Enabling healthy aging — Anna’s story
Until her passing last summer, Anna Hanley was loved by everyone who knew her. Many said she inspired them with her energy and enthusiasm. “She loved to golf and was her own chauffeur until she reached the age of 90,” her obituary reads.
Anna, like more than one-in-four Canadian seniors in long-term care, was on antipsychotic medication, without a diagnosis of psychosis. Antipsychotics are often prescribed for other reasons. Unfortunately, they have a sedating effect, which causes falls and unnecessary hospital visits.
In 2013, antipsychotic medication use among New Brunswick’s elderly was almost double the Canadian average. Given our province’s demographics, this is a growing problem.
An innovative approach to antipsychotics is one of many opportunities from which New Brunswick can benefit. We are a well-connected “living lab” that has developed many advanced healthcare solutions.
Solutions are needed that will enable healthy aging, and demonstrate the health and financial benefits of innovative approaches. These approaches include redesigning systems, so we can share information and data more effectively, allowing social enterprise and the private sector to add further value, and enabling informed decision-making on the ground.
Healthier aging will also result from preventative health care efforts, such as those targeted by the federal government’s $16.6-million investment in the University of New Brunswick’s Centre for Healthy Living, and the announcement of a new Health Research Chair in Community Health and Aging at St. Thomas University.
Increasing the well being of its residents is the goal of the York Care Centre (YCC), a social enterprise devoted to the idea of enabling healthy aging through innovation. Realizing that many of its residents — people including Anna, who suffered from dementia/Alzheimer’s disease — became lethargic and declined while using antipsychotic medication, YCC sought a solution.
Through an antipsychotic reduction program developed by the Canadian Foundation for Healthcare Improvement (CFHI), YCC became one of 56 care homes to reduce the prescription of antipsychotic medication to seniors. Since September 2014, 54 per cent of the 416 long-term residents involved in the program nationwide reduced or discontinued their medication, realizing significant decreases in falls, and verbal and physical abuse.
The program was a success at the YCC too, where antipsychotic use declined by a third, and the related costs dropped to half the provincial average.
Most importantly, though, Anna’s and others’ quality of life improved. Regular visitor Eugene McGinley, Anna’s brother, noticed that Anna became more responsive and more mobile — more like the Anna he knew — after her antipsychotics use was phased out.
Funded by the Government of Canada, the work of CFHI shows how innovative approaches are leading to better outcomes for patients and their families. Its success reducing antipsychotic use led to the creation of the New Brunswick Appropriate Use of Antipsychotics Collaborative – a joint effort by CFHI, the New Brunswick Association for Nursing Homes, and the provincial government. The goal is to scale the program to the province’s more than 60 long-term care homes by the summer of 2018.
AGE-WELL, Canada’s technology and aging network, recently partnered with the New Brunswick Health Research Foundation and YCC to open a new National Innovation Hub in Fredericton. AGE-WELL is a federally-funded Network of Centres of Excellence which aims to accelerate innovation in the field of technology and aging for the benefit of all Canadians.
Additionally, our federal government reached its first healthcare deal with the provinces to see an investment of $11-billion over the next 10 years, including an additional $229.4-million for better home care and mental health care supports. This money will enable seniors to live longer, healthier lives, in their own homes and reduce financial and administrative burdens on our already overstretched health care system.
My vision is that New Brunswick continues to be a proving ground for new, collaborative models of care that can streamline services and ensure that appropriate supports are in place. Through our collective energy and enthusiasm — similar to that with which Anna Hanley lived her life — our province can continue to become a national leader for innovations in preventative healthcare and enabling healthy aging.