The 2021 census shows the number of people aged over 85 is expected to triple in the next 25 years
OTTAWA — Canadian seniors over the age of 85 are the fastest growing age group in the country, marking another important step in the slow march towards what experts are warning as a crisis in the country’s senior care. .
The latest data from the 2021 census shows that since 2016, the number of people aged 85 and over has increased by 12%, more than double the overall growth of the Canadian population at 5.2%.
The number of people over 85 has more than doubled since the 2001 census and is expected to triple by 2046.
The pace of aging is expected to accelerate with each new candle added to the baby boomer generation’s birthday cake each year.
Last year, the oldest baby boomers turned 76 and are most likely living independently, said Bonnie-Jeanne MacDonald, director of financial security research at Toronto Metropolitan University’s National Institute on Aging.
“They haven’t started reaching those critical ages that are usually associated with needing care and support,” MacDonald said. “But it’s really something that is now very clearly on the horizon.”
Statistics Canada’s Director of Demography, Laurent Martel, describes the phase Canada is entering as a “rendezvous with demographic destiny.”
By 2050, the population aged 85 and over could reach more than 2.7 million people, according to the census, when the last cohort of baby boomers will be 85 years old.
The question is: who will take care of this generation and where will they live?
“One of the biggest impacts of an aging population is on the health care system and the need for long-term care,” said Doug Norris, chief demographer at Environics.
More than one in four seniors in this age bracket currently live in a “collective dwelling” such as a seniors’ residence, nursing home, long-term care residence or hospital, according to the census.
The proportion of seniors living in these settings only increases with age, since more than half of centenarians receive care in one of these homes.
Waiting lists for long-term care beds can already stretch for years, leaving people stuck in hospitals with nowhere to go, or families struggling to care of their loved ones back home.
“It will affect the country in terms of the distribution of medical resources. Certainly more of our fiscal budget will have to be allocated to care for the elderly. But mostly I think it will affect everyone personally,” she said.
This is especially true since Canada’s seniors have not had as many children as previous generations.
This means fewer carers to care for the growing number of people who will not have access to long-term care places.
“Baby boomers are not only the largest generation, they are also the first generation to have relatively few children. So they won’t have the same family support that has existed since the beginning of time,” MacDonald said.
Now, with one in five people in Canada aged 65 and over, the immediate threat will be costly to avoid, she said.
As the millennial population tends to become the largest generation in Canada by 2026, the large number of people over the age of 85 in the country will make it difficult to finance the increased demand for services and health care.
It’s a problem that MacDonald has personally faced. When her childless aunt stopped eating in her nursing home, MacDonald and her other family members had to take turns feeding her.
This trend could continue in the future, since birth rates have been falling since 2016, leaving fewer people to care for millennials when they also reach old age, said Martel of Statistics Canada.
In fact, 2020 saw the lowest birth rate since World War I, he said.
“When you have shocks like these in the age pyramid, you have challenges for the new generation supporting the generation above them, especially as that generation ages,” Martel said.
People are also living longer, and while that’s great news, it also means health care is going to have to change to accommodate an older population.
“The health care system in Canada was designed when the average age was around 28,” said Parminder Raina, scientific director of the McMaster Institute for Research in Aging.
“Acute care hospitals are not designed for an aging population.”
Many of the effects of the gray wave in Canada will not be felt for five to ten years, when Canada can expect to see massive increases in the number of people over 85.
But the country has already missed the boat on significant new investment because people who need care won’t pay income tax to find a solution.
This means that Canada will have to be creative in caring for its seniors over the coming decades.
“We need to create not just better systems, but smarter systems,” MacDonald said.
Solutions may look different from region to region. Rural populations are aging faster than large cities, and the Atlantic provinces are aging faster than the rest of the country, in part due to a lower influx of immigrants.
Fortunately, Canada is still younger than some other G7 countries like France, Germany, Italy and Japan, which are ahead of the aging curve.
“We can definitely learn from their experiences,” Martel said.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on April 27, 2022.
Laura Osman, The Canadian Press