The number of Canadians aged 85 and older will triple over the next 25 years
Laura Osman, The Canadian Press
Posted Wednesday, April 27, 2022 at 5:33 a.m. EDT
Last updated Wednesday, April 27, 2022 at 9:07 a.m. EDT
OTTAWA – The latest data from the 2021 census shows that Canada’s seniors over the age of 85 are among the fastest growing age groups in the country, marking another milestone in the slow march toward what Experts warn will be a care crisis for the country’s elders.
Between 2016 and 2021, the number of people aged 85 and over increased by 12%, more than double the overall Canadian population growth of 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 Ryerson 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.”
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 problem will be costly to avoid, she said.
This is a problem that the researcher has personally tackled. When her childless aunt stopped eating in her nursing home, MacDonald and her other family members had to take turns feeding her.
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 mark on major new investments, since people who need care will not 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.