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Will Canada Be Able to Care for Its Aging Population?

Canada now[1] has more people aged 65 and older than it does people aged 15 and younger. By 2050, it’s expected that one in four Canadians will be senior citizens. There’s obviously a demographic shift underway in the country and many are concerned that it will threaten the sustainability of Canada’s healthcare systems. Do those concerns have merit?

A few years back, the Canadian Medical Association released the results of a poll that surveyed nearly 3,500 Canadian citizens. The results showed that 80% of those surveyed were of the belief that the quality of healthcare would decrease due to the increased demands from the baby boomer generation. They also showed that over 70% of respondents worried that they wouldn’t have the money to maintain their health as they aged. A similar number were of the opinion that the health system would need to change to accommodate the needs of Canada’s aging population.

Obviously, there was quite a bit of concern about things when the aforementioned poll was conducted and one can assume that a similar poll would generate similar results if conducted today. However, it would seem that things aren’t quite as dire as many would believe. In fact, health services and policy research circles have debunked this perception and many now see it as a hindrance that threatens meaningful and productive discussions about providing high-quality healthcare to the elderly.

The workforce is aging and Canadians are now retiring earlier than they used to, so the government is collecting fewer tax dollars for public healthcare funding. Meanwhile, as we all know, the cost of acute care and the prevalence of chronic illness increase with age. Given these factors, you would assume that the healthcare system would be under considerable strain. However, there is evidence that seniors are aging healthier now than they did in the past. This is helping to reduce health care costs. Advancements in technology are helping, too. As are minimally invasive surgeries (which result is shorter hospital stays), fresh approaches to pain management, and the fact that the care that patients need is being backfilled by home care.

Now, while things may not be as bad as many assume, that isn’t to say that nothing needs to be done to ensure that the needs of Canadian seniors can be addressed moving forward. Truthfully, there are a number of issues that need to be looked at, and making changes here and there will help to make the healthcare system better for both the old and the young.

Telemedicine is expected to play a big part in keeping things on track in the coming years. While it was once seen as a way to bring specialist services to people in remote communities, it is now helping patients in urban and rural areas alike. It connects patients, doctors, specialists and home-care workers on a secure form of video conference without any of the participants having to leave their home or office. It makes things easier for all involved, reduces wait times in hospitals and clinics, and allows patients to participate in discussions with everyone involved in their care.

It’s expected that we’ll see further emphasis placed on home care in the coming years, too. If we want to keep patients out of hospitals, we need to make sure that we give them very good care plans and also give them as many tools as possible to take care of themselves. It would help to provide patients with things such as automatic pill dispensers that could ensure they take the right medication at the right time. Making sure that they’re adhering to their treatment plans will improve outcomes and lower hospital admissions. Giving people additional resources and offering training to unpaid and informal caregivers would certainly do wonders as well.

There’s no getting around the fact that Canada’s population is getting older and that the country will have to deal with some significant challenges as a result. The obstacles aren’t insurmountable by any means, but they will require some thought and care if they’re going to be dealt with in a manner that benefits Canada’s senior citizens and its health care system.

[1]July 2015

Jump forward 3 years to read Part 2 >

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