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Santa, Don't Forget About Struggling Seniors

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Poor Santa.

Every single year it's the same thing. Harness up the reindeer. Supervise the loading of the sled by the elves. Then work all night delivering gifts to children all over the world. Christmas Eve is tough work, and he is not as young as he used to be.

After a hard night's work he returns to his home at the North Pole where he immediately flops down on the couch with a bad case of heartburn. Too many cookies. Even the milk doesn't help.

Mrs. Claus rolls her eyes and sends Rudolph off to the 24-hour pharmacy to get the antacid.

You see, Santa is a senior. Always has been, always will be.

He hasn't retired and it doesn't look like he will any time soon. My guess is he never had a defined benefit pension and needs the extra cash. He has elf and reindeer mouths to feed, after all. His joints are painful and getting down and up those chimneys gets harder and harder each year.

But health care in the North is pricey and hard to come by, and he hasn't actually been to see a doctor or had his optometrist update his prescription bifocals in years.

I've often wondered if Santa feels that seniors like him get a raw deal.

Christmas is all about children, after all. Its focus is on the magic of hope and expectation in little eyes as NORAD tracks Santa on Christmas Eve.

What Santa doesn't tell us is that each year he also receives letters from seniors requesting a few little things.

I think that Santa is profoundly saddened by these letters. You see, seniors don't ask for gifts for themselves. If anything, they ask for basics like toiletries, batteries for hearing aids, reading glasses, bus tickets; even books or stationery. But it's the seniors who ask for gifts for their own grandchildren that really grab at Santa's heart. He knows that although Canada has made great strides in eliminating seniors' poverty, too many of our older adults still live a low-income lifestyle, especially in major urban centres where costs of living are high.

He probably knows, for example, that almost 30 per cent of Calgary seniors live on annual incomes of less than $28,000. It's no better in Toronto, where 12 per cent, or 72,600 seniors, are considered low income. Santa hoped perhaps Vancouver seniors were doing better. Not so, with 15.5 per cent living a low-income lifestyle.

At the end of the month on such a small income, there isn't a whole lot left over for basics, and certainly not for gifts or something special like an outing. And there is certainly no raise or bonus to look forward to in the future -- just a "fixed" income. Santa chuckles softly to himself as he realizes that the income isn't fixed at all; it is actually broken and needs repair.

Forget about dreams of a special dinner out or a vacation somewhere warm. And after a lifetime of working hard, isn't that just what we want to do in our retirement? Then there are the socially isolated seniors, who don't often get out due to mobility issues. What they really want is for Santa to just drop by for a chat and a cup of tea.

So this Christmas season, I urge you to remember and reach out to the elders in your life, like Santa. True, they have seen many Christmases, but now, each one is a gift in itself.

Arlene Adamson is the CEO of Calgary-based Silvera for Seniors. She has been known to wait up on Christmas Eve for the pitter-patter of reindeer hooves on her roof, but is more likely nowadays to stay up to ensure that each Silvera resident feels the love and comforts of Christmas in their own home.