Boyle McCauley News

Since 1979 • February-March 2024 • Circulation 5000

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The Importance of Advocacy for Seniors

The aging baby boomer population bulge is creating change. There are a growing number of specialized services targeted at seniors. I met someone at a party who specializes in “seniors’” real estate. Equally, there are moving companies specializing in helping seniors move. We have all seen the TV ads for walk-in bath tubs and there are many more specialized equipment providers for lift chairs, stair lifts, walkers, scooters, and much more. Providing care to seniors is a growing industry.

More advocacy is also needed for seniors. The recent story about ill-prepared food in rural facilities is a good example of the risks for vulnerable seniors and the benefits of good advocacy. In 2010, Alberta Health Services began phasing out full-service kitchens in nearly 80 facilities with fewer than 125 beds, most of which were rural and small-town hospitals and seniors’ facilities. Fresh meals were replaced with pre-cooked “heat and serve” dishes trucked in from warehouses in large cities. This small change resulted in genuine discomfort and even perhaps health issues for the seniors in these facilities. They complained about the quality of the food. The Alberta Union of Public Employees along with Public Interest Alberta’s Seniors Task Force (amongst others) exposed this issue in seniors care. This resulted in the Minister ordering the reopening of the kitchens in the seniors’ facilities.

This change could not have happened without advocacy.

Two other organizations playing a role in advocating for seniors have recently come to my attention. And, they both have a connection to our community. Strangely, I discovered one while in Germany last summer. I was visiting a friend who told me about his connection to International HelpAge. I had never heard of this organization but we thought, there has to be a Canadian component.

When I looked up HelpAge Canada, I discovered that our neighbour, Rosalie Gelderman was secretary of the board. Rosalie became involved with HelpAge Canada through Operation Friendship (OF). HelpAge Canada placed international volunteers at OF. Despite leaving OF, Rosalie remains active with HelpAge as she continues to work with seniors in Edmonton.

As the population ages there will be a continuing need for both advocacy organizations and advocacy for and by individuals. Expanding services also means greater opportunity for exploitation and mistreatment of seniors.

By 2029 25% of the Canadian populations will be over 65. And this is a worldwide trend. A report put out by HelpAge International reads, “by 2050 one in five people worldwide will be over 60.” This same report entitled Insights on Aging: a survey report goes on to say “The scale and speed of global population aging are staggering.” This is occurring in part because of lower birth rates particularly in developed countries but also because: “Worldwide, life expectancy at birth has increased by twenty-one years since 1950, a bigger gain over the past sixty years than humanity has achieved over the previous six thousand.” So, there will be more seniors and they will live longer. This has huge implications and merits critical thinking and planning.

Rosalie is now in the thinking and planning component of delivering services to seniors. She is working for the Edmonton Seniors Coordinating Council (ESCC) as Program Coordinator. This organization is not strictly speaking an advocacy organization but they play an important role in coordinating services.

There are many neighbourhood and program specific senior services. The ESCC helps organizations plan and collaborate. They are a communication hub for the senior sector. Rosalie is working on both transportation and the “aging in place” initiatives of the Council. It is wonderful to see Rosalie continuing her work with seniors. In this community Rosalie was a very effective advocate for vulnerable seniors.

On a broader scale, HelpAge Canada is dedicated to helping vulnerable elderly in Canada and the developing world. For 30 years they have been helping seniors to overcome poverty, claim their rights, and challenge discrimination. HelpAge Canada is a founding member of HelpAge International and is part of a global network of organizations operating in more than 80 countries. Most of their Canadian work is now in Nunavut.

As the population ages there will be a continuing need for both advocacy organizations and advocacy for and by individuals. Expanding services also means greater opportunity for exploitation and mistreatment of seniors. The Alberta government likes to promote the development of private for-profit services for seniors. In this process one can’t help but wonder how these vulnerable senior consumers will be safe-guarded.

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