Author Archives: Liz Seegert

About Liz Seegert

Liz Seegert (@lseegert), is AHCJ’s topic leader on aging. Her work has appeared in NextAvenue.com, Journal of Active Aging, Cancer Today, Kaiser Health News and other outlets. She is a senior fellow at the Center for Health Policy and Media Engagement at George Washington University and co-produces the HealthCetera podcast.

Global burden of Alzheimer’s projected to triple

Photo by Fred Kearney via Unsplash.

Cases of Alzheimer’s disease are rising throughout the world and could triple by 2050, according to a recent analysis in The Lancet. While much of this increase can be traced back to the fact that we’re living longer, researchers also concluded that three key modifiable risk factors: smoking, high body mass index and diabetes, also contribute to the increased burden and could cost health systems around the world billions in long-term services and supports.

The number of people with Alzheimer’s disease is also increasing in the U.S. and other high-income nations thanks to increased life expectancy. By 2050, cases of Alzheimer’s in those 65 and older could top 12.7 million in the U.S. alone. The ratehowever, will actually decline slightly, because of the sheer size of this demographic. And can be explained largely by educational changes, according to Eileen Crimmins, Ph.D., chair in gerontology at the USC Leonard School of Gerontology.

As the search for treatment and a cure for the disease continues, addressing risk factors is one of our only viable tools. Journalists who are following this issue have an opportunity to report on other potentially fruitful research you may have missed, as well as look at how health systems in the U.S. and around the world are planning to address this looming crisis. There are also new opportunities to look into COVID-19’s effects on the brain and whether we will see more cases of dementia in the future. We also recently reported on continuing disparities in care among Blacks, Hispanics, Asian Americans and Native Americans, who continue to have a higher burden of illness and lower access to care compared with whites.

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New tip sheet highlights aging in place trends and challenges

Photo by Wade Austin Ellis view Unsplash

The U.S. population of people 65 and older is expected to reach around 71 million by 2030 — nearly double that in 2006. By 2030, older adults will comprise about 20% of the population. By 2034,  the U.S. Census Bureau projects that older adults will edge out children in population size. The number of adults ages 85 and older, the group most often needing help with basic personal care, will nearly quadruple between 2000 and 2040, the Urban Institute predicts.

The majority of older people87% — want to remain in their current home and community as they age. Doing so while staying as safe and independent as possible can pose challenges.  So, planning ahead is crucial, according to the National Institute on Aging.

Covering aging in place trends in your community and state is an opportunity for reporters to explore what financial, supportive housing and social services are available and where gaps exist, especially in states where populations are skewing older. Approximately 25% of older Americans live in one of three states: California, Florida, and Texas. Seven other states — Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, and Pennsylvania — account for another 25% of Americans age 65 or older, according to the Population Reference Bureau. How can they remain safely at home? Where will they go if unable to live independently?

While retirement, assisted living, or continuing care communities have their appeal, they’re not for everyone. These options can also be expensive. For some, home modifications, in-home assistance or other supportive programs are more viable options.  However, despite the desire to remain in place, doing so can be daunting, according to a report from Fresenius Medical Care. Their survey of 2,000 older people found financial barriers along with other key social determinants of health such as food insecurity, lack of a strong social support network, and trouble completing everyday tasks were significant roadblocks to successful aging in place.

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The most recent COVID-19 recommendations for older adults 

Photo by Neil Moralee via Flickr.

The CDC modified its recommendations (again) for people who test positive for COVID-19 in late December. For most people, that means a shorter quarantine or isolation time if they have been vaccinated, boosted and are asymptomatic or only experiencing mild symptoms. While Omicron appears to be more transmissible, according to experts on a recent AHCJ webcast, it may also be less severe.

However, older adults should still take extra precautions. Even if they have done everything right — getting vaccinated and boosted, masking, and social distancing, they are still statistically at higher risk of more severe disease or complications from the virus than younger people.

While these changing recommendations are confusing, they also present another opportunity for journalists to educate their audiences with evidence and facts, and to dispel some of the myths and misconceptions that still prompt some to spurn the vaccine or push back against mask requirements. It’s especially important for older people to understand and follow the latest recommendations since their risk of serious consequences is so high.

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New tip sheet highlights frailty

Photo by Mark via Flickr.

Frailty is an emerging global health challenge, but it’s not an inevitable consequence of aging. Whether or not a person is frail can often mean the difference between living independently or having to move to a congregate setting like a nursing home. Many clinical trials often exclude frail elders, making it more challenging for practitioners to accurately assess how drug or interventions might work.

Frailty status is important for journalists to bear in mind as they report on clinical studies, programs or therapies for older people. For example, frailer adults may have more limited cognitive or physical reserve or have greater difficulty understanding information. They may require a modified approach — or even several interviews to complete the story.

Numerous home and community services are designed specifically to assist frail elders, so it’s also important to clarify exactly who these interventions target. As this new tip sheet describes, someone is considered frail if they show at least three of the following:

  • Muscle weakness
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Low physical activity levels
  • Fatigue
  • Slow walking speed

About 15% of non-nursing home residents are considered frail according to the above criteria. Another 45% are regarded as pre-frail. That’s when they meet one or two of the criteria and have a strong likelihood of progressing to frailty. Pre-frailty can even occur in adults in their 50s and 60s, according to researchers at Columbia University.

Frailty has a huge impact on health care costs, quality of life, and is only expected to worsen as more people live into older age. This tip sheet will help you understand some of the condition’s ramifications and connect you with resources and experts who can help put it in context.

Racial disparities seen in Alzheimer’s disease diagnoses

Photo by Tony Gonzalez via Flickr.

Black participants in Alzheimer’s disease research studies were 35% less likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and related dementias than white participants, according to a recent analysis, despite evidence indicating that that Black Americans are overall about twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s and other dementias than whites.

The study also revealed that Black participants with Alzheimer’s and related dementias had more risk factors for the disease, greater cognitive impairment and symptom severity than white participants.

These findings offer an opportunity for journalists to educate their audience(s) about risk, prevalence, warning signs and the need for more provider and consumer education about dementia in underserved populations.

A glance at the research

The analysis was conducted among participants in the National Institute on Aging’s network of Alzheimer’s Disease Research Centers (ADRCs) located at major medical institutions throughout the U.S. The goal of these centers is to translate research advances into improved diagnosis and care for people with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias.

For the current study, investigators wanted to determine if there were related racial differences in cognition, neuropsychiatric symptoms, and functional abilities in diagnosed study participants. They tracked 15 years of data (2005-2020) on 5,700 Black and 31,225 white participants using the Uniform Data Set of the National Alzheimer’s Coordinating Center (NACC), which aggregates data from ADRCs from across the country.

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