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By the Numbers: The Impact of Chronic Disease on Aging Americans

March 03, 2017 | Long Term Care

This article is the second in a series based on a January 2017 poll of 2,300 Americans. You can access part one, “By the Numbers: Health Care Needs of an Aging Population” in our Thought Leadership information center.

By the year 2030, the U.S. will be home to 71 million people aged 65 and older. This rapidly growing demographic places a high value on health care independence and affordability. Unfortunately, a growing rate of chronic disease, which is more prevalent among seniors , can rob them of their independence and dash hopes of “aging in place.”

Managing chronic conditions such as diabetes and hypertension requires ongoing effort and coordination from both patients and providers, with many opportunities for pharmacists to make important contributions in terms of care coordination and medication management. To gain additional insights about the impact of chronic disease, CVS Health conducted a public opinion poll in January 2017 of 2,300 registered voters, including 700 seniors.

Chronic Disease’s Dramatic Effect on Seniors

According to the National Council on Aging, about 80 percent of older adults have at least one chronic disease and 68 percent have at least two. In our survey, nearly one in two seniors reported living with two or more chronic conditions. Among the most common were:

  • Hypertension (46 percent)

  • Arthritis (42 percent)

  • Diabetes (20 percent)

From making it difficult to perform daily tasks such as walking up steps or bathing, to causing significant physical, emotional, and financial strain, these diseases can take an extensive toll, particularly among seniors. What’s more, without proper care, chronic illness can reduce quality of life, and keep seniors from maintaining the level of independence they desire.

As Our Population Ages, Burden of Chronic Disease Grows

The number of people with chronic conditions is rapidly increasing and is expected to more than double in the next 15 years. According to the 2016 “America’s Health Rankings Senior Report,” a comparison of middle-aged adults ages 50-64, found a 55 percent increase in diabetes and a 25 percent increase in obesity between 1999 and 2014. Chronic disease, however, affects all age groups and sometimes in different ways:

  • In our survey, depression and chronic pain ranked among the most prevalent conditions across all age groups, at 25 percent and 24 percent, respectively.

  • As a group, seniors’ rate of depression was 13 percent and chronic pain was 20 percent.

  • The next generation of seniors (respondents aged 55-64) reported higher rates of depression (25 percent) and chronic pain (30 percent), highlighting a potential difference in care needs for younger generations as they age.

  • Among individuals with incomes less than $50,000 per year, 30 percent reported struggling with depression and 29 percent said that chronic pain is an issue.

Pharmacists Can Help

Preparing for the growing burden of chronic disease requires coordination among providers and care teams, including pharmacists. Given their accessibility and expertise, particularly in areas of medication management and safety, pharmacists can be valuable resources to support those suffering from chronic conditions by helping to identify potential medication interactions, create personalized adherence plans, and coordinate with primary care providers.

In addition, digital pharmacy tools such as medication trackers, prescription refill reminders, and insurance card scanners can help make it easier for patients to manage chronic conditions and plan preventive care, and they are already in use by many seniors. In fact, seniors use some digital tools more frequently than the general population. For example, 33 percent of seniors use prescription refill reminders, compared to 30 percent of other age groups polled. Additionally, 26 percent of seniors use chronic condition management tools, while only 18 percent of younger respondents reported doing so.

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