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Providers and caregivers need better awareness of age-friendly care

While 88% of patients said they were satisfied with their care, only half said their doctors and other providers did a "good" or "excellent" job.

A new survey shows many caregivers are not aware of all the options available for elderly care, and many patients are resigned to a difficult life in their old age.

This leaves providers in the position to both know and educate caregivers and patients on what's available for what the survey called "age-friendly care," during a time when the older population is increasingly growing.

More than half, 53% of caregivers of someone aged 65 or older, are familiar with "age-friendly care," while 62% of patients are familiar with the term, according to a survey released by WebMD and the John A. Hartford Foundation. The creators of the survey, "Driving Toward Age-Friendly Care for the Future," said both numbers are too low in a field currently mired in misinformation.

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More than 40% of patients said they thought depression was an inevitable part of old age.

WHY THIS MATTERS

The survey shows providers and caregivers need to have a better awareness of age-friendly care, because three in four older adults are not aware they have the right to ask for, and receive, healthcare tailored to their needs and wants, which is the basis for age-friendly care.

While 88% of patients said they were satisfied with their care, only half said their doctors and other care providers did a "good" or "excellent" job of using an age-friendly approach.

The John A. Hartford Foundation is supporting a national movement, with the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, to support age-friendly healthcare, as the population of older Americans grows.
Older adults represent 16% of the U.S. population, a rate that is expected to grow to more than 25% of all adults by 2060.

Age-friendly care is defined by the survey's creators as addressing the "4Ms":  what matters to patients, promoting mobility, ensuring medications don't interfere with quality of life, and treating dementias, depression and other mentation-associated conditions.

One area in which caregivers lacked knowledge was in the risk of medications, with 45% of caregivers reportedly unaware that certain medications should be avoided by the elderly. Four in 10 of those caregivers said their patients were on six or more medications.

The foundation said a lack of age-friendly healthcare can lead to depression. dementia and other health problems for patients.

THE LARGER TREND

The survey included 2,361 patients aged 65 and older and 405 caregivers. Terry Fulmer, president of The John A. Hartford Foundation, said the survey showed older adults in the United States have a lower quality of life because they, and their care team, simply don't know that there's a more age-friendly pathway.

Providers and caregivers are on the front lines because many patients do not readily speak up about their needs.

Caregivers are significantly more likely to report mobility issues than their patients, according to the survey.  In reporting falls, 68% of caregivers said their patients had fallen, while only 49% of patients answered yes.

Among caregivers, 76% said they were comfortable requesting age-friendly services for the person in their care, more than the 61% patients who answered similarly.

The survey said 72% of patients decide their healthcare and treatment options with their doctor, 18% with a family member as well as the doctor and 8% allow the doctor to decide.

ON THE RECORD

"Caring for the aging population is among the most critical issues facing the nation today," said Dr. John Whyte, chief medical officer for WebMD. "It is crucial that the entire healthcare system understand the challenges and works proactively to take them on.

"We, as a society, have come to accept the downside of aging--including the impact of multiple, conflicting medications, cognitive decline, depression and mobility issues," said Terry Fulmer, president of the John A. Hartford Foundation.

Max Sullivan is a freelance writer and reporter who, in addition to writing about healthcare, has covered business stories, municipal government, education and crime. Twitter: @maxsullivanlive maxesullivan@gmail.com.

Focus on Patient Experience

This month, our coverage will continue a special focus on the patient experience. We'll talk to the thought leaders and first-movers reimagining the how and where of patient-friendly tech, and report on ways to activate, if not delight, the people they treat.