Our population is visibly greying.
We now know Canada has more seniors than children under the age of 14.
Add to that, improved health outcomes means our seniors are living longer than they ever have before.
This reality means new challenges for Canadian families, with many of us facing the prospect of caring for aging parents.
Caring for aging parents is not something that’s new.
Generation after generation has been faced with the joys and challenges associated with parents who are getting older, and who may need a bit more help.
But the world is changing.
Many of us are being pulled in different directions, juggling work and family life, caring for kids and parents.
Dr. Marina Adshade with UBC’s Vancouver School of Economics says it can take a toll.
“In the past by the time your parents were old enough that they needed your care, your children would have grown up and been more independent.”
The Sandwich Generation
She says that’s changed with children are staying at home long, on top of the fact that we’re having kids much later than we did before. And it makes it more difficult for the “sandwich” generation that finds itself looking after parents and kids.
On top of that, most women now find themselves – by choice or by circumstance – in the workplace.
“Especially in that age group, that 40, 50, 60 age group when you’re taking care of your parents. And in the past that wouldn’t have been an issue, a lot of those women would have been at home, their children would have been independent and it would have freed them up to take care of their parents. “
Despite the challenges, being there to help provide care for aging parents pays off.
Family support and support for families
BC’s seniors advocate Isobel Mackenzie says one of the key success factors for seniors being able to live in their own homes is whether or not they have the support of a family member, whether that’s a spouse or a child.
“Education is a key component of that, but so is respite.”
She says she hears from people they can it if there are social supports to help them.
There are supports in place for family members who provide different levels of care, including tax credits. But respite care can be a luxury, with growing wait lists for services that are available.
Other types of government-subsidized care, including home supports have also faced cuts.
The challenge is even greater in cities like Vancouver where the cost of living is high. It can be tough to pay your own bills, take care of your kids and plan for their future, while also paying to get help to care for parents.
Financial planning can be critical
Dr. Adshade says it highlights the importance of financial planning, and the growing reality that many of us need to plan financially to take care of our parents.
“If we’re not saving for our retirement, then one of two things has to happen. Our children have to take care of us, or there has to be government programs to take care of us.
Adshade says Canada has done a good job of taking care of its seniors.
“I know that it’s not perfect, but we’ve made a lot of improvements in decreasing the rate of poverty for seniors over time. And hopefully the government will continue to do that because not only is it fair to take care of seniors, but if we don’t take care of our seniors then we’re putting a lot of stress on people in the prime of their work lives.”
Even though, she says, people need to plan for more than just their kid’s education, but also other things that are coming down the pipe.
Things like supporting parents in the years ahead.