SPRINGDALE, NL — Lisa Dempster says everyone – including local businesses and community leaders – has a role to play in creating age-friendly communities.
That’s what she told members of the Springdale and Area Chamber of Commerce at their luncheon meeting on Friday, Jan. 18.
Dempster, the minister for Children, Seniors and Social Development, says age-friendly communities are a big priority for her department and the provincial government because of the province’s rapidly aging population.
The population in Newfoundland and Labrador is among the oldest and most rapidly aging in the country, according to the minister.
By 2050, 22 per cent of the world’s population will be over the age of 60, she said. In this province, it is almost 28 per cent already.
Dempster also noted there were just under 163,000 Newfoundland and Labrador students in grade school in 1972.
Today, there are about 66,000, she said.
“There are 100,000 fewer kids in our schools during that 45-year span,” she said. “Really, that means 100,000 fewer people joining the workforce … we have a population pyramid that shows we are on the road to extinction, so we have to start doing something different.”
Having an abundance of seniors is not a doom-and-gloom scenario, according to the minister. Often discussions regarding the senior population are focused on accommodations and care, but that doesn’t always have to be the case.
“We don’t talk about, with age comes wisdom,” she said. “We have all of this experience. Let’s harness this experience and bring (seniors) to the table, build capacity, and let’s (give) them a direct channel (to government) in terms of changing demographics in our province.”
The province has an advisory council on seniors and aging, and Dempster says its members provide a wealth of knowledge.
As a hub for the area, the minister considers Springdale a leader in the age-friendly community concept in many ways.
“We have people that are doing some very good work in their own respective areas,” she said. “We need to be talking to those people, but more importantly, listening to them.”
In the approximately six months since being sworn into the large portfolio, Dempster says it’s been her goal to visit as many of the areas of the province as she can.
While in Springdale, she aimed to meet with groups like Life Unlimited for Older Adults and the Green Bay Community Corporation and visit some of the town’s seniors’ accommodations.
“It is essential to me to get out, because when papers make their way up to my desk – and they go through lots of hands – I have that local knowledge,” she told the Nor’wester.
“I am going to continue every opportunity I have to get out and visit those places, so that I have my own understanding.”
Glenn Seabright, president of the Springdale and Area Chamber of Commerce, said he too recognizes Springdale as a leader in the age-friendly community concept.
He said it is important for a town to provide essential services to that demographic.
“There's been quite a lot of growth here in seniors’ facilities, be it private and more services,” he said. “The town has certainly done a good job in their initiatives and services they offer to seniors.”