Canada’s baby boomers fear their golden years will be anything but rosy.
A strong majority of Canadians aged 45 and older are anxious about their financial future and their ability to pay for uninsured prescription drugs and other health expenses, a new poll finds. Eight in 10 aren’t convinced they will be able to find or afford a decent home or long-term care should they need it, according to the Canadian Medical Association’s annual “report card” on health.
“We should not accept that a country as prosperous as Canada has such a large portion of its population living in fear for the future as they age,” said outgoing CMA president Dr. Louis Hugo Francescutti.
Many of those polled are drawing from their own personal experience of caring for aging parents, “and baby boomers are not going to accept the level of care” that they see being delivered to their loved ones, Francescutti said in an interview.
“There are a lot more of us coming down the pipeline (but) this system is not oriented toward taking care of people who are living longer.”
The Ipsos-Reid poll of 1,000 Canadians aged 45 and older was released Monday to coincide with the opening of the organization’s annual meeting in Ottawa, where seniors’ care, medical marijuana and doctor-assisted death are among the issues expected to dominate debate during the three-day gathering of delegates.
Overall, 81 per cent of those polled said they are worried about the quality of health care they can expect when they’re older, with those nearing retirement the most anxious. Six in 10 have little faith hospitals and long-term care facilities have the resources even now to handle the needs of a rapidly greying population, or that there will be enough services to help seniors live at home longer.
Not surprisingly, the vast majority — 95 per cent — endorsed the need for a national seniors’ care strategy.
The doctors’ lobby estimates $2.3 billion a year could be used in more effective ways, for example, by addressing the growing problem of so-called “bed blockers” — elderly patients well enough to be discharged who languish in hospital beds while waiting placement in a nursing or retirement home.
It costs about $1,000 a day to care for a patient in hospital, compared to $130 a day in a long-term care facility, and $55 for home care, according to the CMA.
“We need to move from the status quo that the hospital is the end-all and be-all of health,” Francescutti said.
More emphasis is needed on smoking cessation, improved physical activity and better nutrition to reduce the burden of diabetes, heart failure and other chronic illnesses, he said.
“The emphasis should be on making sure Canadians don’t get sick in the first place. And, if they do get sick, assemble teams around that specific illness that uses the best evidence to take care and manage that disease, which we don’t have right now,” Francescutti said.
Instead, “We have a helter-skelter, hodge-podge mix of different systems,” he said. “And that’s reflected in what Canadians are saying. They don’t like what they see.”
Those aged 45 to 54 have the most angst for the future, according to the poll.
The proportion of seniors is growing fast: In 1971, Canadians aged 65 and older accounted for eight per cent of the population; today they make up 15 per cent.
By the time all boomers turn 65, seniors could represent 25 per cent of the nation’s total population, according to Ipsos Reid.
But the proportion of health dollars spent on seniors’ care has budged little in the last decade, moving from 44 per cent in 2000, to 45 per cent in 2011.
“We need to have a strategy based on the best evidence from other countries that have done this and are doing it far better than we are,” Francescutti said.
“It means we have to think very differently. This report sends a wake-up call (to political parties) that baby boomers are just not going to put up with what they’re seeing being delivered now,” he said.
“If you’ve pissed off a constituency within society that you know can make the difference between getting elected or not elected, hopefully that will move a party to action.”
The poll of 1,000 Canadians was conducted between July 17 and July 24. A sample this size provides a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.
Among the findings:
86 per cent of working Canadians have concerns about health care in retirement.
Only half said they would be able to afford to pay for extra health services not covered by provincial health plans or their health insurance.
64 per cent are concerned about their financial situation when they retire. Women and those living in middle-income households (earning between $30,000 and $60,000 annually) are significantly more likely to be concerned about their ability to afford health care expenses in the future.
For those who don’t expect to retire for another 10 to 20 years, half are concerned about maintaining the same standard of living for their spouse or partner if they should die first.
Overall, more than a quarter (26 per cent) help provide care to an aging relative or friend; 34 per cent of 55- to 64-year-olds are acting as caregivers.
64 per cent of caregivers are experiencing high levels of stress.
Three in four (75 per cent) of those polled expect they will be able to “die with dignity” in a place of their choosing. Men and those over 75 are more confident they’ll be able to die where they choose.