Comorbidity a growing concern as Canadian workforce ages

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Employees with multiple chronic conditions are a growing concern among Canada’s aging workforce, according to a workplace researcher.

Peter Smith, a senior scientist at the Institute for Work and Health in Toronto, explained to the audience at Benefits Canada’s Chronic Disease at Work conference last month that while most of the studies in the area of occupational health concern the effects of single chronic diseases, researchers are just beginning to understand the threat of comorbidity, when two or more conditions appear in the same person.

For example, he said recent studies have demonstrated that the risk of an employee with diabetes stopping work is about double that of the average worker. For those with heart disease, the risk triples. However, when one person has both conditions, the risk goes up eight times compared with the baseline rate.

“It is really important, as we start to focus on chronic conditions, that we think not just about specific conditions, but combinations of conditions, and how those combinations might work synergistically to lead to poorer labour market outcomes,” said Smith.

According to data presented by Smith, the number of the Canadian workers over age 50 more than doubled between 1997, when they numbered about two million, and 2016, when the number jumped to about five million.

“These trends are going to continue at least for the next five years and potentially longer,” said Smith.

“It’s not just the workers who are healthy who want to stay in the labour market,” he added, noting employees who report their own health as fair or poor were more likely to plan to continue in the workforce beyond age 65.

As the field of study develops, Smith said he hopes to learn more about which interventions are most effective for keeping older workers engaged in the labour market or helping them to return to work after an absence caused by a chronic condition.

“Do we need different strategies for people who have more than one condition or what are the things we can do for people with one condition to stop the development of a second condition further impacting their labour market participation?” said Smith. “Or are there some interventions that might be effective regardless of the condition? We don’t know his information but we need to know it.”

Transcontinental Media G.P.