The pandemic meant 2020 was a challenging year for seniors in Ottawa. And one of the city’s leading advocacy groups for older adults plans to step up its support for seniors in 2021 as the public health crisis continues.

The Council on Aging of Ottawa has been supporting seniors through advocacy and education long before COVID-19. The organization has taken action on issues such as winter walkability through its “Snow Moles” program, as well as long-term care through other advocacy campaigns.

COA Ottawa has now designed five new workshops to respond to the unique needs of seniors during these challenging times. “All the issues that we’ve seen have been issues forever. They just really came to light and hit the news big time because of COVID,” said COA Ottawa executive director Sarah Bercier.

“Workshops will cover online banking and shopping, emergency preparedness, connecting at a distance, understanding healthy eating and mental health,” said Bercier.

Support for seniors in these areas is more important now more than ever, she said.

The pandemic has significantly affected the way COA Ottawa operates, with committees and events moving entirely online. The council has been running what it calls a “Smart Aging” pilot program to help prepare seniors for life transitions in key areas.

Smart Aging

The program, which ran through 2020, was a great success, said Bercier, and she anticipates a new variation of the program will launch in March.

“The response to this program has been unbelievable,” she said.

As COA Ottawa looks ahead to the rest of 2021, Bercier said the organization is focused on getting seniors digitally connected while maintaining some sense of normalcy. A technology lending library has been set up with other community organizations to help local residents access the internet.

“Informing people of what exactly the situation is and what options are available to them has always been important for us,” said Bercier. She said she strives to ensure seniors are informed their options when it comes to COA Ottawa’s seven areas of focus: health, housing, social isolation, transportation, elder abuse, income security and ageism.

Everyone can lend a hand by helping where they can, she noted, making sure that seniors are equipped with the resources they need. Now is the time for all Ottawa residents to take the extra effort and check in on those who are most vulnerable in the community, she noted.

“Even if it is just going for a physically distanced walk, or making a phone call, it really makes a difference.”