From Your Lips to the Policy Maker’s Ear

As part of its mission to report to Canadians on the way changing societal trends are reshaping their quality of life, the Canadian Index of Wellbeing (CIW) has commissioned major research studies on Time Use and on Leisure and Culture. The Canadian Index of Wellbeing is Chaired by no less an esteemed person than the Honourable Roy J. Romanow, the man behind the Royal Commission on the Future of Health Care in Canada and drafted its final report. On June 15h 2010, the CIW released its report “Caught in a Time Crunch: Time Use, Leisure and Culture in Canada”.

Sometimes, we just might find, we get what we need?
The report outlines some important trends, identifies how they are influencing our lives and concludes with some general policy orientations that should be pursued in order for us to maximize our collective well-being. It came as no surprise to learn that some of the most important trends were the increase in caregiving responsibilities, the increasing number of seniors volunteering and the correlation between neighbourhood quality and well-being. CARP members should take pride in noting that the CIW took your voice into account by pointing to CARP polling to support their call for increased quality home care services.

It may seem obvious to some that older Canadians would favour this outcome but we can’t understimate the power of asking and finding collective means to show our governments what we want and what we need. If we don’t ask, we don’t get…

The numbers game: the same! Just more of it…

So once again, let’s look at the latest statistics and what they tell us about older Canadians and those who care for them. More and more of us are becoming caregivers: about one in four (27.8%) employed Canadians care for an older dependent and almost one in give (16.8%) have responsibility for both childcare and eldercare. A significant portion (25%) of caregiving for seniors is is also provided by fellow seniors.

Who is feeling the crunch?

So who is most keenly feeling crunch? A higher proportion of women – nearly 20% more than men – feel caught in a time crunch. One reason is that more women provide unpaid care to seniors and for more hours per week. Employed women with children experience greater time pressure, reduced work-life balance and a decreased sense of emotional wellbeing compared to employed women without children. Unpaid caregivers for adult family members are more likely to report poor health, depressive symptoms, and high risk health behaviours. They have less time for leisure activities, report missing more days of work, taking more personal days and retiring earlier to provide care. Yet most caregivers want to care for their loved ones, they just need a little support.

CARP has repeatedly called for a National Caregiver Strategy that would provide some kind of financial compensation, workplace protection and integration with the formal healthcare system. With such a strategy in place, policy makers could continue to leverage the $25 billion in unpaid labour Canadian caregivers contribute yearly.

More inductees to the no-brainer hall of fame…

Research consistently indicates that retired people 65 and over who engage in active pursuits have better health, lower rates of dementia, and live longer. Hence why it is so important that seniors have access to lifelong learning, recreation and social interaction through age-friendly cities and community planning. All of which, by the way, are CARP Advocacy issues. What’s more, older Canadians want to be engaged – they are volunteering in droves, up from 20.5% in 1992 to 30.5% in 2005.
Age-friendly cities don’t benefit just older Canadians, when buildings are barrier-free, streets are geared towards mobility and accessibility and there is affordable public transit as well as community supports for those who need it – everyone wins. When seniors are afforded rewarding volunteer opportunities and they have the chance to give back to their communities – everyone wins too!

Ralph Waldo Emerson said it best: happiness is a perfume you cannot pour on others without a few drops getting on yourself. If only policy makers could bear that in mind! At least we know that the CIW heard us!