Busting Myths of Growing Older in BC

I recently attended and moderated a public forum, hosted by our local MLA for Oak Bay-Gordon Head, Dr. Andrew Weaver, who was joined by keynote guest speaker Isobel Mackenzie, BC’s Seniors’ Advocate. 


Ms. Mackenzie did a lot of “myth-busting” about BC seniors during her presentation and summarized some key findings and highlights.

Did you know:

You will recall that we have been hearing in recent years that aging baby boomers are going to choke our health care system and extended care facilities, creating unprecedented cost and service pressures for younger taxpayers.  Simply not true according to Ms. Mackenzie, who stressed that there is no so-called “tsunami” looming and that aging in BC is a gradual process that has been evolving for decades.  For example:

  • Seniors comprise about 17% of BC’s population (in Oak Bay it’s slightly higher) or 822,000 people, and by 2031, this number is expected to grow to 1.35M or about 24% of BC’s population.
  • 93% of BC seniors do not require residential care and live independently.  84% of people over 85 live on their own and two thirds of this group are financially independent too.  The remainder live with a spouse or adult children so the huge wave of seniors needing care facilities in BC is but a ripple.
  • BC’s seniors are not sitting on piles of money either; their median annual gross household income is $24,000, with a quarter of senior homeowners living on less than $30,000.
  • 35% of seniors who rent have a household income of less than $20,000 and while rents have increased by 34%, rental subsidies have only increased by 9%.
  • Eyeglasses and hearing aids are not covered by MSP so seniors fund these health-related needs themselves.
  • 96% of seniors report having a regular doctor and 80% of seniors age 85+ are not diagnosed with dementia.
  • Over 97% of seniors at age 80 will have no trouble passing their driver’s test if they choose to continue to drive (most seniors give up driving and know when it’s time to do so).

We have 333 care facilities in BC, with 27,000 people living in them.  While care facilities present their own set of challenges, the area of seniors’ health care and care-giving generally reveal emerging concerns about the kind of care they receive.  For instance, 33% of seniors are prescribed anti-psychotic drugs and 31% are taking anti-psychotics without a diagnosis.  24% of seniors in care facilities are diagnosed with depression and only a quarter of seniors in care participate in any regular recreational therapy.  Ms. Mackenzie cites “poly-pharmacy” (too many medications) as a culprit in caring for seniors, caused she argues as a result of “homogenizing older people,” especially those in care.

About 15,000 seniors in BC, or 97%, receiving home support have an unpaid caregiver.  These caregivers work on average 19 hours a week but for those caregivers identified as “in distress,” they provide an average of 30 hours of care weekly.  Distressed caregivers are often family members and what is interesting is that according to Ms. Mackenzie, the usage rate of respite services by this group is low.  Another new and growing area of concern that Ms. Mackenzie identifies is the group of seniors, about 55,000 of them at any given time, who are under 65 and receive a dementia diagnosis.  “We are not serving this group well,” she says.

She also emphasizes another major point — some seniors may be physically vulnerable yes, and sometimes, because of memory loss, there is also a loss of self-confidence, but this does not necessarily mean a loss of one’s capability or capacity.  Ms. Mackenzie’s assessment suggests that this dimension of aging needs to be better understood.

Ms. Mackenzie ended her presentation on a hopeful note, indicating that her office will be making recommendations to the BC Government in the near future on how we can continue to improve quality of life for older people in BC.  You can visit the Office of the Seniors Advocate for B.C. here: https://www.seniorsadvocatebc.ca/