More Nova Scotia seniors going it alone

Chronicle Herald

The percentage of Nova Scotians living alone has surpassed the national average of 28 per cent, thanks to an aging population.

According to 2016 Statistics Canada census data, 29.5 per cent of Nova Scotians live alone. That’s above the national average, as are the Yukon (32 per cent) and Quebec (33 per cent).

“We know that older people are more likely to live alone than younger people,” said Julien Bérard-Chagnon, a demographer with StatsCan.

“This comes from a high life expectancy. People are living longer.”

For the first time in Canada’s history, the number of one-person households outnumbers any other category of living arrangements.

They accounted for 28.2 per cent of all households, more than the percentage of couples with children, couples without children, multiple-family households and single-parent families.

Bérard-Chagnon said more people can afford to live alone as the standard of living is increasing. Another contributing factor is a high divorce rate.

Ian MacDonald, president of CARP Nova Scotia, thinks it’s a good thing more seniors are living alone, but it’s also a challenge to the already strained infrastructure in place in the province.

CARP is a non-profit, non-partisan organization with a goal of creating a new vision of aging.

MacDonald said seniors should be able to live in their homes for as long as they can.

It not only frees up beds in the province’s hospitals, but also lowers health-care costs.

But in order for them to prosper in that setting, he said, better infrastructure needs to be in place, “so that you have access to your doctors and general practitioners. You need the systems to cover essential wait times because timely, essential health care in Canada is a right.”

He said the provincial government is doing their best to make significant changes, and they have made it their goal to improve home care for seniors.

“And yet (CARP) would say there is a lot of improvements that need to be done,” he said.

There aren’t enough people with access to a family doctor, and wait times for necessary surgeries are still too long, he said.

“How do we make sure that people have access to timely, essential health care as opposed to lamenting that we have the worst hip and knee wait times for the last nine years?”

He said that question doesn’t really have an answer right now.

There are also more senior couples living together for longer.

According to the 2016 census data, 63 per cent of seniors across the country are living together, with 26 per cent who live alone.

But these couples also need to maintain a stable income.

MacDonald said there needs to be more access to part-time work for seniors, or higher pensions that ensure they can live off a stable income once they are retired.

“Seniors don’t stop spending once they turn 65,” he said.

He said CARP would love to see a non-partisan, all-party approach to these issues that strives to create “age friendly communities.”

“If we want to have people in their homes longer, then we need to make sure those homes are age-friendly in how they are built and in how they work.”