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By Diana Penner
eniors are a growing demographic in Canada. Currently 1 of every 13 people is over the age of 65.
At present, 13 percent of the population is 65 years of age or older.
In just four years, there will be six million seniors in Canada, composing 16 percent of the population and a dozen years later that number is expected to double to 12 million, becoming 30 per cent of the Canadian population or almost 1 in 3.
Add to this group the broader group referred to as the Zoomers and the number rises to 14.5 million Canadians. This group accounts for 58 per cent of consumer spending in Canada today (Source: Stats Canada).
So who are Zoomers? Zoomers are age 45-plus. They include current workers, stay-at-homers and the retirees who were the dominant generation 30 years ago and remain the dominant generation today. Zoomers are a growing, vibrant and affluent community.
They see the world with optimism; are engaged and involved in their communities. They choose to work longer, actively seek meaningful work, invest in their communities and share concerns about aging in this country.
In 1977, the average age of British Columbians was 29. With the aging of baby boomers, this median age rose to 40 by 2007 (BC Stats, 2008)
At that time, 1 in 2.5 people was between the ages of 40 to 69 years of age – representing 40 per cent of the population (BC Stats, Population Estimates Standard Age Groups, 2007).
Older Canadians have a wealth of knowledge, skills and experiences to share. Each day, their contributions make a real difference to Canada’s society and its economy but as the current population continues to age, the need for services and supports for seniors should become a greater priority.
As a result, the profile of a retired person or mature worker has changed dramatically in recent decades.
The baby boom generation is living longer than its predecessors. It enjoys relatively good health and remains fairly active physically.
This demographic is increasingly tech savvy and is well educated.
More than half of Canadians turning age 65 over the next decade have a post-secondary certificate, diploma or university degree.
Studies show that mature workers have high job-satisfaction rates and take pride in their career and workplace.
They offer experience, emotional maturity and loyalty. They work well with others, believing that service to others and success of their organization matters.
With this in mind many communities have seen a regular seniors column or corner in their paper, a regular segment or clip time on the radio and a vibrant seniors centre. Terrace can confirm 1 out of 3 so far with its Happy Gang Centre.
Many seniors lead fulfilling lives without significant physical or cognitive changes. They welcome the opportunity to pursue interests and activities that were previously restricted by their responsibilities of work and family.
Approximately one-fifth of Canadian men and women aged 55 to 74 reports that they are satisfied with their life and that they are in good health (Statistics Canada, 2005).
Although a number of seniors see retirement as working at what you want, when you want, not the end, but the beginning of a new time, there are many other seniors who are experiencing challenges.
This body of seniors may be experiencing physical ailments, mobility issues, chronic pain, cognitive and sensory impairments which affects their ability to function.
Other challenges like retirement, changes in income, widowhood, the loss of friendships through death, and new care-giving responsibilities can lead to social and emotional isolation and complications.
The increasing seniors population has also led to dramatic increases in the number of seniors living in long-term care institutions.
Seniors aged 85 and older compose the fastest growing segment of the population. In Terrace, hospital beds at Mills Memorial are occupied by seniors who are on a wait list for a bed at Terraceview, which is over subscribed with clients.
Assisted living homes like McConnell House and Market Estates have wait lists. As does local affordable seniors housing like Twin River, the Willows and Tuck apartments.
Placements of seniors in their hometowns is necessary to age respectfully in a familiar environment. As a result, pressure for seniors housing is increasing.
According to the World Health Organization, an age-friendly community is a community where policies, services and structures related to the physical and social environment are designed to support and enable older people to live in a secure environment, enjoy good health, and continue to participate fully in society. Can Terrace boast that we are an age-friendly community?
So whether you are a Zoomer who is 45 and just becoming concerned about your future or the future of your retiring 65-year-old parents, or a 50-somethinger (the sandwich generation) supporting your children while worrying about your own parents, or a 60-pluser, who is redefining your own ability to remain active, manage pain or deal with financial concerns, you have much to consider.
In Terrace, the Greater Terrace Senior Advisory Committee (GTSAC) advocates for its local seniors. The organization addresses areas of concern for seniors’ well-being.
GTSAC believes that seniors should be availed with a community advocate who helps seniors to deal with health, mobility, finance and social issues.
Entertainment, recreation, financial, medical, safety, housing, long-term care, poverty, abuse and health concerns are all issues that have been addressed with GTSAC.
Seniors are trying to be involved in finding solutions to these real-time issues; they want to engage in consultation processes that are transparent and action oriented.
Seniors need programs in their own communities that provide home and community care systems and supports that will assist them to age in a respectful and healthy manner and allow them to be the mentors and citizens that they are, for as long as they can be in their own community.
Seniors need to know they will be safe in their community as they age and that there will be facilities to care for them when they seek long-term care.
At present, it is estimated that 35 to 45 per cent of all citizens in Canada have some type of a disability, well over 50 per cent are visually and/or mobility challenged.
Many of these are seniors but along with those others this community and its businesses need to consider if they are accessible to those who are struggling with visual or mobility issues.
Freedom from ageism and discrimination is a basic human right but this is becoming a concern.
Financial security is important to seniors who have worked their entire life and have been significant contributors to government programs through wage deductions and taxation.
Seniors believe they are entitled to:
– Receive adequate income support payments and equitable access to pension or other retirement savings vehicles
– Protection from financial predators
– A reduced tax burden and less imposed restrictions on their finances.
Good health is fundamental to quality of life and for an aging sector there must be:
– Affordable safeguards for those living alone
– Equitable and timely access to quality health care
– Affordable access to medicines and medical devices
– Options to age at home which should include adequate support and professional caregivers
– Easy access to dependable information and resources.
To protect the rights and dignity of people as they age, there must be:
– A right to continue driving and living independently
– Freedom from ageist and other stereotypes
– Freedom from elder abuse
– Equal rights to affordable housing.
Many of these points pose a concern to seniors and should concern future generations.
So to ask again, can Terrace boast that it is an age friendly community?
June 3 to 9 is Seniors Week in B.C. Throughout Canada, seniors are busy helping someone or are being helped by someone. If you would like to honour seniors week, do so by honouring a senior now and in the weeks to come.
Maybe you could visit a senior, support a senior attending the seniors games, visit a seniors centre, volunteer to help a senior who needs some help, sing with a senior, talk to a senior, or maybe ... adopt a senior.
Diana Penner is the chair of the Greater Terrace Seniors Advisory Committee.