The future of senior care

When you work as a future strategist during a time of global uncertainty and rapid change, you’re bound to be busy.

That’s been Zayna Khayat’s experience since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There is a massive demand, probably more than ever in my world, for people trying to make sense of where things are going, both the immediate uncertainty and in the context of all the change that is happening with regards to COVID,” says Zayna, future strategist with SE Health, one of Canada’s largest home health companies.

Zayna and her colleagues launched a book, The Future of Aging, three weeks before the World Health Organization declared a COVID-19 pandemic. The book examines the trends in aging and outlines shifts that will affect how society approaches aging in the future, from health care to housing to technology. As the keynote speaker at the Covenant family’s 2020 annual community meeting, Zayna will share her insights as attendees gather virtually to explore opportunities to reimagine and transform health care to better meet the needs of our seniors’ population.

Zayna says the pandemic is accelerating some of the changes that were already under way, such as the move to more virtual care options. The risks associated with physical contact have changed the relationship between the users and providers of service and given patients more choice.

“It’s not just the clinician deciding whether they need it in person or not. Now the patient and their family have a choice, too,” says Zayna. “I think that’s really going to shift the mix of where and how people are going to get all sorts of care products, services and procedures. And I don’t think we’re ever going to go back from that.”

Zayna says the shift was overdue in Canada, which lagged behind other countries in adopting digital options. As an example, she points to Kaiser Permanente, a non-profit health organization in the United States that has about 140 million patient-clinician touchpoints a year.

“Sixty-five per cent of all their interactions do not happen in person. Sixty-five per cent, and this is about the same size as Ontario. We’re sitting at less than one per cent in Canada,” says Zayna. “This has been standard in every country in the world.”

Progress on other trends is slowing or even reversing during the pandemic. Zayna says a big theme of the future of aging is autonomy and agency, giving people more say in what happens to them as they age. Because of COVID-19, healthcare systems added restrictions to protect residents and patients from the spread of the virus. “That was a big regression for sure — not being able to go outside, not being able to socialize.”

Zayna says the broader cultural trend is to co-design everything with the people you’re serving, including policy, and that includes understanding the full impact of your choices.

Zayna says there are also many positive examples of community and innovation: young people bringing groceries to seniors living alone, digital platforms like Boomerang connecting seniors to learn and share skills and increased attention on end-of-life planning, from arranging a virtual funeral to planning what your last tweet will be.

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“In some pockets, communities really mobilized to create completely new services to meet people’s needs, like get them groceries or get them food or get them somebody to cut their lawn. This new formal caregiving economy really got accelerated.”

Zayna says those solutions are largely still localized, but she expects they’ll spread with time. And she emphasizes that when it comes to the future of caring for seniors, there will be dramatic change.

“Almost none of the current policies, services and products that were designed for senior care are going to be relevant given the direction that aging is going. Therefore, it’s time to reimagine them and meet older adults where their needs, expectations and values are instead of continuing to offer up what we designed for a previous generation.”

Zayna believes Covenant is well-positioned to not just embrace change but also be a driving force.

“I think Covenant has a lot of breadth and depth and history and relationships that position them really well to lead the future and create the future instead of protect the past.”

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