Progress in Meeting Senior Health Challenges – A Report Card

Aging and Health in America 2013 was recently released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.

This report is the sixth installment and is designed to be a snapshot of health in our country. It focuses on the aging health status of people 65 years and older.

The goal of this valuable report is to measure how well our country and communities are handling threats to the aging population. The researchers want it to be viewed as a report card of progress in public health.

How well do you think that the health and well-being of our seniors, behavior reduction to limit death and disability, functional mobility and prevention programs are improving the successful aging of your senior loved ones?

As the population of the US and the rest of the planet continues to grow rapidly, there are changes occurring in the healthcare landscape. The key cause of death in this country has shifted from infectious disease or acute illness to chronic disease such as heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, lung diseases, and cancer. The longer we live, the longer time we have to develop debilitating chronic diseases at the same time we are treating and curing infectious diseases with improved medical care. Chronic diseases usually have a long duration of decline affecting the ability to perform activities of daily living and impairing socialization leading to isolation and depression.

The report card covers 15 indicators grouped into 4 areas which are health status, health behavior, preventive care and screening and injuries.  All fifty states and the District of Columbia are measured and a scorecard available for the indicators.

The report finds states are doing well in some areas but is targeting specific items that they feel need improvement to meet the needs our aging senior loved ones.

Health Goals Unmet

  1. MobilityImpaired functional mobility affects many areas of daily life and can result in poor health outcomes for our seniors. You can improve mobility by altering the physical environment and increasing physical strength and balance. A mobility impairment can negatively impact quality of life for our seniors.
  2. Chronic Disease Prevention and Management – As we age, there is a greater potential to develop a chronic disease. However, your lifestyle choices as well as your management of chronic diseases to limit their effects will help your senior age more successfully. Controlling blood pressure and blood sugar, getting cancer screenings, follow the treatment plan set forth by your healthcare team, be physically active, eat a healthy diet and take medications as prescribed will help manage chronic disease.
  3. Alcohol – Excessive drinking, including binge drinking, by older adults is becoming an increasing problem. Alcohol consumption is worsening chronic medical conditions and creating more health issues such as liver disease. Drinking also increases the dangers of car accidents, falls and injuries in this population. If your senior is consuming more alcohol than is healthy, encourage him or her to get screened or attend counseling to deal with the issues triggering alcohol use.
  4. EmergenciesNatural disasters, man-made disasters and weather emergencies put our seniors at risk. Many of our seniors with medical conditions or disabilities will require more assistance from us and authorities. Be sure your community first responders are aware of your senior’s condition, make a plan for evacuation, know who your senior can depend on to get them to a safe place in case of emergency. Be sure they have adequate supplies and medications to weather an emergency for the entire duration. What will happen to their pet in an emergency?

Senior Care Behaviors to Adopt for Healthy Aging

  • Keeping your seniors’ natural teeth in good repair to help retain them throughout their lifespan. Brush daily and see the dentist regularly for checkup and prophylactic care.
  • Increase physical activity by keeping your senior active every day in a pursuit that brings them pleasure such as walking, dancing, sports, gardening, yoga, tai chi or other physical activities.
  • Help your senior stop smoking! It’s not too late to quit and get physical benefits.
  • Plan healthy eating with your senior loved one. Be sure they have access to a variety of foods; fruits, vegetables, whole grains, dairy and lean protein sources should be eaten every day. Help them with shopping, preparation and storage of foods.
  • Intervene if needed so that your senior takes medications properly in the correct dosage, at the correct time, prevent interactions with medications or foods and monitor side effects.
  • Be sure your senior participates in scheduled health screenings such as mammograms, prostate exams, skin checks, colorectal screenings as well as staying up to date on immunizations such as seasonal flu, shingles, and pneumonia vaccines.
  • Prevent falls that result in injuries! Keep your seniors home and especially bedroom free of clutter, renovate their home if needed to make it aging-friendly and help them improve balance and strength through physical activity geared for muscle strengthening. Drinking plenty of fluids prevents dehydration and confusion, since mental impairment may lead to falls. Have the pharmacist review your senior’s medication list to be sure there are no drugs which may increase the likelihood of falls. Consider installing monitoring systems, fall mats and other devices to reduce the potential of injury when falls do occur.

Growing older does not mean that your senior has to grow disabled, facing a life they end up feeling is not worth living. Taking steps now will help them manage their aging. Become part of the community and participate in health fairs, health initiatives and advocate for seniors in your area. Look up your state and challenge the local community to make seniors health and wellness a priority!

We would love to hear how your community is handling senior health and aging, please share your comments us!

THE REPORT:  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The State of Aging and Health in America 2013