Simple measures guide seniors to better health

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Given the unique health and medical needs of older adults, it makes sense to ensure that these patients receive special medical attention. Yet many health services in this country are not adequately addressingseniors health needs, according to a new survey by the John A. Hartford Foundation. In particular, this survey found that many seniors do not receive the preventive care recommended for their age group.

Over 1,000 adults age 65 and over participated in the survey, which inquired about their health care experiences. More than one-third of respondents reported that their doctors had not reviewed all of their medications, an oversight that could put these patients at risk for adverse effects arising from potential drug interactions. Falls are another serious health risk for seniors there are over 2 million injuries from falls among those 65 and older each year but in more than two out of three consultations, doctors and nurses did not ask patients about falls or provide advice on avoiding fall risks. And despite the serious health consequences that can arise from depression and other mental health problems, a majority of survey participants reported that their health care providers did not ask about symptoms of depression or anxiety.

Many of the preventive measures discussed in the Hartford survey are services that are included as part of an annual wellness visit that has been covered by Medicare since January 2011. During this wellness visit, a doctor assesses and provides counseling on mood, ability to function, preventive services, and community resources. But about half of the survey participants were unaware of this wellness visit option and out of the 35 million seniors who have traditional Medicare coverage, only 2.3 million actually took advantage of a wellness visit. These disappointing statistics are the reality despite the fact that Medicare will reimburse doctors significantly more for these wellness appointments than for a routine visit.

These are low tech, low cost interventions that are easy to do and that can have a huge impact on an older person s medical care and their quality of life and function, explains Dr. Sharon Brangman, chairwoman of the American Geriatric Society s board of directors. But too many providers and older adults don t realize they re important.

It is to be hoped that spreading the news about these deficiencies will raise the consciousness of both healthcare workers and their older patients and their families, says ACSH's Dr. Gilbert Ross. Clearly, such low-key, low-expense discussions, especially something as simple and obvious as going over medications at each visit, would have a major beneficial effect on the health of the increasing number of seniors in our nation.