By BRAD COUGHLIN
Young taxpayers might be afraid of expenditures emptying their wallets after a Statistics Canada study detailed the country’s aging population.
Canada’s Population Estimates, released by the agency on Sept. 27, found that the senior population has increased by 57.6 per cent in the past 20 years. Seniors currently represent 14.9 per cent of the total population.
The elderly population’s growth is due to both aging baby boomers and a decline in the nation’s birth rates – the population of children fell 3.6 per cent.
While increased lifespan due to advances in modern medicine plays a small role in the boom of seniors, the cost of providing them with this weighs heavily on Canadian taxpayers.
Figures from the Canadian Health Services Research Foundation reveal that in 2008 seniors cost Canada $10,742 per person per year, in comparison to the $2,097 for those under 65.
Juanne Clarke, a medical sociologist at Wilfrid Laurier University, believes there are two things driving up the cost of senior health care.
“Most people still die in hospital and that last two or three weeks of life is enormously expensive,” said Clarke. “People who are going to die should be moved to a hospice.”
Ontario’s Local Health Integration Networks (LHIN) is taking a step in that direction with its Aging at Home Strategy. The strategy aims to aid seniors living at home by increasing support services. But, the program will cost taxpayers $700 million over three years.
“The elderly have been medicalized,” Clarke said, meaning they’re often taking doctor-prescribed medications. “The medical system initiates these expenditures.”
Clarke said ageism, specifically the stereotypical relation between seniors and degenerating health, leads health-care practitioners into unnecessary testing. These tests, such as cancer screening and blood work, are costly.
More likely to be medicated, seniors are more likely to end up back in the hospital. Juggling medications incorrectly, being prescribed interfering medications and simple overmedication increases the chance of falls.
“Overmedication and falls are major causes of elderly people going into the hospital,” Clarke said.
LHIN estimates that the senior population will double in the next 16 years. Even with programs targeted at decreasing medical budgets, young and middle-aged taxpayers will end up paying the cost.