Originally published in The Globe and Mail on August 13th, 2011. To go to the Globe and Mail website please click here
Science of aging
Re: Ottawa Eyes Fix For Population Crunch (Aug. 12): Policy makers would do a better job of solving the problem of a shrinking work force to pay for the increasing health-care costs if they first defined the problem accurately. They use the “dependency ratio” – the number of people over 65 divided by those under 65 – which ignores improving health and longevity. In 1957, the life expectancy of a 65-year-old Canadian was 14.6 years. By 2007, it had risen to 20.0 years. And those extra years are healthier too.
Putting healthy people into the category of old age dependants is not only anachronistic, but leads to bad public policy. This scares many people about the speed of aging and leads to apocalyptic visions about the health-care system.
If instead, the dependant population is defined by the projected incidence of ill health and other causes of disability, then the ratios are much more optimistic and instead of escalating, the trend lines are nearly flat in North America. Change is necessary but if we’re going to cite science to make policy, then let’s start with good science.
Susan Eng, vice-president, advocacy, CARP, Toronto