By Muniyra Douglas
Transcribed by Shira Ragosin
Elderly Canadians can have a difficult time adjusting to the later part of their life; they have to deal with issues from housing, medical care needs, to worrying about finances.
In an attempt to understand the systematic problems that exist for the elderly in the Canadian society, we look deeper into issues such as elder care services and abuse.
In this VIBE TALKS interview, Correspondent Muniyra Douglas speaks with Laura Tamblyn Watts - lawyer, and Senior Fellows at the Canadian Centre for Elder Law (CCEL). Laura provides insight on home care statistics, discusses wrapping up their latest project on Fair Canada, and 2017 Canadian Elder Law Conference, where panelists discussed everything from wills and estates, pension benefits and financial abuse.
Muniyra: What services do you provide at the Canadian Centre for Elder Law?
Laura: The Canadian Centre for Elder Law is Canada’s national centre of excellence that looks at laws and aging issues. As we are looking at the demographic shift, and the many issues that arise as a result of it, at the Canadian Centre for Elder Law we bring a law reform, education, and knowledge mobilization lens [to those issues]. Where laws need to be changed, we are the people who can work with the government or other policy makers, and even draft the legislation. So we don’t do direct service for older adults, but we work very closely [with the] community and we do research, and engagement, and education.
Muniyra: Can you explain financial abuse and its relation to the elderly?
Laura: So financial abuse is one of the most common forms of elder abuse. A recent study that just came out suggested that, while we know about one in eight older adults have experienced some form of abuse in the last year alone. As our national prevalent study, we’ve even seen that a recent study out of British Columbia indicated that the percentages are much higher, and yet the reporting rate tends to be less than 6-8%. So financial abuse, a lot of it is making sure people have an understanding about what it is, what to do when it happens, and how to identify red flags and resources. One of the things we do at the Canadian Centre for Elder Law, we produce a number of tools. So people can go to our website and download tools about red flags and information on identifying elder abuse and neglect, particularly financial abuse; we’ve got facts sheets and so on. We also do education sessions and we speak at professional events, as well as community engagements on elder financial abuse. We also work with regulators in the banking and investment industry to try and fix some of these things at a high level. So we try to hit it at all levels.
Muniyra: Can you discuss the project with Fair Canada?
Laura: I’m happy to say we have just completed that project. It has been released to, I think very, very positive results. So this is a project where Fair Canada, which is the Foundation for the Advancement of Investor Rights, and the Canadian Centre for Elder Law have got together and really looked at what are some of the big issues that are happening with vulnerable people who are vulnerable to financial abuse. And while this project doesn’t only look at older adults, because of course not all older adults are vulnerable, but many older adults can be vulnerable due to social conditions. So the project came up with about six key recommendations and we worked very closely with regulators to ensure that those recommendations were able to be actionable, and very closely with industry as well. And so I’m very pleased to say that industry representatives have come out in positive support of this project; Investment Fund Industry of Canada wrote a letter of support in a press release saying they were behind the project, and so did the Ontario Securities Commission Investor Advisory Panel, and so on. So we really think that this project has got some traction and we’re moving now into our next stages of working to support implementation of those recommendations.
Muniyra: Can you explain the conference that was held in November?
Laura: Yes, every two years the Canadian conference on elder law is held in Vancouver, in association with the Continuing Legal Education (Society) of British Columbia. And one of the focal points of that conference this year was financial abuse, although we certainly looked at a wide variety of other forms of issues to do with law and aging, but financial abuse was a key point. With our changes in technology, there is both the increased ability to perpetrate financial abuse, whether it's through bank cards or online investments and so on, but similarly technology offers a lot of great opportunities to prevent, or identify and respond to elder abuse. And that was one of the topics of the conversation that we were holding in the sessions in British Columbia.
Muniyra: I wanted to talk a little about home accessibility.
Laura: Home modification grant has been a terrific, additive to this area as we look at making communities more age friendly. People don’t stay in their own homes often because they can’t live in that environment. Whether they can’t manage stairs or whether they can’t manage bathrooms and so on. Often it doesn’t take overwhelming a lot of money to make home modifications and if grants are available, we’ve seen positive uptake from people. What we know is that people want to stay in their own homes, they want to stay in their own communities, and where possible that is both the most inexpensive option for caring for older adults from a societal point of view and a much preferable from a personal point of view. So being able to ensure that governments support it with grants and tax support is really an enormously positive benefit. I think they need to see that the amounts of money should go up, that really we’ve seen the grants and home benefits are always fairly small and somewhat precarious. So there’s a big opportunity for positive development in that area. Making sure that accommodations are built in an elderly friendly way is really important. And that goes to making sure that our new architecture, whether it be in high rise, low rise, or individual homes, are built in a non barrier and universal design fashion, makes things like home renovations afterwards not be so important. So I think part of what we can see is really positive opportunities for architects, engineers, designers to really get into the universal design concept. And that’s not just helpful for older adults, that’s helpful for everyone.
Muniyra: How does their mental health affect their living options?
Laura: Older adults on the street, homeless or at risk of homelessness, is sharply rising, and it can be an invisible population. And what we know is that they are some of the very most vulnerable people for when they do hit the streets, their illness whether it be mental, or mental and physical, or some other forms or combination with addiction, really causes terrible outcomes, they’re not as robust or not as resilient. And shelter space is often not age friendly. They may not be able to get up the stairs into shelter. Shelters often have lockouts during the day which may not be appropriate or comfortable for older people. If they have health issues or medical conditions, particularly meds that require an ongoing support, for instance like mental health medications or other forms of medications for things like dementia, we know that the shelter system often does not support that in a way that makes sense. Shelters can be a very young place, you now that their is a lot of homeless youth, and just a very frightening place for older people to be. So what happens is people end up slipping through the cracks into homelessness. We also know that older people, often with mental health issues but not exclusively so, will have challenges in terms of things like paying rent, or taking care of themselves, and can become homeless by lack of social support. So they may have had an apartment, and may have been living in a place just fine, but because of lack of support or reminders, they end up becoming homeless and they haven’t paid rent or other bills, and so on, and then end up on the street. And yet their health, whether it be physical or physical and mental health, may not be adequately poor enough to qualify either for inpatient services with mental health or inpatient [services] in a long term care facility. Dementia is classified in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders 5th edition (the DSM5) now, as really mild cognitive impairment or major cognitive impairment, it is a mental health issue. And applying for long term care, from the street, is extremely challenging.
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