Dr Yves Joanette, Scientific Director at the CIHR Institute of Aging explores how Canada’s researchers are meeting the needs of an ageing population, now and in the future
The world’s population is ageing. The World Health Organization projects that the number of people of over 60 will double by 2050. Dr Margaret Chan, former Director General of WHO noted it is not enough that people are living longer lives, we need to ensure these extra years are healthy, meaningful and dignified.
As Scientific Director of CIHR’s Institute of Aging, I couldn’t agree more. We want to make sure that these extra years are functionally healthy, that older people continue to lead meaningful lives and that they are treated with the utmost dignity and respect.
In Canada, we reached a major demographic inversion in 2016. For the first time, the number of Canadians aged 65 and older surpassed the number of Canadians aged 14 and under. That trend is expected to continue with one in four Canadians expected to be aged 65 or over by 2036, thus bringing Canada among the super-aged countries.
The fastest growing segment of our senior population is the ‘oldest old’ – or people 85 years old and more, with centenarians being the most rapidly growing group.
This increased lifespan results from the excellent quality of life in Canada. It also results from access to high-quality healthcare and the success of our public health programmes. To adjust to this demographic change, it also means that we need to change our social programmes and attitudes towards older people.
In Canada, we have long anticipated this demographic change and from a research perspective, we have worked to establish the infrastructure needed to carry out collaborative research among researchers and institutions within Canada and internationally.
Our first step was to establish an Institute of Aging as part of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research in 2000. I’ve had the privilege of serving as Scientific Director of the CIHR Institute of Aging since 2011 and our mission is to support research, to promote functionally healthy ageing and to address causes, prevention, screening, diagnosis, treatment, support systems and palliation for those complex health challenges that can be present in older individuals.
To provide critical data on the determinants of functionally healthy ageing, we fund the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging (CLSA). This cross-Canada research platform involves more than 50,000 Canadians, aged 45 to 85, who will be followed for 20 years. CLSA will provide data and biological samples for Canadian researchers to help identify the determinants of a functionally healthy ageing, from the most basic biological to the most social aspects, including work and retirement trajectories.
The CLSA team recently released a first baseline report. It represents the most comprehensive picture of the health of Canadians over age 45 ever produced. On the bright side, almost 90% of participants rated their health as good to excellent. At the same time, the report revealed potential challenges. Only 25% of participants reach recommended amounts of physical activity. 38% of participants reported having to provide care to others. And among retired participants, 25% reported health reasons as a factor in their decision to retire.
Finally, loneliness and social isolation, particularly among women, was identified as a concern. If we want to break down barriers that prevent older adults from continuing to work or otherwise lead fulfilling lives, we will also have to embrace new technologies in ways that will support the mobility and independence of older people.
As we look forward to the future, the Institute of Aging is committed to creating a world that supports health and wellness throughout the trajectory of ageing.
Overall, we want to celebrate and help older adults to participate fully in their communities and to contribute their skills and wisdom to their families, friends and fellow citizens.
Dr Yves Joanette
CIHR Institute of Aging
Tel: +1 613 954 1968