Health Agency Calls For Changes To Meet Needs Of Missouri's Older Population | St. Louis Public Radio

Health Agency Calls For Changes To Meet Needs Of Missouri's Older Population

Nov 5, 2014

Credit via Flickr/ AJ Cann

A new report on the health of older Missourians says cost and access to health care are key concerns as the state’s population continues to age.

“In the next 15 (to) 20 years Missouri’s population is really going to explode with the baby boomers retiring,” explained Ryan Barker, vice president of health policy for Missouri Foundation for Health, the organization that produced the report. “So, we really wanted to look at this population — what are their needs, what are we seeing. And then predicting what are some of those future needs that we really need to start focusing on now so that we aren’t reaching a crisis 10 to 15 years from now.”

The report focused on three key areas: access, physical health, and dementia/mental health. After outlining statistics and predictions, it gives policy recommendations in each area.

Access

According to the report, Missouri has a shortage of health care workers to address the needs of the state’s aging population.

We already have shortages in our health care workforce,” said Barker. “Especially those folks who are specialists in working with older Missourians, so gerontologists, social workers who focus on this population.”

In 2011 there were 139 geriatric doctors in the state. The report predicts that Missouri will need 558 by the year 2030.

Shortages are also expected in the number of people who are able to provide care to older adults — both professionals and family members. Citing the AARP, the report says that by the year 2030 there will be four potential caregivers for every adult over the age of 80, a drop from 7 potential caregivers in 2010.

The report noted that the cost of health care and long-term care disproportionately affects older adults and can represent a significant burden for low-income Missourians. Older women and older African-Americans are more likely to be poor. Older black residents also have a higher rate of cancer and are more likely to die of heart disease and stroke than white residents in the same age group, the report says.

Another group that is adversely affected is the lesbian, gay, transgender and bisexual community. A national survey of LGBT adults between the ages of 50 and 85 found that 13 percent have been denied health care or were given inferior care because of their sexual orientation, the report says.

Access to health care is particularly limited in rural areas, where there are fewer health care workers and fewer transportation options. But transportation can also be a problem in urban areas, said Barker.

“Just because you live in a more urban setting, doesn’t mean you have access to good public transportation, or that your physical health is good enough that you can walk down the street to the bus stop, or that you can stand for extended period of time waiting at the bus stop,” he said.

Physical Health

Heart disease, diabetes and cancer are three of the 13 chronic diseases older adults are likely to suffer. According to the report, 95 percent of older Missourians have at least one of those illnesses. The foundation is recommending an increased focus on preventative care as a means of improving health outcomes and reducing costs.

It’s a suggestion whole-heartedly supported by Mary Schaefer, executive director of the Mid-East Area Agency on Aging.

“The value of prevention is so important and really can make a difference in helping us lower our costs, which will not be lowered unless we change the way that we fund some of these services,” Schaefer said.

Dementia/Mental Health

According to the report, older adults are at an increased risk for depression, especially older adults who live in nursing facilities. The report also says that 110,000 Missourians have Alzheimer’s disease, a form of dementia.

It recommends renewed funding for Alzheimer’s research and an expansion of home care waivers to allow a family to speak on behalf of an older adult with dementia.

Follow Camille Phillips on Twitter: @cmpcamille