It is time for upper levels of government to step up on aging

There is no shortage of great intentions to be stated with much enthusiasm by all levels of government when it comes to how they are dealing with the impact of an aging demographic in this country, and in particular, its most populous province, our own Ontario.

To be fair, recent funding announcements have made some inroads toward filling the gaps in services for caregivers who are coping with the impacts of aging. Today’s middle-aged caregivers are becoming known as “the sandwich generation,” as many younger adults are struggling to find their first entry into a job market where employers are insisting potential applicants have several years of experience under their belt and find themselves forced to live at home, while at the same time, parents are finding themselves being called upon more and more to provide care to their own aging parents.

This situation is leaving many who are still in the workforce juggling jobs, caregiving duties and the cost of supporting their adult children and, in some cases, even their grandchildren—while at the same time watching the ever-dwindling prospects for their own retirement recede. It is an issue that will continue to grow for several years and is even now approaching crisis proportions.

This is without even considering the oncoming unemployment tsunami that will impact youth employment prospects as a direct consequence of the AI (artificial intelligence) revolution.

There are many agencies doing outstanding work in the field of geriatric care on the front lines of dealing with an aging population but their resources are being made ever thinner by a burgeoning demand. Case in point is the situation faced by Linda Peever of Mindemoya, outlined in a story on January’s Alzheimer’s Month and a peer-driven support group being started up in Mindemoya early in the new year. Although her husband qualifies for support services to deal with his age-related memory issues, there are 10 people currently on that list and only five spaces are available in total.

This is only a single case representative of a system-wide shortfall in services relative to demand. While multi-million-dollar funding announcements by governments may offer great public relations and talking points to the governments, the truth is that these efforts are falling further and further behind the need.

Over the course of the past year we here at The Expositor have come across the issue of lengthening waiting lists time and again. Too many people are falling through the cracks of our social safety net here in Ontario, despite the best intentions espoused by the province. Certainly there have been great strides made toward a greater social equity under the current Liberal government than under any provincial government in memory, something that seems to get lost in the shuffle when the Wynne government is weighed in the balance of public opinion, sadly, however, those efforts are not meeting the bar set by what may well become the biggest social challenge in our history—dealing with an aging Baby Boom generation that is living longer and therefore being beset with age-related diseases at a greater rate than any generation that has come before.

We need to find innovative and effective solutions to meet the challenges presented by these and other social issues facing our society. It can’t all be dealt with by throwing more money in the general direction of the problem; for one thing that money will continue to be in ever-shorter supply, especially if the more than $12 billion in cuts to government services and programs contained in the election platform of Progressive Conservative leader Patrick Brown actually come into play after next year’s provincial election. Realistically, this condition applies to whoever comes out on top in the next poll.

Tax cuts and lean government are attractive concepts when it comes to making a paycheque stretch from week to week but it always seems that the burden of dealing with those policies is borne by those who can least afford it.

We cannot deal with the issues facing our province by putting our heads in the sand and mouthing populist platitudes. We need governments that will step up to face the issues head on and work towards rebalancing a fiscal paradigm that has been thrown too far out of whack.

But government cannot do it all alone. In this coming year, let each of us make a determined effort to open our eyes to those around us who need our support. Perhaps by offering to take a turn to keep an elderly person company while their caregiver gets a chance to go out and have some down time, or by volunteering with outreach programs that could use a couple of hours of your time to help increase the quality of life of the aged or their caregivers.

That is a community tradition we all really need to revisit in the years ahead.