The 2015 Healthy Aging Summit Addresses the Challenges and Opportunities of an Aging Population

By Don Wright, MD, MPH, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Health, Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

shutterstock_189811235On July 27 – 28, 2015, the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP) is co-hosting the 2015 Healthy Aging Summit in Washington, D.C with the American College of Preventive Medicine. The Summit is the first national conference focused exclusively on public health policy and practice around healthy aging in the United States and led by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Summit provides an opportunity for policymakers at all levels of government, public health practitioners, health care providers, researchers, and community leaders to learn about the latest advances in research that helps Americans live longer and healthier lives.

This year, we mark the 50th anniversary of the Medicare, Medicaid and Older Americans Act and the 80th anniversary of the Social Security Act. Now is the time to renew our commitment to providing a secure future to older Americans by convening our nation’s thought leaders to address the challenges and opportunities presented by population aging in the United States.

According to the last U.S. Census, the older population in the United States—defined as those 65 years or older—numbered 40.3 million. They represented 13% of the U.S. population, or one in every eight Americans. By 2030, there are projected to be about 72.1 million older adults in the United States, that’s almost one in every five Americans.

This coming increase in the older population in the United States has been dubbed the “silver tsunami” and “elderquake” by the media. However, considering that Americans are living longer, healthier lives than ever before, there are many opportunities and benefits to be gained from ensuring that older adults are able to remain contributing and active community members for as long as possible.

Consider that adults over 70 are projected to be the fastest growing age group in the American workforce over the next seven years. Further, older Americans on average contributed 92 hours of service to their communities in 2013, that’s almost twice the average hours of service of any other age group.

There are also many challenges to acknowledge and address as we consider the health needs of older adults. For example, Older adults over age 75 with functional impairment only receive about half of currently recommended preventive services. Further, uptake of preventive services among older adults such as bone density tests, cholesterol screening, diabetes screenings, and mammograms varies widely due to socio-economic factors with large disparities in care. At ODPHP, we ensure that older adults have access to easy-to-understand information about preventive services through MyHealthfinder.

Another important challenge that we must consider are the social determinants of health that affect access to health care and impact health outcomes. That is why the Summit uses the Healthy People 2020 social determinants of health framework to identify “upstream” influences on healthy aging ranging from access to healthy meals and age-appropriate exercise programs to strong social and support networks. Healthy People is a federal policy initiative led by ODPHP for the past four decades that establishes national public health objectives with 10-year targets and monitors progress over time in meeting those targets.

Advances in health care that address topics of importance to older adults—including cognitive health, chronic disease management, mental health, physical fitness and nutrition, health literacy, and delivery system reform—will benefit all of us at some point in our lives. The 2015 Healthy Aging Summit will help ensure that public health policymakers and practitioners are familiar with these topics by exploring the science on healthy aging and identifying critical gaps in knowledge. The Summit will also promote the role of prevention in improving quality of life in later years and mobilize action among public health policymakers and practitioners to improve the delivery of care for older adults. Learn more about the program for the 2015 Healthy Aging Summit and how to register onsite to attend the conference.