Aging Well Texas, a group who acts as a guide for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) and other state agencies to support strategic planning to serve older Texans, recently conducted a statewide survey to identify the current and future needs and priorities of older adults, informal caregivers of older adults, and social service providers supporting older adults.
It provided older adult survey respondents with a selection of aging-related topics and asked them to choose the topics that aligned with their needs or concerns over the past three years. The top five selected topics were:
It’s not surprising physical health was chosen as the top concern among older adults. Good physical health is critical to a positive quality of life. Eating a nutritious, well-balanced diet and engaging in regular physical activities are significant components of healthy aging. As we age, we may experience changes (e.g. loss of taste, limited mobility, etc.) that can impact our physical and nutritional health. Along with physical activity, stress, mental health conditions, and access to healthy food can also impact a person’s overall health.
Although many older Texans are active, only 23.6 percent of Texans aged 65 and older met the federal guidelines for regular physical activity. Chronic conditions such as arthritis, heart disease, and chronic pain can also influence many older adults’ ability to be physically active. According to America’s Health Rankings, 43.2 percent of Texas Medicare beneficiaries ages 65 and older have four or more chronic conditions.
Physical activity can bring many health benefits, especially relating to chronic diseases. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, engaging in regular physical activity can decrease risk of falling, dementia, and arthritis pain.6 Experts recommend engaging in 20 to 30 minutes of aerobic activity three or more times a week and muscle strengthening and stretching activities at least twice a week.
Older adults value their health and need the information and resources to age and live well. Preliminary strategies identified by HHSC and other state agencies to address this priority include enhanced efforts to promote access to available services, and increased awareness of resources related to physical health, nutrition, and more.
Access to Services and Support in the Community
The passage of the Older Americans Act in 1965 helped create an understanding of what is needed to age independently, including a comprehensive infrastructure of services and programs to support aging in place. Access to these services and support are critical for helping older adults to age safely in their own homes if that is their preference. According to AARP, three out of four adults age 50 and older nationwide want to remain in their homes as they age.
Another important aspect of aging in place is having the financial ability to comfortably afford living expenses. Many older adults experience a decrease in income as they age due to a variety of reasons, including retiring on a fixed income or having high medical costs. Approximately 11 percent of Texans age 65 and older live below the federal poverty level.
As one survey respondent noted,
“There is limited support in rural communities to help…individuals as well as caregivers who are responsible for 24/7/365-day care for persons with dementia, especially those with incomes above FPL [Federal Poverty Level]. There is an assumption that care is affordable, but it is not.”
As noted, the Older Americans Act put in place an infrastructure of services and support that can help older adults age in place, including home-delivered meals, home modification, transportation assistance, and in-home help or attendant care. As the number of older Americans increased, so have community options and services to support them. Preliminary strategies identified to address this priority include efforts to raise awareness of services, connect older adults on fixed incomes to free or low-cost services, and initiatives to help local organizations expand access to services.
Access to Social Engagement Opportunities
The COVID-19 pandemic has created global awareness of the value of social connection for everyone and especially for older adults. Even before the pandemic, older adults were at an increased risk for social isolation and loneliness. While physical distancing was necessary to decrease the spread of the virus, it also exacerbated the loneliness and isolation older adults experienced. While physical distancing was necessary to decrease the spread of the virus, it also exacerbated the loneliness and isolation older adults experiences. Recent research has shown this isolation caused negative mental and physical effects, including anxiety, depression, poor sleep quality and physical inactivity.
The good news is that recreation and social engagement opportunities help older adults remain connected to the communities they live in and have been shown to help reduce loneliness for many people. Senior and community centers are great places for older adults to participate in social activities like group classes and congregate meals. Many cultural communities host similar activities and can provide a sense of connection for older adults. Although traditional community center options temporarily closed for social distancing protocols, organizations quickly responded with innovative free and low-cost virtual options for older adults to connect with loved ones, learn something new, hone their skills, and engage with support groups.
It is important that older adults have access to an abundant array of engagement options, including virtual, to support their mental health and help them stay connected to their communities. Preliminary strategies identified to address this priority include promoting awareness of virtual social groups, multigenerational programs, and other social engagement resources.
We hope this information is helpful to you in the important work you do as a family caregiver.
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