Category Archives: Aging

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.

Continue reading

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?

Continue reading

World Heart Day targets salt consumption, risk reduction

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.

heartToday is World Heart Day – when the World Heart Federation and the World Health Organization highlight global efforts to raise awareness about the epidemic of cardiovascular diseases. The goal is to reduce cardiovascular-related mortality by a third over the next 15 years.

According to the WHO, more than 17 million people died from cardiovascular diseases in 2008, representing 30 percent of all deaths worldwide. Of these deaths, an estimated 7.3 million were due to coronary heart disease and 6.2 million were due to stroke. More than 80 percent of these deaths take place in low and middle-income countries. The WHO believes the number of cardiovascular disease deaths, mainly from heart disease and stroke, will increase to more than 23 million by 2030.

The CDC estimates that about 600,000 people die from CVD annually in the United States. It is the leading cause of death for people of most ethnicities in the United States, including African Americans, Hispanics, and whites. About half (42.2 million) of the estimated 83.6 million people in the U.S. with some type of heart disease are age 60 or older, and two-thirds (66 percent) of CVD-related deaths occur in people age 75 or older. Continue reading

Reports call for changes in approaching dementia risk, end-of-life care

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 by r. nial bradshaw via Flickr

Photo by r. nial bradshaw via Flickr

Addressing the global epidemic of dementia and improving end-of-life planning and care in the United States are the subjects of two new reports released today by Alzheimer’s Disease International and the Institute of Medicine. Both reports offer insights into the realities of dealing with an aging population and a lack of appropriate services and supports to meet present and future needs.

According to ADI, substantial evidence exists that risk for dementia can be reduced by using the same approaches as those which promote cardiovascular health — eliminating tobacco use, early detection and treatment of hypertension and diabetes. They call for a worldwide campaign to integrate brain health messages into existing public health efforts. Additionally, the report calls for the World Health Organization to include dementia risk in future noncommunicable disease efforts. Continue reading

Potassium intake linked to stroke risk in older women

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.

Postmenopausal women who eat foods higher in potassium are less likely to have strokes and die than women who eat less potassium-rich foods according to new research in Stroke, the journal of the American Heart Association.

Stroke is the fourth leading cause of mortality in the United States, and as this infographic shows, women account for 60 percent of all stroke cases in the U.S. Women also have higher lifetime risk of stroke than men.

In this observational study, researchers tracked 90,137 postmenopausal women, ages 50 to 79, for an average 11 years. They looked at potassium consumption, incidence and type of stroke and mortality during that period. The average dietary potassium intake from food —not supplements — was 2,611 mg/day. All participants were free of stroke history at baseline. Continue reading