Statistics Canada's 2016 census showed that there were 5.9 million Canadian seniors, compared to only 5.8 million Canadians 14 and under. The proportion of the senior population (aged 65 and older) has been increasing steadily over the past 40 years. From 1971 to 2010, the proportion of seniors in the population grew from 8% to 14%.
The aging of the population is due to the baby boomers turning 65 over the last five years, as well as the increasing life expectancy of Canadians and a low fertility rate.
B.C. has the four municipalities, three of them on Vancouver Island, with the most seniors: Qualicum Beach (52.1 per cent), Parksville (42.4 per cent), Osoyoos (42.9 per cent) and Sidney (40.9 per cent).
During the last five years British Columbia recorded the largest increase in the proportion of people aged 65 and over standing at 18.3%. Today, the province is home to about 678,000 people aged 65 and over. By 2020, that number is expected to grow to 984,000, and by 2036 there will be nearly 1.5 million seniors in B.C.
According to Canada’s demographic projections, the proportion of seniors is expected to increase rapidly until 2031, when all the baby boomers will have reached 65. Seniors could represent between 23% and 25% of the total population in 2036.
A New Ministry for Seniors
Keenly aware of the demographic changes in Canada’s population, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, in a Liberal Cabinet shuffle on July 18, created a new position and added to his cabinet Hamilton MP and former deputy whip of the Liberal caucus Filomena Tassi as Minister of Senior Citizens. Now seniors have a seat at the table of government. They should make their voices heard in the coming elections.
The 2018 BC provincial budget prepares for the senior population surge with a number of measures to benefit seniors. They include the elimination of Medical Services Plan premiums by 2020, an increase to the Shelter Aid for low-income elderly renters, a funding of $548 million over three years to improve care for seniors, B.C.’s Fair Pharma Care’s elimination of deductibles for seniors who qualify, B.C. Ferries restoring senior discounts and free rides Monday to Thursday, and Translink reinstating free bus passes to seniors receiving disability assistance. The budget also promises $950 million in additional funding to maintain health services and improve primary care and quality acute residential and community care for seniors.
The golden years are lonely years
When a senior in a nursing home was asked how it feels to be old, he replied: “I’ve outlived my feet and my teeth, had two bypass surgeries, a hip replacement, new knees, fought prostate cancer and diabetes. I'm half blind, can't hear anything quieter than a jet engine, take 40 different medications that make me dizzy, winded, and subject to blackouts. I’ve bouts with dementia, have poor circulation; hardly feel my hands and feet anymore. Can't remember if I'm 85 or 92.
And I have lost all my friends.”
Many of us may know such a senior because most of us have a senior in our life – parents, grandparents, older relatives, a favorite teacher, a kind neighbor or a dear old friend. Back in the Philippines seniors grow old surrounded by family and friends. It would be considered a disgrace to put them in a nursing home but not in Canada where nursing homes are considered the place to care for seniors. For many Canadian Filipinos this is a dilemma. Their condos are usually not equipped to deal with wheelchairs or walkers, everyone in the family is either at work or school and there’s nobody to look after a disabled senior at home; and they have no spare room for a live- in caregiver.
For most Filipino seniors, growing old in Canada is lonely whether at home or in a nursing home. Today, 70 per cent of all deaths in Canada occur to people older than 65. The majority want to die at home, according to a study, but 65 per cent of dying Canadians are not receiving quality end of life care. That means 65 per cent of dying seniors are attached to machines they don’t want, are in pain they can hardly stand, and dying alone without the dignity and respect they deserve.
Seniors have paid their dues to society and deserve a better treatment in their declining years. All of us will become old in due course and must see ourselves in these seniors as how we will be in our own old age. Do we want to age this way and die that way?
This summer when planning your backyard barbecue or a picnic on the beach and other outings, invite a homebound senior to enjoy the great outdoors with you. Be compassionate with the aged because you will be one too.
By Eleanor R. Laquian for the CFNet Editorial Board