John Muscedere and Alex Mihailidis: Canada is getting older, so why not make our communities wiser?

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      By John Muscedere and Alex Mihailidis

      The recently released 2021 census data reveals Canada’s population is not just aging—it has already aged. Baby boomers, who make up almost a quarter of Canada’s population, are now hurtling toward their mid-70s. That’s not a problem, as it is often made out to be—unless we refuse to age wisely.

      The census considers a baby boomer anyone aged 56 to 75, born between 1946 and 1965. Canada has more than 9.2 million boomers, making it our largest generation. Boomers make up the largest cohort both in our cities (24.7 percent) and outside our urban centres (29.7 percent).

      So, are our health, homecare, community, and social services ready for them? They are not. But instead of panicking about our status quo shortcomings, what if we took this as an opportunity instead to rethink aging in Canada? After all, we are all aging.

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

      We could also harness the technological revolution in our arsenal of solutions. 

      The pandemic showed us how important technology is for older adults too. Virtual health care has become a viable option, so have virtual exercise programs. Video-conferencing calls soared in popularity, and other technologies, such as smart-home sensors and wearable tech, are evolving to be important tools for aging in place.   

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

      Polling shows Canadians want to live at home for as long as possible. They want to stay out of hospitals when they can, and they prefer homecare to long-term care.  Most are also willing to pay out of pocket for technology that allows them to stay at home as they age. Older adults also want to remain valued and valuable members of their community. 

      Older adults in Canada have much to contribute to our communities.

      It’s time all levels of government caught up to our aging demographic and got innovative about the health, social, and community-care services this generation needs—now, and in the immediate future. A proactive approach to healthy aging, instead of the reactive one that we currently use, would make a positive difference and deliver many more benefits in the long term.

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

      This should include building age-friendly workplaces to encourage older adults to remain in the workforce for longer. It should also include more innovative health delivery, like virtual care and physical therapy apps. It should include technologies like smart home systems and non-intrusive health monitoring to help people stay independent and to identify health issues early on.

      It certainly means including older adults on advisory boards and planning committees so they are directly involved in the programs and innovations targeted to them. 

      Such innovative, thoughtful ‘wraparound’ programming—more than just immediate health care—can help minimize older adult use of acute care hospitals and long-term care homes and enable people to live robustly in the community for as long as possible.  

      This is not a pie-in-the sky dream. It is what many European cities are already embracing to provide for their aging demographic. It’s time Canada did the same.

      Dr. John Muscedere is CEO of Canadian Frailty Network and professor of critical care medicine at Queen’s University. Alex Mihailidis is CEO of Age-Well and the Barbara G. Stymiest Research Chair in rehabilitation technology at the University of Toronto and KITE Research Institute.

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