Making Life Better for Older Canadians

An older woman with brown short hair smiling at the camera

According to a new study conducted by Campaign Research Inc. on behalf of Home Care Ontario, virtually all older Ontarians (91%) hope to stay in their own home or apartment as long as possible, and 95% believe being in their own home with the support of home care is the safest environment for them to live during a pandemic.

That’s excellent proof positive that the vast majority of older adults have no intention to move into long-term care facilities or see it as a solution to care as they age. Among my friends, I can report that I know of no one who looks forward to leaving their home for a care facility. The looming question is: how will we manage to remain in our homes as we age?

The best-case scenario is my brother, who turned 93 last month and maintains — with his wife who is ten years his junior — a gorgeous apartment in Montreal. Their only help is a cleaning person who comes in a few days a week and prepares some meals. During the pandemic, their children bring dinner to their apartment most days and other times, until the new lockdown in Montreal, they visited patio restaurants whenever they felt the urge to eat out.

Other situations are not as salubrious. Those with underlying conditions aren’t advised to dine at restaurants. Even patio dining presents a certain risk. Not everyone is fortunate enough to belong to a family of such engaged and generous children. Not everyone can afford regular restaurant dining. But the fact remains, when I speak with my friends, and I mean all of my friends, they’re on board with the Campaign Research study. In Ontario, “95% believe that being in their own home with the support of home care is the safest environment for them to live during a pandemic, while 1% believe the safest place is in a retirement home, 1% believe it is in a long-term care facility, and 4% are unsure,” according to this research.

Along with our desire to age in place, “77% of older Ontarians believe the government should financially support these individuals and families who purchase additional home care services from reputable organizations through something like a new tax credit or other relief measures.”

Although the situation looked bleak for older Canadians during the pandemic’s early days, it is changing. Covid-19 woke up the country to the enormous disparities in care and circumstances for older Canadians.

On October 1, Ryerson University’s NIA (National Institute on Ageing) released their third annual research strategy, boldly entitled Canada Still Needs  A National Seniors Strategy. The introduction to the research paper argues that “While Canadians 65 and older account for approximately 17.5% of the population today, they represent almost 44% of all public-sector health care dollars spent by provinces and territories. With the population ageing faster than ever before, health care, social services, and economic systems must be continuously reviewed to ensure that they can remain sustainable and continue to meet the needs of all Canadians as they age.”

It’s a comprehensive strategy with four pillars of concentration for this national strategy:

  1. Independent, productive and engaged citizens
  2. Living healthy and active lives
  3. Care closer to home
  4. Support for caregivers

Each pillar is amply discussed in the report, but to begin, I’m most taken with the first pillar of the strategy:

“Older Canadians continue to contribute to society in many ways and are overrepresented as volunteers and unpaid caregivers supporting other Canadians of all ages. They also remain the most politically engaged members of our society and have the highest voter participation rates. To ensure communities can continue to support their older residents to remain independent and engaged, access to reasonable income supports, affordable housing, and inclusive transportation services should continue to be strengthened. To combat the growing levels of social isolation and reinforce efforts to end ageism and elder abuse in society, physical environments and public spaces need to be age-friendly; and health, community, social and recreational services, and employment opportunities must be designed to be inclusive with the needs of older Canadians in mind.”

As I age, I’m mindful that social change, such as the examples illuminated by the national seniors’ strategy, takes time and money. At the same time, I’m optimistic that government at all levels will take these recommendations to heart and implement as many as possible — as quickly as possible.

As does most of my age group, I wish to know that remaining in my home as I grow older is a real possibility. I wish to feel confident that I’ll be able to hire professionally trained and reliable support care to make that dream a living reality. If I can no longer drive my own car, I wish to know that public transportation in my city and my neighbourhood will be there to take me from place to place. This pandemic will end, and I intend to take full advantage of being out and about when it does.

I’m also deeply concerned about employment opportunities for older adults. Although many of us have retired from full-time work, many also wish to be rewarded for our efforts and believe we can make a useful contribution to society by participating in the work world.

Lastly, ensuring that ageism, elder abuse, and social isolation are national priorities that can be achieved by continuing to support activities and policies that value the role, contributions, and physical and psychological needs of older Canadians is the best route to avoiding the issues of elder marginalization and hurtful behaviour that cloud ageing in our country.

As we head into the long northern winter ahead, let’s consider the four pillars of the NIA’s smart and comprehensive strategy. Let’s each plan ways to ensure that the lives of older Canadians will be safer, healthier, and that our dreams will be more fully realized.

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