EDITORIAL: New grey wave hitting British Columbia

Aging developmentally disabled adults in Greater Victoria and around B.C. means more need for services

Eighty years ago, a person with Down syndrome was lucky to make it to their 16th birthday. Fortunately, advances in health care, nutrition and de-institutionalization has helped the developmentally disabled live into their senior years, largely at the same pace as the rest of society.

This shows the lasting and long-term benefits of treating people with Down syndrome, fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and other cognitive impairments as members of society, not people to be locked away at home or warehoused in institutions.

Greater Victoria and communities across B.C. have service agencies with excellent day programs, job placement programs and group homes, all in an effort to have people with disabilities live rich, dignified lives in their communities and among their peers.

With all of these advancements and with hindsight, it’s not surprising that developmentally disabled people are living much longer than they used to. The current cohort is the first in history to get old in large numbers.

Ministry of Social Development and by extension Community Living B.C., the Crown agency that manages funding and programs for the developmentally disabled, will roll out plans to better care for their aging clients (it’s also rolling out plans to better manage young adults – CLBC is seeing growing client load at both ends of the age spectrum).

Unfortunately, the ministry and CLBC are slow on the uptake. It’s been well known for at least five years that the grey tsunami of cognitively disabled seniors was on its way, but planning for this in government circles really only started last year, after CLBC emerged from multiple damaging scandals.

Part of rebuilding credibility is the Ministry of Social Development following through with promises of funding to meet growing service demands.

If funding doesn’t materialize, it will leave non-profit organizations stretched thinner and searching for ways to support aging clients.

Older people, disabled or not, need more medical care, walkers and other items to keep them safe at home or in day-program centres. Retirement homes aren’t staffed with people who understand developmental disabilities, and service agencies generally aren’t equipped or funded to run geriatric programs.

Last year the government trumpeted its 12-point program to improve how CLBC operates. Hopefully for its most vulnerable citizens, that’s not empty rhetoric.