By 2030, one in six people in the world will be over the age of 60. Here’s one organization that’s helping seniors in Ottawa and beyond
For Nancy (her last name has been withheld to protect her privacy), everyday tasks — cooking, shopping, and simple conversations — were a problem. When cooking, the Ottawa-area resident, who is in a wheelchair, “can’t see what is in the pot and the burners are just above neck level,” she says.
Although government funding covers a basic wheelchair, it didn’t cover an elevating device necessary to make these things easier, “and I do not have the resources to cover these costs,” she said.
Thanks to funding from HelpAge Canada that helped to cover the cost of a new power wheelchair, Nancy’s life was changed.
“The fact that the chair [now] elevates has made my life easier in so many ways,” she says. “This chair means I am higher and therefore safer. As well, I can reach things in my cupboards with no difficulty. When shopping I can reach the top shelves and don’t have to get a store employee to help. The most important improvement is being eye level with other people. To have conversations with people at eye level or be at a crowded event (when those days return!) and see what the crowd is seeing is a huge boost to how I feel about myself.”
Nancy isn’t alone.
Since 1975, HelpAge Canada — the only charitable organization in Canada devoted exclusively to aging people — has been bettering the lives of older persons in Canada and around the world. “I was really just getting my feet wet with HelpAge Canada and HelpAge International when COVID hit,” says Gregor Sneddon, the organization’s Ottawa-based executive director since 2018. “Then everything exploded and exposed the loneliness and isolation that seniors are facing. Not just here but around the world.”
Ironically, the United Nations launched the UN Decade of Healthy Aging in 2021. The pandemic only highlighted the gaps in services and even basic resources for older people. HelpAge Canada was the first pan-Canadian responder for seniors in communities across the country.
“After the government began funding the humanitarian relief, we focused on the social isolation that seniors were facing,” says Sneddon. Enter HelpAge’s Dig-IT program, which provides tablets and teaches marginalized and low-income seniors how to use technology (“we started providing tablets and digital literacy training so seniors could stay connected,” says Sneddon) and Seniors Can, which addresses loneliness for low-income seniors across Canada by collaborating with community partners. “The Seniors Can program provides funding for programs, equipment, and services to help seniors maintain a healthy, connected life,” says Sneddon.
HelpAge Canada is a founding member of HelpAge International working in 86 countries around the world, with a network of over 150 partners. Sneddon recently returned from a trip to Africa, where he saw firsthand how the aid helps aging individuals live in dignity. “There is no social security in many of these countries,” says Sneddon. “When a person stops working, they’re lucky if they have family to live with — often in crowded living conditions and they become dependents. If not, a person has nothing — even becoming homeless.” Many older people in the developing world are often raising grandchildren and need to find ways to feed them and pay their school fees.
“We’re so grateful for the funding we received from HelpAge Canada,” says Monique Doolittle-Romas, executive director of the Good Companions. “It helped us stretch our budget and allowed us to make food in our kitchens for food hampers that got delivered to seniors in need.” This local community organization was a hive of social activity for seniors before the pandemic, with people dropping in for a reasonably priced meal, or a coffee or tea. “It was the socializing and recreation programs that were so key for these seniors who are often isolated,” says Doolittle-Romas.
During the first months of the pandemic, many seniors were going without food for days. “Our drivers would often be the only person they’d see for weeks,” says Doolittle-Romas. “And that turned into the drivers checking in on people and passing on any concerns they had for their well-being. The funding from HelpAge Canada really helped us make a difference in the community, especially for seniors.”
Angela Clair is a regional service coordinator for Spinal Cord Injury Ontario (SCIO). Founded in 1945, and with support staff in 13 offices across the province, SCIO is the go-to support organization for people with spinal cord injury and their families. “I help people navigate the system, find their way forward, and achieve their goals after a spinal cord injury,” says Clair. It was Clair’s organization that helped to connect Nancy with HelpAge. A large barrier that exists for people with disabilities is paying for equipment, says Clair. “Many of our clients are seniors,” says Clair, “and we’re now seeing more seniors with spinal cord issues. It may be from an accident or fall, or medically related with injuries resulting from tumours or surgery. And given that many seniors are on a low or limited income, we’ll need even more funding to support them. Getting that support from HelpAge Canada has helped.”
The changes that have resulted from her new electric wheelchair may seem small to some, says Nancy, “but they have enhanced my independence and self‐esteem, so to me they are invaluable.”
“By 2030, one in six people are going to be 60 or over globally,” says Sneddon. We’ve lost many of our traditional institutions where multi-generations gathered, culturally we’ve marginalized our seniors. It’s time to think about how we treat our elders and what kind of society we want to be.”
Help an older person
HelpAge Canada’s Sponsor a Grandparent program provides support for over 500 older persons with food, clean water, clothing, and medicine and gives seniors the dignity they deserve. The sponsor program is active in six countries – Dominica, Haiti, India, Jamaica, Kenya, and Sri Lanka. Learn more at https://helpagecanada.ca/sponsor-a-gran/
Good Companions https://thegoodcompanions.ca/
C.A.R.P. promotes and protects the interests, rights, and quality of life of Canadians as we age.