Hart College of Cardiac Sonography & Health Care Inc.

Canada Aging Population

Healthcare for Canada’s Rapidly Aging Population in 2024

Canada’s Senior Care Crisis is an issue that has been slowly building for decades as the Boomer generation ages. But now that the demographic tsunami has fully crashed ashore, the impacts on our healthcare system are nothing short of catastrophic.

The numbers are staggering – over 7.2 million Canadians aged 65+ as of mid-2024, making up nearly one-fifth of the total population. But the real crisis point is the “oldest old” group of over 85-year-olds, which has exploded by 30% in the last decade alone to 900,000 people. I’ll pause to let that eye-popping stat sink in…

These frailer seniors require significantly more intensive, round-the-clock care and medical support than younger populations. And Canada’s healthcare workforce and infrastructure were nowhere near ready for this unprecedented level of demand for senior services. Years of inaction and bandaid policies from the government have left us profoundly underprepared for the age wave washing over us right now.

The impacts are being felt everywhere. Long-term care, home care, nursing – all hemorrhaging staff as overworked employees flee in droves or burn out from impossibly tough conditions. One in five nursing homes had to close units this year due to gaping personnel shortages. It’s a crisis of basic human dignity when stories emerge of seniors wallowing in their waste for hours with no one to assist them.

On the home care side, companies are being crushed by a tsunami of requests for personal support workers, nurses, and caregiving services that they have no prayer of fulfilling. This just perpetuates the vicious cycle of more deteriorating seniors ending up needing higher-cost facility-based care after not getting enough support at home.

And in hospitals? Hoo boy, it’s a perfect storm as record numbers of frail elderlies are being admitted amidst backlogs preventing efficient patient flow. These so-called “bed blockers” end up parked for weeks or months gobbling up precious acute care beds while they await the first available long-term care spot. That’s contributed to ambulances getting redirected en masse from jam-packed ER waiting rooms as paramedics are forced to have patients linger for entire shifts on gurneys.

The Feds and provinces have announced some funding commitments to increase healthcare transfers and boost home/community care spending over the next few years. But critics rightly argue even those new investments barely qualify as bandaid solutions – a drop in the bucket compared to the profound, fundamental reforms required to fortify the system for an aging population scale we’ve never seen before.

At this point, we may need to look at totally reimagining how we integrate, structure and incentivize the delivery of continuing care for seniors as a core pillar of the public system. This could mean overhauling funding models, legally mandating higher staffing and wage standards for long-term care, accelerating training pipelines for key senior care roles, and scaling up technologies like remote patient monitoring and caregiver support tools. Immigration will likely need to play a major part in shoring up shortages too.

But beyond just system transformation, I think we as a society need to have a profound reckoning about how we view and value our older adults in this country. For far too long, the prevailing attitude has been to treat seniors as afterthoughts – burdens to be boxed away in institutional care settings until they die drains on healthcare resources rather than vital community members deserving of rich, dignified living.

Well, that dehumanizing mindset has got to change, full stop. Because our population of fierce, experienced, resilient elders isn’t going to tolerate being shunted off to the sidelines anymore. They’re rightfully demanding holistic solutions that empower them to actively thrive and contribute in their golden years rather than be warehoused.

Upholding that autonomy and quality of life is going to take a true “it takes a village” approach driven by all parts of society – government, healthcare, businesses, civic groups, families. Everyone’s got a role to play here. And already, we’re seeing inspiring grassroots examples emerge of what that could look like. Things like multi-generational co-housing models fostering age-integration. Urban design and transportation initiatives aimed at making cities eminently livable for older adults. Nonprofits crafting creative community service and mentorship roles tapping into the wealth of lived experience our elders possess.

Canada needs to turbo-charge and mainstream these game-changing aging innovations through major investments, progressive policies and revolutionizing how we train the next generation of architects, urban planners, social workers, and all the professionals who will build the future age-friendly world.

Combining smart urban planning with technological advances like wearable health monitoring, AI-powered caregiver tools, smart home modifications, proactive preventative care and new financial products could help vastly expand seniors’ capabilities for independent living. Unlocking those opportunities to remain engaged and purposeful through their later years could yield incredible societal benefits while combating loneliness and elder isolation.

Yes, it’s an immense challenge to overcome decades of systemic ageism and fundamentally transform how we care for our growing elderly population. But radically re-imagining senior care through a compassionate, humanistic, “aging in place” philosophy has to be the top priority right now.

Because the Grey Tsunami isn’t some future hypothetical anymore. It has landed on Canada’s shores in full force as of 2024. And we’ll all need to paddle together to ride this historical age wave rather than be overwhelmed by its current.