Chronic Illness in Those 40+ is a Concern for the Economy and for Employers

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Those over the age of 40 may be making a negative impact on the future of the US economy with the way they eat, live and keep track of their health.

On the Critical List?: A MetLife Report on the Health Status of the 40+ Population, from the MetLife Mature Market Institute and co-authored by the Center for Healthy Aging, found that treating diseases as they emerge runs counter to what individuals should be doing – focusing on health and wellness. The paper also offers solutions for individuals, service providers and employers to improve health status, including the use of technology, implementing wellness and education programs, and more.

The report says more than a quarter (26.2 percent) of all American adults are sedentary, defined as not doing any physical activity outside of work for 30 days, and just about the same percentage (66 million people) are obese. Nine percent have diabetes, 30.8 percent have high blood pressure, a primary risk for cardiovascular disease. It is also reported that while the prevalence of disability has decreased for those over 65, there has been an increase among those over the age of 30. Chronic disease also leads to disabling falls brought on by such factors as the disease itself, or medication interactions that impair balance and stability.

Lawrence J. Weiss, PhD, and Marta Malone of the Center for Healthy Aging estimate that obesity increases expenditures by about $1,723 per year per capita, which means the annual medical burden is nearly 8.5 percent of total annual expenditures, per data from the US Department of Health and Human Services Medical Expenditure Panel Survey.

“A lifetime perspective is essential to preserving the health of generations of Americans,” said Sandra Timmermann, EdD, director of the MetLife Mature Market Institute. “For example, a decline in chronic disease would reduce the prevalence of disability and lead to declines in associated medical expenditures per year. In the workplace, employers can play an important role by promoting good health behaviors through wellness programs. This practice would also help employees become more engaged and productive in their jobs.”

“As the population ages, it will become even more important to create policies and programs to help older people maintain their independence, especially since increasing numbers choose to age in place and are living alone. This can be facilitated by the use of health monitoring programs, including tele-health, self-help training and support for caregivers who provide assistance to those with chronic illness,” said Dr. Weiss. “As we look ahead, it will be to our advantage to focus on nutrition and exercise programs for the young and middle-aged. In the long run, these will reduce health care costs and lead to a healthier older population.”

Employee health benefits are one of the single largest line items on profit and loss statements and that line item is growing. From 1999 to 2005, the average employer cost for health insurance rose from $1.60 to $2.59 per employee per hour, reported the Kaiser Family Foundation in 2009. Research by the Centers for Disease Control (2009) and University of Michigan Health Management Research Center (2008) has shown that it is more cost effective to provide preventive health services, such as exams, screenings, immunizations, health risk appraisals, behavioral coaching, and health education rather than just the traditional acute medical services.

Solutions outlined in the report include:

>>Compliance with medication directives to ensure that patients take the right medication and do not suffer from debilitating interactions. Also recommended are Personal Medication Dispensing Devices to remind people to take their medications at the proper times.

>>Personal Emergency Response Systems (PERS) that can automatically detect a fall is an advanced technology that can give a person comfort in knowing that if they fall and cannot even get to a phone or push a button to get help, a signal will be sent to a response organization.

>>Tele-health and virtual medical care through which patients are in contact with their health care providers via online programs. These programs have been noted to reduce admissions to hospitals and long term care facilities.

>>Health care networks or virtual communities using advanced technology to provide support and interaction among patients, families and caregivers with common illnesses and conditions.

>>Proper training of caregivers, whether family members or home health aides. They should be part of an overall care plan for the patient.

>>Increases in education and health literacy which have been a major force for improvement in health over time, primarily in the area of disability. Several researchers have attributed at least 50 percent of decline in recent disability among older Americans to change in the education composition of the population. It also accounts for increased longevity.

>>Workplace Wellness Programs that affect prevention and have an impact on achieving better health outcomes at lower cost. These are particularly attractive to employers who lose money when employees take time off from work due to their own health conditions or those of family members.