Challenges of an Ageing Society – Canada

Author: M. Vassallo

As we enter this new millennium, we have, due in part to medical breakthroughs and technological advancements, become an aging society. As the population of the world increase and nears the seven billion mark, we must take stock of the issue that face us in this, the 21st century. We are a world community that has, over just this past century travelled to the edge of the space frontier, experienced the tragedy and suffering of war and rejoiced in the glory of medical miracles and human triumph. We have built up walls in the name of world domination, only to tear them down in the name of world peace and democracy. We took comfort in fruits of the earth, exploited them and have now seen the error of our ways. We are becoming a healing world community, the goal of which is to enter this millennium with a greater understanding of where we have come from and where we wish to go.

Our society has been built on the sacrifices and hardships that our ancestors experienced, and overcame. In order to pay homage to their determination and will, we must realise that as our world and its people grow older, so too must our understanding of these generations grow. As Canadians, we have identified that our own society has flourished due to the work of our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. We have come to understand the struggles faced by the older people, and, as they begin to reap the fruits of their labour, we must ensure that we are there to support them. Our government has faced these challenges and continues to act in a responsible and compassionate way when dealing with our senior population.

Canadian seniors live longer and enjoy better health than those in other countries. In 1998, about 3.7 million Canadians, or 12.3% of the population, were 65 years of age or over. This represents an increase of one million seniors in the population over this last decade. And the numbers keep increasing. By the time detection and better treatment of age related diseases through increasing educational programs and training for physicians and caregivers are imporved. The Canadian government fully supports further research into the causes and treatment of related diseases and illness. These challenges continue to be met as indicators show decreases in incidence rates of chronic diseases among seniors, and increases in early detection and additional health care resources. Due to their commitment to healthier and more educated lifestyles, the seniors of today are in a better physical and mental condition than their own parents ever were, and therefore continue to be active well into retirement and beyond.

The financial status of our seniors has improved considerably in recent decades, even though many still have modest incomes that can make them vulnerable if unexpected expenses arise. Seniors have four possible sources of income: government transfers, private retirement plans, employment earnings and the wealth they have accumulated over their lifetime. With the benefits of Registered Retirement Savings Plan paying off for those investors, the proportion of low-income seniors has declined significantly in the last 15 years, from 34% in 1980 to 19% in 1990. Contributing to these improvements in economic status include the Old Age Security Program, the Guaranteed Income Supplement and the Canada/Quebec Pension Plan. Though this is an area where the government will always be concerned, due simply to the varying levels of economic class in our society, many of today’s seniors have been able to maintain a certain level of lifestyle that they had grown accustomed to during their employable years. The improved economic situation of today’s seniors is also a definite indicator that today’s adults will be as prepared, if not better prepared, for retirement and living well into their eighties more so than the seniors of today.

In a country as diverse and multicultural as Canada is, it is unfortunate that not all citizens have the best interest at heart when it comes to providing for our ageing population. In may cases, seniors are faced with the fear of being neglected or abused by family members who see them more as a burden than a blessing. It is estimated that 4% of seniors fall victim to some form of abuse, which has been defined by Health Canada as all of the following: physical violence, psychological violence, financial exploitation, and neglect. This abuse may not necessarily come in the form of family abuse, but may be at the hand of the caregivers at residential and elderly housing communities who may suffer from the stresses of caring for the elderly. The challenges that our society faces in eradicating this problem is to increase public awareness, in order to educate society in spotting abusive situations and providing the necessary support to the victims. Secondly, seniors themselves should be armed with information on how to prevent abuse and thirdly, provide assistance to potential abusers through behaviour management courses.

Recent changes and budget cuts to the health and social services system have strained the ability of community services and the informal support network to provide adequate assistance. For seniors, this issue is of great importance as it may jeopardize their goal for autonomy in our society and may increase their dependence on caregivers. However, the issue of loss of autonomy is second to providing adequate care through home care, residential care facilities, and transportation. It is the provision of a high level of care and service and the on going maintenance costs of these services that has challenged today’s government.

As it stands now, the Canadian government has implemented several agencies and social polices that look after the needs of our Canadian seniors. They have carefully identified the key issues and problems that the elderly face and have begun to implement solutions to rectify and eradicate any future difficulties that our Canadian seniors are challenged with. These issues of health and well being, financial status, neglect, and proper care in the face of losing autonomy, indicate the importance of creating programs for our seniors, as well as facing the challenges of an ageing society so that, businesses and government agencies begin to change their practices now.

There are several challenges that our society still faces. With the high cost of living, it does become increasingly difficult to maintain a decent lifestyle, despite government aid, if one does not plan ahead. Research indicates that the rising cost of medication, though fully covered while residing in a health care facility, are only subsidized when residing in private dwellings. These additional expenses may cause hardships for seniors who live on a limited monthly income.

As the desire for autonomy is such a high priority for seniors, the vast majority of them, 93%, live in private dwellings in the community, rather than in institutions. The quality of these homes is as good, however as seniors grow older, their homes often need to adapt to their declining capabilities. Seniors continue to require a broad range of housing options that reflect their personal preferences and meet their physical, mental and social needs.

Perhaps the most difficult issue facing seniors about growing old is the slow depletion of their social network. If confined to homes due to illness or mobility and unable to stay active, many seniors fall victim to serious bouts of depression. Our society is challenged with helping them adapt to these difficult social changes.

The issues facing today’s ageing society must be continually addressed in order to meet the challenges head on and create opportunities to provide both our parents, grandparents, and in many cases great-grandparents, with the lifestyles that they afforded us. It is imperative that we look after our older generations and set precedents for generations to follow.

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