We're getting older and living longer. There were 5,825 people aged 100 years or older in Canada last year, according to recent data from the last census. The number of centenarians increased 25.7 per cent between 2006 and 2011.
While the census data shows Canada's population is indeed aging, there's no reason to panic about a gray-haired tidal wave of burden soon to come crashing down upon us, according to one local expert.
Andrew Wister, chair of the gerontology department at Simon Fraser University, says some people are overly concerned that a population with an increasing number of people over 65 will slow the economy or put too much pressure on health care or pension programs.
The issues related to age are more complicated than simple numbers because of the way populations adapt, he said.
"I think we should look very carefully at some other countries and see how they've adapted to population aging because I think they've done so very successfully; Denmark and Sweden being two (examples)."
Wister says the real focus on aging should be on those over the age of 75 or even 85, who are most likely to need medical services.
Of course, changes don't happen over-night, and Wister says we should start now to make improvements to the health-care system, as well as help seniors and even younger generations improve their lifestyle habits, such as quitting smoking, exercising more and eating a more balanced diet.
Concerns about excess pressure on younger generations having to compensate for a mass wave of retirement is also likely unwarranted, Wister suggests.
"A lot of people are crying the blues about an effect on pensions, but in fact, older people are working longer, so work life expectancy is on the increase. The push of government is actually to increase opportunities for older workers. Immigration seems to be on the increase, which fills a lot of gaps."
Adding to the complexity of predicting effects of an aging demographic is the fact that not all communities are actually seeing an increase in their senior population.
Here in Burnaby, for example, the number of residents aged 65 and over remained the same between 2006 and 2011, at 13.9 per cent.
Wister says this is likely due to the relative increase in the number of younger residents - young immigrants and families - moving into the community.
Burnaby's population increased by 10.1 per cent between 2006 and 2011, up from 202,799 to 223,218 last year.
The median age in 2006 was 39.1, which remained almost the same at 39.8 in 2011.
Among the Canadian population, the percentage of people aged 65 and over was 14.8 per cent last year, up from 13.7 per cent in 2006.
Provincially, the number of seniors last year was at 15.7 per cent, slightly higher than the national average.
The second-highest growth rate in Canada below age 50 was seen among the population aged four and under.
The toddler boom, or so-called baby boomlet, is the highest growth rate in this age category since the end of the baby boom.
The population of four and under increased 11 per cent between 2006 and 2011. "There's another reason why we've got these movements through the age structure and it's not just increasing and increasing older people that are going to be a huge burden," Wister said. "So this is a positive in the sense that it's going to bring new young workers into the system. But it's not big. An 11 per cent increase in that age group is not huge."
In Burnaby, the increase in the toddler group was less than one per cent since 2006.
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