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COMMENTARY: The option to enter long-term care no longer a certainty

Systemic pressure means choices are narrowing

We all know that there are more and more seniors in Canada. In seven or so years, nearly one-quarter of all Canadians will have reached the age of 65. In Niagara, we have already reached that level and probably surpassed it by now. Seniors are part of a growing demographic who want to age at home supported by help that doesn’t always exist today and services that need to be greatly expanded.

The pandemic, health emergencies, and waiting lists have made it obvious that the classic model of eventually moving into enhanced care will not be available to all of us. Family members must play a fundamental and increasing role in making it feasible for older adults who have lost some of their functionality to remain in their home with confidence and in comfort.

It is already known that caregivers are at a higher risk of physical decline and psychological distress. A recent study in Hong Kong, a very aged society, found that 40 percent of caregivers reported suffering from excessive burdens, poor family functioning and depressive symptoms.

We all know a daughter who has given up her paid job to care for her parent, or a spouse who, while frail himself, is a full-time caregiver for his wife. We must give these caregivers full acknowledgement and appreciation for how critical their role is and find more ways to support them in their tasks.

The same study reported that working family caregivers give 50 and more hours a week offering care, often on top of their 35 hours of paid work. We all have a role to play in increasing awareness by talking about this within our own networks. The longer family care is an issue in the shadows, the longer it's going to take to make progress.

Aging is universal but aging is definitely a women’s issue. Women typically devote more time taking care of everyone else, getting the job done, taking care of the children and making sure that mom and dad are okay. In doing so, women often don't spend enough time focusing on themselves and their own self-care.

As the primary caregivers, women go in and out of the workforce for caregiving more often than men, thus lowering their lifetime income and retirement resources. We know that women live longer and face a higher prevalence of chronic conditions and higher healthcare costs.

It’s an economy that doesn’t really add up for women because most of the burdens on the financial side and the health side fall on them and yet they are expected to drive the new ‘silver’ economy. And get ready for it, it’s an accelerating scenario which means more and more of the caregiving burden will fall on women.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

We need to find ways to make sure that women are able to excel in a more equitable way. Putting in bluntly, we need to listen and pay attention, because women need to be healthy to drive the new economy and we will need to find ways to appropriately reward the contribution that women make.

Finally, I want to mention my dear mother, Edith. When she was still in high school, my grandparents died, close together, leaving her to raise two much younger brothers. She had the support of neighbours who convinced the authorities to keep them together. It helped to live next door to the Chief of Police.

Mother again took on a greater concentrated burden when my father was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. He was given six months. Dad survived for 60 months with my mother as his primary caregiver. Not only did he survive longer, but Mother also made it some of their best years together.

We have evolved to need other people and there is no one more important than women—especially mothers.

Councillor Wayne Olson represents Ward 1 on Pelham Town Council.