How to Improve Health Care for Aging Adults

How to Improve Health Care for Aging Adults

Muncie, Indiana Blog– In the next 42 years, the number of Americans aged 65 and older is expected to double to over 98 million. To put this into better perspective, this means that in the next three minutes, approximately 21 people will turn age 65!

Many older Americans are working and living longer than ever before, but not everyone will grow into the golden years without significant health conditions and frequent trips to the doctor.

With such extensive population growth, advancements in technology and improved access to quality care, healthcare for the elderly continues to be a hot topic.

Let’s take a look at a few ways to improve healthcare for aging adults, including increased access to digital resources, awareness of opioid addiction risks, and end-of-life planning.

Helping Seniors Learn New Technology

Believe it or not, seniors are trying to become more engaged in our digital world, a trend that should continue as this demographic looks to healthcare providers and family to guide them through the conveniences of technology.

A national survey by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project reveals that 58 percent of people ages 65 and up search for healthcare information online and 43 percent go to Facebook to look for healthcare information.

Another study by Accenture shows that 67 percent want access to healthcare services from home, but the same percentage is worried that today’s technology isn’t adequate.

Some of the medical requests by seniors include:

  • access to electronic health records
  • prescription refills
  • scheduling appointments
  • online communities with their peers
  • being able to email their providers directly

According to an article on SolutionReach, many healthcare providers are not implementing digital appointment reminders if the majority of their patients are senior citizens.

“It’s imperative for doctor’s offices to offer the convenience of technology to older generations,” the article states. “There will come a time in the not-so-distant future that it will be the only way to communicate.”

Even if they did come to age in a market of traditional advertising, the elderly are still receptive to digital communication, as some of the statistics above show.

People in the health management field are keenly aware of the ever-changing technological landscape and trends that show how healthcare professionals can move forward to provide better patient-centered care, especially for aging populations.

Prescription Pain Treatment

Even though opioid abuse is still more common in younger patients, opioid use disorders are becoming more prevalent among older people, which pose a unique set of risks in the geriatric population.

“Given the scope of the problem, federal and state governments have begun to implement new guidelines in prescribing opioids, but tighter regulations may intrude on individualized patient care and the benefits of opioid therapy in some patients,” according to an article on Psychiatric Times.

Someone who is at the end of their life versus someone who has an acute injury doesn’t have the same drug protocol, for example. There’s a fine line between the risks and benefits when prescribing powerful painkillers like hydrocodone and oxycodone. The role of a psychiatrist is vital for patients struggling with complicated medical issues, the article states.

It gets more complicated when there’s a chronic pain patient with a comorbid disorder – long-term prescription opioid use often leads to addiction to alcohol and other substances, which increases the risk of death.

Effective addiction treatment for opioid abuse does exist, but the treatment must be personalized and take into account all health issues, someone’s living situation, lifestyle, etc. Older adults may not know the risks of opioid use.

“You have to educate older adults,” says Ezra Hefland, executive director of the Wellspring Center for Prevention. “But we also have to do a better job of educating the professionals who see them. Physicians, healthcare providers, they all need to know to ask the questions, see what these people are going through, so they can provide the right treatment.”

End-of-Life Awareness and Planning

Planning for death is an essential part of the life you are leading up to that point. Healthcare professionals used just to be focused on getting people healthy and saving lives, and preparing for death was not part of the equation.

But times have changed, and now most people recognize that advanced planning for the end of life is a public health issue as well as an opportunity to prevent unnecessary suffering, support a person’s decisions, and honor their choices related to the end of life.

In a survey involving 1,400 patients, families members and professionals involved with end-of-life care, the most important goals for older populations include:

  • Pain and symptom management
  • Preparation for death
  • Being treated as a “whole person.”
  • Achieving a sense of completion
  • Decisions about treatment preferences

AARP suggests some of the questions considered in the conversation:

  • Do I want to die at home, in a hospital or a medical facility? Who do I want to take care of me?
  • Who do I want to be there? Should it be a few family members/friends, a spiritual leader, or a room full of people?
  • What kind of medical treatment do I want?
  • Do I want to be cremated? Do I want an open casket? Do I want to donate my body to science? Do I want a funeral or graveside memorial service?
  • Do I want to be buried? Do I have a burial plot I want to be used?

Solving some of the most complex problems that older adults face is a challenge that is continually evolving, but continued efforts to treat this population properly is within reach. Strides in improving our healthcare system, better technology, and awareness about addiction and end-of-life issues are all part of the big picture in patient-centered care.

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Brooke Faulkner is a mother of two and wilderness enthusiast. When she's not writing, she can usually be found zipping around the mountains on her ATV.

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