System failing growing number of seniors who are homeless, need more support

Shelters in Canada are not designed to meet the physical or mental health needs of the growing number of older adults who are homeless, a report released Tuesday says.

People who are experiencing homelessness age faster than those who are housed due to factors such as stress and the inability to properly manage chronic medical conditions, Dr. Jillian Alston, lead author of the paper published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, said in an interview. Many people who are homeless are considered seniors as early as age 50 because of documented physical and mental decline, said Alston, who is a geriatrician at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto.

The report analyzed homelessness among seniors based on the authors’ clinical observations and a review of several studies. The number of seniors needing support is growing with an aging population, Alston said. That includes both people who were already homeless and seniors who are thrust into homelessness for the first time in their later years, she said.

The shortfalls range from a lack of space to safely store medication to a higher risk of falls in shelters that weren’t designed with accessibility in mind, she said. Many seniors can’t get the level of care they need that would otherwise be provided in a home-care setting.

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