November 28, 2013
Honourable senators, every year the Canadian Medical Association conducts a survey to determine how Canadians feel about the performance of their health care system. This year they expanded their survey to include questions about seniors’ health in Canada. The results revealed a remarkable consensus.
Nine out of ten Canadians believe we need a pan-Canadian strategy for seniors’ health care at home, hospitals, hospices and long-term facilities. Ninety per cent believe a comprehensive strategy would improve the entire system by keeping elderly Canadians at home as long as possible.
Honourable senators, we have been anticipating the growth of the aging population in Canada for some time, and it is no wonder Canadians are taking notice. Seniors are the fastest-growing population group in Canada. In 2011 the number of people aged 65 and over reached a record high of 5 million. That number is expected to double, nearly 25 per cent of the population, by 2036.
There has been much debate over the impact this shift in demographics will have on Canada’s health care system. However, experts generally agree on three basic realities: First, our health care system is largely reactive, meaning there is less emphasis on prevention and promotion. Second, it costs significantly less to care for a patient at home than in the hospital. Third, seniors prefer to age in their homes and communities for as long as possible.
Taken together, these three facts speak volumes. Seniors should have access to a variety of health and social services that allow them to age in their place of choice and adapt to changing needs and conditions when necessary. This approach is not only cost-effective, it is desirable.
The concept of “aging in place” is not new. In 2009 the Special Senate Committee on Aging produced a substantial report that recommended Canadians be able to age in their place of choice with adequate housing, transportation and integrated health and social care services. For official language minority seniors, “aging in place” also means being able to live in the language and culture of their choice.
There is no question that there are pockets of excellence across the country. Governments at all levels have made efforts to offer seniors choice as they age, yet Canadians are practically unanimous in their opinion that a comprehensive approach to senior care is necessary.
The Senate brought these ideas to our attention five years ago. Clearly, the conversation is not yet finished.