Health In Aging Blog


Physical Activity Lowers Risk of Death from Heart Disease

Journal of the American Geriatrics Society Research Summary

Frailty is a health condition that increases risks of poor health, falls, disability, and death in older adults. Signs of frailty include weakness, weight loss, slow walking speed, exhaustion, and low levels of activity. As our population ages, scientists expect that more and more of us will need to address frailty and its associated health concerns.

Geriatrics is the branch of healthcare dedicated to working with older people. Geriatrics experts have suggested that physical activity may one of the best ways to prevent frailty.

Physical activity includes walking and other gentle forms of exercise. It is proven to improve health. Physical activity can lower the risk of many chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, several cancers, and depression. Exercise also can improve your ability to perform your daily activities and can lower your risk of death from heart disease. In frail older adults, physical activity has been shown to improve strength, balance, agility (the ability to move quickly and easily), walking speed, and muscle mass (the amount of muscle you have in your body). These are all key functions tied to frailty.

Researchers recently reviewed a number of studies about exercise in frail older adults. The review found a number of studies that showed exercise helped reduce falls, improved walking ability, improved balance or increased muscle strength.  However, we still don’t know whether physical activity can reduce death among frail older adults.

Researchers recently designed a study to fill that knowledge gap by exploring whether physical activity could lower the high rate of death associated with frailty in older people. Their study was published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. Continue reading

Does Open Heart Surgery Affect Cognitive Abilities?

Journal of the American Geriatrics Society Research Summary

Most people who need open heart surgery to repair damaged heart valves are aged 65 or older. The American Heart Association (AHA) estimates that nearly 8 million people have had heart surgeries. However, we don’t fully understand the effects of heart surgery on an older adult’s cognition (the ability to remember, think, and make decisions).

In 2014, an estimated 156,000 heart valve surgeries were performed in the US. The most common condition for valve surgery was aortic stenosis. The aorta is the heart valve that controls blood flow from your heart to the rest of your body. Aortic stenosis occurs when the aortic valve doesn’t allow blood to flow out of the heart properly. Adults 65 and older represent most of the people who need aortic valve surgery, and the number of older adults with aortic stenosis is expected to double by 2050.

Understanding how heart valve surgery may affect your cognition is important for older adults. To learn more, researchers reviewed studies to see how patients’ cognition changed before and after heart valve surgery. They also looked at whether surgeries on two types of heart valves, the mitral or the aortic, were associated with better or worse outcomes. Their study was published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. Continue reading

Setting Personal Goals for Dementia Care

Journal of the American Geriatrics Society Research Summary

Dementia is a health condition that affects your memory in ways that can make it difficult to carry out your usual daily tasks. The most common cause of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease, which causes abnormal changes that kill brain cells. However, there are many other types of dementia. Overall, dementia is a long-term illness, and most people live from four to 10 years after being diagnosed.

When you are first diagnosed with dementia, your goals may be to preserve your ability to perform your daily activities. But as the disease progresses, your goals may shift and your preferences for your care may shift with them. Eventually, you may wish to make sure that your preferences and expectations are known, particularly for end-of-life care. You may also want to be sure those wishes can be put into action by those who might make decisions for you when you don’t feel comfortable or are no longer able to make them on your own.

Healthcare providers can use a tool called “goal attainment scaling” (GAS) to help you set your personal health goals and measure whether you’re meeting them. Researchers have been using GAS for decades to measure the effects of mental health and rehabilitation efforts.

In a new study, researchers used GAS when caring for people with dementia to learn more about these individuals’ personalized goals for care. Their study was published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. Continue reading

The Link Between Cognitive Function and Sexuality in Older Adults

Journal of the American Geriatrics Society Research Summary

The number of people who live at home with Alzheimer’s Disease (AD), a brain disease that causes abnormal changes that kill brain cells, is expected to grow from 3.2 million today to more than 8 million in 2050.

Experts agree that we know very little about sexuality among people living at home with AD or other cognitive problems. Older adults who have cognitive problems that impact the way they think and make decisions may ask physicians to help managing sexual problems. And caregivers may ask physicians about sexuality in the older adults for whom they provide care.

One frequently asked question is: Do older adults always have the capacity to consent to sexual activity?

Researchers have previously shown that the majority of people aged 57 to 85 have a spouse or other intimate partner and, among those with a partner, most are sexually active. Having an active sexual life is linked to better physical and mental health, higher quality of life, and lower rates of loneliness.

To learn more about the connection between sexuality and cognitive status, researchers designed a new study. They analyzed data from the National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project to learn more about the relationship between sexual behavior, function, and cognition (people’s ability to think and make decisions). Their study was published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. Continue reading

New Study Estimates the Caregiving Costs for Families

Journal of the American Geriatrics Society Research Summary

“Informal care” is the term used in medicine to describe unpaid care provided by family and friends. It’s an important lifeline for millions of older adults in the U.S. who need day-to-day help with shopping, cooking, cleaning, eating, taking medicine, looking after their own daily well-being, and many other activities essential to our health and quality of life as we age.

In the U.S., more than 35 million people provided informal care to someone 50-years-old and older in 2015. We usually understand the costs associated with a doctor, nurse, or other healthcare worker providing professional care to older adults. However, we don’t understand what the true costs are when older adults are cared for by family members or friends. In part, that’s because most studies have focused on “direct” healthcare costs (the expenses associated with professional help/treatment). However, these studies have ignored the “indirect” costs associated with informal care.

When the costs of informal care are accounted for, most studies usually multiply the hours of informal care by the wage that a formal home healthcare provider would earn. But this doesn’t reflect the true cost of informal care. Informal caregivers often give up other activities such as leisure or employment, for example. Studies haven’t examined the value of leisure time and the other important aspects of life people may give up when they care for a friend or family member.

In a new study, researchers focused on one of the most common caregiving arrangements: daughters between the ages of 40 and 70 who were likely to need to provide informal care to their mothers at some point in the near future. Participants were identified using the Health and Retirement Study, a survey conducted by the University of Michigan since 1992. Findings from this new analysis were published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

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