During COVID, I noticed family, friends, and members of my extended community in Minnesota find it difficult to handle the strain of COVID-driven social distancing. While I reached out to undertake some service remotely, my work with East Side Elders whereby I help brighten seniors’ days by creating printable coloring books that seniors use to help relieve their stress and reduce isolation has heightened my awareness of some health disparities affecting seniors in our community.
My research of seniors’ health disparities revealed that disparities occur relating to health access, quality, and sometimes, outcomes. Recognizing that unconscious bias can affect some health systems, improved training to help caretakers develop cultural competence. Nevertheless, addressing health disparities in long-term care, eldercare lags behind and as our senior population increases, this problem is becoming more severe. My research also revealed that religious and cultural differences, mistrust of physicians or medical systems, and poor communication contribute to disparities in end-of-life and palliative care.
Recognizing the need to improve care, the National Institute of Aging (NIA) has developed an initiative, Goal F, to analyze seniors’ health-related factors — disease burden, diagnosis, response to treatment, quality of life, health behaviors, and access to care among population groups. As a result, NIA is working to develop some solutions to address health disparities relating to aging, including research on seniors afflicted with Alzheimer’s which is more prevalent among African Americans and Hispanics than other ethnic groups. Also, while women live longer than men, they are more likely to develop osteoporosis or depression. Moreover, social environmental factors such as residential segregation, discrimination, immigration, retirement, education, income, and wealth can impact seniors’ health and well-being.
Moving forward, various medical organizations continue to work individually and collectively with physicians and medical systems to improve quality care with improved access. In the meantime, consider getting involved with a senior care location near you or reach out and be a compassionate listener for a lonely senior in your community.
Curran, Kathy. “Health Equity – Reducing Disparities in Eldercare.” Journal of the Catholic Health Association of the United States July-August 2019.
National Institute of Aging. Health Disparities and Aging | NIA Goal F. Available at https://www.nia.nih.gov/…/goal-health-disparities-adults.
Figure 1. Old Man looking out a window. Adapted from “Depression in Older Adults,” by Lawrence Robinson, Melinda Smith, M.A., and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D., 2021, October, helpguide.org.