ACTIVE AGING
 
MARK RICHARDSON

With the growing number of baby boomers entering and nearing the age of Medicare eligibility, aging is likely top of mind for business leaders and their employees. According to U.S. Census projections, the number of citizens ages 65 and older is expected to reach nearly 56 million by 2020, an increase from 40 million in 2010. By 2050, this population is expected to surpass 84 million, comprising nearly 21 percent of the total U.S. population.

Aging adults have unique concerns. So what’s keeping them up at night? According to a 2013 Nielsen Global Consumer Confidence Survey, the chief worries people have about getting older include losing self-reliance, losing physical and mental agility, becoming a burden to family or friends and having enough money to live comfortably and pay for healthcare costs. 

As a business leader, you are in a unique position of being able to provide education, support and resources for your aging employees. As workers begin considering imminent healthcare costs and coverage, retirement and financial planning and their general well-being, you can be both guide and protector for your greatest asset: the people you work with every day. This is why you should incorporate and spread the message of active and healthy aging within your organizations and in your communities.

What is active aging? The World Health Organization defines it as “the process of optimizing opportunities for health, participation and security in order to enhance quality of life as people age.” In short, it means supporting and improving health and well-being for people as they grow older. Let’s look at some of the ways in which you can take a leading role in active aging.

Create a Culture of Health

Healthcare and its costs are a top concern for all Americans — especially so for aging adults who may be at risk for chronic diseases and injuries. Effective preventive care is key to greater well-being at all ages, and it can mitigate the risk of serious health conditions — and costs — in later life. For example, aging adults are at greater risk of falling, leading to traumatic and costly injuries. According to the CDC, one out of every three Americans ages 65 and older will fall each year, leading to direct costs to the healthcare system of $34 billion annually. Fall prevention and education is just one facet of active aging, and you can do a lot to incorporate resources into your own organization. 

Health and wellness programs in the workplace such as onsite flu shots, blood pressure screenings and no-smoking policies all contribute to creating a culture of health in the workplace. Providing incentives, like gift cards or discounts, can help motivate people to participate. Offering your employees health plans that provide free access to preventive care goes a long way to protecting them throughout their life spans. What’s more, these programs often pay for themselves through a reduction in sick days, short-term disability needs and employee retention.

Support Access to Mental Health Resources

Well-being is more than just physical health — it’s about taking care of our minds and managing our emotions, too. Forget the old stigmas of mental healthcare and provide meaningful support for your aging employees. Stress is a part of every person’s life, no matter their age. But aging adults often have unique mental health concerns. Dealing with the loss of loved ones, divorce or decisions about retirement and end-of-life care can be challenging — and some individuals are at greater risk for developing mental or behavioral health conditions like depression. 

Here’s where you can help. Offer courses and workshops on stress reduction and mindfulness. Create physical workspaces where employees can do their best work without unnecessary distractions. Implement Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) that employees can reach out to when they need assistance. You should also think about choosing health plans that offer robust mental/behavioral health coverage for your employees.

Be a Guide for Financial Stability

As we age, our financial lives get more complex and decisions about money can become worrisome. Planning for the future is key to well-being in later life and individuals must consider retirement savings, healthcare costs and having enough money to live comfortably. You can be guide for people in your organizations by providing education and resources for financial planning. Think carefully about the benefits you offer employees, especially for those that put money in workers’ wallets, like 401(k) plans and health savings accounts (HSAs).

Connect People to their Communities

Some of the best resources for active and healthy aging are just around the corner in your own communities. In Utah, you can connect people with their county health departments. For example, the Salt Lake County Health Department provides resources such as tax services, caregiver support, fresh produce delivery, and the Aging Mastery Program, which gives incentives to participants for developing healthy lifestyles. Caregiving and end-of-life care are also top concerns; connect people with their local seniors centers and support group. 

Be a community steward. Not only should you guide people to help in their communities, you can support your local organizations, too. Encourage workers to volunteer at local nonprofits and participate in activities like marathons and the Walk for Life. You’ll be supporting the community and your employees’ well-being at the same time.

Seize the Opportunity

Information in the digital age is seemingly endless. That’s why it’s important that people access the right information and use unbiased resources — not just a quick Google search. Your opportunity is in supporting active and healthy aging by guiding workers to help that’s safe, reliable and meaningful. Incentivize people to manage their physical, mental and financial well-being. Offer valuable benefits like health and retirement plans that keep the individual’s interest in mind. Be sure that you are listening to the concerns and desires of your aging employees and doing everything you can to protect them — because, after all, they’ve been around the longest. 

Mark Richardson serves as the director of Medicare programs and products for SelectHealth based in Salt Lake City. He oversaw implementation of the SelectHealth Medicare Advantage plans in Utah and Idaho in 2013 and has responsibility for the operations and development of all Medicare programs within the organization.
 
 



Read more: The Enterprise - Aging in the workplace 

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