How to address the “#1 health issue” in aging?

  1. healthy-aging-older-womenWhat is the #1 health issue that threatens quality of life as we age?
  2. And what is the #1 thing that can be done to prevent that health concern?

These are two questions I received by email recently, on behalf of a woman who is part of the “health and healthy lifestyles subcommittee” for a “village information network” that aims to support older adults in her community.

She also asked the following related questions:

  • Do you know of a best practice somewhere, that could serve as a model for that prevention of that health issue?
  • Do you know of a small town somewhere that is doing a great job with livability for older adults?
  • Do you know of any inter-generational healthy lifestyle programs that might work well in our college town?

I was invited to provide very short one sentence answers, presumably for my convenience but also perhaps to keep things simple for the committee, who surely doesn’t want to wade through long dissertations on barriers to better aging and better approaches.

But I found myself unable to promptly respond with short answers. To begin with, because I have a health services research background, my initial reflex is to want to check on the “evidence” rather than fire off a response related to my own hunches or personal experience.

But any evidence related to the first two questions will depend on which population is being studied. How old, and with what underlying health conditions? Urban, suburban, or rural? Socioeconomic status and ethnicity? Community-dwelling or in facilities?

And how to define “quality of life as we age”? Quality-adjusted life years? Or perhaps other metrics that take into account autonomy, purpose, and social connectedness? (See here and here for scholarly articles addressing this issue.)

As you see, it’s easy to fall down a rabbit hole when considering the “simple” question of what is the #1 threat to quality of life while aging.

Still, the questions are compelling, especially when considered in light of the practical needs at hand. A community group is trying to support the older adults living in a small college town. When it comes to health, what should they focus on?

Three top health issues that threaten quality of life as we age

I don’t have time to research this in depth right now, so, for now, I am going to go with my hunches and personal experience.

My initial hunch is to suggest these three issues, when it comes to threatening quality of life while aging: [Read more…]