Brazil & Portugal  


How seniors can navigate the holiday season during a pandemic

Abrigo Centre’s Life and Hope Seniors group

By Marilia dos Santos | Published 9/12/2020


According to the Oxford Canadian Dictionary, a senior citizen is “an elderly person, especially a person over 65”.


I have the privilege to be the coordinator of the Abrigo Centre’s Life and Hope Seniors group. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the program operated three days a week on our agency’s second floor. On any day there could be 50 to 100 Portuguese-speaking clients gathering to sing, dance, learn, eat and socialize together.

Getting older is a continuum throughout the entire world. Those that have the ability to live an independent and healthy life during their senior years often say they are blessed. However, a large percentage in the senior population is dependent on others in some way.

Seniors need extra special attention

Seniors need practical, professional and family/community support.  Now during this pandemic time, the need is bigger than ever. Seniors need extra special attention, because they are the most vulnerable members of society in terms of their physiological and mental health.

Their world is full of uncertainties. They grieve the days prior to the pandemic. They grieve the loss of their freedom, their routine, their family and friends. They worry about their health and their family’s health. They fear death and worry that family members may get sick as well.

There are also the financial, social inequities, vulnerability and social economic dependencies that some seniors face. This is a greater challenge with social distancing from family, friends and community.

There are three “types” of seniors

The first is the healthy and independent senior. They are able to take care of their needs by going about their daily routine. They participate in society and socialize in their community including attending a day program like Abrigo’s Life and Hope program. Second is the semi-dependent senior who needs some kind of support from family, friends or the community. For example, they may need to be accompanied to the doctor. Finally, the dependent senior needs full time care from family, a caregiver, or in a long-term care facility.

Seniors face enormous barriers. Their fear and frustration is real but an amazing number of seniors have a resilience that gets them through the tough times. Being resilient however does not mean that one is free of struggles, questions, fears and uncertainties.

There is an 87-year old elderly woman, who I work with that I will call Luisa. She lives in a retirement home and has been confined in her room, except for some trips to the hospital, since March.

Luisa’s meals and medication are dropped at her door in order to follow COVID social distancing protocols. Her mobility has deteriorated and she often falls. Today, she spends most of her day in bed. She has existing speech challenges due to trauma, and now her speech has worsened due to the lack of social interaction. Her anxiety and depression has accelerated and her overall mental health declined. Yet, she is very happy when she gets a phone call or when a friend visits her and waves from outside her window. When asked how she manages, she answers, “Hope”.

Socialization is the key aspect for maintaining mental and physical wellbeing

Keeping a daily routine is important during the pandemic and the holiday season. Staying active allows for a healthier mind and body.

How can seniors safely fill up their time during the pandemic and this holiday season? Here are some tips to seize the moment:

• Check in on a friend(s) over the phone

• Have a meal with a friend or family member virtually or by phone

• Cook a favourite holiday recipe

• Listen to music or watch TV

• Sing holiday season songs

• Meditate or seek activities that promote relaxation

• Do physical activities; walk, dance, get active

• Read a book or magazine – read a book to a friend over the phone

• Make your own handmade gifts

• Review old family photos

• Tell holiday stories to a loved one or grandchild virtually or over the phone

• Knit or crochet

• Be creative, do arts and crafts

• Play games, do puzzles or a word search

Being an active senior according to one’s own abilities is of utmost important. Remaining active physically and mentally minimizes feelings of isolation, loneliness, depression and anxiety. Please remember to practice all health and safety protocols where necessary.

May all seniors have a Happy Holiday Season!


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Marilia dos Santos

Marilia has been an Abrigo Centre counsellor for 18 years. She’s currently the co-ordinator of Abrigo’s Life and Hope seniors program and also assists women who are victims of domestic violence. Previously, she worked in the PAR (Partner Assault Response) Program, a psychoeducational court mandated program for men involved in the legal system.

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