April 13, 2011

Erin needs to prepare for seniors population boom

As published in The Erin Advocate

A survey of seniors in East Wellington shows the need for improvements in a wide range of services – with demand expected to climb as a higher proportion of the population graduates to the 55+ age group.

The project in Erin and Guelph-Eramosa was started last spring by East Wellington Community Services (EWCS), with the help of a volunteer committee and a grant from the federal government's New Horizons for Seniors program. The long term goal is to create a more senior-friendly community.

Seniors aged 55+ make up about 25 per cent of the population. They number about 7,500 in East Wellington (including 3,570 in Erin) with another 2,300 passing the 55 mark in the next five years.

An analysis of the 320 responses to the survey was to be discussed at a public forum on March 31 at Centre 2000. I went to the meeting thinking I might find a room full of seniors looking for ways to get better facilities and services in this area. Instead, I was the only person there, along with EWCS staff members Sherri Plourde, Manager of Seniors Services and Rick Eller, Committee Administrator.

Statistics may be important, but they are obviously not everyone's idea of an exciting evening out. The report has been presented to all local politicians, including the councils of the Town and the County, and to agencies who make decisions affecting seniors services. It will be used to show local needs when applying for Ministry of Health funding through the Local Health Integration Network (LHIN).

"That data and research is really important for them to be aware of," said Plourde. "We hope to generate discussion."

There is also a need to make more people aware of existing services. For example, 73 per cent of respondents did not know that EWCS offers counselling services in Erin. Almost as many had no idea about local housing options, and among those who did, the rating was overwhelmingly "Poor".

Plourde said that seniors who live alone have lower incomes, are older, are in poorer health, and are more concerned about their future and the services they might need. Urban seniors are more often in poorer health, with lower incomes and living alone, compared to rural seniors.

Lack of access to transportation was identified as a key barrier to independence, along with the need for light housekeeping and snow removal help. About 40 per cent (and 57 per cent in the 75+ age group) said they would be interested in a fee-based transportation system.

"There are lots of seniors who want to stay independent and stay in their homes as long as they can," said Eller. Of course, many 55+ people don't consider themselves in need of "seniors" programs.

"For those who feel they are too young to need the service, why not volunteer to help," said Plourde. She said it is important to start expanding services now, since the current level of services will not be adequate once the senior population boom really gets going. "The numbers will increase and there could be waiting lists."

The EWCS website enables you to download a copy of the survey report, a shorter summary or their current newsletter. The site has details on seniors transportation, day trips and programs, and this year's Seniors Wellness Expo.

Do not go to www.ewcs.com, which is the site for Easy Web Computer Solutions in Argentina, or to www.ewcs.ca, the home of Electronic Warfare Consulting Services in Ottawa, or www.ewcs.net, the Earlswood Window Cleaning Services in Bangor, Northern Ireland. Instead, go to www.ew-cs.com, and bookmark it.