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It is estimated that caring for a senior in the community costs about one-quarter of caring for the same person in hospital. (Mark Baker/Associated Press)

Canadian seniors account for 85 per cent of patients in hospital beds who could be receiving care elsewhere, a problem that will only grow as the first baby boomers turn 65 this year, according to a new report.

Thursday's report by the Canadian Institute for Health Information called Health Care in Canada, 2011: A Focus on Seniors and Aging, examines how seniors use the health system and where there’s room for improvement.

For example, 47 per cent of seniors have completed their hospital treatment but remain in an acute-care hospital because they're waiting to be moved to a long-term care facility such as a nursing home or to rehab or home with support (so-called "alternate level of care" patients.)

Those patients have a ripple effect on the rest of a hospital, said Dr. Jeff Turnbull, chief of staff of the Ottawa Hospital.

"The delays of getting into the hospital delays, of getting timely surgery diagnostics, all are affected by our that fact that we have so many people sitting in our acute-care beds," said Turnbull.

Last year, those ripples meant the hospital had to cancel 600 elective surgeries, he said.

Currently, seniors represent 14 per cent of the population, but they use 40 per cent of hospital services and account for about 45 per cent of health spending of provincial and territorial government, the report's authors found.

For hospitals, an acute-care bed costs about $1,100 a day. In comparison, Turnbull estimated it costs a quarter of that to care for the same senior in the community.

The goal for governments should be to spend money on the right services so more seniors can stay at home and out of hospital longer, said Kathleen Morris, CIHI's director of health system analysis.

Those services include traditional health-care services such as nursing and physiotherapy as well as transportation or help with household chores to help the 93 per cent of seniors who live at home, Morris said.

Ensuring continuity of care for seniors across the health care system could potentially lead to better care and better quality of life, health policy researcher Marcus Hollander in Victoria said, commenting on the report.

The report's authors pointed to efficient use of new technologies such as:

  • A medication monitoring system equipped with a sensor to allow family members to use online video clips to monitor which medications were taken for seniors receiving home-care services.
  • Magnetic door sensors that send an email, text message or cell phone message to caregivers if a person with dementia goes outside unattended.
  • Flexible bed mats with pressure sensors that let caregivers know when their family member has woken up and is moving.

The report also included chapters on seniors' use of prescription drugs and caring for seniors in the community or in residential care.

With files from CBC's Susan Lunn