Study highlights rise in elder care costs over the next decade

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A new study commissioned by the Canadian Medical Association details how costs for elder care will skyrocket over the next decade.

This year, the first Baby Boomers are turning 75, and the CMA’s new study on elder care costs, called Canada’s Elder Care Crisis: Addressing the Doubling Demand, conducted by Deloitte, estimates that elder care costs will double by 2031. Long-term care demand will rise significantly, from roughly 380,000 patients in 2019 to almost 606,000 by 2031. Home care demands will also see a significant bump, with 1.2 million seniors utilizing home care in 2019 compared to an estimated 1.8 million a decade from now.

Dr. Ann Collins, the President of the Canadian Medical Association, says one factor is that Canadians in general are living longer, and life expectancies have generally increased, particularly among men. Dr. Collins says because of that simple fact alone, many older Canadians over the next decade plus will have higher care needs. She also notes that another factor is that much of elder care in our communities is done by family.

“So we’re going to be seeing fewer family members around to provide that care, and then of course, the cost of everything is going up. So there are multiple, compounding factors that lead to that huge, almost unbelievable increase over the next ten years.”

The study says that the increase in home care demand will cost an estimated $490.6 billion over the next decade, with the annual cost of elder care and the services surrounding it growing from $29.7 billion per year in 2019 to $58.5 billion per year in 2031.

Dr. Collins states in the release of the study’s findings that the COVID-19 pandemic has shown just how stark of a reality is facing seniors’ care in Canada.

“We know the pandemic has exposed major cracks in seniors’ care,” said Dr. Collins. “It is not hard to imagine what awaits them in the next decade with no plan in place to address a growing demand for care along with changing expectations for aging at home. Planning and investment by all governments should be underway today to cope with this unprecedented demographic shift and the disruption to our current model of institutional care.”

In terms of combatting this astronomical jump in costs for elder care nationwide, Dr. Collins says Canada needs to see increased funding go to the provinces in order to better support seniors’ care, because long-term care doesn’t necessarily just mean in nursing homes. She argues that that also means the ability to deliver community care, and the CMA is calling on the federal government to provide more funding to do just that.

“We need a pan-Canadian plan, with national standards, and oversight for long-term care. Access to primary care is critical when it comes to seniors’ care. Time is not on our side. Searching for efficiencies is always a valuable exercise, but we are beyond the point where tinkering around the edges will solve this problem. Our window of opportunity to reset how we care for and support seniors is now.”

The release on the completed study notes that there is a downward trend in seniors’ use of the long-term care system. If that trend can be maintained by better funding and supporting home care opportunities, the study estimates that nearly 37,000 Canadian seniors could be diverted away from long-term care homes, which would potentially save that system nearly $794 million a year.

The study also mentions potentially exploring the opportunity to move patients who are in hospitals waiting to be transferred to other levels of care. By moving those patients to more appropriate care settings, maybe even home or community care, that could save roughly $1.4 billion annually by 2031.

However, the study does note that these measures alone will not completely or even adequately address the crisis situation that Canada is facing in regards to an oncoming boom when it comes to the cost of seniors’ care nationwide. The ever increasing need for funding is not going away either, and Dr. Collins says more has to be done now to better prepare for the surge in seniors’ needs.

“So because seniors are living longer and are going to have, likely, more medical problems, they need to have access to a primary care provider in their community, and that will help them say in their community longer.”

Dr. Collins also mentions that education plays a huge role here, and Canada needs to make working with seniors in a healthcare capacity more enticing to people in order to bolster the needed workforce that will care for the elderly over this next critical decade. Ontario has already begun trying to make PSW training more enticing by offering free or subsidized programming for current or potential students this year, while also trying to speed up the process by which students earn that training.

But Dr. Collins says it must go deeper than that, and Canada must pony up and pay people more adequately across the board in seniors’ care, and introduce benefits to the job that don’t currently exist, like better healthcare options for the workers themselves and more access to better equipment and fellow staff to help carry the load.

“So proper training about infection prevention, and having proper PPE available and how to use it. Many, many factors go into supporting a senior either in a long-term care facility or in their home.”

Finally, Dr. Collins says the issue of pharmacare has to be considered as it’s a huge part of caring for the elderly. She says the CMA will continue to support all efforts to better the pharmacare system for all Canadians. In closing, Dr. Collins once again reiterates that this whole problem that faces us over the next decade cannot be ignored.

“We cannot let this go by, we cannot 5 years from now be having the same conversation about how we care for seniors, how we support them, how we protect their dignity. COVID-19 was a tragedy that we don’t want to see repeated, and so we must take action now. That window of opportunity, it’s almost closed, because this is something that should have happened long before COVID, all of these issues should have been addressed to protect our vulnerable senior population.”