The New Old Age dawns in the GlebeBY DESMOND DEVOY
The appointment of a federal Minister of Science, a tax credit for caregivers to the elderly and a national pharmacare program were some of the suggestions put forward by local groups at a roundtable discussion on seniors' issues in the Glebe last week.
"No senior in this country should have to choose between filling a prescription and buying quality food," said Senator Sharon Carstairs (Liberal - Manitoba), during the "New `Old Age"' Seniors Roundtable at The Glebe Centre, 950 Bank Street, on the afternoon of Thursday, August 7th, of the need for pharmacare.
Sen. Carstairs recently tabled her second interim report "Issues and Options for an Aging Population," to the Senate, and in the lead-up to filing the final report on Tuesday, September 30th, the day before the international Day of Older Persons. On top of the need for pharmacare, she added that "we learned about the need for a national home care program."
She is continuing to seek input from communities across the country. Before her foray into the wider world of seniors issues, Sen. Carstairs told the crowd that "I have been passionate about the cause of palliative care since 1995," she said, noting that the number of Canadians with access to quality end-of-life care has risen from 10 to 37 percent, but that "there is still 63 per cent of Canadians who do not have access to quality, end-of-life care."
Other members of the panel were equally vocal about what they wanted to see change when it came to addressing Canada's booming senior population.
One speaker noted that there was "a missing component of the report, that is, the explicit promotion of increased support for research on health and aging," said Larry W Chambers, PhD, President and Chief Scientist of the Elisabeth Bruyere Research Institute and Vice President of Research at the SCO Health Service in Lower town.
In order to help coordinate this large task, Chambers suggested that "federal government leadership in research areas, including research on health and aging, is difficult, without someone at the highest level in the federal government overseeing research, that is, a Minister for Science in the cabinet."
Chambers’ organization itself has more than 90 scientists and research support workers on its staff.
Another initiative put forward was that a senior’s income tax credit be put into place to help prevent financial and personal "burnout" by caregivers.
However, to prevent abuse, "the senior who receives the care should validate the credit," suggested Lawrence Grant, Executive Director of The Glebe Centre, admitting that °a great deal of thought would need to go into the criteria," but adding that "the significant contribution made by families should be recognized."
Further to this, Grant noticed that, while he did not have statistics in front of him, based on his anecdotal observances at the Glebe Centre, "between 25 and 40 per cent of long term residents could be candidates for readmission back into the community if the right supports were in place."
A guest from Toronto chided what she called "right wing" talk about the looming issue of seniors.
"I became incensed at phrases like the Grey Tsunami," said the Honourable Dr. Carolyn Bennett, MP (St. Paul's) of the fears spread by some that the baby boom generation, once it hits retirement age, "are going to come and gobble up these resources."
As a former doctor herself, "I knew that the patient knew their bodies best," and that when it comes to issues like seniors, "the solutions are in the trenches...We have enough thinkers conferences, we don't have enough doers conferences," said the former Minister of State for Public Health.
One Centretown participant readily agreed with Dr. Bennett on the notion of where the best solutions could be found.
"We are the people in the trenches. We see a lot of people coming to see us," said Dr. Elizabeth Chin, of the Centretown Community Health Centre at 420 Cooper Street. "We see a lot of seniors who have a lot of problems, [because] they are poor, they have mental diseases, and I'm not talking about dementia."
Of particular concern for seniors citizens who live in the downtown core are New Canadian seniors who speak neither English or French, who are easily scared or intimidated.
"We've got a lot of seniors phoning up crying, saying that they have received a brown envelope from the government, and they don't know what it is saying," said Dr. Chin.
The event was chaired and organized by Penny Collenette, the federal Liberal candidate in Ottawa Centre in the upcoming election.
"We may need to have some clear changes to public policy," said Collenette, of how Canadian society can deal with the problem. She noted that the most pressing issues facing seniors, aside from health care, was transit and housing. Collenette herself had a difficult time caring for both her parents during their final years, with her mother spending the final month of her life in a hospice. "The topic of our aging population concerns me," she admitted.
Collenette pointed to Sen. Carstairs's report, which found that in 1971, 7.9 per cent of the Canadian population was aged 65 and up. By 2006, that number had risen to 13.1 per cent, and that it will soon crack the 25 per cent margin. Even more eye opening, the report discovered that before 1961, only four per cent of the senior population was composed of immigrants or "New Canadians." During the 2001-2006 period, that number had risen to about 50 per cent.
Collenette had invited a representative from the Ottawa Food Bank to take part in the discussion, but due to scheduling and vacation commitments, no one was able to attend. She did however read out an email message from the bank, which noted that they are seeing more seniors, especially those with special dietary needs, like a low sodium diet, come through their doors.
Penny is a frequent public policy commentator on national television. During the 2011 federal election, Penny was a commentator for Global TV. Penny tweets @penottawa.
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