How can the Fraser Valley support its seniors?

In a Q&A with BC Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie, we dive into how communities can better support seniors before they end up in long-term care.

By Grace Kennedy | March 3, 2022 |5:00 am

This story is part of a series of articles on long-term care homes in the province using data from BC’s Long Term Care Directory. Find the other stories below:


In the Fraser Valley, there are 2,500 long-term care beds, and we have shared two stories about how those facilities stack up to the rest of the province. (You can read those here and here.) But long-term care is only one part of supporting seniors.

Across the Fraser Valley, there are more than 95,000 people above the age of 65. Some need care in long-term care facilities—whether they have degenerative diseases like Huntington’s or are unable to care for themselves—while others need support in less-involved ways.

We talked with BC’s Seniors Advocate, Isobel Mackenzie, about what communities can do to better support seniors.

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FVC: How can we make growing communities more accessible to seniors, and in particular, seniors who might be needing to move into long-term care? In the Fraser Valley, there’s roughly 2,500 long-term care beds, which doesn’t seem like a ton given how large the population is here.

Isobel Mackenzie: You hit the nail on the head. There will always be, for a variety of reasons, people who require long-term care. But what we really need to do is ensure that those people who want to remain at home in the community, or remain in a type of home that isn’t long-term care, that we’ve done everything we can to try and ensure that supports are available for them. And we haven’t done that yet… In the Fraser Valley, most [seniors] are going to own their own homes. And so they do have some resources. They may have low incomes, but they’ve got some resources available to them, when you think about the person who doesn’t want to move into long-term care and doesn’t necessarily really need it. But if they want to move into an apartment or a condominium, [you have to look at] what is available and what is affordable for them. Local governments can certainly think about that when they’re planning.

You want these condominium buildings or apartment buildings to be where people can walk out the door and within a couple of blocks, there’s a pharmacy, a grocery store. There’s a bus stop. They can look at moving in from a rural place, still in their own community, but closer to the services. I think local governments can help [there], whether it’s zoning, incentives for builders, whatever.

And then I think that there’s still going to be people [who are] happy to stay in their own home, they don’t have to move anywhere. And so making sure that somebody can come out and help them. One of the first things you see with people is they get nervous at bathing with nobody else in the house. They don’t need somebody to literally help them in and out of the bathtub to take the bath or the shower. But they get very nervous that if something happens, there’s nobody there.

FVC: I never thought of that before. But that does make sense.

Mackenzie: It’s one of the places where you see slips and falls, and oftentimes the fall can be quite tragic… If you get this help early on, you can maybe stay here longer. Because if you don’t get the help and you fall and fracture a hip or a pelvis, then it’s a bigger hurdle to get over to get your independence back. So we can do things like that.

Mackenzie spoke further about how communities can help seniors stay independent longer.

Mackenzie: Certainly socialized social activities [are important]. Some seniors centers have daily lunches, and some people go every day for lunch, some do once or twice a week… Usually what you find is, it will be the senior who finds themselves widowed. They need some socialization… [or people who are] ‘dementia widows’: their husband or their wife is at home with them, but their level of cognitive awareness and ability to engage is very limited. And so those people need to get out and about with other people as well. They’re living with another person, but they’re incredibly isolated. So there’s a role to play within communities of making sure we have a seniors center, it’s accessible, people know about it, there’s a way to get people there, if they can’t drive.

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The importance of maintaining in-person communication and services in our digital age was another benefit for seniors that Mackenzie spoke about.

Mackenzie: All these conveniences and time-saving things we’ve done [have] cut us off from having to deal with anybody. And then we wonder about the rise of isolation and loneliness. We don’t go into the bank to do our banking anymore. So we don’t get to talk to the teller… We can pay our taxes online, so I don’t go into city hall anymore and have a chat with people when I go to pay my taxes. For people like you and me this is great, because now I can deal with this at 11 o’clock at night. Well, for some people, that’s their social interaction for the day.

FVC: Is there anything the province should be doing or should be looking at to help fast growing communities, like we’re seeing in the Fraser Valley, remain accessible for seniors?

Mackenzie: In my day, when I worked in the community 25 years ago, it was simple one-bedroom apartments where low-income—usually, it was seniors, almost always single seniors, usually women in those days—and they would just pay a percentage of their income for rent. So it was always affordable. And they were in a building with other seniors. So it was a good social community. And the buildings were generally located near the areas where the grocery store and the pharmacy was. And I think we’ve gotten away from that a bit.

We have focused a lot on the homeless, hard-to-house and mental health and addictions population. And that’s a good thing. That need is real too. But it’s taken away from the focus on and the provision of seniors subsidized housing. So I think there’s a role for the province to play there… I think the Fraser Valley is probably still one of these areas where there are enough people that the private market, for want of a better term, is going to build the condominiums, the apartments, and so on. And really, the role of the government is to ensure they are affordable to the seniors, whether through a subsidy or rental supplement.

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Grace Kennedy

Reporter at Fraser Valley Current

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