as independent adults they must make adult-like choices. Their choices impact their family members, neighbours, society, the health care system and tax payers. Swimming alone, and living in isolation in the north, has not proven to be a good option. It is family members who must pick up the pieces and neighbours who find the bodies.

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