Canada’s first seniors advocate, Isobel Mackenzie, is set to retire from her work in British Columbia, but not until next spring.
The B.C. government will now be looking for a new seniors advocate to fill that role, following the March 2024 retirement of Mackenzie, who’s been a voice for British Columbia’s seniors since accepting the position in 2014. Before that, she worked with seniors in Victoria at Beacon Community Services.
For nine years, her job has been to inform the provincial government about the issues of concern to seniors in communities throughout B.C.
On Thursday (May 11), Health Minister Adrian Dix thanked Mackenzie for more than 25 years of service to seniors, saying she has been a strong voice for seniors across the province.
“During her decades of service, Isobel has been a fierce advocate for seniors and their families,” stated Dix. “She has worked in home care, licensed care, community services and volunteer services, making a meaningful difference in the lives of many people in B.C.
“As B.C.’s seniors advocate, Isobel has made important recommendations to government to help bring system-wide change to better the well-being of seniors and ensure they have access to the resources and support they need.”
Dix added that Mackenzie has had “an extraordinary career committed to making life better for seniors.
“Your work has impacted people all around the province. I have greatly appreciated your insight and commitment to creating real change for people. “I look forward to continuing to work with Isobel in the coming months, and with the new seniors advocate when they transition into this role, on further bettering programs and services for seniors in B.C.”
Mackenzie’s bio on the Office of the Seniors Advocate of B.C. website (seniorsadvocatebc.ca) says she previously led B.C.’s largest not-for-profit agency, serving over 6,000 seniors annually.
“In this work, Isobel led the implementation of a new model of dementia care that has become a national best practice, and led the first safety accreditation for homecare workers, among many other accomplishments,” the biography reads.
“Isobel has been widely recognized for her work and was named B.C. CEO of the Year for the not-for-profit sector and nominated as a Provincial Health Care Hero.”
Since 2014, B.C.’s Office of the Seniors Advocate has worked to monitor seniors’ services, promote awareness and work collaboratively with seniors, families, policymakers, service providers and others to identify solutions to systemic issues and make recommendations to government on ways to improve care for an aging population.
During a “town hall” speech in Campbell River last July, Mackenzie shared some surprising data about the state of senior living in B.C.
“So overall, in British Columbia, there are over a million people over the age of 65, that’s about one out of five, so 20 per cent of British Columbians are 65 and over,” Mackenzie said. “Which is what we expect, that the proportion of the population 65 and older is going to continue to grow.
“What is interesting to note is that overwhelmingly, the majority – 90 per cent of seniors – live independently in their own home. I want to emphasize that. I want to emphasize that even at 85 and older, 77 per cent of people live alone – 85 and over. And that number rose in the last census.”
And those one million or more seniors are living longer and are living healthier for longer. They are also driving for longer. We are still dying, she said, but what we are seeing is what is called compressed morbidity where people are ill for only a year or two at the end of their life.
“So, that is the general pattern and that is not changing,” Mackenzie said.
Other eye-opening data that Mackenzie presented dealt with dementia and how it is not as inevitable as you think.
“Eighty per cent of people over 85 don’t have dementia,” she said.
As you keep going up, if you looked at 90, 95 and 100 years old, the percentage of those with dementia would rise, it is a condition that rises with aging, Mackenzie said.
“But this notion that we live into your 80s and into your 90s, that you’re going to automatically develop dementia or have significant cognitive impairment is actually not true,” she said. “You might, that is true, but not, necessarily, you will.
“Most people will live the entirety of their life not just in their home but with most of their marbles, however many, or few, they ever had.”
with files from Alistair Taylor, Campbell River Mirror