Systemic challenges remain for N.L. seniors, says retiring advocate Suzanne Brake

·3 min read
Suzanne Brake was Newfoundland and Labrador's first seniors' advocate. (Submitted - image credit)
Suzanne Brake was Newfoundland and Labrador's first seniors' advocate. (Submitted - image credit)

Newfoundland and Labrador's first seniors' advocate has retired, with what she is calling mixed feelings.

For the last 3½ years, Suzanne Brake has helped seniors continue to live in their own homes, offered her advice to the premier's economic recovery team and done advocacy work with the province's 10-year Health Accord.

In a recent interview with CBC Radio's On The Go, Brake said it's important for the position to be independent from the provincial government to address systemic issues affecting seniors.

"I think it really gets down to the fact that the population is aging. There's no doubt about it. But there's a tremendous focus on looking at that aging population from a very negative perspective, looking at aging as something that's going to cost our province," she said.

"In reality that's not how we should be looking at aging at all. That's called ageism. It's a form of discrimination."

Brake said it was her job to make the voices of the province's senior population heard, but with some personal health issues it's time to focus on herself and her life after work.

Meghan McCabe/CBC
Meghan McCabe/CBC

As people grow older, Brake said, they need supports and services but the system has historically focused on institutional long-term care.

"People want to have supports, but they need those supports in order to help their mom, or dad or their spouses to stay at home," said Brake.

She said the system she worked to improve was the same system she herself found confusing. She said her husband died a year and a half ago after five years of fighting frontotemporal dementia.

"There's nobody in this world who knows how challenging it can be to support somebody to live at home," Brake said.

"The funny thing is, here I am, I know so much about this and I didn't know where to go, I didn't know what to do. It took me a while to navigate myself through that system. That tells me we're still not doing it right."

Pandemic and beyond

Brake said the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have been particularly noticeable for seniors. Those who still live at home have felt anxious about the possibility of contracting the coronavirus and its effects on their physical health, and those who live in long-term care experienced tremendous isolation, said Brake.

"Their families weren't able to come visit, their friends, their spouses. It took a while to get computers set up so people [could] connect, and let's face it: not everybody could communicate like that. It's been a huge challenge," she said.

Brake said retirement — she stepped down May 31 — won't stop her from being an advocate for seniors but she's looking forward to spending more time gardening and cycling.

Since receiving her second dose of COVID-19 vaccine on Tuesday, she's also planning a trip to Denmark to visit her grandchildren.

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