Living together… for a long time!
Nowadays, our retirement years — or golden years, as some prefer to call them — are more than just a short period making up the final chapter of our lives. Thanks to gains in life expectancy, retirement is playing an increasingly important role in social terms. This fact was reconfirmed for me not long ago in Le Gibraltar residential complex for retirees, where I met with not one, not two but four (!) centenarians, all of whom were energetic, lively and passionate about life. The chats we had together raised various questions in my mind. As a community, are we on the right track when it comes to taking care of so many seniors... and for so many years?
Growing predominance of seniors
As we all know, North American society is growing older. For the very first time, there are more seniors in Canada than there are children aged 14 and younger; centenarians now make up the country’s fastest-growing demographic group. According to some forecasts, in 2065, between 65 000 and 114 000 will be over 100 years of age. Of course, increased life spans are attributable to many factors, including the development of modern medicine and improved environmental hygiene. * In short, the support we receive keeps getting better and better (at least in the industrialized world), so we’re living longer and longer lives.
It should be noted that demographic age groups are clearly defined: babyhood lasts for only a few years, as does adolescence. The length of time assigned to each stage is fixed and unchanging, give or take a few months. But when it comes to senior citizens, the upper limit keeps on increasing! So the moment at which we are considered to be seniors will soon be one of our most important milestones. The most comforting thing is that despite their advanced age, most seniors still have very lively minds. That certainly was the case for the four centenarians I met in Gibraltar: lucid, active and bursting with enthusiasm, they were still young at heart — and what an inspiration they were! Are we truly aware of how much seniors’ lives have changed?
Residences designed to meet evolving needs
In that light, residences for seniors have gained new relevance, in my view. In the past, retirees considered themselves lucky if they got a chance to enjoy life for a few years before they died. Needless to say, that is no longer the case! Someone who decides to move into a residence at age 75, for example, may be planning to live there for many years to come. That situation was quite rare just 20 years ago! With that in mind, I see myself as having more accountability today: my mission has always been to look after seniors’ well-being… but now, my mission is to look after their well-being for many years into the future!
For that simple reason, residences for seniors should no longer be seen as places where people are merely housed, fed and cared for. Who would be satisfied if only their basic needs were catered to for 20 or 25 years? At any age, we all want to feel useful and valued; we still want to be working on some kind of project. We have our dreams and we still want to have fun! As a result, the ground rules are changing: more than ever, residences for seniors are associated with a certain lifestyle and certain values. They are now designed to meet the needs of a clientele that is living longer and longer. In my view, that’s why it’s so important for seniors to feel a sense of belonging towards their living environment. So that’s why we pay special attention to seniors’ evolving needs.
Adapting to ensure more harmonious living
Life spans are increasing and seniors’ ranks are growing. We simply have to take those realities into account, even if we’re not real estate developers specializing in residences for seniors! Against that backdrop, all organizations offering products or services to seniors must sooner or later call into question how they do business. Since we may well live as seniors for many years, governments, municipalities, architects and entrepreneurs must realize that things cannot stay the same. As a society, we have to ponder this new reality because centenarians will be more and more common, and we must adapt to that fact.
Living happily together
Over the course of my career, I’ve met no more than 40 centenarians, so I hardly regard myself as a specialist in aging. But when I was trying to find common traits among them, I came to the conclusion that along with their ability to maintain a sense of detachment and not to make a big deal out of minor problems, their strength of character and sense of humour are what stand out the most. We all have so much to learn from them!
In closing, I’d like to pay tribute to the select group of 2,000 centenarians in Quebec and the huge contributions they have made. Imagine everything they’ve accomplished and continue to accomplish today! Given that their numbers are growing, I’d like to ensure that we all live happily together for a long long time!
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