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Aging baby boomers will increase need for life support in ICUs


Urgent planning is needed now to be able to deal with the growing number of people, mainly aging ‘baby boomers’, who will require intensive care services over the next 20 years, a new study from the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES) shows.

Researchers estimated the number of Ontario adults who will require mechanical ventilation (breathing machines used to provide life support) from 2006 to 2026 based on actual province-wide use of ventilators in 2000 and recent population projections for this 20-year period.

The results showed that by 2026, almost 35,000 Ontario adults would require mechanical ventilation, an 80% increase from 2000. Even after considering the effect of population growth on these projections, the use of mechanical ventilation would still increase by more than 30%, due to the aging population. Although this increase is large, it represents a 2.3% annually compounded growth rate over the study period, which is very similar to that experienced during the 1990s.

“Ontario intensive care units (ICUs) are not only dealing with shortages of nurses, intensivists, (specially trained ICU physician specialists), and other staff, but also potential increased rates of retirement of ICU personnel as these health professionals age along with the baby boomers,” said lead author and ICES research fellow Dr. Dale Needham.

“As a result, the increased need for mechanical ventilation life support services shown in our study will present a serious problem if we do not make a concerted effort now to adequately recruit and train ICU health professionals. This situation is especially acute for ICUs which require specialized personnel and equipment.”

Dr. Needham also points to several other potential solutions that should be explored now in order to minimize future strain on the healthcare system and ensure that the elderly are not disadvantaged.

“Research has shown that improved patient survival and reduced hospital length of stay can be achieved through the use of intensivists in direct patient care, or potentially even in supervisory roles as part of an ‘e-telemedicine’ system, which is already routinely used in a number of U.S. centres.

“Additionally, ICU efficiency may be improved by standardizing patient care, making the most of new information technology advances, such as decision support systems, and more effectively translating research regarding effective treatments into routine practice,” said Dr. Needham.

The study, “Projected incidence of mechanical ventilation in Ontario to 2026: preparing for the aging baby boomers”, is in the March 2005 issue of the journal Critical Care Medicine.

Author affiliations: ICES (Drs. Needham, Bronskill, and Laupacis); Interdepartmental Division of Critical Care Medicine (Drs. Needham and Sibbald), and Departments of Medicine (Drs. Needham, Sibbald, and Laupacis), and Health Policy, Management and Evaluation (Drs. Bronskill and Laupacis), University of Toronto; Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine (Dr. Needham), and Departments of Anesthesiology/Critical Care Medicine, Surgery, and Health Policy and Management (Dr. Pronovost), Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD.

ICES is an independent, non-profit organization that uses population-based health information to produce knowledge on a broad range of healthcare issues. Our unbiased evidence provides measures of health system performance, a clearer understanding of the shifting healthcare needs of Ontarians, and a stimulus for discussion of practical solutions to optimize scarce resources. ICES knowledge is highly regarded in Canada and abroad, and is widely used by government, hospitals, planners, and practitioners to make decisions about care delivery and to develop policy.


  • Julie Argles
  • Media Relations Officer, ICES
  • (416) 480-4780 or cell (416) 432-8143


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