International Day of the Older Person: A Panel Discussion
1 October 2021
Presented by engAGE: Concordia University Centre for Research on Aging
Phillippe Poirier-Monette (FADOQ)
Yvonne Sam (BCRC & CBAC)
Ruth Pelletier (past President Seniors Action Quebec)
N Oji Mzilikazi (Community Representative engAGE Governing Board, past President The Council For Black Aging Community of Montreal Inc.)
Full text of my address:
The Need For Political Activism By Seniors For Seniors
Pleasant good afternoon to one and all.
It is truly a privilege to be an older person.
Rising early, decades of hustle and bustle to and from work, the inherent responsibilities and juggling that comes with having and raising a family, having to bundle up, trudge through snow, shovel out vehicles to go to work are more or less a thing of the past.
To be an older person is to be free to enjoy leisure, do nothing, do things at one’s own pace, pursue childhood dreams, walk new paths, rediscover self.
There is liberation and empowerment in being an older person. Still, older persons inevitable find themselves having to reconcile with the long-established, accepted pronouncements, better yet, myths about aging and the realities of aging.
For many, aging as golden years, one of comfort, “aging gracefully,” reaching a “ripe old age,” and even “age bringing reason,” belie aging hydra-headed issues that affect pocketbooks, physical and mental health, quality of life, and the ability to maintain for as long as possible autonomy and independence at home.
Those hydra-headed issues are precisely why I suggest the need for political activism by us for us.
I know it a tall order. After devoting, putting in 30 to 40 plus years of non-stop work, tiredness is to be expected.
It’s hard to recruit persons, ask them to dust off their battle fatigues and be engaged with justified physical and/or mental exhaustion. Not to mention hobbled by health issues. Plus, some older persons took early retirement because they want to do absolutely nothing.
Nonetheless, regardless of education, religion, politics, language group, race, ethnicity, status, class, gender identification, sexuality or health, older persons have aging and its inherent complexities as a common denominator, as a common challenge, verily a common foe.
17 years ago, December 2004, Statistics Canada released a report that stated, “Canada has changed from a high-fertility society where women had many children during their lives to a low-fertility society where women are having fewer children overall and at increasingly older ages.”
Predicted: With the current birth rate, in 25 years, the population of seniors 65 and older could be more than double the number of children under 15.
Per a 2010 Canadian Parliamentary report: “A birth rate that is below replacement level over the long term would make the government’s ‘current fiscal structure not sustainable.’ If it continues its downward trend, there would have to be a sharp rise in taxes and major cuts to government services.”
Major cuts could very well include pensions that is already a paltry sum.
The last Census data shows for the first time in Canadian history there are more people over the age of 65 than there are under the age of 15.
Where am I going with this you might ask? As it stands Canada do not have a sizable enough young and taxable population to ensure the needs of its ever-increasing older citizens are going to be met. This should concern all of us.
Taxes pay salaries. Tax dollars pay for services. Governments, towns, cities, municipalities need jobs, need workers, need a large tax base to fund, provide the financial resources to deliver services, adequately service the basic needs of the population. The lack of jobs cannot but engender fiscal restrictions and cuts to services including those for seniors.
We live in a global marketplace.
What defines success in this arena? Competitiveness!
In pursuit of same, governments secured free trade agreements and big business outsourced jobs.
Aside from cheaper, not necessarily durable goods, globalization and outsourcing have been disastrous for western economies.
Entire labour-intensive industries, millions of jobs were apportioned to countries with less-developed economies, an abundant supply of cheap labour, and very weak to no worker and environmental protection laws.
The result: Employment scarcity, the lack of jobs at home. Governments not having a large enough tax base to adequately service citizens.
Is it any wonder municipalities have resorted to enacting numerous by-laws to facilitate ticketing and fines; fines that have increased substantially?
Factor in the proliferation of Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies, computerization, automation, innovative and information technologies and ancillary industries. For all their advantages, they are not job creators. They eliminate the need for human bodies. They eliminate jobs.
Thanks to education, health science and nutrition, technologies, pharmaceutical companies, medical professionals and medicine, humankind are living longer lives. While that is all great and wonderful, it costs more to live longer.
Aside from health care cost that keep rising and annual inflation that takes a chunk out of one’s pocket, longer lives means a person can outlive their retirement savings.
Given the travails that come with aging, long-term care might be inevitable. Progeny — children might not be able to physically and/or financially contribute to one’s support or willing to do so.
As study after study have shown, confirmed and reconfirmed: Poverty rates among the elderly — extremely high.
Poverty impacts self-esteem. Poverty can spur depression, prompt self-isolation, social isolation, loneliness.
As much as there are persons who enjoy being alone—without being lonely, humankind is overwhelmingly social by nature. Humans have an innate need for company.
Work and the socialization arising from its relatedness expose one to a wide and varied social network, having friends, company.
One of the inevitable consequences of retirement is the fracturing of bonds, reduction of one’s social network, diminished or loss in touch with coworkers, acquaintances, even friends.
The reduction of one’s social network when combined with illness or hospitalization of a spouse or life partner, bereavement, divorce or separation after 100 years, retirement unpreparedness, money problems, low pension payments, ill-health, reduced mobility, pricey medication, feelings of worthlessness after a life of work, productivity and contribution can devastate financially, mentally and emotionally, precipitate self-isolation, social isolation and inevitable loneliness.
Let me be clear! While social isolation and loneliness are often lumped together, there is a difference between isolation and loneliness. One can experience one and not the other. One can have lots of friends and acquaintances, close and strong connections and still feel lonely.
That aside, social isolation and loneliness impact health and wellbeing.
Loneliness is linked to increased mental health issues, depression, alcohol and prescription drug abuse, personal care neglect, poor eating habits, increased risk of chronic health issues such as diabetes, and even early death.
A British study found loneliness and social isolation were “risk factors for coronary heart disease and stroke.” Research shows Canada’s elderly population is growing increasingly lonely and isolated.
As a society/as an aged community we ought not to, we cannot afford to sit and wait for the government to come up with strategies to improve the quality of life for older persons, combat social isolation, loneliness, minimize poverty. Older persons must be proactive.
We must do our part. We must Demand not ask. We must hold the government and powers that be feet to the fire by political activism and working in tandem with other organizations.
As Frederick Douglass informed in his 1857 speech: “Power concedes nothing without a demand.”
Consider: September 2019, the CAQ government announced $280 million for home care in addition to the $1.5 billion the ministry purportedly spends annually. The Covid-19 pandemic exposed the many shortcomings in CHSLDs/retirement homes—failures known for years by staff, authorities, organizations whose clients are seniors and individuals.
As far as I can tell, I might very well be wrong, I’ve never seen or read about the rollout and applications of those funds. Who will take the lead and demand the premier keeps his promise?
In unity there is strength. If you haven’t, join an organization or community, expand your social network.
An organization can only be strong and dynamic as its members.
However, far too often it is its unpaid officers and a few volunteers that shoulder the responsibilities, working harder and for free in retirement than when in a paid labour force. That can aggravate or trigger health issues or lead to their burnout, which must affect the organization.
Be active as possible in your respective organization.
In closing I say to you:
The complexities of aging and its hydra-headed issues unites us. Only political activism could improve our lot—save us, allow us to live in dignity, truly age gracefully.
My name is N Oji Mzilikazi