How do we treat our aging population?

CBC ran a story about elderly care homes yesterday, that claimed 43 care homes on Vancouver island have been rated high-risk.  Granted, a small portion of those given the high risk rating haven’t even opened yet( the rating is given based on a lack of information), but the number is still shocking to me. The entire system governing the management of these care homes need to be re-vamped, and soon, because British Columbia’s rapidly approaching a critical point in caring for our elderly.

A combination of factors have lead us to his point, and it is estimated that by 2021, the number of elderly could outnumber the number of children 19 an under in the province. Baby boomers are now into their 60’s and a career driven younger population have produced dramatically decreased birth rates all through BC. Fewer children, more elderly, and herein lies the problem. What is going to happen to these seniors as they reach the point in life where unassisted living is no longer feasible?

I’m lucky. My parents are a lot younger than most people my age – my father is only in his mid-fifties, so this issue isnt one that presses on me immediately, but  I do still think about it.  Its not as easy as it used to be, thinking back to the times when Grandma would just move into the home of one of her children. Now, the majority of us have smaller homes, higher financial commitments, less time, and  couples require two careers to maintain it all. There’s either no extra room in the home for an elderly parent, or no one to take care of him/her, even if you could manage the space.

This leads us to the option many people are forced to choose -care homes. The thought makes me cringe, to be honest, but I know they are not all bad. Many seniors live in care homes and continue happy and productive lives safely and with the care they need at hand to ensure the best outcome. Some, however are not so lucky. It seems we see at least a couple stories each month about seniors suffering in care homes, and I’m sure there are a litany of stories we will never hear about, simply because the seniors affected have no family, or no one cares enough to monitor.

How does the province plan to handle all these seniors that are heading in this direction? We are already trying to handle a lack of qualified care spaces and the number of new homes being built is not nearly enough to handle the estimates of our future senior population. Combine these factors with an unorganized policing system for care homes, and a disaster awaits for someone.  I fear this leaves us in a situation where one of our most vulnerable populations becomes susceptible to neglect and unsafe living situations, and victim to unsustainable government social programs as we flounder to address the problem .

There is much that can be learned from our elderly, as has been recently substantiated by the recent abolishing of mandatory retirement. Older workers are valuable contributors to British Columbia’s economic picture, and the province needs to support those same workers when they do retire, by ensuring their health, safety and happiness as they begin to be dependant on others for care.

These are the citizens that founded and supported the evolution of our nation,  as well as the parents that cared for and worked hard to give us, their children, better futures than they perhaps had. They deserve much more respect than has been given in many cases, and need to remain active within the entire commuity, not isolated in a home somewhere. Its time we all took a good hard look at ourselves , and our parents, and work together to find solutions now, before it becomes time to face the reality of caring for our elderly.