Perspectives: Changing the Conversation — How Americans Talk, Think and Feel about Aging


We aim to transform the way people talk about the care needs that most of us will have as we grow older. Read Dr. Chernof’s Perspectives on changing older Americans’ thoughts on how to approach aging for themselves and with their loved ones.

Date Updated: 06/17/2011

In my 25 years in medicine I’ve never heard anyone describe themselves as a “functionally impaired patient with chronic multiple conditions,” a “long-term care recipient,” or a “dual eligible.” Yet these types of terms are used everyday among health care professionals, policy wonks, and advocates to describe the very people on whose behalf we work. The result of using this vernacular is that we talk at people rather than with them, effectively turning living, breathing human beings into obscure concepts. Dehumanizing the most human of processes – namely, growing older with health needs – breeds fear and apathy among the public at best, and at worst, alienation from a health care system that is perceived as too cold to care, too complicated to understand, and nearly impossible to navigate…

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Chances are you know and love an older person with needs. Maybe it’s that neighbor of yours whose trash cans you help bring in once a week. Perhaps it’s your grandparent or even a parent who needs help understanding the bills or getting the groceries up the stairs. The reality is the population of older adults in this country is growing rapidly due in large part to the aging of baby boomers – a demographic shift that affects us all. Advancements in health care and technology have also spurred this phenomenon, yet we know that a longer life also brings a greater likelihood of facing multiple chronic health conditions and possibly needing help with everyday activities.

In this Perspectives, Dr. Chernof reflects on the Foundation’s presence at the 2012 American Society on Aging Conference and how improving long-term care in California will require the long-term strategies and dedication of a social movement.

This policy brief establishes a basis for the critical system transformation activities necessary to produce a high quality, person-centered system of care for older adults and people with disabilities.