SENIORS: Vocabulary needs to reflect new world
Outgoing Mayor of Mississauga Hazel McCallion, in her 96th year, personifies the new age. She will be part of a special event Wednesday.
It’s 2017 and our world is changing rapidly — including how we age. Let’s take a look at the facts that reflect that we are living in a new age and that we need to abandon many age-old beliefs about growing old and being retired.
The realities of the new age and unprecedented life expectancy was recently highlighted by Statistics Canada which reported that for the first time ever, the number of older adults in Canada exceeded the number of youth; specifically, the 2016 census counted 5.9 million adults over 65 years of age and 5.8 million youth under 15. Even more startling, the 2016 census reported a 42 per cent increase from the 2011 census in the number of centenarians – people 100 or older, numbering 8,230 in Canada.
Closer to home, Niagara continues to lead the way in aging demographics in Canada with an average 21.4 per cent over 65, in comparison with Canada at 16.9 per cent and Ontario at 16.7 per cent. Among the municipalities in Niagara, Niagara-on-the-Lake was tops with almost 31 per cent of the population over 65.
Let’s now look at how today’s older adults are different than yesteryear’s seniors. Most of today’s older adults are: increasingly well and active; living longer; providing valued support to their families; contributing their life experience and expertise to the community through their volunteer work; making donations to worthy causes in greater numbers than other age groups; and significant consumers in the local economy. In fact, it is reported (by Environics Analytics) that baby boomers (50 to 69 age range) control the bulk of the nation’s wealth and spend 66 per cent more on goods and services than millennials (15 to 34 age range).
We must recognize that older adults are not a homogeneous group, as each individual is unique. Aging post-war baby boomers are pursuing diverse interests corresponding to their better health, income and activity level. Age-old practices of retirement as full-time leisure or general inactivity are being replaced by new-age practices including launching new ‘third age’ careers, contributing to the work force beyond 65, mentoring younger entrepreneurs, leading community building efforts as volunteers and in exceptional circumstances, skydiving at 101 and running marathons. We need a new updated vocabulary to replace the terms that still reflect old-style retirement as a life of leisure and the golden years.
These new realities also require new strategies. Communities need to seize the social and economic opportunities that older adults offer. Concurrently, new strategies must address the challenges that can accompany an aging society. Canada remains one of the youngest countries in the G20 and there are countries in Europe with much older demographics than Canada. Canada can learn from their successes in urban planning and managing health care costs and assure sustainability for all future generations in their later years.
Globally, the World Health Organization (WHO) has addressed these new challenges by advocating a strategy of developing age-friendly communities that optimize opportunities for health and enhance quality of life as people age. Canada and Ontario support the WHO initiative, including the encouragement of local municipalities to foster age-friendly communities.
In Niagara, a volunteer-led Age-Friendly Community Network, with the support of the Ontario Trillium Foundation has since 2009 raised awareness about age-friendly principles, encouraged action by local municipalities and facilitated a community-driven Niagara Aging Strategy and Action Plan. The vision is for “an Age-Friendly Niagara – a community for all ages”.
Each year in June, the Government of Ontario celebrates Seniors month. The theme for 2017 is ‘Living your best life.’ This vibrant theme supports the opportunities associated with the “new age” reality of older adults today. Niagara is celebrating age-friendly communities of today and the future with a special public event on June 21. It features Hazel McCallion, former long-serving Mayor of Mississauga, who in her 96th year clearly personifies the “new age”. For details on attending, please visit www.thorold.com/news.
Dominic Ventresca is the co-chair Niagara Age-Friendly Community Network and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org