Vail Daily column: Aging and disability
The Independent Living Movement began in the U.S. during the 1970s. As its name would imply, the idea was to have older citizens live independently for as long as possible through the use of consumer directed services. This was addressed by a full range of educational programs focusing on the services (both programs and facilities), and by lowering the costs of supporting those older Americans who were becoming disabled.
The underlying theory in this movement was called Compression of Morbidity. In this theory, as we age and through the use of smarter living habits (more exercise, better nutrition, more timely medical care, etc.), folks would live longer without disability, thus “compressing” any disabilities into a very short time frame at the end of one’s life. Unfortunately, “the longer we live, the greater the likelihood that we will spend an increasing percentage of our older years living dependently rather than independently” (Kenneth Brummel-Smith, M.D., director of Geriatric Evaluation and Management Program at Portland Veterans Affairs Medical Center, “Aging and Disability: A Comparison of Health Related Changes”).
As we age, our ability to function as we did throughout our youth oftentimes become impaired — our eyesight degenerates, our muscle mass reduces, flexibility suddenly vanishes, recalling names or events with clarity can be challenging, our heart weakens, etc. This is a medical viewpoint that has been widespread throughout the USA. This medical model of disability is in stark contrast to the social model of disability, which identifies the increasing social isolationism (from work, friends and family) as a functional disability. It also distinguishes social disability as a “social exclusion” versus the medical model of disability, which views disability as a body “impairment” function. But in all honesty, are they really so far apart?
HOW WE DETERMINE AGING
The reality is that although we often define aging by the chronological aging process, in today’s world many other factors account for the degree of our aging. For example, genetics (i.e., congenital heart disease) can be responsible for carrying a disease from one generation to the next. And then there is the medical ability to alter such genetic realities.
Retirement age is yet another labeling point. Recently, and in an effort to solve the Social Security situation, the age for retirement (specifically, when we might be eligible to receive benefits) has been on the rise. Lifestyle changes appear to be accounting for improved health for a greater period of time — remember the theory of compression of morbidity?
These examples suggest that the old method of managing health care — that of linking most forms of health care to chronological age — is falling by the wayside. It is becoming increasingly important to also review the social side of aging as an important factor in funding sources.
The reality is that our society isolates our citizens. Whether it is due to disability or age, both groups are excluded from work situations and both groups experience social ostracizing from normal social functions. People on average are living longer.
With this longer life expectancy, comes the increased likelihood that one will encounter some form of disability. Are aging and disability inextricably linked? I certainly think they are and should be viewed as, if not similar, at least connected as a result of the aging process.
When we consider aging and disability, we should take a holistic view of:
• Medical processes
• Forms of support (both financial and educational)
• Family involvement
• Government programs
• All of the intangibles that coexist within the aging process
We need to be actively committed to a healthy aging process. An aging process that is proactive and supportive regardless of one’s chronological age or physical impairment.
After all, once we are born, we are all aging. It is important to include all people, whether disabled or simply older, in our aging policies. Arbitrary limits of age or function only serve to label and isolate potentially active, involved citizens from society. It is time we turned our attentions to a proactive stance regarding our citizens, rather than seeing aging and disability as a negative force in our world.
Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Eagle County. For more information, go to http://www.visitingangels.com/comtns or call 970-328-5526.