By: Grace Kennedy

Ageism against seniors is an increasingly concealed issue in Canada. As university students surrounded by a majority of young adults, it is remarkably easy to get caught up in the culture of youth.

For many of us, our interactions with seniors are characterized by the time we spend helping care for our grandparents, parents, or friends in old age. Old age as a life stage is underrepresented in popular media and entertainment, including in journalism.

The harms of discriminating against seniors extend beyond the obvious demographic. There is evidence that young adults are increasingly burdened by our society’s lack of accessibility and attention to old age. A current Stats Canada report found that 27 percent of young Canadians provide care for persons in old age facing struggles with aging needs, disability or long-term health issues. The duty to provide care was found to adversely affect studies and employment, as well as increase psychological stresses such worry and anxiety.

We may enjoy providing care for important people in our lives, but these situations are challenging and complicate our lives in a time when we many of us are trying to get our own ducks in a row. We often feel that we can’t say “no” to helping out, and in many instances the people we care for would face adverse circumstances if we weren’t there to help.

As youth, we don’t give much attention to topics such as pensions and other old age benefits. It seems unnecessary to inform ourselves about these things when they seem part of a distant future, but they are realities that affect us now because they affect our grandparents and parents. In 2023, the Old Age Security benefit in Canada will increase the age requirement to 67.

Furthermore, the amount of attention the word “pension” gets in politics and in the media would have most of us believe it’s a lottery we receive every month once we hit senior citizenship. It’s not. Roughly speaking, if you meet the maximum earning contribution mark of approximately $55,000, you will receive just over $1,000 per month from the Canadian Pension Plan, and if you have lived in Canada for at least 40 years after turning 18, an OAS benefit of just over $500 per month. This really sets the tone for how we think about the possible financial challenges for seniors in our lives and people in old age overall.

If persons in old age had better financial security and accessible services, many youth would not be faced with the challenge of providing care. Transportation, meal services, and additional healthcare expenses would be things that we wouldn’t need to worry about if they existed as affordable and accessible services.

Our attitudes and culture plays a huge role in all this. We often forget, whether we are in favour of the welfare state or not, that old age is an immutable stage in life. The challenges that come with old age bring threats to our autonomy and an increased need to pay for service. The beauty of talking about old age is that we can all be advocates because it’s an expected life course; it’s on the itinerary. 

How can we be more inclusive of old age outside our family members and friends?

Our attitudes may not show or seem to affect the seniors in our lives, but outside of these relationships, there is no doubt that the general public is filled with discrimination and stigma.

It is estimated that by 2050, 25 per cent of Canadians will be seniors. A survey paid for by Revera, a provider of retirement homes and long-term care, found that many of the stigmas associated with old age including incompetence and “having nothing to contribute” run counter to the fact that seniors are more likely than any age group to say that “age is just a number.”

This speaks to the importance of valuing our minds. The word “old” can really only refer to physical traits, and isn’t a reflection of intelligence. Wisdom and experience are the true judgments of aging.

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