Health-care pressure: Number of Atlantic Canadians over 75 will double in 20 years

HALIFAX — A new study says the number of seniors in Atlantic Canada will increase by 32 per cent over the next 20 years, putting added pressure on the region’s health-care system and labour market.

The study released Thursday by the Atlantic Provinces Economic Council says the most rapid growth will be among older seniors.

Policy analyst Fred Bergman said the number of Atlantic Canadians aged 75 and older will double by 2040.

The independent think-tank says these changes in demographic patterns will have significant implications for the region’s economy.

Atlantic Canada’s population is already the oldest in Canada.

By 2040, there will be three seniors for every two young people in the region, the council says.

“We estimate Atlantic health care costs will rise by 27 per cent by 2040 simply due to the population aging.” Bergman said in a statement, adding that the region will need an additional 25,000 beds in nursing or seniors homes.

This so-called grey tsunami, which refers to the large wave of baby boomers who are reaching retirement age, is also having a profound impact on the labour market, the study says.

In 1990, there were 20 young workers entering the job market for every ten retirees. Thirty years later, there are just seven, and APEC does not expect that number to change any time soon.

The region’s primary industries — agriculture, fishing, forestry, mining and oil and gas — have the oldest workforce in the region.

Meanwhile, the working-age population — those between 25 and 64 — has fallen by almost 50,000 in the past 10 years. During that time, the number of seniors has surpassed the number of people under the age of 19 for the first time.

Buried in the latest statistics, however, is some uplifting news: retirees today have 44 per cent more disposable income than seniors just 20 years ago, after adjusting for inflation.

As well, the region’s charities and non-profit organizations are sure to benefit from the fact that seniors, on average, serve as community volunteers for over 200 hours every year, which is 50 per cent more than the rest of the population.

And there will be opportunities for businesses that take advantage of the trends outlined in the report, APEC says.

“Seniors will be a growth sector,” the report says.

“Senior homes, assisted living, and care workers will be in demand, as well as personal services to help those aging at home. Products and services that cater to or are adapted for an aging population will be in demand.”

The new numbers will not come as a shock to the region’s politicians and business leaders, who have been receiving similar reports for years.

In 2014, for example, the Nova Scotia government was handed a report from a panel of experts who warned the province was doomed to endure an extended period of decline unless population and economic trends were reversed.

The report, written by a five-member panel led by then Acadia University president Ray Ivany, predicted that by 2036, the province could expect to have 100,000 fewer working-age people than it did in 2010.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 21, 2021.

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