The population in the United States is aging. Between 2010 and 2030, the number of Americans over the age of 65 will double compared to the year 2000. By 2030 there will be about 72.1 million older persons in the U.S., twice the number from 2007 (A Profile of Older Americans: 2008). As people age, normal changes occur in their speech, language, memory, and swallowing. In addition, their chances of having a stroke or developing dementia or Parkinson’s disease increase, as do the chances of acquiring a communication or swallowing disorder related to these diseases.
For data on the lives of older Americans and their families, see Older Americans 2008: Key Indicators of Well-Being from the Federal Interagency Forum on Aging-Related Statistics.
Speech-language pathologists play an important role in working with this aging population. SLPs can assist in differentiating between normal aging and disordered communication or swallowing function. SLPs provide vital services to those individuals who do have communication, cognitive, or swallowing impairments following illness, trauma, or disease. SLPs also have a role in preventing communication and swallowing disorders by promoting a healthy lifestyle and educating consumers about how to prevent stroke and other disorders that may lead to impairment.
There are many organizations dedicated to research on aging, advocating for the elderly, and promoting healthy aging. SLPs should take the initiative to learn more about the aging population and prepare for the increased services this group will demand in the future.
Partnership for Health in Aging
The Partnership for Health in Aging (PHA) was formed by the American Geriatrics Society to “to prepare America’s formal and informal caregiving workforce to provide quality care for America’s aging population, and to ensure the financial feasibility of providing that care.” The PHA is a coalition of organizations representing health care professionals who care for older adults. ASHA is represented on the PHA by a member who is also an affiliate of SIG 15 (Gerontology). To date, the PHA has developed multidisciplinary competencies for caring for older adults, as well as a position statement on interdisciplinary team training in geriatrics. ASHA is a supporting organization for this interdisciplinary training statement.