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Advocating for Community: Building Bridges to Better Aging for Older Adults


advocating for communityAt Unite Us, we want to empower every individual to advocate for healthier communities. In our latest blog series, Advocating for Community, we highlight key issues facing the populations we serve across the country, describe how we address those needs, and call on others to take concrete actions in support of this work.

Drivers of Health for Older Adults

By 2040, one in five Americans will be 65 or older, marking a significant shift in the demographics of the United States. Thankfully, this next generation of older adults is expected to live healthier and longer than previous generations. But while our collective longevity is undeniably good news, it will also come with an increased need for health and social care support.

Social Isolation and Loneliness

If current trends continue, this next generation of older adults is more likely than ones before to experience certain social conditions that have adverse impacts on their health. Because they are more likely to live alone, experience the loss of loved ones, suffer from chronic illnesses, or experience hearing loss, older adults are at increased risk for loneliness and social isolation. This challenge is a serious one with potentially tragic consequences—the U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory recently noted that “the mortality impact of being socially disconnected is similar to that caused by smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day, and even greater than that associated with obesity and physical inactivity.”

Health Disparities of Older Adults

While some issues like social isolation specifically impact older adults, other challenges experienced across all age groups also present more risks for adults in their later years. For instance, the high rates of obesity currently observed in American adults of all ages will become more pronounced in older demographics. Meanwhile, health disparities experienced by older Americans, particularly across race/ethnicity and socioeconomic status, are on track to become even more pronounced within the next 10 years.

These trends are troubling, and they’re coming in the midst of a significant shortage of caregivers. But the good news is that thousands of individuals and organizations are working hard to build a brighter future for older adults across the country. What we want, and what older Americans say that they want, is the ability to thrive. In their later years, older Americans deserve to live in a place of their choice without losing their quality of life, to receive the services they need to age and grow, and remain pillars of our communities. We can make that happen if we work together. 

Addressing the Needs of Older Adults

At Unite Us, we’ve had the opportunity to partner with many of the incredible organizations leading this work. Area Agencies on Aging (AAAs), which have been working in and with communities across the country since the 1970s, provide critical care coordination services for aging adults and increasingly partner with their local health care systems and Veterans Affairs clinics. Federal and state policies are shifting the landscape to address our coming demographic changes, as Medicare and Medicaid are increasingly supporting the social needs of older adults. Critical food access programs, like Meals on Wheels, are being supplemented with Food as Medicine-focused programs to address individuals’ diet-related health needs. Across all of these organizations and programs, technology is connecting people with resources in a big way. And platforms, including those offered by Unite Us, are making this work sustainable by helping local CBOs get paid for the aging services they deliver.

Access to Health and Social Care

To address the needs of older adults, we must continue to improve access to healthcare and social services together—not just with other providers, but with the aging population as a whole. The best way to offer meaningful support is to listen to the community when its members tell us what they need. “Education is very important for our community,” says Jenna Hauss, President and CEO at ONEgeneration. “We need to make sure our stakeholders understand the important needs of the older adult community. Often, older adults are forgotten. But the reality is that everyone is aging, and everyone knows an older adult. This is a population that’s not going away, and we need to provide services that ensure older adults are cared for. It’s critical that we hear from those we serve and their caregivers, and listen to what their needs are.”

Providing and paying for CBO resources—including home visiting programs, medically tailored meals, and transportation assistance—can prevent or mitigate the impact of depression, loneliness, and diabetes. Furthermore, we can promote better housing conditions that provide safe and comfortable shelter for older adults, including easier access to home care and mobility tools such as stairlifts, improved lighting, and ramps. As the aging population is increasingly using technology platforms and resources, outreach efforts must incorporate and include digital resources that are designed with older adults in mind.  

Aging Reimagined

Aging is a fact of life. It’s our collective responsibility to ensure the next generation of aging adults live long, healthy lives. This starts with ensuring that the benefits of technologies and services are equally accessible to all, supporting communities in their efforts to deliver better health outcomes for every individual.

Together, all of this work is designed to improve quality of life for older adults, empower them to make decisions about their own aging, and support the organizations that address their health and social care needs. 

At Unite Us, we’re committed to:

  • Deepening and expanding our partnership with aging service providers, including AAAs. We will grow our cross-sector networks and referral patterns that support AAAs, and we’ll create new connections between AAAs and other health and social care providers.
  • Launching a community of practice for Unite Us network partners focused on care coordination for older adults. This community of practice will engage the aging-related service providers, including AAAs, on the Unite Us network so that they can share best practices as well as challenges. Unite Us will take these challenges to the policymakers and program officials with the power to enact change.  
  • Responding to the Surgeon General’s call to action on social isolation by establishing internal initiatives focused on unmet needs particular to older adults. In particular, we’ll work to define evidence-based health and social care services that address the unique needs of the older adult population and ensure social connection is prioritized as a critical component to healthcare services.

To build on these efforts, Unite Us calls on communities to advocate for:

  • Expanding home and community-based services (HCBS). These services, paid for by Medicare and Medicaid, include services such as meal delivery, transportation, and personal care assistance, which can help older adults remain in their homes and communities. Expanding these services ensures older adults have access to necessary medical services, including preventative care and chronic disease management.
  • Increasing funding for Older Americans Act Programs. These programs provide essential health services and support for older adults, especially low-income seniors. They include in-home services, transportation, nutrition programs, family caregiver support, and more. Increased funding for these services, including for technology to coordinate and bill for these services, can help older adults maintain their independence and improve their overall health. In the first significant update from the U.S. Administration for Community Living (ACL) since the 1980s, interested stakeholders should take this critical opportunity to comment on the proposed updates to the Older Americans Act program regulations.   
  • Supporting family caregivers and addressing the caregiver shortage. Technology is never a silver bullet. While technology can certainly help with some needs for some populations, core at-home services will always require caregivers. The caregiver shortage is causing real harm to older adults, and it will only worsen unless significant steps are taken. We ask for policymakers to recognize the critical issue of our current caregiver shortage and take meaningful steps to address it. 
  • Paying for social care. To ensure older adults’ health-related social needs are addressed, healthcare payers and providers should directly reimburse CBOs for the services they provide and adopt quality measures like NCQA’s HEDIS Social Needs Screening and Intervention (SNS-E) measure. The SNS-E, which is included in the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ proposed Universal Foundations measure set, tracks whether social care needs were identified and then addressed.

Our shared work is just getting started. Will you join us? 

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About Unite Us

Unite Us is the nation’s leading software company bringing sectors together to improve the health and well-being of communities. We drive the collaboration to identify, deliver, and pay for services that impact whole-person health. Through Unite Us’ national network and software, community-based organizations, government agencies, and healthcare organizations are all connected to better collaborate to meet the needs of the individuals in their communities.

Topics: Aging