Senior couple

A government-commissioned report on aging in place highlights the immense challenge ahead for the country, as well as for financial advisors and their older clients.

The National Seniors Council’s recently released “Supporting Canadians Aging at Home: Ensuring Quality of Life as We Age” included recommendations such as creating a new government benefit to support people who age at home, making the $1,250 Canada caregiver tax credit refundable, and raising the guaranteed income supplement (GIS) by $900 annually for couples aged 65-plus.

The recommendations are “really relevant right now because life expectancies are continuing to rise and — I see this a lot with my clients — the desire to age in place is high,” said Bianca Tomenson, senior planner and director of financial planning and insurance solutions with Castlemark Wealth Management in Toronto.

An April report from the Canadian Institute of Actuaries found Canadians’ life expectancy is expected to increase. With people living longer, “that puts pressure on our health-care system and increases the need for long-term support,” Tomenson said. “Being able to proactively figure out how we’re going to support that may mean adding a GIS supplement [for example] for those who want to age in place.”

Aging in place is “less expensive for the system,” said Darren Coleman, senior portfolio manager with Coleman Wealth of Raymond James Ltd. in Oakville, Ont. “It’s generally healthier for people [if] they can stay in their surroundings, and there’s so many ways that support could come to them. It’s probably better for everyone.”

Too often, older adults find themselves reluctantly or unwillingly entering long-term care facilities, said Pamela Williamson, chair of the National Seniors Council and former executive director of Noojmowin Teg Health Centre, an Indigenous primary health-care organization.

“One of the things this report does is really supports the individual to be able to be part of their own decision-making about where they live,” Williamson said. “If they were to have the right things in place, [perhaps] they could stay independent and autonomous longer in their own homes despite deterioration in mobility or [other] issues they are experiencing.”

Long-term care beds are becoming increasingly scarce. For example, six Toronto long-term care facilities have closed in the past three years — with three homes closing this year alone — eliminating 650 beds total, the Toronto Star reported Tuesday.

The supply/demand disparity for elder care “is a problem that’s just going to get bigger and more urgent,” Coleman said. “So, I completely agree that government and individuals really need to think more strongly about how they’re going to manage this.”

One of Coleman’s clients cared for her husband, who had dementia. “She was very angry about the incredible lack of systems and government support,” he said.

Coleman said a refundable Canada caregiver credit, which represents about $104 monthly, would have been inadequate for his client’s needs.

“That’s a problem for government, because in aggregate [the credit] is billions of dollars, but individually it’s useless,” he said. “The cost [to government] is unbelievable, yet even at a huge cost, it doesn’t seem to provide much. So, I think most people are really unprepared for how expensive this gets [personally].”

While the report’s recommendations considered the government’s fiscal constraints, Williamson said, the council’s scope did not include costing the recommendations or a deep dive into the numbers. For example, the report doesn’t propose an amount for the age-at-home benefit, saying it could scale based on income and health needs.

The report’s 20 recommendations go beyond government benefits. Other ideas include creating a public national insurance program to cover expenses related to home health care and support; investing in organizations that support caregivers; supporting the development of national home-care standards; and developing a recruitment strategy, which would address issues such as fair wages and safe working conditions, for workers employed in aging-at-home sectors.

“We compiled [our recommendations] based on the information we were hearing the most and what we were seeing the most,” Williamson said. The council’s research included literature reviews, national surveys and roundtables, and one-on-one interviews with more than 70 older people, caregivers and family members.

What advisors can do

For Tomenson’s clients who wish to age at home, “we build in a cushion,” she said. “Let’s put a number to that to ensure you will be able to have that support, because in a lot of cases our clients are above where they would be eligible for GIS. So, we have to make sure we’re planning for longer and then having increased health-care costs as they age.”

She also considers long-term care insurance, which can include home-care benefits, where appropriate.

Coleman, who follows longevity research closely, said most people don’t realize how long they will live. He joked that the surprising variety in “Happy 100th birthday” cards at the drugstore — “I guarantee you there’s at least three” — should be proof enough of lengthening lifespans.

More seriously, he pointed out that a Harvard genetics professor believes the first person who will live to age 150 has already been born.

“If you look at [the financial advice] industry, our paradigm and our built-in assumptions do not include that [possibility],” said Coleman, who advocates for projecting past age 100. “What we should do as advisors is make sure clients know how little support is going to come from the system. You’ve really got to take care of yourself, because unless you’re planning for this, you’re really not going to have any good options.”

He also encouraged advisors to speak to clients about their plans sooner rather than later.

“This is going to do nothing but become harder,” he said. “I’m glad government’s finally turned their attention to this, but as a country and as advisors, we’ve got to be way ahead of this, because the government really won’t provide the solution.”