A rapidly growing cohort of Canadians 85 and older is prompting warnings from geriatricians and seniors advocates that major metropolitan areas are poised to experience severe care shortages, especially for those who wish to grow old in their own homes.

New census data from Statistics Canada released Wednesday shows that the population aged 85 and older is one of the fastest-growing age groups in the country, with a 12 per cent increase since 2016. That’s more than double the growth rate of 5.2 per cent for the entire Canadian population during the same period.

In addition, over the next 25 years, this age group is expected to triple to almost 2.5 million people as the baby boomer generation, born between the mid-1940s and mid-1960s, continues to grow older.

Experts warn that the coming gray wave will test the limits of our beleaguered health-care and long-term-care systems and demand sacrifices from families faced with shortages of personal support workers and nurses. And in provinces like Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia, which have large urban centers with the highest proportion of people 85 and older, cities will have to make major changes to adapt to the changing needs of this large demographic.

“We need to make sure we are building the aging infrastructure we will need … and we need to think about how we adapt to being what we call an ‘age-friendly city,’ ” said Dr. Samir Sinha, director of geriatrics at Sinai Health. “When the baby boomers started turning 65 back in 2011 10 years ago, we knew that this day would come and we’re right on target.”

StatCan reports that in three-fifths of Canada’s large urban centers, a higher percentage of people aged 85 and older live in the downtown core than in the larger urban center as a whole. This is because downtown areas often have more services and amenities for aging demographics, such as hospitals, long-term care and age-appropriate housing, according to the agency.

While Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Ottawa and Calgary currently have the lowest proportion of people 85 and older living in the downtown core relative to the rest of the population, the number of older residents will continue to grow in these areas, meaning more senior- friendly infrastructure, community-based programming and supports to allow seniors to age in place at home — rather than enter the long-term-care system if it’s not necessary — are urgently needed, experts say.

“There are not many programs and services that you can access as an older person, especially those in their 80s, that are free of charge,” said Elizabeth Macnab, executive director of the Ontario Society for Senior Citizens Organizations. “When you’re 80, you’re spending money to pay people to take you grocery shopping or driving … you’re going to have to purchase a lot more services to remain in the community safely.”

She suggested a number of solutions to help seniors age in place at home without breaking the bank, such as volunteer-based or funded programs for students studying gerontology or those who want to be personal support workers to come into seniors’ homes to provide company, as well as affordable access to physiotherapists or nutrition support.

Recently, Toronto has mobilized paramedics to do preventive home visits, so concerns can be anticipated before anyone needs to call emergency services, noted Sinha.

Seniors are often calling 9-1-1 for help as they do not have proper support from community care services or a family doctor, and that needs to change, he said.

And small things the city is doing to try to make it age-friendly — from adding more washrooms to parks and extending walking time at crosswalks — all make a difference, Sinha said.

the Toronto Seniors Strategywhich provided an update on its progress last fall, indicated that COVID-19 was severely affecting seniors’ access to health services in the city, with racialized seniors disproportionately facing the most challenges.

The strategy was first adopted in 2018 with 27 recommendations. Recommendations that have been carried out include free dental health care for low-income seniors, eight new Seniors Active Living Centers and a Toronto Public Library digital literacy program.

But more supports are needed including funding to allow seniors to renovate their homes, more home and care services, meals on wheels and adult day programs so seniors can receive care at home, Sinha said.

“When we don’t actually do a good job of anticipating these needs … there’s a reason why we have a record number of people on nursing home wait lists.”

There are more than 38,000 people on the wait list to access a long-term-care bed in Ontario, according to the provincial government.

Anthony Quinn, the director of community affairs at the Canadian Association of Retired Persons (CARP), agrees with Sinha that home care support needs to be increased.

“That can be from helping you get dressed in the morning … you don’t have to go to long-term care for that,” he said, noting that many rely on personal support workers and registered nurses to keep them out of long-term care. term care.

Along with home supports, seniors who are not entering long-term care need assistance with isolation, said Quinn.

“We want to keep them able to maintain those basic necessities but without having to go into institutional care,” he said. “We’d much rather they stay in their own place, have the ability to come and go, to have a visitor.”

For Etobicoke senior Maria Mikelenas-Mcloughlin, 80, social supports are one of the most important needs for seniors of her age who want to remain in their homes as long as possible.

“It’s the feeling of belonging, that they still have a purpose,” said Mikelenas-Mcloughlin, who still lives in her own home. “The reason they want to stay in their homes is because they’re comfortable, they know every nook and cranny in the house or the condo.

“Inside that security blanket you need the services to support them to make sure they can get to appointments, that they have the right food, that someone is checking in,” she said.

Quinn noted that 96 per cent of CARP’s members intend to age in place. But the reality, he says, is that “right now, we cannot meet the demand of people wanting and needing to live in their homes.”

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