The Voice of Experience: Our aging population is the new market

Web Lead

By 2015, the number of Canadians over 50 will represent 45 per cent of the population. The number of people 60 and over is growing at twice the rate of the rest of the population. These statistics are going to change the way the consumer market thinks.

Can you imagine some of our current TV ads changed to fit the 60-plus population? Perhaps we will see more stores geared to fashionable clothes for seniors and restaurants with smaller meal sizes — and that may mean no more doggie bags! Grocery stores will have wider aisles and parking spaces for wheelchairs and walkers. Shelves may even include a large magnifying glass attached to a chain to make reading labels easier. Some stores may have a step below high shelves to help seniors reach goods there. Computers may become more senior friendly, or perhaps there will be a return to personal service without computers in some places.

Baby boomers and seniors are becoming more important and businesses, banks and organizations are going to be thinking differently to capture this market. Paying attention to this can and will make significant improvements to our economy. Baby boomers are hard-working, creative and anxious to maintain a reasonably high standard of living. They take better care of themselves and are anxious to continue living productive and interesting lives. They expect to be treated respectfully and have their needs met. They won’t be put off and treated like second-class citizens. They want to continue being active in sports, participating in community events, volunteering, taking cruises and holidays abroad, entertaining and taking an active interest in how seniors are being treated in the political and medical senses as they age.

It seems many western countries have net been keeping up with this new active market and taking advantage of all the trained talent and ideas emanating from these still lively people with more time on their hands.

Many seniors have become accustomed to being ignored or avoided, tolerating poor treatment and little respect because of their health or poverty. Now we are being forced to wake up and recognize that many of these seniors suffered meagre wages and horrid living conditions as new immigrants and early pioneers who built the Canada we have today. They deserve respect, compassion and support to enjoy their later years in comfort. Many still have the skills and ideas that can be useful even in this highly technical and electronic age. Simplicity is a skill we need to relearn.

We need to stop stereotyping seniors; they have disabilities but they must not be defined by their disabilities. We need to make changes to accommodate them: Look at a person at eye level; speak directly to them, not to a younger relative; slow down and enunciate clearly when speaking; offer help respectfully where it is indicated; when giving directions, use landmarks to identify direction; and use short phrases and repeat directions slowly while looking at the person.

Seniors can easily become dehydrated; be aware that dehydration can cause weakness and confusion. Offer a seat in case of confusion or weakness. Serve food that is simple and recognizable. Arthritis and related diseases make opening doors and cupboards difficult; use larger lever handles. Offer to help open plastic-wrapped items.

Greater respect and acceptance of physical and cognitive difficulties by a younger person combined with support makes a senior more comfortable and trusting, and life more pleasant and tolerable. Whether we like it or not, the time comes when hearing is difficult and embarrassing to us; recall of words in conversation doesn’t come quickly and we don’t understand directions as easily. It is simpler to stay home and hide with frustration and embarrassment. Then follow depression and illness.

The Therapeutic Activation Program for Seniors fills a big gap in catering to seniors, creating social situations on their terms to make them feel they can still be meaningful participants in life, with other seniors. Living a more active, independent life, sharing events with others and being respected create better mental health, less doctor and emergency visits, and reduced worry for the family.

Join the Age Friendly Revolution!

Christine Munkerud is a volunteer with the Therapeutic Activation Program for Seniors.