“With Respect to Old Age” My thoughts on Dr. Sinha’s Inspire Burlington Presentation

October 18, 2012

On October 17 I had the pleasure of hosting Dr. Samir Sinha for our latest Inspire Burlington. Dr. Sinha’s presentation – With Respect To Old Age: Can We Do Better? – was not only inspiring, but incredibly informative and enlightening. Dr. Sinha is a very engaging speaker who obviously has found his passion.

For those of you who were not in attendance – a little background. Dr. Sinha is the newly appointed expert lead of Ontario’s Seniors Care Strategy. He is a passionate and respected advocate for the needs of older adults and that was evident to the audience at The Burlington Performing Arts Centre. Currently, Dr. Sinha serves as the Director of Geriatrics at Mount Sinai and the University Health Network Hospitals in Toronto.  His list of credentials is impressive.

Dr. Sinha has consulted and advised hospitals and health authorities in Britain, Canada, the United States and China on the implementation and administration of unique, integrated and innovative models of geriatric care that reduce disease burden, improve access and capacity, and ultimately promote health. He covered much of this information in his presentation which I invite you to review here.

His message was very appropriate for Burlington as we are aging at a greater rate than both the provincial and national averages. Between 2006 and 2011, Burlington’s population increased by 6.9% while the percentage of people over 65 has increased by 17.2%. In the next 20 years, that percentage over 65 is expected to double and the population over 85 is expected to quadruple.

Our society looks entirely different now than in the past. The average age of Canadians in the 50’s was 27. Today the average age is 47. And through advances in healthcare, lifestyle and education, we are living much longer. As Andre Picard pointed out when he was here, our healthcare system was designed to prevent families from going bankrupt and losing their farm when a health issue arose.  I would suggest very few of us look at it that way today. Patients have changed but the system has not. This presents some enormous financial challenges for our system.

We are also seeing huge changes in society regarding how communities and families live. Multi-generational homes have decreased significantly and it is not uncommon for families to live across the country from one another. This presents a challenge to the older adult who requires care as they age, often resulting in admittance to the hospital and Long Term Care facilities for extended periods of time, rather than having care provided in their homes by loved ones. Once again, financial challenges are incurred.

So what needs to happen to reduce these financial challenges to our system? Reducing the number of frequent and high users of our hospitals is paramount. The highest users are those with multiple health issues, functional impairments and those that are “socially frail”, meaning they are isolated and alone. We have to think of alternative ways to provide appropriate care for our seniors.

With respect to old age, we not only can do better, we must do better. Dr. Sinha gave examples of wonderful programs and ideas that are offered all over the world that we can learn from.

We have many initiatives locally. The Burlington Seniors’ Advisory Committee represents seniors’ perspectives on municipal policies, services and programs. The Elder Services Advisory Committee advises on seniors’ issues and services at the regional level. Just recently the Halton Seniors’ Directory has been made available. We have reduced fares on Burlington Transit for seniors and have had many requests to investigate the concept of free passes for seniors. We have a vibrant Seniors’ Centre with several thousand members participating in a whole host of activities, as well as a number of Parks and Recreation activities specifically geared to older adults.

But much more needs to be considered. Communities need to ensure that they are respectful of the diversity of needs of older persons and be willing to accommodate and include the whole community.  We can help develop Elder Friendly hospitals and communities by shifting our thinking. This can only succeed through collaboration and teamwork within the community, City, our Region, Hospitals, LHINS, CCACs and the province.

I look forward to your comments.

You can also share your feedback in a short, post-event survey.

What did you think of Dr. Sinha’s presentation?