"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, 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 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 fulfilment and contributions to our communities. But as we learn more about concrete ways to increase longevity we need to work on ways to improve the quality of that time as well," Dr. Mulhausen observed.
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," the AGS white paper explains
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.
Clinical services include:
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. 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.