B.C.’s seniors advocate Isobel Mackenzie was in Williams Lake Wednesday, March 11 to dispel myths about the ‘silver tsunami’ and arm people 65 and over with information for the future.
“I’m often asked what do seniors want?” Mackenzie told the 70 people at the Seniors Activity Centre who attended a town hall. “We’ve taken everyone over 65 and lumped them together and labelled them as seniors, creating stereotypes. If we did that with any other group it wouldn’t be tolerated.”
Emphasizing her point further she showed a slide depicting two women in their 30s — Jane and Anne in the 1960s. Jane was a stay-at-home mom, a photograph of her portrayed her serving her husband a meal at the table. Anne, on the other hand, was a 60s hippie.
Now in their 90s if Jane and Anne become roommates in a care home they have no more in common than they did in their 30s, Mackenzie said.
In B.C. today there are 920,000 seniors which represents 19 per cent of the population. In 2031, it is predicted there will be 1,380,000 seniors which will be 25 per cent of the population.
“It is important to separate fact from fiction,” she added. “We hear that seniors are all rich or all poor. The fact is 28 per cent of people over 65 have annual incomes below $24,000 and 35 per cent of seniors who rent have an annual income less than $20,000.”
Mackenzie looked around the room and said most of the people will live independently as statistics show for people 85 years and over, 74 per cent live independently in their own home, 10 per cent live in retirement homes or assisted living but still live independently and only 15 per cent live in a nursing home, and it is believed that percentage will decrease in the future.
From the 85 years and over demographic, 80 per cent do not have Alzheimer’s and 20 per cent do.
“You are less like than likely to develop it,” she said. “Just because someone is ditsy at 30 doesn’t mean they will get Alzheimer’s. We have to keep things in perspective, and if someone has mild cognitive impairment, it doesn’t mean they cannot make decisions.”
Recently a report prepared by her office showed that only 13 per cent of people over 85 are using subsidized home support.
Another myth is that seniors are clogging up hospital emergency departments, but in reality only 25 per cent of patients visiting them are over 65 and only six per cent are over 85, she said.
“I worry that seniors hear that myth and it creates a message not to call 9-1-1 when sometimes they need to.”
Losing a driver’s licence is a concern for seniors because it means the loss of independence, yet 90 per cent of people over 65 still have theirs and 44 per cent of people over 85 have theirs.
“Most surrender their licences on their own,” she added, noting she hopes B.C.’s new ride-hailing solution will create an opportunity for senior-focused rides. “It’s not going to replace the spontaneity of being able to go out whenever you want, but I really think there is an opportunity there.”
A survey of seniors with medical issues revealed that many of them were not aware of several existing programs such as the Home Adaptation for Independence through BC Housing that provides financial assistance for things like ramps or accessible showers. A number of people weren’t aware of the property tax deferral programs, home accessibility tax credit, medical expense tax credit or pension splitting options.
She closed off her presentation by urging everyone to plan ahead by creating a will with a power of attorney and completing a representation agreement for health care decisions.
“When it comes to the representation agreements you really want to think about the fact that irrevocable decisions can be made.”
Sometimes a person will not select an adult child to be the representative agreement person because they don’t want them to have to make the end of life decisions for them, she added.
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Responding, city councillor Sheila Boehm said she was a nurse before she became a chiropractor and said it is important for people to talk about their health desires with family because often when someone is in the hospital, it is family members who are at their side.
Mackenzie said many people leave power of attorney with a lawyer, instructing them on when to release it.
Things change too, she said. “What you decide at 55 or 6o you may want to change later. Age is incremental. Everybody’s circumstances will be different, but yes, you need to talk with your family.”
Mackenzie said 58 per cent of seniors worry about being a burden to family members and she said that should not be the case.
“We should be able to address the fact that either we will spend time caring for our parents or paying someone else to care for them. There’s no magic bullet.”
When asked why care homes differ in places like Ireland where the ratio of caregivers to residences is higher and food is all prepared at facilities, Mackenzie said it was a good question and agreed that things have to be done a different way to move away from Canada’s ‘highly-structured system.’