Celebrating Older Americans
Observed each May, Older Americans Month is an opportunity to celebrate aging and to spotlight issues unique to the age 65 and older population. Established in 1963 by President Kennedy as Senior Citizens Month, it was renamed Older Americans Month in 1980 by President Carter. In line with the 2007 national theme of “Making Choices for a Healthier Future”,1 As health care professionals, we may make the difference in whether people make choices that enhance or compromise their health and quality of life. Our professional responsibility includes providing consumer-friendly (e.g. understandable, appropriate, up-to-date) information to help older adults and their families take responsibility for their health. As Care Advocates, we essentially help older adults and families make informed choices that help them maintain a sense of independence, control and dignity.
The aging of Americans poses such a significant public health challenge to our nation that the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has set a high priority on increasing the number of older adults who “live longer, high-quality, productive, and independent lives.” 2
Julie L. Gerberding, MD, MHP, Director CDC & Department of Health & Human Services
In order to address the impending challenges our national health care system faces, we must raise our awareness and understanding of the critical issues. The CDC’s Healthy People 2010 3 status update (2007) for The State of Aging and Health in America 4 initiative reveals that we are making progress in some areas but not hitting the targets in others. To speed up efforts to reduce behaviors that influence premature death and disability, the CDC report includes the following Calls to Action:
- Reach – Address Health Disparities Among Older Adults. Educate ourselves and others about the lack of ability to choose a healthier future available to minority older adults because of compromised access to health care then advocate, advocate, advocate!
- Aging and End of Life Care – Encourage People to Communicate Their Wishes About End-of-Life Care. Professionals need to educate and advocate for older adults to take responsibility for protecting their own autonomy by addressing this most important choice.
- Go4Life – Exercise & Physical Activity: Your Everyday Guide from the National Institute on Aging. Go4Life was designed to help adults 50 and older incorporate more exercise and physical activity into their daily lives.
- Screen for Life – Increase Screening for Colorectal Cancer. An estimated 60% of cancer deaths could be prevented if people age 50 and older participated in regular screenings. Professionals need to recommend screening and educate older adults to make the choice for screening.
- Falls Free Initiative – Prevent Falls. Falls are a significant cause for loss of independence, disability and death in the older adult population. Fall injuries are responsible for individual and societal burden, as well as trauma hospital admissions that strain our health care system. Educate ourselves and others about lifestyle choices that help reduce fall risk and assess client fall risk factors.
Health behavior choices need to be based on accurate information that includes promotion, prevention, and risk reduction strategies for chronic as well as acute illness. Health professionals are instrumental in sharing knowledge and advocating for the healthiest decisions. Although the responsibility for decisions and choices lies with each individual, it remains our choice as health care professionals to provide the needed information that may make the difference between healthy versus not-healthy choices.
|“Smoking, poor diet, and physical inactivity were responsible for 35% of U.S. deaths in 2000 and often the basis for heart disease, cancer, stroke, and diabetes.”5|
A healthier future for older Americans is within reach. We can make a difference in the lifestyle choices older adults make based on the decisions we as health professionals make to educate, encourage, motivate, and advocate. Choose wisely and well.
Eveyln’s Picks – Recommended Resources
- Book: Brokaw, Tom. (2004). The Greatest Generation. New York: Random House Group. An insightful, inspiring work that celebrates our veterans.
- Book: Schaie, K. Warner. (2002). Effective Health Behavior in Older Adults. New York: Springer Publishing, Inc. Provocative exploration of societal influences and health behaviors of older people.
- Administration on Aging. www.aoa.gov/PRESS/oam/oam.asp
- Center for Disease Control and Prevention. www.cdc.gov/aging
- Healthy People 2010. www.healthypeople.gov
- Center for Disease Control and Prevention: The State of Aging and Health in America 2007. www.cdc.gov/aging/saha.htm
GERO GEMS is a monthly publication of the Center for Aging with Dignity. Compiled by Evelyn Fitzwater, this publication is designed to raise awareness of aging and related issues impacting health care professionals and our society as a whole.
For more information:
Go to the Senior Health health topic.