Category Archives: Aging

Poor sleep tied to higher suicide risk in elders

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 via flickr.

Image by Alex via flickr.

The recent suicide of actor/comedian Robin Williams has put a spotlight on suicide and depression. However, older adults who suffer from sleep problems are at even greater risk of suicide, according to a recent study published in JAMA Psychiatry.

Researchers investigated the relative independent risk for suicide associated with poor subjective sleep quality in a population-based study of 14,456 community-dwelling older adults (age 65+) during a 10-year observation period. They compared the sleep quality of 20 suicide victims with the sleep quality of 400 similar individuals during that time. Participants with dysfunctional sleeping patterns had a 1.4 times greater chance of death by suicide than well-rested people.

Even after adjusting for depressive symptoms, they concluded that poor subjective sleep quality appears to present “considerable risk” for severe suicidal behaviors 10 years later.  Risk increases among patients with multiple illnesses. Continue reading

Georgia develops ‘accountability’ dementia plan

Alyssa Stafford

About Alyssa Stafford

Alyssa Stafford (@alyssastafford) is a graduate student at The University of Georgia, studying health media and communication. She is also a freelance writer and communications strategist.

Photo by John via Flickr.

Photo by John via Flickr.

Georgia has a new task force targeting Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. The recently published Georgia Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementias State Plan lays out a strategy for addressing the needs of patients in terms of care and prevention, the impact on caregivers, and the costs associated with the disease.

The task force is led by James Bulot, Ph.D., director of Georgia’s Division of Aging Services. According to Bulot, 40 states have dementia plans at various stages. The Georgia plan assesses the risk for citizens in the state and takes inventory of services available to Georgians. It also outlines the importance of finding gaps in resources available on a state level.

Bulot believes the Georgia plan will be different because he’ll hold the task force accountable for progress. Unlike other plans which may be updated every five or 10 years, the Georgia plan will be continually modified to reflect changing scientific knowledge and statistics. Continue reading

AHCJ data include 16,806 nursing home deficiencies

Jeff Porter

About Jeff Porter

Jeff Porter is the special projects director for AHCJ and plays a lead role in planning conferences, workshops and other training events. He also leads the organization's data collection and data instruction efforts.

AHCJ’s latest update to nursing home inspection data gives members three years of the most severe deficiencies found during inspections and the current star ratings assigned by the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

The data could be a good starting point for reporters who want to pursue authoritative stories about their local nursing homes.

The data now contains 16,806 such deficiencies as recorded by CMS. Deficiencies are characterized by their severity, “A” being the least severe and “L” being the most severe. AHCJ pruned down the data to include just the most severe of the deficiencies, letters “G” through “L.” These range from an “isolated incident of actual harm” to “widespread immediate jeopardy to resident health or safety.”

Under its star rating system, CMS gives nursing homes between one and five stars. According to the CMS ratings web site “nursing homes with 5 stars are considered to have much above average quality and nursing homes with 1 star are considered to have quality much below average.” Each nursing home is given an overall rating, as well as three specific ratings: health inspections, staffing and quality measures.

The AHCJ version of nursing home data is derived from a large file that is split up for easier use by members.

Clearing up confusion about those enrolled in both Medicare, Medicaid

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.

dual-eligiblesDual eligibles are low-income elderly or disabled people enrolled in both Medicare and Medicaid. The distinctions are sometimes bewildering. It’s easy to confuse which program pays for what, what each agency considers “appropriate” care, what factors go into measuring outcomes and how the separate structures of Medicare and Medicaid affect costs and quality.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, in 2009, the federal and state governments spent more than $250 billion, combined, on health care benefits for the 9 million dual eligibles. There is growing concern about the high costs of dual eligibles and the type of care they receive. They may be treated by a variety of health care providers who are not coordinating their care, potentially increasing costs and worsening outcomes.

Many states are already struggling to meet current Medicaid demand, and as boomers age, more stress will be placed on an already fragile system. Learn more about dual eligibles and what issues to look for in your state with this tip sheet.

Fraud, marketing just part of problems with hospice system

Paul Kleyman

About Paul Kleyman

Paul Kleyman is director, ethnic elders newsbeat, for New America Media and the national coordinator of the Journalists Network on Generations, a group of 1,000 journalists who cover issues in aging.

Photo by Richard White via Flicker

Photo by Richard White via Flicker

A Huffington Post exposé in June, “Hospice, Inc.,” rekindled some thoughts I’ve long had about the split personality of the journalism on complex topics like aging.

One week, readers see richly reported news features, usually by health care or feature reporters, about the struggle of elders and their families caught in this country’s messy long-term care system. The next, readers get stories by political, economics reporters on bipartisan budget debates (how much to cut this year) or exposés that aim for accountability, but don’t help most families.

The Huffington Post project got me thinking – what’s the responsibility of an investigative team posting an approximately 7,000-word, six-month investigation? How can they get beyond house-of-horrors revelations? Continue reading

New Medicare Trustees report projects slightly longer solvency


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 Colin Dunn via flickr.

Image by Colin Dunn via flickr.

There is some good news coming out of the latest report from the Medicare Trustees. They predict that the trust fund that finances Medicare’s hospital insurance coverage will remain solvent until 2030, four years beyond last year’s projections. Per capita spending is expected to grow more slowly than the overall economy for the next few years, partially due to costs controls under the Affordable Care Act.

However, the report concludes, “notwithstanding recent favorable developments, both the projected baseline and current law projections indicate that Medicare still faces a substantial financial shortfall that will need to be addressed with further legislation.”

“Medicare Part A is moving in the right direction but the day of reckoning has merely been postponed to 2030,” said Rosemary Gibson, senior adviser at The Hastings Center and author of “Medicare Meltdown.” Unless something changes, by 2030 it will lack enough money to pay boomers’ hospital bills. “We’re not out of the woods.” Continue reading

Reporting team scrutinizes Medicare Advantage

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.

Fred Schulte

Fred Schulte

The Center for Public Integrity’s series unearthing potential fraud and waste under the Medicare Advantage program had little help — and apparently little interest — from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. The insurance program, which Congress established to help control health care costs for older adults, could leave taxpayers on the hook for more than $36 billion, as AHCJ member Fred Schulte and the rest of the investigative team uncovered.

In this “How I did it” article, Schulte explains how the series follows up on CPI’s 2012 Medicare costs investigation, the extensive lengths taken to try to obtain CMS records, work-arounds and other sources the team used to piece together a puzzle that paints a clear picture of improper billing, missed opportunities by regulators, lack of oversight, and industry influence.

Elder advocates release international model human rights convention; will go before UN

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 Chicago Declaration on the Rights of Older Persons — a proposed international convention that aims to provide legal protections to older persons under international human rights law, was released last week after months of work by legal scholars, human rights advocates and policymakers from more than a dozen countries. Delegates will present the Declaration before the United Nations on August 1.

The Chicago Declaration addresses numerous issues facing the world’s older population, from medical decision-making to abuse. Participants say it is not meant to supersede or diminish any greater rights granted to older persons that may already exist in local, state or national law.

It calls upon nations to raise public awareness and educate older persons of their rights, as well as encourage programs that promote inter-generational relationships. The John Marshall Law School, Roosevelt University and East China University of Political Science and Law jointly supervised the work.

Continue reading

Dentist recognized for outreach, treatment of nursing home residents

Mary Otto

About Mary Otto

Mary Otto, a Washington, D.C.-based freelancer, is AHCJ's topic leader on oral health, curating related material at healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on oral health resources at mary@healthjournalism.org.

Untreated oral disease can have a devastating impact upon frail elders.

Yet significant financial and physical barriers prevent many from getting the care they need. (See related tip sheet, “Getting dental care to elders in nursing homes.”)

The lack of dental services is particularly acute for many of the 1.4 million seniors living in nursing homes, placing them at increased risk for everything from pain and tooth loss to poor nutrition and serious, even fatal infections.

“Brushing teeth becomes a life or death thing for many patients,” dentist Gregory Folse, D.D.S., told AHCJ members who joined a recent webinar dedicated to exploring the challenges of getting care to vulnerable nursing home residents.

Folse, whose innovative mobile dental practice is dedicated to getting care to more than two dozen Louisiana nursing homes, spends his days addressing those challenges.

It turns out his efforts are deeply appreciated in his community of Lafayette, La. Folse was recently named Dentist of the Year by a local nonprofit.

Bill Decker, community editor of The Advertiser in Lafayette used the award as a peg to create a feature story in words and video about Folse and the people he serves. Continue reading

New NIA report highlights health, aging trends

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.

Blog photo credit: Image by NCVO via flickr.

Image by NCVO via flickr.

Prevalence of chronic disease is on the rise, and the ability to afford nursing home care is declining among older adults, according to a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau commissioned by the National Institutes of Health.

The report,  65+ in the United States: 2010,  highlights several trends among America’s older population. There are more than 40 million people over age 65. That figure is expected to more than double by mid-century, to 83.7 million people and one-fifth of the U.S. population by 2050. The report presents population trends among older adults, as well as data on life expectancy,  how well they age, their financial and educational status, medical,  long-term care and housing costs, where they live and with whom, and other factors important for aging and health.

According to the NIA, a key aspect of the report is the effect that the aging of the baby boom generation will have on the U.S. population and on society in general. Baby boomers began to reach age 65 in 2011; between 2010 and 2020, the older generation is projected to grow more rapidly than in any other decade since 1900.

The report points out some critical health-related issues: Continue reading