The Hamilton Spectator
Aging population our great challenge and opportunity
By 2035, Canada will be considered a “super-aged” country with one in four Canadians older than 65 years. While this has significant consequences for our workforce, it also has big repercussions for our health and social systems.
Seniors account for almost 44 per cent of provincial and territorial health-care budgets and unpaid care provision costs Canada an estimated $1.3 billion in productivity losses each year.
The challenges of aging and managing age-related chronic diseases can compromise an individual’s independence, reduce their quality of life, stress health-care and social systems, and force many older Canadians who would rather age in place into long-term care.
Canada already has a disproportionately high rate of older adults living in long-term care, yet the need is still not being met and demand is expected to grow.
It is not economically feasible to continue to build and staff longterm-care homes in response to an aging population, nor is institutionalization what older Canadians want.
Urgently, we need to empower all Canadians to age well with dignity and autonomy.
Our governments need to develop and implement health and social innovations that enable healthy aging both at home and in the community.
The pandemic revealed the shortcomings of our care systems for older Canadians. We need to improve how we support older adults and caregivers in Canada.
Canadians agree. A Nanos poll found an overwhelming majority (92 per cent) of Canadians support government investment in programs that enable healthy aging.
And there’s good news here: frailty and institutionalization are not inevitable as we age.
The decline in a person’s functional ability as they age can be delayed using targeted individual and population technology-enabled health and social strategies and innovations. The Canadian Frailty Network’s Regional Centres for Healthy Aging are one such innovation.
Combining technology — a custom web platform, smart devices, virtual activities and resources — with health and social care initiatives — individualized healthy aging assessments, personalized goals, and customized referrals to community-based programing — allows these centres to bring guided, evidence-based healthy aging practices to Canadians in an accessible manner.
We want to stress “technology enabled” as an essential part of the solution. It’s time to do things differently.
Paradoxically, the pandemic opened up opportunities; it forced the deployment of technologies to deliver health care and social supports and demonstrated both the feasibility and readiness for safe and efficient technology-enabled health care delivery, support for independent aging at home and the ability to stay connected.
The federal government recently invested in an initiative called envisAGE, led by MEDTEQ-Plus and AGE-WELL, that will help companies deliver “AgeTech” solutions. But we must not neglect research, which is critical in order to feed the innovation pipeline. Governments can harness research to help pave the path for innovation in healthy aging.
That’s why we launched a new research collaboration, Healthy Aging Canada, a partnership between AGE-WELL and the Canadian Frailty Network, to help change the lives of aging Canadians through innovative technology-enabled social and health care solutions, with a focus on equity, accessibility and shared commitment to accelerate research into action. Our mission is to bring together researchers, stakeholders (e.g., older adults and caregivers), and mobilizers (e.g., industry, government and health care providers) to advance healthy aging research and tech and other innovation.
Providing optimal care and enabling a higher quality of life for a larger cohort of older Canadians requires a co-ordinated approach to the delivery of services. In addition to a public health approach to healthy aging, accelerated development and adoption of technologyenabled solutions at home, in the community and in care settings is a critical strategy for governments to create an integrated system that is responsive to older adults’ needs and can accommodate their rising absolute number and proportion in the population.
We must leverage COVID-accelerated digital adoption of technologies and the exposed need for social and health care programs that are technology-enabled to rapidly transform individuals’ and systems’ readiness and resilience.
Yes, Canada is aging. But we can do so gracefully, by embracing healthy aging innovations in our personal lives, and in our health policies and systems.
DR. ALEX MIHAILIDIS IS CEO OF AGE-WELL AND THE BARBARA G. STYMIEST RESEARCH CHAIR IN REHABILITATION TECHNOLOGY, UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO AND KITE RESEARCH INSTITUTE AT UNIVERSITY HEALTH NETWORK. DR. JOHN MUSCEDERE IS CEO OF CANADIAN FRAILTY NETWORK AND PROFESSOR OF CRITICAL CARE MEDICINE, QUEEN’S UNIVERSITY.