A senior moment: ‘Just what do older adults want?’

By Danna Downing

We hear the question all the time. It’s a good one to be asking on a regular basis. What makes it challenging is the fact that what seniors want depends on so many variables. The only truly universal answer would be: “It depends!”

For example, a researcher may want to know answers to a set of questions but measure any changes between pre-COVID, during-COVID or post-COVID experiences, especially considering the huge impact the pandemic had on all segments of the population. Age, health, geographic location and income also have a bearing on answers. It is complicated and can be confusing, to say the least. That’s why Michigan is lucky to have the National Poll on Healthy Aging (NPHA). The poll began in 2017 with no one thinking it would become a household name so quickly.

Its success is largely due to a partnership between the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) and the University of Michigan Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation (IHPI), where the poll is housed. Normally, results from polls would be released to the public slowly, beginning with academic journals that go to a limited population. In contrast, AARP has thirty-eight million members (largest circulation in the United States) for whom the partnership provides a direct conduit to a large sample of older adults from across the country. AARP works with medical experts to hone and amplify critical health messages that are accurate and readable.

What do older adults want most? Affordability and access to insurance and healthcare is the most pervasive issue for them, and the National Poll on Healthy Aging research helps influence policy-making that supports high-quality health care for the senior population. For example, in 2020, Congress passed legislation limiting surprise medical bills from out-of-network providers based on NPHA findings. NPHA data released in March of 2021 show 93% of older adults are in favor of adding a dental benefit to Medicare. It is critical to be doing high-quality research on an ongoing basis so that decision-makers have the information in hand and can use it to take advantage of opportunities to make changes in service delivery.

Accurate data can help individuals, healthcare providers and communities make better programming decisions also. For example, the growing evidence of loneliness experienced by older adults can stimulate a senior service provider or church group to seriously consider adding a program where college student volunteers engage with local older adults to visit, do grocery shopping or some other enjoyable activity on a regular basis. Similar existing programs have already demonstrated how this type of program is good for young and older. So often, the experience of one can become the positive experience of many. A recent NPHA showed that 88% of older adults report that their pets help them enjoy their lives. What could South County residents do with that information to help our older adults?


Think about what you really want to age well and then do something to make it happen.

Don’t forget Insurance Open Enrollment ends December 7!

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