Some of the most common conditions that the elderly aged >65 suffer from and the leading cause of death are; heart disease, cancer, stroke, lower respiratory disease, influenza/pneumonia, Alzheimer’s disease, and diabetes. In addition to these chronic conditions there are many others that have a profound impact on the health and quality of life in the elderly i.e., accidents/falls, depression, chronic pain/arthritis, macular degeneration, dental health issues. Fifty percent of the elderly have 2 or more of these chronic conditions, making long term health care for the elderly one of the most pressing issues today.
In the United States it has been projected that the population > than 65 is projected to increase from 35 million in 2000 to 71 million in 2030. In addition, the cost for long term health care for the elderly is estimated to increase from 9.3 million to 19.5 million by 2030. As adults live longer because of medical technology, the prevalence of Alzheimer's disease also increases. Approximately 10% of adults aged >65 years and 47% of adults aged >85 years suffer from this debilitating disease. Chronic conditions can lead to sever disability and diminish the quality of life and dignity. Arthritis affects approximately 59% of persons aged >65 and is the leading cause of disability today.
Many of the conditions that the elderly suffer have a huge impact on their activities of daily living (ADL). Restorative programs carried out by specialized nurses need to be implemented through assisted living facilities and with family members through private care options to help improve activities of daily living i.e., dressing and grooming, eating, walking, transferring to and from bed / wheelchair / toilet, communication, balance and strengthening through exercise programs.
Also important are programs designed for activities that can be provided on a daily basis, to help patients and families take an active role in their own care to improve patient outcomes and their quality of life by using the following strategies; memory exercises; mobility through exercise and movement; physical, occupational, speech therapy; pain management; range of motion exercises; medication education and adherence; stroke and surgical rehabilitation; and relaxation and recreation services that encourage emotional well-being. Unfortunately, most of the time these services are provided by an outside health organization and can be very costly.
It is important to remember that long term health care for the elderly is more than making sure they get treated for these chronic conditions but that we as a society can help to meet the physical, spiritual, social and psychological needs for the elderly and disabled persons with the goal of offering a life of independence, dignity and purpose.
The challenges for the elderly and the chronic conditions they suffer from will put a strain on public health systems, future care giving facilities and most importantly on their families. Measures need to be taken to help the elderly achieve better health outcomes by improving the long term health care that the elderly receives by improving public programs like Medicaid and Medicare, improving the care received within assisted living facilities and offering important education and resources for the families of the elderly.