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Language barrier, access to resources concern Anglo seniors

English speaking seniors represent over a quarter of the English population in Quebec. Their numbers are greater than the entire population of PEI, with the greatest number, 152,701, concentrated in Montreal. Because they are unevenly dispersed across the province, it is difficult for them to make their voices heard and be taken into account when governments design policies to meet the needs of the aging population.

Until now, research in Quebec has not specifically focused on the 55+ demographic in the English community. With the release of “Moving Forward-Building research capacity related to Quebec’s English-speaking seniors” commissioned by the Quebec Community Groups Network, organizations advocating for older Anglophone Quebecers will have a tool they can use to build a unified voice. The report used data gathered from a literature review, the 2011 Canadian census and two surveys, with the province-wide participation of 835 seniors over 55.

“There is a part of the senior population that has different needs and priorities as a linguistic minority than the wider population,” says Celine Cooper, who managed the three-year research project. “Our mandate was not to provide recommendations but to teach seniors to use the data base to improve their lives.”

A steering committee with members recruited from different senior organizations across Quebec identified research priorities. One of the most pressing concerns is access to services and information, says Ruth Pelletier, president of Seniors Action Quebec, which represents 270,000 Quebec seniors. “There is a need to access not just health care but also legal services and resources.”

According to the QCGN survey, more than one quarter of English-speaking seniors (27.7%) need assistance when it comes to communicating with public service providers, with the greatest need in Gaspésie-Iles-de-la-Madeleine, Laval, Montérégie and Estrie. Women demonstrated the greatest need for assistance (29.4 %) while those between 65-74 (31.7%) were more likely to need help.

Over 93% said it is important that information be made available in English. When survey respondents were asked about the challenges they faced when trying to access information in their own language, they said the agency forms were not available in English, they would prefer to speak to someone rather than do a computer search or that they could not find information in English. Only half of respondents (50.2%) were bilingual, with seniors over 75 being the least able to speak French.

Social support networks and living conditions constitute another issue of concern. “In the regions, seniors’ neighbours and friends are older.” Pelletier said. “We have to see how we can supplement the services they require.” She cites, as an example, a cancer patient living in the Laurentians who must travel to and from Montreal daily for ten days for radiation treatment, because she can’t afford a hotel. “Where do we get a driver, if the family is gone or working? We need help, there is no shuttle service.”

Housing for seniors presents a problem as well, Pelletier says, since many seniors find themselves alone with no family left in Quebec. “There are no residences or adequate seniors homes and they rely on family and neighbours. At 80, most of your network is going to be the same age. This requires provincial and municipal partners, community organizations, and it may mean policy change. We can’t do it alone.”

The plan is to disseminate the information in English-speaking communities and to get conversations going between stakeholders. “There was a sense of what people were experiencing, but this is tangible evidence,” Cooper says.

To read the executive summary or the full report, visit qcgn-seniors.org

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