Health In Aging Blog

It’s Baaack! The Flu Season, That Is…

Shah headshot

Krupa Shah, MD, MPH
Assistant Professor
University of Rochester School of Medicine & Dentistry

Like it or not, the flu season is back. Everybody should take notice, especially older adults. This blog post will give you some tips on how to prevent getting the flu.



Why is it especially important for older adults to be extra careful about the flu?

  • In general, older adults have weaker immune systems compared to younger adults. This is a result of the aging process. In fact, people 65 years or older are at the greatest risk of complications from the flu.
  • Older adults become sick more frequently, which often results in hospitalization.

What are some of the more common flu symptoms?

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Runny nose
  • Sore throat
  • Body aches
  • Headaches
  • Chills
  • Fatigue

Continue reading

Walking is the Best Medicine!

Lacing up your shoes and getting out the door is one of the best things older adults can do for their health and mood.

Barb Resnick HeadshotBarbara Resnick, PhD, CRNP
Sonya Ziporkin Gershowitz Chair in Gerontology
University of Maryland School of Nursing

The Surgeon General’s new “Call to Action on Walking” is a perfect opportunity to celebrate the many physical and mental health benefits of walking. In fact, if the benefits of walking came in pill form, I’m convinced it would be the best-selling pill on the planet! Walking is a scientifically proven, simple way to dramatically improve your well-being. No matter how old you are, when you walk regularly, you can enjoy benefits like these:

  • You can lower your blood pressure and cholesterol
  • You will start feeling happier, less anxious, and less stressed
  • Your sleep can become sounder and more restful
  • You may be able to lessen your risk of falling and reduce your fear of falling
  • You can prevent gaining weight
  • Your mental sharpness can improve

Recently, researchers from Johns Hopkins University discovered that for older women (but not older men), a low-intensity daily walk might enlarge the part of the brain responsible for memory. Known as the hippocampus, this section of the brain is linked to memory loss when it shrinks due to aging. [Varma et al. Low-Intensity daily walking associated with hippocampal volume in older adults. Hippocampus. 2015 May;25(5):605-15] 

Although we know that there is little risk associated with walking, many older adults are afraid that walking might worsen conditions such as arthritis. But the good news is that the opposite is true. In fact, when you walk just 3,000 steps a day, you can prevent the pain of knee arthritis from getting worse. And people who walk 6,000 steps a day (about 3 miles) can reduce their chances of becoming disabled by arthritis.

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“The Four M’s” of Caring for an Older Adult with Dementia

Cleveland, MaryJo 4x6Maryjo L. Cleveland, MD
Medical Director, Post Acute & Senior Services
Chief, Division of Geriatric Medicine
Summa Health System
Akron, Ohio

Your older relative has just been diagnosed with dementia. Your head is spinning with questions, concerns, fears, and yes, disbelief.  Still, you want to know all you can. If you are going to be a caregiver, you want to be a good one. So, where to start?

Start with the things that, if not managed well, have the greatest chance of getting your relative into trouble! Start with “The Four M’s.”


From planning to shopping to preparing, meal preparation is a very complicated task—for someone with a memory problem. You may notice that the older person is losing weight, that they eat little at home but eat well when they go out to eat, or that there is spoiled food in the refrigerator.

Try: Have simple foods – especially your relative’s favorite ones – around the house, such as sandwiches, soup, and cereal. Bring in ready meals that just need to be microwaved. Consider arranging for home delivered meals. Try to make meal time a social time when possible. Ask friends, church and family members to stop in and stay during meals.

Medication management can also be overwhelming and older adults are often taking 10 or more medications, including over-the-counter ones.

Try: Discuss simplifying the regimen with the primary healthcare provider. Are all medications still necessary, and how many can be given just daily? Set up the medicine in a “days of the week” pill box and monitor if they are being taken. Call daily to remind. Consider hiring help for in-person reminders. Take over the refill tasks. Continue reading

Medication Adherence: A Tough Pill to Swallow

KIM MOON - KimPick1 - webresKimberly Moon, PharmD
Clinical Pharmacist

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan David2

David Dadiomov
Doctor of Pharmacy Candidate
University of Michigan
College of Pharmacy


The number of Americans with chronic medical conditions is increasing, which means that chronic medication use is playing a larger role in their lives. The World Health Organization estimates that 157 million Americans will require medications for at least one chronic disease, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or diabetes. Luckily, treatments exist for these diseases that prolong life and improve quality of life as well. Medications can help improve medical conditions when they are taken as prescribed.

Taking medications improperly not only affects people who take these medications, but is also costly for our entire health care system. Medication non-adherence leads to 1/3rd of all medication-related hospitalizations and about $300 billion in avoidable costs. It is clear that medication non-adherence is a huge problem; several common concerns may be responsible for this issue.

“I’m worried about cost”
Cost is an important factor for those that take medications. When people first get placed on medications it is a relatively unexpected cost that they must now budget for. Luckily, many oral medications for management of blood pressure, cholesterol or diabetes are available as affordable generic medications. These medications are on the most affordable level of co-payment on most health plans, but even those without insurance may still benefit from pricing at various pharmacies that offer these medications at a low cost. For those who are prescribed expensive medications, most drug manufacturers have patient assistance programs to help with medication costs for those who qualify. Also, taking a long-term perspective is important. The daily cost of most medications is certainly less than the cost of a hospitalization due to a heart attack, stroke, or dialysis due to kidney damage.

“I’m concerned about the side effects”
No drug is without side effects. Luckily, for most people, side effects are minimal and medications are generally well tolerated. Sometimes certain side effects may prevent people from taking their medications as prescribed. Often a pharmacist’s recommendation on medication use or management of side effects can help alleviate concerns. For instance, certain medications should be taken with food, or at a certain time of day. Other medications may have side effects for the first few weeks, but then go away. It is important to ask questions when being prescribed a new medication and calling the pharmacist with questions about the medication or how to take it. Keeping a clear line of communication is important to medication adherence.

“I take too many pills”
Taking several medications is often discouraging for people, and may make it hard to remember to take them at the correct times. A pill box for each day of the week can help manage medications and at the very least, help see how many doses were missed during the week. Many medications are available in a once-daily formulation or even in a combination with another routine medication to reduce the total number of pills taken per day. Again it is important to talk with your prescribing healthcare provider and pharmacist.

“I don’t feel I need my medications”
People with conditions such as high cholesterol don’t have symptoms, so they could feel medications for this condition are not needed. It is important to remember that medications that lower cholesterol are important in reducing the 10-year-risk of developing a heart attack or stroke. People may not “feel” the medicine working, but research studies show taking medications as prescribed can help reduce risk of heart attack or stroke. Remember: Having high blood pressure or diabetes may not always make you feel like there is anything wrong with you, but these diseases can damage your kidneys and lead to kidney disease that may require dialysis.

Questions to ask the pharmacist:

  • How am I supposed to take this medication?
  • What is this medication used for?
  • How does this medication work?
  • What can I expect with this medication?
  • How will I know this medication is working?


Integrating Community Programs in Healthcare: A Personal Experience of Health Professionals Sharing a Lot More than Lunch!

Michael Malone, MD
Professor of Medicine and Section Head of Geriatrics
University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health
Medical Director

Aurora Senior Services and Aurora at Home

Two years ago, members of Milwaukee’s Aurora Health Care geriatrics program where I work began doing something different for lunch. The geriatrics fellows (who are learning to be experts at caring for older persons with multiple chronic illnesses) started to share meals once a week with the nurses, social workers, and teaching doctors who also work with the patients we serve. The fellows and faculty enjoyed helping each other overcome struggles in providing “best care” for vulnerable older individuals. Over shared meals, physicians started reaching out to social workers and others at the table to get input, feedback, and recommendations. This was particularly helpful, as many of the challenges our doctors have encountered centered on the social aspects of a patient’s needs and where and how to find appropriate support.

Creating a Network to Achieve “Best Care”
Gradually, we started to use these lunches to discuss cases more formally. We would discuss patient needs in five specific areas: 1) medical needs, 2) medications, 3) social needs , 4) psychological needs, and 5) how patients understood and perceived their own illnesses. The in-person discussions have given our physicians, nurses, and social workers a chance to develop working relationships with one another. We’ve all developed a better understanding of programs provided by the ADRC, and our patients are better served as we work together.

Importance of the Older Americans Act
As I reflect on how our clinic serves older individuals in Wisconsin, I’m struck by the importance of integrating community programs into health care. The Older Americans Act (OAA), for example, provides for caregiver support, health promotion, meals, and transportation for vulnerable elders. Our sharing and learning together during lunch has resulted in a better understanding of the whole person (physical, mental, social needs), and how that person supports and is supported by a community shaped in one way or another by initiatives like the OAA. Reauthorizing the OAA represents an important opportunity to help modernize and improve the aging services network to meet the needs of our nation’s older adults.

Among other objectives, the bill aims to address

  • Elder abuse;
  • The importance of evidence-based care;
  • The effective coordination of services at the federal, state, and local levels; and
  • Several other challenges confronting older Americans and their health providers.

These are topics I hope to discuss at lunch with colleagues for many years to come not only because they are important but also because they can be addressed—effectively, reliably, and equitably—through sustained support of the OAA. I’d encourage you to do some digging of your own regarding legislation that supports older Americans—you might be surprised at just how expansive public support for healthy aging has become, but also how vital it will be to ensure this support not only remains constant but also shifts to reflect new realities as more and more of us turn 65.

The Older Americans Act Reauthorization Act of 2015 was approved by the U.S. Senate last week and has now been sent to the House of Representatives for a final vote.  You can help support swift passage of this important legislation by writing to your Representative to encourage her to stand behind the important services that the OAA provides.  Visit the Health in Aging Advocacy Center for more details.

About the Author
Dr. Malone is the Chair of the AGS Public Policy Committee.