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WE NEED TO ACT NOW

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As the CMA continues spreading its message about the urgent need for a national seniors strategy to provide better care for our rapidly aging population, politicians appear to be listening.

For instance, as he marked National Seniors Day on Oct. 1, CMA President Dr. Granger Avery pointed out that upcoming talks about a new national Health Accord offer a perfect opportunity to discuss the health needs of older Canadians.

“All too often in this country, discussions around seniors care descend into talks of how it costs more to provide care for older Canadians,” he said. “This is exactly the wrong way to think. Canadians are living longer, healthier lives than ever before, and that is something to be celebrated. What Canada does need, however, is to help our health care system evolve to meet 21st century standards and Canadians’ needs.”

On Oct. 3, two days after he made those comments, the New Democratic Party (NDP) issued a statement calling for the development of a National Seniors Strategy that would “commit the federal government to a long-term plan of action to implement the many changes necessary to ensure an adequate quality of life for seniors now and in the future. It would ensure that seniors have access to high-quality and affordable health care and housing. Additionally, it would improve their financial security [and] quality of life, and [their] integration . . . within society.”

Member of Parliament (MP) Alistair MacGregor, the NDP critic for seniors issues, said that as Canada’s seniors population grows, so does the need for action. “No one should have to grow old in poverty, insecurity and isolation” he said. “People should be able to age with dignity. We need the federal government to work with the provinces and territories, and with seniors and their organizations, to make that a reality.”

Another NDP MP noted that the number of seniors in Canada will double by 2036. “As a country, we will face new challenges to address this change,” said Irene Mathyssen, the party’s deputy whip. “If we plan carefully and start implementing measures now, we can ensure that the health, housing and financial security [needs of seniors] are all addressed.”

Dr. Avery said it is not hard to find evidence supporting such calls for action. “Canada’s publicly funded health care system was created some 50 years ago when our population was just over 20 million and Canadians could expect to live approximately 71 years. We now have a population of over 35 million, and on average Canadians are living a full decade longer than they did then.”

What will those numbers mean? According to a recent CMA report, our aging population will result in a roughly 40 per cent increase in cancer cases — an additional 277,000 cases annually — by 2030. At the same time, the number of Canadians living with dementia will increase by almost 70 per cent. By 2041, seniors will have the highest rate of mental illness in Canada.

“We need to act now,” said Dr. Avery. “Canada has a window for taking action, and every day it is getting smaller.”