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Comment: Plan communities for aging boomers

A commentary by a transportation economist.
An aerial photo of a residential neighbourhood in Victoria. ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST

In the latest census data from 2021, the number of seniors over 85 expected to triple in next 25 years. The pace of aging is expected to accelerate.

About 10 years ago I wrote a piece referencing Janice Keefe, director of the Nova Scotia Centre on Aging, who released interesting statistics on some of the caregiver challenges childless baby boomers will face. Ten years later, nothing has changed. We have heard about the need to accommodate the needs of seniors to age in place for many years.

At present, the bulk of the heavy lifting is done by children and will not be available to these aging seniors. Even though these seniors will still have numerous friends to help with health and other needs, this support is also limited by the fact that these friends on average will be close in age to these dependent adults.

For example, before my dad passed away, his youngest friends were in their early 80s with their own mobility issues. Moreover, the spatial and geographic issues make visits even more complex due to urban sprawl, as many of my dad’s friends were afraid of freeway driving.

As released recently, more than one in four seniors in that age bracket currently live in a “collective dwelling” like a seniors residence, nursing home, long-term care residence or hospital, the census shows.

As indicated, “the proportion of elders living in those settings only increases with age, as more than half of centenarians receive care in one of those homes.” Moreover, “wait-lists for long-term care beds can already stretch on for years, leaving people stuck in hospitals because there is nowhere else for them to go, or families struggling to care for their loved ones at home.”

There will undoubtedly be greater demands on governments to step in and address the needs of these seniors. One means to enhance seniors’ support systems and reduce costs to governments in their provision of health and social services is to encourage greater urban densification.

We need to plan for the time when seniors can no longer drive in order to maintain their mobility, social connections and health. We need to encourage compact communities where seniors can walk, be driven short distances, or take handi-buses. The more compact the communities, the more viable (through volumes of passengers) for transit authorities, medical professional and social workers to maintain such services.

Even the Canadian Association for Retired People has publications appropriately titled “Age-Friendly Cities.” We have a very grave housing crisis for the general population which will compounded for seniors very shortly. We dropped the ball on the former for the general population. However, for the latter, we have known about the pending crisis for many years.

Kudos to communities such as Langford who are anticipating this pending latent demand for higher density development. Ironically, the very municipalities that have entrenched in their zoning policies, NIMBYism, will have the most difficult time playing catch up.