Healthy Aging a Priority for Health Canada's Division of Aging and Seciors
Canada's senior population is among the fastest growing in the world. Our senior population, which today makes up 12% of Canada's total population, will account for an estimated 23% of all Canadians by the year 2041. This demographic shift will impact on families and communities and alter the economic, social and cultural fabric of our country.
As a centre of information and expertise on seniors' and aging issues, Health Canada's Division of Aging and Seniors plays an important role in promoting healthy aging across Canadian society.
"We work on healthy aging initiatives with partners at all levels, including seniors' organizations, government policy makers, health professionals, service providers and the voluntary and private sectors," says Division Director Nancy Garrard.
Garrard says the Division's healthy aging partnerships are designed to increase seniors' autonomy, reduce health inequities, prevent or reduce the severity of chronic diseases and promote comprehensive health care and social supports for Canadian seniors. At the national policy level, the Division's role is to provide advice to the Minister of Health, who is responsible for seniors issues ranging from seniors' safety and injury prevention to co-management of chronic diseases and supportive housing. Another of the Division's key responsibilities is to provide research and operational support to the National Advisory Council on Aging, an independent body which advises the Minister of Health on issues related to Canada's aging population and the quality of life for seniors.
Knowledge development on seniors' issues is another priority for the Division, notes Garrard. "We support research and analysis in key areas such as diabetes, mental health and depression, nutrition, healthy lifestyles, seniors and technology and communicating with seniors. Once research is completed, we make sure the findings are disseminated to a broad public audience through our Web site and our publications."
While information dissemination is crucial to the promotion of healthy aging, so too is coordinated community action on behalf of seniors, emphasizes Garrard. With this goal in mind, the Division assists community-based organizations in obtaining funding from Health Canada's Population Health Fund to respond to seniors' needs in healthy aging, end-of-life-care, illness and disability prevention, and personal autonomy and independence.
Garrard says the value of these community-based initiatives is their ability to create positive health outcomes in seniors' everyday lives. These initiatives are important because they help us develop effective tools for healthy aging, while increasing our understanding of how to better respond to seniors' health needs in a rapidly aging society."
Developing knowledge and expertise on seniors' health issues
Turning Knowledge into Action. That's the phrase that best describes the work of the Division of Aging and Seniors' Knowledge Development Unit.
"Developing knowledge and expertise on seniors' health issues and turning that knowledge into practical policies, programs and initiatives for seniors is our goal," says Nancy Garrard.
The unit achieves this goal by closely monitoring research developments, by analysing national survey information and by commissioning special analyses in areas such as care giving, osteoporosis and depression.
"Because we follow the work of researchers in the field of aging, we know who can provide us with the information we need to guide the work of the Division," explains Garrard. "A good part of our knowledge development work is done under the direction of the National Advisory Council on Aging," she adds. "The Council uses our information to spark discussion on key seniors' issues and to make policy recommendations to the federal government."
The unit often acts as a catalyst for knowledge dissemination by supporting initiatives to translate research findings to a wider audience. A good example of the unit's efforts is its support for the dissemination of the landmark Canadian Study of Health and Aging (CSHA), which provides a comprehensive view of issues related to dementia in Canada. "Once the study was completed," says Garrard "the unit helped organize a national workshop for researchers, policy makers, seniors' organizations and health service providers to discuss ways of incorporating new research findings into dementia policy and practices in Canada."
The Knowledge Development Unit also recently provided developmental support and advice to the authors of A Guide to End-Of-Life Care for Seniors. The Guide, which received funding from Health Canada's Population Health Fund, provides health care providers and family caregivers with best practices for end-of-life care, while highlighting the ethical issues and challenges of delivering care and discussing the importance of providing support to caregivers.
"We're continually looking for innovative research and ideas to improve care for seniors and to promote healthy aging," says Garrard. "By promoting the latest knowledge and expertise, we're helping seniors, and those who care for them, make the best possible decisions to influence their health."
Collaborating on effective policy responses to seniors' health needs
Collaborating on effective policy responses to the needs of seniors and an aging Canadian society is a key responsibility of the Division of Aging and Seniors' Policy, Planning and Evaluation Section.
"One of our main tasks is to collaborate on policy development with federal, provincial and territorial officials responsible for seniors," explains Nancy Garrard. An important product of this collaboration is the National Framework on Aging (NFA), which promotes seniors' well-being and establishes five key principles for the development of government policies affecting seniors: dignity, independence, participation, fairness and security.
The NFA's main tool is the Seniors Policies and Programs Database (SPPD), launched in 2000 by the Federal, Provincial and Territorial Ministers Responsible for Seniors. This extensive on-line database provides policy makers across jurisdictions with a wide range of information on federal, provincial and territorial policies, programs and services benefiting seniors.
The SPPD was designed as an information resource that assists policy makers in addressing seniors' priorities and in planning collaborative responses to important aging issues," says Garrard. "However, she adds, "it is accessible to the public, and we have been receiving positive feedback from individuals and organizations outside of government who are involved in seniors and aging issues."
Garrard says this Section is currently working on a new federal initiative known as the Seniors Portal. This innovative interdepartmental initiative aims at providing older Canadians with Internet access to information on 23 federal departments offering seniors' programs and services. "The Seniors Portal offers direct connectivity to information geared to seniors' needs and interests," explains Garrard. "It's a one-stop service that seniors will find convenient, informative and extremely user-friendly."
Garrard says the Section's collaboration on the Seniors Portal and other policy-related initiatives reflects the Division of Aging and Seniors' commitment to responding to seniors' health needs, while expanding awareness and understanding of seniors and aging issues across Canadian society.
Analysis and Development: putting seniors' research into action
Taking information and evidence on seniors' health issues and turning it into concrete health initiatives is the task of the Division of Aging and Seniors' Analysis and Development Section.
"We serve as a link between health researchers who develop new knowledge and those in government and the community who use it to create health programs for seniors," explains Nancy Garrard.
Garrard says the Section is constantly on the look out for new research and ideas that can be used to improve seniors' well-being and increase knowledge in areas such as healthy aging, safe living, injury prevention and diabetes management.
She notes the Section's efforts led to the recent announcement of a Health Canada/ Veterans Affairs Falls Prevention Initiative, aimed at developing community-based strategies for preventing falls and helping seniors and veterans maintain their health and independence.
Garrard says the Section also plays a key role in soliciting and reviewing applications for project funding under Health Canada's Population Health Fund. It then makes funding recommendations to the Minister of Health based on a number of priorities, including a project's ability to expand or improve community partnerships for seniors.
"Our ultimate goal is to ensure that communities and their partners have the most current information about what works best for seniors," says Nancy Garrard. "This way they can develop programming initiatives that respond to seniors' health needs in a flexible and creative way."
Engaging Canadian seniors on aging issues
Engaging seniors and seniors' organizations in federal government decisions and initiatives that affect them is a major priority for Health Canada's Division of Aging and Seniors. "We want to work more closely with Canadian seniors, to share information with them and get their input into government policy formulation," says Nancy Garrard.
In 2000, the Division's Intersectoral Collaboration Section collaborated with organizations representing seniors from across the country on a national meeting to discuss important seniors' issues. "The organizations subsequently prepared a series of policy recommendations which will be presented in a special report to the Minister of Health, who is also the federal Minister responsible for seniors," says Garrard.
In 2001, Garrard says a key goal is to work closely with seniors' organizations to determine how Canada can most effectively participate in the 2002 World Assembly on Ageing.
"We're working hard to create opportunities for dialogue with and among seniors' organizations," emphasizes Garrard. "This approach is designed to help organizations rally around important aging issues and build a strong national voice for Canadian seniors."
Information helps seniors improve health and autonomy
Serving the information needs of seniors and those who work with them is a constant challenge for the Division of Aging and Seniors' Information Coordination and Dissemination Section.
"We act as a radar, keeping an eye out for all kinds of information needs," explains Nancy Garrard. "Our job is to package and disseminate information on everything from seniors' services to healthy aging. Our priority is to ensure that this information is relevant and timely for Canadian seniors and for other groups such as voluntary organizations, researchers, health care professionals and policy makers."
Garrard says the Section's best-known publication is its Seniors Guide to Federal Programs and Services. Other popular publications include the Safe Living Guide and Bruno and Alice (on seniors' home safety and injury prevention), Communicating with Seniors (on adapting communication tools to seniors) and the Info Sheet for Seniors (a series on topics such as arthritis, heart disease, palliative care). These and other Division publications are available in print (regular and large size), audio cassette, Braille and electronic formats. Most recent publications can be obtained on the Internet at http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/seniors-aines
"More and more, we're producing 'how-to' information tools which are practical and senior-friendly." emphasizes Garrard. "The positive feedback tells us that our publications are helping seniors to improve their health and autonomy. It's really nice to know our efforts are making a difference.