Planning for an aging population

Date published: 2008-04-24 2:14:46 PM

Janet Fast understands better than most the hidden costs of our aging population. With SSHRC funding, Fast and her research team at the University of Alberta have brought together sociologists, gerontologists, social workers, economists, historians and nursing specialists from across Canada, the US, Britain and the Netherlands to study the costs and contributions of society’s aging citizens.

Seniors currently make up 12 per cent of Canada’s population; because of medical and technological advances, that percentage will likely double in 40 years. Fast’s research has helped demonstrate that men and women are increasingly juggling work and care responsibilities—often in the service of an older relative. She argues that if people must reduce their hours of work to provide care, there will be significant repercussions for their earning and savings potential—and for an already stressed labour force.

However, the picture is not entirely bleak. Fast has also found that healthy seniors contribute a great deal to society, often becoming more active physically and cognitively after retirement than they were before. These seniors are also important caregivers and are society’s most generous charitable givers.

Fast’s research findings will help decision makers in Canada and around the world, as they strive to create new policies and services for caregivers and older adults.

Janet Fast, human ecology, University of Alberta