Seniors have been in the news lately.

We have read about how a surge in seniors will challenge the health-care system in coming years (“NWT’s aging population a ‘wake up call,’ says expert,” Jan. 9 Yellowknifer).

And last fall, we read how the NWT Seniors’ Society and Glen Abernethy, minister responsible for seniors, weren’t seeing eye-to-eye on how to tackle issues affecting the aging population (“Seniors’ society wants new government approach to elders,” Nov. 21, 2017 Yellowknifer).

The bottom line is, there is a glut of grey hair approaching like a slow-walking tsunami that will place a strain on medical resources and make new demands on social services and even how well the sidewalks are plowed.

This is one reason Yellowknifer decided to dedicate the theme of the first in a regular series of special full-edition newspapers, to our senior citizens. And to those folks approaching their retirement years.

Growing old can be a rewarding time in one’s life. But it also can be a lonely and painful experience. Basically, one should be spending their entire lives planning for the day when they no longer have to work, can spend all of their time with the grandchildren and plan trips to their favourite spots across the country or around the world.

But for many, that will be more the experience their parents’ generation enjoyed. Many people nowadays will still need to work right into their 70s. Not out of a desire to stay active, but because they couldn’t save enough on their own for retirement or had a job without a pension plan.

Sadly, it’s also far removed from what many in the Indigenous population can expect, especially in smaller communities outside of Yellowknife.

In the 2015 Aurora College Research Institute study “Influences on Quality of Life of the Older Adult in the Northwest Territories,” many older adults are worried about the escalating cost of living, alcohol and drug addictions, and violence in their communities.

However, that same paper stated: “One experiences a good life in the NWT when they are socially

connected and supported, active and independent, living a traditional lifestyle, being connected

to place, and feeling safe and secure.”

It’s fairly apparent the experience of aging can be quite different for various demographics in the NWT. While we are more familiar with how it is to grow into grey hair for Indigenous and descendants of Europeans, we will also have to learn how the aging process affects our growing immigrant population from a host of cultures.

While they might have the support of their own communities – however small they might be – they surely won’t have the benefits of having lived here for generations with family and friends and the myriad of social connections that brings.

As the Aurora College study stated: “Having connections and support makes one feel safe and secure in their home and community.”

Now the GNWT has had time to prepare for the greying of the populace.

A NWT Health Status Report in 2011 stated the fastest growing demographic in the NWT is the older adult. In 2010, the total population in the NWT was 43,759 and of that, the number of older adults was 4,102.

In the NWT, the older adult population is expected to increase to nearly 7,000 by 2020.

Late last year, a new report from NWT Bureau of Statistics stated the territory is on track to see more than an 80 per cent upswing in the number of residents aged 60 and over by 2035.

Victorine Lafferty, director of Seniors and Continuing Care Services – the GNWT branch that oversees the provision of health and personal care services, including long term care and supported living – told Yellowknifer she’s confident the department’s five-year Continuing Care Action Plan, has the territory and its capital on the right track.

As previously reported in Yellowknifer, the 2017 action plan aims to meet several objectives by 2022. Those include the enhancement of palliative care services, boosting equal accessibility to quality long-term care and increasing support for caregivers. Its stated overall goal is reducing “gaps and barriers to provide equitable access to safe, culturally respectful and responsive programs and services.”

There is also a document tabled during the last legislative assembly, called “Our Elders: Our Communities,” commonly referred to as the “territorial seniors’ strategy.”

What we don’t need are competing and overlapping reports and strategies. We trust the GNWT will do what is necessary to ensure our seniors and elders who might not be in the best place financially have the best shot at having a good life living with dignity and respect. Our seniors and our elders are a valuable resource that should be treated with the respect and dignity they deserve.

And Yellowknifer will make sure we keep issues involving seniors in the headlines.

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