People are living longer and, for the most part, healthier lives than in decades past. This is a great thing – seniors get to spend more quality time with their families, enjoying their retirement years in peace.
There is a problem, however, and over the past few years during the pandemic, it has become abundantly clear that it can no longer be ignored: seniors are struggling to access the healthcare services they need.
According to the Canadian Medical Association, the senior population in Canada will grow from 16.9 percent to around 21 percent by 2028. That is a significant increase, and unfortunately, as we grow older, we tend to need more regular medical care. This puts a heavy strain on the healthcare system and can leave our most vulnerable population behind.
Canada’s baby-boomer population is our largest cohort and very soon, will put an even more significant strain on our healthcare system: they are entering the years associated with the highest healthcare needs.
This is what’s now referred to as the Silver Tsunami.
All of these statistics have led to a rapid increase in the demand for long-term care facilities. Between 2019 and 2031, it is estimated that the demand for long-term healthcare facilities will increase by 59.5 percent.
Those aren’t small numbers.
But the reality is that seniors and their families don’t want to utilize long-term care homes – the overwhelming majority of seniors want to stay at home as they age, but they need to be able to do so safely.
We need a solution, fast. One that will provide seniors access to reliable, quality healthcare that helps them stay healthy and independent for longer.
Where Does the Health of Our Seniors Stand Now?
In general, seniors live healthier, more active lives than in previous decades. But this doesn’t mean that all healthcare issues are resolved. On the contrary – as people age, a slew of healthcare issues can (and usually do) arise.
Some of these medical issues include:
- Cardiac problems, including heart failure
- Mood and anxiety disorders
- Asthma and COPD
- Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis
Both acute and chronic healthcare issues put a significant strain on the healthcare system in our country and around the world. Hospital and specialist wait times are higher than they have ever been, resulting in either not receiving care or receiving care too late.
On average, the healthcare cost of seniors is over four times the average cost of individuals under 65. That means that every senior cared for equals four Canadians under the age of 65. That’s not fair to anyone, seniors included.
We all want our elderly population to live happy, healthy lives, and a big part of that is not just accessible and high-quality healthcare; it’s the freedom to live their lives at home. But with the systems we have now, particularly post-pandemic – overburdened and underfunded hospitals, and a clinic and family physician deficit – there will continue to be ongoing slashing of public funding, leaving seniors in a precarious position.
The Hidden Costs of Not Addressing the Problem
During the pandemic and ensuing lockdowns, it became abundantly clear that vulnerable and chronically underserved populations in Canada, which include seniors, were the ones most impacted by our struggling healthcare system.
Not addressing this problem will only lead to even more problems. Seniors left with poor and inaccessible healthcare costs entire families. Chronic issues continue to become worse, and Emergency Departments become overwhelmed.
Most of this is avoidable. As the Canadian population continues to age and more seniors pour into hospitals and clinics, the solution has been, by and far, a band-aid one. Long-term care homes have been the standard of elderly healthcare – but this approach is costly.
A 2021 report from the Canadian Medical Association found that demand for long-term care homes will continue to increase, worsening the already ballooning cost of healthcare in Canada. The baseline cost of long-term care homes in 2019 was $29.7 billion. By 2031, it’s anticipated to skyrocket to $58.5 billion. We must find a better solution.
Providing Care Where Seniors Need it Most – At Home
Seniors and their families want their loved ones to receive the best care at home. When allowed to remain in their homes with proper healthcare treatment, seniors see improvement across a variety of conditions, including:
- More physically active
- More independence
- Better mental health outcomes
- Reduced risk of illness
- Faster recovery times
One of the problems with aging at home, however, includes difficulties with individualized healthcare treatment plans, in-home care, access to services, and safety. While in-home care is generally safer than hospitals or long-term care facilities, there is always a concern when seniors live alone.
Leveraging technology to create an accessible and streamlined approach to seniors’ healthcare is the way through these challenges.
Tapping into Technology – and Keeping Seniors Safe at Home
Seniors are more tech-savvy than many might think – a 2019 survey from Age-Well found that 74 percent of seniors reported feeling comfortable using technology, while 86 percent reported going online daily. Respondents also noted a high demand for tools and technology that would help them maintain their independence and stay in their homes longer.
Technology like a digital front door (DFD) can help them succeed. A digital front door functions as the primary entrance to healthcare, connecting seniors to the critical healthcare services they need – such as physicians, specialists, and more. Through a DFD, they can find and book the soonest available appointment, get advice on health conditions, and be guided toward the most appropriate point of care when necessary – and they do all this from the comfort of their homes. This equates to a significant reduction in ED or in-person clinic visits, which lowers the risk of injury and contracting an illness.
A DFD can also integrate care strategies to help clinicians better care for aging populations, including frailty-measuring tools that help with identification, treatment, and planning for patients with frailty. This enhances the wellness and independence of senior patients and further reduces hospitalization frequency.
When combined with in-home care services, a digital front door enables seniors to take a proactive approach to their health and well-being, better manage chronic conditions, and ultimately stay healthier – and at home – for longer, a result that benefits us all.
It’s clear that digital healthcare solutions – including digital front door – are the way forward. Everyone wants to improve healthcare efficiencies while ensuring our seniors are well taken care of, but doing so will require nuanced and innovative solutions.
The time to act is now.
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