Nfld. & Labrador

'Ageist, paternalistic thinking must stop,' says seniors' advocate in 1st report

As Newfoundland and Labrador's seniors' advocate releases her first report, she says many of the issues seniors face stem from discrimination and a lack of respect and compassion.

'Ageist, paternalistic thinking must stop,' says Suzanne Brake

Newfoundland and Labrador's Seniors' Advocate Suzanne Brake says ageism and a lack of kindness and compassion are a source of many of the problems facing seniors. (Lukas Wall/CBC)

As Newfoundland and Labrador's seniors' advocate releases her first report, she says many of the issues seniors face stem from discrimination and a lack of respect and compassion.

Suzanne Brake said many of the issues and concerns from seniors included in her report released on Wednesday are a result of ageist attitudes.

"Ageism and the absence of kindness and compassion are at the core of many of the issues that I hear," she said.

"Ageist, paternalistic thinking must stop. It is time to view aging as a time of positivity and opportunity.… We need to practise basic human kindness, simple practices that are neither onerous or costly."

Of the report's 11 specific concerns and 25 recommendations, Brake said ageism contributes to the major issues, like labour participation, health care and allowing seniors to age at home.

The seniors' advocate's first report, titled Long May Your Big Jib Draw: Setting Sail, was released in St. John's on Wednesday. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

"That's why we have all these problems, because we're demeaning people as they grow older," she said.

Brake said she plans to examine the role of age in the province's Human Rights Act.

Some seniors are losing pension and health insurance plans at 65 or 70 because they are not protected by the act, she said, and simply cannot afford to retire.

When we divorce our teeth and our mouth from the rest of our body, there's something wrong with that picture.- Suzanne Brake

The advocate also plans to hold a summit on older workers in November. 

Brake said many dental, hearing and vision aids are simply too expensive for seniors and she wants to find a solution to have the devices included in the Canada Health Act.

Being unable to afford medical aids, like dentures, she said, can cause more serious problems and a poorer quality of life.

"When we divorce our teeth and our mouth from the rest of our body, there's something wrong with that picture."

The province's seniors' advocate said she is also committed to improving conditions in long-term care facilities for seniors, as well as workers, and she is recommending a significant review of Newfoundland and Labrador long-term and personal care homes.

There are also a small but growing number of homeless seniors, Brake said, adding that one in four people who avail of services at the Gathering Place in St. John's are over the age of 65.

Brake said she is reviewing the status and scope of homelessness among the province's seniors.

While there has been good progress in making the province more inclusive and supportive for seniors, Brake said, there is still a long way to go, and there is a level of public responsibility to help effect change.

"We still have a lot of work to do in order to build a society that supports seniors as fully integrated and valuable members of society."

'We need to celebrate age'

Sharon Callahan, chair of the province’s Coalition of Seniors, says the report confirms many of the issues she's heard from seniors in Newfoundland and Labrador. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

Sharron Callahan, chair of the province's Coalition of Seniors, says she's optimistic the report will bring change, as it shows many long-standing issues facing seniors.

"It verifies what various organizations who are present here today have been saying for so many years," she said.

Callahan said a culture shift is needed to address the way seniors are treated, and that age ought to be celebrated, rather than being a reason for discrimination.

"There is this mentality of ageism, and that the seniors of our province are the cause of all of our ills," she said.

"As Dr. Brake very clearly indicated this morning, 80 per cent of people are below the age of 65. We need to celebrate age. We need to celebrate the fact that many of us that are over that age still can — and want to — contribute to our communities."

Provincial homelessness report coming

Minister of Children, Seniors and Social Development Lisa Dempster said the advocate's report contained "no real surprises," but there is a plan to address the number of seniors who are homeless in Newfoundland and Labrador.

"That's pretty basic. People need a roof over their head and a place to call home," she said.

"In the very near future we will be releasing a housing and homelessness action plan and we hope that some of these things identified will be addressed."

Ultimately, Dempster said, while progress has been made, the province wants to do more to make life better for seniors.

"The biggest room in any house is the room for improvement, and there's more to be done."

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