New collaboration seeks public input on the future of aging

The Covenant family and SE Health are collaborating to reshape seniors' care in Canada through the CourAGE initiative.

“We will develop a bold and practical roadmap for change, a strong consensus on action and the commitment to act,” says Conny Avila, Covenant’s chief innovation officer. “This Canadian plan will focus on creating action to support a new vision for aging and bring about transformation to improve the quality of life for older adults.”

COVID-19 has transformed our healthcare landscape and society. In Canada, the pandemic has shone a light on many important issues, perhaps most significantly that our nation’s efforts to support the health and well-being of older Canadians are not working as well as we thought.

By 2054, more than 20 per cent of Canada’s population will be over 65. Currently, one in four Canadians over the age of 85 live with dementia, and that number is projected to double in the next decade. 

As Canada’s seniors’ population grows significantly in coming decades and medical advances support longer life expectancies, there is an urgent need to create a better future for Canadians as they age.

“Numerous reports make it clear that Canada’s approach to seniors' care, with a heavy reliance on costly institutional care, is not sustainable and also not what today’s aging population wants,” says Ajay Khara, executive director of Covenant’s Network of Excellence in Seniors' Health and Wellness.  

Older adults can be affected by issues including isolation, dementia, medical complications, poor nutrition and limited income. Inadequate support to address these issues adds stress to an already burdened system. 

“The underlying principle of the CourAGE initiative is enhancing people’s quality of life,” says Ajay. “The solution will be tailored to each individual and their unique needs.”

Edmonton General resident, Marie Byggdin, shares what she thinks is quality care for seniors.

Shirlee Sharkey, president and CEO of SE Health, a national social enterprise, says Canada can learn from other countries that have taken different approaches to supporting older adults in their communities.

“When we look at countries like the Netherlands and Denmark, we see a very different outcome for older people,” says Shirlee. “They are enjoying life and experiencing health, whether living in their homes, communities or institutional settings. These countries have a very enlightened philosophy, including empowering policies and funding models, to support citizens as they age.”

The CourAGE project team has created a discussion paper that includes a review of research conducted around the world over the past 10 years, looking at some of the most compelling models and practices to support older adults living at home. It’s grouped into five themes: better living within the community, new communities of living, connected at home by technology, care comes to you at home and keeping well and socially connected. The discussion paper is now available on CourAGE: Action for better aging.

Covenant and SE Health are facilitators and agents of change for this initiative. They will bring together thought leaders (from within and outside health care), decision makers and seniors to help create a new shared path forward.

“We want to see what the unmet needs are in the current system and figure out how we can contribute to solutions,” says Ajay. “Covenant will explore some emerging technologies and methodologies to develop an innovation platform that we hope we’ll be able to grow into something that will work beyond our family.”

CourAGE collaborators will look for ways to keep older adults out of institutional care when possible as well as ways to return them to their communities if they end up in hospital or care.

“We are inviting stakeholders, including older adults and their caregivers, to read the paper and share what resonates with them,” says Ajay. “We also want to hear what people think is missing in the paper. From the paper and engagement, we will create an action roadmap that we can take to decision and policy makers.”

Shirlee believes creating an age-friendly society is similar to the magnitude of addressing climate change. 

“Like for climate change, we need a long-term vision and a variety of immediate actions,” says Shirlee. “This change is going to require a great deal of passion and innovation and a foundational cultural shift.”

“We are inviting everyone to the table and asking them to bring their unique perspectives and experiences,” says Conny. “After really listening to feedback on the discussion paper, we will come up with priorities to focus on to enhance the lives of older adults in Canada and begin the work to help bring them about.”

Please visit the CourAGE: Action for better aging website, read the discussion paper and join the conversation.

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