Nav: Home

We all want 'healthy aging,' but what is it, really? New report looks for answers

November 01, 2018

"Healthy aging" sounds like a priority we all can share, but for geriatrics healthcare professionals--the doctors, nurses, pharmacists, physicians assistants, social workers, and many others dedicated to the care we need as we age--that term represents something specific, and something worth defining. Led by Paul Mulhausen, MD, MHS, FACP, AGSF, colleagues from the American Geriatrics Society (AGS) set about doing just that as part of an expert panel convened to look critically at what "healthy aging" really means. Their definition--published in a white paper today in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society (DOI: 10.1111/jgs.15644)--explores the intersection between our personal care goals and innovations in science, education, and public policy as the place where healthy aging may be understood best.

"Longer life is a priority for individuals and society because it provides opportunities for personal fulfillment and contributions to our communities. But as we learn more about concrete ways to increase longevity," Dr. Mulhausen observed, "we need to work on ways to improve the quality of that time as well."

As the AGS expert panel reports, older adults often live with an array of health concerns, which means that "healthy aging" for a contemporary audience must embrace a broader, person-centered notion of health as something more than the absence of disease or infirmity. Healthy aging involves pivoting to age's influence on our physical, mental, and social needs and expectations, ultimately embracing a "lifespan approach" to care that helps each aging person live the healthiest life possible. This new focal point necessitates replacing our current cultural emphasis on staying young "with age-friendly concepts of engagement, participation, contribution, interconnectedness, activity, and optimal function," as the AGS white paper explains.

Healthy aging also extends beyond clinical services, embracing a complex and interconnected ecosystem that both impacts and is impacted by how we grow older. In this respect, AGS experts highlight several priority areas where communities, health systems, and clinicians can work together to integrate services that foster engagement and independence for us all as we age. These include:
  • Greater advocacy supporting policy solutions for older people. Healthy aging requires a coordinated response not only to care but also to community priorities that can promote health, safety, and independence in age-friendly environments. For the AGS expert panel, this means collaborating as advocates across society and professions to align our health systems with the needs of older people while also promoting healthy aging when we are younger. "We can and should position healthy aging as an untapped resource with the capacity to provide inventive solutions as we live longer, healthier lives," the AGS expert report concludes.

  • Better public and professional education to make healthy aging an actionable priority. Care that can promote healthy aging rests on ensuring future generations of health professionals and older adults understand and embrace best practices focused on keeping us healthy and independent. This can become even more of a reality today by working early and often to combat ageism (discrimination against older people due to negative and inaccurate stereotypes about age), particularly when it comes to older adults' self-perceptions. "We need to educate individuals and the public to have appropriate expectations about aging...[and w]e must train our health professions students in ways that promote respect, compassion, and dignity," AGS experts observed.

  • A deeper commitment to the geriatrics expertise we need as we age. Embracing biology, psychology, and socio-cultural considerations to optimize functional status--the medical term for ensuring we can make the most of our ability to remain mobile, active, and engaged even as our physical condition changes--must remain a top "healthy-aging" priority. "We should work to replace the current cultural emphasis on staying young...with age-friendly concepts of engagement, participation, contribution, interconnectedness, activity, and optimal function," the AGS report notes.

  • Renewed attention to social and scientific research that can build our understanding of what healthy aging really means. According to AGS experts, research on aging at the cellular, individual, and community levels represents one of our best opportunities for advancing healthy aging. "We also need better evidence to inform our understanding of the biomedical and psychosocial determinants of healthy aging. We must bridge the gap between promising basic research and its clinical application," the AGS experts conclude.
As for why geriatrics health professionals are uniquely qualified to stake a claim on defining healthy aging and putting it into practice, Susan Friedman, MD, MPH, a member of the panel responsible for the AGS white paper, observes that many principles at the heart of the AGS's definition have been part of geriatrics from the start.

"Geriatrics is a collaborative profession built by clinicians, educators, health system experts, older adults, and caregivers," Dr. Friedman said. "We understand complexity. We are experts in culturally competent, person-centered care. We are skilled in assessing preferences and values, and translating them into prevention, intervention, and advance care planning. Regardless of how society chooses to define 'healthy aging,' these are the practices that make it something we can see--and ideally experience, especially through geriatrics-led insights."
-end-
About the American Geriatrics Society

Founded in 1942, the American Geriatrics Society (AGS) is a nationwide, not-for-profit society of geriatrics healthcare professionals that has--for more than 75 years--worked to improve the health, independence, and quality of life of older people. Its nearly 6,000 members include geriatricians, geriatric nurses, social workers, family practitioners, physician assistants, pharmacists, and internists. The Society provides leadership to healthcare professionals, policymakers, and the public by implementing and advocating for programs in patient care, research, professional and public education, and public policy. For more information, visit AmericanGeriatrics.org.

American Geriatrics Society

Related Aging Articles:

Muscle aging: Stronger for longer
With life expectancy increasing, age-related diseases are also on the rise, including sarcopenia, the loss of muscle mass due to aging.
Aging memories may not be 'worse, 'just 'different'
A study from the Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences in Arts & Sciences adds nuance to the idea that an aging memory is a poor one and finds a potential correlation between the way people process the boundaries of events and episodic memory.
A new biomarker for the aging brain
Researchers at the RIKEN Center for Biosystems Dynamics Research (BDR) in Japan have identified changes in the aging brain related to blood circulation.
Scientists invented an aging vaccine
A new way to prevent autoimmune diseases associated with aging like atherosclerosis, Alzheimer's disease, and Parkinson's disease was described in the article.
The first roadmap for ovarian aging
Infertility likely stems from age-related decline of the ovaries, but the molecular mechanisms that lead to this decline have been unclear.
Researchers discover new cause of cell aging
New research from the USC Viterbi School of Engineering could be key to our understanding of how the aging process works.
Deep Aging Clocks: The emergence of AI-based biomarkers of aging and longevity
The advent of deep biomarkers of aging, longevity and mortality presents a range of non-obvious applications.
Intelligence can link to health and aging
For over 100 years, scientists have sought to understand what links a person's general intelligence, health and aging.
Putting the brakes on aging
Salk Institute researchers have developed a new gene therapy to help decelerate the aging process.
New insights into the aging brain
A group of scientists at the Gladstone Institutes investigated why the choroid plexus contains so much more klotho than other brain regions.
More Aging News and Aging Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Debbie Millman: Designing Our Lives
From prehistoric cave art to today's social media feeds, to design is to be human. This hour, designer Debbie Millman guides us through a world made and remade–and helps us design our own paths.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#574 State of the Heart
This week we focus on heart disease, heart failure, what blood pressure is and why it's bad when it's high. Host Rachelle Saunders talks with physician, clinical researcher, and writer Haider Warraich about his book "State of the Heart: Exploring the History, Science, and Future of Cardiac Disease" and the ails of our hearts.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Insomnia Line
Coronasomnia is a not-so-surprising side-effect of the global pandemic. More and more of us are having trouble falling asleep. We wanted to find a way to get inside that nighttime world, to see why people are awake and what they are thinking about. So what'd Radiolab decide to do?  Open up the phone lines and talk to you. We created an insomnia hotline and on this week's experimental episode, we stayed up all night, taking hundreds of calls, spilling secrets, and at long last, watching the sunrise peek through.   This episode was produced by Lulu Miller with Rachael Cusick, Tracie Hunte, Tobin Low, Sarah Qari, Molly Webster, Pat Walters, Shima Oliaee, and Jonny Moens. Want more Radiolab in your life? Sign up for our newsletter! We share our latest favorites: articles, tv shows, funny Youtube videos, chocolate chip cookie recipes, and more. Support Radiolab by becoming a member today at Radiolab.org/donate.