Update from the 2021 Federal/Provincial/Territorial Ministers Responsible for Seniors Forum: Health and Well-being of Seniors in Canada

15 June 2021

By Monika Steger

The Federal/Provincial/Territorial Ministers Responsible for Seniors Forum (“the Forum”) held a Symposium on Tuesday June 8th, 2021, titled the “Future of Aging in Canada”. The Forum is an intergovernmental body that discusses relevant issues related to older adults. The group meets annually at an event hosted by a different provincial or territorial seniors minister each year. The body also works together to share information and ideas on projects. For the past three years, the Forum has been focused on:

  • Aging in Community;
  • Labour force participation of older workers; and
  • Social and economic impacts of ageism.

Previously CCEL National Director Krista James has presented to the Forum on financial elder abuse.

In this blog post we review the themes that the Symposium highlighted and summarize some of the potential solutions proposed by speakers.

The 2021 Symposium began with opening remarks from the co-chairs of the Forum. This included the Honourable Josephine Pon, Minister of Seniors and Housing, Government of Alberta and the Honourable Deb Schulte, Minister of Seniors, Government of Canada.

Technology and Older Adults

As the title suggests, one of the main themes of this year’s Symposium was the future of aging and what governmental steps need to occur moving forward. One topic of conversation included the importance of technology for older adults. Dr. Alex Mihailidis from AGE-WELL discussed how “age-tech” can encompass everything from hearing aids to broadband internet service and mobile applications. He also identified some of the technologies that have been helpful to older adults during the COVID-19 pandemic. These included video calling, easy to use apps like FamliNet, and apps that promote exercise.

Dr. Veronique Boscart from the Canadian Association on Gerontology discussed how technology is crucial for older adults moving forward. However, as of right now there are many barriers to accessing internet and other technologies for older adults. These barriers include socio-economic status, rural location, or lack of tech educational supports. In fact, currently, older adults are the most likely group to not have internet access. This issue has increased isolation and loneliness within the older adult community during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bénédicte Schoepflin and Kathy Majowski represented the Canadian Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse. Bénédicte Schoepflin discussed how ageism and older adult stereotypes can be harmful to older adults’ health, particularly moving forward post-pandemic. She pointed to the stereotype that older adults don’t know how to use technology, or do not want to learn how to use it. On the contrary, more than ever older adults are embracing and using technology to improve their mental or physical health.

Isolation and Inclusion

Cameron Ketchum from United Way East Ontario and Dan Clement from United Way Centraide Canada pointed out how rural and urban populations experience unique problems. During COVID-19, the prevalence of isolation and loneliness has increased. This has caused some worrying trends like deteriorating mental and physical health.

Participants shared similar ideas regarding what Canada must do to support inclusion of older adults. Dr. Alex Mihailidis stated that Canada should not differentiate the way it provides care or tech to people 65 and older compared to those younger than 65. He also stated that technology needs to be integrated with the family or care team in addition to updated policy. Similarly, Bénédicte Schoepflin discussed how Canada needs to be age-inclusive in every way. Policy changes are required to address violence prevention, transportation, housing, and rural/urban planning.

Dr. Veronique Boscart also pointed out the need to value care partners in order to promote the healthy aging. Similarly, Dan Clement discussed how important local and community supports can be. It is the relationship between service organizations and service organizations and older adults that will allow for better aging moving forward.

In conclusion, the Symposium discussed many current issues that older adults are facing. The participants also pointed to potential solutions moving forward. One main theme is that technology is something that needs to be better integrated not only within care, but also in communities and older adults’ homes. Technology development and support for older adults is crucial moving forward. However, it cannot be the only solution. Human support and policy support are also critical to promote healthy aging and inclusion.