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Keeping elders healthy is ongoing effort

The battle for a dedicated in-territory, long-term care centre for elders has been waged for years.

Madeline Ivalu takes her turn in a game of bocce on the turf at the Iglulik arena last September. In the background, from left, Martha Qattalik, Theo Ikkumaq, Leonie Qrunnut and Lydia Palluannuk. Iglulik recently received funding to hire an elders coordinator to increase the recreational and social offerings for the community's senior residents. Jose Quezada photo

The Nunavut Seniors Society is firmly in support of the idea.

"We're still lagging way behind in terms of our long-term care infrastructure," asserted Lazarus Arreak, the society's president.

Nunavut has 44 long-term care beds spread among continuing care facilities and elders homes in Iqaluit, Arviat, Cambridge Bay, Iglulik and Gjoa Haven. All those beds are full, according to the Department of Health.

With no place to accommodate them in the territory, close to 30 other Nunavummiut elders have been moved to Embassy West Senior Living in Ottawa.

Premier Joe Savikataaq recently told Nunavut News that a long-term care facility is among his top priorities, but he acknowledged that federal funding is essential and that the project could still be years away.

Sandy Kownak, acting executive director for the Nunavut Seniors Society, said she'd like to see the GN institute compensation for family members who voluntarily look after their elders.

"People end up leaving their jobs to care for elders at home. This would supplement that gap," said Kownak. "If they (the GN) were to implement a caregiving program – the NWT is doing that as we speak. They're using that as capacity within the community. The caregivers are given compensation to assist their elders in the family or community."

Another concern for elders, some of whom are unilingual Inuktitut speakers, is the periodic unavailability of interpreters at medical facilities within the territory and in the south, according to Arreak and Kownak.

Home care

One program the Department of Health has in place for all Nunavut seniors is Home and Community Care, which is designed to provide assistance so elders can remain largely independent at home.

The services include house cleaning, assisting with meals and groceries, help with bathing and dressing, injections and bandage changing, relief for family members providing care and rehabilitation exercises.

A typical year will see about 1,000 Nunavummiut receive home care services, according to Stephen Jackson, territorial director of home, community and continuing care.

"Home care services are available in every community, as and when needed," Jackson stated. "If a particular community does not have an established program and services are required, arrangements are made to meet the home care needs of the individual.

Elders recreation

Some communities have weekly recreational activities for elders – gatherings for tea, in particular – but other communities do not, Arreak said. In Iqaluit, for example, the aquatic centre has a small room dedicated for the use of elders "but it's not being used right now," he said.

Conversely, Cape Dorset is taking advantage of its new Kenojuak Cultural Centre to host elders gatherings at least once a month. Rankin Inlet and Baker Lake have terrific facilities and "encouraging programs" for elders, Arreak added.

In Iglulik, wellness program funding was recently obtained to hire an elders coordinator. There are plans to resume elders' recreation activities starting this month, said recreation coordinator Ghadihela Quezada. Elders' events held last year in Iglulik included bocce, an introduction to computers and a tea with games.

"We wanted to give the elders opportunities as well, for them to have (recreation) time," Quezada said.