Why Not Call for a National Longevity Strategy.

You could say that we in Canada are now, either speaking up more loudly, or finally catching up with the rest of the world around discussing the effect of aging demographics on our social policies and structures. Many countries have led before us with a more fully developed national conversation and subsequent revisions to their social policies that address the obvious changes required to health care, pension reform and workforce development.

While there has been enough, other prickly world news to occupy our mind share over this past few years, in the last several months, quietly but steadily there have been more calls from various groups, government bodies and concerned individuals, that Canada must develop a National Seniors Strategy.

Senate_reportAs a prime example, in June 2017, Senate Canada published a report by their Standing Committee on National Finance on Canada’s Aging Population – titled Getting Ready: For a new generation of active seniors. This tidy 24-page report sets a platform for an intelligent and inclusive discussion that could be facilitated anywhere across the country, an invitation to all age groups I might stress, rather than one narrowly designed for a seniors only audience.

Certainly, there is well-articulated content in this document, but rather than recite the statistics and recommendations here, I suggest you read it for yourself. However there are a few comments worth noting that will help frame how we should open our minds before we get into any dialogue that would potentially lead us down a path of opinionated responses based on “what was” thinking, but rather lead us to constructive possibility thinking, the “what now, how now?”

In the “reflect thoughtfully first” category, let me pluck out some significant lines from the Senate Canada report:

  • Repercussions of population aging are as much social at they are economic in nature
  • Population aging is not a uniform phenomenon
  • There are groups…more vulnerable within the larger group we call seniors. When we treat this population as homogeneous, we tend to neglect the sometimes more precarious situation of certain groups…

It is an understatement to say that Canada is geographically a huge country, more culturally diverse, with regional social and economic differences and now we can add to that layering – demographic differences.

There are several, simple info-graphics in the report that help spell out the uneven nature of aging across Canada, and as Laurent Martel states in the report, “when considering demographics, the national trend often hides regional differences… important to consider when assessing the public policy implications of such demographics… such regional differences are also currently increasing.”

All this makes for an interesting ride, if we are to take a National Seniors Strategy on a road show dialogue around the country.  Not to be a pessimist, I’m having a hard time imagining who would facilitate such an event without it becoming another series of heated town-hall arguments, and poorly advertised grass-roots public consultations that only lead to another dry series of studies and reports. This can’t be just another insider forum of politicians, academics and policy makers.

Motion 106 & Demand a Plan

At the same time as the Senate Canada effort, in May 2017, in the House of Commons, MP Marc Serré’s private members’ Motion 106, was passed, asking to create a study to develop a National Seniors Strategy. Is he talking with the Senate right now? The Canadian Medical Association is backing all this too, as evidenced by their participation in the Senate report and the Demand a Plan movement on their website.

No one entity owns this turf on this subject. There is the National Seniors Strategy group, promoting this with its own framework, has been around since 2013; and the National Institute on Aging at Ryerson – which held a conference in November 2016 – has supported this initiative.

Others entities such as another decade-old Canadian government creation, the National Seniors Council, and CARP have chimed in with their various takes on this for years. However, maybe it is time, while we consider our regional complexities, we should remember the input from those now in their 40’s and 50’s who we will inherit the outcomes of any national strategy decisions. Their “out there” future likely will require more frequent recalibrations than we’ve had before.

Yet on we go, still framing the future within yesterday’s terms of reference and points of view. Without changing the language that highly changeable future realities will demand of new generations, we may lose the engagement of people who don’t see themselves in a demographic box called seniors any time soon, even though they realize they will have to have some strategy.

The Senate Canada report says, get ready “for a new generation of active seniors”. If that further suggests that senior-hood, is not a uniform phenomenon, and life expectancy is stretching from what we’ve known – then maybe what we could really call for is a National Longevity Strategy.

My hunch is that this might catch more ideas from people well under that mythic 65, who are sometimes uncomfortably aware that they will be living, learning and working longer – and differently, which will prompt them to think harder about appropriate policy changes in any national strategy that will benefit them up the road.

 

Mark Venning

Older Persons, agents of change?

How do we see ourselves as we age, as we become older persons?

In views from an “outer world”, we could be filtered and categorized in several ways; chronologically ordered cohorts upwards from age 50.  Quite a broad spectrum, which includes centenarians. And in many cases, there is also the tendency to see older persons as a homogeneous group. The same ignorance works when we consider younger cohorts in much the same way.

Within the age-banding exercises, the documentary of the outer world-view of aging and an older persons’ identity is often refracted through a western world prism. Yet even North American and European sensibilities aren’t always the same regarding later life philosophies and lifestyle goals on an individual level. Nor at the community level are these views always the same when it comes to how we desire to construct our social structures through politics and policy.

More important for today and in tomorrow’s world; we must keep our perspectives in a constant reality check, with a much wider global view, in that we must consider that an older persons’ identity and experiences are shaped by multiple social conditions that vary by continent, country by country – some more challenging or grim than in our own western world.

Reading a recent October brief from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) tilted Leave No One Behind: Ageing, Gender and the SDGs, it really brought this whole thought to mind as a question – How do we see ourselves as we age, as we become older persons? Depending on what part of the world you are in and your socioeconomic condition, this obviously means that our views and experiences are not going to be homogeneous, even though it can be said that the actual aging process is universal.

In this UNDP brief, the global aging population is pegged at people aged 60 and older, still a broad spectrum. But seeing past the numbers here, the dialogue about the state of the world in developing countries is highlighted vividly; with older persons “in fragile settings” and “high risk for being left behind…at high vulnerability for violence, abuse, neglect….”

The subtexts in this narrative are numerous as you read this brief, and in light of all these challenges and more, the UNDP says –

“…there is an equal need to recognize older women and men as agents of change in their communities and contributors to national and regional economies.”

Later in this piece, one of the three key proposed principles for shaping policy enforces this need for –

“Promotion of a change in attitude in and towards older people as passive recipients of benefits, to active agents of change in their own lives and of those around them”.

In views from an “inner world”, how do we see ourselves as an agent of change?

Comparatively speaking in North America, in the part of the world I happen to live in, we have the capability to search that individual answer for ourselves, articulate it, engage in a shared public discourse and look for ways to contribute in our communities and economies. However sometimes I wonder if we get preoccupied or distracted by woeful tales we tell ourselves about the social strains of growing older, tales that pale beside the realities of those older persons less fortunate.

Perhaps we suffer more from not knowing how to sift through an abundance of choices we have, for ways in which we can demonstrate value and relevance, either at work or in the community and thus find our unique way in the world. So assuming we have our health and keep an agile mentality as we age, the choices are our opportunities, and through whatever process of assessment and discovery we take, the two essential guiding questions are – what change to we want to bring and how will we make a difference?

As a footnote, the reference to SDGs in the UNDP brief comes from their Sustainable Development Goals (established in 2015) for 2030. It is an ambitious menu to “transform the world” as they say. The toss out pitch for us is – identify with the issues that speak to you and find a way to individualize your experience where you want to be. Maybe if you look, there is a narrative that has woven its way through all of your life and there is no reason why it still can’t be found in the older person you are.

 

Mark Venning

Financials, Across our Life Course: Fusion and Confusion of Terminology – Part 3

fusionFinancial planning. Financial security. Financial literacy. Financial gerontology. Is it any wonder there is confusion with all this terminology floating in our heads? Not to forget the fusion. As we complete our current series on this subject, maybe it’s not a coincidence that we are now entering the year-end income tax season in Canada.

You can count on a barrage of advertising and news editorials to start any time now, reminding consumers about their retirement plan contributions and other related financial considerations. Turning our concern to personal financials however, should not be a once a year high anxiety moment; nor is it strictly a retirement discussion. Attention to financials issues cuts across our life course.

As a financial planning consultant, Marie says in part one of this series (Nov.30, 2015), personal financial planning is the process of helping individuals and families to use their income and assets to be meet their life goals now and in the future. In that same post, as the researcher and social gerontologist, Suzanne adds that economic and financial issues are important in people’s lives on the journey of aging, but they are also important as public policy issues.

Financial gerontology – public policy issue

Sticking with this term financial gerontology, Marie picks up here by saying that in the macro sense it is an urgent public policy issue. Financial gerontology should become the study of aging and the implementation of measures that will meet the needs of Canadas’ aging demographic. For example, financial, psychological, and general health planning to encompass all citizens from native peoples to immigrant and ethnic communities. The risk is that it will become yet another means of marketing financial products.

The problems associated with an aging demographic are not confined to governments to solve. To be sure, there are roles for all levels of government, but there are also roles for dedicated private groups and for individuals and families. Older adults must also be part of finding their own solutions.

Since we have scarce resources, what is the best use of public monies to meet the unique needs of an aging population? Given the shift and size of aging demographics, it would be very easy to allocate too many scarce resources to satisfying the needs of the aged at the expense of younger people. For example, reducing education funding for younger taxpayers. In consideration of how to determine the best use of these public resources for everyone, would it not be more beneficial that we have a creative inter-generational dialogue?

If financial gerontology is a society-wide, broadly based approach to the costs of aging, then personal financial planning is the specifically focused approach to an individual’s finances – whether they are young or old.

Improving public awareness of how these two professional fields work, (both separately and in fusion), is the challenge, and worth repeating, says Suzanne – financial and economic issues, such as low-income seniors, pension plans and retirement savings are gerontological issues, and they are important personal and public policy issues. Financial security is important for quality of life, and this cuts across our entire life course. However, quality of life goes beyond financial considerations.

Financial & gerontological collaborations

So how do we square the circle around the potential good coming from financial & gerontological collaborations? Let’s go back to the American Institute for Financial Gerontology and their aim to educate a Registered Financial Gerontologist (RFG) on how to “deliver financial solutions in a comprehensive manner with increased knowledge of the older client’s broad based needs.”

There is one significant difference where we say, Suzanne suggests, develop innovative ways on how to better serve “unique needs”, as opposed to deliver solutions to “broad based needs”. Terminology again. When you serve, you determine needs and respond; it is person focused. When you deliver solutions, you provide a product.

So is it possible to effectively combine Financial + Gerontology for older adults; or is it better that two different specialists are required for older client’s broad based needs?
From Marie’s viewpoint as a financial planning consulting – good advisors keep themselves up to date on developments in the financial world, and on general issues of aging, from senior housing to risk prevention in public and private spaces.

But the financial advisor is not in a position to give comprehensive advice about such things as behavioural issues, or health impacts on communities. The gerontologist can offer good background information to the financial advisor, just as the financial planner can offer realistic advice on basic financial issues for the benefit of the gerontologist.

We live in a world of specialization – mainly because there is so much knowledge out there that we cannot be effective if we try to offer services beyond our competency. Keeping up with our own specialties is a full time job!

We are also in the world of collaboration! That is the joy of thinking and writing this series together.
Marie Howes & Suzanne Cook

Age Friendly Community, Inter-generational Connections.

In 2007, the World Health Organization (WHO) published a Global Age-friendly Cities Guide. Born out of a conversation at the World Congress of Gerontology and Geriatrics in Brazil two years earlier, it quickly became an international project with a huge scope. Let me proudly mention here, that there was a unique Canadian contribution early in this endeavour with funding and in-kind support from the Public Health Agency of Canada. You can read the rest of the tribute in the WHO guide.

The WHO “age-friendly” concept describes itself around eight themes and with the subset issues considered what you get is a combination of 70 elements and woven together it is enough to serve as a platform for robust discussion for innovation and change. As a group at Planet Longevity, our intent is to support this discussion across all generations.

Four cities in Canada (Halifax, Portage La Prairie, Sherbrooke and Saanich) took part in the initial 33-city WHO research project and since then a number of Canadian cities have formed community initiatives around this theme. From what I can tell, over the eight years since then, participation has been fragmented, and to some degree the conversation seems rather muted if non-existent in the general population. I think the perception is that “age-friendly” is an older person’s bone to chew on.

Why is this still significant for everyone? It’s no mystery that by 2030 the global population will be at the highest level of its migration to cities. In fact, we are realizing the impact of this right now. The evolution of cities will be every generation’s project – function, form, flow and the fabric of human interaction. Over the next fifteen years, the percentage of persons older than 65 will be significantly higher and thus the need to adapt the urban agenda to a workable inter-generational model for an aging population is a key opportunity.

A new narrative must frame how cities can be better designed, while integrating specific incremental life stage needs of older people alongside the shared needs of all generations – remembering that positive social interaction is a major contributor to the healthier lives of all generations.

Perhaps, could the better phrase be – “age-inclusive” cities?

_______ ♦_______

One element of societal change related to aging demographics in cities is the shifting nature of families and the evolution of other networks and communities. Considering we age in stages throughout a lifetime, (and today in more variable social formations), we might see it as evolutionary that there are life course solutions that more than one generation can envision.

Next month Lorraine Clemes will talk about one group of women as an example, who for the last forty years have “created and lived the benefits of a strong chosen family”.

 
Mark Venning

Community Home Care: Hope & Reality – 2

Part 2: Demographics & Funding Factors

The stage was set in my Jan.30th blog. Community home care has four factors to consider – Medical and Accommodation as outlined, and now Demographics and Funding.

Demographics. By 2031, the estimation is that the proportion of seniors 65+ in the Canadian population will be at 23%, up from 17.3% currently. (Around then, deaths will outnumber births in Canada.) If our total population reaches the projected 40 million, that would make the 65+ population about 9.2 million. These demographic statistics form a base for figuring out what various social needs are likely to be for an aging population including community home care.

Funding. The Baby Boom generation, now retiring, is the wealthiest generation in history. Bank of Montreal economist Sal Guatieri said in The National Post July 19, 2014; that “the typical senior today is 9 times richer than the typical Millennial”. Boomers are also the generation that expects to get what it wants.

Currently, given that the number of working Canadians is declining, it is unlikely that the Boomers’ demands can be met as expected. Statistics Canada states that by 2031, the number of people in the labour market for each person aged 65+ (not working), could be lower than three. This ratio was close to 5 to 1 in 2010.

The key question is – what level of responsibility must the individual assume for their living and care arrangements? And what is the responsibility of the community or governments? Who will pay for these obligations? Can we mobilize popular support for community-based programs, or must we rely on governments for action?

Canada’s current approach to funding such programs (and many pensions, too) is “pay as you go”. This means that payments for these services are taken from current general tax revenues. If there are fewer active workers than those over 65 not working, how can we expect that programs benefiting mainly seniors will be acceptable to working taxpayers, who will want some funding room for their children’s education and family health care?

In an era of tight budgets and a future with fewer taxpayers contributing to government programs, “universality” is a problem. The Canada Pension Plan was changed from “pay as you go” to fully funded with contributions by workers who expect to benefit in the future. With pay as you go, the Boomers have no “skin in the game”. The burden is on younger taxpayer – and with a smaller number of workers/taxpayers there is enormous potential for inter-generational conflict of interests.

So far, the clamour for community home care is too broad and unfocused. I’ll set some talking points for solutions for the next post – a more refined and targeted discussion, given scarce resources now and in the future.

 

Marie Howes

Our Aging Population: Is Anybody Listening?

We may feel at times like our life-stage experiences are unique.  We may wonder if anyone is listening, if our concerns are being addressed, and wonder who is there to help us.  This is especially true for our aging population as we face issues at a time when we’re feeling most vulnerable.

One example for hope is the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Institute of Aging, 2013-2018 Strategic Plan – ‘Living Longer, Living Better’. The plan addresses the global shift in the population over age 65 being greater than the total number who have ever reached this age in human history!   An example of the impact is the CIHR statistic: “in a period of less than 10 years, the number of researchers affiliated with the Institute rose from 79 in 2000-2001 to 987 in 2009-2010. CIHR’s investments in research in aging have quadrupled, to $120 million.”

The first priority of the Strategic Plan is to optimize population health and wellness over the trajectory of aging. The Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging (CLSA) is an element of the strategic plan which collects information on the changing biological, medical, psychological, social and economic aspects of approximately 50,000 people, nationally, between 45-85, over a period of 20 years.  I am a participant in this study. The goal is to assess the combined factors to understand the impact, both individually and in combination, on maintaining health and the impact on development of disease and disability as we age.

Major national studies like these are complemented by other local initiatives such as the:

  • Research Institute for Aging (RIA) Schlegel-UWaterloo-Conestoga, generating high quality research evidence to uncover ways of improving quality of life for seniors
  • University of Toronto’s Technologies for Aging Gracefully Lab (TAGlab), where work focuses on the intersection of aging and technology, to uncover  ways to address common issues of aging where technology can provide some benefit
  • Federation of Canadian Municipalities who are examining how the growing population of seniors are reshaping our communities.

If you wonder whether anybody is listening, the answer is a resounding YES!  The results will help define the optimum factors to help us live better and longer. If you are aware of other initiatives underway outside of government or academic fields, please forward it to my attention at Planet Longevity.

Sandra Downey