Right now, as you read these words, there’s a senior living in a Greater Victoria long-term care facility who, quite literally, has nothing to wear. They live with a chronic condition that’s slowly transforming their body, but can’t afford new clothes adapted to their needs.
A few weeks ago another senior, also in long-term care, broke his dentures. He was forced to give up solid food because he couldn’t afford a new set.
Each month, broken hearing aids, dead batteries, empty PolyGrip tubes, and lost glasses – seemingly simple issues for most of us – become major life events for some of Greater Victoria’s most vulnerable residents. They simply lack the money to buy what they need. And while many Canadians assume that government programs will help seniors as they age, the truth is that the quality of life available to seniors who depend on these programs is often a lot less than any of us would want for our loved ones.
Canada launched the Old Age Security (OAS) program in 1952. It paid seniors aged 70+ up to $40 each month to help with their basic needs. In 1967, two additional programs came online in the form of the Canadian Pension Plan (CPP) and Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS), and the benchmark age was lowered to 65. The amounts given to seniors have increased with inflation in the decades since, but not much else has changed.
In contrast, the lives of seniors and their ‘basic’ needs have changed. Dramatically.
In 1952, the average life expectancy in Canada was nearly 69 years. It rose slightly to 71 years by 1967, but today it’s a whopping 83 years, and many seniors live well past their 100th birthdays in local long-term care facilities. This means that seniors have to stretch their savings a whole lot longer than the designers of Canada’s social safety net expected.
Among those elderly residents who outlive their savings (and outlive other family members who could help them), many will receive just $1,000 to $1,500 in monthly income from OAS, CPP, and GIS payments combined. With 80% going direct to the government for long-term care costs, there’s little left for everything not covered by long-term care: clothes, medications, dentures, hearing aids, glasses, outside health visits, personal care items (shampoo, deodorant, razors, etc.), wheelchairs, entertainment, and more.
For a senior who finds themselves in these circumstances, something as simple as a $20 package of new hearing aid batteries can be a life changing gift – one that saves them from loneliness, isolation, and depression.
An easy way to help is by visiting the London Drugs locations on Yates Street in Victoria, or on Sooke Road at Colwood Corners for the Stocking Stuffers for Seniors program. From November 12th to December 8th, Christmas trees displayed in-store will be covered with holiday wish lists created for local seniors living in long-term care who no longer have family to buy them presents. Shoppers can pick the senior they’d like to help, and drop off their gifts in-store.
The wish lists are often a mix of practical items like blankets and toiletries, magazines for entertainment, and holiday treats and candies. But for seniors living with advanced dementia, the gifts play a doubly special role. Christmas is one of the few life events that many local seniors have repeated each year throughout their long lives. This repeated act helps create strong memories that are resistant to their disease. For them, opening presents on Christmas morning provides the rare chance to reconnect with happy memories from times gone by, reminding them of all that they’ve achieved in their lives.
A second opportunity to help is offered by Eldercare Foundation – a local charity dedicated to improving care and quality of life for local seniors. This holiday season they’re working to create a $5,000 Resident-in-Need Fund – a special pool of money that can be used specifically to support seniors in long-term care facing urgent personal care needs. Details and donation options can be found on their website at www.gvef.org/resident-in-need-fund.