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Older Adults

Older Adults


Improve the health, function, and quality of life of older adults.


As Americans live longer, growth in the number of older adults is unprecedented. In 2014, 14.5% (46.3 million) of the US population was aged 65 or older and is projected to reach 23.5% (98 million) by 2060.1

Aging adults experience higher risk of chronic disease. In 2012, 60% of older adults managed 2 or more chronic conditions.2

Common chronic conditions include:3

  •  Heart Disease
  •  Cancer
  •  Chronic bronchitis or emphysema
  •  Stroke
  •  Diabetes mellitus
  •  Alzheimer's disease

Chronic conditions can lower quality of life for older adults and contribute to the leading causes of death among this population. 

Understanding the Health of Older Adults

Health Services

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 includes provisions that added certain preventive services to Medicare, including cancer screenings and immunizations. These services can prevent disease or help to detect disease early, when treatment is more effective.  Unfortunately older adults, especially those from certain racial and ethnic groups, underuse these services.4

Professionals, paraprofessionals, as well as paid and unpaid caregivers need basic and continuing geriatric education to improve care for older adults.5

Chronic Illness

Physical activity can help prevent disease and injury. However, less than 60% of older adults engage in physical activity and strength training.6

Federal efforts to improve chronic illness services for older adults include: 

  • Programs to fund evidence-based Chronic Disease Self-Management Education (CDSME) programs, which help older adults with chronic diseases better manage their conditions and take control of their health7
  • Older Americans Act programs that fund a wide array of services and supports. They are targeted to low-income older adults and help millions of people maintain their health and independence. 

Injury Prevention

Falls, the leading cause of injury among older adults, are treated in emergency departments every 13 seconds and claim a life every 20 minutes. Every year, 1 out of 3 older adults fall, yet less than half tell their doctor.8

Falls-related injuries and deaths can be prevented by addressing risk factors.  

  • The Administration for Community Living supports evidence-based falls prevention programs that are implemented in community settings through aging services and other community providers.
  • Center for Disease Control and Prevention's Stopping Elderly Accidents, Deaths, & Injuries (STEADI) tools and educational materials can assist health care providers in reducing their patients’ risk of falling.10
  • The National Institute on Aging (NIA) and the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) are testing evidence-based interventions that deploy nurses or nurse practitioners as “falls care managers.”


Caregivers help people needing ongoing assistance with activities of daily living. The need for unpaid and paid caregivers will likely increase as the U.S. population ages.

  • Approximately 25% of U.S. adults 18 years of age and older reported providing care or assistance to a person with a long-term illness or disability in the past 30 days.11   
  • Caregivers are at increased risk for negative health consequences, including stress and depression, and need increased support to preserve their own health. These risks are greater for caregivers of people with Alzheimer’s and related dementias.

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Emerging Issues in the Health of Older Adults

  • Person-centered care planning that includes caregivers
  • Quality measures of care and monitoring of health conditions
  • Fair pay and compensation standards for formal and informal caregivers
  • Minimum levels of geriatric training for health professionals 
  • Enhanced data on certain subpopulations of older adults, including aging LGBT populations 


1Colby SL, Ortman JM. Projections of the Size and Composition of the U.S. Population: 2014 to 2060, Current Population Reports, P25-1143, U.S. Census Bureau, Washington, DC, 2014.

2Ward BW, Schiller JS, Goodman RA. Multiple Chronic Conditions Among US Adults: A 2012 Update. Prev Chronic Dis 2014;11:130389.

3Older Americans 2012: Key Indicators of Well-Being. Federal Interagency Forum on Aging-Related Statistics. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. June 2012.

4US Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). Medicare claims data [Internet]. Baltimore: CMS; 2010 [cited 2010 February 22].

5Institute of Medicine. Committee on the Future Health Care Workforce for Older Americans. Retooling for an aging America. Washington: National Academies Press; 2008.

6National Center for Health Statistics. Health, United States, 2014: With Special Feature on Adults Aged 55–64. Hyattsville, MD. 2015.

7Lorig K, Sobel DS, Stewart AL, et al. Evidence suggesting that a chronic disease self-management program can improve health status while reducing hospitalization: a randomized trial. Med Care. 1999;37(1):5–14.

8Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), National Center for Injury Control and Prevention [Internet]. Take a stand on falls. Atlanta: CDC; 2015 [cited 2016 April 12]. Available from:

9Administration for Community Living. Administration on Aging (AoA) Health, Prevention, and Wellness Programs [Internet]. Washington, D.C. [cited 2016 May 19]. Available from:

10Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), National Center for Injury Control and Prevention [Internet]. Make STEADI part of your medical practice. Atlanta: CDC; 2015 [cited 2016 April 12]. Available from:

11Andersen LA, Edwards VJ, Pearson WS, et al.  Adult caregivers in the United States: characteristics and differences in well-being, by caregiver age and caregiving status. Prev Chronic Dis. 2013;10:E135.

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