About one in six Americans is 65 years and older and this statistic is expected to be almost one in four by the year 2050. Age might be just a number; however, aging is an inevitable reality, and one the American healthcare system has not yet embraced.
Older adults in America make up only 15 percent of the population, but account for almost 50 percent of healthcare costs. Compared to other age groups, they are three times more likely to be hospitalized. These rates are projected to increase, yet the needs, values and preferences of this population are often ignored.
In an effort to explore the experiences, preferences, and expectations of this underserved group in health care, a group of researchers from three US universities conducted a study involving older adults and their caregivers in Michigan. This study used focus group sessions to facilitate open, in-depth discussions among 36 participants, a group of diverse individuals with respect to age, gender, race, and backgrounds. Separate sessions were conducted for the 18 older adults and their caregivers, who play an integral role in health care.
The researchers identified and analyzed themes from the focus group sessions. Their discussions highlighted that older adults require specialized health needs but, their needs are neither prioritized nor met. Instead, they are treated with disrespect, apathy, and indignity. Older adults also emphasized that they need providers skilled at diagnosing their illnesses (which may present differently than the same sickness in a younger person), and caregivers described bad experiences trying to coordinate their loved ones' care across doctors. This research highlights the need for trained, specialist providers as geriatricians and social workers who can offer an integrated, holistic approach to caring for older adults.