The Economist Intelligence Unit Investigates: Healthcare Costs of Ageing

The Economist Intelligence Unit has published a paper on ageing populations, their impact on healthcare systems and policy directions that should be explored as a result.

CARP’s was one of several expert witnesses interviewed for this paper. The Economist Intelligence Unit was Founded in 1946 when a director of intelligence was appointed to serve The Economist, it is now a leading research and advisory firm with more than 40 offices worldwide. To learn more about them, click here

To read EIU paper, click here.

We know that society is ageing much faster than at any other time in history, in part because of declining birthrates but mostly because of higher life expectancies. Healthcare Strategies for an Ageing Society looks at the implications this will have for healthcare systems. Overall their analysis is in line with CARP’s position on the issue, namely, that looking at age alone as a driver of cost is a red herring.

They argue that healthcare spending increases dramatically for the last year or two of a person’s life whether the person is 8 or 88, it just so happens that more people die after age 65 than they do before age 65. Citing a 2007 OECD story the paper argues that population ageing is only responsible for a small part of increase in healthcare costs, whereas healthcare costs increased for an average of 3.7% from 1970 to 2002, ageing was responsible for 0.5% of it.

Studies have suggested we may be witnessing a “compression of morbidity” – meaning that we may be staying healthier longer and that we may even be seeing a decline in years of disability and disease.

Although it is difficult to determine if populations are becoming healthier, Dr James Vaupel, founding director of the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research says the overall outlook is fairly positive: “there are questions of definition, response error, the surveys are typically small – but if you put all the studies together, the general thrust is that disability is being postponed.”

In order to better deal with the challenges that lie ahead, the paper outlines the main problems we need to tackle. One of the first challenges is to eliminate ageism in medicine and to reset public mindsets about the elderly.

There are several examples of ageism in medicine: older people are less likely to receive the treatment they need, their symptoms are much likelier to be discounted as “symptoms of old age”. But ageism is also systemic in medicine: treatments, for instance, are almost always tested on young healthy bodies which react differently from older bodies or older people suffering from chronic disease.

Geriatric training is also a disproportionately small part of all medical training and the funds to train the geriatricians we need are not in place. Currently there are only 216 Geriatricians (Geriatric doctors) in Canada, one-fifth of those needed, and few of them are working with patients full-time. Many focus on research and 43 are close to retirement. There are only six geriatricians in the country under the age of 35. This is just one of the reasons why CARP is working on putting in place a scholarship fund for people interested in studying geriatric in nursing or in medicine To read more about this initiative click here