When I was 12 I decided to volunteer at a nursing home in Cowansville, Quebec where I grew up. I had a vague clue as to why older folks were in a senior home, but had no idea how many tears I would have to hold back to get through some of those Saturday afternoons. As the weeks passed I realized these seniors appreciated me spending time there. This was the 60s, and even though the retirement home had been a grand building in which the elite of the town had once passed through, sadness reigned supreme throughout the halls.
I could ignore some of the foul odours, and repeated phrases, but aging skin and yellowed toenails made me wonder if this was the final fate of all of us. Surely something better had to be available. But there wasn’t, and no matter how many questions I asked my Grandmother, the response was the same:
“That’s the way it has to be my birdie, and that’s that.”
So for three years I went every Saturday– I called out BINGO numbers and played dominoes with my favourite senior Mr. Jones. We would play dominoes over and over and I just couldn’t figure out why he loved the game so much. Years later I realized it might have not been the game, but more the friendship that I gave him. I listened in earnest to all his stories as a young lad in Britain and wondered why his family never visited.
A few months after I left volunteering at the senior home and on to pursue my life in Montreal Mr. Jones committed suicide in the Anglican church basement stairwell. He had died alone, similar to how he had been living for the past years. Mr. Jones had left me a brief note and thanked me for caring. Caring? What was the matter with people? Why was he, as a valued member of this planet not respected similar to other seniors that lived there?
Years have gone by and we now face a shortage for decent senior placement. Developers shun ‘social benefited housing’ because it is not profitable, and getting into senior establishments is like winning the lottery. If there was money to be made in creating retirement homes, developer’s would be building more of them. My guess is– that it is a far better return on investment to create 100 condo units than 100 rooms in a retirement home. The government wants the elderly to stay home, similar to palliative care patients, but in-house assistance is hard to get. I personally know what one goes through when someone is terminally ill or needs a senior home and in plain English–”the system sucks!”
As the number of seniors continues to grow, none of Canada is prepared for the housing and home care needs of an aging population. People say our politicians are full of talking the talk but always find excuses for taking immediate action. That is not true, because as a town councillor I thought it was going to be easy. This was going to be a no brainer I told myself– but let me tell you your hands are tied, and like everyone else I feel helpless.
The need is not only for independent senior living but for assisted living and palliative care. A great percentage of seniors cannot live independently, and seniors needing memory care is on the rise. Costs for housing someone with dementia is something that you would not expect, plus all the added extras.
My father always used to laugh and say:
“Be nice to your children because they will end up picking your nursing home.”
In most of Ontario these days, you end up getting placed in the first nursing home to have a bed open up no matter what you or your family might want.
As a Boomer I saw the lack of classroom space and governments have chosen to ignore demographic reality. The blame for this rests mainly with the provinces as they have jurisdiction over housing generally, with zoning, home care, seniors residences and nursing homes falling exclusively under their jurisdiction. No foresight.
So, personally I welcome all sorts of building for seniors: profit, non profit as the need is great and we as Baby Boomers are going to put a great strain on the system. Baby Boomers will cause a market glut when they all try to downsize at the same time. Generation X, Y and Millennials have been screwed with wage stagnation and cannot afford the exorbitant prices that the Baby Boomer’s expect their homes to be worth, and for many, is their sole asset.
How did Canadians grow old so suddenly you ask? Who even saw this coming? In reality they have been warned each time Stats Canada has produced demographic projections, which it has done after each census for the past 40 years. Again, we as Boomers, knew this was coming a long time ago and anyone who could do basic arithmetic saw this. Honestly, we should be ahead of this, not “far behind”. Seniors deserve better– or don’t they?
Come and visit the Lanark County Genealogical Society Facebook page– what’s there? Cool old photos–and lots of things interesting to read. Also check out The Tales of Carleton Place and The Tales of Almonte
May 27 at 8:39 AM
Yesterday I began an email campaign about the dilemma of seniors and what I have been going through with a loved one. Most of the people I sent it too are well aware of the situations out there and know how desperate we are for solutions.
The elderly have the inherent right to life, dignity, and the integrity of their persons.
Saturday I saw seniors that could not comprehend and had no choice being talked to in an unkind manner. We have many seniors at risk and there are no easy solutions now. I also had no idea how many homeless seniors we have until Saturday.
Yes, after hours of going back and forth in Ottawa I was treated kindly in Carleton Place. If I had to bring out the big guns to keep someone safe I would have. My husband, who moved here from the United States three years ago had never been on the second floor of the Carleton Place hospital and was shocked to see the lack of space. He wondered how all these new residents that would be joining our community as new residents would fare with a hospital that is lacking in space and many other things. But, the Carleton Place hospital is not the only place that needs attention now, and more hands and voices on the ground are needed rather than decisions being made from a desk.
How many years can we talk about adding senior housing and realize there is not much we can do about it with developers who view senior housing as non profitable– or no money available from County and Province. When do we stop and stamp our feet and say enough is enough? Draconian rules need to be changed– money needs to be found for seniors, as some day you might be in this position. If you know someone that should read this please pass it on.
I was emotional and drained when I wrote the first email, but today is another day, and every time I write something I will add someone else to the email list. Am I confident things might change? After being elected as councillor I sadly know the realities of what is going on now, but the citizens of Carleton Place elected me and the rest of council as a voice and that I am. I will never change, no matter what.
You can always choose not read these pieces I write, and ignore them, but keep passing on the word things need to be changed now. Not in another 4 years, not in another 8 years– NOW we must begin. Do I know where to start? Absolutely not– but maybe someone somewhere has an idea- and I will take it hands down to begin for change.
For the past few years my eyes have been opened to seniors rights as a caregiver. You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream and I have a dream. But issues can be solved only at a county and provincial level —and I never knew that. Today, my eyes were opened even more about senior health care and there is nothing I can do. Our society must make it right and possible for old people not to be deserted for the test of a civilization is the way that it cares for its helpless members. I am outraged and I can’t do a thing about it. What have we come too? Mountains cannot be surmounted except by winding paths– it’s time we started straightening out those paths.