In order to understand the future of healthcare and aging, it is important to know what physical, mental and social changes occur as people age. Understanding the “aging process” includes being able to decide what can be attributed to normal aging compared to age-related diseases.
The baby boomers are people who were born after the end of World War II in 1945 until 1965 and are now reaching 65 years and over. This is the major group affecting the future of healthcare and aging. Over this period, the baby boom produced about 1.5 million additional births. They will greatly increase the number of Canadians over 65 years in the next 25 years.
Importantly for healthcare in Canada, baby boomers are the wealthiest, most active, and most physically fit generation to reach old age. The arrival of baby boomers in the over 65 age group are generating many questions about healthcare and aging. For example, will fewer baby boomers have the major chronic diseases such as; heart disease, arthritis, cancer, depression, respiratory disease, Alzheimer’s disease and diabetes? How should the healthcare industry adjust to the values of baby boomers high expectations about the quality of health care for their parents and themselves?
We know from population and public health research that wealthy and better educated people generally enjoy better health than the poor and illiterate. This extensive body of research also reveals that people living in communities where walking or bicycling to work, stores and other facilities have better health than communities where this is not possible. Research on older adults also shows that it is “never too late” to stop smoking, become more physically active, take up new friendships, go back to school, as all these types of activities improve health and quality of life.
These facts are not understood by many people in society, including leaders in our governments and private organizations. Planning of communities, workplace policies, school curricula and media all require better understanding of these determinants of health. If more is done to change the way our communities approach these determinants, some argue that health needs for people using the healthcare system will change.
People in a number of occupations could use this new found knowledge to decide on policies and programs, including the macroscopic (for example, government planning) and microscopic (for example, running a long term care facility) perspectives. These occupations include a number of different jobs in different fields from sciences like biology and psychiatry, to public policy like urban planning and political science.
It’s true that Canadians have created a very complex healthcare system. However, the intellectual changes in understanding these complexities and working with a variety of people to develop new approaches to healthcare. In particular, helping older adults remain active and engaged is very rewarding. There are exciting new challenges in healthcare in the next 10, 20 and 30 years. Students studying to work in any of these occupations should request that topics regarding the healthcare of older adults be a major part of the curriculum in their education programs.