Lifestyle ColumnistsNeil McKenty
20 hot senior issues
For our 11th anniversary, we published 11 hot senior issues of concern. Some are still hot, if not hotter. Here are the topics from that time, and 20 new hot senior issues, some suggested by the CJCS Social Action Committee:
The issues of 1997
Quebec’s Drug Insurance Law, Drug Patents, Retirement Savings, A New Type of Volunteer, Senior Abuse, Pension Plans, Over-Medication, Age-related diseases, breast cancer, grandparents’ and caregivers’ rights.
The issues of 2006
1. Waiting Lists While we are pleased the federal government, provinces and territories have agreed on minimum standards for waiting times for medical procedures, we want all provinces and territories to publish the current wait times and develop a program to achieve these minimums. All federal funds provided to the provinces under this initiative should be subject to full transparency and accountability.
2. Reciprocity Quebec hasn’t signed the Reciprocal Medical Billing Agreement as has the rest of Canada. The federal government should intervene to ensure Quebecers aren’t at risk when traveling outside Quebec.
3. Pensions In urban areas, where the majority of seniors live, pensions are not adequate for those seniors totally dependent on government programs (Old Age Security and Guaranteed Income Security.) There should be a review of the Federal Pension programs so that pensions meet rising costs.
Quebec pensions are insufficient for those who rely on government programs, and many worry that annual increases are not keeping up with their increased cost of living. We need to review the pension structure now.
4. Grandparents raising grandchildren Roughly 57,000 Canadian children are being raised by family other than a parent, usually by a grandparent or grandparents. Aside from economic difficulties, grandparents raising grandchildren may encounter legal or health problems. Organizations such as Cangrands, the Orphaned Grandparents Association and Grandparents Requesting Access and Dignity can lend support, both financial and emotional to grandparents who are raising their grandchildren.
5. Taxes Old Age Security claw backs penalize seniors by imposing an unfair penalty in excess of current taxation rates. The claw back is discriminatory in that the rate applied is higher than on other income. Today’s seniors come from an era when women lost their jobs when they married. Seniors’ family income is unfairly taxed due to the couple’s inability to split their income. As recommended by the Federal Finance Committee Report of December 2004, seniors should be allowed to split their pension income when determining their taxes.
While seniors are now allowed a $2000 deduction on taxable revenue received from private pension, this provision should be expanded to cover public pensions as well, and should be indexed annually.
In Quebec during the last election, the Liberals committed to an annual $1 billion tax reduction to alleviate the burden on Quebec taxpayers, the highest taxed citizens in North America.
6. Seniors’ Ministry An independent Ministry for Seniors should be established with the responsibility of policy planning and coordination. Remember Monique Vézina, who was present at The Times of Your Life, our festival in 1988 and 1989? What happened to her position? We should also have a minister of state for Quebec seniors. Seniors are the largest identifiable group in the province without a cabinet minister responsible for their issues and needs.
7. Limitless Learning Research shows the older brain has more potential than we once thought. It has also been established that using your grey matter will protect against dementia. Most university programs have given affordable access to 55+ students.
8. Loneliness, especially for women over 60, has always been a problem. There are few single, able-bodied men out there for the increasing number of widows and divorcées who find themselves isolated, far from family. Many would like to re-marry or at least date, but with a shortage of older men, it’s tough. We promise to do a story on how single older women can meet their match soon.
9. Alzheimer’s disease One in 13 Canadians has some form of dementia, with the numbers expected to rise as the population ages. While ongoing research and new medicines provide hope in the long-term, music, art and occupational therapy have a real potential to maximize the quality of life for patients now. There’s an urgent need to support and educate those caring for and living with dementia, so that they may better understand and manage the sometimes erratic behaviour the illness causes.
10. The word “senior” is no longer a happy word to describe the new crop of baby boomers heading to 60 years and beyond. As boomers we need a designation. Yes, we’ve boomed and blossomed, but what can we comfortably call ourselves? Not golden agers, and certainly not “old folks!” After all, we’ll never be old.
11. Parkinson’s disease The Parkinson Society of Canada estimates that there are approximately 100,000 Canadians suffering with Parkinson's disease, which leaves a person unable to control their movements normally. The average age of onset is 60. Recent research includes investigation of the possible role of diet and a growing interest in genetics and inherited factors. But, as it stands, there is no cure for Parkinson’s. Those suffering with the disease are encouraged to maintain their independence by asking for help only when it is needed and by keeping family and friends informed of their status.
12. Osteoporosis 1.4 million Canadians suffer from osteoporosis. One in four women and one in eight men over the age of 50 has osteoporosis. The reduced quality of life for those with osteoporosis is enormous. It can result in disfigurement, lowered self-esteem, reduction or loss of mobility, and decreased independence. But there are ways to prevent and monitor the disease, such as getting your recommended amounts of vitamin D, engaging in regular weight-bearing exercise, avoiding cigarettes and alcohol and talking to your doctor about bone health.
13. Caregivers As baby boomers age, so do our parents. We often find ourselves bound to them, especially those in declining states, both physical and mental, with little financial or emotional support. There are caregiver support groups, but the government, both federal and provincial need to recognize this growing demographic who look after elderly parents themselves or pay large chunks out of dwindling pensions and their own incomes for professional caregivers.
14. Seniors & computers Seniors are logging on more and more in what has become a love-hate relationship with technology. When radios and television sets first appeared in our homes, they changed our lives. But those changes were small compared to those the internet has spurred. Once we discover that a computer is essentially a big toy that doesn’t break easily, we begin to appreciate the opportunities for communication and learning the web affords.
15. Working seniors Seniors are working longer, some because they enjoy it and others because they can’t afford to retire. Work integration and training programs for older workers are necessary and may benefit employers and younger employees who profit from an older person’s experience.
16. Seniors & pets A pet can lighten up the life of someone whose children have moved away, yet when seniors decide to downsize and move to a residence, they must make an agonizing choice. Pets provide exercise, stimulation, and endless love and are a big antidote to loneliness. Sadly, there aren’t enough residences that accept pets. Too often seniors must prematurely say goodbye to a best friend.
17. Ageism Seniors are often portrayed in a less than flattering way by movies and television. In a society that has become, on the whole, less gentle, and where children often don’t get to know and love a grandparent, the risk of stereotyping is greater.
18. Fitness While seniors don’t usually go to the gym to create broader biceps, increasingly, older people opt to keep in shape to stay strong and autonomous as long as possible. Gentle forms of exercise like Tai Chi or Pilates are increasingly popular.
19. Home Evaluations The sharp rise in home evaluations affects seniors on a fixed income living in their own homes. Unable to afford the increased taxes, they may be forced to sell their home before they’re ready.
20. Our ailing transportation system The new buses were not created with us in mind. For the frail or those with bad knees or hips, moving from our seats to the door is hazardous. There are too many stairs at most metro stations, and the escalators are often not working. We need serious protests and boycotts to force the city to serve our needs!
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