Category Archives: Aging

Panel to explore risk factors, management and challenges of Alzheimer’s disease

Photo via pixabay.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) finalized its decision to cover the controversial Alzheimer’s drug Aduhelm earlier this month — delighting critics and disappointing many patients and advocates. (Check out Kerry Dooley Young’s three key tips for reporting on this controversial topic.) 

This decision also leaves researchers still working to find a viable treatment for this neurodegenerative disease — which affects an estimated 6.5 million people 65 and older — about 1 in 9 in the U.S. By 2050, that number may grow to 12.7 million, barring the development of medical breakthroughs to prevent, slow or cure Alzheimer’s disease, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

The changes in brain proteins associated with Alzheimer’s and other dementias is only one piece of the puzzle. We know that other factors including the neighborhoods we live in and racial and ethnic disparities may also affect cognition later in life. What can we do to mitigate these life-long risks, and how can people with the disease and their families live the fullest lives possible without viable treatments or a cure? How can reporters even begin to sort through the myriad press releases that tout this or that “promising” clinical trial and put them in proper context without giving people false hope?

Experts will answer the above questions and provide additional insight on this topic during the “No silver bullet: the complicated facts about Alzheimer’s” panel on Saturday, April 30 at 10:40 a.m. at Health Journalism 2022 in Austin.

Continue reading

Why the US nursing home system is ‘in desperate need of an overhaul’

A recent comprehensive and detailed report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine called for a revamping of how we care for, finance, and manage nursing homes in the United States, and an overhauling of how employees are hired and trained.

The 600-page report, released on April 6, identified seven major areas requiring transformation to provide high-quality care to all nursing home residents. Strengthening the nursing home workforce, improving emergency preparedness, and increasing the transparency and accountability of nursing homes’ finances, operations and ownership are key goals among the report’s comprehensive recommendations. Efforts will require true collaboration between state and federal authorities, providers, payers and advocates, according to the report’s authors.

The report provides an opportunity for journalists to hold CMS, state officials and owners more accountable for how care is delivered and received for some 1.3 million people in more than 15,000 nursing homes throughout the United States.

“The way in which the United States finances, delivers, and regulates care in nursing home settings is ineffective, inefficient, fragmented and unsustainable,” said Betty Ferrell, Ph.D., director of nursing research and education and professor at City of Hope Medical Center and chair of the Committee on the Quality of Care in Nursing homes, during an online presentation of the committee’s conclusions. (The committee’s work is sponsored in part by the John A. Hartford Foundation, which also sponsors AHCJ’s aging core topic area).

“The committee has delivered a blueprint to build a system of care that honors those who call the nursing home their home and the dedicated staff who care for them,” Ferrell wrote in the report.

Continue reading

Upcoming webinar to explore age tech challenges and trends

Photo by Kampus Production via Pexels.

The ability to live in one’s home or community safely, independently and comfortably can reduce health care costs, avoid or delay admission to institutional care, and ease the stress on family caregivers.

Many older adults and their caregivers rely on technology to help them age in place. From Alexa-type devices to online grocery delivery to artificially intelligent sensors that monitor frailty, there’s no doubt that the right devices used correctly can increase safety and peace of mind for both elders and their caregivers.

With the population of people over age 60 growing and the number of caregivers shrinking, age tech — digital technology built around the needs and wants of older adults — is becoming a booming industry.The age tech market is expected to reach $2 trillion, according to The Gerontechnologist’s 2021 Age Tech Market Map.

Age tech can help older people (or caregivers) monitor just about everything — including medication schedules, when the fridge was last opened and how many times an elder got up to use the bathroom in the middle of the night. While many older adults are comfortable with and even embrace technology, there are also some downsides. Devices can be abandoned because they either fail to live up to initial promises or are too complicated, too invasive or just too much of a hassle, according to researchers. Some elders are uncomfortable with the trade-offs between additional safety and perceived or actual loss of privacy. And then, there are issues of affordability, access and the digital divide.

Continue reading

New tip sheet explores substance use disorders in older adults

Photo by cottonbro via pexels.

Substance abuse among adults over 60, particularly of alcohol and prescription drugs, is one of the fastest-growing health problems in the United States. The National Center for Equitable Care for Elders (ECE) at Harvard estimates that some 5.7 million older people needed treatment for substance use disorders in 2020, about triple that in 2000.

Prescription drug abuse affects up to 17% of older adults, according to The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). However, this problem remains underestimated, underidentified, underdiagnosed, and undertreated, aging experts say. Substance use disorders or addictions may be mistaken for other age-related conditions or fall completely off a clinician’s radar as they manage other age-related conditions like diabetes, heart disease, frailty, or cognitive decline. Journalists may be missing out on important story coverage as states and communities readjust their health care priorities in the wake of COVID-19 budget shortfalls.

Older people are more vulnerable to substance abuse or misuse because many may take more medications than necessary to treat their conditions. Medications metabolize more slowly, and older brains may be more sensitive to drugs, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. For some, cognitive decline can contribute to confusion about what, when, and how much medication needs to be taken. Risk factors may vary considerably by substance and the specific clinical presentation of a patient (e.g., age, medical comorbidities, current medications, and health history), according to a 2014 study.

Continue reading

Is the Biden administration’s plan to revamp nursing home standards enough?

Photo by Ulrich Joho via Flickr.

It took a pandemic and tens of thousands of deaths before most people became aware of just how bad circumstances were in many U.S. nursing homes. Long-term care residents bore the brunt of COVID-19 cases and deaths, particularly in the early days of the crisis. The Biden administration wants the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid to tighten standards and oversight to avoid anything like this from happening again.

While the initiative only got passing mention in the March 1 State of the Union address, the White House released a lengthy fact sheet ahead of the speech, detailing several key initiatives it’s directing CMS to implement:

  • Increasing minimum staffing requirements.
  • Reducing resident room overcrowding.
  • Strengthening the Skilled Nursing Facility (SNF) Value-Based Purchasing (VBP) Program.
  • Reinforcing Safeguards against Unnecessary Medications and Treatments, actions they say “will improve the safety and quality of nursing home care, hold nursing homes accountable for the care they provide.”
  • Making the quality of care and facility ownership more transparent so that potential residents and their loved ones can make informed decisions about care.

More than 200,000 residents and staff in nursing homes have died from COVID-19 — nearly a quarter of all COVID-19 deaths in the United States, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Despite current regulations, The Government Accountability Office found that from 2013 to 2017, 82% of all inspected nursing homes had an infection prevention and control deficiency, including a lack of regular handwashing, that was identified through Medicare and Medicaid surveys.

Continue reading