Listening to seniors’ concerns in Ladysmith

Information gathered at seniors' roundtable will inform a national NDP strategy on aging.

Nanaimo-North Cowichan MLA Doug Routley shares his point of view at Friday’s seniors roundtable.

Nanaimo-North Cowichan MLA Doug Routley shares his point of view at Friday’s seniors roundtable.

Seniors in Ladysmith and their caregivers say they are concerned about continuity of care and cost of living expenses when it comes to today’s aging population.

Nanaimo-Cowichan MP Jean Crowder and Nanaimo-North Cowichan MLA Doug Routley gathered with approximately 30 local residents on Friday as part of a series of non-partisan roundtables Crowder is hosting to identify and address issues and priorities that will help communities best prepare for the growing seniors population.

“What we know about Nanaimo-Cowichan is that a higher percentage of seniors live in Nanaimo-Cowichan than other parts of the province,” said Crowder. “We know there’s a whole whack more people coming through, [and] we can’t just keep doing what we’re doing. The time to start talking about what our communities should look like is not when we’re 92; it’s when we’re 60.”

The information gathered at Friday’s meeting will be put toward a national strategy on aging being prepared by Irene Mathyssen, the NDP’s official opposition critic for seniors.

Some of that information included calls for more affordable cost of living expenses for seniors, such as transportation, housing, bank fees and medications.

“Even going to the generic brands, it’s getting to the point where seniors are saying ‘I can’t afford my medication’ for things like heart problems and diabetes,” said Linda Brown, chair of the Ladysmith Seniors Advisory Council. “They end up in the hospital, so there’s no cost savings.”

The Ladysmith Resources Centre Association offers a wealth of services and programs for local seniors, such as a computer club, a visitor program, peer counseling and income tax assistance.

Roundtable participants suggested seniors workshops that would educate participants about what other resources are available to them, and about issues they may face, such as income splitting for pensioners.

Transportation continues to be an issue for seniors in Ladysmith who need to leave town for medical appointments or who are not mobile enough to use the trolley system.

Bob Mair brought up the issue of driver’s licences for seniors, which are currently regulated through the DriveABLE program.

“I realize there may well be a need to test some of us,” he said. “But why am I being tested on a computer when for the last 60 years, I’ve been driving on the road in a motorized vehicle? I’ve never played a computer game in my life.”

Currently, a family doctor can refer a senior to take the driving test, in which case there is no cost. However, if a senior elects to do the test on their own, there is a charge. Routley said he would like to see that policy changed to promote more responsible drivers.

“There are many problems with that test, and we’re doing what we can to have it re-assessed,” he said. “No one argues with adequate testing; we’ve got graduated licensing for young people and we are attempting to address as a society when people are no longer capable of driving safely, but the test for that needs to be fair … and right now, we call that into question.”

Discussion participants expressed particular concern about the lack of aging-in-place policies and the increasing difficulties put on families who want to be able to keep their loved ones at home.

“Fostering is a good example, where we wait for families to break down and then we foster children, and we pay for their fostering, rather than supporting the family with services when the children are in trouble, or the parents are in trouble,” Routley said. “So often, this is true with seniors as well. Wouldn’t it make better sense to provide support to a family rather than wait for them to wind up in a crisis where people can’t work and we’re overloading the acute care system?”

While there is a federal caregiver tax credit in place, attendees said it is not enough, and they would like to see more subsidies and respite care available to those struggling to take care of their loved one.

“These people who are 80 and 90 years old, they don’t want to be in these big facilities anymore — they want small, they want to be up to the fireplace by four o’clock in the afternoon, a nice dinner, put them off to bed with a foot rub and they’d be off their pain meds in no time because they’d be happy and they’d know they could stay there till they die,” said one meeting attendee.

Lillianna Blow, 50, said she had no choice but to give up her job to look after her mother before she passed away in care and says many other local families are faced with a similar situation.

“I took care of my mom for free because I loved her; I didn’t expect a wage, but we struggled and everybody helped us, and that’s all we needed was a hand up,” she said tearfully.

One elderly woman who wished to remain anonymous said she has worked hard to be able to live independently and is frustrated to hear other people’s concerns about being forced into a seniors home.

“Twenty years ago, I would have willingly gone into a care home, but not now — it has changed that much,” she said.

Some even talk of dark alternatives to nursing homes, such as suicide.

“They get so depressed, they want to end it all, and that’s damned depressing,” said Don Harrison.

Solutions also included co-op senior housing and increasing home care services until that can be achieved.

Earlier this month, the B.C. government announced a new seniors action plan that would include the creation of a provincial seniors’ advocate, something the NDP has been attempting to introduce for years, Routley said. The recommendation came from a 400-page BC Ombudsman report on seniors care, which was initiated after the closing of Cowichan Lodge (and includes a 35-page section on the closure).

“This seniors’ advocate will be able to go out and collect information from seniors and organizations in communities, but also proactively do reports and issue recommendations to communities and the legislature in a non-partisan, independent sense,” Routley explained.

Though the province is committed to implementing a seniors advocate, it is not clear when that will happen.

Those interested in being part of the roundtable conversation on seniors are encouraged to contact Jean Crowder at 1-866-609-9998 or Doug Routley at 250-245-9375.