B.C. Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie’s job is to inform the provincial government about the issues of concern to seniors in communities throughout the province.
But on Wednesday, July 6, she started off a Town Hall type meeting held at the Campbell River Seniors Centre informing the small gathering about some surprising data about the state of senior living in the province.
“So overall, in British Columbia, there are over a million people over the age of 65, that’s about one out of five, so 20 per cent of British Columbians are 65 and over,” Mackenzie said. “Which is what we expect, that the proportion of the population 65 and older is going to continue to grow.
“What is interesting to note is that overwhelmingly, the majority – 90 per cent of seniors – live independently in their own home. I want to emphasize that. I want to emphasize that even at 85 and older, 77 per cent of people live alone – 85 and over. And that number rose in the last census.”
And those one million or more seniors are living longer and are living healthier for longer. They are also driving for longer. We are still dying, she said, but what we are seeing is what is called compressed morbidity where people are ill for only a year or two at the end of their life.
“So, that is the general pattern and that is not changing,” Mackenzie said.
Other eye-opening data that Mackenzie presented dealt with dementia and how it is not as inevitable as you think.
“Eighty per cent of people over 85 don’t have dementia,” she said.
As you keep going up, if you looked at 90, 95 and 100 years old, the percentage of those with dementia would rise, it is a condition that rises with aging, Mackenzie said.
“But this notion that we live into your 80s and into your 90s, that you’re going to automatically develop dementia or have significant cognitive impairment is actually not true,” she said. “You might, that is true, but not, necessarily, you will.
“Most people will live the entirety of their life not just in their home but with most of their marbles, however many, or few, they ever had.”
Mackenzie added that while more people are developing dementia in terms of the sheer number, the proportion of people is not increasing, in fact, indications are it’s actually decreasing but “it’s still early days on that,” she said.
“So, I think that is good news,” she said.
On the “less good news side,” though, is that “while you’re likely to live on your own and you’re likely to have most of your marbles, you’re also likely to go from driving a car to not having a car,” Mackenzie said.
“And you’re still going to want to get out and about,” she said.
That will be more challenging in communities like Campbell River than in the west end of Vancouver, for example.
“And so we have to think about that,” Mackenzie said, “and decisions we make and how we’re going to deal with that.”
Another factor that will impact the senior years is the fact that for those who are part of a couple, one person is going to pre-decease the other. One person will go from living with somebody to living alone. And the age of which that is likely to happen is getting older.
Challenges facing the elderly across the province involve funding for services.
“One of the biggest issues is the lack of, in B.C., any funding for anything other than health care. Dental care tops the list followed by hearing aids and eyeglasses,” Mackenzie said.
These are followed by podiatry or, if people need a walker or a wheelchair, there’s nothing that covers that cost in B.C. There is some work being done on low incomes and Mackenzie hinted that something was in the works on that front.
Which is important because one of the realities of being old is lower income. The median income of B.C. seniors is $31,000. So that means 50 per cent of B.C. seniors live on less than $31,000. Meanwhile, the average income – if you don’t include housing – is actually $46,000. But the problem with the average income is that it’s skewed by very high incomes, Mackenzie said.
Mackenzie also outlined issues like the lack of family physicians but the biggest issue out there is the lack of support of seniors who live in the community, who do not want to move to long term care but are because of the lack of supports in the community.
Mackenzie’s visit to Campbell River followed a similar visit to Port McNeill the day before.