Category Archives: Aging

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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Americans living longer; some pay more for outpatient services

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.

life-expectancyTwo new reports again underscore the need for a comprehensive national long-term services and support initiative.

First, the good news: A new National Center for Health Statistics data brief shows that Americans are living longer. Overall life expectancy rose by 0.1 percent from 2011 to 2012, to 78.8 years, and was highest for non-Hispanic whites and non-Hispanic blacks. Women can expect to live an average of 81.2 years, and men an average of 76.4 years, based on the new analysis.

The report also shows significant decreases in age-adjusted death rates for eight of the 10 leading causes of death: heart disease, cancer, chronic lower respiratory diseases, diabetes, stroke, influenza, pneumonia and kidney disease.

Now the bad news – a new report released by the Office of the Inspector General in the Department of Health and Human Services found increased costs associated with critical access hospitals. Medicare beneficiaries paid nearly half of the costs for outpatient services at critical access hospitals – a higher percentage of the costs of coinsurance for services received at these facilities than they would have paid at hospitals using Outpatient Prospective Payment System rates. Continue reading

Reporting on end-of-life care? Start here.

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.

An op-ed in the October 4 issue of the New York Times reinforces the need for compassionate and comprehensive support for end-of-life care that spares dying patients and their families from pointless and confusing bureaucracy and needless expenses.

Image by Steve Harwood via flickr.

Image by Steve Harwood via flickr.

The editors point to Nina Bernstein’s recent article about a daughter that just wanted to honor her dying father’s wishes and bring him home. It’s the kind of reporting that strikes a personal and emotional chord with many readers. The editors also highlight new efforts in New York State designed to alleviate some of these challenges.

Sally Quinn’s discussion about Ben Bradlee’s battle with dementia and his admission to hospice care in a recent Politico story also resonates through use of powerful narrative and quotes.

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A dozen healthy aging ideas to consider covering

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 torbakhopper via flickr.

Image by torbakhopper via flickr.

How can we improve the health of the nation’s fastest growing group? The Society for Public Health Education (SOPHE) gathered the best ideas from dozens of experts on innovative behavioral and psycho-social approaches to address the unique health needs of older adults.

“Fostering Engagement and Independence: Opportunities and Challenges for an Aging Society” was just released as a special supplement to the SOPHE journal Health Education & Behavior. The hope is to encourage readers to look at innovative ways to influence health, functioning and well being of the growing senior population, according to guest editor Lynda Anderson, Ph.D., Healthy Aging Program Director, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Continue reading

Questions for reporters to ask about Medicare Advantage

Joseph Burns

About Joseph Burns

Joseph Burns (@jburns18), a Massachusetts-based independent journalist, is AHCJ’s topic leader on health insurance. He welcomes questions and suggestions on insurance resources and tip sheets at joseph@healthjournalism.org.

Image by Neff Conner via Flickr

Image by Neff Conner via Flickr

Between now and Oct. 15, when open enrollment begins for Medicare Advantage, health insurers are likely to drop some of their MA plans. Last month, MVP Health Care in Schenectady, N.Y., dropped two of its five MA plans, saying it could no longer afford to offer them.

When health insurers drop these plans, they are likely to leave questions unanswered, as MVP did. Gretchen Jacobson, an associate director with the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Program on Medicare Policy, suggests some questions health care journalists might want to pursue, such as:

  • What are the quality scores (called star ratings) for the plans being dropped?
  • In which counties do MA plan members live?
  • How did the negotiations go with physicians, hospitals, and other providers serving members in the plans being dropped?

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