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Facing frailty head-on

Author: Russell Williams and John Muscedere
17 May 2018

A national seniors strategy needs to account for complexity in the aging process, including risk and vulnerability

Canadians 65 years and older now outnumber children 14 years and under, which means our needs as a society are changing.

We're succeeding in shifting the aging curve through preventive interventions and better public health — that's good news.

But the changing demographic is causing strains in our health and social care supports. How can Canada rise to the challenge?

There are many calls for a national strategy for seniors, or for home care, palliative care, dementia and pharmacare strategies, which will directly impact care for seniors. However, any strategy targeting seniors can't be based solely on age. It should be based on risk and vulnerability — or what's known as frailty.

Taking frailty into account may both improve and help save our fractured health system.

Frailty can occur at any age and describes individuals who are in precarious health, have significant multiple health impairments and are at higher risk of dying. The hallmark of frailty is that minor illnesses like infections or minor injuries, which would minimally affect non-frail individuals, may trigger rapid and dramatic deterioration in health.

Getting older doesn't necessarily mean you're frail. It does mean that as you age, you're more likely to become frail. Frailty is a more precise, and evidence-based, determinant of health outcomes and health-care utilization than age alone.

The most rapidly increasing segment of the population is individuals over 80 years old, and over 50 per cent of those over 80 are frail.

A large, growing proportion of our health and social care spending is, and will increasingly be, focused on older Canadians living with frailty. From a societal perspective, it also places large burdens on family, friends and caregivers, including financial, social and productivity costs.

Everyone is impacted by frailty. Read more...

See more articles in Opinion

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