Canadian seniors living longer, better, report says

MontrealGazette.com – Health – Older aboriginals not faring as well
October 30, 2010.    By Shannon Proudfoot, Postmedia News

Canada’s seniors are living longer and are vastly less likely to struggle with poverty than they were three decades ago, but there’s work to be done in areas such as diagnosing and treating mental illness, reducing social isolation and combating the “mythology” of aging, Canada’s chief public health officer said.

David Butler-Jones devoted his third annual report on the state of public health in this country to an in-depth examination of the well-being of the 65-plus population, noting that by 2050, more than a quarter of Canada’s population is expected to join those ranks.

“People, by and large, are actually aging well. Aging is a vibrant time, and while sometimes there are some infirmities along the way, people live life well, are engaged in their communities and contributing to society,” he said in an interview, noting that the adage that “50 is the new 40″ reflects reality.

“It’s never been better. It could be even better still, with a few small things.”

The proportion of the Canadian population 65 and older rose to 14 per cent in 2008 from nine per cent in 1978, Butler-Jones points out in the report — a trend that mirrors other developed countries. Life expectancy continues to rise, sitting at 78 years for men and 83 years on average for women, and along with enjoying longer lives, there’s evidence of rising quality of life.

Survey results show that nearly all seniors in Canada (97 per cent) are satisfied with their lives in general and 70 per cent say they have very good or excellent mental health. In the last three decades, the proportion of people aged 65 and older living on low incomes declined steeply, to six per cent in 2008 from 29 per cent in 1978 -a shift Butler-Jones attributes to social programs and widely available public pensions.

Still, aboriginal seniors in Canada fare more poorly both in terms of life expectancy and poverty. Thirteen per cent of aboriginal seniors were living on low incomes in 2001, and life expectancy at birth was 71 years for aboriginal men and 77 for aboriginal women in the same year.

Statistics Canada data show that 70 per cent of seniors feel a strong or somewhat strong connection to their communities -second only to teenagers. And while the exact relationship between the two isn’t clear, social connections and good health appear to go hand in hand.

An estimated 20 per cent of seniors living on their own and 80 to 90 per cent of those living in institutions have mental health issues or illness. Dementia affects about 400,000 Canadian seniors, the report says, and that number is expected to double in the next 30 years. As of last year, 89 per cent of seniors were living with at least one chronic health condition such as arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, cancer or Alzheimer’s disease. One in four of those aged 65 to 79 and one in three of those 80-plus had at least four chronic conditions.

“Aging is a positive thing, given the alternative,” Butler-Jones said

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