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Preventive Services Lacking in Older Adult Populations, HHS Says

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media, March 16, 2011

Critical gaps exist between older Americans – particularly among minorities -- who receive potentially lifesaving preventive services and those who do not, according to a new federal report.

The report, Enhancing Use of Clinical Preventive Services Among Older Adults: Closing the Gap, calls for promoting preventive services for all adults age 65 and older. The prevention services include vaccinations against influenza and pneumococcal disease such as bloodstream infections, meningitis, and pneumonia, screenings for the early detection of breast cancer, colorectal cancer, diabetes, lipid disorders, and osteoporosis, and smoking cessation counseling.

About 10,000 Americans turn 65 every day and about 1 in 5 Americans will be 65 or older by 2030.

“Millions of Americans are not getting proven clinical preventive services that we know can prevent disease and improve quality of life,” said Lynda Anderson, director of the Healthy Aging Program at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and a lead author of the study. “The report takes stock of current levels of recommended services by older adults, and it becomes obvious that many of these services are woefully underutilized.”

 “We know prevention is critical to healthy living and independence,” said Kathy Greenlee, assistant secretary for aging with the Department of Health and Human Services. “It is important that we continue our efforts at the community level to reach all older Americans. We want to ensure that they are aware of the preventive benefits which are available to them, including those made possible by the Affordable Care Act.”

The report identifies racial and ethnic disparities for preventive services. For example, 49% of Asian/Pacific Islanders and 47% of Hispanics reported not being screened for colorectal cancer, in comparison to 34% of whites. More than 50% of Hispanics, 47% of blacks and Asian/Pacific Islanders, and 36% of whites report never receiving a pneumococcal vaccination.

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