January 5, 2010

CANADA: Daunting view on aging

. TORONTO, Ontario / The Star / Editorials / January 5, 2010 Alzheimer's is devastating, not only to those who suffer from the mind-robbing disease but to their family and friends as well. So we should all be concerned by the projection that by 2038 someone in Canada will develop Alzheimer's or a related dementia every two minutes (up from one every five minutes now). The projection is among the findings of a new Alzheimer Society report forecasting the impact of increasing dementia on Canadian society. Like numerous previous reports, it argues that Ottawa must develop a national plan before the needs of our rapidly aging population swamp – and bankrupt – our health-care system. Health experts have long warned that Canada is totally unprepared for the financial, social and health crisis bearing down on us as the baby boomers approach their senior years. Last year, a Senate committee report warned of a looming shortage of health-care professions to cope with the baby-boom cohort, given that the average age of a registered nurse in Canada is close to 50, there is a shortage of doctors who specialize in the clinical care of the elderly, and there are only a handful of geriatricians in training. And last month, a federal report tracking disability trends found, not surprisingly, that our aging population is contributing to a rise in the number of Canadians with disabilities and that the needs of many disabled Canadians are still not being met. An unmet need can be as simple as not having a grab bar in the bath tub to help prevent falls, which often result in broken hips, surgery and confinement to a long-term care home. This both diminishes the quality of life for our senior citizens and drives up health costs. A 2008 Atkinson Fellowship series showed how the lack of funding for early intervention and prevention is both adversely affecting the health of senior citizens and costing us more in the long run. Our aging population is a challenge that must be addressed on multiple fronts, from restructuring health care with an emphasis on prevention and early intervention to building additional long-term care homes. Unfortunately, this is a challenge that governments, at all levels, have yet to address with sufficient vigour. The longer we wait, the more seniors and taxpayers will suffer. [rc]