Older Coloradans with Disabilities Are Part of a National Concern

The national newsroom KFF Health News has drawn attention to a growing disparity between the numbers of older adults with disabilities and the personnel and resources available to serve them. “The healthcare system isn’t ready to address their needs,” KFF says. It quotes a 69-year-old Harvard Medical School professor with multiple sclerosis, Lisa Iezzoni, as saying, “For too long medical providers have failed to address change in society, changes in technology, and changes in the kind of assistance that people need.” Iezzoni is well known for her research on disability. Among her published findings are these points:

  • About one-third of people age 65 and older — nearly 19 million Americans — have a disability.
  • Most doctors are biased, assuming people with disabilities universally have a lower quality of life. A sizable minority of physicians — close to half — do not welcome disabled patients. Disabled patients may be discriminated against in what types and amount of care they receive.
  • Doctors don’t understand their obligations under the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act and the law’s mandate for equal access to medical services and treatment. For instance, too few clinics have height-adjustable tables or mechanical lifts or special weighing devices to properly assess and treat disabled patients.
  • Patients with disabilities receive less preventive care and have more coexisting medical conditions. This statistically leaves them in poorer health.
  • Perhaps surprisingly, many seniors with impairments do not self-identify as “disabled.” Instead they see themselves having a “medical condition.” They thus may overlook what their rights are under the law.

KFF says the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and National Institutes of Health have begun targeting some of these problems with the goal of strengthening access to medical treatments and programs for disabled patients. Iezzoni calls these developments “an important attempt to make health care more equitable for people with disabilities.”

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