State of the University

OPINION - BEYOND LIMITATIONS

How society fails
older adults
 

After helping her family navigate the complex system of care for her grandmother, Rachel Thompson says, “Our seniors have dementia, yet we are the ones who are forgetting."

 
 

Rachel Thompson

RACHEL THOMPSON (BSc ’15) ALUMNUS, FACULTY OF APPLIED HEALTH SCIENCES FOUNDER, MARLENA BOOKS, MARLENA BOOKS CREATES THERAPEUTIC RECREATION PRODUCTS FOR INDIVIDUALS WITH ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE AND DEMENTIA.

I was 15 years old when my grandmother started forgetting who I was.

Diagnosed with early-onset vascular dementia, the woman I had looked up to my entire life slowly began to change and I watched life get increasingly difficult for my grandparents. As my grandmother’s dementia advanced, I watched my grandfather struggle to take care of her. He told me how lonely he felt. Many of his friends had stopped visiting, not knowing what to say to my grandmother.

While he was feeling forgotten, our family was being introduced to a forgotten generation: Canada’s seniors.

For the first time in census history, there are more seniors in Canada than children younger than 14, yet older Canadians face a lack of infrastructure so severe it affects everything from long-term care placements to community activities.

Around the world, each country has its own infrastructure and cultural context for senior care, but the reality remains that many countries are grappling with similar issues. Globally, the population aged 60 and older is growing faster than all younger age groups.

There are almost six million Canadian seniors today, many of whom are trying to access limited resources for complex health issues that require advanced care. For example, 50,000 seniors will fracture a hip and more than half of them will need ongoing care in hospitals, rehabilitation centres or long-term care homes.

 
 
 

A person reading a book

An 800-day wait for long-term care

People are waiting two years to get into long-term care homes. Care co-ordinators advise families to place loved ones on the wait list years before their anticipated entry into the care system. When emergencies occur, families are often left with difficult decisions such as placing family members in homes with poor ratings or homes outside their preferred geographical location. After dealing with my grandmother’s dementia for eight years at home, our family decided to place her on the list. She waited more than 800 days to be placed in long-term care.

Outside of long-term care, our society continues to let seniors down. People who have contributed to their communities and countries for decades do not have access to the care they need. Adult day program wait lists are on the rise, and the homecare system is stretched so thin, there are reports of workers leaving before their scheduled time, citing they do not have enough time in their day to fit in all their clients. This translates into poor care for older Canadians who use home care for daily activities such as light housework or bathing.

Yet someone has to pick up the slack. The sandwich generation: those aged 35-50 who are taking care of their aging parents, are stressed, overworked and frustrated with the system. Almost three in 10 in this age range take sick days and vacation days to care for their aging parents. My aunts arranged all of my grandmother’s homecare, a system far too complex for my grandfather to navigate.

Change in infrastructure for older adults is slow

And still the system forgets. We are very good at divulging research on these problems. A simple search returns hundreds of anecdotes from Canadian families in similar situations to my grandmother with statistics to back it up. We know wait times for long-term care are too long and that the time on a crosswalk is too short for those with slower mobility to cross the street, but we see little change.

My grandmother was placed into long-term care more than two years ago, yet wait times can still be 700 days. Change cannot come without funding, and yet another flaw in this design lies within the per capita funding scheme. Imbalances are noticed between provinces, with Alberta receiving more seniors’ funding than Atlantic provinces, although Albertan seniors make up 13 per cent of the population and Atlantic seniors represent 20 per cent. The Canadian Medical Association has recognized this flaw, yet the framework has not changed.

This problem isn’t going away, with Canadian senior rates set to rise to more than 10 million by 2036 and dementia rates set to increase 60 per cent in this time frame. It is up to us, our communities and our government to ensure seniors are given the quality of care they deserve.

I visit my grandmother weekly in her long-term care home. She still cannot recognize me and can no longer speak. We are walking back to her room following lunch one day when she winks at me.

I know deep down she hasn’t forgotten, so how can I?

 
 
 
 

Beyond
Limitations
 

Find out more about how Waterloo is improving the lives for older adults.