Thank you very much. Excuse my accent. I'm German, so if you don't understand me, please ask.
I thought of talking about aging and older adults from a different perspective. I thought it important to point out that the majority of older adults today are healthy and that has an impact, of course, on how we view and what kind of policies we introduce to older adults that we will have in the next couple of decades. As a professor, of course, that also includes education in gerontology, so I will split my presentation into two parts, healthy aging and education gerontology.
My two main thoughts, as I just said, are really to look at the generations today of older adults. They are very different from previous generations and we need to increase our education of the public and the people working with older adults about the current issues of aging. I will talk about the demographic reality, the status quo of health and social service education, and then some consequences and solutions, and the summary. I will try to do that in seven minutes.
Today is different from the past. Older adults of today and the future will be much healthier, wealthier, and better educated than those of previous generations. Declining fertility has led to greater female labour force participation. Fewer children mean healthier, smarter, and better educated children. Demographic projections indicate further gains in longevity, including gains in healthy life expectancy, so we really need to look at older adults from a very different perspective. Also, the increase in legal retirement age and change in pension policies will also entice older adults to work longer because they are healthier.
I thought of giving you an imageto have in your head. When we look at older adults, 65 years and older—I use older adults on purpose as a term, not seniors, as seniors implies frailty and, as you can see, over 90% of our older population today in Canada live independently and therefore are healthy enough not to have to move into long-term care or in any assisted facilities. So please remember, older adults and not seniors. That's what I tell my students anyway.
The graph that I found quite interesting indicated that almost 80% of older adults today are feeling quite healthy. However, some of the older adults do feel lonely, as we have heard in previous presentations, and their life satisfaction might not be as great. Their concern about life satisfaction is almost 20%. Most older adults participate in social activities, but many older adults would still like to be more involved, and I think that really has to reflect the policies that we introduce, such as age-friendly environments, age-friendly communities, and such.
Many healthy older people represent not a liability but a great asset of experience, skills, drive, that the country should learn how to exploit. We really have to make use of these older adults and that is what they want, as you have seen in the previous graph.
What is our status quo now in education? What do we really know about older adults? What does the public know about older adults, and especially our social and health care providers? Health, social and community human resources need to be better prepared and supported to meet the needs of our aging population. The fact that we don't require any of our schools that train our future health, social and community care providers to formally teach content related to caring for older adults is concerning. Youths who are not exposed to caring for or working with older adults will be less confident in their knowledge and skills working with these patients and less prepared to meet their needs or even to choose these areas as a career.
A strategy that provides the right education and training opportunities will ensure that Ontario and Canada gain an informed workforce that will have the necessary knowledge, skills, and confidence to identify issues of need amongst older adults while delivering them the right care, in the right place, at the right time. That is not only care, but also services. I always include this because, again, we're not only talking about frail older adults, but the majority who are healthy and are looking for services rather than care.
What is the status quo? We know that most of our older adults are cared for by people who are not educated properly. That is a global issue. It's not just a Canadian issue. It's a worldwide issue.
We have different health and social service programs. They are very different from each other. There are no real guidelines about what should be part of the education.
Research shows that 70% of respondents feel that gerontology content in their programs should improve, so any kind of health and social service programs in Canada. Programs do not have sufficient gerontological expertise. Even the teachers and faculty who are teaching gerontology issues are often not educated in the area.
In 2012, seven Canadian universities offered specific three- to four-year undergraduate degree programs in gerontology. I'm teaching at one of those programs at Laurentian and Huntington universities. The consequences are that those who work in the field with older adults often have negative attitudes toward older adults. They don't really know what older adults are, because they haven't learned the realities of aging during their course content.
Ageism is a barrier in curriculum development. We need more applicable and practical applications of gerontological knowledge, competencies, and training. Providing relevant, ethical, safe care, and services to older adults is paramount not only in creating and maintaining their quality of life but also in the development and changing of attitudes toward health, aging, and end of life care. I also think to create policies.
Movement toward professionalizing gerontology and gerontologists, aging specialists, like myself, may well aid the continuity of aging services both in the health care and social care domains.
I would like propose some solutions. We need to have better education that includes health promotion, financial security, and so on, but I'm focusing here on education. We need to encourage students at an early age to specialize in gerontology, and that shouldn't start at the university age. That starts at a much younger age, often at the elementary school age. We must enhance capacity of existing faculties, making use of train-the-trainer approaches for increasing faculty capacity. Both older adults and their care partners must be integrated into the team, and provided information and training. Education includes all older adults and their care providers. We need to initiate social change by introducing new ways of thinking.
We need to have special knowledge if we want to care for older adults, and provide services to them. It is important that we adjust our curricula in social services and health sciences. Gerontologists do have special knowledge they can provide, creating age friendly environments, and so on. Many jobs require registration with professional bodies. Gerontologists at this time do not. Registration has now started in the United States. Actual programs are now being accredited. We need to include the expertise of this profession in our policies to move forward.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.