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Public Health Campaigns Address Needs of Older Adults

Blood shortages. Drunken driving. Childhood hunger. For virtually any significant public health issue, there is likely a public health campaign to address it. And for good reason: Advertising and marketing tactics that have proven effective in motivating consumers to buy a product are also effective in motivating healthy behavior changes. Now, a remarkable change in population trends has called attention to the health care issues facing many older adults, and public health campaigns are finding ways to address those needs.

According to the most recent U.S. Census data, Americans older than 65 are the largest population segment both in terms of size and percentage of the overall population. Both numbers will grow as the Baby Boomer generation continues to age. The Kaiser Family Foundation reports that between 2010 and 2050, the U.S. population older than 65 will nearly double; the population older than 80 will nearly triple; and the number of people living in their 90s and 100s will quadruple. Since many older adults live with multiple chronic conditions, it makes sense to reach them through public health campaigns.

Senior Health Issues Targeted by Awareness Campaigns

One such campaign targets multiple diseases through an initiative focused on medication adherence. The National Consumer League (NCL) launched Script Your Future to raise awareness about the financial and health toll of not taking medicines as prescribed. Non-adherence costs nearly $300 billion each year in additional doctors’ visits or hospitalizations. More importantly, about 125,000 people die each year in the United States because of not taking medicine as prescribed. Script Your Future created a toolkit for people managing multiple prescriptions to help them stay organized. From wallet cards (in English and Spanish) to text alerts, the campaign uses various channels to help patients stay on track.

Another growing health burden among the older population is the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. As older adults face divorce or widowhood, many are unprepared to navigate the landscape of finding new romance. In 2012 the Washington, D.C., Department of Health launched a local public health campaign addressing sexual health among older residents. The campaign developed culturally sensitive marketing materials to promote condom use and HIV testing, and placed them in public transit platforms and retail locations like laundromats and hair salons. The agency also conducted direct outreach, distributing more than 12,000 condoms.

Not all public health campaigns focus on healthy behavior changes as a primary goal. In 2005, the CDC launched the Healthy Brain Initiative to better understand the total health care burden of cognitive impairment. The CDC estimated that the cost of dementia among people older than 70 was between $159 and $215 billion in 2010. Before we can reduce this financial burden, as well as the personal impact on families and individuals, we must first understand the breadth and scope of all the factors in play. The initiative created a roadmap of coordinated care across multiple agencies and organizations that has increased the proportion of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia-related diagnoses, while reducing the number of preventable hospitalizations within that population.

Helping Seniors Take Charge of Their Health

There is no shortage of public health campaigns directed toward older adults. A state campaign by the Mississippi Department of Health calls attention to suicide prevention. Go4Life, a campaign by the National Institutes of Health, aims to get older adults to be more physically active. As the older population continues to grow, so will the health issues that population will face; and so too will the public health campaigns aimed at helping them.