A Steady and Dynamic Voice on Senior Issues
The National Advisory Council on Aging (NACA) has been the most successful and vocal voice for Canadian seniors and those who care for them for over 20 years. When it comes to improving the living standards and opportunities of Canadian seniors, NACA has spoken with a powerful voice in front of every level of government, health agency, institution and interest group in the country.
What is NACA? What does it do? Why is it important to Canadians?
NACA is the National Advisory Council on Aging. In the late 70s, a group of concerned seniors met to reflect on what would help their cause. This group asked for an organization that could serve as an information clearinghouse and a policy incubator on matters of aging in Canada. In response, the Canadian government created NACA, an arm's length council of citizens whose mandate is to advise the federal Minister of Health - also Minister responsible for seniors - on issues related to the aging of the Canadian population and the quality of life of seniors. Since its creation in 1980, NACA 's role has been to review the needs and problems of seniors and recommend remedial action; publish reports and distribute information; exchange with associations, institutions and groups representing seniors or involved in aging research or policy; and stimulate public discussion on issues of aging.
Members of NACA - a maximum of 18 people from all parts of Canada- are appointed by Order-in-Council for two or three year renewable terms and are selected for their expertise and interest in aging. They bring to Council a variety of experiences, concerns and aptitudes. But the question is: Is it an authentic and able voice whose recommendations are acted upon, a body with any track record?
It has become clear that NACA has indeed had an influence in improving the lives of Canadian seniors. In 1981, NACA reviewed the financial situation of older women in Canada and recommended that women cease to be penalized by the Canadian Pension Plan for the years they spent rearing their children; a new clause, called the "Child- Rearing Drop-out Provision" is now included in the Canada Pension Plan. Seven years after NACA recommended that a tax credit be provided to caregivers of seniors, such a credit was implemented by the federal government. Change takes time. It often needs a groundswell of energy to come about and it requires the collective expression of many. NACA sees its role as representing seniors and holding their views up to be seen.
Energy... We Got
Early in its mandate, NACA established basic operating principles, which recognize the value of policy, information and exchange for the organization and the constituency of seniors, caregivers and others involved in the issues of aging. The Council aims to develop knowledge, information and policies that are well-researched, sound and credible, in short, healthy public policy and information.
The Council’s work is also guided by a set of beliefs that still serve as guideposts today:
- Canada must guarantee the same rights and privileges to all its citizens, regardless of their age.
- Seniors have the right to be autonomous while benefiting from interdependence and the right to make their own decisions even if it means “living at risk”.
- Seniors must be involved in the development of policies and programs and these policies and programs must take into account their individuality and cultural diversity.
- Seniors must be assured in all regions of Canada of adequate income protection, universal access to health care, and the availability of a range of programs and services that support their autonomy.
Aging is now a common subject of discussion across Canada’s living rooms, in the media and in private and government reports. Much of the discourse, however, is flawed, based on misconceptions, fear or vested interests. The ‘age quake’ has been reported, but when will the ‘age wake’ come about? NACA’s job is to shed light on the real issues and to work towards their resolution for the benefit of today’s and tomorrow’s seniors.
The Track Record of NACA
Review & Recommend
NACA’s little red book called Priorities for Action (1981) was the first wake-up call to Canadians and government, a prelude to hundreds of analyses and recommendations it published. Over the years, its position papers covered issues large and small, including Canada’s retirement income system, housing policy, the GST, the reform of the health care system, independent living, long-term care, lifelong learning, gerontology education, the image of aging, home care and technology.
NACA’s views and positions attest to the interconnectedness of issues. For example, recommendations made in regard to long-term care address a wide range of issues - patient autonomy, assessment of residents, staffing levels and training of personnel in institutions, planning for placement, outreach in the community and payment schedules – which touch on different sectors of our organized society. Recommendations are presented to the various levels of government, to institutional authorities, to the non-governmental and private sectors, to seniors and families and to all who can effect change.
The Council conveys its policy positions and knowledge primarily through an intensive educational and public information program. The Writings in Gerontology Collection is an in-depth investigation into gerontology issues written by experts in their field. Many best-seller Writings were reprinted time and again - on how to cope and help with Alzheimer’s Disease, on the Canadian experience of geriatric assessment, on ethics, and on mental health for seniors.
Other series published by NACA were also successful in presenting the myriad of issues and concerns in the world of aging and seniors. The Forum Collection tackles social topics related to aging - such as senior abuse, independent living and coping with health care waiting lists. The Challenge Collection deals with policies that require a great deal of planning and feedback, topics that are just emerging and still others that beg enquiry. One recent issue, 1999 and Beyond: Challenges of an Aging Canadian Society, presents a valuable roadmap to the myriad of related issues that will affect Canadian seniors in the years ahead, as the proportion of seniors in Canada’s population jumps from 12 percent to 20 percent (by 2021).
Finally, the Council’s down-to-earth quarterly bulletin, Expression, encapsulates the essence of issues of interest to seniors and their caregivers: the bulletins on topics such as successful aging, memory loss, sex after 60 and pain management have been hugely popular.
Exchange & Public Discussion
The Council’s policy and information work is informed through liaison with the many individuals and groups who are interested by issues that are or should be on the public agenda. Through formal consultations such as the 1982 Conference to prepare Canada’s Non-Governmental Organizations Report on Aging for the U.N. First World Assembly on Ageing, the 1984 Listen to Me program of senior involvement or the 1995 telecast ‘Forum on Seniors and Medication’, NACA collects the views and input of seniors, their organizations and other interested parties. Similarly, a continuous exchange with organizations representing seniors and professional associations ensures the collaboration and input needed to review, recommend, publish and inform.
The Track Record of Seniors and Aging
A lot has been accomplished in regards to seniors’ issues and aging since the 1980s. Substantial improvements have been made, particularly in the areas of health and economic security, and Canadians should be proud of these results. But there is yet a long way to go. In its first Report Card on Seniors in Canada (2001), the Council reviewed the answers to five questions that capture key aspects of seniors’ health and well-being:
- How healthy are seniors?
- How is the health care system serving seniors?
- How well are seniors faring economically?
- What are seniors’ living conditions? and
- How are seniors participating in society?
This Report Card is the first of a series, setting the stage for monitoring the situation of seniors over the next several decades. NACA intends to update the Report Card every five years, with progress reports in between – in the hope that all stakeholders in the health and well-being of seniors can use its results as impetus for action
The Road Ahead
What’s in store for the future? Members of NACA adopted an Action Plan for the coming year that continues to reflect their mandate. Highlights include:
- a policy paper on supportive housing options for seniors
- an investigation into issues related to ‘seniors on the margins - homeless seniors, the destitute, the intellectually challenged, the isolated, those in prisons
- a position on Health Care in anticipation of the report of the Romanow Commission, to be followed by advice to the Minister of Health
- research for the interim Report Card on Seniors in Canada
- an active Liaison program with national, provincial/territorial and local groups interested in aging and seniors issues
- support for Canada’s follow-up activities to the Second World Assembly on Ageing held in Madrid, in April 2002
- a new and revised edition of the Writing on Mental Health and Aging
The roadmap and action plan NACA has traced for itself will contribute, along with the work of others in the field of aging, to the real ‘age wake’ required to ensure the wellbeing of current and future generations of seniors.
For more information on NACA, its programs and publications:
National Advisory Council on Aging Jeanne-Mance Building Address Locator 1908 A 1 Ottawa, ON K1A 1B4 Tel: (613) 957-1968 Fax: (613) 957-9938 Web site: http://www.naca.ca