America is getting older – and fast. More than 10,000 baby boomers turn 65 every day. Coupled with those from the "Greatest Generation" living longer, the United States is about to see this portion of its population double over the next 20 to 25 years.
According to the World Health Organization, AARP and a recent Milken Institute report on successful aging, we're not doing such a great job of fostering age-friendly policies and practices that reflect this trend in our communities. The AARP Network of Age-Friendly Communities numbers only 60. The WHO's Global Age-friendly Cities and Communities lists but 258 and only 136 of the nation’s 19,000 cities signed on to the 2014 Best Cities for Successful Aging Mayor’s Pledge, committing to make their cities work better for older adults and improve lives for all generations.
But many organizations are working toward this goal, particularly in health care.
At St. Mary's Medical Center, we've started a program in senior care. We hope it will be a step toward the big picture in the "age-friendly" movement. We've made some changes to help our seniors feel more comfortable and confident while they receive treatment. Some rooms have been converted to reflect designs that acknowledge the changes we face when aging. Our age-friendly spaces will be focused on many obstacles to treatment, including accessibility, safety and comfort for our aging population:
• More privacy. Quiet areas that are large enough to accommodate the dignity of the patient and extra seating for family members who often need to be with older loved ones receiving treatment.
• Warmer environment. Temperatures in the rooms reflect the needs of older patients, whose bodies don't keep them as warm as they used to. This is caused by a natural dip in their metabolic rate due to the aging process. A lowered metabolic rate affects the body’s ability to maintain what is considered a normal temperature of 98.6 degrees. For the same reason, blankets that have been warmed are available at all times.
• Larger, easy-to-read clocks. From clocks to signs, the legibility of important information can be critical to patients with visual impairments. Even less important information, such as large-print magazines, are available to read while waiting.
• Softer-colored surroundings with better lighting. Because the pupil of the eye decreases in diameter and becomes less responsive with age, seniors need as much as three times more light than younger persons in order to perceive the shape and fine details of objects. It is equally important to provide light sources that do not cause glare. Dimmers will give patients control of their environment.
• Assistive devices for hearing and vision. Televisions capable of closed-captioning and special headsets are provided to patients with hearing difficulties. This can be very important when doctors are discussing instructions with their patients. According to a study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, patients over 65 who underwent outpatient surgery were 54 percent more likely to be readmitted to the hospital within 30 days, mostly because they have trouble understanding their discharge instructions and medication dosing.
• Slip-resistant floors with handrails and grab bars. One-third of Americans aged 65 and older fall each year. Every 13 seconds, an older adult is treated in the emergency room for a fall, which is the leading cause of fatal injury (21,700 deaths) and the most common cause of nonfatal trauma-related hospital admissions (734,000) among older adults.
In addition to falls, we see many stroke patients from our elderly population. As a primary stroke center, we'd like to ask those of you with elderly family members to learn the signs of stroke and be prepared to act FAST.
• F – facial drooping. A section of the face, usually only on one side.
• A – arm weakness. The inability to raise one's arm fully.
• S – speech difficulties. An inability or difficulty to understand or produce speech.
• T – time. If any of the symptoms above are showing, time is of the essence. Call 9-1-1.
Allow medical professionals to get your loved one to help and we'll make sure their experience is as comfortable as possible.