Last week was Seniors’ Week in Alberta, and once again, politicians and others were praising our older citizens for the work they did to build the foundations of our province.
But the fact is, the contributions of seniors aren’t all in the past. Many of them are continuing to contribute in a wide assortment of ways. Look around in any community and you’ll see senior citizens who aren’t just sitting on the sidelines reminiscing about the way things used to be. They are active and engaged and doing their part to help their communities.
Some seniors are involved in babysitting their grandchildren or perhaps a neighbour’s children, thus alleviating the need for parents to make other daycare arrangements. Some help out with chores and tackle household projects to assist family members and others. They are often the “snow angels” who clear snow from neighbourhood sidewalks in winter. They drive other seniors to appointments. They support their grandchildren by attending sports events and school plays. They’re often seen volunteering their time for various charitable causes and fundraisers.
Studies show an increasing number of seniors are still in the workforce, where their experience plays a welcome and important role. In many cases, they assist adult children by providing financial and emotional support. The Canadian Association of Retired Persons (CARP) website notes, “Up to 35 per cent of grandparents who share their homes with either their children or their children and their grandchildren are financial providers, not financial drains.”
Besides supporting their children, they are supporting their communities by paying taxes and helping drive the economy with consumer purchases.
Seniors who are retired are often still contributing to their communities by volunteering. Statistics Canada research shows that in 2013, 28 per cent of all Canadian volunteers were aged 55 and older. In addition, seniors volunteer an average of 223 hours annually, more than any other age group.
According to a 2013 report called “Gifts of a Lifetime: The Contributions of Older Canadians,” authored by three University of Alberta researchers in partnership with the Seniors Association of Greater Edmonton (SAGE) Advocacy Committee, in 2007 nearly one million Canadians 65 or older provided care to others, and 82,000 of those were Albertans. Also of note, more than one-third of those caregivers (35 per cent) were over the age of 75.
Seniors also tend to be strongly engaged politically. Many serve in public office or with political organizations. Come election time, they are far more likely to show up at the polls than their grandkids. In the 2011 general election, for example, voter turnout among Canadians aged 65-74 topped 75 per cent, almost twice the participation rate of the 18-24 age group (38.8 per cent). And the turnout rate among those 75 and over was an impressive 60.3 per cent.
The often-repeated notion of the “grey tsunami” suggests a wave of older citizens that is about to hit society with a host of challenges. But such a description tends to overshadow the many positive contributions our seniors continue to make.
We should take time to recognize those contributions.