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Canada needs to improve care for seniors as life expectancy soars

Flora Murray 102 years old pose for a photograph at St. Patrick Home in Ottawa.

dave chan The Globe and Mail

There were 5,825 Canadians aged 100 or older last year, a population on the rise and one that's expected to grow even more into the next decades as life expectancy continues to soar.

Ten years before, 3,795 Canadians made up the centenarian population. There could be close to 80,000 by 2061, according to population projections released Tuesday by Statistics Canada, along with data from the 2011 census.

"People are living longer and living longer free of disability, until very late in their life," said Andrew Wister, the chair of gerontology at Simon Fraser University, who pegs the increase to health-care improvements and more health-conscious lifestyles.

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Flora Murray said she never would have expected to live for more than a century when she was growing up in Quebec. "I didn't worry about it because I'd already had such a good life," said the 102-year-old, who now lives in Ottawa.

Ms. Murray, who was born in 1910, worked as a teacher in Quebec. Her marriage, children and church were among the things that kept her positive, she said. It's an attitude she recommends for people who want to live long lives.

"Just try to take it and enjoy it as it comes to you, make the best of everything with as happy an attitude as you can," said Ms. Murray, wearing a purple blouse with a matching necklace and earrings. Maintaining her appearance and eating well have remained important to her, she said.

Dr. Wister said that sort of outlook seems typical of centenarians around the world. "I think they have a very positive view on life," he said.

The rate is highest in Japan, where there are 37 centenarians per 100,000 persons. Italy, France and the United Kingdom are also ahead of Canada, which had a rate of 17.4 in 2011.

Across Canada, more women lived to be 100 than men: There were 4,870 female centenarians in 2011, compared to only 955 males. People were more likely to live to 100 in Saskatchewan, where there were 31 centenarians per 100,000 persons last year. The lowest rate was in Canada's three territories, where the rate was 4.7.

Given the national trend, Canada needs to continuing to improve the care in place for increasingly elderly seniors, Dr. Wister said.

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"We're going to see more people living to extreme old age," he said, "and we have to think in the future about what we need to do in society to support an aging population."

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