Conference panels delve into stories about aging #ahcj13

The numbers are inescapable. By 2030, almost one in every five Americans will be 65 or older, yet many specialists say the United States is ill-prepared to handle this silver tsunami, particularly when it comes to health care.

A look at some of the issues, sessions and ideas to keep in mind for those planning to attend Health Journalism 2013, the annual conference of the Association of Health Care Journalists.

Fear not.

Many of the organizers of Health Journalism 2013 in Boston, March 14–17, see the world through gray-colored glasses, which means the conference features several information-packed panels and workshops about senior care and related research.

As a health reporter who often writes about aging issues, I can tell you that readers seem to have an insatiable appetite for information on this topic; I field a lot of angst-ridden emails and calls, particularly about dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, and choosing the right nursing home.

This year’s conference delves into all of these, and then some. Friday’s panels include a session on the complications of coordinating senior care, (with eldercare specialists I have not yet had a chance to interview so I am excited about new sources!), and a session on end-of-life care –a topic few families seem to get around to discussing.

The end-of-life panel features Ellen Goodman, a former Boston Globe Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist who co-founded The Conversation Project, a Boston-based enterprise that spurs end-of-life discussions and provides resources to ease the process.

Goodman is passionate about the subject – Globe stories about her new Project have been popular with readers – and if anyone can interject humor in this topic, it is Goodman.

Those who attend the Saturday panel – the drive toward earlier Alzheimer’s treatment – will learn about first-of-its kind research being led by Brigham and Women’s Hospital scientists in Boston to test whether drugs can hold off ­Alzheimer’s in people who have no symptoms of the illness, but who have an abnormal protein in their brains believed to be a marker of the disease.

The National Institutes of Health recently announced $36 million in funding for the Brigham-led three-year study that will enroll 1,000 adults nationwide.

The panel offers attendees a “twofer” because it also features Boston University School of Medicine researcher Robert Stern, who not only specializes in Alzheimer’s research, but is a lead investigator at the school’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy. The center is ground zero for research on CTE, an Alzheimer’s-like condition that is thought to be caused by repeat concussions or blows to the head, an issue now getting a lot of attention with sports concussions and the NFL.

For those with a penchant for data-rich reporting on aging, Sunday’s session on nursing homes is a treasure trove. My colleague, Matt Carroll, a database guru, and I will be joined by a former state nursing home inspections team manager to walk reporters through documents and databases that will provide the backbone for meaty stories on the nursing home industry.

Hope to see you there!

Leave a Reply