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According to the Canadian Medical Association poll, those who do not have a disability were more likely to prioritize home and community care. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

Home and community care should be a priority in seniors' health care, given the "real" and "well-founded" anxiety Canadians have facing their golden years, a poll for the Canadian Medical Association suggests.

Ipsos Reid conducted the annual poll as part of the medical group's national report card on health issues, with a focus on the retirement years. The medical association's annual convention is underway in Calgary and runs through Wednesday.

For the poll, when presented with three priorities in seniors' health care, a majority selected home and community care (63 per cent), above care provided in hospitals and long-term care facilities (24 per cent) and end-of-life care (12 per cent).

"The anxiety Canadians have about health care in their so-called golden years is both real and well-founded," CMA President Dr. Anna Reid said in a release. "Let there be no doubt that a national strategy for seniors health care should be a federal priority."

New federal Health Minister Rona Ambrose gave her first speech to delegates at the convention.

"As soon as a federal minister says the words 'national strategy,' a lot of provinces flinch a little, so we don't talk about those kind of things until we talk to our colleagues in the provinces and territories," Ambrose said after her speech, adding that the looming "demographic crunch" will put more pressure on the health-care system.

There were some differences, with residents of Quebec (66 per cent) and the Atlantic provinces (71 per cent) likely to prioritize home and community care compared with residents of Saskatchewan and Manitoba (50 per cent.)

Those with no physical/mental disability were also more likely (64 per cent) to make home and community care a priority, compared with those who do have those challenges (54 per cent).

Reid said research shows it costs $126 a day to provide care for a patient in long-term care versus $842 a day in a hospital. But making it easier for seniors to stay at home while getting the care they need would be the preferred and most "cost-effective option," she said.

Ninety-three per cent agreed that "Canadian needs a national strategy on health care for seniors which addresses the need for care provided at home, care provided in hospitals, hospices and long-term care facilities and care provided at the end of life."

Supporting family caregivers

Prof. John Hirdes is the Ontario Home Care Research and Knowledge Exchange Chair at the University of Waterloo, where he studies and teaches gerontology.

As part of a study for the Health Council of Canada, Hirdes and his colleagues found about 25 per cent of the care received by home care clients comes from the health-care system and 75 per cent comes from family members.

"This means that if we want to keep people who are more frail and medically complex in the community for longer, we have to be prepared to support family caregivers who will bear the large majority of the burden of that care," Hirdes said.

Stacey Daub, CEO of the Toronto-Central Community Care Access Centre that co-ordinates homecare, said aging can be scary for people who don't plan for it.

"It's not always clear for people what's available," Daub told CBC Radio's Metro Morning. "If you want to plan, you need to know what is publicly paid for and what might be your personal and your family responsibility, and I think if we did a better job  on that people could be more proactive in their planning for aging and that would reduce the anxiety."

Daub suggested supporting relatives who provide care with better leave strategies, incentives and tax breaks.

The poll, conducted July 17-26 by phone with 1,000 Canadians, has a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points, plus or minus, 19 times out of 20.

Monday's session at the CMA convention explored end-of-life issues such as palliative care, advance care planning or what used to be known as a living will, and physician-assisted dying.

With files from The Canadian Press