Corp Comm Connects

York Region senior population to increase 148% over 2 decades
First in a three-part series on senior citizens in York Region
July 1, 2015
Lisa Queen  

In just two decades — from 2011 to 2031 — York Region’s senior population will increase by 148 per cent, almost four times faster than the growth rate of the overall population.

That changes everything.

From societal shifts to family dynamics, from health care to the workplace, from housing to transportation and more, there are few areas and services that will remain untouched by the unprecedented greying demographics.

“We will feel the impact right across everything we do in York Region. We will feel the impact right across every service we provide,” said Lisa Gonsalves, director of strategies and partnerships with York Region’s community and health services department.

“We still have to tap in and see how do we support that group?”

Last week, regional council approved a seniors strategy task force, which will come up with recommendations to address the needs of seniors and their impact on areas such as long-term care, paramedic services, land-use planning, public health and transportation.

There were just fewer than 125,700 seniors aged 65 and older living in the region in 2011, making up 12 per cent of the population, according to a new report called Towards a Seniors Strategy for York Region.

By 2031, there will be more than 311,250 seniors and they will comprise 21 per cent of the population.

Not only are seniors the fastest growing segment of the population, but York seniors are living longer than the provincial and national averages, thanks, in part, to the region’s high quality of life.

The life expectancy in York is 84.1 years — 85.8 years for women and 82.2 years for men — compared to 81.5 years in Ontario and 81.1 years in Canada.

So, what does the face of aging in York Region look like today and for the huge swell of boomers now moving into their golden years?

A snap shot, based on a regional report called A Profile of Baby Boomers and Seniors in York Region, which gathered information from a variety of sources, such as 2006 and 2011 Censuses, the National Household Survey, the Canadian Community Health Survey and reports from governments and non-government organizations, shows:


Not content to sit on the porch in their rocking chairs, seniors and boomers are changing the face of aging, experts said.

“There was once a perception you reach 65, you retire, you settle in a little bit and your health declines. Boomers, as they’re getting into their seniors years, are still as active as they were when they were 50 and 45,” Gonsalves said.

Christina Bisanz, CEO of Community Home Assistance to Seniors (CHATS), puts on a presentation called “Getting old isn’t what it used to be”, which includes photos of dynamic seniors such as actor Betty White, Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger and 94-year-old Hazel McCallion, who retired as the mayor of Mississauga last fall.

“People are now working well into their 70s and being more active. That’s the good news, that it’s the mindset of keeping active, being more aware of preventive health maintenance, being physically active, the importance of exercise, the importance of healthy, active living, good diet, all of those things we’re aware of and we know and hopefully are living that lifestyle,” Bisanz said.

At the same time, she is concerned with the growing gap between seniors who are aging well and those whose “golden years” are filled with health problems such as chronic illnesses and fall hazards, financial woes and isolation.

“That’s where we (CHATS) fill in with supports so they can live independently with dignity, with maintaining their health and independence. It’s certainly more cost effective than a long-term care home,” she said.

“We also caution, though, that living at home doesn’t necessarily mean you can live without some kind of support. It’s great to be at home but it also requires the right care, the right time, the right amount, because what can also happen is that some seniors suffer from under-care. They, perhaps, become isolated, they’re at greater risk of fall hazards, they’re perhaps overlooking compliance with their medications, there could be all kinds of different challenges that could land them in hospital.”

The Central Local Health Integration Network, which oversees health care planning for most of York Region, south Simcoe County and parts of northern Toronto, is committed to working with service providers to keep seniors healthy and living well in their homes for as long as possible and for ensuring seniors with complex needs receive the care they need, CEO Kim Baker said in a statement.

With the provincial government promoting an age-at-home philosophy rather than accommodating seniors in long-term care facilities, communities, local agencies, family and friends will take up more and more responsibility of caring for seniors, Newmarket Regional Councillor John Taylor said.

Technology will also play an increasing role, added Taylor, who is chairperson of the region’s community and health services committee.

He pointed to an app called Be My Eyes, which allows people with vision problems to share labels, transit schedules and other hard-to-read text with volunteers who can decipher it for them.

“I believe someone will create a Be My Eyes for seniors,” he said.

The surging senior population also means governments will be forced to target services to seniors most in need or establish a fee structure based on ability to pay, Taylor, Bizanz and Gonsalves agreed.

“We don’t know to what degree, yet, but to a certain degree, we’re going to be forced to be a little more targeted. That doesn’t mean we’re not going to do anything for seniors or shut down all seniors’ centres or anything like that,” Taylor said.

“But we have to make sure the services are getting to the right people. I don’t want to view seniors as a problem. It’s a challenge and we’ve got to make sure we’re thinking it through and addressing it and managing scarce resources, but still be supporting the community.”

There is no doubt the soaring senior population will have an impact on virtually every sector of society, Taylor said.

“I don’t think this has hit the radar yet. I think it will soon. I don’t know the scope of the challenge. I know it won’t be small,” he said.

“Still, I have to say aging in York Region is fairly good news in comparison to aging in many areas of Canada. We’ve got a strong economy, we’ve got good social infrastructure and seniors in York Region appear to be living longer and wealthier than other parts of the country. There are various reasons for that.

“We’ve got one of the highest educated workforces in Canada, maybe the highest. There’s a lot of opportunity here.”