Thursday, August 4, 2016

Are Seniors using the programs effectively

Are these programs for seniors being optimally used by those who are eligible for them and who could benefit from them?
A senior’s ability to age in place relies to a great degree on the affordability, appropriateness and accessibility of their accommodation as well as the availability of supports to assist them as they age.

The survey asked seniors several questions about their awareness and usage of programs designed to provide support for aging. There are a number of provincial and federal programs in place that help seniors to afford the costs of home adaptations to increase accessibility.

One example is the provincial Home Adaptations for Independence (HAFI) program. Overall, few seniors responding to the survey reported awareness of such programs (31 per cent).

Though the survey did not track usage rates, and only one in ten seniors had made any adaptations to their homes either with or without financial assistance, younger seniors were almost twice as likely to know of the existence of such assistance programs than older seniors.

The provision of personal care or home support can also help a senior age in place. However, the seniors responding to the survey reported a low incidence of receiving help or care from others for problems relating to aging in the past year: overall, only 14 per cent reported receiving such care, with half of those seniors reporting receiving fewer than two hours of care in an average week.

Not surprisingly, older seniors who were surveyed are in receipt this type of care almost three times more frequently, but do not tend to have more hours of help. The seniors surveyed in the Northern Health Authority were the least likely to receive help or care from others, while the seniors in the Interior Health Authority tended to receive more intense care; they were three times more likely to have seven or more hours of care per week than those in any other health authorities.

Seniors’ Perceptions of their Health and Future Care Needs

The seniors responding to the survey were generally positive about their current health and optimistic about their future needs. 85 per cent of the seniors rated their health as ”excellent”, “very good”, or “good” -- despite the fact that one in five had been admitted to a hospital emergency room within the past 12 months. Less than 3 per cent of the seniors considered themselves to be in poor health.

However, seniors in the Northern Health Authority were much less likely to rate their health as “excellent” or “good” and were more than three times as likely as seniors in the other Health Authorities to consider their health as “poor”. Income level was also found to have a dramatic effect on reported health. Seniors in the higher income brackets, with household incomes of more than $60,000, were almost twice as likely to rate their health as “excellent” or “very good” as those with household incomes of less than $30,000. Indeed, a full 29 per cent of low-income seniors rated their health as “fair” or “poor”, compared to only 7 per cent of higher income seniors.

The survey asked seniors to look ahead to their future housing and health care needs. When asked whether they thought they may need to move at some time in the future, the seniors surveyed were split, with just over half saying “yes”, a third saying “no”, and the remainder stating that they didn’t know.

Interestingly, older seniors were less likely to believe they would need to move, and seniors in the Northern Health Authority, residing in the most remote parts of the province, were also less likely to hold that belief. Health care needs were one of the main reasons seniors felt they may need to move as they age. About half of the seniors surveyed indicated that a move could be prompted by future health care needs, and almost a third felt that their current home would have accessibility issues.

A quarter felt that financial barriers would prevent their staying in their current homes. Transportation barriers and the distance from family members and other support systems were also concerns for seniors. Among the lower-income seniors surveyed, future health care needs and housing affordability were bigger concerns than among higher income groups, which is in keeping with both their financial status and the poorer health they reported

The results of the survey yielded some surprises.

Overall, the seniors surveyed reported low levels of awareness of some of the key programs currently in place to support them, indicating that important information is not getting to those who need it most.

It is particularly worrying that those least aware were in the oldest age bracket, and indicated the lowest incomes, as these are the seniors most vulnerable and in need of services to support and care for them.

The GIS, MSP Premium Assistance, SAFER rent subsidy, home adaptation grants and PharmaCare are long standing programs aimed directly at low-income seniors, and yet the survey would appear to indicate these benefits are not always reaching their intended target.

This is a reminder that it is not sufficient to provide supports; we must also connect seniors directly to those programs and services.

It was troubling to learn how many seniors believe they will need to move because of affordability. Of the respondents with incomes of less than $30,000, 36 per cent of seniors reported they felt they will have to move in the future because they will no longer be able to afford their current living arrangements.

Also critically important, is the number of low-income seniors who are not covered by a benefits program to assist with health needs such as dental care, vision aids, and hearing aids. The survey indicated 65 per cent of low-income respondents reported no coverage for these ancillary health care needs.

These facts help to highlight challenges faced by low-income seniors in B.C.

The information from this survey deals with seniors in B.C. Canada, however I suspect that the “surprises” indicated in the report would apply in most jurisdictions and so we need to continue to work hard to get the information about programs available to seniors to those who need the services.

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