Age Matters Clinic


Toronto Geriatric Assessment and Memory Clinic

The Graying of Canada

Among many industrialized countries, Canada is a relatively new nation. However, despite being young the country is fast turning gray. The baby boomers of yesteryear born just after the 2nd world war have reached the retirement age and now add to the rising ranks of Canada’s aging population. It is estimated that nearly every third Canadian person is a boomer with most of them over the age of 60. The elderly now represent close to 5.3 million people, which accounts for more than 10% of the population. It is estimated that within the next decade, the elderly will outnumber children younger than 15 in Canada. The graying of Canada is not an isolated phenomenon seen in just one province but is a universal feature across the nation. In the Americas, Canada has the largest aging population.

So what does all this mean?

There is no doubt that we are living longer but with a declining birth rate this means that the work force is also aging. Today there are not enough young people to replace the workers about to retire. This is a significant challenge for both society and employers. Data indicate that because of the graying of Canada, more than 33% of seniors will most likely outlive their retirement savings. Businesses will need to pay more attention as retirement of the baby boomers also leads to loss of knowledge, experience and skill. It is just not a matter of finding another person to fulfil that job; it could mean many years of lost productivity because the younger generation simply does not have the knowledge or skills.

The rising number of elderly has also led to numerous social and support issues. The elderly often require housing and when not independent, they need long term care-neither of which is in sufficient numbers in Canada. In addition, the elderly are also creating major health crises. Elderly often have chronic medical problems which require long term care. The healthcare system in Canada is perilously close to collapse and in many cases seriously inaccessible, especially to those who need it the most. The already burgeoned healthcare system in Canada is at a cross roads because it simply is not able to respond in a favourable manner. This often leads to delay in medical help and referrals to specialist also take time. The Canadian Medical Association has determined that at least 2,500 new long term facilities will be needed in the next two decades to accommodate the expected doubling of Canada's elderly population.

Support services for the elderly are already strained in all sectors of life and the reasons are lack of manpower and money. Statistics Canada estimated that in the next two decades there will be half as many workers to pay for all the benefits that the elderly have come to expect. And who will pay for the government subsidies for seniors, such as affordable housing, low fare transit, and decreased health-care premiums. Such programs have worked well, but they need money to be supported.

The graying of Canada has brought forth many questions like how can pensions be subsidized for all elderly services and how can free healthcare be sustained? These are difficult questions and in today's economic times, no one has the right answer. Aging is not an unpredictable event and it is something that should have been addressed a long time ago. Like taxes, aging is definitely assured. The only fact that is known is that the elderly are fast increasing in numbers and someone better do something quick.