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Clin Geriatr Med. 2002 Aug;18(3):627-42.

Policy initiatives to promote healthy aging.

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  • 1Department of Public Administration, George Washington University, 805 21st Street, North West Washington, DC 20052, USA.


An overwhelming array of policies and programs can be used to help older people (and future older people) maintain healthy lifestyles. How can clinicians help ensure that their patients take advantage of these opportunities? How can these broad-scope policies, educational and information initiatives, and direct service programs be turned into tools to help older people maximize health and independence? First, physicians do not need to do it all themselves. They need to know where to send their patients. For example, case managers in local aging service organizations and social workers, nurses, and discharge planners in hospitals can help connect elderly patients to appropriate benefits and services. Physicians play a critical role in creating a bridge between patients and the array of programs and information that can help them change their individual patterns of behavior. A serious lack of integration exists between what is known about healthy behaviors and lifestyles and what is really happening and available to older people today. From the earlier articles in this issue we know that much can be done to prevent many types of age-related disease and disability. This article provides examples of mechanisms that can be used to broadly disseminate knowledge about effective behavior and treatment changes and create mechanisms to turn this knowledge into real and widespread client-level, practice-level, health system, and community-wide interventions. Second, physicians need to understand that they are not merely subject to these policies and initiatives. They can help formulate and shape them. This political involvement includes active participation in policy initiatives of professional associations, involvement in research and demonstration activities, keeping informed about policy proposals at the federal and state levels, and helping advance ideas for improving health behaviors by speaking up and working toward change. These changes go beyond health initiatives to involve improving housing, nutrition, transportation, and other arenas that play a role in the health of communities and cities. According to the IOM, the most successful interventions are aimed at families, neighborhoods and communities. Interventions are also most likely to be successful when legislative, media, and marketing efforts support them [50]. These broader policies may actually have the most potential impact in terms of developing sustainable lifestyle changes that reach all Americans, especially those with the greatest health needs. Within the aging population, those with greatest health needs include members of minority groups, recent immigrants, and the old-old. These groups are often overlooked when designing and implementing health promotion programs. It is important, however, to remember, for patients and for ourselves, you are never too old to benefit from prevention.

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