Aging well: Finally, baby boomers — and politicians — are paying attention

Amid the pandemic, when baby boomers hit 75, they woke up to the reality of aging in Ontario — and they’re not going quietly to nursing homes.

The death of thousands of people in long-term care was more than a wake-up call. It has turned into a growing movement and – for the first time – Ontario election polls show strong demand for a new style of long-term care in a small home, better community supports in the home and more day programs to help seniors. stay socially connected, especially those with cognitive decline.

“Ageing well is an issue that has the attention of politicians,” said Craig Worden, president of Pollara Strategic Insights. “It’s not fine detail in the data – it speaks loud and clear and the numbers are quite significant.

“The ultimate demand we see in the data over the past two years demonstrates a strong desire to age in place for as long as possible and to have the support to be able to do so.”

Calls for change are widespread, Worden said, with strong interest among seniors (trustworthy voters), Gen Xers (new caregivers) and, to some extent, millennials, who saw their grandparents suffer. during the pandemic. With the spring election approaching, politicians are now promising better home care and, from the Liberals and NDP, smaller nursing homes and the elimination of for-profit nursing home operators.

“Ignore this demographic at your peril,” said Laura Tamblyn Watts, CEO of national advocacy group CanAge.

“Voters are really fed up and they’re not looking to have all the old, hand-wringing promises we’ve had before,” Tamblyn Watts said. “There’s an agreement on what we need, and they’re going to judge the political parties on who’s going to implement it – and how quickly.”

At the Alzheimer Society of Ontario, CEO Cathy Barrick launched “VoteDementia.ca” – a campaign with contact links for each provincial candidate – calling dementia a critical discussion in the election. Currently, 260,000 Ontarians have dementia, according to the society.

From arts-focused day programs to online workouts, staying connected is key to healthy aging

“The number of people with dementia in our province will double in the next 30 years, and our health care system and community supports are not ready,” Barrick said. “In fact, our systems cannot adequately support the current number of Ontarians with dementia. We are in crisis.

“We know people want to age in place, including those living with dementia, and we need to develop a renewed Ontario dementia strategy to make sure we can support people,” she said.

Ontario has about 3.3 million caregivers who provide support to family or friends of all ages, according to an earlier study by Pollara published by the Ontario Caregiver Organization. Some take care of their loved ones at home, others in nursing homes. Many feel exhausted.

With the number of Ontarians over 65 expected to double by 2046, the next decade could see the rise of the caregiver.

“We believe that caregiving is the next frontier in Canadian public policy,” said Liviya Mendelsohn, executive director of the Canadian Center for Excellence in Caregiving, a new organization that launched this month.

“Voices are growing and calls for substantial policy change are growing louder across the country,” Mendelsohn said. “The trends underlying the size and growth of the elderly and the number of people who will provide care for those in need are inescapable.”

One of the biggest barriers to aging in place is the shortage of frontline home care workers. It’s an industry-wide problem made worse by the pandemic.

Shirlee Sharkey, former CEO of SE Health, a nonprofit that provides home care, said governments can address this shortage by treating all frontline staff equally. The current hierarchy pays hospital workers the highest salaries, followed by nursing home staff and finally home workers.

We need to ensure that “people working in the community are valued as much as those working in an acute care hospital,” Sharkey said.

Ontario is decades behind European countries in preparing for its aging population. The related issues are vast, from ageism to staffing, but Sharkey recommends approaching transformation with a pragmatic approach.

“With aging in the community, you can easily say, ‘OK, let me give you a doctoral thesis on everything that needs to change in home care,'” she said. “By the time you’ve finished all of this, we really haven’t touched on the other seven things people need to age well in their community.”

Ontario’s initial focus, Sharkey said, should be on high-quality home care. Once this is reliably in place, she said, philosophies about how and where older people live will change. “It will finally shift the concern of getting people out of hospital and into long-term care.”

Gone are the days when voters were appeased by yet another expert report.

Now long-term care residents Gale Ramsden and Devora Greenspon represent the Ontario Association of Residents’ Councils on a government committee focused on regulating new long-term care legislation. .

Their message to bureaucrats? Get rid of the medicalized culture of nursing homes.

“It’s meeting my needs during the day that makes life worth going on, even in long-term care,” said Ramsden, who lives at Perley Health in Ottawa.

The participants take turns with certain instruments.

“I need challenges, intellectually and socially, to interact with my friends and family. Those are the things in the future that – I think – the evolved model of long-term care recognized that they had to design around.

Long-term care is not a destination most seek. New residents usually have major health issues and often severe cognitive decline. Others may have no one to help them at home or exhausted caregivers. There is a waiting list of 40,000 people for nursing homes and despite government investment, capital funding for new developments still follows old design standards for large 32-person units that look like to institutions.

This is why there is a growing demand for smaller households, such as the Green House model, which can be created in larger care homes but also in residential communities.

Kathy Wright is the vice-president of CARP Ottawa, an advocacy group that pushes for smaller household models.

“People deserve to live in a family setting,” Wright said. “If we wait for home care to be fixed and ignore long-term care, it may never happen.”

The Green House project uses a family style approach in large buildings or individual houses. About 10-12 people live in each house, with private bedrooms and toilets. Staff prepare meals in open kitchens. Research conducted during the pandemic has shown that smaller households like Green House are more successful in controlling COVID.

Worden said Pollara’s research showed Ontarians are looking for nursing homes that are designed to feel like real homes, not “warehouses.”

The same sentiment surfaced last fall when the Health Standards Organization, working on national standards for long-term care, released the results of a survey of 16,000 people, most of whom live in Ontario. As chairman of the national standards committee, Dr. Samir Sinha said that number was higher than those polled in most political polls.

Joan Slamben, 90, catches a ball at Canadian Macedonian Place.

The HSO survey showed strong interest from women who often end up becoming caregivers. Many respondents wanted non-profit nursing homes and philosophies focused on the individual interests of residents. They were also looking for better options for living independently in the community – with funding that follows the individual, so people have a choice of where and how they live.

Staying home is the goal for many, but it can also be self-isolating. Worden’s research showed a “high demand” for government funding for community programs that allow seniors to “get out of the house and interact with others.”

Sinha, director of geriatrics at Sinai Health and the University Health Network, said aging successfully at home requires opportunities for social relationships.

For those with cognitive decline, this could mean enriched day programs.

Sinha said day programs that focus on exercise, music, art or storytelling provide many benefits, including much-needed respite for caregivers, and can keep people with dementia active, delaying decline. which can lead to long-term care.

“We have to remember that good, high-quality day programs can do a lot to stimulate a person’s body, mind, and spirit,” he said. “Just because you have dementia doesn’t mean you have to stop living.

“But when you don’t have good quality community programs or services that allow people to get out of their homes to remain active members of our community, it could accelerate the decline of dementia and lead to a higher rate of premature institutionalization.”

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