Take Action: Aging

Senior African-American couple riding bikes

Healthy aging is the process by which American seniors, age 65 and older, maintain physical and mental health, engage socially, and remain active and independent in their communities for as long as they are able. Although some seniors have health conditions that require facility care, seniors with minimal health needs may age-in-community, meaning that they remain in their homes with supportive services provided by nonprofit organizations within the community. Aging-in-community also reduces the costs of long-term care, which will continue to grow as the Baby Boom generation (born between 1946-1964) ages.

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Source: Root Cause

We are facing a rapidly aging population in the U.S., however, very few foundations fund in the space of aging and not a lot of individual philanthropic dollars go to this field. Many experts I spoke with expressed concern that this country will not be able to meet the demands of the unbelievably high aging population if more money and resources aren’t devoted to this sector.

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Source: Philanthropedia

A variety of charity-run programs aim to improve the quality of health care services for the aging population. Such programs, if effective, can provide the elderly with more and better services while also reducing the health care costs incurred by individuals and society (e.g., by preventing unnecessary hospitalizations).

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Source: Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy

 

Presently, there is no single indicator that defines healthy aging effectively for all seniors. Individuals who age-in-community require different service matrices to support a variety of needs. Accordingly, nonprofit organizations are developing specific measures to evaluate the services they offer. Services should include the following key components:

  • Service Access: High-performing organizations ensure availability of and access to supportive services that allow seniors to age-in-community. In particular, services should be designed to meet the needs of vulnerable populations. High-performing organizations should reevaluate regularly the needs of the populations they serve to ensure those needs are aligned with the services they provide. Additionally, organizations should work together across communities to ensure that the greatest possible network of services is available to the largest possible population of seniors.
  • Service Awareness: High-performing organizations raise awareness of the services they provide within their communities. Methods of increasing awareness should be presented in an unbiased manner, reducing any possible stigmas associated with certain types of services (e.g., possible negative perceptions of mental health counseling). When barriers to awareness are identified, high-performing organizations should strive to eliminate or overcome them.
  • Service Validation: High-performing organizations provide both valid proof of need and program legitimacy for the services they offer. Proof of need may be demonstrated through evidence-based research conducted internally or by an unbiased third party. Such research should define how needs in the community are identified and how those needs are being met, with a focus on the specific benefits provided. Program legitimacy may be verified through certification, accreditation, or licensure of staff by a recognized organization. High-performing organizations should also have long-range research plans to evaluate their programs with specific goals for defining success over time.

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Source: Root Cause

Experts working in the field of aging were asked to recommend nonprofits that work in one or more of the following areas: 1) health care, care-giving, and long-term support; 2) housing; 3) economic security; and 4) other services, which includes nonprofits that work in the areas of transportation, civic engagement, socialization and prevention of elderly abuse. Types of nonprofits could include direct-service providers, coalitions, advocacy organizations, associations, or research organizations.

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Source: Philanthropedia

Charities offer a wide variety of activities and services, such as: transitional programs for elderly patients leaving the hospital, health counseling, phone call check ups, social work services to address barriers to continued health, and patient education materials.

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Source: Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy

Aging-in-community can succeed only if seniors have access to supportive services that allow them to remain healthy in their homes. Community-based supportive services, such as those provided by nonprofits, can offer any combination of services from the following key service categories: physical and mental health, social engagement, and personal independence.

  • Physical and mental health services provide seniors with ongoing maintenance and management of personal health and existing conditions. Examples of these services include availability of preventive care, chronic disease management, fall prevention programs, nutrition awareness and healthy eating classes, exercise classes, mental health care, and counseling services.
  • Social engagement services keep seniors active by offering opportunities to interact with others. Examples of these services include volunteer opportunities, intergenerational programs and connections with local youth, community meals, clubs for common interests and hobbies, faith-based activities, partnerships between seniors, or other social activities that allow seniors to engage actively in their communities.
  • Personal independence services enable seniors to retain the ability to manage their daily lives with limited assistance from others. Examples of these services include transportation and mobility assistance, home maintenance and modification programs, and financial planning and management. They also include help in completing paperwork necessary to obtain Medicare and/or Medicaid coverage, public safety programs, employment opportunities, or access to an ombudsman or counselor who can provide additional assistance to facilitate independence.

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Source: Root Cause

While programs focused on assisting the aging population have the potential to produce meaningful improvements in the lives of these adults and their families, only a few are backed by strong evidence of sizable, sustained effects on important outcomes. Many programs are backed by preliminary evidence – for example, studies showing short-term effects on intermediate outcomes such as satisfaction with healthcare services. However, donors should recognize that when such programs are evaluated in more definitive studies with longer-term follow-up, these preliminary effects too often do not translate into sustained effects on more important outcomes, such as overall health or hospitalization rates. Donors should ask about the evidence supporting the effectiveness of a specific program a charity is running -- particularly whether there are rigorous studies, such as well-conducted randomized controlled trials, showing sizable, sustained effects on the lives of aging adults.

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Source: Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy