Applied Evidence

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

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Although AWVs are an opportunity to improve patient outcomes, we are not taking full advantage of them.6 While AWVs have gained traction since their introduction in 2011, usage rates among ethnoracial minority groups has lagged behind.6 A 2018 cohort study examined reasons for disparate utilization rates among individuals ages ≥ 66 years (N = 14,687).7 Researchers found that differences in utilization between ethnoracial groups were explained by socioeconomic factors. Lower education and lower income, as well as rural living, were associated with lower rates of AWV completion.7 In addition, having a usual, nonemergent place to obtain medical care served as a powerful predictor of AWV utilization for all groups.7

Strategies to increase AWV completion rates among all eligible adults include increasing staff awareness of health literacy challenges and ensuring communication strategies are inclusive by providing printed materials in multiple languages, Braille, or larger typefaces; using accessible vocabulary that does not include medical jargon; and making medical interpreters accessible. In addition, training clinicians about unconscious bias and cultural humility can help foster empathy and awareness of differences in health beliefs and behaviors within diverse patient populations.

A 2019 scoping review of 11 studies (N > 60 million) focused on outcomes from Medicare AWVs for patients ages ≥ 65 years.8 This included uptake of preventive services, such as vaccinations or cancer screenings; advice, education, or referrals offered during the AWV; medication use; and hospitalization rates. Overall findings showed that older adults who received a Medicare AWV were more likely to receive referrals for preventive screenings and follow-through on these recommendations compared with those who did not undergo an AWV.8

The approach to caring for individuals later in life has shifted from management of disease and disability to promotion of healthy aging by optimizing health care needs and QOL.

Completion rates for vaccines, while remaining low overall, were higher among those who completed an AWV. Additionally, these studies showed improved completion of screenings for breast cancer, bone density, and colon cancer. Several studies in the scoping review supported the use of AWVs as an effective means by which to offer health education and advice related to health promotion and risk reduction, such as diet and lifestyle modifications.8 Little evidence exists on long-term outcomes related to AWV completion.8

Utilize shared decision-making to determine whether preventive screening makes sense for your patient. Although cancer remains the second leading cause of death among Americans ages ≥ 65 years,9 clear screening guidelines for this age group remain elusive.10 Physicians and patients often are reluctant to stop cancer screening despite lower life expectancy and fewer potential benefits of diagnosis in this population.9 Some recent studies reinforce the heterogeneity of the older adult population and further underscore the importance of individual-level decision-making.11-14 It is important to let older adult patients and their caregivers know about the potential risks of screening tests, especially the possibility that incidental findings may lead to unwarranted additional care or monitoring.9

Continue to: Avoid these screening conversation missteps

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