Population Aging: Cost or Investment?

Interesting that when we talk about repairing Canada’s aging infrastructure – roads, bridges, water or sanitation systems and so on, the pitch leads with the word investment. In fact, the recent federal Liberal Party smartly threaded their campaign platform for “Real Change” with that word – investment. Curiously as an aside, I often wonder what “unreal change” would look like, just like when someone asks, “Have politicians ever had a real job in the real world?”

So, yes, aging infrastructure …why is it that when most headlines shout about how we as a society are going to deal with issues around aging demographics, the operative lead word becomes cost, not investment? For example a recent News1130 Vancouver article – “The cost of caring for our aging population is expected to explode over the next three decades.” This is only one of hundreds of lead-ins for weekly comments around controlling the calamity of aging.

Suppose the unreal question is – while we replace our aging infrastructure, (rip out a crumbling eighty year-old bridge, replacing it with a new one), and we materially appreciate our investment for maybe another forty years; can we invest in the care of a group of older people, (say at age 80), and expect another forty years of healthier lives? At this time in history, with modern advances in longevity research, for someone, that is a real possibility.

Yet, even if living to age 120 is not a real possibility, would you want anyone to see the future older you and your care giving needs as a “cost burden”, any more than you would want your child and their care to be seen that way?

Of course, recalibrating our priorities based on a shift in aging demographics will be an ongoing social conversation for decades to come; and that is not to say that we can ignore that there are costs to providing such things as health care or elder home care. What is called for in our dialogue about aging population issues is a better focus on translating those costs to be as appreciated as an investment and, that it is an inter-generational investment.

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