University of Calgary
UofC Navigation

Healthy Aging Lab launches SSHRC-funded study on planning for an aging population

Psychology’s Candace Konnert delves into how to better plan for future care needs


Candace Konnert is leading a SSSHRC-funded study into how well Canadians are planning for their future care as they age.

By Heath McCoy
June 12, 2017

The University of Calgary’s Healthy Aging Lab has launched a three-year study focused on how Canadians are planning — or, in many cases, failing to plan — for their future care as they age.

Psychology associate professor Candace Konnert, who is leading the project, is seeking to recruit participants aged 50 and older for the SSHRC-funded study, where they will either do an online questionnaire or be interviewed in person.

Konnert notes that by 2036, 25 per cent of the Canadian population will be over 65 and almost eight per cent will be 80 years of age or older. “There is strong evidence to suggest that most people do not think about or plan for the future,” she says.  

“I’ve done a lot of research in the long-term care units of nursing homes and so much of the time we’ll see families having to make decisions in crisis situations. Maybe mom lives alone for too long and one day she falls and breaks her hip. She then goes into the hospital and develops delirium. She’s not able to return to her home and everybody is left scrambling for a plan.

“I thought, let’s back it up a bit and see if we can help people become better future planners. We all want to age in our homes but at some point most of us no longer can. So how do you get people to think about that in advance? How do we get families to think about it?”

Team investigates health, financial status, cultural background

In conducting the study, Konnert and her team are seeking to learn about the demographic, personal and social characteristics of individuals in relation to their future planning, with such factors as health and financial status under the microscope.

They are also interested in how planning may differ among those from diverse cultural backgrounds, with a special focus on Asian and South Asian communities. “Within those cultures there’s often this feeling that your children will look after you,” Konnert says. “If you have strongly endorsed norms of filial piety (a virtue of respect for one’s parents), maybe future planning wouldn’t be as important as it would be in western families.” 

Konnert adds, “We’re not just looking at the financial aspect of planning. We’re also asking, what are the psychological characteristics that make some people better planners?” 

'Silver tsunami' prompts individuals, governments to plan for future care

The issues of global aging, referred to in the media as “the silver tsunami,” are often used to urge governments to plan for significant increases in costs to health and social services, as well as the impact on family caregivers. But Konnert stresses that planning for future care needs must start with individuals.

“If you look at the pension system and the health care system, you can see that these will be challenged,” Konnert says. “We need to be better prepared as individuals, as communities, and as a society.”

“We can’t just look to the government. We know that family members take on the vast majority of everyday care for older relatives. We need to figure out how the government can work better with family caregivers so there’s some continuity in care between these two systems. Because typically what happens is that people fall through the cracks between these systems of formal and informal caregiving.”

'Knowledge is power' and can help people become better prepared

Konnert believes that better educating the public about the realities of aging will go a long way toward getting individuals and their families to better plan for their future care needs.

“I’m of the mind that knowledge is power,” she says. “People don’t always know what’s available in terms of government assistance and long-term care. They don’t understand how much care costs. Many people have this idea that it’s just picked up by the government, and it’s not. Even in a nursing home there are things you have to pay for over and above.

“The better you understand what’s coming down the pipe, the better prepared you can be. And this is something that’s off the radar for a lot of people.”

Konnert hopes the study will help create public awareness, and, in turn, guide community outreach initiatives, program development and future policy making at all levels of government.

“We know that people value the ability to make their own decisions and control their futures,” Konnert says. “The more proactive we are about future planning, the more in control we can be with making our own decisions, rather than having them made for us.”

Age 50 or older? You're invited to participate in the study

Complete the study online.

To be interviewed in person, or, for more information about the study, contact Calandra Speirs at 403-826-8433 or at healthyagingucalgary@gmail.com

This study, with collaborator Barbara Pesut (School of Nursing, University of British Columbia) is funded by a 2015 SSHRC Insight Development Grant.