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Senior Health Care: Many Not Receiving Necessary Preventive Medical Care

Older Adults Not Getting Recommended Preventive Services

March 14, 2011: Critical gaps exist between older Americans, including the elderly, who receive potentially lifesaving preventive services and those who do not, according to a new report from agencies of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Clinical prevention services examined in the report include vaccinations that protect against influenza and pneumococcal disease (e.g., bloodstream infections, meningitis, and pneumonia), screenings for the early detection of breast cancer, colorectal cancer, diabetes, lipid disorders, and osteoporosis, and smoking cessation counseling.

The report was published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in partnership with HHS' Administration on Aging, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

The document, "Enhancing Use of Clinical Preventive Services Among Older Adults: Closing the Gap," highlights the need to promote preventive services for adults age 65 and older, especially among minorities.

"Millions of Americans are not getting proven clinical preventive services that we know can prevent disease and improve quality of life," said Lynda Anderson, Ph.D., director of the Healthy Aging Program at CDC and one of the primary authors. "The report takes stock of current levels of recommended services by older adults, and it becomes obvious that many of these services are woefully underutilized."

About 10,000 Americans turn 65 every day; by 2030, about 1 in 5 Americans will be 65 older.

"We know prevention is critical to healthy living and independence," said Kathy Greenlee, assistant secretary for aging. "It is important that we continue our efforts at the community level to reach all older Americans. We want to ensure that they are aware of the preventive benefits which are available to them, including those made possible by the Affordable Care Act."

The report also addresses the use of preventive services by diverse populations. It says 49 percent of Asian/Pacific Islanders and 47 percent of Hispanics reported not being screened for colorectal cancer, in comparison to 34 percent of whites. More than 50 percent of Hispanics, 47 percent of blacks and Asian/Pacific Islanders, and 36 percent of whites report never receiving a pneumococcal vaccination.

According to the report, challenges underlying these disparities are complex and reach beyond the traditional health care arena of patient-provider interactions. Older adults may not be aware of the services recommended for their age group or may not know that the services are covered by Medicare, the report said.

"The section of the report titled 'Making a Difference' features innovative strategies applied at the local, state, and national levels to increase the use of preventive services in underserved communities," said Wayne Giles, M.D., M.S., director, Division of Adult and Community Health at CDC. "By putting into practice effective community and clinical strategies, we can dramatically reduce the gaps highlighted in this report."

The showcased activities include: promotion of policies to increase community access, making services available in convenient community settings, such as providing influenza vaccinations at polling places on election days, and building awareness through media.

Non-federal organizations contributing to the report include AARP, American Medical Association, Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, Gerontological Society of America, National Association of Area Agencies on Aging, National Association of Chronic Disease Directors, National Association of County and City Health Officials, and National Association of States United for Aging and Disabilities.

"Giving Americans access to quality, proven preventive services in their communities is a crucial part of improving the health of Americans and lowering their health care costs in the long run," said AARP board member Catherine Georges, R.N., Ed.D.

Contributors to and supporters of this report agree that the use of such services should be a high priority of community and health systems alike. While the benefit of expanded insurance coverage is substantial, it is also important that older adults take advantage of preventive services on a regular basis to ensure good health.

"If we can help patients age 65 and older get the recommended preventive screenings and regular immunizations, we could significantly reduce unnecessary illness," said Edward Langston, M.D., an American Medical Association board member.

Source: Centers for Disease Control

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