How can our health care systems best meet an aging population’s needs?

September 2017

Canada’s population is aging. Recent census results show that for the first time seniors outnumber children in this country. Within the next 20 years, growth in the older seniors population (those age 75 and older) is expected to accelerate, causing that population to double in size. With this demographic shift comes the need to weigh how our health care systems can best meet the unique needs of older persons.

Canada’s seniors population outlook: Uncharted territory

As part of its strategic plan, CIHI identified a need to focus on seniors as a key population. Work relating to our key health care themes and populations will help inform policy and decisions with the goal of better-quality, safer health care.

Seniors in transition

Seniors in Transition: Exploring Pathways Across the Care Continuum reports on a multi-year study of more than 59,000 seniors in Canada. This study found that as many as 1 in 5 seniors admitted to residential care might have been able to remain at home with appropriate support — emphasizing the need for additional community-based supports to help seniors maintain their independence for as long as possible.

“We’ve seen in our analyses that there are seniors who enter residential care with care needs that are similar to those of seniors typically supported in the community,” said Steve Atkinson, CIHI’s manager of Analytics and Special Projects.

“If we were able to reduce our reliance on residential care, we could make those resources go a lot further and serve a larger population,” he said.

The findings also showed that seniors assessed in hospital were significantly more likely than those assessed in the community to be admitted to residential care.

Seniors in Transition demonstrates the value of continued and enhanced integration between the hospital sector and the continuing care sector.

Seniors’ needs and care settings: Improving alignment 

“What we’ve learned is that individuals whose needs are assessed in hospital have a greater probability of being admitted to residential care and access it much sooner than individuals with similar needs assessed in the community,” Atkinson said. “That might point to opportunities for our health systems to improve the integration between the hospital sector and the continuing care sector, so seniors of higher need are prioritized appropriately.”

Use these Seniors in Transition web tools to explore changes in seniors’ population growth, and to view information about seniors assessed in home care and residential care across health regions and over time.

What’s next?

Residential care is typically the most intensive and most expensive service in the continuing care sector, providing care to people with complex needs. As the proportion of older seniors in Canada continues to climb, the number of people who will require care is expected to grow.

Decision-makers in Canada’s health care systems benefit from a better understanding of how Canada’s seniors transition from living independently to receiving continuing care services, and the factors that influence transitions into residential care.

CIHI’s focus on relevant, timely, actionable data relating to the seniors population will help inform those decisions.