Old age is a life lived, a stage of life and a journey.
Too often, it is associated with decline and loss. Too often, older adults are ignored based on a false assumption that they have little to contribute. This is nothing short of ageism.
Seniors have the right to live free from the fear of abuse
In April, Canadians and people from around the world were horrified at the discovery of 31 deaths at Montreal’s Herron nursing home.
Reports indicate two nurses were left to care for 130 elderly residents -- caregivers left their workplace amid a coronavirus outbreak.
Residents were found dehydrated, “lying listless in bed, unfed for days, with excrement seeping out of their diapers.”
What we don’t hear in the midst of all of these doomsday reports is how seniors contribute to society.
Seniors shop, use services and pay taxes. They also volunteer. Many organizations would be hard pressed to function without older volunteers.
Seniors give generously they make more charitable donations per capita than any other age group.
Seniors babysit -- they look after grandchildren. What would happen if grandparents weren’t available to look after grandchildren?
How many parents would have to scramble to find other care options, or would have to miss work because they couldn’t find alternatives?
How many soccer games or ballet classes would be missed if grandma or grandpa were not there to drive their grandchildren?
Seniors do housework, home maintenance and yard work. They provide transportation or run errands for others. They provide emotional support and friendship.
Think of the wife who takes on more and more responsibilities in and outside the home as her husband starts to get frail.
She may not think of herself as a caregiver, but without her, what would happen to him? Who would get the groceries, run errands, do the cooking, and take him to medical appointments?
Services may not be readily available and other family may live too far away or have health problems themselves.
Then there is the husband who takes care of his wife who has Alzheimer’s, who can no longer remember what day of the week it is, whether she has eaten, or what she just did; who keeps asking the same question over and over.
He makes sure she gets dressed, eats properly, takes her medication, accompanies her to the doctor, and keeps her life as normal as possible.
Without him, she would not be able to live at home anymore. Because of him, she is able to stay in familiar surroundings for as long as possible.
Rather than creating catastrophic visions of the impact of the “grey tsunami,” we need a more balanced approach.
We need policy solutions to address the real challenges, such as: How do we ensure family and friends who care for older adults receive the support they need? How do we provide support in communities to make them as age-friendly as possible so that seniors can continue to contribute to society and have the best quality of life?
Acknowledging seniors’ contributions would help to make ours a more age-inclusive society that does not pit one generation against the other. It would also be a more accurate reflection of how most of us engage with each other.
This is an optimal time to remind ourselves that we cannot afford to ignore our seniors, their skills, ideas and experiences. They are part of the economic engine of our societies. They have built our communities and strengthened our families.
Age-Friendly Committee of the Olds Institute