How do Super-Seniors use the health system in their last years of life?

Date posted: 
Thursday, August 31, 2017

In 2036, it is estimated that seniors (aged 65 and older) will account for a quarter of the population in Canada. Seniors tend to use the healthcare system more than any other age group, in part because they have a high rate of multiple long-term chronic conditions and functional limitations; and also because healthcare use increases substantially in the last year of life.   However, there are differences among subgroups of the older population, with respect to both health issues and demand for healthcare, which have not been comprehensively researched.

PopData will be linking data for a recently-approved research project which will study Super-Seniors to assess their later mortality and how much they use the health system, particularly in the last year of life, compared to their peers. In the study Super-Seniors are defined as aged 85 years or older, without being diagnosed with cancer, cardiovascular disease, stroke, dementia, major lung disease or diabetes.

The project, funded by the Lotte and John Hecht Memorial Foundation, is being led by Mary McBride, Clinical Professor at the University of British Columbia’s School of Population and Public Health. 

The research is part of the Healthy Aging Study led by Dr. Angela Brooks-Wilson, a Principal Investigator at the Genome Sciences Centre at the BC Cancer Agency and Professor at Simon Fraser University. During the first phase of the project, Brooks-Wilson and her team gathered detailed information from 500 healthy Super-Senior volunteers in BC aged 85 to 109. The seniors provided medical, family and lifestyle information, as well as a blood sample, and were tested for physical and cognitive function.

The PopData-based research will look at data from approximately 30,000 seniors born in 1920, and will compare the subsequent health and healthcare use of those who meet the criteria for Super-Seniors, versus those who are less healthy.  “Conducting this study will allow us to determine formally whether Super-Seniors experience a shorter period of ill-health at the end of their lives, and less ill-health overall, than other seniors,” says McBride. “This is important for the health and quality of life of individuals and public health promotion efforts, and also has positive implications for our healthcare system, notably by providing insights to inform reduction in healthcare use during the time of life when healthcare and costs are highest. Knowing whether the Super-Seniors show compression of morbidity would help us establish whether, as we suspect, Super-Seniors cost the health system less than other seniors. ”

This study will also set the groundwork for future BC Cancer Agency-led investigations into health economics aspects of the Super-Seniors phenotype, and the relationship of healthcare demand to genetic and behavioural characteristics of Super-Seniors identified in the Healthy Aging Study.

Page last revised: August 31, 2017