Many health professionals unfortunately link health promotion activities and disease prevention with the young and middle aged. They believe that for the elderly it is too late to think seriously about wellness or prevention. The focus is on symptom-oriented treatment rather than on encouraging health, vigor, self-care, selfresponsibility, and independence. This attitude must change!
In 1980, the average life expectancy for men aged 65 was 14 years; for women, nearly 19 years. By the year 2000 the average woman of 65 can look forward to over 21 more years of life. The quality of life throughout these years is of enormous importance to the individual, the family, and society.
Growing o\d does not mean that severe menta) and physical infirmity is inevitable. Many serious illnesses are related to behavioral and environmental factors. Behaviors such as cigarette smoking, poor dietary habits, lack of exercise, stress, and excessive exposure to sunlight have been implicated in increasing the probability of illness. Recent research shows that making behavioral changes results in improved health and reduced risk of disease at any age. For example, the incidence of cardiovascular disease is decreasing in people of all ages, including the population over age 65. Yet, little effort is made to educate or motivate the elderly to attain the high level of wellness necessary for independence and an active lifestyle. And, elderly people, tending to be less cavalier about their health than younger age groups, are most receptive to preventive measures.
One of the goals of gerontological nursing must be to advance health-promoting behaviors in the elderly. Gerontological nurses in all areas of practice must give wellness and health promotion a priority. Along with knowledge and skills needed to provide care in illness or health crisis, educators must include concepts and skills in health promotion and health maintenance in nursing curricula. Clinicians must be knowledgeable in this area and willing to broaden their practice to promote prevention and health promotion services for individuals and their families. Researchers will need to determine which health-promotion programs and policies result in the greatest benefits and which strategies seem to be the most promising.
We must move rapidly to reshape the present iiinessoriented healthcare system to one that will provide more health promotion and health maintenance services. The health and well-being of our elderly citizens are at stake.