A community-wide approach to successful aging with Carol Burrows

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On June 19, 2017, United Way Ottawa released a report analyzing the state of vulnerable seniors in Ottawa – an issue that is set to become more pressing as the senior population is expected to more than double by the year 2031.

At the report launch, a panel of experts  spoke about how our community needs to come together to meet the emerging needs of our most vulnerable seniors in a cohesive way. In order to ensure seniors remain happy, healthy and engaged for as long as possible, we included four recommendations for the community in the report. The panelists addressed report findings, the recommendations, and how both tie into their respective fields of work.

A photo of Carol Burrows

Carol Burrows  is the former Chair of the Successful Aging Strategic Council’s Seniors’ Affordable Supportive Housing Implementation Task Force, she has been an advocate for seniors’ rights for over five decades and has worked with various community organizations (including the Council on Aging of Ottawa and the Champlain Local Health Integration Network, among others) that serve seniors and vulnerable populations.

She shared her thoughts on the report and how we should move forward as a community.

What was your reaction to the report and its findings?

The report is a comprehensive summary of seniors’ vulnerability. It highlights indicators that may be used to develop a vulnerability index, which could allow more targeted funding in areas of need.

The report is a good framework document for United Way. It tells us that we not only find vulnerable seniors in central urban areas, but also in rural and suburban ones, and that in every part of our city there are seniors who are in need of support.

One must caution that the categories of vulnerability are not absolute, and need specific definition by service providers who have a more complete understanding of the seniors in their area.

The indicators of vulnerability, such as low income, or seniors from a particular group, will assist service organizations and seniors’ groups to identify those in need of assistance and support.

You have long been a strong advocate on behalf of seniors in Ottawa. In your experience, how does this report reflect what “vulnerability” looks like among our seniors in Ottawa? 

I can see the usefulness of a vulnerability index because our services need to become more effective and targeted to those who need them most. Vulnerability is a very complex issue. The precursors are often social isolation and decreased mobility, and seniors’ detachment from the mainstream is a risk factor.

The report describes the increasing number of older women who have become homeless, the lack of income and supports experienced by the LGBTQ+ community, men and women in poverty, and those with multiple health issues.  Loneliness and social isolation can increase the severity of vulnerability and make interventions more difficult.

We need tools for analysis to combat vulnerability, but also programs that respond by providing flexibility and choice for the seniors in need, and are reinforced by affordable housing and supportive living arrangements.

The report calls for a more integrated, comprehensive way of working together to support vulnerable seniors and their caregivers in our community. What is your advice about how to get this conversation started?

Talk to seniors. Ask for their input. Evaluate existing programs to measure their effectiveness in identifying vulnerable seniors. Strengthen United Way’s involvement with service providers who work with vulnerable populations.

Use the tools recommended in the report to identify vulnerability in older individuals and groups. Work to strengthen the supports that are needed to decrease social isolation, and fund the initiatives that strengthen social engagement.

The seniors’ population ranges from those who are 65 to those who are in their 90s, and the smaller cohort who are over 100. Remember the population of seniors aged 80 and older. This group, to which I belong, often gets forgotten, and our needs are very different from those who are newly-retired.

The majority of seniors are still living healthy and happy lives, volunteering, donating, and supporting children and younger people. Seniors need appropriate, cost-effective health care, social supports, an age-friendly environment, affordable housing and the opportunity to be engaged with others of all ages. These factors build successful aging and strong communities!

“We are a disparate population, but one which has contributed in many ways to build our city and community. “

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