Aging Well in British Columbia: Report Summary and Recommendations
British Columbia’s population is becoming significantly older, and the demographic and social changes that are beginning to affect our province will forever alter how our communities look and function. There are many more older people, we are living longer and we are more active and healthier than ever before.
It is time for a new view of aging and of the role of older people in our province. The fact that older adults are a valuable and contributing part of our society hasn’t been fully recognized. We must increase opportunities for older people to remain engaged with others in their communities, and continue to share their knowledge, experience and skills.
Most older British Columbians do not need or want a large number of services or supports from society, while a smaller number do need society’s support. We must recognize and respond to these varying needs.
The Premier’s Council on Aging and Seniors’ Issues envisions a society where everyone benefits from the wealth of talent and experience of older adults, where older people are actively involved, integrated rather than isolated, supported in our desire to remain engaged with our communities, and assisted when poor health, lack of income or other barriers stand in the way of a good quality of life.
This vision is reflected in our 16 recommendations for change in our communities and in our province. We have highlighted in bold type five recommendations we judge to be key.
Participating in society
We want a province where older people can remain involved and interacting with others in their communities, filling roles that are respected and valued.
British Columbia’s Human Rights Code does not protect people 65 and older from discrimination on the basis of age. This is fundamentally unfair and must change immediately. The current lack of protection for older people allows mandatory retirement to be practiced in many workplaces, and when people do work after 65, they cannot count on receiving the same wages, benefits and working conditions as others doing the same work. The vast majority of older people are not finished being productive at 65, and it is inappropriate to have laws suggesting otherwise.
• KEY: We recommend that the B.C. government immediately change the Human Rights Code to extend human rights protections to those over the age of 65, thereby eliminating mandatory retirement in B.C.
Full participation of older people also depends on taking into account the particular circumstances of those in Aboriginal and ethnocultural communities to ensure that the differing needs of people in these communities are met. We must also encourage volunteerism and the non-profit sector because of the important services this sector provides and the valuable opportunities for older people to contribute through volunteerism. And we must improve the availability of information on opportunities and services for older people, because these opportunities are only useful if people know about them.
• We recommend that the B.C. government work with Aboriginal and ethnocultural organizations to ensure cultural appropriateness of services for older adults.
• We recommend that the B.C. government proactively support and promote volunteerism.
• We recommend that the B.C. government make accessible information services and outreach for older adults a priority.
We must change workplaces to make it easier for older people to continue to work if they want. Our vision is of a province that welcomes older workers, benefiting from their skills, experience and dependability and enabling those who wish to work to do so.
More and more people are choosing to remain in the labour market after turning 65. Increased workplace flexibility would make it easier for people to make this choice, and would have the added benefit of helping address our province’s growing labour shortage.
Increased workplace flexibility must go hand in hand with modernized rules for retirement savings. Opportunities for people to save for their retirement should be improved and promoted.
• We recommend that the B.C. government take a leadership role in supporting and promoting increased workplace flexibility.
• We recommend that the B.C. government promote greater individual retirement savings.
Reshaping our neighbourhoods
We must reshape our neighbourhoods to make it easier for older people to thrive and remain in their homes as they age.
Our vision is of neighbourhoods designed to accommodate people of all ages and abilities, easy to walk, with highly accessible shops and services, recreational and cultural opportunities. We believe the B.C. government should work with local governments to encourage these sorts of developments. We also want a central role for a new type of enhanced community centre, which could play an important part in bringing people of all ages and cultural backgrounds together, providing a focus for interaction and community service delivery.
• We recommend that the B.C. government engage key partners and lead a provincial initiative to reshape neighbourhoods.
Our vision also includes a range of housing options supporting continued independence and quality of life, and a strong emphasis on accessible transportation, which is vital in linking older people to services, their friends and their communities.
• We recommend that the B.C. government take a strong leadership role in the area of housing for older people.
• We recommend that the B.C. government proactively address the transportation needs of older people.
It’s urgent that British Columbians live healthier, so that we age better. Tomorrow’s older adults have the potential to live even longer and healthier than the current generation, but how we live now affects how healthy we will be in the future. Older people are more likely to have chronic health problems such as heart disease, diabetes, dementia, or arthritis if they have been physically inactive and eaten a diet high in salt, fat, and sugar. We are concerned by recent data showing that most British Columbians are not sufficiently active and are eating unhealthy diets.
We need to structure our communities so they support healthy choices, with healthy living on municipal and local community agendas to reach people where they live, on an everyday basis.
• KEY: We recommend that the B.C. government significantly enhance healthy living initiatives focused on older adults, customized for British Columbia’s diverse population.
Ensuring sufficient incomes
All older British Columbians must have sufficient incomes to live decently.
Viewed as a total population, older people in B.C. are better off financially than ever before, and many who will be retiring in coming years are even wealthier. However, some older people still live with very low incomes.
This can contribute to social isolation and non-participation, significantly affecting quality of life and resulting higher costs to society due to increased use of residential care and the health system. Action to remedy the situation of those older people who are living below the poverty line is essential.
• We recommend that the B.C. government take steps to ensure adequate incomes for all older people.
We must bring vital services, such as a broader range of home support, to older people’s homes and neighbourhoods to enable continued independence and a good quality of life.
The support services currently available to older British Columbians in their communities fall well short of meeting the needs of some older people. We need a new vision for home support – one focused on prevention, maintaining quality of life, and avoiding the high cost – financial and human – of institutional care.
• KEY: We recommend that the B.C. government introduce a new, broader and more widely available home support system.
We also endorse the expansion of assisted living across the province, and increased support for informal caregivers.
• We recommend that the B.C. government recognize the contribution of informal caregivers.
Providing medical services
Our health system must focus on quality so that sustainable and accessible health services will be available when older British Columbians need them. Misuse, overuse and under-use of health services raise concerns over quality, so a strong focus on quality improvement is essential.
By improving quality, not only will we provide better health outcomes, but we will also help control costs. Quality improvements should include increased attention to the reform of primary health care, the provision of sufficient residential care beds, and improved prescription drug evaluation, acquisition, regulation and information. We also support assistance for low-income older people with the cost of certain aids and treatments (such as hearing and vision aids).
• KEY: We recommend that the B.C. government implement aggressive quality improvement initiatives across our health system, in a culturally appropriate way.
• We recommend that the B.C. government move to more objective, transparent, evidence-based decision-making regarding what health care treatments, services and devices – mainstream and alternative care – should be funded by our publicly-supported health system.
Making it happen
The B.C. government must show leadership and be a catalyst for change, building partnerships with organizations and communities across the province. We need a new approach to adapt successfully to the changing age composition of our population.
A champion for change is needed both within government and for the government’s outreach efforts. A Minister of State Responsible for Aging should act as this champion, supported by a secretariat with broad responsibility for programs, services and issues affecting older British Columbians. The secretariat should be attached to a ministry other than the Ministry of Health.
• KEY: We recommend that the B.C. government appoint a Minister of State and secretariat to lead the changes needed to adapt to an older population, and to monitor and report on progress.
The Council urges government and all British Columbians to seize the opportunity to make the changes necessary to adapt successfully to an older population.