New Brunswick's seniors are better off staying in their homes as long as they want to — and as long it's safe, according to University of Moncton nursing professor Suzanne Dupuis-Blanchard.
Vera Spence, an 87-year-old resident of Murray Corner, is a prime example of that.
Aside from four years spent in Bathurst, Spence has lived her entire life in the seaside community in southeastern New Brunswick. The houses she's lived in are all nearby.
"That was my home that you can see right there," she said Monday, pointing to the house of her childhood. "Then I moved to there, and then we built the new home here."
Staying in her community is a "big deal" because it's where she is comfortable.
"I can go to bed when I want, get up when I want, eat when I want," Spence said.
"That's the way I live."
According to Dupuis-Blanchard, most seniors are like Spence: they want to stay in their own homes. Aside from making them happier, it's better for their physical health.
"There's also that sense of belonging that's quite strong, and that is related to health as well because of that feeling of belonging to that community, which you've been part for a while," said Dupuis-Blanchard.
She said it also costs less.
"Throughout Canada, from the research that has been done and the analysis that have been done there is this magic number of $55 a day — that is the cost for people to age in place with certain services."
She said when you compare that to the approximate cost of a hospital stay at about $1,000 a day, or even a long-term care home, which Dupuis-Blanchard said averages out to between $100 and $125 a day, staying at home is cheaper.
One caveat is that the $55 estimate doesn't take into account the free labour done by the senior's community and family, which is necessary for most seniors to stay at home because there are still gaps in government programs.
Staying home requires help
Whether it's minor work or emergency repairs needed to keep the senior safe or to meet basic needs, the Department of Social Development has home repair programs specifically for seniors.
Dupuis-Blanchard said these programs are an important part of keeping seniors in their homes, but they can often be difficult to access or even know about.
For this reason, Dupuis Blanchard applied for grant money to see how to better serve rural seniors in their communities with a pilot project called Nursing Homes Without Walls. She received $1.8 million to set up services in four communities, Port Elgin, Inkerman, Lamèque and Paquetville.
Pam Van Egmond runs the Port Elgin group, where she has signed up 170 seniors as members. Van Egmond hosts lunch–and–learns, checks in on members, and organizes social get–togethers. She also helps seniors get to medical appointments and tries to help them navigate the application process for government programs.
When Spence was recently told she wouldn't be able to have oil delivered to her house until she replaced her old tank, Van Egmond helped her apply to Social Development for the money to purchase a new one.
On a fixed income, Spence isn't sure where the money would have come from if the province hadn't helped out. She's grateful to Van Egmond for helping her through the process.
Home is where you lay your head
Dupuis-Blanchard said an important part of aging at home is that it's the choice of the senior. Depending what supports are available, often seniors will end up in some kind of home, and that isn't a bad thing.
She hopes that even as nursing homes and special care homes are associated with COVID-19 outbreaks or strict precautionary measures, conversations are sparked about the facilities and what challenges they face.
"You just have to go on social media since the pandemic began, and we're talking about warehousing seniors and we're talking about, you know, they're like prisons, they can't go out, they can't do this, they can't do that," said Dupuis-Blanchard.
"And in fact, in in normal times, I mean, these are people's homes."
While she's in good health, Spence plans to stay where she is. She still drives but only as far as the nearest village, Port Elgin, which is about 20 kilometres away.
She may not go very far, but she's not idle. Her favourite activities are playing cards and meeting with the local chapter of the New Brunswick Women's Institute.
Van Egmond said Spence's nickname is Go-Go Vera, because she'll drop whatever she is doing if she hears there is something she can be helping with in the community.
Spence said having things to do keeps her active.
"It's a lot to be able to stay around where you're used to," she said.