For Older Adults with Heart Failure: Can Taking Too Many Medications Reduce the Ability to Perform Daily Activities?

Journal of the American Geriatrics Society Research Summary

As we age, we tend to develop a number of chronic health conditions and concerns. Often, managing health problems can mean that older adults may take many different medications. When older adults take five or more medicines (a scenario health experts call “polypharmacy”), it can increase the risk of harmful side effects.

Polypharmacy can contribute to serious problems including falls, disability, and hospitalizations. Taking more than five medications is especially common among older adults with heart failure, which is the leading cause of hospitalization for people age 65 and older. Doctors often prescribe several different drugs to improve heart failure, but this can increase your risk of harmful side effects and interactions between your medications. Older adults who have trouble performing routine daily activities are at a particularly high risk for the negative effects of taking a large number of medications.

In a new study, researchers examined whether limitations in older adults’ abilities to perform their routine daily activities were linked to taking multiple medications for heart failure. They published their study 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

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