September 30, 2011

CANADA: Loneliness, cost of living biggest hurdles for the 65-plus

VANCOUVER, British Columbia / The Vancouver Sun / Business / September 29, 2011

Canada ushers in senior citizens boom

As median age nudges 40, the 65-plus crowd now outnumbers children in many provinces

By Teresa Smith, Postmedia News

Gerine Collingwood, of Cornerbrook, N.L., says she's "just started her senior years."

At 73, the upbeat mother of two spends her days visiting with seniors in her area, or talking on the phone with others farther afield.

Most people, she says, just want someone to talk to.

"Loneliness is the biggest hurdle seniors face," she said Wednesday. "That, and the cost of living."

Canadians are living longer, and having fewer babies, according to a Statistics Canada report released Wednesday. The report says the proportion of seniors will grow more quickly in the coming years as the first wave of baby boomers reach their final decades.

Gerine Collingwood The Western Star Photo by Geraldine Brophy

As of Canada Day this year, the median age of Canada's population was estimated at 39.9 years, up 0.2 years from a year earlier. (Median age is the age at which half of the population is older and half is younger.)

Newfoundland and Labrador has the country's highest median age (43.8 years) and the fewest children under the age of 15 (14.8 per cent), according to StatsCan.

The province is experiencing now what other provinces and territories should expect in the next 10 to 15 years.

Kelly Heisz, executive director of the Seniors Resource Centre of Newfoundland and Labrador - the province with the highest proportion of seniors - says her centre has been acting as "a onestop shop" for people looking for information on senior care in the province since 1991.

Over the past 20 years, Heisz says more services have become available, but "whether those programs are affordable is another story."

Calls from seniors in financial peril - who can't afford required medications, or who need help paying for taxi cabs to medical appointments from rural homes - far out-number the calls she gets for any other reasons, says Heisz.

On July 1, the number of seniors (persons 65 years or older) was almost five million, or 14.4 per cent of Canada's population, up 0.3 percentage points from July 1, 2010.

The proportion of children under the age of 15 has decreased, representing 16.4 per cent of the total population, or 5,644,800.

Collingwood says her peers are struggling. "They're hoping the people in power will realize soon that seniors need affordable housing."

She says rising costs of living, small - or non-existent - savings accounts, and heating bills that go through the roof, all combine to create a perfect storm for seniors.

"It just snowballs," she says. For the first time in the province's history, Quebec has more seniors (1,253,600) than young people under the age of 15 (1,241,700).

The three Prairie provinces are the country's youngest.

Manitoba and Saskatchewan are the only two provinces where the median age declined last year. The highest proportion of young people in Canada are also in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, 18.8 per cent and 19 per cent, respectively.

Alberta had, on July 1, the youngest population among the provinces with a median age of 36 and the lowest proportion of seniors, at 10.8 per cent.

British Columbia, on the other hand, was the only province in the West where the median age was higher than that of the country as a whole, at 41.1 years.

Seniors account for 15.3 per cent of B.C.'s population.

It was also the only province in the West where there were fewer children under the age of 15 (684,900) than seniors (700,500).

The territories are even more sprightly than the Prairie provinces, with Nunavut having the youngest population in Canada, where the median age is 24.8 years. Almost a third of the Nunavut population was under the age of 15, the highest proportion in the country.

The Northwest Territories' population was also younger than the national average, with the median age at 31.8 years and 21.2 per cent of the population under the age of 15.

Among the territories, Yukon had the oldest population. Its median age was estimated at 39.2 years and the proportion of seniors was 8.8 per cent.

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