Pathways Issue 4: COVID-19 and Seniors' Health - Page 25

The Edwin S.H. Leong Healthy Aging Program at
UBC is dedicated to defining the pathways through
which individuals, communities, health systems,
and whole societies can deliver a future with
healthy, optimized aging for all.
Having been born and raised in Hong Kong, I was
taught from an early age to revere senior citizens. It
was one particular morning, as the bus ambled along
West Broadway, I felt a new calling — beyond my plans
to graduate and enter the world of business — to help
increase the health and well-being of senior citizens
and support what I now call “healthy aging.” Meaning,
seniors deserve to age in a healthy manner with all the
dignity and good spirit of old age.
Now, nearly 50 years later, that support is fundamental
in combating COVID-19 and saving lives. More than
any other population, seniors are at risk. The grim daily
statistics of COVID-related deaths skew heavily toward
Canadians aged 65 and over. By now, everyone should
know the basic protocols — hand-washing, physical
distancing, staying home. But we can’t overstate the
precautions when seniors are involved. Everyone, from
caregivers to family and friends, must remain hyper-
vigilant to prevent transmission, as transmission can
literally mean death. And perhaps most importantly,
caregivers and health care workers looking after seniors
in a health care setting must wear a mask.
Remember, germs are invisible. This coronavirus can
live not only on your hands, but on your cellphones,
your laptops, the groceries you buy, virtually anything
you touch. Wash your hands frequently, don’t touch
your face, and don’t forget to clean your cellphone and
other personal items you regularly touch. Maintain
physical distancing at all times; physical contact with
seniors, whether you’re younger or a senior yourself,
should be avoided unless absolutely necessary. You can
have the virus without experiencing symptoms.
And if you leave your house, especially where physical
distancing is not possible like at the grocery store,
wearing a mask can reduce the likelihood of the spread
of the virus. And this would also apply to seniors.
In 2018, I was honoured to make a donation to UBC’s
medical school, to launch the Edwin S.H. Leong Healthy
Aging Program, which aims to help people live longer
and better enjoy their later years. The program’s
researchers devise innovative strategies to extend
longevity and improve quality of life in Canada and
around the world. But what’s the point of talking about
healthy aging if we can’t quickly subdue this pandemic,
which threatens all seniors?
It’s true, a vaccine or cure may be months — even
years — away. So education is our best medicine.
Everyone in the community, including health-care
workers and government officials, must never stop
reminding British Columbians and Canadians to remain
vigilant. B.C. is home to more seniors than any other
province. Many seniors are very active while others
are confined to care homes. Some seniors, particularly
those with Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s, can easily
forget — a fact caregivers must remember during this
crucial time.
Our seniors are our treasure. Like the seniors who
boarded the bus nearly 50 years ago, they deserve
the very best care as they age, gracefully and in good
health. Now more than ever, we must all do our part.
Dr. Edwin S.H. Leong LLD
Founder and Chairman, Tai Hung Fai Enterprise Co Ltd &
Tai Hung Fai Charitable Foundation Limited