Change Your Expectations and Create a Better Experience
So much has changed over the past 50 years: in our world, in our country, in our lifestyle, and perhaps most dramatically, in our idea of family. Despite these changes, many seniors or their adult children have not changed their expectations of the health care system, a fact which I find quite concerning.
In years gone by, the traditional family model of a husband (“the bread-winner”) and wife (“the homemaker”) typically looked after their aging parents until the end of life, as there was no system in place to care for them, and life expectancy was shorter than it is today. When our seniors aged 75 and over were young it was considered good planning to save your money for retirement. While they looked after their financial needs by setting aside a little money, they knew that the health care system could be relied upon to take care of their physical needs as necessary.
Now, we could not be farther from that model of a conventional family, yet often aging parents still expect their adult children to be able to manage their own families and careers while tending to the mounting needs of those parents. What’s of even greater concern is that many adult children attempt to single-handedly fulfill these expectations, often at great personal cost.
Change is inevitable, and turning a blind eye to change does not make it go away. It’s time to acknowledge our changing idea of the family, modify our expectations and plan for the aging journey for our parents and ourselves in a fresh, new way. As Einstein said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
News reports on an almost daily basis tell of gaping holes in the Canada Health Act that directly impact how well it serves its patrons, and how it fails to reflect or support its largest user—now and for the next 40 years—our seniors.
Let me explain why the change in health care expectations must occur, and why a new plan moving forward is necessary. When public health care in Canada was just beginning in the 1940’s, the average age of a patient in hospital was 27. Life expectancy was approximately 57 years, and people primarily had one illness at the time of their death. As seniors did not make up the bulk of the population when the system was designed, community care services, rehabilitation services, nursing home beds and prescription medications were not considerations, and are therefore not enshrined in the Canada Health Act that governs our health care today.
Over the ensuing years, as medical advances and medications have prolonged life expectancy, the provision of free or subsidized service has been slow in evolving and here we are now, with average life expectancy doubled and 16 percent of Canadian are 65+ or older, plus 60 percent of hospital spending is on older adults 65+. This population today represents 50 percent of our current spending on hospitals and social services. Our senior population is expected to double from 5 million to 10 million in the next 20 years, and current systems are not and cannot provide sustainable care for this burgeoning sector.
Healthy aging is about creating conditions for individuals to make choices and engage in behaviours that are preventative with the same care and consideration you would give to new born child. This could encompass Injury prevention (including falls), managing critical illnesses, financial, legal, or advanced preplanning to ensure you have a realistic plan, to help you and your family to navigate the complexities and limitations of the system and plan to fill the gaps to the best of our ability. Hospitals are hostile environments for seniors and they actually create dysfunction in seniors. It’s time to recheck our expectations and make a plan so we can all enjoy the journey life gives us. You can plan for this; you just need a little guidance with a navigator to point you in the right direction.
Here I am.