My Favorite Time of Year…

This time of year has always been one of my favorites. It’s a time when things slow down a bit, allowing more time with family and friends – time to catch up, celebrate cherished rituals, and enjoy favorite foods and one another’s company. But while this can be a wonderful time of year, it can also be challenging, particularly for older adults.

For some older people, the end of another year can be a powerful reminder of how many years have already passed. Traditions like lighting the menorah candles or decorating the Christmas tree may bring to mind family and friends who are no longer with us. For some older adults, health problems can make it difficult, or perhaps impossible, to travel to traditional get-togethers with relatives and old friends. All of these things can contribute to the “holiday blues” or, more seriously, depression.

In colder parts of the country older adults may face other challenges. Older people run higher risks of injuries while shoveling snow, for example, and are more likely to develop frostbite and hypothermia –  a life-threating condition in which your body temperature drops to dangerous levels. Snow and icy weather can also put older adults at risk of falls and fractures.

The good news, however, is that there are many things older people, and their caregivers, can do to help address these problems. And you’ll find them on healthinaging.org – the source of a wealth of easy-to-read health information for seniors that’s reviewed by leading experts in elder health. These include:

You’ll also find 10 Healthy New Year’s Resolutions for Older Adults on healthinaging.org. I recommend it for adults of all ages. In fact, I’ve resolved to make a few of the ten my own this New Year.

Here’s wishing you and yours a happy season!

Falls Prevention Video Series

Every 15 seconds—roughly the time it’ll take you to read this sentence—an older adult falls and suffers serious injuries. This simply shouldn’t happen. Some age-related changes—for example, in your vision, balance, and flexibility—increase risks of falling, but there’s a great deal you can do to prevent falls in later life.  

The AGS Foundation for Health in Aging is committed to helping prevent falls.  We have created a series of five new, easy-to-follow videos illustrating how older adults can avoid falls. I encourage you to take a look and to share these videos with others.

The Foundation’s new falls prevention videos cover:

What you can do to avoid falls at home—simple things you can do to prevent falls, such as making sure all your rugs are firmly fastened to the floor or have nonskid backing; and installing night-lights in your bedroom, hallways, and bathroom.

Falls assessment—a quick, simple, and reliable test your healthcare provider can use to determine whether you’re at increased risk of falling.

How your healthcare professional can help lower your risk—things your healthcare provider can do to help you lower your odds of falling, such as : identifying whether any of your medications or supplements might increase  your risk of a fall and finding safer alternatives; and checking your balance, vision, leg strength, blood pressure, and the way you walk, and recommending exercises and lifestyle changes to make you surer on your feet.

How to choose and use a cane—expert advice for choosing the right cane, in the right size, and using it appropriately.

How to choose an use a walker—an explanation of the different types of walkers, and advice for finding and using the right one.

The expert content for all five videos comes from Healthinaging.org, which includes a wealth of additional information, tips, and tools to help older adults prevent falls. Just type “falls” in the search box above, and start lowering your risk today.

National Family Caregiver Month

When you hear the words “family caregiver” what image comes to mind? Odds are, you envision a woman. We tend to assume that family caregivers are wives, daughters, sisters, nieces, and granddaughters. But here’s a surprise: According to a recent Pew Research Center report, 45 percent of relatives caring for older adults in the U.S. are men.
What accounts for the growing percentage of men caring for older family members? According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, decades-long declines in family size, and increasingly far-flung families, are likely contributors. If your aging mom needs help, and you’re the only nearby, you step up to bat. Period.

So this month—National Family Caregiver Month—and beyond, we at the American Geriatrics Society Foundation for Health in Aging (HIA) hope you’ll show your support for the women and men you know who are caring for their aging relatives. While growing numbers of husbands, sons, brothers, nephews, and grandsons are now playing this role, they may be less likely than women to reach out for help with caregiving when they need it, according to a recent Wall Street Journal article. This means we need to do more to reach out to them.

Organizations and services for family caregivers are already doing this. The Journal story, for example, spotlights a Colorado home care service that created a virtual community just for men—www.malecaregivercommunity.com—thinking it would be more appealing to male caregivers . It has been. “Since it started in June, more than 84 discussions have developed,” the paper reports.

In addition to support, family caregivers also need top-notch information. And that’s where Healthinaging.org comes in. Among other things, it offers comprehensive information about caring for even the most medically complex older adults—those with multiple, chronic health problems. Just as important, it offers information about caring for yourself if you’re a caregiver. We hope you’ll mention the site to the family caregivers you know— men and women alike.

Improving Quality of Life for Seniors Living with Multiple Chronic Conditions

Healthinaging.org is pleased to feature this guest blog from Anand K. Parekh, MD, MPH, HHS Deputy Assistant Secretary for Health (Science and Medicine).

 

 

Did you know that 75 million Americans, including three of four persons over 65, have multiple chronic conditions? This means the typical senior may not only have diabetes, he or she may also have arthritis, high blood pressure and perhaps even asthma.

That’s a lot to manage.

And people with multiple chronic conditions are at higher risk for hospitalizations, hospital readmissions, and adverse drug events.

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) has put together a plan to help in managing multiple health problems. The plan has four goals: to foster health care and public health system changes, to maximize the use of self-care management, to provide tools and information to health workers, and to facilitate research to fill knowledge gaps.

At HHS, we’ve supported significant research on health outcomes among individuals with multiple chronic conditions and have created a nationwide research network. We’ve worked with partners such as the National Quality Forum to create tools that will facilitate the development of quality measures for this population. These measures help patients and families determine whether their healthcare providers and facilities are using well-tested approaches to caring for people with multiple conditions. And finally, we’re working with the research and regulatory community to ensure that individuals with multiple chronic conditions are included in research studies.

In addition, the Affordable Care Act provides new and innovative ways to tackle this public health challenge. Millions of Americans with multiple chronic conditions are now eligible for preventive care, such as flu shots, blood pressure and cholesterol tests, mammograms, and colonoscopies – free of charge. Many are also participating in new care coordination models, such as “medical homes” and “accountable care organizations,” which promote the use of electronic health records and other mechanisms for managing patient care, so that those with multiple doctors can be confident that all their doctors have the information they need.

So, if you have multiple chronic conditions, here are four tips that may be helpful:

  1. Identify a medical quarterback. It’s critical to have a provider, usually a primary care physician, who is responsible for managing all your conditions and medications.
  2. Make healthy choices. It’s estimated that 80% of heart disease and stroke, 80% of type 2 diabetes, and 40% of cancers could be eliminated if Americans would do three things: stop smoking, eat a healthy diet, and get regular exercise.
  3. Take advantage of community resources. There are many local resources that can support opportunities for health promotion and disease prevention. Find a trusted organization, such as a local YMCA or Area Agency on Aging, to see if they have programs that may be able to help you.
  4. Monitor your medications. People with multiple chronic conditions usually take multiple medications. Develop a reminder system to make sure that you’re taking your medications at the right time.

By taking these four steps, people with multiple chronic conditions can optimize their health status and quality of life.

The American Geriatrics Society’s guiding principles on managing the care of older adults with multiple health problems builds on our work at HHS. We are pleased to share and promote our common goal of optimizing the health and quality of life for older adults with multiple chronic conditions.

Tell us about your experiences caring for friends and family or patients with multiple health problems, or how you’ve managed your own complex health issues.

The Conversation Project

It’s not easy to contemplate the end of your life and consider what kind of care you do, and don’t, want when that time comes. And it’s equally difficult to talk with a loved one about the kind of end-of-care care he or she would prefer. My guess is that discussions like these are particularly difficult for us in the US, where we tend to shy away from discussions about death in general. “We Americans don’t like limits, we don’t like boundaries, (and) death is the ultimate boundary,” the journalist Bill Moyers recently pointed out. “So why talk about something we don’t want to happen?”

The answer to that question is this: As uncomfortable as discussions about what we and our loved ones want at the end of life may be, these are among the most important conversations we will ever have. Deciding in advance what care we do and don’t want, while we are able to weigh the benefits and drawbacks of our options and share and discuss our choices with those we love and our healthcare providers, can make the difference between a good death and one that is less so.

Encouraging these essential conversations—with both your loved ones and your healthcare providers—is the focus of The Conversation Project, an important new initiative of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement. I hope you’ll visit the initiative’s website, and encourage others to do the same.

The Conversation Project was the inspiration of Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Ellen Goodman, who conceived of it after her mother’s death. “My mother and I talked about everything,” she  explained in a recent interview. “But when she was no longer able to make her own decisions, I realized we hadn’t talked about her wishes for the end of life. I understood only after her death how much easier it would have been if I had heard her voice in my ear as these decisions had to be made.”

Among other things, The Conversation Project website includes an extremely thoughtful and thought provoking feature, “Your Conversation Starter Kit.” It begins with some truly attention-getting statistics about what people tell pollsters they want at the end of life and, in contrast, what many of us actually get. It also includes thought-provoking questions that can help you clarify what you want, what roles you’d like your loved ones to play at the end of your life, and what your healthcare providers need to know. It also helps you figure out with whom, when, and where you want to have The Conversation, and tips for introducing the subject in a non-threatening way. Just as important, the site urges readers to take time to make these decisions, formulating them over the course of many, not one, conversation. I encourage you take a look at the starter kit and let it help you find where you want to go.