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Experts in the Field: IHA Canada

This piece is a contribution by Nicholas Kerr of IHA Canada. IHA is an innovation team covering every aspect of housing and health care for seniors. They aim to allow seniors to live in their own space, be connected to their community, feel safe, secure and cared for.

By now everyone has read, seen or heard the statistics surrounding seniors. Centenarians are the largest growing population segment in Canada, followed closely by seniors over age 85. By 2026, there is expected to be a 71 percent increase in the number of individuals requiring paid or unpaid continuing care. Over one-third of working Canadians miss time at work to provide care for a family member or friend, equating to approximately nine hours per week of unpaid care. It’s unfathomable that in only eight years an estimated 131 000 additional spaces for seniors will be needed to accommodate demand, a number that excludes the replacement of archaic residences.

We have all had a parent, grandparent or other relative state that they do not want to end up in a “home.” I have had the opportunity to walk the halls of various care institutions,both privately and publicly funded, and have noticed a magnitude of similarities in approach of delivery. Our warehousing of seniors has reached an impasse. In my opinion, our current facilities lack the necessary tools and design to meet the needs of this growing segment of our population. When seniors are forced to move away from their communities to access the care they need it creates a host of issues both physical and psychological. Being placed in a single- or multiple-occupancy room separated from loved ones in a new, often-understaffed setting cannot be the best solution for all older adults.    

The solution

We can fight the three biggest issues in the seniors’ housing space — loneliness, boredom and depression— by creating a strong sense of community and enabling seniors to age in place and receive care that evolves with their needs in their own community. Imagine being able to retire and grow old in the community where you grew up, spent most of your life, made most of your friends and participated in most of your leisure activities. Such seniors’ communities, often located in small towns,provide a space to age at approximately 40% of the cost of a traditional retirement home. Successful implementation of a strong hub in the centre of a village or city requires a team approach. Physicians, government officials and even individuals in the private sector need to come together to build spaces that can provide cost-effective care using resources that are already widely available. Small, detached single units provide each resident with their own unique space, which is designed with accessibility and adaptability in mind.Residents can invite loved ones to visit them knowing that their home has ample space for guests, and they can be confident that they won’t be required to move when they require a higher level of care. Nurses are available on site to residents with the simple push of a button. IHA’s nurse navigator program allows for one point of contact to navigate through the complex and often very intertwined elements of the health care system. Why not build a space that is meant to evolve with seniors instead of requiring them to continuously adapt to new environments? We need to develop villages that have businesses, leisure spaces, and a strong sense of community and that take a holistic approach to patient care. Technologies currently exist that would enable us to reduce the number of trips an elderly patient would need to make to refill prescriptions, complete follow-up exams and receive test results. If these technologies can be integrated seamlessly into a home setting within a seniors’ community, then and only then would we have achieved dignity in aging for our seniors. The idea seems so simple that it seems unfathomable that it is absent from our current models. A patient-centred model of living, in which care providers come to the senior’s home to deliver care instead of the senior having to leave their home to seek it out, provides better health outcomes.    

This piece was written by Nicholas Kerr of IHA Canada as part of the Experts in the Field series. Experts in the field allows guest contributors to write about senior’s care from their point of view and share their plan for a better tomorrow.

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