By John Muscedere and Alex Mihailidis
Ageism is something we’re all familiar with, but many shrug it off as not that serious. In fact, ageism is ingrained in our society. The World Health Organization’s Global Report on Ageism estimates that one in two people hold ageist attitudes. Treating individuals differently because of their age influences our societal values, priorities, policy decisions and financial allocations.
Ageism also influences the systems that guide the aging process; this has a significant impact on our healthy aging trajectory. If we undervalue older Canadians, will we prioritize initiatives that directly benefit them? Will governments commit to establishing a coordinated approach to healthy aging with significant financial investment?
Within the next decade, one in four Canadians will be aged 65 or older. Older adults currently outnumber children aged 14 and under, and this is projected to continue in the coming decades; people aged 80 and older will account for an increasing proportion of the older adult population. These trends indicate that Canada has serious social and health care challenges we need to address earnestly.
Our current approach is not sustainable. The social and health care systems are already strained and will not be able to meet the needs of a rapidly aging population that typically accesses health care services more frequently and requires more advanced care.
A re-envisioning of the aging process is desperately needed. Rather than viewing older adults as individuals to be taken care of, Canada must see its older population as the active and valuable contributors that they are.
Older Canadians contribute greatly to our economy, raising billions of dollars for Canadian charities and generating even greater economic value through volunteering. Older Canadians also contribute to the economy through paid employment, composing 4.5 per cent of the labour force. Their years of experience also place them as expert members of Canada’s workforce.
But older adults must be healthy to make these contributions. A proactive approach to healthy aging that focuses on maintaining optimal health and independence for as long as possible is an essential goal.
It’s time for Canada to focus our efforts and increase our investment in healthy aging initiatives, including social, health care and technological innovation. This is key to improving older Canadians’ quality of life and reducing the number of Canadians requiring long term care.
More than 80 per cent of COVID-19 deaths in Canada occurred in long-term care compared to the OECD average of 38 per cent—a shameful national tragedy.
Another important way we can lead this change is by harmonizing our efforts across organizations. By working together toward shared and complementary goals, we can achieve more than if we go it alone.
Dr. John Muscedere is CEO of Canadian Frailty Network and Professor of Critical Care Medicine, Queen’s University.
Dr. Alex Mihailidis is CEO of AGE-WELL and the Barbara G. Stymiest Research Chair in Rehabilitation Technology, University of Toronto and KITE Research Institute at Toronto Rehab-University Health Network.
The two organizations work in partnership to advance healthy aging.