Guest column: Aging Canadians, it’s time for communities to plan accordingly

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By John Muscedere and Alex Mihailidis

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Recently released 2021 Census data reveals that Canada’s population is not just aging, it is already aging.

Baby boomers, who make up nearly a quarter of Canada’s population, are now reaching their 70s. This is not a problem, as it is often said to be – unless we refuse to age wisely.

The Census considers a baby boomer to be anyone between the ages of 56 and 75, born between 1946 and 1965. Canada has over 9.2 million boomers, making it our largest generation. Boomers make up the largest cohort both in our cities (24.7%) and outside our urban centers (29.7%).

So are our health, home care, community and social services ready for them? They are not.

But instead of panicking about the shortcomings of our status quo, what if we took this as an opportunity to rethink aging in Canada? After all, we are all getting older.

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What if we adapted our cities and towns into age-friendly communities with age-appropriate infrastructure? What if we promoted aging in place? What if we supported Canadians as they age connected to the community and with a robust quality of life?

We could also leverage the technological revolution in our solution arsenal.

The pandemic has shown us the importance of technology for the elderly as well. Virtual health care has become a viable option, as have virtual exercise programs. Video conferencing calls have increased in popularity, while other technologies such as smart home sensors and wearable technology are evolving to be important tools for aging in place.

Aging well and wisely is a path that our policymakers and politicians have yet to adequately explore and resource. However, if you ask Canadians, as our two organizations have done in recent surveys, this is exactly what they want.

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Research shows that Canadians want to live at home as long as possible, want to stay out of hospitals when they can, and prefer home care to long-term care.

Most are also willing to pay out-of-pocket for technology that will allow them to stay at home as they age. Older adults also want to remain valued and valued members of their community.

Older adults in Canada have a lot to contribute to our communities.

It is time for all levels of government to catch up with our aging demographic and innovate on the health, social and community care services this generation needs – and to do so now and in the immediate future.

A proactive approach to healthy aging, rather than the reactive one we currently use, would make a positive difference and bring much more benefits in the long run.

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Yes, Canada needs significant investment in home, community and long-term care and the adoption of national standards of long-term care. But we also need investments in social, health and technological innovation that help older people maintain optimal health for as long as possible and support much-needed social transformation.

This should include building age-friendly workplaces to encourage seniors to stay in the workforce longer. It should also include more innovative healthcare services such as virtual care and physical therapy apps. It should include technologies such as smart home systems and non-intrusive health monitoring to help people remain independent and identify health issues early on.

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It certainly means including older people on advisory boards and planning committees so that they are directly involved in programs and innovations aimed at them.

This innovative and thoughtful programming – more than just immediate healthcare – can help minimize the use of seniors in intensive care hospitals and nursing homes and allow people to live robustly in the community for as long as possible.

This is not a dream of heaven, it is what many European cities are already embracing to meet their aging demographics.

It’s time for Canada to do the same.

Dr. John Muscedere is CEO of the Canadian Frailty Network and Professor of Critical Care Medicine at Queen’s University. Dr. Alex Mihailidis is CEO of AGE-WELL and Barbara G. Stymiest Research Chair of Rehabilitation Technology at the University of Toronto.

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