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Conference Board calls for proactive approach to meet needs of seniors

A proactive response is needed to meet the challenges posed by an aging population in Canada – especially in health care – according to a new report released by the Conference Board of Canada.

“Effective, well-designed services and programs are essential for Canada’s future,” states the report Understanding Health and Social Services for Seniors in Canada.

The report was funded by the Canadian Medical Association (CMA). While the findings are entirely those of the Conference Board, they align well with the CMA’s ongoing campaign to raise awareness about the need for a national seniors strategy.

“The Conference Board of Canada research is a clarion call to our nation’s policymakers and political leaders,” said CMA President Chris Simpson in a release. “Patients, families, health care professionals and countless volunteers have effectively put the system and its shortcomings on their backs as they struggle to overcome. It does not have to be this way.”

The report provides an overview of the social and economic context for seniors care in Canada, followed by a snapshot of existing government-funded programs and services focused on seniors care. Authors David Verbeeten, Philip

Astles and Gabriela Prada detail the challenges to seniors health and social programs and present best practices and emerging approaches to meet these challenges, both in Canada and in other countries.

As many others have observed recently, the Conference Board discusses the demographic and economic trends that will place health care services under pressure as more of the population ages and revenues decline.

“As the number of seniors in Canada is expected to climb from five million to 10 million over the next 25 years, our health care system will result in growth in demand for hospital services, home care, long-term care, palliative care facilities and health and wellness programs,” the study authors stated in a news release.

“With the expected growth in demand in all areas of seniors care, appropriate funding to match capacity with demand is essential,” the report said.

In addition, “given the economic importance of keeping seniors well and healthy … health promotion programs, as well as screening programs for cancer and chronic diseases, should be encouraged and well supported.”

The report provides an extensive overview of the specific government-funded health and social programs available to seniors in various jurisdictions across Canada.

Noting that delivery of these services can vary widely across jurisdictions and is often uncoordinated, the authors single out concerns about palliative care. “Few of those seniors who require palliative care actually receive it … and those who do often experience a patchwork of uncoordinated services.”

The “enormous” but hidden economic support provided by informal caregivers is also documented. The Conference Board estimates unpaid caregivers provided 10 times the number of paid hours in home care in 2007, which works out to about 1.5 billion hours from nearly 3.1 million people.

In outlining the key challenges for providing adequate health and social services to seniors in Canada, the report identifies four main areas:

  • mismatch between supply and demand, cost and the complexity of entry processes for home and long-term care
  • lack of a coordinated dementia strategy
  • lack of planning by both governments and individuals for future long-term care requirements
  • inconsistency and inequalities across the country due to the lack of involvement by the federal government in many areas “critical” to seniors care

Helping seniors to live autonomously and independently is crucial to many of the innovative solutions to the challenges outlined, said the Conference Board, as is a strategic national approach with a focus on prevention and integrated care.

“Issues around seniors’ health and health care services are complex; successfully addressing them would require cooperation between federal, provincial and territorial governments, as well as key health care stakeholders and communities,” the report concludes.

Simpson agrees: “We need political leadership, beginning with the federal government and building in all other levels of government, to bring Canada’s health care system into the 21st century. The facts are in, and we can no longer afford the luxury of dithering in the face of this national challenge.”

Forward any comments about this article to: cmanews@cma.ca.