Niagara-on-the-Lake needs an advocate for its older population, says Sheila Hirsch-Kalm.
NOTL seniors comprise the majority of the population and they’re the town’s main taxpayers, said Hirsch-Kalm, adding there is a Lord Mayor’s Youth Advisory Council in town but no senior advisory groups.
Hirsch-Kalm was among hundreds who attended the Art of Ageing Forum, hosted by Niagara College in Welland from June 26 to June 28. The event was initiated by Ageworks, a Canadian company that aims to challenge stereotypes about aging and debunk myths about older people in the workplace.
The two-day forum featured a dozen speakers covering a range of topics from “Neuroplasticity: The woman who changed her brain” and “Making sense of a longevity economy” to “Creating ageing across generations” and “Protirement – How to make the most of life.”
The age-friendly network in Niagara Region is more active than in other municipalities and regions, said Marylou Hilliard, the principal at Ageworks, noting 11 municipalities in the region are over-index when it comes versus the Canadian population aged 55 and over.
NOTL’s index is the highest, she added, with half of the population in town now aged 55 and older. The town should be concerned, Hilliard said and suggested it should continue to follow the World Health Organization’s eight features of an age-friendly community. Some of these eight criteria include having accessible outdoor spaces and buildings, affordable housing and accessible community and health services.
Following the Niagara Aging Strategy and Action Plan, which was launched in 2015, NOTL’s then-Lord Mayor Pat Darte formed a steering committee to assess the town’s age-friendly situation.
“We were busy networking with as many organizations as we could in preparation for Niagara-on-the-Lake’s next move, but the next move never happened,” said Hirsch-Kalm. “There was a lot of effort put into those four years.”
Better transportation is another major need in town, said Hirsch-Kalm, noting an older person can’t get to a doctor’s appointment if there is no accessible mode of transport or if the person can’t drive.
She suggested looking into other age-friendly communities to see what approaches can be adopted in NOTL.
Hirsch-Kalm, who is a member of several organizations including the Ontario College Retirees Association, the provincial Retirees Group Insurance Advisory Committee and the regional joint accessibility advisory committee, said the forum was an excellent start for providing people with tools they can use to prepare better for their retirement.
“It’s a full-time occupation. Maintaining your health, your wealth, everything that you’re committed to and being ready to adjust to this as it happens,” Hirsch-Kalm told The Lake Report. “It’s like being your own management.”
The next step following preparation is looking at its realities, she said.
“The preparation could be outdated within a very short time when you retire,” Hirsch-Kalm said explaining that people, who are transitioning into retirement, need to be ready not only with a plan “A” but also plan “B”, “C”, “D” and so on. “You have to be realistic.”
The 83-year-old Hirsch-Kalm said she has been active since a young age, and has never let anything, including a longtime battle with cancer, stop or control her life.
“You can’t just sit and wait for the end to come. Boring,” she said.
Hilliard noted that “Ageism is the only acceptable social form of prejudice that still exists. Racism or sexism … any other ‘-ism’ is not tolerated in society yet we accept ageism just the way it is.”
The boomers, now aged 55 to 75, are completely reshaping what it means to age today, she said.
“They’re working longer, they’re living longer. They’re changing the face of the economy,” Hilliard said in a phone interview.
Lord Mayor Betty Disero said it is “vitally important” the town helps promote services for young families as well as seniors.
“We need to encourage young families to our community as well as look after the services for seniors. But one is not more important than the other, “ she told The Lake Report. “We’re doing things for both areas of our population, and daycare is an extremely important part of what we need to provide in Niagara-on-the-Lake.”
In June, the federal government announced plans to spend $50 million on dementia prevention to help patients and caregivers. The national strategy will increase awareness and reduce stigma around dementia as well as develop treatment guidelines and practices for its early diagnosis.