Read our National Seniors Strategy Evidence Brief here.
If we want to support older Canadians to live independently in their communities for as long as possible, we need to ensure that they can continue to access appropriate, secure and affordable housing and transportation options as they age. Given that housing and transportation costs continue to rise faster than inflation, and that older Canadians tend to outlive their decision to stop driving by a decade, enabling their access to these fundamental needs will be central to enabling their continued independence.
According to the Government of Canada and the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), affordable housing is officially considered affordable, “if shelter costs account for less than 30 per cent of an individual’s before-tax household income”.1 A 2010 report, however, outlines that approximately 50 per cent of older Atlantic Canadians spend 30 per cent of their income on housing; while 20 per cent spend over 40 per cent of their income on housing, making them some of the most financially vulnerable individuals in Canada.2 Perhaps more problematic is the finding that the majority of older Canadians are considered to have a “core housing need”, meaning that “30 per cent of their income was not sufficient to pay the median rent for housing” in their region.3 Understanding the affordable housing landscape is not always clear in Canada, as several types of housing exist along a continuum and include public, private and not-for-profit subsidy (see Figure 1). We do know, however, that a lack of access to affordable housing increases the likelihood of physical and mental health problems for older Canadians and yet, the federal government appears to be progressively eliminating the assistance it providers for low-income households and the provision of affordable housing.4,5 Additionally, simply having a place to live may not be sufficient to support ageing in place, unless the older person is able to ensure it can also meet their needs as they age (see Age-Friendly Environments brief for more information). As a result, for a growing number of older Canadians, having the additional resources to make a home more accessible, to address a growing presence of functional limitations that can occur as we age will also be important.
Figure 1. Canada’s Housing Continuum
|Emergency Shelters||Transitional Housing||Supportive Housing||Subsidized Housing||Market Rental Housing||Market Homeownership Housing
*Adapted from Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (2015)6
Alongside housing needs exists the need for access to affordable transportation services as we age. Our current demographic shifts are already presenting imminent and serious implications for transportation infrastructure planning considerations across the country and especially in rural and remote communities. For many older Canadians, driving a motorized vehicle has become the primary method they have become reliant upon for travelling around for most of their lives. Therefore, for many older Canadians, being able to drive is an important way of staying active, independent, and socially connected with others. Furthermore, even as older Canadians elect to stop driving, travelling as a passenger in a private vehicle becomes their main form of transportation.7 In a detailed report around the transportation habits of older Canadians, Martin Turcotte outlines five key issues that will need to be addressed to avoid the impending transportation crisis, namely8:
- The vast majority of older Canadians hold drivers’ licences up to and beyond 85 years of age – 3.25 million Canadians over 65, or three quarters of all older Canadians, have a drivers’ licence – and this number will dramatically increase over the next decades. While older adults are in general safe drivers and are involved in fewer collisions than teenage drivers, as we age, we are more likely to experience cognitive or physical changes that can significantly affect how well we drive;
- On average, older Canadians reside in communities where cars remain the primary mode of transportation;
- The vast majority of older Canadians do not take public transit and express a preference for driving – 84 per cent of men aged 64 to 75 use their own vehicle as their primary form of transportation;
- Over a quarter of individuals diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or some form of dementia hold a drivers licence, and nearly three quarters of them reported driving a vehicle in the month prior.
When older adults decide to stop driving, it is imperative that we ensure that various alternative and accessible transportation options are in place. Therefore, programs that help older adults maintain their independence and mobility, and allow them to travel wherever they want to go in the community safely, and in an accessible and affordable way, is extremely important. Without these, the burden of having to provide transportation supports is likely to fall on family, friends or other unpaid caregivers. A 2008 Statistics Canada report noted that transportation burden affected 80% of caregivers surveyed9 – a burden that is only likely to increase. Finally, there exists a clear link between social participation rates and one’s access to transportation such that lack of transportation negatively impacts social participation rates, which in turn negatively impacts one’s overall health outcomes (see Social Isolation brief for more information).10 Therefore, understanding the importance of having access to transportation in the larger context of ensuring the health and wellbeing older Canadians is essential towards the development of successful ‘aging-in-place’ and ‘age-friendly communities’ policies.