An Aging Population and Increased prevalence of Chronic Diseases in Canada

Dr. Theresa Tam, the Chief Public Health Officer, comments on the risks seniors face in today’s pandemic in the new Aging and Chronic Diseases: A Profile of Canadian Seniors report. This report highlights seniors being at inherently higher risk of worse outcomes with a COVID -19 infection due to advanced age, and a higher prevalence of underlying chronic diseases and conditions. The Canadian Chronic Disease Surveillance System estimates that in 2021, the overall number of adults aged 65 and older who will be living with chronic conditions will be about 6.3 million and will amass to a fifth of the Canadian population. Chronic diseases and conditions can affect activities of daily living, reduce quality of life, and increase mortality rates. This demonstrates that we need to make more evidence-based decisions that will tackle both chronic diseases and other challenges for seniors.

The key findings from the report are:

  • Nearly half of Canada’s seniors considered their physical health to be in either a very good or excellent state, even though many had been diagnosed with chronic diseases. This demonstrates that the population’s perception of personal health status is influenced by many social and economic factors.
  • Different chronic diseases occur more often in senior populations, increase with age and have variable prevalence between sexes. Diseases such as osteoarthritis, ischemic heart disease, osteoporosis, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease are more prevalent with older age, however, the age-standardized mortality rates for many of these have declined by over 30% since 2000.
  • With over one-third of seniors diagnosed with two or more chronic diseases, their activities of daily living, quality of life, and mortality risk can all become impacted. This can lead to increased use of multiple medications, and thus increases the risk of inappropriate drug use and adverse drug events.
  • In addition, the number of years lived with disability sharply increases for diseases like Alzheimer's disease and cardiovascular diseases. However, many of these chronic diseases can be managed or prevented altogether by addressing barriers that seniors experience and by implementing lifestyle changes.
  • Many individual day-to-day lifestyle choices can increase the risk of developing chronic diseases. The main 4 lifestyle choices include tobacco use, harmful use of alcohol, unhealthy eating, and physical inactivity. Health risks have also been found to be associated with overweight and underweight individuals as well as those with sleep disturbances.
  • Further determinants of health have also been found to affect chronic disease development such as social isolation.  These can be combatted by creating age-friendly communities, policies, services, and structures and can result in delay and even prevention of chronic diseases.

The Executive Summary can found here, released on December 16, 2020 by The Public Health Agency of Canada.