If we want to increase the healthy years of life, we first need to change the conversation about our aging population. The key to healthy aging, just like healthy living, is based on three main themes: eat right, exercise and socialize. These factors, along with your genes will have a much bigger impact on your quality of life than any pill you take or scalpel wielding procedure you endure. Despite this, we focus on costs related to health care and paint a picture of frailty and dependence for the masses that is not always supported by evidence. When we take a look at the seniors of today, their health status and how they are living, we can see the glass either one quarter empty or three quarters full. Our view and subsequent messaging will impact on whether people expect good health in later years or believe certain outcomes of frailty are inevitable. Our expectations will, to a large extent, shape our outcome.
Many of the stereotypes that exist about seniors are not supported by the facts. While it is true that the proportion of seniors is increasing, the degree to which society will be “transformed” may be exaggerated. We need to look at how much “confirmation bias” is affecting the language we use to describe issues related to seniors and aging.
For example: is 20% more significant than 80%? Well, we say that 20% of people over the age of 85 have a diagnosis of dementia, this means however that 80% do not. Yet, for the most part we talk about dementia as an inevitable part of aging, the facts on the other hand paint a different picture. Emergency rooms over run by seniors you say. Well, is 22% more significant than 78%? Indeed 22% of emergency room visits are by people over 65 meaning the overwhelming percentage of people in the ER are not seniors.
As public policy makers we need to allow for a sound rationale discussion based on analysis of the data and not driven by political or entrepreneurial agendas. Understanding the diversity of those over 65 in terms of their history, current condition, and hopes for the future is key to ensuring the right types of supports and incentives to provide a satisfying life in later years.
Isobel Mackenzie is a Seniors Advocate with the Government of British Columbia with over 20 years’ experience working with seniors in home care, licensed care, community services and volunteer services. Isobel led B.C.’s largest not-for-profit agency, serving over 6,000 seniors annually. In this work Isobel led the pioneering of a new model of dementia care that has become a national best practice. She led the first safety accreditation for homecare workers, among many other accomplishments. Isobel has been widely recognized for her work and was named BC CEO of the Year for the Not-for-Profit Sector and nominated as a Provincial Health Care Hero. Prior to her appointment as the Seniors Advocate, Isobel served on a number of national and provincial boards and commissions including the BC Medical Services Commission, the Canadian Homecare Association, BC Care Providers, BC Care Aide and Community Health Worker Registry, and the Capital Regional District Housing Corporation. Isobel currently serves on the University of Victoria’s Board of Governors. Isobel received both her undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Victoria and has a Certificate in Health Care Leadership from the University of Toronto. Isobel lives in Victoria.