I’m wrapping up my series on growing older and aging this week by examining the current lack of affordable, safe, and life-affirming healthcare for the aging population. The last two action agenda items on the WHO’s Decade of Healthy Ageing initiatives address the importance of integrated healthcare and long-term care.
As discussed in the previous post, ageism is a problem that prevents healthcare providers from offering non-discriminatory care to seniors. Addressing these attitudes is the biggest step toward improving the health and life of seniors in our communities, but if we can see our elders as deserving of the right to the pursuit of a healthy, prosperous, fulfilled and happy life, we need to offer more kinds of care earlier in their lives. Those of us who are reaching middle-age need to be educated and provided with preventative care. As a society, we need to promote and value preventative and healthy living and include everyone – young to old – in these community efforts.
Our elderly community, like the rest of us, deserves equal access to safe, affordable, effective medical care and medications. While the announcement a few weeks ago about a drug to treat Alzheimer’s, gives us hope for some possible relief from this horrific disease, if this drug enters the capitalistic, for-stockholder-profit pipeline, it will be as unaccessible and as unaffordable as other pharmaceuticals: chemotherapy – $12,000/month*, or insulin – $700 – $2,000/month.** Even with insurance, a client of mine who was in the “donut hole” last month paid $680 out of pocket for her needed insulin. While this is a huge amount of money for anyone, she makes less than that each month in social security. So she fell into the cycle of rent/food/utilities versus her healthcare that too many of us face.
In addition to affordable safe medications, our seniors should have access to continuing dental care. Not offering dental insurance to seniors with their health insurance leads to gum disease and tooth loss. Being unable to chew or eat comfortably can exacerbate hunger loss and malnutrition, but gum disease is also precursor and possible link to myriad health problems including cardiovascular disease, heart disease, stroke and pneumonia.*** Like many issues, preventative care for oral health can help prevent more expensive curative treatments in the future, but is too often seen as non-medical or unnecessary care for all of us.
The aging in our society should also be able to afford and access assistive technology and devices that can help them continue to be a part of their community without fear of financial ruin. A person who is unsteady on their feet or who cannot hear people around them is less likely to leave their home, leading to isolation which leads to depression and further deterioration of one’s physical health. Again, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, but our current medical systems deem things like hearing aids, walkers, scooters or wheelchairs as unnecessary for our overall “health” making them less likely to be covered or to be “capped” by any health insurance we are lucky to have.
And what happens when our elders who cannot access these integrative healthcare items deteriorate to the point they can no longer live at home? Well, then they would join the 1.4. million other elderly patients that live in long-term nursing facilities which largely are nothing more than bleak, depressing warehouses for our aging and infirm. It’s not a happy topic, but is one that deserves more space and attention, which I’ll explore next time.
The elderly and aging in our community deserve to access the care they need to continue to pursue their individual happiness and participate in the lifestyles, hobbies and activities they value until the end of their lives. Our institutions throughout society must shift the way we do things to remove barriers in healthcare for our aging populations. Doing so will improve the lives of us all.