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Quantifying Care: Can We Measure the Well-being of the Aging?

I’m Ismael, a graduate of the master's program in gerontology at San Francisco State University, and currently working as a Data Manager at a nonprofit that provides diverse services to the aging population, including clinical care, community support, and tech education. In my role, I oversee the collection and analysis of data to enhance our services and outcomes. This post delves into the nuanced discussion on whether and how data can capture the complexities of aging. This debate is integral to my work as we aim to blend data-driven strategies with direct human insights to better serve and support our aging clients.


Over the past few years, I've experienced an ongoing discussion about how we represent the experiences of people—especially the vulnerable aging population—through numbers. This conversation has unfolded among colleagues, clients and family members, each contributing their unique perspectives. The central question has always been, "Is it even possible to track and measure people’s well-being or struggles?"


On one hand, there's positive feedback. Many appreciate the efforts that are placed to quantify the challenges faced by individuals, recognizing that this enables teams to track, report, and improve interventions effectively. This approach, they argue, lays a foundation for data-driven improvements that can significantly enhance the quality of life for the aging.


Conversely, I've encountered skepticism. Some argue that the complexity of the human experience, both positive and negative, is nearly impossible to completely capture with numerical data. These individuals, often coming from a place of genuine concern and goodwill, question the usefulness of such endeavors and suggest that a direct, hands-on intervention might be a more effective use of resources. I believe that they are often unfamiliar with the transformative power of well-conducted research and data-driven decisions.


While I acknowledge the value of direct interventions, I also believe it's necessary to understand our baseline and future directions. This applies to working with aging clients, patients, or family members and involves using data effectively. For instance, using the Numeric Rating Scale (NRS) for pain, one might struggle to distinguish a pain level of 8 from 7. However, the true utility of this scale is evident when comparing the relief experienced as pain decreases from a level 7 to a level 3. I believe that this principle can be applied broadly to most assessments.


In bridging the gap between numerical data and real-world applications, I believe that our goal should be to foster a broader appreciation for the meticulous research and data that informs our actions. Through education and dialogue, we can aim to cultivate a shared understanding of how data-driven strategies can coexist with, and even enhance, hands-on approaches in supporting our aging population. By adopting this balanced perspective, we can truly begin to make strides in improving the lives of the aging population. Additionally, we demonstrate that numbers, when used thoughtfully, can indeed capture the essence of human experience.

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