Old age for boomers may be just a little more comfortable than it is for seniors now. Not because we’ll have more money, although some of us will. And not because we’re healthier, although some of us may be.
We might manage old age with a bit more ease because we’re flexible.
Isobel Mackenzie, BC’s Seniors Advocate, says one of the real struggles for many older citizens now is the move from their single family home: their house that requires upkeep, likely has stairs and which comes with all the responsibilities and stresses of home ownership. It’s a hard and emotional transition when the time comes that they simply can’t manage and need to move to a condo, an apartment, assisted living or a care facility.
Boomers, on the other hand, often choose condo living for its ease and many may miss the trauma of moving from their house to a building with shared walls entirely.
We’ll also be more inclined to be involved in choices about our health and our independence.
“As long as we’re competent, most of us will insist on making our own choices,” says Mackenzie. “We’re a generation that’s attuned to making plans and decisions for ourselves. We’re not inclined to simply accept what others tell us.”
That doesn’t mean the elderly boomer won’t be frustrated by health challenges nor by changes to mobility. Mackenzie expects adapting to changes in our transportation modes will be tough for many boomers. We’re drivers, and while we know we should use public transit more, right or wrong, we often choose our car over the bus.
British Columbia seniors got a champion in their corner in 2014 when the government named Mackenzie as BC’s – and Canada’s – first Seniors Advocate.
Mackenzie monitors and makes recommendations on the system of services for seniors, especially as they pertain to health care, housing, income supports, personal supports and transportation.
From Tofino to Dawson Creek, she’s spoken with thousands of seniors about the issues that matter to them; what’s working and what’s not. To understand life and the challenges of seniors today, she’s held dozens of town hall meetings, spent time in scrubs in hospital emergency departments, held the hands of dementia patients and listened closely to the stories of Vancouver seniors who can’t afford housing and to rural seniors who can’t find it.
In all her travels and conversations, Mackenzie has encountered one recurring theme experienced by seniors everywhere: ageism.
To older people, ageism looks like this: they feel invisible, looked over and looked past. Their choices and decisions are questioned and sometimes denied them, and their contributions dismissed. Many feel devalued and diminished.
Mackenzie can make recommendations to government about housing, transportation and healthcare, but ageism is infuriatingly difficult to address. It is pervasive and insinuates itself into all corners of society, including the media. Mackenzie took *Globe and Mail* columnist Margaret Wente to task recently for a column she described as a “generationally divisive and stunningly inaccurate generalization of a group of people based on their age.”
When a widely read columnist like Wente accuses affluent seniors of “robbing” future generations – hardly the picture of senior life that Mackenzie sees every day – ageism is a tough nut to crack.
“This generalization and homogenization we do of people based on their age is overarching,” she says. There are misguided notions that because people are older, they need help with decisions. “Some people do need assistance,” says Mackenzie. “But if people are competent – and most are - it’s their life and they’re entitled to make their own decisions; even if they are poor decisions.
“We mean well, but we really need to have greater respect for the choices people make.”
Mackenzie pulls no punches in letting government know the state of seniors’ services in BC. She has issued reports on caregiver stress (BC has the one of the highest rates of unpaid caregiver distress in Canada), aggression in residential care homes (slightly fewer hours of direct care in facilities experiencing the most incidents of resident-to-resident aggression), and on housing (not as available nor as affordable as it needs to be).
This summer, she launched a ground-breaking initiative to interview every competent resident of every publicly funded residential care facility in the province. Volunteers are being recruited and trained to conduct the interviews that will provide the Advocate with first-hand information about residents’ experiences in care.
Mackenzie has worked with seniors for most of her career. Prior to becoming the Seniors Advocate, she led BC’s largest not-for-profit agency. She also led the implementation of a new model of dementia care, and the first safety accreditation for homecare workers.
When she became Seniors Advocate, she was struck by the disparity of services and the lack of standardization throughout the province.
South Vancouver Island, where she’d spent most of her career – while not without its own issues – she found to be relatively well resourced compared to some other regions and communities. Still, seniors everywhere deal with the same challenges, but from differing perspectives.
Housing, for example, is a challenge across the province. In the Lower Mainland and Victoria, affordability is a major issue, while in rural BC availability is the challenge.
“In some communities, there’s nothing available,” she says. “The private sector isn’t coming to build.”
Public transportation is readily available to seniors in southwest BC, but not necessarily so for the rural senior who can no longer drive.
More than 820,000 people 65 and over live in BC – 17.5 per cent of the population and growing. Mackenzie and her staff are looking at seniors’ experience in this province from five angles so, whether you live in Cranbrook or Prince Rupert, the system has a better chance of getting it right.
For information about the Office of the Seniors Advocate, visit www.seniorsadvocatebc.ca
Gery Lemon is a Victoria journalist and communications consultant who specializes in seniors’ issues and interests.
august 2016 INSPIRED senior living magazine
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