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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How Poor Vision and Peripheral Vascular Disease Affect Balance

Journal of the American Geriatrics Society Research Summary

Having trouble getting around and being unable to socialize or manage household chores, such as shopping, can make life less enjoyable. What’s more, when you have difficulties getting around on your own, it can lead to long-term nursing care—and even death—for older adults.

One of the keys to maintaining good mobility is having good balance while you perform your daily tasks. Good balance depends on input from:

  • Your vision system
  • Your balance (vestibular) system
  • Your muscle system, including information on how your muscles interact with each other

Finally, your nerves, muscles, and bones must also work together to maintain your posture and movement.

Diseases that affect any of those systems may affect your balance. And if you have a problem with more than one system, it can magnify and worsen the effect on your balance. Experts know that poor vision is a risk factor for poor balance, especially when an older adult is doing complex balancing tasks like standing on one foot.

A team of researchers decided to learn whether poor vision would be more strongly related to standing balance in older adults who had peripheral vascular disease (a common circulation problem that affects the legs) or diabetes. They published their study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. Continue reading

How Weight Loss is Linked to Future Health for Older Adults

Journal of the American Geriatrics Society Research Summary

Studies describing the effects of weight loss on health rarely consider age. However, weight loss during middle age likely has different effects on your health than does weight loss when you’re 65-years-old or older—especially when you’re older than 85.

Although some studies have found that weight loss in older adults is generally linked to an increase in illness and death, researchers say that these studies were either too short or were based on information that may have been interpreted incorrectly.

However, one study about fractures and osteoporosis (a medical condition in which bones become thin, lose density, and become increasingly fragile) looked specifically at health and weight for women who were over age 65. Reviewing more than 20 years’ worth of data for study participants, the team of researchers responsible for this study had the chance to examine links between long-term weight gain/loss and health. Their findings were published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. Continue reading

Managing Multiple Health Conditions: What Care Recipients and Caregivers Want Each Other to Know

Journal of the American Geriatrics Society Research Summary

In the United States, four out of five older adults have multiple chronic health conditions. Many of these people rely on the active support of a family caregiver to help manage their conditions.

Studies of older adults with dementia and their caregivers have shown that very often, the older adult’s desire to be self-sufficient often clashes with the caregiver’s concerns about the individual’s safety. However, researchers have also identified areas of friction among older adults who do not have dementia and their caregivers.

For example, according to one study among older adults who have severe heart disease, these individuals don’t appreciate unwanted or excessive phone contact—or advice they haven’t requested—from family and friends. In another study, older adults with lupus (an autoimmune disease caused when your immune system attacks your own body tissue) said they’d received advice from friends and family that they felt wasn’t well-informed. They also reported they received support that felt “overprotective.”

Noting that we need more understanding of caregiver and care recipient relationships, a research team designed a study using interviews with caregivers and the older adults receiving care. These interviews were designed to explore experiences, attitudes, and preferences about caregiving relationships. The study appeared in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. Continue reading