How does it feel to be old? In large measure, the answer depends on the quality of one’s healthcare, and according to a Hartford Foundation survey unveiled today, elder care often is woefully lacking. This experience leads to higher incidences of health issues like depression, injury from falls, and basic disability.
Just 7% of adults past the age of 65 receive simple low-tech services in each of six recommended areas of elder care, the survey found. About half receive none or just one of the key services and 76% receive three or fewer. The six areas of service that all seniors should receive:
- Yearly doctor review of prescriptions, medicines and treatments.
- Professional screening for depression.
- Yearly doctor inquiry of falls and periodic instruction on how to avoid falls.
- Frequent discussion of lifestyle issues like the ability to go shopping, drive or prepare a meal.
- Discussion of one’s ability to perform personal tasks like showering and using the bathroom.
- Periodic review of community resources and support available to seniors.
Despite the large numbers not receiving many of these services, seniors generally are satisfied with the care they receive. In the poll, a stunning 96% said they were at least somewhat satisfied with their care. Yet this may be as much about not understanding what they need or what is available to them as it is about decent care.
For example, since last year all seniors covered by Medicare have been entitled to an annual wellness checkup with no co-pays and no deductibles. This is a free visit to the doctor designed for the types of discussions just mentioned. Only 32% of seniors are aware of the benefit and just 17% took advantage of it last year.
The most critical areas of intervention are depression and falls, according to Hartford Foundation officials. From the report, on depression:
“Depression is a killer of older adults, who are at greater risk of suicide than any other age group, and is known to exacerbate other conditions and increase the cost of care. Yet, when asked whether a doctor or health care provider had asked about your mood, such as whether you are sad, anxious, or depressed, 62% said no.”
“Falls cause more injury and injury-related death in older people than any other event and cause 90% of all hip fractures, which greatly increase odds of nursing home placement. … Evidence has shown that older people can cut their risk of falling by about 30% by addressing key risk factors. Yet even among those at elevated risk, such as people over age 80 or people taking multiple medications, the Hartford poll reveals a widespread lack of intervention. Seventy-five percent of adults 80+ said their doctor had not discussed how to avoid falling, as did 71% of people taking 5-plus medications.”
So how does it feel to be old? Better than it should, it seems. But nowhere near as good as it could.