I think this is less a topic of age but of ability. At some point we will be less able to take care of ourselves. There are a variety of reasons why this will happen but when that time comes, who can we turn to? If we are lucky enough to have friends or family that are helping us, who can they turn to for help and advice?
We’ve always had a relatively young country and in Toronto, where I live, the self image is youthful. But the statistics are showing us that this is not the case.
The Older Dependency Ratio is a measure of the pressure on a community as the population ages. In 2006 Toronto had 25.3 people aged 56+ for every 100 people aged 20-64. Source: Toronto Vital Signs 2009 (tcf.ca)
Right now, I have several friends that are dealing with aging parents. For some, the challenges are health related requiring changes in lifestyle and a critical approach to health care. For others, the challenges are more mental health where the ability to make decisions is impaired and at an extreme, living alone becomes a dangerous choice.
There is a lack of knowledge of where to go, who can help, what to ask for and general education. There are resources out there but I suspect there are not nearly enough for the demand that is to come. And as we prepare for our own inevitability, now would be the time to prepare and investigate these options.
So where does volunteerism fit into this picture?
My mother, who lives in Florida, has had a career of providing home care for the disabled, many being seniors. She says there is a crying need for intermediaries to advise and assist seniors with life management issues. Sometimes an able mind, with a sensible approach to health, financial and life planning offers a great deal of comfort. The conflicting input from doctors, family members, financial advisors, and friends is tough to sort through at any age, but when the issues are critical and your capacity limited, the challenges are frightening. Can you imagine being in this position and then having a court appointed guardian suddenly deciding your fate?
So I’m asking – what kind of volunteer organizations or branches of existing health organizations can we build to offer tiers of support for our aging population? Can we have cooperation of health care professionals, mental health experts, advocates and specialized volunteers all working together to build a safety net for individuals and families when the inevitable happens?