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Seniors’ problems are a ticking time bomb

Resource type: News

Royal Gazette |

The recent report on Seniors reveals some serious underlying trends believes Age Concern executive director Claudette Fleming.

by Matthew Taylor

A mammoth survey on seniors released last year didn’t reveal endless stories of untold woe – despite one shocking headline about poverty.

But Age Concern executive director Claudette Fleming believes the underlying trends are a ticking time bomb if not fully addressed.

The Seniors’ Test for Ageing and Trends (STATS) survey gathered data from 695 people aged 60 and over, and found that 35 percent of the Island’s seniors make under $25,000 a year.

That’s at least $2,000 less than the poverty line, which was set at incomes of $27,000. And six percent said they had gone without food to pay bills.

And yet Mrs. Fleming noted that 75 percent of seniors felt they were doing fairly well.

“There was a study done in 1991 and another in 2004 and there was the same front page headline – it said ‘One-third of seniors living in poverty’. When this new study was released it was the same headline.”

Sometimes advocates find it expedient to paint a bad picture because it gets attention to their cause, said Mrs. Fleming.

But she added: “I am reluctant to do that particularly in this case, because seniors, in the largest survey ever conducted on seniors, have spoken very clearly that for the most part they are doing okay.

“And who am I to argue with that?

“More than 70 percent said they could afford health care services – which is probably contrary to what we would probably think – and they are generally satisfied.

“Only a small minority reported a difficulty in getting around their homes – and most of them owned a car and used it.”

Most think public transport is accessible – but they don’t use it – and less than one in ten experienced age discrimination.

But Mrs. Fleming is not promoting complacency – for her the danger lies in how the next generation will tackle their old age given the financial squeeze and alarming health trends already apparent.

She is disturbed that a high number of seniors are suffering from a medical condition – 78 percent. The top three ailments were high blood pressure, diabetes and cholesterol.

“They are chronic diseases which can be expensive to maintain – they don’t kill you, they go on and on and on. It might explain why eight in ten seniors say they are using medication.”

She said all those are ailments that could have been counteracted by a healthy lifestyle.

“These are lifestyle diseases which speak a lot to our affluence – such as stress.

“We have issues with obesity and the complications thereof.

“We have diabetes and cholesterol and we will see an increase if we don’t start to tackle this at a much younger age.

“We felt we were not so concerned about this seniors’ generation – but for the one after that we have lots of concerns.”

The STATS survey, the biggest of its kind, is designed to track these trends over time.

“Once we do the third survey we will see really what’s going on in the population.”

She fears if people don’t save money or lead healthier lifestyles, the figures are going to work through to seniors of the next generation.

And she is concerned about the decline in home ownership to 72 percent.

“It was 75 percent in the 1991 study, in the last census, and the Fordham report in 2004. That too indicates an unhealthy trend.

“I think seniors today had some very good practices – saving and the importance of buying a home – that we perhaps don’t have. People over 65 now would have been taught to save – put a little away for a rainy day and buy your house.”

“I question Government’s policy on affordable housing – if you don’t have an effective affordable housing policy today what is it going to mean for the success of an aging population tomorrow?

“If you are not saving, if your money is in investment accounts you can’t access ’til you are 65 and you are not buying a home then how secure are you going to be?”

And Mrs. Fleming fears that the coming generation of seniors could have their own financial plans further jeopardised by the need to look after their parents.

“Over six in ten seniors have an expectation that their children are going to care for them, which again is a scary thought when you think those are the same people who are wondering how prepared they are to take care of themselves, let alone their ageing parents at the most expensive time of their life.

“If your mother has a stroke and is hooked up to some machine but she is still alive, you have your children in college, you have your own retirement savings to think about and with five percent down on a mortgage on a $1.5 million house you have a big mortgage, then how are you supposed to manage?

“The question for the government of the day is what role is it playing on long-term care?”

She said nursing home care runs at $8-10,000 a month.

“Do we have a long-term care system? How is it going to be financed with larger amounts of seniors with chronic conditions? They are going to live but be sick.

“What is the plan to care for them? It is a scary time.”

She said the continuing care unit with 77 beds at KingEdwardVIIMemorialHospital would be axed when the new hospital was built within the next five years.

“That means somewhere in the community we have to put at least 77 beds. How is that going to happen? Can someone tell us?”

She said the Bermuda Hospitals Board’s plan should have addressed that.

“There’s a waiting list so there is a demand.

“I have heard the hospital will have a role to play in long-term care but the public needs to know.

“I am in this business but I don’t feel confident that anyone is looking at long-term care.

“We need a plan. Although seniors might have this expectation that their children will care for them, in all likelihood they will not be financially equipped to do so.

“The big picture everyone is missing is the healthcare system has to be revamped – no one wants to talk about it or think about it.

“But if it is not catching everybody then it is not working for everybody – it has to be restructured. But who is going to take it on?”

Last year Health Minister Nelson Bascome announced FutureCare would ensure seniors received full health insurance coverage by April 1, 2009.

Mrs. Fleming believes that timeline is optimistic.

“At this stage they are more gathering information than anything. It’s a huge, complex issue.

“We are losing those 77 beds, we lost Pembroke Rest home, the Sylvia Richardson home doesn’t have the staff to operate at full capacity.

“When you look at the facilities that traditionally do long-term care, they are either not equipped to deal with demand or they are not in existence.”

She said getting staff to cover long-term care was tricky and she understands Sylvia Richardson doesn’t want to lower its standards, take just anyone, and put patients at risk.

“We need some transparency and urgency.”

Elderly abuse hit the headlines recently. Mrs. Fleming said reporting of such incidents is on the rise but worried there could be much more nobody knows about given the lack of staff to monitor it.

“We have just one intake worker and one case worker – one for the whole Country. The National Office for Seniors and the Physically Challenged needs to be beefed up.”

Asked what else she would love to change about the way Bermuda approaches the issue of the elderly, who made up 11 percent of the population in 2000, she said: “Let’s plan the work and work the Plan – get serious about a strategy for the aged, and inform the public specifically about the resources that will be put in place for long-term chronic care.”

And she said it was time to listen to seniors themselves and distinguish genuine need from expectations, prioritise and determine how and when to meet both.

Otherwise it would mean resources could be poured into something without knowing if it was really necessary, she explained.

“It makes for an unbalanced approach to public policy.”


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