The following letter was published in the Edmonton Journal on March 21, 3013.
Re: “Seniors happiest age group in Canada, survey shows; Yet unflattering stereotypes persist about growing older,” the Journal, March 19, 2013.
A survey identifying seniors as the happiest age group in Canada is welcome news, but I’m not sure the results tell the whole story.
As the population of seniors continues to grow over the next decade, so does the potential for seniors to become the victims of scorn, contempt and even abuse.
In our youth-oriented society, older adults are often viewed as users rather than contributors, as recipients rather than givers, and as burdens rather than assets.
But are seniors collectively the economic and social liability they are often portrayed to be? Are they devouring the lion’s share of health dollars, desiccating the Canada Pension Plan and Old Age Security, and selfishly consuming tax dollars that should be used for education, infrastructure, and investment capital?
Are they the generation that is robbing their children and grandchildren of their birthright? Or are they giving back more than they take, contributing more than they receive, and instead of being a generational liability are they in fact a significant economic and social asset that benefits all generations?
Many seniors who have reached retirement age still work, so their contribution remains unchanged and visible. But the contributions of those no longer in the workforce are not only different but often invisible. Volunteerism is one of those hidden contributions that save millions of public dollars by replacing paid work.
SAGE (the Seniors’ Association of Greater Edmonton) benefits greatly from volunteers as it works to enhance life for seniors specifically but ultimately for everyone in the community. The same is true for other non-profit groups, public institutions, community agencies and religious groups.
Volunteerism is the bedrock upon which our social structure is built, and seniors are a big part of that volunteer community.
Caregiving is another example of a hidden contribution made by seniors. Sometimes this involves caring for children but often seniors are caring for dependent adults of all ages, including family members, neighbours, friends and sometimes strangers. The public and private dollars saved by this is almost incalculable.
Today’s seniors provide services, create beauty, build connections and support the initiatives of others. They vote in greater numbers than any other age group, advocate for fellow citizens of all ages and remain active, vibrant members of society for as long as they are physically, mentally and emotionally capable of doing so.
SAGE celebrates the resiliency, perseverance and capacity of seniors through its annual SAGE Awards, but we want the contributions of seniors to be better known. So we are also initiating a research project that will document the balance between the costs of aging and the financial and social contributions made by seniors.
The project, which will be done in collaboration with University of Alberta researchers, will seek concrete answers to the questions posed in this letter in the hope the data will help lessen the bias directed at seniors.
Bauni Mackay, president of SAGE board of directors, Edmonton