SOURCE: Heart and Stroke Foundation

Heart and Stroke Foundation

October 24, 2015 00:01 ET

Health Strategy for Canadian Seniors is Crucial for Canada's Future

Canada's Seniors Are Not Getting Anything Close to the Health Care They Deserve and Our System Must Adapt in Fundamental Ways to Serve Them Better

TORONTO, ON--(Marketwired - October 24, 2015) - The former president of the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is calling on Canada's new government to put a seniors strategy in place by 2019, in advance of the next fixed election date, because "Canadians are tired of excuses" and are demanding action.

Dr. Chris Simpson, immediate past-president of the CMA and a cardiologist in Kingston, Ontario, makes the call in his keynote Heart and Stroke Foundation Lecture at the annual Canadian Cardiovascular Congress.

The more than 5.5 million Canadians age 65 and older are not getting anything close to the type of health care they need and deserve. Action must be taken immediately to change the health system in fundamental ways to fix the problems, the leading annual meeting of Canadian cardiovascular experts was told today.

This situation will only get worse if you take into account the aging of Canadian society. With a higher proportion of older Canadians we can expect increases in the number of Canadians living with heart failure, atrial fibrillation and dementia.

"Our failure to change and meet our seniors' needs impacts every single component of the health care system," Dr. Simpson told his colleagues. "If we can improve the way we care for our seniors, we will go a long way to creating a high-performing health care system in Canada."

Dr. Simpson outlined a number of the serious systemic deficiencies that limit effective health care for seniors. These include challenges with hospital care, lack of integrated transitional care and communications, and limited support for families and caregivers.

In hospitals, he noted the lack of quality care for patients with chronic diseases and long wait times leading to delayed surgeries and postponed diagnostic testing. Wait times are worsened by the fact that 15 per cent of hospital beds are occupied by patients -- mostly seniors -- who don't need to be there but for whom there is no alternate care available. Quality of care is also diminished due to inconsistent communication between hospitals, other care facilities, primary care physicians and community health services, something which would be facilitated by greater use of electronic health records.

Our system also needs to ensure that the family members and friends who provide essential but unpaid caregiving are fully acknowledged and supported.

National seniors strategy urgently needed

What is needed to address these issues, Dr. Simpson said, is a national seniors strategy that would provide more focused care for seniors with chronic diseases, more care outside acute-care hospitals and greater investment in long-term care facilities and home care. He noted that a hospital bed costs $1,000 a day while investing just $55 a day in home care can keep people out of hospital.

"Having a strategy in place is the first step to addressing this growing issue," he says. "What's going to happen in the next 15 years if we don't have a plan? We need one right now."

Statistics Canada reported last month that for the first time, Canada has more people age 65 and older than age 14 or younger. There were 5,580,900 seniors on July 1, the agency reported, making up 16.1 per cent of the population. By 2055, seniors will account for 25 per cent of the population.

Cardiovascular diseases are a major problem for seniors that should be addressed in the strategy, Dr. Simpson said. Heart failure is a leading cause of hospitalization for seniors so strategies for better use of medication and increased home care support could play a big role in managing that burden. Better management of atrial fibrillation and diabetes is also needed both to improve care and make more efficient use of health care resources.

One of the major health care challenges facing seniors is dementia, which is tied to cardiovascular health, as many patients with heart failure or who have had a stroke will develop cognitive issues. As people live longer and the population ages, dementia is becoming one of our greatest health challenges.

Dr. Simpson says he hopes the new federal government will convene a First Ministers meeting within the next six months to discuss a national seniors strategy and commit to having one in place by 2019.

"Canadians are tired of excuses as to why the federal government can't take action on this issue," he said. "Show us that you are nation-builders and that you believe in a Canada that is greater than the sum of its parts. Commit to the development of a national seniors strategy."

Heart and Stroke Foundation position

The Heart and Stroke Foundation supports the position of Dr. Simpson on the need for a national seniors strategy, says Manuel Arango, director of health policy for the Foundation. "We need a coordinated approach to addressing the major health issues faced by seniors. This is all the more pressing considering the impending increased incidence of heart failure, atrial fibrillation and dementia that will occur as the average age of Canadians increases."

The Heart and Stroke Foundation is particularly committed to the implementation of initiatives to prevent dementia, the best long-term approach to mitigating the impact of this condition in Canada's elderly. The Foundation is calling for investments of $20 million annually toward this objective.

Longer term, the Foundation believes the promotion of better nutrition and diet and of active living among Canadians of all ages is the best way to mitigate the health problems of people as they grow older. This starts even with policies that will help reduce the marketing of unhealthy foods and sugary beverages to children. Children who start with healthy food and exercise habits are less likely to have or take up unhealthy habits as adults and as a result will have fewer health issues as they age.

There are several other specific actions the Foundation believes governments should take to improve the health and health care situation faced by Canadian seniors. These include:

  • Increasing financial, practical and emotional support to informal caregivers.
  • Expanding the Employment Insurance Compassionate Care Benefit by increasing the benefit period for caregivers from six to 26 weeks per year, broadening eligibility to allow for partial weeks over a longer period, eliminating the two-week waiting period for benefits and extending eligibility to caregivers who are helping those with a chronic or episodic medical condition.
  • Establishing rehabilitative and palliative care action plans to ensure Canadians have access to these crucial services, particularly for those living in rural and remote communities.
  • Investing more in community-based home care.
  • Developing evidence-based guidelines for efficient delivery of rehabilitative services for those living with chronic diseases.

The Canadian Cardiovascular Congress, the largest gathering of cardiovascular and allied health professionals in Canada, is co-hosted by the Heart and Stroke Foundation and the Canadian Cardiovascular Society.

The Canadian Cardiovascular Society is the national voice for cardiovascular physicians and scientists. Its mission is to promote cardiovascular health and care through knowledge translation, professional development, and leadership in health policy.

The Heart and Stroke Foundation, a volunteer-based health charity, leads in eliminating heart disease and stroke, reducing their impact through initiatives to prevent disease, save lives and promote recovery. Healthy lives free of heart disease and stroke. Together we will make it happen.

Contact Information

  • For daily media tip sheets and/or interviews, contact:

    Diane Hargrave
    416-467-9954, ext. 104
    Or the CCC 2015 media office at:
    416-585-3820 x3821 (Oct 24-26)

    After October 27, 2015, contact:

    Jane-Diane Fraser
    Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada
    (613) 691-4020
    Cell: 613-406-3282