Conditions of Older People:

National Information System Needed

HRD-79-95: Published: Sep 20, 1979. Publicly Released: Sep 20, 1979.

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The older population of this country is increasing both in number and in percentage of the total population. This increase in population of older people will magnify the problems they face. To alleviate many of these problems, Congress has enacted numerous laws to establish programs providing help to the growing number of older people. Congress and the executive branch need information to design and plan for the delivery of services to older persons. Currently this information is spread piecemeal throughout Federal, State, local, and private agencies. A national information system is needed to evaluate the combined efforts of current services, and to assess the impact of various laws on the lives of older people.

To illustrate the information that could be obtained from a national information system, GAO made national estimates for the 21 million noninstitutionalized older people 65 years old or older in 1975 based on experiences of older people in Cleveland, Ohio. These estimates, for illustrative purposes only, demonstrate the role that such a national information system could play in major policy decisions. Certain personal conditions, health, security, loneliness, and outlook on life of older people are measurable and dynamic. The conditions of older people decline over time because of health, security, and loneliness conditions. GAO did not have sufficient data to identify other problems that could affect personal conditions but believe that more data on other problems could be added when establishing a national information system. GAO also demonstrated that certain unmet needs of older persons can be identified by using its database. The future costs of expanded help to all older people can also be estimated. GAO used its database to measure the changes in certain conditions and problems of older people, and it related services to these changes. Congress needs alternatives to choose from. A national information system could estimate what percentages of older people receiving various kinds of help are benefiting.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare should direct the Office of Human Development Services to establish a comprehensive national information system that determines the personal conditions of, problems of, and help available to older people. Information collected for this system should be available to Congress for analyses. The system should be expanded over time to include information necessary to study why older people do not receive the help they need and how family and friends can be encouraged to provide such help.

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