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1. A New Vision for Healthy Aging

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Each of us is aging. And as a population, Canada is aging faster than ever before. Today, there is a more informed recognition of the important contribution that older people make to their families, communities and nation. There is also a growing understanding of the diversity of Canadian seniors in terms of age groupings, levels of independence, and ethnocultural backgrounds. Women and men experience aging in different ways and women far outnumber men in the oldest age categories (80-plus). For both men and women, there are significant differences between life at age 65, 75 and 85-plus. These groups are also heterogeneous, reflecting diverse values, educational levels and socioeconomic status. Canada is in a unique position due to immigration and Aboriginal Peoples in terms of ethnic, racial and linguistic diversity among the older population.

Today, older Canadians are living longer and with fewer disabilities than the generations before them. At the same time, the majority of seniors have at least one chronic disease or condition. Our health care system primarily focuses on cure rather than health promotion and disease prevention. Redirecting attention to the latter is required in order to enable older people maintain optimal health and quality of life. It will also help to manage health system pressures.

The evidence is clear. Older adults can live longer, healthier lives by staying socially connected, increasing their levels of physical activity, eating in a healthy way, taking steps to minimize their risks for falls and refraining from smoking. But there are real environmental, systemic and social barriers to adopting these healthy behaviours. Some relate to inequities as a result of gender, culture, ability, income, geography, ageism and living situations. These barriers and inequities need to be and can be addressed now. Through a combination of political will, public support and personal effort, healthy aging with dignity and vitality is within reach of all Canadians. It is time for a new vision on healthy aging – a vision that:

  • values and supports the contributions of older people;
  • celebrates diversity, refutes ageism and reduces inequities; and
  • provides age-friendly environments and opportunities for older Canadians to make healthy choices, which will enhance their independence and quality of life.

Building on a Solid Foundation

This vision for healthy aging builds on several key concepts and plans previously endorsed by the Ministers Responsible for Seniors: The National Framework on Aging sets out an overall vision: "Canada, a society for all ages, promotes the well-being and contributions of older people in all aspects of life" (Health Canada, 1998). The vision for healthy aging seeks to further specify how this will play out by providing age-friendly environments and opportunities for older Canadians to make healthy choices, which will enhance their independence and quality of life.

Five principles identified by the National Framework on Aging underpin this vision: dignity, independence, participation, fairness and security (Health Canada, 1998). These principles provide a common set of values for all jurisdictions that are consistent with the United Nations principles for older persons (United Nations General Assembly, 1991).

Planning for Canada's Aging Population: A Framework was developed by the F/P/T Committee of Officials (Seniors) to guide governments across Canada as they develop policies and programs for their aging populations. It outlines three pillars for action: health, wellness and security; continuous learning, work and participation in society; and supporting and caring in the community. The vision and framework for action presented in this document builds specifically on the pillar related to "health, wellness and security".

 

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