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Grappling with the ever-increasing needs of the elderly

One day last week, while reading the morning’s top news stories, I was fascinated to discover that we’d arrived at a turning point that’s been anticipated for years. There, in black and white, were some key figures from Statistics Canada’s 2016 census: The number of seniors in our country (5.9 million) has officially exceeded the number of people 14 years old and younger (5.8 million).

Statistics Canada also projected—as gerontologists and demographers have been telling us for two or three decades—that this lop-sided situation will become even more glaring as more of the baby boom generation hits retirement age.

As a physician and healthcare administrator, I’m gratified that advances in medical science and technology are helping Canadians to live longer, better lives. But there’s no denying the fact that tending to their healthcare needs is disproportionately complicated, since each person often has multiple medical problems or conditions.

The saving grace is that our healthcare system is now better equipped to grapple with the growth of the elderly segment of our society. Ever since the creation of CIUSSS West-Central Montreal in April 2015, we have been improving the continuum of care among our facilities. That means an elderly person can move more smoothly from a hospital to a rehabilitation centre, to home care or to a long-term care facility, in sync with his or her evolving needs.

On a related note, we’ve been working toward an even tighter integration of staff across our facilities. Regardless of where they work in our CIUSSS, members of staff who have expertise in a particular field, such as stroke, collaborate to ensure the timely treatment and care of those in all of our facilities.

Interestingly, last week’s turning point brought to mind a paper from the Journal of Gerontology that I pulled from my files. Published in 2006, it examined home care programs and other services for seniors in two Montreal CLSCs, concluding that there is “potential for integrated systems to reduce acute hospital and [long-term institutional] utilization, without increasing costs or caregiver burden, while increasing satisfaction among caregivers.”

Today the dream of creating this sort of integrated system has been realized, and we’ve already begun to appreciate many of its benefits. While we’re aware of the need for further improvements and refinements, I’m encouraged by our enhanced ability to make the elderly the focus of so many of our efforts. The ever-increasing demands of our graying population will be tough to cope with, but the foundation for doing so has been laid.

Lawrence

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