Mama R: Living it up at 97

altshul headshotSara Altshul
AGS Staff Writer

Until a few months ago, my mother-in-law lived alone in the Brooklyn apartment building she’d owned for 40 years—“alone” only in a manner of speaking.

Over the years, her sons or daughters occupied two or three of the other apartments in the building; now, one son lives above her and another lives next door. Both look in on her several times a day.

At 97, Mama’s sense of humor is still sharp. Up until recently, she knew to the penny how much money was in her bank accounts. So when she forgets that she’s asked one of us the same question three times in 30 minutes, we all understand. She uses a walker to get around and still never misses a shower, wedding, or other family event.  A few months ago, 40 of us celebrated her birthday at a Chinese restaurant, at her request.

As her frailty became more obvious over the last year, we hired an attendant to look after her during the day. At night, one of her sons would usually have dinner with her (often, Mama cooked the meal herself), or her daughter would come by with groceries and prepared several meals for the week. We created a rotating schedule so that one of us stayed with her over the weekends.

But still, we worried. She’d nap much of the day, she kept the lights off (her thriftiness is a family legend) and she seemed to lose the zest for life that was her hallmark. Another hallmark? Her stubbornness. She adamantly refused to move in with any of us, despite the fact that several of us have homes perfectly set up to accommodate her. Continue reading

A Flu Shot is The Best Shot at Prevention for People 65 and Older

cdc-dj-vaccination-clinic_title-2Daniel B. Jernigan, MD, MPH
Director of the Influenza Division
National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

For millions of people, the flu can mean a fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, and fatigue for a week or more. But did you know that if you are 65 years or older, you are at increased risk of serious flu-related complications, like pneumonia?

“People’s immune systems can become weaker with age, which places older adults at high risk of serious flu-related complications,” says Dr. Lisa Grohskopf, a medical officer with CDC’s Influenza Division.

While flu seasons vary in severity, people 65 years and older bear a comparatively greater burden of serious flu-related illness compared to other age groups during most flu seasons. Data from recent seasons shows that between about 70 to 90 percent of seasonal flu-related deaths in the United States have occurred among people 65 years and older. For hospitalizations, this number is between about 50 and 70 percent.

This is why flu vaccination is especially important for people 65 years and older. While flu vaccine can vary in how well it works, there are a lot of scientific data showing that flu vaccination prevents illness and hospitalizations, even among people 65 and older for whom the vaccine may not work as well. A new CDC study published this summer in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases (CID) found that flu vaccination reduced the risk of flu-related hospitalization among people 65 to 74 years by 61%. Vaccinated people 75 and older were similarly protected (57%).

Continue reading

Older Adult Falls: A Growing Danger

grantbaldwin_210x240Grant Baldwin, PhD
Director, Division of Unintentional Injury Prevention
National Center for Injury Prevention and Control
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Do you know an older adult who has fallen recently? Chances are that you do, since every second of every day, an older American falls, as highlighted in the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control’s (CDC’s) recent Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), Falls and Fall Injuries Among Adults Aged 65 Years and Over — ­­­United States, 2014. Falls are very common among older Americans. Research shows that individuals in certain groups are more likely to fall, such as women and American Indians/Alaskan Natives. Another striking finding was that in one year, an estimated 7 million falls required medical treatment or caused restricted activity.

So, what can healthcare providers do to reduce falls? CDC developed the Stopping Elderly Accidents, Deaths and Injuries (STEADI) initiative that gives all members of the healthcare team (e.g., physicians, nurses, pharmacists, physical therapists, and caregivers) guidance on how to make fall prevention part of their routine care for older adults.

The CDC STEADI initiative is based on the American and British Geriatrics Societies’ guidelines on fall risk assessment and follow-up. STEADI includes information for providers on how to screen for fall risk, assess fall risk factors, and provide or make referrals to evidence-based interventions that can reduce patient risk. Continue reading

Older Adults and Substance Abuse Awareness

Palmer MH high(8) res

Alice Pomidor, MD, MPH, AGSF
Florida State University School of Medicine

Mary Palmer, PhD, RN, FAAN, AGSF
Helen W. and Thomas L. Umphlet Distinguished Professor in Aging
UNC School of Nursing

It’s been called the “invisible epidemic.” In recent years, for the first time, the number of older adults receiving treatment for substance abuse is outpacing that of younger adults.

There are many reasons why the number of older adults who are receiving treatment for substance abuse is on the rise. With aging come very real challenges that can make some older adults more likely to abuse alcohol or drugs.

Job loss, either through retirement or downsizing, caretaking for (or losing) a spouse, children moving away, illness, and financial worries are among the challenges older adults can face. What’s more, some older adults have had had lifelong problems with alcohol or drugs that can become more serious as they age.

What is Substance Abuse?

Substance abuse is an umbrella term that means misusing legal or illegal medications and drugs, as well as misusing alcohol and tobacco. Officially, substance abuse is the use of chemicals that lead to an increased risk of problems and an inability to control your use of the substance.

Addiction, dependence, or “getting hooked” on a drug or alcohol can have especially dangerous consequences for older adults. These substances can cause mental problems, kidney and liver disease, and can cause falls resulting in injuries. Even if you’ve never had a problem with alcohol or drugs, you can become dependent on them in your later years.

Because many older adults manage more than one chronic illness, they may take one or more medications that can interact harmfully. The drugs you take may also react badly with alcohol. The symptoms you may experience as a result may seem to you like typical signs of aging, such as confusion, forgetfulness, dizziness, or sleepiness. In fact, symptoms like these may be reactions due to substance abuse. Continue reading

Why Is My Food Tasteless?

Syed picQuratulain Syed, MD
Assistant Professor of Medicine
Division of General Medicine and Geriatrics
Emory University School of Medicine

Have you recently been struggling with keeping up your nutritional intake? Are you losing weight unintentionally? Does your food seem tasteless? It may not be a fault of yours or the person who does the cooking at home.  You may be one of the many older adults who experience problems with sensation of taste.

Taste disorders can be a result of normal aging and are frequently experienced by older adults living in long term care facilities or admitted to hospitals. Numerous medical conditions can affect taste sensations, such as liver, heart, kidney and thyroid problems, diabetes, upper respiratory infections, among others.

Additionally, numerous medications can affect taste, including cholesterol lowering medicines (commonly called statins), blood pressure medicines, anti-allergic medicines, heartburn medicines, antibiotics, and medicines for cancers.

Cigarette smoking, poor dental hygiene, and dental infections can affect taste as well.

Here are some tips if you think you are experiencing taste impairment:

  • If you have not seen a dentist recently, schedule an appointment to have your teeth and gums examined, to make sure they are healthy.
  • Take all your medications (including prescription, over the counter, and herbal medicines) to your appointment with your provider, so they can be reviewed for any possible side effects.
  • Schedule an appointment with your primary care provider to discuss your problem.
  • Discuss your medications with your provider to understand why you are taking them. Ask if any medications can be stopped or reduced in dosage.
  • There are numerous reasons for quitting smoking, regardless of your age. A taste disorder is one of them!

Bon Appetit!