It’s time we pay attention to elder care

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Sabrina Almeida

By 2030, almost one in four Canadians will be a senior. In fact, according to the UN, for the first time in history the elderly out number young children in the world. Given the current trend it is estimated that there will be more than two seniors (over 65 years) for each child (0 to 4 years) by 2050. With this major shift in our demographics, senior health care and well-being should be a top national priority. But while child care has the attention of all our PM hopefuls, elder care is a side bar conversation.

Sure, the Liberals have pledged to increase Old Age Security by 10% after age 75 and the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) for widows by 25%, as well as look into senior abuse. The Conservatives, for their part, vowed to increase the Age Tax Credit. The NDP hasn’t made any major announcements yet except to say that the national pharmacare plan will save seniors hundreds of dollars on prescription medication and include them in the poverty and homelessness group (a section on the website) that needs our help. The Greens plan to increase the CPP’s target income replacement rate from 25% to 50%. Of course, there aren’t any details on how the parties plan to fund these initiatives. No worries!!! From what we’ve seen election promises can take four years to be implemented… and often carry over to the next election! Additional money to keep up with inflation is great but that doesn’t fill the gap in services.

It’s not just the politicians that ignore seniors but society as a whole. That’s why development of elder infrastructure and support services is slow. Realization comes only when you or a loved one crosses that threshold. The wait list for long-term care is so long that support workers advised us to apply right away for my father-in-law. We were told there was a minimum two-year wait.

The home care that politicians are advocating would be ideal if it worked. While the PSW who attended to my father-in-law was great, not everyone is that fortunate. A friend shared that services provided for her mother-in-law by the Mississauga-Halton LIHN were pointless as support workers expected the family to assist them in their duties. The family turned to private help which was very expensive. This was out experience too, when our regular PSW was unable to make it. Other families tell similar stories.

The rise in elder abuse is also troubling but it doesn’t make headlines like child abuse does. It happens at home as well as in long-term care and senior residences. A friend’s dad was picked on by his room mate, till a family member intervened. The elderly gentleman didn’t bring it to the attention of the management for the fear the abuse would increase. Neglect and ill-treatment by the staff are also fairly common. Two friends were disturbed by the constant bruises on their parents. Raising the issue made no difference, so they brought them home and shelled out huge sums for private care.

A care worker in a senior residence narrated how her colleagues lied on reports about meals and medication and sometimes skipped the personal hygiene routine. Many of the residents were afraid of them. Their families never knew what went on. Being a new recruit who needed the job initially prevented her from raising her concerns. Of course, the management found a way to edge her out when she did. Greater oversight and frequent spot checks of elder facilities are required to prevent this abuse.

Perhaps the best solution would be to increase resources for home care. Loneliness impacts seniors’ physical and emotional well-being. While the company of other older adults (in senior residences) is good, studies show that intergenerational involvement and living, like our Indian joint families, are proving to have the greatest benefits. A friend whose mother had dementia, deteriorated rapidly when she moved to her own home. She felt that the presence of the grandchildren kept her mother enthused and engaged.

That being said, with dementia on the rise, the national strategy must include not only prevention initiatives but services to improve quality of life for people living with the condition as well as their caregivers. Adult daycare centres can provide family members respite and give seniors an opportunity to engage with peers and the community.

October 1 was National Seniors Day, not a big deal judging from the sporadic activities. It’s time to change that story starting with government initiatives. Politicians ought to be put on notice that their largest vote bank cannot be taken for granted! -CINEWS

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