Skip to content
Join our Newsletter

Monique Keiran: Seniors are shorted on physical activity

Take 12 minutes. Twelve minutes represent less than one per cent of a day.

Take 12 minutes. Twelve minutes represent less than one per cent of a day.

If you work full-time, commute, ferry kids around or do chores, 12 minutes of free time allows you to catch your breath, prepare for the next crisis, or give your kids some undivided attention.

Or 12 minutes means you’re late and you’ll be scrambling for the rest of the day.

If, however, your days lack the luxury of busy-ness — if, for example, you depend on others to help you dress, bathe, move about, arrange your social and recreational activities, and provide your meals — 12 minutes mighty seem a mere eye blink in a day that stretches on and on like a geological epoch.

Even if you subtract the eight hours of your day spent sleeping, the one hour spent bathing, dressing and personal care, three generous hours for eating and preparing to eat, you still face 12 hours of unallotted time. That’s 60 12-minute periods.

According to an Island Health official (“B.C. lagging on seniors’ therapy: report,” Times Colonist, April 9), 12 minutes is the minimum amount of physiotherapy or occupational therapy, nursing, or other “allied services” that each senior in residential care in the region receives each day from Island Health.

Using $40 as an hourly average payment, Island Health funds 26 facilities almost $3,000 a year per resident, with services determined by the assessed needs of the individual residents.

That means one facility might provide more hours of physiotherapy and another might arrange for more social-work hours per resident.

With the funds covering the spectrum of allied health services, most residents at most public long-term care facilities in the region receive much less than 12 minutes of physically active therapy daily, if any at all.

Seniors advocate Isobel Mackenzie highlights that lack in her report, Placement, Drugs and Therapy: We Can Do Better. She reveals that fewer than 12 per cent of B.C. seniors in public residential-care homes receive weekly physiotherapy, and only 22 per cent receive recreational therapy such as chair exercises or bingo.

What she doesn’t detail is that, in some residential-care facilities, if you need help to stand up, you likely spend your days sitting. Care-home staff encourage you to use a wheelchair.

In some — not all — care homes, staff actively discourage you from standing on your own pins and taking your walker for a shuffle or attempting other forms of uprightness.

In some care homes — not all — fear of falls has prompted removal of mobility aids such as handrails in hallways, caused stairwell locations to be hidden and even prompted use of physical and medication restraints.

This reduces the chances you might fall and hurt yourself, or staff hurting themselves while helping you.

Of course we want our elderly friends and family members, as well as health-care workers, to be safe. But in the end, how safe is sitting? How safe is a lack of regular physical therapy or ample opportunities for physical movement?

As the seniors advocate states, physiotherapists work with seniors to improve their strength, motor function and balance. Those improvements, in turn, help to prevent falls and support ongoing physical and mental health.

The esteemed medical journal The Lancet recently pronounced physical inactivity as the fourth-leading cause of death worldwide. A 2014 Conference Board of Canada report posits if just 10 per cent of Canadians who currently spend their days sitting became slightly more active this year, the resulting reductions in chronic illness and employee absenteeism would lower the country’s health care costs by $2.5 billion and inject $7.5 billion into the economy by 2040.

Mounting evidence shows how prolonged sitting leads to increased risk of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, osteoporosis, neurological decline, depression and other mood disorders, as well as other serious, chronic health issues.

Most residents at public long-term care facilities sit for prolonged periods, day after day, week after week. Some of these residents are able to do much more.

As the seniors advocate points out, some seniors living in care homes would have their needs better met with other forms of assistance and accommodation. It’s no wonder, then, she also found so many care-home seniors to be overmedicated and inappropriately medicated.

Twelve minutes of physically active therapy each day simply isn’t nearly enough.

[email protected]