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August 22, 2019
The Health of Aging Populations
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Our country’s public health system, which protects and promotes the health of communities, has contributed to much longer life expectancies. Today U.S. life expectancy at birth is 79 years compared to 55 a century ago. It’s now time for public health to work with aging agencies and other community partners to help our growing population of older adults remain healthy and independent.
Drawing on the skills and functions developed in public health education and practice, a public health system can help promote older residents’ health, including their physical, emotional, and cognitive health, and their ability to engage with their communities. After all, 80 percent of older people have at least one chronic condition such as diabetes or cancer and half have two or more. Managing these conditions is often complicated by isolation and loneliness, financial struggles, and limited access to transportation, healthy food, and affordable housing.
Trust for America’s Health (TFAH) and The John A. Hartford Foundation have developed the “Framework for Creating Age-Friendly Public Health Systems,” which describes five key roles that the 3,000 public health departments across the country could fulfill to address the challenges and opportunities an aging society presents. Below, we outline these roles and include examples from state and county health departments in Florida, Oregon, and California that are building on the Age-Friendly Public Health framework.
Trust for America’s Health and The John A. Hartford Foundation are partnering to spread this model nationwide and will soon be offering training and support to help state and local health departments become Age-Friendly Public Health agencies.
Opportunities for public health to improve older adult health and well-being are many and each public health department can prioritize efforts to meet the specific needs of their communities. The five roles identified here offer a framework for public health leaders to pursue an important societal goal — helping our growing number of older Americans live healthily, independently, and productively for as long as possible.
John Auerbach is president and CEO of Trust for America’s Health, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that promotes optimal health for every person and community and makes the prevention of illness and injury a national priority.
Terry Fulmer, PhD, RN, FAAN, is president of The John A. Hartford Foundation, a private philanthropy dedicated to improving the care of older adults.
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