What determines the timing of retirement? Is it a number, an age, a feeling, or an opportunity? Actually it is health that effects the most unplanned or involuntary retirements. Winston Churchill is credited with saying that healthy citizens are the greatest asset any country can have. Canadians take pride in our health care system and this is the time of year many rededicate themselves to improving their health.
What is the state of the nation in terms of health care?
The Conference Board of Canada’s “How Canada Performs” is a kind of report card on our country including our health care system. The first key message is that Canada earned a B and placed 10th out of 17 peer nations with Japan, one of the oldest populations in the world, as number one followed by Switzerland and Italy. Canada does well on some but not so well on others. The second message states that “with an aging population, chronic diseases will place an increasing burden on Canadian society”. This is a demographic reality we have known for some time but still have no policies to address this. The third points out that obesity is one of the most significant contributing factors to many chronic conditions. How are those New Year’s resolutions coming along?
The Challenges we face
Some of the challenges to our health care system are poor information systems, long wait times, and management systems that do not focus on the quality of outcomes according to the Conference Board report. Some factors are individual lifestyle choices like smoking, which is a factor in 30 per cent of cancers, poor nutrition, a lack of fitness activities, or excessive alcohol use. Chronic conditions are expensive but countries like Japan, Germany, and Sweden have older populations and score higher than Canada. The United States spends the most but ranks at 17 out of 17. It is then not what we spend but how we spend!
What can we do?
I interviewed Mary Pat Hinton, the founder of Emmetros, a company dedicated to providing high quality products and services for those affected by dementia. I wanted to know about public policy and planning for the doubling of the 65+ population over the next 2 decades. She indicated that both provincial and federal levels of government seem to be shifting health care approaches from hospitals and doctors to community based services. Unfortunately, funding does not flow there however and so not-for-profit organizations, registered charities, and families are paying for and/or providing these services.
On an individual level, she suggests PREVENTING illness and injury by keeping your body and brain healthy and strong, and staying engaged with your community. She also suggests PLANNING for your increasing needs for medical care and support with a financial planner, an estate lawyer, an insurance provider, and your family. Do some research into what services are available and document your own end-of-life wishes with a site like speakup.ca, for example. Then prod your political representatives for a national strategy on aging. An election is coming up!
Don't wait for spring, do it now!
Deepak Chopra said, “If we are creating ourselves all the time, then it is never too late to begin creating the bodies we want instead of the ones we mistakenly assume we are stuck with.” We need to look after our own little red wagons as best we can! On a society level, the Conference Board suggests support for strong primary care practices and population health approaches. British Columbia, for example, has an across government health promotion initiative called ACT NOW. We also need improved information technology, electronic patient records, training and development and continued innovation. Geriatricians are in short supply, for example.
Let’s look at what other countries are doing well, take a country wide approach with an aging population strategy, and rededicate ourselves to looking after ourselves as best we can individually and as a nation.