Seniors’ forum encourages Calgarians to consider how to make our city a great place to age

14 June 2023

Several timely topics were raised at a seniors’ symposium held at Fort Calgary during Seniors’ Week.

The theme of the forum, co-hosted by Silvera and the Calgary Seniors Housing Forum Society on June 8, was “How do we ensure Calgary is a great place to age?”

Participants discussed ways to mitigate the rising cost of living and inflation; combatting ageism; improving transit and other services for seniors; the need for funding to build new seniors housing in Calgary; and the special challenges faced by seniors who are newcomers to Canada and from marginalized groups.

The symposium featured two guest speakers and a panel discussion.

Jyoti Gondek: Calgary mayor emphasizes importance of patience, kindness and compassion

The keynote speaker was Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek, who spoke about the joys and challenges of living in a multi-generational home with her aging mother. Gondek discussed how watching her mother get older has informed Gondek’s ideas around the need for increased accessibility for services in Calgary, particularly an improved transit system, better healthcare arrangements for seniors, and culturally appropriate housing that provides older people with a sense of community.

Gondek has taught her mother to use an iPad and how to text, which she says has helped diminish the isolation her mother felt after Gondek’s father died. Together, Gondek and her mother have built a network of people to support them. “I have learned to practice patience, and how to better communicate with her,” Gondek said of her mother.

“To me, the most important things are kindness and compassion, and if we can get those right, we’ll be the best place for everybody.”

Deb Lee: Seniors’ advocate says resilience and engagement help overcome fears

Deb Lee, a senior, former nurse, senior’s advocate and community leader in the Bridgeland-Riverside neighbourhood talked about her personal observations on aging well.

“When we’re aging well, life feels huge. But there are many things that can make seniors feel diminished and fearful of the future, which can lead to social isolation and mental and cognitive health declines,” she says.

Deb says many things can threaten a senior’s sense of security and confidence in aging well, including disabling chronic conditions; impaired mobility; waiting for tests, treatment and surgery; continually needing to rely on others; increases for rents, utilities and food; and the compounded losses of life partners, friends, pets, driver’s licenses, independence, vision and hearing.

“Despite these vulnerabilities, it’s crucial for seniors to continue engaging meaningfully with life. Resilience is key.”

Panel discussion: Expert shares that too many Albertans are living in long-term care

Silvera CEO Arlene Adamson moderated the panel discussion, which included James Stauch, Executive Director of the Institute for Community Prosperity, MRU; Larry Mathieson, President and CEO of Unison at Kerby Centre; Anila Umar Lee Yeun, President and CEO, Centre for Newcomers; and Catherine Robertson, Rainbow Elders Calgary.

James Stauch, Institute for Community Prosperity, MRU

To ensure Calgary is a place to age well, James Stauch believes we must collectively move from a sense of “me” to a more futured-oriented collectivist attitude. This means thinking of how we all want to age and possibly moving to a different model of seniors’ care.

“Alberta has the highest proportion of seniors living in care in all of Canada,” says James. “We are spending 1.7% of our GDP on long-term care. It is not sustainable or realistic to continue this trend.”

He points to Denmark, which has closed many of their long-term care facilities in favour of ramped up home care to alleviate the need for the more costly hospital-type care, which is often not necessary for people with appropriate levels of support at home.

Anila Umar Lee Yeun, Centre for Newcomers

Animal Umar Lee Yeun says many seniors experience newcomer issues despite having lived in Canada for many years.

“Language is challenging for some people as they age because they revert to the language they originally learned as children,” she says. “These challenges pose significant barriers to accessing services, particularly healthcare, and can also lead to social isolation.”

Larry Mathieson, Unison at Kerby Centre

Larry Mathieson discussed affordable housing and the rising cost of living for people on limited fixed incomes.

“Some people are telling us they can’t afford both food and rent,” says Larry. “Food security is a huge issue, and we are now partnering with agencies and other community supports to provide a way for seniors to get what they need to live and thrive.”

Catherine Robertson, Rainbow Elders Calgary

The single most important part of Catherine Robertson’s experience as part of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community has been coming to each interaction with others from a place of respect. “From there, everything else will flow more easily,” she says.

Catherine believes a challenge for many older 2SLGBTQIA+ community members is managing the secrecy of who they truly are while also having financial issues or food and housing insecurity problems, which compounds their fear.

“When we respect and are open to others, this city is a better place for everyone to age,” says Catherine.

See a full recording of the symposium.