Applied Evidence

A 4-pronged approach to foster healthy aging in older adults

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Monitoring patients' health, mobility, mentation, and ability to maintain social connections can help you promote healthy aging for your older patients.


› Prioritize annual wellness visits to improve patient follow-through on recommended services. B

› Encourage physical activity, especially musclestrengthening exercises, to prevent frailty and to mediate decline in the ability to perform activities of daily living. A

› Assess and treat older adults for visual and hearing impairments A , as well as anxiety, depression, and mobility impairments. C They are all associated with cognitive function.

› Ask patients about the frequency of their social interactions A and quality of their relationships B to determine their access to resources, such as food and transportation, as well as their perceptions about their quality of life.

Strength of recommendation (SOR)

A Good-quality patient-oriented evidence
B Inconsistent or limited-quality patient-oriented evidence
C Consensus, usual practice, opinion, disease-oriented evidence, case series



Our approach to caring for the growing number of community-dwelling US adults ages ≥ 65 years has shifted. Although we continue to manage disease and disability, there is an increasing emphasis on the promotion of healthy aging by optimizing health care needs and quality of life (QOL).

The American Geriatric Society (AGS) uses the term “healthy aging” to reflect a dedication to improving the health, independence, and QOL of older people.1 The World Health Organization (WHO) defines healthy aging as “the process of developing and maintaining the functional ability that enables well-being in older age.”2 Functional ability encompasses capabilities that align with a person’s values, including meeting basic needs; learning, growing, and making independent decisions; being mobile; building and maintaining healthy relationships; and contributing to society.2 Similarly, the US Department of Health and Human Services has adopted a multidimensional approach to support people in creating “a productive and meaningful life” as they grow older.3

Numerous theoretical models have emerged from research on aging as a multidimensional construct, as evidenced by a 2016 citation analysis that identified 1755 articles written between 1902 and 2015 relating to “successful aging.”4 The analysis revealed 609 definitions operationalized by researchers’ measurement tools (mostly focused on physical function and other health metrics) and 1146 descriptions created by older adults, many emphasizing psychosocial strategies and cultural factors as key to successful aging.4

Older adults

One approach that is likely to be useful for family physicians is the Age-Friendly Health System. This is an initiative of The John A. Hartford Foundation and the Institute for Healthcare Improvement that uses a multidisciplinary approach to create environments that foster inclusivity and address the needs of older people.5 Following this guidance, primary care providers use evidence-informed strategies that promote safety and address what matters most to older adults and their family caregivers.

Medicare annual wellness visits provide an opportunity to assess current health status as well as discuss behavior-change and risk-reduction strategies with patients.

The Age-Friendly Health System, as well as AGS and WHO, recognize that there are multiple aspects to well-being as one grows older. By using focused, evidence-based screening, assessments, and interventions, family physicians can best support aging patients in living their most fulfilling lives.

Here we present a review of evidence-based strategies that promote safety and address what matters most to older adults and their family caregivers using a 4-pronged framework, in the style of the Age-Friendly Health System model. However, the literature on healthy aging includes important messages about patient context and lifelong health behaviors, which we capture in an expanded set of thematic guidance. As such, we encourage family physicians to approach healthy aging as follows: (1) monitor health (screening and prevention), (2) promote mobility (physical function), (3) manage mentation (emotional health and cognitive function), and (4) encourage maintenance of social connections (social networks and QOL).

Monitoring health

Leverage Medicare annual wellness visits. A systematic approach is needed to prevent frailty and functional decline, and thus increase the QOL of older adults. To do this, it is important to focus on health promotion and disease prevention, while addressing existing ailments. One method is to leverage the Medicare annual wellness visit (AWV), which provides an opportunity to assess current health status as well as discuss behavior-change and risk-reduction strategies with patients.

Continue to: Although AWVs...


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