Often when people speak of seniors’ poverty we immediately think of money and the struggle many seniors have making ends meet on a limited and fixed income. While this is true and of significance there another type of poverty that can be even more painful.
I remember an accountant friend of mine saying to me, “the numbers never lie.” So let us look at some numbers as they relate to the largest group of seniors ever – the baby boomers. And as we look at the data lets look for the story the numbers will be revealing to us – a story that may change the way we look at our ageing boomer population.
On the good old planet earth there are currently, give or take, 1.6 billion baby boomers, people born between 1946 and 1964. Now that number is way to big for me to consider so lets dumb it down to North America – hmmm 86 million still to large to grasp. So lets look at Canada, 9.6 million still large but I am beginning to be able to contemplate that size number. One step further down the boomer staircase to British Columbia and we have 916,000 baby boomers presently living here. Now that is a number I can begin to grapple with, so lets take an even closer look at BC.
916,000 baby boomers living here in British Columbia is a large number indeed and yet still somehow manageable. So, lets dig further into the data surrounding our capacity to serve these British Columbia based boomers’ needs as they age. Assuming 15% of the baby boomer generation is in need of some type of support or assistance in order to live with an acceptable quality of life that equates to 137,600 individuals. This is the demand side of the equation that begs the question, ‘what is our capacity to provide support to those in need?’
Here is some more data for you to digest, this time on the supply side. In British Columbia we have roughly 28,000 long-term care beds in 291 care homes spread throughout the province. We have 10,500 hospital beds in 206 hospitals operating in BC. We have 260 hospice beds in the province under the watchful care of 65 hospice societies.
To recap; 28,000 long-term care spots, 10,500 hospital beds and 260 hospice beds for a total of 38,760 beds to serve the needs of 137,600 potential users which of course does not include the ongoing needs of the rest of the population. We are short 100,000 spots for our ageing folks who will be in need of some level of support.
Lets step it down on more level and look at Maple Ridge, BC the city where I live – population 89,000. We have a hospital with 125 acute care beds and 145 residential care beds; a hospice with 10 beds; and 9 residential care homes with approximately 600 beds. With a third of our population being baby boomers we have roughly 29,500 elders that are living amongst us– if 15% of them need assistance we are looking at 4,425 elders. In little old Maple Ridge, BC we are short 3,545 beds!
So, no matter where we cast our attention the current system of care is not capable of handling the sheer volume of people comes towards it over the next decade and a half. It begs the question – “What is there to be done?”
Time for some creativity and imagination.
“Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man.
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world”
John Lennon & The Plastic Ono Band 1971
If we were to use our creative and compassionate hearts to visualize what a Neighborhood of Care could look like we may be surprised by what we could imagine. Here are a few ideas a friend and I came up with;
- Adopt a Long-term Care Home Program
- Community Grief Watch Program
- Youngers helping Elders Getting All Ready to Go School Program
- Death Brought Back to Community Life – Community Education Program
- SPCA Pet Visitor Program
What could a neighborhood rich in care look like? Again wondering out loud with a few colleagues we came up with these concepts;
- There might be a committee of seniors as a vital force on city council.
- There might be high school literature project focused on helping our elders tell their unique stories.
- There might be annual neighborhood block parties that focused on supporting each other in times of dying, death, and grief needs.
- There might be an elders living alone ‘checking in’ program.
- There might be end of life education and planning workshop offered quarterly at the local seniors hall.
- There might be encouragement for elders to cohabitate supported by property tax relief.
- There might be a sidewalk with an Elders Walk of Fame section.
- There might be an intergenerational community garden.
- There might be a student / elder co-habitation program.
- There might be a shopping service delivered by the local high school.
Is it possible for communities to turn their imaginings into real services and real programs?
I’ll leave that question for you to ponder.