Health Inqualities Of Older People
Aging is part of biological and cognitive development that all humans go through. However, individuals age differently depending on certain factors within themselves or in the environment. These factors include the genetic inheritance, which are the traits we get from our biological parents, the environment we live in, our health related behaviors and the access to healthcare. Healthy aging involves being able to develop and maintain a functional ability that ensures wellbeing in the older ages (Prince and Yusuf, 2015). The status of health in an older age is influenced largely by socioeconomic factors, social and political factors that directly surround the individual as they go through life from childhood to an old age (Mielck, Vogelmann and Leidl, 2014). Research indicates that those in the low socioeconomic levels are at a significant risk of poor health in their old age. The paper will look at the health inequalities that exist among the older population, the reasons for these health inequalities, the impacts they have on the aged people and the possible strategies that can be used to improve the health of the aged population.
There is an increase in the life expectancy globally. The number of people aged over 65 and is increasing drastically in relation to the total growth in population; these changes have posed a major challenge to the society in terms of wellbeing and health, for instance, the issue of caring for the aged with long-term health conditions. Consequently, health care providers are faced with the challenge of attending to older patients with long- term illness and well-being. According to Prince and Yusuf (2015), with the demographic changes, deaths occur to older people above 65 years. In this case, it is evident that the aging population carries the burden of ill health, this constitutes to health inequality. Despite the burden of health on the older population being considered as a health inequality, they do not experience the impact of health on old age equally: gender, socioeconomic status, and ethnicity are some of the major contributors to the health status of the aging population.
Further, health inequality can be associated with to the difference in the health status and in the distribution of factors that impact on the health of the aged. Inequalities in health are attributed to biological differences while and some are associated with the individual's external environment (Norman and Boyle, 2014). These conditions in the environment are usually beyond the control of those involved as they occur without their control. Usually, it might be impossible to change these factors that contribute to health inequalities among the older population. The health inequalities experienced by the older population include the environment they live in, their access to healthcare and the social support they get from their social environment (Owen, Turrell and Giles-Corti, 2014). These factors determine how the individuals in the old age group choose to seek health care services and their general quality of health. In addition, these factors interact with each other to determine an individual’s health in general and an improvement in these areas can ensure healthy behaviors and healthy outcomes in individuals.
The environment of the old age group population can be looked at in the physical, built, and housing aspect in relation to their health. The environment also determines the income, social networks, and personal behaviors of the individuals, which in turn influences their health. The physical environment can contribute to health inequalities to the aged through changes in the natural environment such as climate, pollution among other changes (Read, Grundy and Foverskov, 2016). Air pollution could aggravate health conditions that the aged might be experiencing such as asthma. It could also make them more susceptible since at this age they have a weaker immune system (Steele, Shen and Wildman, 2015). Other conditions that may be caused by air pollution in the physical environment include coughing, respiratory diseases, and cardiovascular diseases. This increases the mortality rates of the aged
The built environment includes the community and housing design, sanitation, safe neighborhoods and public transportation. The extent to which a built environment supports the health of individuals is also a factor in the health inequality. The availability of recreational facilities for the older population is essential in curbing conditions such as obesity and cardiovascular conditions (Shaw and Fors, 2014) The facilities such as grocery stores within an individual’s environment also determines their health status in that if fresh produce is easily accessible it will prevent the aged population from engaging in poorer eating habits. The built environment also provides the opportunity for social interactions; these interactions are good for the aging population so that they do not feel isolated. Isolation is a leading cause of depression among the aged and this could, in turn, aggravate any other health conditions they might be facing (Lennartsson, Agahi, Hols-Salén, and Thorslund, 2014)
The first reason for health inequality is the kind of housing that an aged person lives in which affects their health status. A comfortable house, which is not overcrowded, reduces the risks of respiratory related diseases, allergies, and mental illnesses. It is also important that the families of the aged individuals provide them with comfortable housing with sufficient care and in case they are not able to provide the care needed by themselves, then it would be recommended to ensure that the aged are kept in institutions that will cater for their health needs (Jenkinson, Dickens, and Richards, 2013)
The other reason for health inequalities among the aged is their access to healthcare. This entails the ability to seek medical advice from a general physician and a specialist and the programs available for disease prevention and the promotion of good health. These programs include advice on living a healthy life at an old age and proper counseling for those with mental health programs. If the old people in the society can have proper access to these services then their health status becomes improved and they are able to live a longer healthier life (Arber, Fenn and Meadows, 2014). However, for the individuals in their old age who have no idea on how to lead a healthy life, it becomes very hard for them to engage in the right activities, the right diet, and the right kind of medication to ensure their health.
Most people in their old age face challenges in accessing health care services because of factors like physical inaccessibility, socio-cultural issues and the high cost of non-insured health services. Most of the aged population especially in the later years are very frail and therefore require assistance in moving from place to place with ease. Lack of proper social support and proper facilities to ensure their mobility makes it hard for them to go for their medical checkups in order to have their medical needs attended. Certain sociocultural issues also bring up inequalities in health among the aged population and this includes certain beliefs about the health care of the aged individuals (Aboderin and Beard, 2015. In some cultures, it is believed that the aged should be left to die since they are believed to be unproductive in the society. In such cultures, the aged to do not seek medical help for any health conditions they might encounter, as they are aware that the society views them as being irrelevant in the society.
The cost of not- insured health services is also a great barrier for the aging population. This is usually more common among those with low financial capabilities as they did not develop a health care plan in their younger years. An individuals’ health details as they grow older and this, therefore, means that they require constant medical care (Hoogendijk and Huisman, 2014). Without an insured health plan, it becomes very expensive to seek the services of specialists such as dentists and mental health counselors. This is also a major contributing factor that makes older women unable to have mammograms and pap smears which are important for early detection of cancer and the required treatment.
Health inequalities also result from the kind of social support available for the aging population. Friends family and the larger community contributes to an individual’s feeling of belonging that gives them a sense of being part of something larger than themselves (Batterham, Buchbinder and Osborne, 2016). The older people require this so that they do not feel isolated and it ensures that they have the available support whenever they need access to healthcare. The family members and the close friends to the aging individual have the responsibility of ensuring that they have the right access to health care in a conducive environment that will enhance their wellbeing. Therefore, to reduce the impact of inequality in health for the aging population, it is imperative for the family to give the old all the support they require.
The community also has the responsibility to ensure that the community is supportive of the health of individuals. The community has to be willing to provide the right facilities and programs for the aged population to ensure they are healthy. The facilities that will improve the quality of health include the aging include, recreational centers and social gatherings where the aging meet to share light moments. In this case, the right infrastructure that makes accessibility easier for these individuals should be put in place (Badland and Giles-Corti, 2014). In communities where the aging population lacks social support, they are higher heath cases reported compared to communities where the aging population receives adequate social support. In such societies, the aging population feels isolated. Communities that lack social support do not take the initiative to come up with programs that support the well-being of the aging individuals and it, therefore, makes their health status poorer compared to those aging individuals living in supportive environments (Demakakos, and Marmot, 2015)
Overall, according to the Marmot report (2010), the aging populations are and will continue to be victims of health discrimination based on the attitude of the healthcare providers. Most of the older people note that they face forms of discrimination in their daily basis and they receive poor health care in hospitals and even in their own homes. The report further evidenced that, the aging population receives ageist and prejudicial attitude from healthcare providers. In this case, age is one of the major factors that control the access to treatment. Doctors discriminate patients based on their age; some even take into consideration the issue of age when it comes to surgery. Therefore, discriminatory attitude is evident in the manner in which health services are offered.
It is of great importance to come up with strategies that will ensure the improvement of health for individuals in this group. The Marmot report (2010) argues that the best way of reducing inequalities is by ensuring the government does not solely focus on certain segments of society while ignoring the other segments. It suggests that in dealing with these inequalities, we should not just focus on the lower segments of society but instead focus on the possible outcomes all the way from the top but putting into consideration a scale that is proportional to the level of disadvantage. The key concept in Marmot’s approach is the ability to create a conducive environment that gives individuals control of their own lives. The focus is placed on the local government, national government departments, volunteers and the private sector who have a key role in improving the health individuals (marmot, 2010). This review will be used as a guideline to come up with strategies that will improve the health of the aging population.
The first strategy that would curb health inequality among individuals in the society including among the aging population is ensuring that every child has the best start in life. Most of these health inequalities experienced by the older population began from birth and accumulated throughout life (Chatterji, Seeman and Verdes, 2015). The way a child is brought up also contributes on how they would be willing to assist the aging population once they are able to do so. Therefore, the government and the private sectors should ensure that every child gets the chance to have a great start in life, as this will go a long way in determining their health at an old age.
The second strategy would be to ensure that there is the availability of fair employment and good work for all. This is a major responsibility for the local government as they mostly determine the economic stability of a society. With the availability of employment, there will be improved income, which will enable individuals to be able to afford insured healthcare and be able to provide for the aged family members (Gatrell, and Elliott, 2014). Employed individuals are also in a better position to pay for their health services in the future, therefore, improving their access to healthcare.
The community and the local government has the role of ensuring a healthy standard of living for all especially the aging population. At an old age, individuals are not able to fend for themselves and this may affect their health status. The local government has to ensure that the aging population has a conducive environment in terms of housing and infrastructure that will promote their health (Giuliand Tirabassi, 2014). Individuals within the community can also volunteer in these community centers and offer the aging individuals with the necessary social support. Healthy standard of living provides a comfortable environment that ensures these individuals are not exposed to factors that may aggravate any existing conditions that they may have therefore improving their health status (Huisman, Deeg and Grundy, 2013)
In conclusion, health inequality affects individuals across all age groups but there are some specific inequalities directed to the aging population. These inequalities are mostly related to the socioeconomic factors such as the income, occupation, education and the social support. Individuals who lack the proper social support and live in environments that are unconducive experience a poorer health status compared to those with adequate social support and conducive environment. The local government has a huge role to play in improving the health of the aging in the society by supporting the individuals and their societies.
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