COVER

A GOLDEN OPPORTUNITY

CANADIANS BEGIN TO THINK AHEAD

D’ARCY JENISH August 19 1991
COVER

A GOLDEN OPPORTUNITY

CANADIANS BEGIN TO THINK AHEAD

D’ARCY JENISH August 19 1991

A GOLDEN OPPORTUNITY

COVER

CANADIANS BEGIN TO THINK AHEAD

In George Abrahamsohn’s unique home of the future on the 12th floor of a Toronto office tower, he can open the front door with a remote-control device and raise or lower the kitchen counter—along with the drawers below it—with a motorized mechanism. According to Abrahamsohn, director of the program technology branch of the Ontario ministry of community and social services, the equipment is designed to simplify household tasks for Canada’s elderly people. In June, 1990, Abrahamsohn and his colleagues set up the model home and equipped it with dozens of labor-saving devices.

Said Abrahamsohn: “These products contain common-sense innovations, but they are important to the elderly.”

According to most experts on aging, governments and the private sector will be forced during the coming decades to develop programs and products to meet the needs of senior citizens. Statistics Canada estimates that the number of Canadians over 65 will

grow to 8.4 million by the year 2036, up from three million in 1990. Some experts predict that the rising average age of the population, combined with the trend towards smaller families, will create acute labor shortages. And advocacy groups contend that governments will have to devote money and personnel to ensuring that the elderly receive proper care.

Already, governments and companies have begun to respond to the growing number of older Canadians. Margaret Coshan, executive vice-president of Corporate Health Consultants in Mississauga, Ont., said that during the past year, a number of Canadian companies have begun to explore the types of assistance that can be offered to employees who are obliged to look after an elderly parent. z Coshan added that as the pop1 ulation ages, companies may I begin offering flexible work z schedules and sabbaticals to § employees who are caring for “ elderly relatives.

Architects, developers and house builders will also play a major role in accommodating Canada’s elderly, according to Abrahamsohn. He said that many healthy and independent senior citizens begin the slide towards dependence as the result of accidents in the home. Abrahamsohn said that a kitchen counter that can be raised allows a senior citizen to open a drawer without bending over and risking a fall. Overhead light fixtures that can be lowered allow an elderly person to change a bulb without standing on a chair or climbing a ladder.

Shortage: The increasing proportion of elderly people in the Canadian population will also cause a serious labor shortage by the turn of the century, according to Victor Marshall, director of the University of Toronto’s Centre for the Studies of Aging. According to recent projections prepared by the Ontario government, workers aged 15 to 24 will represent only 17 per cent of the province’s labor force by the year 2001, down from 21 per cent in 1989. The labor shortage is developing at a time when an increasing number of individuals are retiring early, often under pressure from their recession-strapped employers.

Although the number of retired people is increasing, pensions expert Laurence Coward said that the country will be able to maintain its universal Old Age Security Program and the Canada Pension Plan (CPP)—but at great cost. Coward, a former executive vicepresident of Toronto-based William Mercer Ltd., a pension and benefits consulting firm, predicted that taxes will have to increase to cover the costs of Old Age Security while worker and employer contributions will rise sharply to sustain the CPP. But for security-conscious Canadians, that may be a small price to pay to maintain their pensions.

D’ARCY JENISH