You & Me BC
Let's Do Better For Our Seniors
Seniors throughout BC and Canada are struggling - and attitudes are a large part of the reason why
You & Me BC
June 21st, 2022
As the strain on public systems grows, seniors are being jettisoned to ease the pressure. This is a disservice not just to older Canadians, but to all Canadians. Our population is aging, and if you are not a senior now you will eventually –it is time for policies and attitudes to change.
The World Health Organization defines elder abuse as “a single or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring in any relationship where there is an expectation of trust that causes harm or distress to an older person.”
What might lead an older person to place their trust in someone?
How about assurance that such a person will “support seniors and work to keep them safe”, and that seniors will “have the support they need”?
These comments were made by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and have been echoed by premiers across the country, and if you take their word, Canada’s seniors should certainly trust government to look out for them.
So what should we call it when, through systematic neglect, seniors throughout the country are paying with their lives?
Let’s look at a few cases of how this is happening.
Seniors bore the brunt of last year’s heat wave. In B.C., for example, nearly 600 heat related deaths occurred, and 91 percent of the victims were 60 or older.
A report by Human Rights Watch documented how stronger federal and provincial government responses—including targeted support and greater access to cooling stations—could have saved lives, but a year later these gaps still exist, and we know who will pay if another scorcher is upon us.
Weather is far from the only danger though.
Throughout Canada, hundreds of thousands of seniors are institutionalized inside long-term care centres, when a third of them could be living in their communities if our country had better homecare.
Restrictive visitation policies kept them isolated in the shadows during the pandemic, unable to see loved ones they had shared their lives with.
But this did not keep them safe: Roughly 80 percent of wave one COVID deaths in Canada occurred in nursing and retirement home settings – almost twice the OECD average, with our overall rate of care home COVID deaths being among the world’s highest.
The problems with long-term care existed well before the pandemic though, with seniors living in these institutions receiving subpar care and having virtually no way to enforce their rights.
If a silver lining must be found, at least the seniors in these institutions had roof over their head; for many older Canadians the streets beckon.
Seniors compose an increasingly larger portion of the homeless and precariously housed population, making up a quarter of Metro Vancouver’s homeless persons.
Poverty among Canadian seniors has risen steadily for nearly three decades, and more are living out their ‘golden’ years with empty stomachs or sleeping on concrete. Why is this happening?
As costs rise, populations grow, and pandemics sweep the globe, public systems strain to keep up, and attitudes about who can be jettisoned to ease the pressure become more significant.
Eighty percent of Canadians agree that adults 75 and older are seen as less important and are more often ignored than younger generations.
Two-thirds of seniors report experiencing ageism, while younger Canadians avoid interacting with older Canadians, think of them as less vital to society, and harbour numerous other ageist stereotypes.
And all this is reflected by continual policy failures across the country, which is a disservice to all Canadians. Our population is aging, and if you are not a senior now you will be eventually. It is in everyone’s interest for our seniors to be supported as they age.
That means creating more affordable housing stock, strengthening social security, providing better home care, and improving long-term care for those who have no other option.
In particular, profit should be reduced as a factor in the provision of housing and long-term care.
Most of all though, our seniors must be valued as equal members of society—ones who have contributed so much to their communities.
If that does not happen, you may find yourself paying the price one day.
Spencer van Vloten is the editor of You & Me BC. To get in touch, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org