Anticipating an aging population

How one Women’s College scientist is helping to prepare our health care system

Today’s health care costs make up 46 per cent of Ontario’s budget. And if our system doesn’t adapt, by 2054, after the proportion of seniors in our population has doubled what it is today, Ontario’s health care costs will account for more than 80 per cent of the provincial budget.1

Preventing that from happening is what gets Women’s College scientist Dr. Andrea Gruneir out of bed each morning.

“Making health-care more effective and more efficient is absolutely critical as the Ontario population ages,” says Gruneir.

To move our system in the right direction, Gruneir led a recent study, published recently in the peer-reviewed journal JAMDA. Her insights are helping policy-makers understand how gaps in the health care system can increase the burden on emergency departments.

“By understanding how these gaps contribute to patterns of emergency department use, and possibly hospital readmission, we can begin to target new models of care that address these weak points in our system, and prevent health crises that lead to poor outcomes, both for frail older adults and the health system as a whole.”

Gruneir’s population-based cohort study examines rates of emergency department use by long-term care (LTC) home residents. She found that health care transitions, especially those from hospital to LTC, are associated with an increase in emergency department transfers.

“The findings really highlight the need for a stronger focus on transitional care, especially for vulnerable older people who are being discharged from hospital to long-term care, and who frequently need more support to ensure they continue to get better,” says Gruneir.

In fact, in another report released in November 2011, Gruneir found that older women living in the community are more likely to rely on children for support, compared to older men who are more frequently cared for by their living spouse.

“Most older people are women, and most are living with multiple chronic conditions,” Gruneir explains. “Also, most of these women are living without the benefit of a spouse’s care and support.”

With more supportive transitional systems, Gruneir hopes that vulnerable older people will be healthier and better supported. And so will their families, including spouses as well as adult children who are often busy juggling their own children and jobs.

“But to develop effective new models that address these gaps and shortfalls in our health-care system, we first need to understand exactly where the weaknesses lie,” says Gruneir. “That’s what my work is currently focused on.”