Longevity: The Next Public Health
Often we get wrapped up in the problems of today, especially when it comes to health and situations of justice. However, in more recent news, there has been more attention turned towards the public health and social justice concerned with the growing longevity of the population. According the a recent article in the New York Times, “since 1900, the life expectancy for the average American has increased by three decades, creating a host of medical, financial, and public policy challenges.” An increase in longevity of the average American is a public health problem that we must begin tackling immediately so as to ensure that our future elderly (who will most likely be living longer than the current elderly) are protected and insured. In addition recent survey suggests that American citizens are lagging behind twelve other countries who report having an increase in longevity. Initial efforts to uncover this disparity ruled out “obesity, smoking, traffic accidents and homicides” as sources of blame for the disparity. Instead, the researchers concluded that “costly specialized and fragmented care.” Today, nursing home or dependent living facilities are expensive and far too sparse. Only the rich are able to afford the high cost of putting their loved one in an assisted living home. Those who are unable to provide these living facilities for their elderly are often left to take on an additional financial and personal burden of ensuring their safety within their own homes. In a poor income house, the consequences could mean that individuals of the family are left at home to care for their elderly instead of working to bring in income or go to school.
Ultimately, the particular situation for the elderly person and their family has consequences for everyone. If an elderly is in constant state of embarrassment for not being able to provide for themselves, then they cannot according to Dr. Robert Butler, “have the freedom to live with change, to invent and reinvent themselves” no matter what their age. A shortage in accessible geriatric living and medical facilities will have consequences on the elderly, their families, and the society as a whole. It is estimated that in twenty years 1/3rd of the population will be over the age of sixty and in need of end of life insurance and care. With the increase in technology, these individuals will be living for a greater amount of time and will require assisted living and Medicare benefits for a longer sustained period. More funding will be needed for providing at minimal the basic needs of shelter, food, medical access, and the freedom to explore and flourish as an individual. Thus it comes to no surprise that there is a great emphasis on longevity in emerging Public Health professionals. Perhaps it is our American mentality that sets us apart from other nations, but there seems to be lacking that sens of duty to take care of our parents within our home. Instead, when we can afford it, we place them in nursing or assited living housing. However, many of these living facilities are not weel funded or well staffed and often there are reports of negelect and abuse. In addition, many of these facilities are not equipped with the needed machinery and services to provide their seniors with the required “on-site” medical, psychological, or social stimulation. For example, many patients on dialysis need to be transported via ambulance or other medical vehicle to a separate facility for treatment. This arguous and sometims embarassing process has detrimental affects on the individual’s sense of security and well-being.
Despite a per capita increase in health care spending in the U.S., the country is falling behind other countries according to lead author, Dr. Peter Muennig, assistant professor of health policy management at the Mailman School of Public Health. Perhaps the problem is an appropriate delegation of the resources available to those who are in most need. Perhaps not enough money has been delegated to the resources needed to protect the rights and liberties of an elderly person. It seems just that elderly (or any retired person for that fact) deserves to live a life free from fear of future medical, personal, or social barricades. Ultimately, we are unprepared for the future of our elderly citizens. There is a dire need to focus on long-term health benefits for senior citizens as well as government funding available retirement homes which are available to all.