Seniors’ matters deserve more attention

3 Oct 2011  The Telegram (St. John’s)


Edgar Williams is with the Canadian Association of Retired Persons,

St. John’s-Avalon Chapter.

Seniors’ matters deserve more attention

Oct. 1 was National Seniors Day in Canada and the International Day of Older Persons — an opportunity to recognize the important role seniors play and to focus on the issues that affect their lives.

Oct. 11 is election day, a day when seniors, more than any other age group, will cast their ballots. For this reason, politicians should give more than lip service to the issues of concern to seniors.

Is there a long-term plan to deal with the demands of a rapidly aging population whose members live longer than ever before and who will make up more than 25 per cent of our provincial population in a little over a decade? Are we ready to deal with what some have called the looming silver tsunami?

Within the vast Department of Health and Community Services, there is a small division for seniors and aging. It seems a token response compared to that in other provinces. It is time to consider establishing an independent Department of Seniors and Aging. We need a co-ordinated response to the issues that affect seniors.

The population of this province is aging at a faster rate than that of most other provinces. There are about 78,000 seniors here, up from 56,000 in 1991 and 32,500 in 1971.

Seniors represent 15.3 per cent of our estimated total population of 510,000. By 2025, seniors are expected to represent 26 per cent.

Here are a few implications: the demand for long-term care facilities is increasing. There is a need for adequate support for seniors who wish to stay in their own homes, with home care when needed. There’s a need for improved access to health care with reasonable wait times, affordable pharmacare, appropriate recreational facilities and age-friendly communities.

The response to each will require additional financial resources. Can government provide us with its plan?

A new health-care agreement with the federal government must be negotiated by 2014. In a recent survey by the Canadian Medical Association, two areas most frequently mentioned as needing to be incorporated into broader medicare legislation were pharmaceutical drug coverage and longterm care. Will our provincial government consider recommending to the federal government that steps be taken to implement a national pharmacare program?

The Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association has released recommendations for improving care for seniors in the acute-care system. Wait times will get worse unless there are changes in the way health care is delivered.

As well, the cost of living is increasing. Every trip to the supermarket or dentist or drug store provides all the evidence needed. Those on fixed incomes hurt the most. There are seniors in this community who often have to chose between food and pharmaceuticals, or staying at home or going to the mall because of home-heating costs. The claim by some that poverty among aging Canadians has almost been eradicated is a myth.

About 68 per cent of Canadians do not have a retirement pension other than Old Age Security and the Canada Pension Plan. Recent attempts at pension reform have been disappointing. Our seniors deserve, as a minimum, an income support system that provides the basic essentials for healthy living in affordable housing, with some measure of home care as needed.

These are citizens who have spent their lives contributing to the economy, and the least we can do is contribute to their well-being.

A healthy aging population requires:

• adequate financial security. This includes freedom from excessive tax burdens and restrictions, freedom from predatory financial practices and consumer fraud, adequate guaranteed income support programs and equitable access to pension and other retirement savings vehicles.

• adequate health care. This includes equitable and timely access to high-quality health, medicines and medical devices, and aging at home options.

• freedom from age discrimination. This includes the right to continue working, driving and living independently, freedom from stereotypes in advertising and the media, and most importantly, freedom from elder abuse.

It’s something to think about.