Date: October 1st, 1999
Imagine what it must be like to move to a nursing home. You spend your days in unfamiliar surroundings, removed from loved ones and dependent on strangers to tend to your most basic needs. Worse, losing the ability to live at home exacts a great personal financial price. The Alliance for Aging Research estimates that the total average cost of care for a person who remains independent during the year is $4,800. But should that person need to spend any time at all in a nursing home, the average cost expands more than seven times to $36,000 per year! Because of loss of independence due to chronic diseases of aging, the United States pays through the roof, too. We spend an additional $26 billion in health care costs annually because older Americans begin to lose their independence due to loss of mobility, macular degeneration, Alzheimer's, incontinence, and other chronic disabling conditions.
If you think you're too young to worry about the high cost of nursing home care and lost independence, you should think again. Two-thirds of the costs are borne by state and federal governments, so you are paying as a taxpayer. Insurance companies set rates high to pay for costly age-related infirmity, and those costs get passed on to you, too. As it is, very few Americans have adequate insurance for long term care. Even if you are younger than 65, chances are the health and independence of your living parents has real economic consequences for you.
Here are a few things to keep in mind so that both you and your doctor are in shape to reduce the threat of losing your independence:
Keep yourself healthy by getting serious about preventive medicine
A key way to maintain independence is to get regular checkups and health screenings. Nipping conditions in the bud increases the chances that doctors will be able to help you remain independent and at less cost. In addition, a good diet and proper exercise will also increase the odds that you will be able to remain on your own. Check out our feature, A Healthy Way To Sweat Aging. It has plenty of good news about the benefits of exercise!
If you are older than 65, demand care from trained geriatricians
Geriatricians are specially trained to detect and treat illnesses and conditions that affect us as we age. If your health care provider happens to be one, the chances are much greater that you will maintain your health and independence. Geriatricians are educated and skilled at diagnosing aches and illnesses in older bodies and which treatments they respond to best. Their care of you can preclude wasted and possibly harmful treatment by others. To find a geriatrician in your area, click here to link with the American Medical Association's web site. The AMA lists geriatricians by state.
Advocate for reform that requires geriatric training for doctors, nurses, and pharmacists, and funds education programs for all health care personnel
Too few medical and health care training institutions require geriatric training, and funds are generally unavailable for geriatric courses. In addition, the current Medicare payment system discourages doctors from practicing geriatrics. Contact your state and federal legislators and let them know how important it is that these conditions change. Contact the leaders of medical schools and tell them that you consider it vitally important that medical students are trained in geriatrics.