Surprising Statistics about Seniors

By Dr. Diane J. Salter


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Have you heard about the "Silver Tsunami"? Do you believe dementia is an inevitable part of getting older? Do you think that moving to  residential care is inevitable? These and other misconceptions about seniors were debunked by Isobel Mackenzie, BC’s provincial Seniors advocate in her presentation at the November meeting of the White Rock/ South Surrey chapter of the Canadian Federation of University Women (CFUW).
 
As seniors advocate for BC, Mackenzie monitors and analyzes seniors’ services and issues in BC and makes recommendations to government and service providers to address systemic issues. In her talk, she suggested that the question of "Who are seniors and what do they want?" is easy to ask but difficult to answer. Like the rest of the population, and in any age group, "seniors" are not all the same.
In her talk to CFUW members, Mackenzie shared some interesting statistics that debunk many of the myths about seniors and aging. In British Columbia, the figure of 850,000 seniors, represents only 17% of the population. If the growth until 2031 is as projected, the figure will rise to 24% of the population. Hardly a Tsunami!
 
According to BC demographic statistics, and contrary to popular belief, most seniors do not live in residential care but continue to live independently with 93% over 65 and 74% over 85 living independently.  The fear of dementia is another unsupported myth according to statistics indicating that most of us will not face a diagnosis of dementia. In fact, 95% of seniors over 65 and 80% of people over 85 live *without* this diagnosis.

Another good news story is that the life expectancy of those living in BC, 83, is the highest in Canada; higher than the US, Sweden and the UK. Since BC survey results show that we have reported good habits that promote good health in many areas (such as not smoking, frequent walking and social participation), these good habits contribute to our longevity. However, one area for improvement is in our consumption of fruits and vegetables with only 36.5% of those over 65 having the suggested five servings per day.  
 
Many (45%) of our active BC seniors within the 65-69 age group volunteer, contributing an average of 233 volunteer hours per year.  This unpaid but willing and capable workforce provides support for many community initiatives that would not be possible without our volunteers.
 
When seniors in BC need care, many supports are in place to help seniors and their caregivers, however, there are gaps and challenges.  Navigating a complex system for accessing support when needed can be overwhelming. Currently, among seniors that require home support, 97% have an unpaid caregiver and 53% of these clients fit the clinical program of someone who would qualify for residential care. This makes the stress on unpaid caregivers looking after needy family members or friends a concern; ways to provide respite for caregivers is needed.  The rate of caregivers in distress in BC is reported at 29%, the highest in Canada.
 
Another concern is the over-prescribing of prescription drugs for those in residential care. A BC study of 30,000 seniors admitted over a four-year period (Jan. 2011–Dec. 2015) showed that 32.4% of residents in care were prescribed antipsychotics without a diagnosis of psychosis (the highest rate in Canada); 26.4% of residents with no history of antidepressants prior to admission were put on medication within 180 days; and 50.7% were prescribed a benzodiazepine within 180 days (32.2% with no prior history).
 
The Office of the Seniors Advocate is about to undertake a survey of 27,000 seniors living in 300 residential care facilities across BC.  Volunteers are needed to conduct surveys. The goal is to get first-hand feedback on the quality of their residential care and accommodations, give voice to the residents and families and provide a road map for improvement of the quality of care and services provided to residents and their families in residential care. Those interested in volunteering can contact the Office of the Seniors Advocate.
 
Mackenzie touched on the topic of "ageism" and how seniors are often stereotyped and discriminated against based on age. In debunking some of the common myths about aging these prejudicial attitudes may be challenged and the valuable contributions of older adults in our society will be recognized and celebrated.
 
The Canadian Federation of University Women is a national, bilingual, independent organization striving to promote equality, social justice, fellowship and life-long learning for women and girls. New members are welcome. For more information on the CFUW and our local club, visit www.cfuwwhiterocksurrey.com
 
For further information on the Office of the Seniors Advocate located in Victoria, visit www.seniorsadvocate.ca. Or call the toll-free number 1-877-952-3181.

Click here to read more about Isobel Mackenzie and the work she's doing

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