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%).

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Polypharmacy and Deprescribing

WebDoes the number of medications you’re taking sometimes seem too high? Maybe it’s time for you and your healthcare provider to give your medication list a check-up by taking a closer look at the prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) treatments you take.

As you grow older, you’re more likely to develop health conditions that require taking multiple medications—some of which you may take for a long time. Many older people also take OTC medications, vitamins, or supplements as part of their routine care. As a result, older adults have a higher risk of overmedication, also known as “polypharmacy”—the medical term for taking four or more medications at the same time. Polypharmacy can increase your chances of unwanted reactions (also called “adverse drug reactions”) due to medications taken on their own or together.

To address this increasingly common problem, healthcare providers are focusing on how to reduce the number of medicines older adults are using through a practice called “deprescribing.” Dr. Michael Steinman, a member of the American Geriatrics Society (AGS) and a geriatrician at the University of California, San Francisco, recently appeared on WPUR—Boston’s NPR News Station—to discuss deprescribing with Dr. Barb Farrell, a pharmacist from Bruyère Geriatric Day Hospital in Ottawa, and Laura Landro, assistant managing editor at the Wall Street Journal. Hear what they had to say.

Want access to more tips and tools to help you manage multiple chronic conditions or multiple medications? We’ve got you covered.


How to Be the Best Caregiver/Care Coach You Can Be (Part Two)

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

Remember my recent blog post about being a terrific caregiver and care coach?  Here are some more tips based on my professional and personal experience.

Remember, Actions Speak Louder Than Words

You may not be an individual’s primary caregiver or care coach. You may just want to show you care. We all have people in our lives we really care about who have received some type of life-threatening or life-impacting diagnosis.  It could be anything from experiencing a hip fracture or a stroke, or a cancer diagnosis requiring treatment or palliative care management (comfort care).

It is hard in these situations to know how to respond and what to do.  Personally, I am a big believer in “actions speak louder than words.”  It never hurts to reach out to someone you care about who is undergoing treatment or who needs help and support coping with a long-term illness or disability.

Never be afraid to just DO or SAY something. Don’t be afraid to let the person know you heard about their illness and wish them well.  Show you care in any and every way.  Don’t hesitate because you are afraid you are intruding on the person’s privacy. If you heard about their illness, it is no secret!

Avoid Useless Gestures

Personally, I recommend against saying things like “let me know if I can do anything” or “call me if there is anything I can do.”  Essentially, when someone is ill they are not likely to pick up the phone and call for help.

Instead of empty gestures, provide words of encouragement that may have helped you in the past. For example, when I first started my course of radiation and chemotherapy, a colleague sent me a quote that Christopher Robin said to Winnie the Pooh:  “Promise me you’ll always remember that you are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”  I put this on my desktop and read it daily to help me through my own challenging treatment.  Continue reading

How to Be the Best Caregiver/Care Coach You Can Be (Part One)

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

As someone who is generally the caregiver—professionally and as a woman, mom, wife and daughter—I have had the opportunity to learn recently what is most helpful when being on the receiving end of caregiving. My thoughts combine my professional work as well as the personal experiences I have had with the health care system and with some challenging health care issues.

There is a difference between short-term caregiving events (such as helping someone after a joint replacement, fracture, or cancer treatment), compared to long-term caregiving events (such as caring for someone who has had a major stroke or who has dementia or Parkinson’s disease).  The approaches recommended here can be used for both short- and long-term caregiving.

My most recent thoughts come from going through an extremely aggressive course of radiation and chemotherapy.  In this treatment, the health care team is focused on destroying cancer cells and not necessarily on helping the individual undergoing treatment cope.  Therefore, a caregiver, or what I like to think of as a “care coach” or “care champion,” is essential.  That role generally falls on family, friends, or co-workers.

Based on my experience, here are some ways to be a terrific care coach. Continue reading

Decisions, Decisions (Part 1)

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

A cancer diagnosis, particularly a second cancer diagnosis, is difficult at any age. Bordering on being a geriatric patient (in Maryland older adults are defined as those 55-years-old and older), I was diagnosed with my second cancer. The first one was 18 years ago when, at the age of 41, I learned I had breast cancer.

At that time, with teenage children and much of life (hopefully) ahead, the decision was not so much whether or not to go for treatment but rather what treatment to endure….the options for me being removal of all breast tissue (also known as a) mastectomy with the possibility for reconstructive surgery, as well as chemotherapy (the medical term used for treating cancer with special types of medications). The chemotherapy was actually based on clinical research into effective options for my type of cancer. A researcher at heart, I of course consented to that study—and 3 others!

Almost twenty years later I was faced with a new decision around a second cancer and whether or not to undergo a diagnostic workup, pursue treatment, or to crawl into bed and call Hospice (a type of supportive healthcare given to people with serious or terminal illnesses). I started developing difficulty swallowing, and after being diagnosed by multiple providers with a digestive disorder known as gastroesophageal disease, I finally was sent for an Esophagogastroduodenoscopy (EGD, or a procedure to diagnose and treat problems in your upper gastrointestinal tract).

I was told, quite bluntly, I had esophageal cancer. I was neither a smoker nor a drinker and had no risk factors short of a very strong familial history with both parents having multiple malignancies. Decisions needed to be made this time, as I was not particularly anxious to endure treatment and worried about what we see all too often in geriatrics: treatment just making things worse.

On the flip side, my quality of life was not particularly pleasant given that I couldn’t eat or engage in the social activities that go with eating (going to dinner meetings or lunches, going out socially, etc.). I had significant pain and gastroesophageal symptoms associated with the tumor and I feared what death would be like if I let nature take its course. I wrestled with that thought along with my age, almost 60, and the value of using health resources on me at this point in time.

I further wondered how I could progress toward the end-of-life (aside from starving to death), since I was otherwise healthy—a lifelong vegetarian, runner, far from even a moderate drinker, and a non-smoker. Weighing the pros and the cons, I did follow medical advice and the push of family, friends, and colleagues, and I connected with an oncology group that has expertise in esophageal cancer.

Additional decisions needed to be made as I went through a work up for metastatic disease (which refers to a cancer that has spread beyond the original tumor), as initial scans showed a spot on my liver. Pending the results of this additional testing, I would need to decide if I would pursue palliative treatment, or healthcare focused on helping me manage pain. For anyone who has gone through this period of limbo or has friends and relatives that have to endure it, you know what I know: it’s extremely difficult.

I knew (having been through chemotherapy before) that I was not going to consent to palliative treatment, so I made a decision, engaged my resources (I have a daughter who is a nurse!), and planned for a death with dignity. I might add I cleaned closets, organized who would teach my summer course, and took over several ongoing and some new research studies, as well. I decided, took charge, and planned in the event that the spot on the liver was confirmed as metastatic disease.

(Stay tuned for Part 2 next week.)