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: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."
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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

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