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Senior Well-Being:
It's Never Too Late to Promote Healthy Aging

Every day in the U.S., 10,000 adults turn 65 and join the ranks of those eligible for Medicare.1 In the words of WebMD Health Services’ clinical advisory board member, Dr. Ron Goetzel, the health care industry is in for a “senior tsunami.”

Preventing or postponing the onset of chronic disease is now a crucial public health and financing issue. While it may seem too late to make a real impact on health, experts agree that making improvements in diet and physical activity at any age can create positive health outcomes.

Here are some suggestions for getting seniors to take positive steps toward better health:

Identify health risks and create an action plan.

A Health Risk Assessment (HRA) is a great first step in identifying health risks. We recently revamped our Senior Health Assessment to help Medicare Advantage members focus on reducing their health risks and provide valuable information to health plans about this population.

But simply taking an HRA isn’t enough. The best outcomes couple an HRA with ongoing health coaching and education. Targeted messaging, preventive care reminders, telephonic outreach programs, and access to resources that address specific senior needs can prompt seniors to follow up on HRA results.

Focus on modifiable health risks.

Coronary heart disease (CHD) is the most common type of heart disease. According to the American Heart Association, in the 60-79 age group, 20% of men and 10% of women suffer from CHD.2 A well-known Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) study showed that 80-90% of those with CHD share at least one of four common risk factors: cigarette smoking, diabetes, high cholesterol, or high blood pressure.3 All of these risk factors can be mitigated by adopting a healthier lifestyle—at any age. It is not too late to help your senior population take steps to quit smoking or lose weight and prevent the onset of CHD or even a heart attack.

Don’t ignore emotional needs and brain health.

We know that poor emotional health can have an adverse impact on physical well-being. This is especially true for seniors who typically have a higher rate of depression than other age groups. Exercise and healthy eating can help boost mood, sustain mobility, and increase joint strength. It’s also critical for seniors to join social groups and find ways to engage in the community.

Then there’s the brain health component to healthy aging. The prevalence of Alzheimer’s, a form of dementia, is increasing. One in ten people age 65 or older have Alzheimer’s, but the rate rises to one in three for ages 85 and up. 4 Some risk factors (like age and heredity) are uncontrollable. But evidence suggests that a heart-healthy diet and watching blood pressure and blood sugar might help.

Leverage technology – seniors will use it!

You may be surprised at how much seniors are willing to use technology when it comes to their health. A 2018 study by consulting firm Accenture found that 72% of seniors would be interested in getting digital reminders to do things that help them stay healthy. And 63% would be willing to get daily support to manage an ongoing health issue. Accenture data also shows that 17% of Americans over the age of 65 use wearables to track fitness or vitals such as blood pressure or heart rate compared to 20% of Americans under the age of 65.5 So, don’t underestimate seniors’ ability to impact their health with easy-to-use, digital tools.

Today’s seniors don’t have to accept poor health as an inevitable effect of aging. Health can improve at any age given the right guidance and tools. In light of the huge numbers of Medicare-eligible seniors about to enter the health care market, it’s critical to pay good attention to this segment of the population.

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