According to demographic projections by Statistics Canada, the number of seniors in Canada will increase rapidly by 2031 when the youngest baby boomers will have reached age 65. By 2036, seniors will represent 23-25% of the population – a total of around 10 million seniors.
The growing number of older adults in Canada will put a significant strain on nursing homes and long-term care resources that are already struggling with shortages across the country.
A 2015 report released by the Conference Board of Canada, “Future Care for Canadian Seniors, A Status quo Forecast” suggests that by 2026, over 2.4 million Canadians aged 65 or older will require paid and unpaid continuing care support, an increase of 71% from 2011. By 2046, the number will swell even further to just over 3 million. Spending on continuing care across Canada will also increase, from $28.3 billion in 2011 to a staggering $177.3 billion in 2046. With governments contributing two-thirds of these costs, it’s expected that spending will significantly exceed the rate of revenue growth for most provinces.
A shortage of housing, growing costs and higher populations of seniors requiring long-term care have led to lower vacancy rates and higher rents.
In May 2018, global credit rating agency DBRS Ltd. released a report entitled “Analyzing the Canadian Senior Housing Dilemma” highlighting the housing crisis. Based on data from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, the report notes that in 2017, there were about 258,000 senior housing units in Canada. New supply growth of housing units was only 6.9% year-over-year between 2009 and 2017, but the demand of the growing senior population, which has grown an average of 21.7% between 2006 and 2016, is more than double the supply rate.
A shortage of housing, growing costs and higher populations of seniors requiring long-term care have led to lower vacancy rates and higher rents. This shortage is particularly prevalent in smaller towns and rural communities, where availability is especially low and some seniors are forced to accept residency in facilities hundreds of kilometres away from their homes and families. Some provinces, including Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, have put in measures to limit the distance seniors can be moved to 100 km.
Senior housing shortages have also led to long wait times. In Ontario, the waiting list for long-term care beds is 32,000 people and the average wait time is 137 days. This is up from just 18 days in 2004 and 69 days in 2013-14.
The average rent for seniors’ homes in 2017 was highest in Ontario at $3,526 and the lowest in Quebec at $1,678 per month. If rents continue to increase at the current rate of 4.7% annually, this could mean a national average rent of $4,000 per month by 2025. For those who can’t afford this high cost, one option is subsidized care. However, many government subsidized facilities offer out-dated and insufficient care for seniors. Many were built decades ago and lack the privacy found in newer buildings – seniors may be housed with four to a room and have to share washrooms or tub rooms with other residents. For families seeking a place of comfort and dignity for their elder relatives, these homes simply do not measure up. Putting seniors, many of whom are suffering from dementia or other serious illnesses, into crowded, under-resourced facilities can create stress for residents, their families and care staff.
Other options for older adults wishing to stay in their own homes but needing health care services include public charities and non-profits that have programs to help, such as Alzheimer’s Society, Parkinson’s Canada, VON and the Heart and Stroke Foundation. Most communities in Canada have local services to help seniors and their families but these may be limited in what they offer for free or in paid services.
A rising trend in Canada and the U.S. is the growth of private, for-profit home care service agencies for older adults and others with health issues requiring more personal care. These agencies offer various services that are fee-based but many provide extra services for free. Employing Personal Support Workers (PSW’s), nurses, drivers, home cleaners, cooks, gardeners and more, home care service companies are stepping up where government may be lagging behind by offering jobs to licensed and accredited employees.
Whether profit-based or publicly-funded, home care services can reduce the number of visits to the doctor or hospital emergency rooms if they also provide extras like checking blood sugar and blood pressure, or other assessments by licensed health practitioners. The cost-savings to our health care system would be a great benefit.
Based on these current reports if you or family members are heading toward the “golden years” it may be advisable to begin planning home care and retirement living now to avoid lack of availability and higher costs later.