LeadingAge members have long viewed themselves as active and important participants in the “Aging Network,” that complex, multi-level system that serves and represents the needs of America’s older adults.
This designation has made sense for many decades. But now it’s time to also begin thinking of ourselves as integral partners in the nation’s public health system – and to help public health officials see themselves as our partners in serving older adults.
A new book called Public Health for an Aging Society tries to do just that. The book is designed to help future public health professionals incorporate the concerns of aging Americans into a field that has traditionally been focused on issues relating to children and youth, reproductive health and infectious disease.
I co-authored a chapter in the book that educates readers about “Financing and Organizing Health and Long-Term Care Services for Older Populations.”
Aging and public health
My background in public health has convinced me that we can’t help our older population achieve significant and sustainable health gains unless we take a more holistic view of the challenges seniors face and the myriad strategies that can help address those challenges.
The anticipated growth in the older population makes that holistic approach even more critical.
The coming age wave will obviously affect the elderly among us. But it will also affect every other population group living in our local communities. On the positive side, younger people could benefit from the “silver tsunami,” perhaps by participating in a potentially vibrant business sector that caters to the needs of older adults.
But if we’re not careful, the burgeoning older population could unwittingly spur intergenerational competition for limited community resources.
A new way of thinking
We can avoid the latter outcome by exploring public health strategies that encourage us to think about the medical needs of the entire population, and to explore how the physical, environmental and social aspects of our communities can dramatically impact the health and wellbeing of all.
Those LeadingAge members who take this broad, public-health view are more likely to find innovative and effective ways to:
- Work with community partners to integrate, coordinate and finance services and supports for people with frailty and disability, no matter what their age.
- Take additional steps to safeguard the health of younger populations, including our employees, so we can become part of community-wide public health solutions.
- Educate public health officials about aging, and explore how we can work together to meet public health goals.
- Distribute community resources equitably, sensibly and in relation to population needs.
- Invest in programs and services that enhance quality of life, prevent disease and foster aging in place.
- Target limited resources effectively and use them efficiently so all receive the support they need.
LeadingAge members must continue working hard to improve the health of the older populations we serve.
But by viewing our work through the public health lens, we have a good chance of creating a national health and wellness infrastructure that serves not only older adults, but the entire population. In my view, that’s a worthwhile goal to pursue.