Category Archives: Aging

In global struggle to care for aging populations, plenty of room for improvement

Liz Seegert

About Liz Seegert

Liz Seegert (@lseegert), is AHCJ’s topic editor on aging. Her work has appeared in Kaiser Health News, The Atlantic.com, New America Media, AARP.com, Practical Diabetology, Home Care Technology report and on HealthStyles Radio (WBAI-FM, NYC). She is a senior fellow at the Center for Health, Media & Policy at Hunter College, NYC, and a co-produces HealthStyles for WBAI-FM/Pacifica Radio.

Photo: Chester Paul Sgroi via Flickr

Photo: Chester Paul Sgroi via Flickr

Compared with other industrialized nations, patients age 65 or older in the U.S. are generally in poorer overall health and have more challenges paying out-of-pocket expenses than their counterparts in other industrialized nations, according to a new study in the November 2014 issue of Health Affairs. (Remember, AHCJ members get free access to Health Affairs.)

Older adults in 11 nations – Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States – were asked by telephone about their health and health care delivery. Among the 15,617 adults, age 65 or older, who participated in the 2014 Commonwealth Fund International Health Policy Survey of Older Adults, 20 percent of respondents in every country except France reported problems with care coordination. Access to primary care was most challenging in Canada, the U.S., and Sweden. Continue reading

How to leverage local angles on fall prevention

Liz Seegert

About Liz Seegert

Liz Seegert (@lseegert), is AHCJ’s topic editor on aging. Her work has appeared in Kaiser Health News, The Atlantic.com, New America Media, AARP.com, Practical Diabetology, Home Care Technology report and on HealthStyles Radio (WBAI-FM, NYC). She is a senior fellow at the Center for Health, Media & Policy at Hunter College, NYC, and a co-produces HealthStyles for WBAI-FM/Pacifica Radio.

hj11-collins

Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D., director, National Institutes of Health, speaks at Health Journalism 2011.

One of the NIH initiatives highlighted last week by director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., during his keynote at the Gerontological Society meeting was a 5-year, $30 million cooperative effort with the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute  (PCORI) to conduct a clinical trial testing individually-tailored interventions to prevent fall-related injuries.

Why is this important? Because, according to the American College of Sports Medicine, one in three adults over age 65 experiences at least one fall annually; 20 percent to 30 percent of which cause moderate to severe injuries — or even death. Falls lead to increased hospitalizations, higher medical costs, loss of independence, diminished quality of life, and affects other chronic conditions. According to the CDC, older adults are hospitalized five times more often for fall-related injuries than for other causes. Direct medical costs of fall injuries for people 65 and older was $30 billion in 2012 and by 2020, total direct and indirect costs are projected to more than double.

As of July 2014, nine states have enacted or are considering legislation on fall-prevention initiatives. Many others are partnering with community organizations to educate providers and seniors about the risks. As Kate Hafner wrote in this New York Times piece, the problem is only growing worse.

More peace of mind may come at a price for consumers. Fall-related wearable technology is big business. Consumer Reports recently profiled six different medical alert systems. At the recent National Association of Home Care and Hospice annual conference, I saw at least another half-dozen new products on exhibit — the latest of which incorporate GPS tracking, providing an ability to find the wearer regardless of location. Others monitor a wearer’s balance, alerting clinicians to assess potential health issues before a fall occurs.

There are plenty of ideas and opportunities to focus on falls in the elderly in your community – home risk assessment and safety programs, hospital admissions, costs of rehab, and loss of independence and ability to age in place are just a few ideas. Or take a look at the business side of falls — from health costs to entrepreneurs.

See this tip sheet for more information on how falling affects older adults.

Gero is “hot science:” NIH Director Collins

Liz Seegert

About Liz Seegert

Liz Seegert (@lseegert), is AHCJ’s topic editor on aging. Her work has appeared in Kaiser Health News, The Atlantic.com, New America Media, AARP.com, Practical Diabetology, Home Care Technology report and on HealthStyles Radio (WBAI-FM, NYC). She is a senior fellow at the Center for Health, Media & Policy at Hunter College, NYC, and a co-produces HealthStyles for WBAI-FM/Pacifica Radio.

The National Institutes of Health remains strongly committed to the future of aging research, said NIH Director Francis S. Collins during Thursday’s kickoff of the Gerontological Society of America’s Annual Conference in Washington, D.C.

During his keynote speech at the GSA meeting, Collins highlighted several areas of research that are getting recent notice by mainstream media, including the BRAIN Initiative (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies), bio markers to map cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease and a 5-year, $30 million fall prevention project.

Collins also described several research successes at NIH and its National Institute on Aging since the NIA’s founding in 1974.  “Life expectancy has increased. Deaths from cardiovascular disease are down 70 percent in the last 60 years,” he said. “Cancer deaths are also down, although not enough, but have dropped about one percent a year for the last 15 years.” Every one percent decline saves the U.S. About $500 billion in costs, he noted.

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New OIG report: Medicare paid for HIV drugs for deceased beneficiaries

Liz Seegert

About Liz Seegert

Liz Seegert (@lseegert), is AHCJ’s topic editor on aging. Her work has appeared in Kaiser Health News, The Atlantic.com, New America Media, AARP.com, Practical Diabetology, Home Care Technology report and on HealthStyles Radio (WBAI-FM, NYC). She is a senior fellow at the Center for Health, Media & Policy at Hunter College, NYC, and a co-produces HealthStyles for WBAI-FM/Pacifica Radio.

A report released Friday by the Office of the Inspector General found that, under the Part D program, Medicare paid for HIV drugs for 150 dead recipients.

An analysis of Prescription Drug Event (PDE) records for HIV drugs in 2012 determined that CMS’s current practices allowed most of these payments to occur. Although CMS has processes in place that reject PDE records for drugs with dates of service more than 32 days after death, in some cases, claims that fell outside this window were paid. Most of these drugs were dispensed by retail pharmacies.  prescription-drugs

According to OIG, “Drugs that treat the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) can be a target for fraud, waste, and abuse, primarily because they can be very expensive.” The report points out, for example, that one common antiretroviral drug costs approximately $1,700 per month. HIV drugs accounted for one-quarter of one percent of all Part D drugs in 2012.

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Journalist offered money to cover Alzheimer’s briefing

Pia Christensen

About Pia Christensen

Pia Christensen (@AHCJ_Pia) is the managing editor/online services for AHCJ. She manages the content and development of healthjournalism.org, coordinates social media efforts of AHCJ and assists with the editing and production of association guides, programs and newsletters.

A representative of Banner Alzheimer’s Institute, which treats and researches Alzheimer’s disease, has issued invitations to cover an hour-long briefing hosted by its principal scientist.

Image by Logan Campbell via flickr.

Image by Logan Campbell via flickr.

The lure?

“Participants will receive $100 for their commitment to write about the impact of Alzheimer’s and what readers can do to help combat the disease.”

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New Harvard report says U.S. unprepared to help seniors age in place

Liz Seegert

About Liz Seegert

Liz Seegert (@lseegert), is AHCJ’s topic editor on aging. Her work has appeared in Kaiser Health News, The Atlantic.com, New America Media, AARP.com, Practical Diabetology, Home Care Technology report and on HealthStyles Radio (WBAI-FM, NYC). She is a senior fellow at the Center for Health, Media & Policy at Hunter College, NYC, and a co-produces HealthStyles for WBAI-FM/Pacifica Radio.

A newly-released report from the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University says the U.S. is woefully unprepared to meet the escalating need for affordable, accessible housing that offers social connectivity and support services for America’s seniors. Many older adults already must decide between paying for food, medication or rent, and as the population ages this crisis is getting worse.

The new report, Housing America’s Older Adults, says that existing housing often lacks basic features needed by seniors, such as wheelchair accessibility. This lack of necessary features forces many frail and disabled older adults from their own homes. Additionally, isolation among adults who can no longer drive is an increasing problem, due to lack of public transportation and inadequate pedestrian infrastructure. These “disconnects between housing programs and the health care system put many older adults with disabilities or long term care needs at risk for premature institutionalization,” the report says.

The report calls for a combined effort of public, private, non-profit organizations to assess and address housing options that support aging in community. It also calls on individuals and families to be more proactive in determining current and future housing requirements. Many adults who are about to turn 65 are not doing enough to prepare themselves or their environments for aging in place, according to this article in the Washington Business Journal. AARP’s Public Policy Institute documented the decline in living standards many people face as they reach retirement age and struggle with changes in income and rising health care costs due to multiple chronic conditions.

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Rise in nursing home infection rates lead to avoidable complications, deaths

Liz Seegert

About Liz Seegert

Liz Seegert (@lseegert), is AHCJ’s topic editor on aging. Her work has appeared in Kaiser Health News, The Atlantic.com, New America Media, AARP.com, Practical Diabetology, Home Care Technology report and on HealthStyles Radio (WBAI-FM, NYC). She is a senior fellow at the Center for Health, Media & Policy at Hunter College, NYC, and a co-produces HealthStyles for WBAI-FM/Pacifica Radio.

Infections among nursing home residents are rising, according to a study presented Oct. 8, 2014, at IDWeek (an international gathering of experts in infectious disease and epidemiology).

Image by Ulrich Joho via flickr.

Image by Ulrich Joho via flickr.

Researchers from Columbia University School of Nursing and RAND Corporation analyzed infections in nursing homes over a five-year period from 2006-2010, using Minimum Data Set assessment data – the information submitted by the facilities to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid. They found significantly increased infection rates for pneumonia, urinary tract infections (UTIs), viral hepatitis, septicemia, wound infections, and multiple drug-resistant organisms (MDROs), conditions that raise the risk of complications and death. Only tuberculosis rates did not show an increase.

Approximately 1.6 million to 3.8 million infections occur among U.S. nursing home residents each year. The new study found that UTIs remain, by far, the most frequently reported type of infection, but they also showed the smallest rise in prevalence – just 1 percent. Pneumonia was the second most common infection, and its prevalence rose 11 percent from 2006 to 2010. Infection rates increased 69.7 percent  for viral hepatitis, 25.2 percent for septicemia, 24.1 percent for pneumonia, 15.7 percent for MDRO and 4.6 percent for wound infections.

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Frailty affects quality of life, makes seniors more vulnerable

Liz Seegert

About Liz Seegert

Liz Seegert (@lseegert), is AHCJ’s topic editor on aging. Her work has appeared in Kaiser Health News, The Atlantic.com, New America Media, AARP.com, Practical Diabetology, Home Care Technology report and on HealthStyles Radio (WBAI-FM, NYC). She is a senior fellow at the Center for Health, Media & Policy at Hunter College, NYC, and a co-produces HealthStyles for WBAI-FM/Pacifica Radio.

Image by Alex E. Proimos via flickr.

The term “frailty” seems to be practically synonymous with aging. And while it’s true that adults naturally have a gradual physical decline as they age, not every older adult is frail and not every frail person is old.

Aging, also called senescence, refers to the biological process of growing older. As people age, it becomes more difficult for the body to repair itself and maintain optimal health, according to Neal S. Fedarko, Ph.D., professor of medicine, division of geriatric medicine and gerontology, Johns Hopkins University. People age differently based on both genetics and lifestyle factors.

Frailty is considered a chronic and progressive condition, categorized by at least three of five criteria: muscle weakness, unintentional weight loss, low physical activity levels, fatigue and slow walking speed. The body loses its ability to cope with everyday or acute stress, becoming more vulnerable to disease and death, as Samuel Durso, M.D., director of geriatric medicine and gerontology at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine explained in a recent AHCJ webcast.

Learn more about frailty, and how it affects people’s quality of life as they age, in this new tip sheet.

New ideas for an annual update: Older adults and vaccines

Sally James

About Sally James

Sally James (@jamesian) is a Seattle freelance writer who frequently covers biotechnology and research stories for magazines.

Photo: Robert Couse-Baker via Flickr

Photo: Robert Couse-Baker via Flickr

The season of coughing is around the corner. Ads for flu shots and other vaccinations are getting thicker too. Vaccinations for older adults have new developments this year. A great place to start is this tip sheet from Eileen Beal.

Herd immunity: When writing about vaccines for a certain age group, remember that your audience is not just that group. Communities are protected by the entire immunity of their neighbors and friends. Elders housed in assisted living or nursing homes are at special risk. But college student volunteers, visitors, and grandchildren may need to read your story to avoid unwittingly exposing these older adults. This works backwards also. Older adults who lack up-to-date immunization for whooping cough (pertussis) can expose a newborn when Grandma and Grandpa visit. The booster that many may need is called T-DAP. Continue reading

Medicare open enrollment is coming: What beneficiaries should know

Bob Rosenblatt

About Bob Rosenblatt

Bob Rosenblatt has been a journalist in Washington, D.C., for more than 30 years, with much of his career focused on aging. At the Los Angeles Times, he started the paper’s first beat on aging and launched a popular advice column on Medicare and health insurance.

Photo 401(K) 2012 via Flickr

Photo 401(K) 2012 via Flickr

Medicare season is here, and consumers – your readers, viewers and listeners – need lots of help in making their choices.

Open enrollment begins Oct. 15 for the 49 million Americans on Medicare, and ends Dec. 7. This is the time when they can change the way they receive their health benefits, for coverage starting Jan. 1, 2015.

The choices are:

  1. Traditional Medicare, in which patients can get care from any doctor or hospital participating in the Medicare program. Beneficiaries pay for Part B, which covers doctors’ care, and Part D, which covers prescription drugs. Most people with this coverage also choose Medi-gap, a supplemental coverage which fills in some of the extra costs you may have. HHS just announced the Part B premiums for 2015.
  2. Medicare Advantage Plan, also known as a Part C plan. This is one-stop shopping, in which consumers pay a fee and get care, staying within a network of doctors and hospitals operated by the plan. In return for using the network, they may get some extra benefits, such as drugs, eyeglasses, and perhaps even a gym membership.

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