NEWFOUNDLAND AND LABRADOR
The concerns and questions from plenty of seniors and retired people were heard this past week at Fong’s Restaurant in Carbonear.
Dr. Suzanne Brake - the Seniors’ Advocate for Newfoundland and Labrador - made a visit to Carbonear on Tuesday, Sept. 18, to make presentation at a meeting of the Retired Teachers’ Association.
She told the audience that her role as Seniors’ Advocate is to ensure that senior citizens in the province are not pushed to the back of people’s minds when discussing changes for the province.
She acts as the voice for the roughly 233,000 seniors currently living in Newfoundland and Labrador, passing their concerns along to government.
Brake, who was appointed to this role in November, 2017, is the first person to hold that position since the establishment of the Seniors’ Advocate Act in 2016.
With just under a year under her belt, she said she’s learned a lot so far.
“It’s a real challenge to identify and complete reviews on issues and concerns of seniors,” she said. “There are actually a lot of those that I didn’t know about before, but now I do.”
One of the key points of Brake’s address was the province’s aging population.
Brake says senior citizens currently make up about 44 per cent of the province’s population, and that number is expected to increase to 50 per cent over the next 25 years.
“Sometimes people talk about our population aging in a very negative way, as if it’s a great crisis,” Brake said “(However), this is something we’ve been aware of since 1966, so it’s about time that people recognize and accept the fact that we have an aging population here.”
Brake added there is something of a stigma associated with seniors, saying she feels as though the general population has been looking at the province’s aging population in a negative light. That’s blatant ageism, she said.
“We’re talking about people as if they’re somehow a deterrent, or a burden because we’re growing older,” she said, going on to compare the numbers of seniors to the numbers of children that were once taking up the province’s schools, which she says was never looked at as a problem.
“That conversation has to change; we have to stop talking about seniors as if they’re a bad thing, and that the aging of the population is a bad thing.
“We need to tap into that resource, and tap into the potential of people as they grow older. That, eventually, will let people fulfill as much as they can in life, instead of looking at them as a problem.”
Members of the audience had a chance to interact with Brake through a question and answer session.
Many of the concerns presented by the crowd tended to center around money, and the costs associated with growing older, especially for things like medications and hearing aids.
One member of the audience noted it could cost him up of $4,700 per hearing aid.
Brake offered up statistics.
“Right now, in Newfoundland and Labrador, we have 30,000 couples - that means 60,000 individual people - who have an income of $41,000 or less. That’s the median income for people aged 65 and over,” she said. “That means that 50 per cent of people have less than $41,000 per year.”
Brake explained she felt as though this was important information for people to understand, going on to explain that single people in the province aged 65 and up have an average income of nearly half that - at around $17,000 a year.
“Seniors just cannot afford any more cost increases.”
Brake said these statistics are of concern to her, and she is hoping to see a breakdown of these numbers to provide her with further knowledge, such as the difference between seniors living in rural and urban parts of the province.
However, Brake’s address did not dwell solely on challenges.
She also focused on the things that can be done.
She encouraged seniors to speak out against the negative outlook on the aging population, and said she hopes to see seniors in all corners of the province work together to show the province that an aging population, and senior citizens as a whole, are not a burden.
“We want a quality of life from 50 up to whatever age we hope to get to,” said Hayward Blake, one of the audience members who got up to speak on the subject. “I think, sometimes, we make ourselves the victims because we just accept so much.
“I think we have to keep being involved, and we have to be the advocates for ourselves. We need to change the discussion on seniors. We need to make sure we matter to ourselves, and to the people around us. Otherwise, things are going to happen to us, instead of for us.”