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COVID-19 Shines A Spotlight on Invisible Seniors

By Arei Bierstock

What is the exact point at which seniors become invisible to the general public? Is it after retirement, when our hair turns grey, when we walk more slowly or with a cane, when we can't hear as well, when we begin to obviously suffer the effects of old age or simply develop more well-earned wrinkles? I don't know when it happens but I do know that, in our Canadian culture, it does.

COVID-19 has thrown a spotlight on the seniors in our society who have been the most invisible; those living in retirement homes and long term care. Whether those residences are government-owned or private for-profit accommodations, that is where the virus has taken its greatest toll.

There are so many questions to be raised about the living conditions in seniors care homes, about the quality of safety and care but, more importantly, about the quality of life we provide in those facilities. Now that the virus has so tragically highlighted those issues we can begin to address our lack of awareness and our negligence.

We seniors may be parents, grandparents, siblings, singles, aunts or uncles. We have contributed to our society with purpose and intention in whatever occupational or relationship roles we played. Now nearing retirement or retired, what we all share is our "seniorship" and there is no job description to guide us.

Although the question of the meaning of our lives is relevant at any age, there is a quiet, troubling, significance and urgency to the issue of purpose for us seniors. We have an unknown but shorter stretch of time between now and the end of our lives. What will make that time meaningful not only to us but to society?

We know that ours is a youth-oriented culture. Who wants our experience and wisdom? Who is interested in our past and present lives? Who even notices us anymore? Are we valuable at all?

I believe we seniors are our country's greatest wasted resource and we feel it. We just don't know what to do about it.

We have been told that retirement or freedom from the demands of our previous roles will be the best time of our lives. But is it? Many of us fill our lives with being busy. Yet so many of the seniors I have asked if they feel their lives are meaningful, disturbingly respond, ""No I'm just putting in time.""

We have no forum in which to discuss this issue and the many related tangents. Such discussions could bring to light so many ideas and pave the way for innovative responses. For example, our ideas about the different types of housing we want and the opportunities for business to respond; how we can engage in meaningful intergenerational contact beyond our own families; what kinds of stylish fashion do we need that is more suitable for aging bodies; what about mentorship programs and personal boards of directors that would allow younger people to benefit from the experiences and skills of seniors including even such things as knitting, carpentry, household management, budgeting, parenting, career guidance, etc.

There are approximately 6.5 million Canadians over the age of 65 with thousands more approaching that milestone soon. Now that a spotlight has been turned on our most vulnerable elders, let's widen the beam to include all seniors. We have nothing to lose and so very much to gain.

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