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By Laura Griffin

On June 8th, 2021, the Federal/Provincial/Territorial Ministers Responsible for Seniors Forum hosted a virtual stakeholder symposium entitled The Future of Aging in Canada, to discuss key issues relating to seniors across Canada. Co-chaired by the Honourable Deb Schulte, Federal Minister of Seniors and the Honourable Josephine Pon, Alberta’s Minister of Seniors and Housing, the three hour virtual event provided experts an opportunity to share new approaches and promising practices in support of healthy aging and to discuss four key topics:

  • social isolation among seniors;
  • technology to support seniors aging in community;
  • research and innovation in healthy aging; and
  • elder abuse prevention.

Presenters at the event:

Dr. Alex Mihailidis from AGE-WELL NCE  addressed how technology can support seniors aging in the community.  AGE-WELL provided examples of how technology was used to support seniors, through video calls, smart phones, social media, food delivery apps, fitness trackers, and online servicers. Across the board, speakers agreed that technology needs to be integrated into care and homes for older adults, as it can provide critical support for aging at home and staying engaged. However, access to technology remains elusive for many, because of socio-economic barriers, rural and remote locations, and lack of technical know-how or support. Infrastructure changes, as well as policy changes, and expanded support services are crucial to help older adults access technology and strengthen social inclusion.

Dr. Veronique Boscart from the Canadian Association of Gerontology discussed ways to support healthy aging. Dr. Boscart indicated the importance of supporting both physical and psychological health. Dr. Boscart also championed an intersectional and health-equity focused research approach, addressing ageism, ableism and racism, to understand the broader social issues facing older adults and their impact on healthy ageing.

Representatives from United Way discussed the issue of social isolation in Canada. They quoted a recent survey, which revealed that 40% of seniors are more anxious now than they were before the pandemic and 25% are reporting feeling lonelier. Ketchum and Clement noted the deterioration of both mental and physical health of seniors, including a pronounced increase of suicidal ideation in older adults with dementia. In addition, the increased racism and xenophobia experienced by some older adults reinforced their feelings of isolation. Ketchum and Clement noted that the landscape has changed as we work to bring people back together, but the impact of isolation on the most vulnerable seniors will continue to reverberate as society begins to reopen.

CNPEA illustrated the devastating effect of Covid on the delivery of services to seniors, which aggravated isolation and risk factors for abuse. CNPEA also highlighted the impact of ageism on the health and mental well-being of older adults, and emphasized the need for communities to be age-inclusive in every way (violence prevention, transportation, housing etc). The Network also announced its ongoing work to develop a Roadmap to Increase Elder Abuse Prevention. This pan-Canadian engagement strategy is being developed in collaboration with national and provincial  and stakeholders that includes the Centre for Research and Education on Violence Against Women and Children, Elder Abuse Prevention Ontario, CanAge, the Canadian Centre for Elder Law, NICE, Egale Canada, and the International Longevity Centre Canada. The project is supported by the Department of Justice Victims Fund. CNPEA has been engaging with stakeholders across the country to discuss the state of direct services, research, law and public education and get a fuller picture of gaps and successes across Canada. CNPEA presented some of the key ideas that are coming to light during this process:

  • Investment in infrastructure to ensure that each jurisdiction can have a sustained elder abuse prevention network would guarantee greater stability and build institutional knowledge.
  • The need to encourage increased collaboration between sectors such as policing, social work and community services 
  • Providing education and training on ageism, red flags of elder abuse and indicators of risk escalation for stakeholders across sectors is key. Introducing trauma- and violence- informed principles and practices with an equity orientation can act as a bridge across sectors to further a more inclusive and collaborative approach to prevention.
  • There is a need to re-think how we approach research with a conscious effort towards decolonization and meaningful community participation.
  • There are many data gaps to be filled:

- Types of Intervention and their impact
- Impact of criminal justice response on elder abuse survivors
- Quantitative and Qualitative impacts of Financial Abuse on Victims
- Elder Abuse among newcomer and immigrant populations and;
- Elder Abuse among people living with cognitive impairment and their caregivers. 

CNPEA announced that the Roadmap would be released in the Fall 2021 and invited the Ministers and stakeholders in attendance to get in touch to participate in the development and promotion of this project.

This Symposium was an opportunity to look at the havoc wreaked by the pandemic, and to take stock of the gaps and weaknesses it exposed when it comes to the system meant to support older adults in Canada. It was also an opportunity to discuss how we envision Canada’s future for our aging population and how we intend to get there, through policy changes and increased support for technological advances and community-building at every level.

Watch the full symposium:


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