Category Archives: Aging

Tips for reporting on what experts say could be a tough flu season for the elderly

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.

As cases of the Delta variant start to wane, infectious disease specialists have a new concern this fall — flu and pneumonia, especially in vulnerable populations like older adults.

Experts from the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID) and the CDC expressed concern about a potentially serious flu season at a video press briefing on October 7.  Flu cases during 2020-21 were extremely low— just 2,124 confirmed cases between Sept. 27, 2020, and May 15, 2021— thanks in large part to people working from home, wearing masks, social distancing and practicing good hand hygiene.

But as more communities ease restrictions, the flu could surge this year, impacting many more people. For seniors, whose immune systems are weaker than younger adults, that could mean an increase in hospitalizations, cases of pneumonia, or even deaths.

“The medical and public health community are preparing for a potentially vigorous respiratory virus session in the United States,” said William Schaffner, M.D., NFID medical director, who moderated the briefing. “The best way to prepare is to get your flu vaccine.”

Vaccination is especially important among at-risk populations, including adults 65 and older, and those with certain chronic conditions according to Schaffner.

Currently, the U.S. is on track for similar flu vaccination rates as 2020, about 52% overall, according to CDC director Rochelle Walensky, M.D., M.P.H., who participated in the briefing.  That rate may not be good enough this year to keep case rates low.

A recent NFID survey revealed that even among those who are at high risk for complications, nearly 1 in 4 (23%) were not planning to get vaccinated this season. While most people over age 65 (71%) said they will get a flu shot, 30% of seniors would remain unprotected, leading to potentially serious consequences.

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Reporting on suicide among the elderly — a major public health issue even before the pandemic

About Katti Gray

Katti Gray (@kattigray) is AHCJ's core topic leader for behavioral and mental health. A former Rosalynn Carter Mental Health Journalism Fellow, Gray is providing resources to help AHCJ members expand their coverage of mental health amid ongoing efforts to de-stigmatize mental illness and to place mental health care on par with all health care.

Photo by Borja via Flickr

The pandemic’s assorted pressures have caused a spike in suicidal thoughts among subsets of people, including older Americans whose risk for suicidal ideation — and suicide itself — is linked to some of the particularities of aging.

According to a March 2021 analysis by geriatric researchers at Adelphi and Columbia Universities, 28% of U.S. adults who were at least 65 years old, or 14.7 million people, resided alone. That tally of older people living solo — and often enduring the gut punches of isolation and loneliness — only went up from there. Approximately 44% of women ages 75 and older lived alone.

There’s a kind of pile-on effect at play, researchers suggest, as societal and health problems circle in and out of each other. Social isolation can and does often worsen chronic illness, which disproportionately besets older people. The CDC calculates 85% of those age 65 and older have at least one chronic illness; 60% have two or more.

Men 75 and older had the highest risk for suicide, according to the CDC’s most recent data, with 39.9 such suicides per 100,000 Americans. The comparable figure for women in that age group was 4.3 per 100,000. For those ages 65 through 74, the respective rates were 26.4 and 5.9. (This 2018 analysis in Clinical Interventions in Aging put the rate for white men who were 65 and older at 48.7 per 100,000.)

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ACL delivers first report on RAISE Act to Congress

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.

Photo: Asian Development Bank via Flickr

Family caregiving can be rewarding but also challenging. When caregivers do not have the support they need, their health, well-being and quality of life often suffer. So in 2018, Congress passed the RAISE (Recognize, Assist, Include, Support & Engage) Family Caregiving Act. The law directs the Secretary of Health and Human Services to develop a national family caregiving strategy and establish a Family Caregiving Advisory Council to provide recommendations on effective models of both family caregiving and support and improve coordination across federal government programs. Continue reading

Study reveals why neighborhood location impacts aging

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.

Photo by MabelAmber via Pixabay

When it comes to health care, neighborhood location matters — not only now, but also as we age, according to a recent study published in JAMA. While it’s not surprising that living in various neighborhoods is linked to how well older adults function during their lifespan, more accurate estimates of these disparities may help change the outcomes.

Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine and University of Maryland used a new social determinant of health, neighborhood disadvantage, to assess the ability of participants to perform essential activities of daily living required to maintain independence. This study focused on four key activities — bathing, dressing, walking and transferring. Life expectancy with and without disability are often used by policymakers to forecast the well-being of older people. Continue reading

Federal information blocking rule: What health care journalists need to know

About Cheryl Clark

Cheryl Clark (@CherClarHealth) is a MedPage Today contributor and inewsource.org investigative journalist. For most of 27 years, she covered medicine and science for the San Diego Union-Tribune. After taking a buyout in 2008, she became senior quality editor for HealthLeaders Media.

Photo by Juhan Sonin via Flickr.

With so much focus — and rightly so — on COVID-19, it’s understandable that even the best health care journalists have overlooked a critically important patient safety story, one that few I know had even heard about.

On April 5, 2021, the federal Information Blocking rule went into effect, allowing basically anyone who provides health care, “defined as “actors,” to release electronic health records in 16 categories such as summary visit notes, lab and pathology reports, and imaging studies to the patient’s health portal as soon as they are available electronically. According to the rule, that means even before the doctor has had a chance to review them, and before the provider has had a chance to explain or discuss what’s in those documents with the patient. Talk about a huge culture shift. Continue reading