Lesson 1, Topic 1
In Progress

Introduction

April 11, 2024

According to the National Institutes of Health, the aging population in the United States (those age 65 or older) is expected to nearly double over the next 30 years. By 2050, it is projected that there will be 88 million people age 65 or older.
      The average life expectancy of an individual who reaches age 65 is an additional 19.5 years (20.8 years for females and 18.2 years for males). A child born in 2021 can expect to live 78.99 years, about 30 years longer than a child born in 1900. Older women outnumber older men; 30 million women are over age 65, as are 24.1 million men. About 30% of older people who live outside of institutions live alone; half of women over age 75 live alone. More than half a million grandparents over the age of 65 are the primary caregivers for their grandchildren, who live with them. Most older people have at least one chronic medical condition, and many have multiple conditions. Hypertension, arthritis, heart disease, cancer, and diabetes are the health problems most commonly seen in the older adult population, and a significant number also suffer from strokes, asthma, emphysema, and chronic bronchitis. Many of these conditions require medications. If a patient has multiple conditions, they could be on multiple medications. Pillbox organizers are a great tool for patients to keep those medications straight (FIGURE 30.1). Some pharmacies will fill the pillbox organizers for patients. Medication bottles can be a challenge for older adults to open, especially when they have childproof caps on them. Patients can ask the pharmacy to use non-childproof caps (FIGURE 30.2).
      What does all this mean to those who have chosen careers in healthcare? As the aging population expands, it will affect all aspects of society. One area, in particular, will be these individuals’ increased use of health services. To provide quality care to aging patients, medical assistants must understand the aging process, including the physical and sensory changes that occur with aging (Procedure 30.1). This knowledge enables medical assistants to recognize the special needs of older adults and develop therapeutic management and communication skills that can help them effectively care for older patients. Ongoing research and education about the aging process have dispelled many of the old stereotypes.
      Aging is a complex physiologic, psychological, and social process. Old age is not an illness but rather a normal life process that people experience in different ways. Lack of exercise, poor nutrition, substance abuse, continual stress, and air pollutants are all factors that cause a person to show the effects of aging decades earlier than someone who has practiced healthy living habits.
As people age, changes occur in their physical appearance and abilities, along with sensory changes in vision, hearing, taste, and smell. These changes do not occur at the same time in everyone; however, sensorimotor changes can have a profound effect on the individual’s ability to interact with their environment.

FIGURE 30.1  Pillbox organizer.

FIGURE 30.2  (A) Childproof medication bottles. (B) Non-childproof medication bottles.

Stereotypes and Myths about Aging
                • Most aging people will develop dementia. Dementia is not part of the normal aging process. However, the older the person, the greater the risk of dementia. About 6% of those over age 65 and almost 50% of those over age 85 are diagnosed with significant memory and disorientation issues.
                • Disease is a normal and unavoidable part of the aging process. Recent research verifies that individuals who have established healthy lifestyles as they age remain healthy well into their older years. Aging people are more likely to have health issues, but these are not inevitable for all persons over age 65.
                • Older workers are less productive than younger ones. Individuals with a strong work ethic continue to perform in this way. It may take aging people longer to learn new material, but they continue to be capable of learning and applying new knowledge.
                • Most older people end up in long-term care facilities. At any given time, approximately 5% of the aging population lives in long-term care facilities; 80% of aging individuals live independently, with or without a partner.
                • Most aging people have no interest in or capacity for sexual relations. Sexual interest does not change significantly with age; a decrease in sexual activity is usually related to the loss of a partner.
                • Damage to health because of lifestyle factors is irreversible. It is never too late to benefit from healthy lifestyle choices.

30.1 Critical Thinking Application
When Bill first started working with aging patients, he believed many of the stereotypes about people over age 65. Through his work with Dr. Perez, he has come to realize that many of these myths have no foundation in actual practice. Based on the myths mentioned in the text, what do you think about these beliefs on aging? Share your thoughts with your classmates.