Saturday, Oct. 1, marked the International Day of the Older Person as ratified by the United Nations.
To recognize the date, a local organization gathered a range of business and volunteer services geared towards seniors and held a trade show at the Heritage Inn.
The day featured workshops and speeches from elected officials, with the keynote address coming from Isobel Mackenzie, the B.C. Seniors Advocate.
Mackenzie’s speech touched on stereotyping and discrimination against seniors, while emphasizing that seniors aren’t just a single population block with all the exact same wants and needs.
For example, a senior who is 65 years old will have different priorities, financially and from a healthcare standpoint, than a senior who is 85 years old, Mackenzie said.
“I wanted to emphasize that number one, seniors are diverse folks,” said Mackenzie. “The overwhelming majority of seniors are active, engaged, living independently.
“They’re not a problem, they’re a resource and we really have to dial down this image we’re projecting of all seniors as frail and vulnerable. Some are, and we need to pay attention [to that], but the vast majority aren’t, so I think that’s an important message to get out.”
Delivering health care in rural BC can be tough, with issues like transportation and home care posing particular challenges. Cranbrook has the East Kootenay Regional Hospital in the city, however, there could be transportation challenges for seniors who live in outlying communities such as Kimberley, Jaffray and Fernie.
“The first challenge in rural B.C. is the transportation challenge,” Mackenzie said, “that more people depend on being able to drive in rural areas than they do in the city and the transit systems just aren’t there and realistically aren’t going to be there in the capacity to meet everybody’s needs.”
Delivery of at-home services in rural B.C. is also a challenge, as getting care workers to and from clients who live regionally outside the centres can be tough.
“If someone only needs half an hour of service in the morning,” said Mackenzie, “are you going to spend an hour driving there, and an hour back to deliver it, so what are the more creative ways that we can assist with that?”
Giving money directly to those who need assistance, rather than having to go through the public system, is one potential option the government should explore, said Mackenzie.
“I’ll use home support as an example,” Mackenzie said. “If we say you need an hour of home support a day, we’ll send the worker out, and that’s costing the system about $50 an hour.
“If we gave you $50 a day, you might be able to find, you could get somebody to live at your house, give them a stipend, you might find more creative ways.”
The trade show was a chance for local businesses and volunteer organizations to come together and showcase their products and services that seniors could take advantage of — services such as Better at Home, where volunteers help seniors with tasks such as light housekeeping, grocery shopping, yard work and snow shovelling.
Some volunteer programs are as simple as a volunteer calling up on a senior every day to make sure they are doing okay, Mackenzie said, adding that she spent 20 years working with non-profit organizations.
“It’s a symbiotic relationship, because the people who are volunteering are getting just as much out of it as the people who are receiving the service they’re voluntarily giving and I think that’s very important,” she said.