Date: October 1st, 1999
By Dan Perry
Personal independence, the capacity to live where you wish, to do the things you want, with the people you want to be with; this is the essence of freedom that we all cherish. But with age, and with the rising risk of chronic diseases, these essential freedoms become even more precious.
Functional independence can be lost so quickly. Suffer a crippling heart attack. Break a bone that won't heal. Lose the ability to see or hear clearly. Suddenly, taking care of yourself on your own terms can become a thing of the past. When this happens to an individual, it is a tragedy. For it to happen to a generation of people would be a catastrophe.
Every year, millions of older people will develop a disability. Unless they receive the best health care and rehabilitation, unless they have ample spport at home, they might slide toward even more disability, which could rob them utterly of their personal independence.
Of course, there is a cost in lost human potential. There is a dollars-and-cents cost, too, one that threatens to overwhelm both governments and private insurance programs, as well as private savings, because our population is aging rapidly.
Simply put, it costs an average of $4,800 a year to meet the health care needs for an older person who is healthy enough to live independently at home. If, during the course of a year, that same person needs home care or personal services to remain independent, that $4,800 jumps to $18,000 on average. If that person becomes so disabled they need to be in a nursing home for any time during the year, the average cost of care skyrockets again to more than $36,000.
The health problems that cut into independence for older people are the "unglamorous" limitations caused by vision loss, memory failure, urinary incontinence, immobility from arthritis or bone-thinning osteoporosis. These may not be the kind of diseases that get people to a charity ball or a 10K race, so it's all the more important that the federal government make these a priority for research at the National Institutes of Health.
What will it take to change federal priorities for medical research? In this issue of Living Longer and Loving It! we tell you how you can make your voice better heard.
More than 50,000 of your fellow Americans are receiving this newsletter on line and they are demanding a shot at healthy aging through their personal behaviors as well as through their collective action.
Join us. Tell a friend. Let politicians know that your independence is precious to you. Tell them you're willing to fight for it.