Serving an Aging Generation

In 2015, our country quietly crossed over a major statistical line. Canada is now home to more people over the age of 65 than under 15 for the first time ever. On the surface, this can seem like an interesting but somewhat insignificant fact, but the implications are significant.

The demographic shift can be accounted for in a variety of ways: Baby Boomers entering their retirement years, longer life expectancy, and smaller family size, to name a few. Whatever the reasons, the fact remains that Canada is experiencing an unprecedented influx of older Canadians.

Where this gets a bit sticky is that the healthcare system, specifically assisted living and other long-term care facilities, are also poised to receive this influx, and questions have been raised as to how smoothly the transition will go.

Researchers have been lining up to propose solutions that will help ease the strain. Most have centered on delaying or eliminating the reliance on assisted living and long-term care. Out of this, the term "aging in place" was born: people remaining in their own homes comfortably and safely for as long as possible.

The concept is hardly revolutionary - roughly 85 per cent of Canadian Baby Boomers surveyed have said this is exactly what they'd planned to do anyway. The tricky part is the "how?" And, until we find a good answer to that question, the aging in place movement, which seems to be teetering on the edge of a "trend" is threatening to tip over into the realm of problem.

Any number of factors go into determining the ultimate success of aging in place, but perhaps none is as influential as the qualities of the surrounding community. Communities are both a primary reason people want to age in place, as well as a top factor in determining whether it's even possible. The whole concept hinges on community.

A Christian Response

If we are called to be pillars of light in our communities, how can the Christian community respond?

For starters, take a look at what most churches are already doing: visiting. Most churches have pastors, deacons, or elders regularly visiting with members who have specific health concerns, or just difficulty getting out of the house. However, this practice needs to extend beyond pastors and lay leaders.

Some churches have latched onto this idea, and have actually paired up congregants of differing generations in an effort to engage both younger and older members. Visiting the elderly is an important act for us all to engage in, and it affords the opportunity to take things a step further.

Taking the time to regularly sit down and talk with seniors, while enriching on its own, also builds trust and can over time give insight into other ways we can help. And, we needn't be bound by the walls of our churches. In fact, most don't even need to look beyond their own neighborhood.

Neighborhood and Community Visitation

A number years ago, my wife and I bought our first house from a 100-year-old woman who had been living there for over 60 years. One of our neighbours later told us that she would regularly visit her; visits that later developed a vibrant relationship . Through this friendship, she was able to offer help with cleaning and other household chores.

Similarly, a contractor living across the street mentioned that he had rebuilt the home's chimney a few years after noticing it was deteriorating. I wonder if this centenarian would have stayed inside her home quite as long had it not been for the help of trusted and caring neighbours?

Every person's needs are unique, which is why developing a personal connection is so crucial. One person may need help with household chores, while another could use some transportation. Doing some handiwork around the house may be the best way to serve one person, while another may simply need companionship. The key is to look for creative ways to offer practical help and help to keep seniors engaged in their local communities.

Taking a Leadership Role

Christians have the opportunity to take a leadership role within the aging-in-place movement. Perhaps more than any other group, the Church is uniquely positioned within the community to make a positive difference in the lives of thousands of Canadians who would like the option to remain in their homes as they age.

The simple act of befriending a senior can open the door for the Spirit to work in powerful and unexpected ways. And, it can be another way for Christians to live out the call to help those who are having trouble helping themselves.

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About the author

Michael is an architectural designer and Canadian Specialist in Accessible Housing Design. He enjoys exploring the many ways our built environment impacts our lives, and helping people adapt their homes to meet their changing needs. Michael lives near Toronto with his wife and three kids.