Hello and farewell friends,
Ten years ago I was recruited by Alberta Council on Aging as Executive Director and Program Manager. My task was to align the once very popular Senior Friendly™ program, developed by Edmonton seniors, with World Health Organization Age- friendly initiatives. Through the late nineties and early 2000’s, council could be very proud to know it was a national leader in training communities and businesses how to better serve older adults, including identifying and addressing ageism by dispelling myths, identifying and eliminating stereotypes and discrimination. And now, a generation later, there are world- wide, grassroots campaigns on ending ageism, including ours. Age- friendly communities may not be a term the general population is familiar with, however many of the topic areas (transportation, social participation, respect and social inclusion, civic participation and employment, communication and information, community support and health services) will be understood and valued. Policy, programs and services and built environments must be in place to ensure older adults thrive and live a good quality of life.
Over the years, Alberta Council on Aging has met with government to discuss the need for an independent Senior’s Advocate. Whether Conservative, NDP or UCP, we were told this would be too expensive to implement. As it is, the one dedicated Seniors Advocate office we did have was an extension of a well run group of civil servants that did a great job talking with seniors and helping them navigate the system. It did not challenge the system or identify inequities, areas of systemic neglect and abuse as with the Child and Youth Advocate. Within the seniors’ population group, the reporting mechanisms for wrong doing are woefully inept and impotent.
Did you know Alberta Council on Aging was formed to study and make recommendations regarding the impending age wave? That was 55 years ago! Do you think we are ready? Are we at least open to address the older adults’ portfolio ethically rather than politically? Can we face elder abuse and ageism are linked? Do we consider our humanity while overlooking the opportunity to deliver rehabilitative social and health services over warehousing sick, frail older and disabled persons?
Sometimes the older adult population boom is referred to as senior or grey tsunami and that is not accurate as we did see this wave coming. Which brings me to my farewell…what I did not see coming was the need to end my time with the council so abruptly. I pictured my future self as a very old person advocating for our population with the authenticity only an octogenarian can bring to the table.
You see my Dad, 92 who lives with dementia, and other vulnerabilities contracted Covid-19 six months ago and was isolated in hospital for a week. Although he was treated for illness and “recovered”, he was offered no chance of rehabilitation. I am legally his agent and was in agreement for respite care and placement with the hopes a clinical team would and could make a difference in my Dad’s life. I witnessed wrong doing in three different settings following discharge from hospital. I witnessed poor leadership, low to no infection control, physical abuse due to physical/human restraint, introduction of chemical restraint without consultation with agent, and minimal social interaction. I began to wonder why my Dad had been saved from the perils of Covid-19.
As I drew on a career of nearly 50 years of working for and with older adults, I realized I was on a precipice. I could fall off the edge, turn away under the benign neglect envelope or I could press in and better support Dad’s agency. I could see if I could actually walk the talk and help my Dad have a beautiful life in a family home versus what he was encountering in long term care-a-less and what would ultimately consume him.
I don’t know if we can do better. But I must try.
Thank you to all who believe in the potential of Alberta Council on Aging as an important voice of older adults and most of all, thank you for believing in all ages and all stages.
Everything for everyone.
Learn more about Alberta Council on Aging age friendly programs
Are you a family caregiver? Are you interested in taking part in Dr. Donna Wilson’s research study? ACA Spring News, p. 19