Canada's aging population to stretch health care services thinner

Exercise is a great way to minimize the effects of aging.

Age-related decline is taking its toll on many Canadians as they grow older, and it's gotten to the point where more people are requiring physiotherapy-related treatments to resolve the aches and pains adversely impacting their quality of life, according to new estimates from the Conference Board of Canada.

From minor treatments for joint stiffness to the more significant procedures like hip and knee replacements, physiotherapy is an increasingly common source of health care. By 2035, the number of Canadians who will require it is forecast to reach 1.5 million, over two times higher than the 2014 rate of 566,000, the Conference Board of Canada found in its report, titled "Aging Well: Implications of an Aging Population for Physiotherapy in Canada," funded in part by the Canadian Physiotherapy Association .

Thy Dinh, director of health economics and policy at the Conference Board of Canada, indicated that for many seniors, fairly routine tasks that the healthy take for granted can be difficult for them to perform.

"For seniors, the process of aging or even performing day-to-day activities in the home may lead to health conditions that could require physiotherapy services," Dinh explained. "And with the population aging rapidly, the number of Canadians with these conditions is likely to become more pronounced."

Senior population rising four times faster than the overall average
With fewer Canadians deciding to raise children, much of the nation is aging in place. Based upon analysis conducted by Statistics Canada, the nation's 85 and older population rose nearly 20 percent between 2011 and 2016, which is four times faster than the total population. Over the same five-year stretch, the share of Canadians 100 years of age and older rose at an even quicker clip, up 41.3 percent.

With the aging population surge expected to continue, so too will the demand for physiotherapy-related services, which are already stretched, the Conference Board of Canada warned in its report.

As of 2016, roughly 770,800 people in Canada, or 2.2 percent of the populace, were 85 years of age or older, according to Statistics Canada. Men and women who are 65 and older represent 13 percent of the country's citizenry. By 2063, seniors are forecast to comprise more than 25 percent of Canada.

Anyway you slice it, government spending is likely to swell, noted researchers from the Fraser Institute, a public policy think tank.

"When combined, projected government spending increases related to health care and Elderly Benefits are expected to be 5.3 percentage points of GDP higher in 2045 compared to 2017," Fraser Institute researchers Taylor Jackson, Jason Clemens and Milagros Palacios wrote. "In dollar terms, this additional spending would be equivalent to an increase of $107.1 billion using 2016 nominal GDP figures."

Potential solutions to the aging in place conundrum
All this being said, unsustainable government spending isn't necessarily a fait accompli, the think tank's researchers hastened to mention. Proactive measures that may help curb the pace of health care spending include reform – particularly government programs like Old Age Security and Guaranteed Income Supplement – and policies that can stimulate more robust economic growth. The authors believe greater a greater focus on fixes should at the least help mitigate the adverse effects of Canada's rapidly rising senior population.

The Conference Board of Canada offered some potential solutions, as well. Effective strategies might include greater attention paid to the recruitment and retention of physiotherapists, particularly in rural locales where access is limited, improving existing technologies and making headway on developing innovations to better serve Canada's current crop of seniors and the millions more on the cusp of their golden years.