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Healthy Aging Through the Social Determinants of Health, newly published by APHA Press, dramatically illustrates gaps in health care confronting older adults and how that and other barriers can be tackled.
Designed to help practitioners and public health professionals better prepare for their work with older Americans, the book is a field guide to aging in America.
“We are seeing a demographic shift in our population, and more and more policies have to incorporate an aging perspective,” said Annie Nguyen, PhD, MPH, chair of the Aging and Public Health Section of the American Public Health Association, and assistant professor of Family Medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California. “A lot of the chapters are public health issues that are not exclusively aging-related, but issues such as housing, medical care, and transportation that apply across the lifespan. Unequal access to health care only puts people at a disadvantage when they get older.”
While population aging is largely considered a success story with more people living longer and healthier lives, its implications for population health are pressing and widespread, the book’s authors note.
The book shows that “we need to take a new look at aging in public health and look at it from the perspective of keeping people healthy,” said co-editor Elaine T. Jurkowski, PhD, MSW, graduate program director, and professor of social work at the College of Health and Human Sciences at Southern Illinois University, who also coordinates the Gerontology program for the College of Education and Human Sciences at SIUC. “Public health can do a number of things, such as addressing health literacy and social determinants of health and break down barriers. It can provide the opportunity for people across sectors to work with each other.”
Public health practitioners have the opportunity to fulfill a vital role in developing age-friendly communities.
“Each community is different, and not a one-size-fits-all model,” said co-editor Aaron Guest, PhD, MPH, MSW, a socio-environmental gerontologist and assistant professor of aging within the Center for Innovation in Healthy and Resilient Aging in the Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation at Arizona State University. “We really need to emphasize the role of public health in the aging population, whether it’s about mental health or high rates of social isolation, or economic access for marginalized and underrepresented communities, along with geographic location and ethnicity.”
Interwoven issues are having a dramatic impact on aging adults today. For instance, many older Americans, like other generations, are taking too many prescription drugs, and are unaware of interactions; they have hearing, dental and vision issues. They deal with mental health stresses, such as dementia, as well as mobility and disability concerns, and grief at the end of their lives or from the loss of loved ones.
The social determinants of health, such as housing, social networks and related connections also must be addressed. The number of older adults living in communities has increased, including those who live alone, are socially isolated, and are also underserved and/or underinsured.
The neighborhoods where older adults live play a vital role in their well-being. It’s important, the book highlights, to improve walkability and safety, and proper access to food. Many neighborhoods remain highly segregated, by race and socioeconomic status, with fewer stores, reduced medical care, higher crime rates, lower quality housing, and weaker social support networks. In turn, this creates less-than-ideal environments for aging.
Book information: Healthy Aging Through the Social Determinants of Health, ISBN: 978-0-87553-315-5, softcover, list price: $69 (APHA member price $48.30). To order, call toll-free 888-320-APHA; email email@example.com; or visit the APHA Bookstore. Requests for a review copy should be sent by email to David Hartogs.
The American Public Health Association champions the health of all people and all communities. We are the only organization that combines a nearly 150-year perspective, a broad-based member community and the ability to influence federal policy to improve the public’s health. Learn more at www.apha.org.