Preparing for the influx of aging patients in the healthcare system: Are we ready?

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After years of anticipation, we have developed expertise in geriatrics and established care pathways for older adults to address their unique requirements and improve their quality of life.

However, as the wave of aging baby boomers hits our healthcare system amidst significant strain, the question remains: Are we adequately prepared for the upcoming tsunami of patients?

The Canadian Institute for Health Information reports a significant growth in Canada’s senior population, which has more than tripled in the past four decades and continues to increase.

Presently, one out of every five individuals is aged 65 or above, and this proportion is projected to reach one out of every four within the next 25 years. Moreover, the population of those over 75, who are at a higher risk for frailty, is expanding at an even faster rate.

Frailty is a condition that affects older adults aged 65 and above, making them more vulnerable due to a combination of physical, cognitive, social, and emotional factors. This vulnerability impacts their ability to cope with life stressors.

Consequently, individuals with frailty face a higher risk of hospitalization, longer stays in the hospital, readmissions, emergency department visits, and in-hospital mortality. Alarmingly, approximately 340,000 seniors at risk of frailty are admitted to hospitals annually.

St. Joseph’s Health Care London has played a leading role in geriatric programs and services in Southwestern Ontario for over three decades.

In 2017, with the backing of Ontario Health West, St. Joseph’s embarked on the Southwest Frail Senior Strategy to enhance outcomes and experiences for older adults with frailty and their caregivers. The goal was to establish an integrated healthcare system in the region.

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Through collaboration with patients, caregivers, providers, and community partners, valuable insights were gained on improving care quality, ensuring equitable access to services, and enhancing the patient and caregiver experience. To address the forthcoming challenges, several essential actions must be taken collectively.

To ensure that older adults with frailty receive timely and appropriate care in their own communities, it is crucial to dismantle barriers between different sectors. This involves establishing seamless coordination through cross-sectoral partnerships, implementing community-driven coordinated intake and access points, and enhancing mechanisms for effective information sharing.

By breaking down silos and promoting collaboration, we can better meet the needs of frail seniors and improve their overall care experience.

To ensure comprehensive care for patients, it is essential to foster collaboration among healthcare providers from various organizations and sectors. By collectively wrapping care around patients, we can optimize their treatment. This entails clarifying the roles and responsibilities of each organization based on the specific needs of the patient.

Additionally, establishing formal communication channels, such as shared rounds, will facilitate effective information exchange and coordination among providers.

Enhancing information access and knowledge sharing is crucial for older adults, caregivers, and healthcare providers. It is essential for stakeholders to have access to reliable information to effectively navigate the healthcare system and understand the ongoing initiatives at both provincial and regional levels.

By improving information availability and promoting knowledge exchange, we can empower individuals to make informed decisions and contribute to the overall improvement of care.

There is a need to advocate for government investment that goes beyond long-term care. It is essential to allocate resources towards developing suitable housing options, such as assisted living, and enhancing home care and community services for older adults.

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This investment will enable individuals to age safely in their own homes, promoting independence and well-being while ensuring they receive the necessary support and care they require.

We must confront the prevalent ageism within our healthcare system and society. In a recent St. Joseph’s DocTalks Podcast episode.

Dr. Kane emphasizes that older adults possess remarkable resilience, resourcefulness, and a wealth of life experience, perspectives, and talents that we should recognize, value, and utilize to their fullest potential.

Therefore, instead of asking if we are prepared, the question should be whether we are actively engaged in the required efforts to reach that point. I hold optimism that, by working collectively, we can effectively confront the challenges ahead and consistently deliver the respect, care, and compassion that older adults rightfully deserve.

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