Longevity: A Concern for Future Public Health

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.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Longevity: A Concern for Future Public Health

  1. mpowers

    I think it is interesting to think about how people of today’s world view longevity. Not only is their an issue with the elderly in the US not getting proper care to live as long as the elderly in other developed nations, there is a huge discrepancy between countries. In countries like the US or the UK, people expect to live into their 70s or 80s. However, we shouldn’t forget countries that are still living lives that will not extend past 40 or 50 years. Yes, it is important that we assess our healthy system and try to fix the fragmented care that people might be receiving. But on the other hand, does it seem fair that Americans are ‘complaining’ about a life span of 70+ years when people in Swaziland can only expect to live for about 40 years (40% below the world average). Still, people in the US may ask, “why should it be our responsibility?” Why should we focus on Swaziland when we need to address problems in our own country? The same question can be applied to issues within our country, but the answer is not necessarily the same. Also, if longevity continues to be a focus of public health and the American population, how high will life expectancies reach? And will the gap between countries (or populations within countries) continue to increase?

    • Mackenzie,

      I think this is an interesting comment on the article, and it brings up issues I think about often. Essentially, how does the relativism on all health issues play. Bad for the USA may not be bad for other nations. Does that then mean we settle with the results we have, or do we still push to improve? Do we seek to make health outcomes equitable throughout the world, which may mean some health standards in developed nations decrease? These are all rather abstract answers, but I think they are important to consider.

      In regards to the article, the American mentality toward the elderly is worth noting. Compared to other cultures, we often spend less attention and care with the elderly. I wonder if these speaks to American values. What do we value as a nation, if being young is respected, but the elderly are often put on the back burner? Great article. It brings up many issues moving forward for public health.

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