Cross Country Checkup

Is Canada ready to handle the doubling of its senior population in the next 25 years?

Aging population: A UN report says many countries are simply not ready to handle the burden. By the year 2050, people older than 60 will outnumber those younger than 15. In just 25 years, the number of Canadians over 65 will double to 10-million.Canada rates well compared to other countries but many here say services are strained now. What will...
Aging population: A UN report says many countries are simply not ready to handle the burden. By the year 2050, people older than 60 will outnumber those younger than 15. In just 25 years, the number of Canadians over 65 will double to 10-million.

Canada rates well compared to other countries but many here say services are strained now. What will it be like in the years to come? Is Canada a good place to grow old?

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This past week a new report was issued by a UN agency saying that there is a population explosion of seniors coming. By the year 2050, people older than 60 will outnumber those younger than 15. In Canada in just 25 years, the number of Canadians over 65 will double to 10-million. The report says most countries are not ready for this.

Canada rated highly in the survey ...fifth behind Sweden, Norway, Germany, and the Netherlands but many people involved in senior care issues in Canada think that services for seniors are strained now in this country ...and we are ill-prepared to handle a doubling of that population without making significant changes along the way.

As if to highlight this very point, there was news this week of a 90-year old blind woman in British Columbia being released from a hospital ...sent home alone in a taxi dressed in her pajamas at 2 o'clock in the morning. The hospital apologized saying it was a mistake but the incident underlined some of the challenges and the anxieties surrounding the issues of care for the elderly.

Ensuring that the elderly are well looked after encompasses a whole range of issues such as access to adequate healthcare, in hospitals and at home; access to housing designed for their needs and with provision for support services; and probably the biggest concern is income support -- Is the Canada Pension Plan and its sub plans doing the job? What about the many who do not qualify, how do you ensure that younger Canadians prepare for their older years?

Those are the challenges ...but it is not clear where the solutions are going to come from. Who should bear the major responsibility for ensuring seniors are looked after? Is it governments? Is it the family? Or should individuals prepare for their own future? There are already hints of generational tensions over who should pay for what.

Old age is obviously something that cannot be avoided, the question is will it be a pleasant time or a fearful one? Is there a way that older people can continue to exist in our society in an integrated and valued manner without being shunted aside or ghettoized? Perhaps the sheer numbers will mean that seniors take a larger and more important role in society.

What do you think?

How is Canada doing so far? Is this a good place to grow old? If the population of over 65s doubles in 25 years what if anything needs to change?

Our question today: "Is Canada ready to handle the doubling of its senior population in the next 25 years?"

I'm Rex Murphy ...on CBC Radio One ...and on Sirius satellite radio channel 169 ...this is Cross Country Checkup.


  • Susan Eng
    Vice President for Advocacy at CARP (formerly the Canadian Association of Retired Persons)

  • Lynn McDonald
    Scientific Director of NICE, National Initiative for the Care of the elderly - an international network of researchers and seniors dedicated to improving the care of older adults. Professor in the Faculty of Social Work and Director of the Institute for Human Development, Life Course and Aging at the University of Toronto.

  • Linda Couture
    Co-author of a book with Peter Stockland of inspiring stories of Quebec seniors and photography collection called Signs of Mystery-Portraits of Grace

  • Neil Howe
    Historian, economist, and demographer who writes and speaks on the aging of the population and long-term fiscal policy. He is a senior associate with the Centre for Strategic and International Studies' Global Aging Initiative in Washington DC.


National Post

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Global AgeWatch



One subject which is almost taboo in this context is the debate about the right to die with dignity, sometimes known as assisted suicide or euthanasia. I am 72 and nearly everyone I talk to of my own generation feels that we want the right to control the time and way we die. Although mostly the reasons are because we don't want to suffer pain or lose control or be totally useless, there is a financial reason that is usually not discussed. There are many who think financial considerations should never be part of the debate about the right to die. But to me it is part of the equation that I am a member of a generation who will impose an incredible burden on the next generation with the health costs at the end of our lives, especially the money spent prolonging those lives. I personally would like to contribute to lessening these costs by not prolonging my life beyond the point when I can look after myself. If I can choose the moment of my death, I can donate any of my organs which might still be of use to someone younger with a life before them, as well as reducing the burden (and yes, it is a burden, no matter how we like to dress it up) of keeping me alive beyond when I wish to be allowed to go.

Vancouver, British Columbia

A larger issue would be simply that the entire population will likely double in 30 years or so. I remember the population being 3.5 billion in the mid 1980s.

Squamish, British Columbia

Whether we like it or not, we cannot afford so many old sick people. I myself am 66 years old. Inevitably, whether done in secret or legally after a change in the law, more and more old people will be euthanized, we hope with their consent but quite probably without.

Regina, Saskatchewan

Rex, I think the general radio audience will agree, that you are never allowed to retire. Yes, you deserve the honor, far more than many of your colleagues, however, the loss of your presence on the Canadian air waves would be immense.  You are the voice of reason amongst a profession of folk to whom the story matters above all else, even in my opinion, truth. Thank you for you efforts over the years, and may you continue for many, many more.

Lindsay, Ontario

You get what you pay for. My Grandparents and parents were generally more realistic in what it would take to care for the elderly. My generation (I am 56) was not. We looked for the quick buck. We did not invest in increasing CPP budgets. We expected lower taxes, with increased returns from government services. We went free trade and believed in more jobs and wealth. We bought into economic fantasies. It was easy. Easy to be stupid. Now our stupidity and laziness comes home to our grey haired roost. We get what we deserve. Very little. Don't ask our kids to give more work and thought than we did. If they will give more thought and work then let them get the benefits. We didn't earn them. I feel ripped off because since my teens I have harangued everyone about our mistakes. I was always willing to put in the work, money and effort. But I was the minority of realists. Let our majority of old lazy farts suffer for their mistakes, me included, I guess.

Calgary, Alberta

When my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's, I left my job in Calgary and came home to Nanaimo to provide her with in home care. My husband was in full support of this move, and agreed to be the primary wage earner while I stayed at home with Mom. Then my husband had a heart attack. Fortunately he recovered and is able to work, but not at his previous vocation as a self-employed home renovation carpenter. With senior services stretched to their limits, her need for home support or participation in special seniors with dementia programs was triaged as minimal, because my husband and I were living with her. Seniors without family support, quite understandably, came first in line. My husband had no safety net.  I had my hands full with caring for mom and my husband, though EI felt I was employable and thus not eligible for benefits.

Bearing in mind that this has happened in the last two years, well before the predicted bubble as baby boomers become seniors, I fear what the future holds for us.

Income security for seniors and family care givers needs to be addressed.  Support for seniors and care givers needs desperately to be addressed. Caring for elderly in their homes is significantly more cost effective than residential care. Supporting families who want to provide that care, or providing other home care support, is not only financially beneficial for our society, but the quality of life and care is greater than the best-run residential care facility.

It takes a village to raise a child. It takes a village to care for our elders as well, and we are not ready.

Nanaimo, British Columbia

One listener asked just where has the money she contributed to government pensions gone, that there apparently isn't enough to support the boomers in retirement. The simple answer is that a succession of federal governments over the years could not resist a "laying on of hands" of the so-called "surplus" that has built up.

Victoria, British Columbia

Boomers need to realize that a young person is not going to want to move to Pugwash, Nova Scotia. Seniors need to move to city centers if they expect the young to care for them. The cost of gas is reason alone.
Moncton, New Brunswick

Healthcare will be the primary issue for the aging. As boomers, we have falsely believed that the amount of tax that we paid would be sufficient to support the care that an aging population requires. As a caller pointed out, at $1,000 a day, very few folks will be able to afford this. There will be a month of blue moons before any elected party has the courage to tell the population the true amount of tax that will be required to fund our health system.

Comox, British Columbia

In order for Canadians to have a good retirement at 60 or 65, we have to have young Canadians working at an earlier age. Our school system was set up in an age when students learned their careers from their parents. The aristocrats now use the education system to keep young Canadians out of the work force. Students in high school should be taught to drive, do carpentry, welding and mechanic work. They should also be able to work in hospitals and as teachers as soon as leaving high school.

Miramichi, New Brunswick

I'm a Gen-Xer that is going to be of retirement age in 25 years. I fear for my retirement. In my workplace, there is a lot of distain for the older generations by the younger ones. The millennials and Gen-Ys blame the boomers for the destruction of the economy and environment, and for the 100k Canadian debt load each one of them carries. By the time I get to that age I will consider myself lucky if I can wander into the woods to return to the ecosystem should ever I get sick. At worst, it will be some type of Logan's Run dystopia where those of an elderly age are disposed of. So no, I do not think Canada, or really anywhere, will handle twice the amount of seniors well.

Calgary, Alberta

I turned the radio on just now and am listening with interest to your discussion. On the one hand I agree, we have a looming problem with inadequate services in place. I am a public health nurse and have seen many reductions in supports available in the community, some of which were once provided by public health nurses. On the other hand, we forget that there are wonderful opportunities ahead. A whole demographic, myself included, is entering a period of being ready willing and able to contribute to our communities. I am 55 years old, just retired, have returned to university and am working towards a masters in public health. There are so many seniors in my community whose contributions I admire and hope to emulate.

Uxbridge, Ontario

In dealing with aging population, we should take ample time to be sure that our responses are carefully considered not to bring long-term harm to future generations. At some point around mid century, the elderly boomers will have passed on and the country will be ready for renewal. Opportunities will favour the young family. History has seen this before with depopulation. Ireland after the famine, or Europe after one of its many pandemics or wars, for instance. When the young left through emigration, or perished through some event, the elderly were the majority until population recovered. Nature abhors a vacuum, and renewal inevitably follows. 
The biggest threat to our society comes from those who would recommend mass immigration to pay the bills and fill the gaps. This focus on economic half-measures is as short-sighted as a Ponzi scheme, and will ruin us in the long run. We must bear the economic consequences on our own and let the cycles of population boom and bust play out naturally. 

Ottawa, Ontario

The best way is to promote healthy lifestyle now in aging populations between 40-50 years. Healthy people require less medical care. I am 73 years of age and was abandoned and made homeless and penniless by my ex-wife and her male friend using the family court system in Ottawa. I retired in 2005, and started living in a wooden shack in rural Nova Scotia. My ex-wife takes around 40% of my pension despite the fact she was given her share of my pension during division of the property. Family Court was very unfair to me as my ex-wife told lies under oath and also hid all her assets. She and her male friend are very rich.

The only reason why I am alive today is because of my righteous ways of life, hard work and  my healthy lifestyle. I grow organic vegetables, berries and fruits to survive, and exercise each day. Because of my lifestyle I hardly have to go to a doctor and dentist for medical care. I am a member of my community health board and promote righteousness and healthy lifestyle.

Antigonish, Nova Scotia

I would like to see and hear less about the anticipated burden of seniors to society (which undoubtedly contributes to ageism) and more about their contributions, which would help to raise the cultural esteem of elder persons. I think we should be creating infrastructure whereby seniors can make contributions to current problems, including the anticipated Boomer bulge. An excellent example I recently heard of (on CBC) is the Harvard Advanced Leadership Initiative, described on their website as "a bold academic innovation that has the potential to become another facet of higher education, change the concept of retirement and help change the world for the better." I hope Canadian Universities, with support from the Canadian Government will begin introducing similar initiatives where seniors with the skills, abilities, and desire to make a difference will be welcomed to contribute their experience and expertise.

Victoria, British Columbia

Perhaps we are reaping the harvest of a culture and economy that requires us to move to where the work is located, have no or few children, and glorifies individual independence over connection and responsibility to family and community. And then we seem surprised that elders, toddlers, differently-abled, or differently-cultured, lack the support that could enable them to contribute to their community?

Lee Ann
Gibsons, British Columbia

I hope you have this topic on again, perhaps reframing it somewhat. I find the way it is put forward, most people want to focus on that smaller portion of the population who are frail, sick and in need of care. My view is that old age is a state of mind. One is only old if you think you are old. I'm 72, left government at 53 with a retirement package and am on my third new venture since. Currently I am researching and developing ways to get conversation in the public realm around conscious aging, a way to reframe and reinvent how we will live as we age. It's now evident that there is a new stage of life emerging, those between 55 and 85 will not be called old any longer. Rather, they will be seen as being in a third age, full of vigor and wisdom (if they choose to reflect on their lives and choose their future wisely). As individuals we need to wake up and ask ourselves who we want to be over the coming years, and take responsibility for our futures. As governments, we need to reframe totally the way we view people over 50. We need to move out of our coma of habituated beliefs about aging and create new and innovative ways to engage those between 55 to 85 such that they contribute to our country in a variety of ways.

Halifax, Nova Scotia

The government should persuade the general public to take more responsibility to care for their well being. Too many seniors become handicapped because they are overweight, the result of too many years of gluttony, laziness and complacency. Why the wise people should have to pay for those laggards is beyond me.

Montreal, Quebec

I believe every senior care facility should have a sound-proofed room equipped with a piano, drum set and music stands that can be paneled off from the rest of the room as needed, and a monitoring system for the safety of all. I regularly spend time in our local facilities playing music for seniors. I am always struck by the silence in these places, and how damped-down all emotions must be in such confined spaces.

Many of the residents were amateur musicians who grew up in an era when music was something you made for yourself. Neurology and psychology have proven the benefits of making music, not just passive listening. Yet that is the first sacrifice that must be made in order to avoid disturbing other residents and staff.

No musician will willingly practice in public. Endless runs over the same few notes to perfect them, the bleats and blatts of pushing an instrument to the limits of its range, the constant stops and starts to refine phrasing - we know no one wants to hear that. Playing and practicing are very different things.  The moment a musician moves into a care facility, music is clipped away. I'm reminded of Kahlil Gibran's definition of hell: "A place where you shall laugh, but not all of your laughter, and weep, but not all of your tears."

Loud or exuberant behavior is deemed disruptive, and the solution for screaming is sedation. The ideal resident is a placid resident. The far better solution would be a sound-proofed room where musicians could practice (or just make noise), where the bed-ridden and extremely frustrated could let rip the primal screams that release tension and even provide aerobic exercise for those who have no other options.

Put a whiteboard on the door for reservations and let un-booked hours be drop-in hours. Allow the residents the chance to laugh all of their laughter, and when needed, to cry all of their tears. And to make music that brings the angels back.

Port Alberni, British Columbia

I lived in Southern Europe for more than 30 years. Coming back to Canada, I was constantly asked my age by bureaucrats. Through my entire career in Europe, no one ever asked my age. They checked documents, period. Friends and I never mentioned age. I assume that we were all ages. Here, people brag about their own age (looking younger) and worry about how old someone else looks for his or her age. I never state my age nor do I allow anyone to tell me their age. It has nothing to do with who we are and, once revealed, being human, we place the person in a frame in which they look great, good, tired, older, younger, etc.  Unfair! Whatever my age, I have friends ranging from toddlers to high elders.  All of them teach me and give me joy. I find that Canada separates the generations, a very unhealthy process for a civilization.

Victoria, British Columbia

The 27-year-old gentlemen from St. Albert, and the follow-up caller, spoke of the difficulties families have in finding appropriate accommodation and care resources for senior family members with dementia (or other chronic health issues). The brick wall and obstacle course the young man described is the norm, not the exception. And it occurs not only in Alberta, but in other provinces, as well. Our family experienced a similar situation in the past year in Saskatchewan. Thanks for the topic and discussion.

Lethbridge, Alberta

People have to start being less selfish. I live in a small house in Vancouver with my elderly mom who is 78 with cancer and many health issues. We do everything we have to in order to keep her out of the hospital. We live with my oldest son, who is 28, my nephew, who is 27, my daughter, who is 25, my youngest son, who is 23 and my partner. My sister recently moved back in as well. It's cramped but we are all okay with that. Everyone but mom works, but lucky for us we all have varied hours and days of work. My mom has for the most part 24 hour care. That is what is the most important thing for us. It's a challenge but we have all given up something and we have all gotten something. We have (most of us) lived together for the past 25 years. We have given up privacy but we have gotten care for my kids when they were younger, now we are all paying her back in her time of need. Most people don't want to give up their space. I say it is our way of caring for each other. It certainly works for my family.

Vancouver, British Columbia


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