Director's Cut
Dear Friends,

All of us at the Hartford Institute for Geriatric Nursing wish you a Healthy and Happy New Year. This is the time of year we make resolutions to exercise more, eat healthier, quit smoking, and make other positive changes to live more healthy and satisfying lives.

Research from the RWJ Foundation and the University of Wisconsin finds our health behaviors account for health outcomes to a greater degree than clinical care. Social determinants of health, health literacy, and cultural background are just some of the factors influencing health behaviors.

HIGN’s Bronx Health Corps (BHC) is a successful example of a community-based effort to engage older adults, community volunteers, community-based organizations, to educate and empower older adults to change their health behaviors. BHC volunteers trained over 5,000 participants, with 75% reporting a positive health behavior change as the result of participation. Health for our aging population requires a multi-focal approach including, education and the mitigation of social determinants such as access to healthcare, food inequality, transportation barriers, and lack of community resources.

In the New Year, let us wish that all Americans have access to resources that improve health.

Tara A. Cortes, PhD, RN, FAAN

Promoting Healthy Behaviors in Older Adults

Liz Seidel
Project Director
Hartford Institute for Geriatric Nursing

Positive health behavior changes can help prevent and manage chronic diseases in older adults. The County Health Ranking Model estimates that health behaviors account for 30% of modifiable factors that impact the length and quality of life. Health behaviors include diet, exercise, sexual activity and tobacco, alcohol, and drug use. Other modifiable components to health outcomes are physical environment, social and economic factors, and clinical care. At a community level, there are steps we can take to facilitate positive health behaviors in older adults through increasing health literacy, using evidence-based programs, and linking clinical and supportive services.
Low health literacy is associated with poor health outcomes. Adults 65 and older have the lowest health literacy of any age group (The National Assessment of Adult Literacy). Older adults that are informed about their health are more likely to engage in healthy behaviors.
Social support and community resources also influence health engagement; this is one reason reaching older adults in the community is essential to improving health literacy. Communities need spaces for older adults to learn and participate in physical activity. Community-based settings provide the opportunity to educate older adults where they gather while also reaching those disconnected or inconsistently engaged with healthcare and connect them to care. Providing age-sensitive education materials on physical activity, nutrition, substance use, and sexual health empowers older adults and their families to discuss health concerns with their providers.

Clinical care providers and community-based organizations must partner in promoting healthy behaviors. Linkages improve the referral system, connecting older adults to clinical care and supportive services such as transportation, nutrition, and substance abuse programs. Clinical care providers can also offer support in the use of evidence-based programs, such as disease self-management, fall reduction, exercise classes, and smoking cessation, among others.
Improving the health and lives of older adults – particularly those with multiple chronic health conditions – is a goal shared by a wide range of health systems stakeholders. Each stakeholder has a role to play in pursuing this goal. Still, the engagement and participation of older adults themselves and the community organizations that are part of their lives are essential for achieving lasting change.

Spotlight on HIGN

 We are pleased to announce that, in addition to continuing her role at HIGN, our Associate Director Cinnamon St. John has joined the staff of the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging under Chairman Susan Collins (R-Maine). This placement is an extension of her Congressional Health and Aging Policy Fellowship. On the Aging Committee, Cinnamon is working on hearings, legislation topics and the annual report with the aim to advance Chairman Collins’s priorities, including retirement security, Alzheimer’s disease, scams targeting seniors, and biomedical research on diseases.

The Health and Aging Policy Fellows Program aims to create a cadre of leaders who will serve as change agents in health and aging policy to ultimately improve the health care of older adults. The year-long fellowship offers a rich and unique training and enrichment program that is focused on current policy issues, communication skills development, and professional networking opportunities to provide Fellows with the experience and skills necessary to help affect policy.

The program has a broad interdisciplinary focus, and Fellowship cohorts have included physicians, nurses, social workers, psychologists, food scientists, city planners, healthcare administrators, epidemiologists, economists, and lawyers from academic and practice settings, spanning career stages from newly minted PhDs to senior professors and community leaders.

For more information visit Health and Aging Policy Fellows