On Becoming an Older Driver

altshul headshotSara Altshul
AGS Staff Writer

I didn’t run right out and get my driver’s license on my 16th birthday, like so many of my high school pals did. In my rural hometown, a car was more necessity than luxury. Town was three miles away, school even further.

But my overprotective mom was reluctant to let me learn how to drive on her new manual-shift Saab. Instead, she chauffeured me wherever I wanted to go, and if I wanted to get somewhere when she wasn’t around, I walked or got a ride.

I finally got my license at 18, a few months before landing the coolest summer job of all time – as a Good Humor truck driver. Soon, I bought myself a $500 Simca, a tiny four-door French beauty whose battery was tied on with a shoelace. I had it for years before it literally fell apart.

Since then, I’ve driven hundreds of thousands of miles. Two cars I owned during my 40’s topped out at nearly 200,000 miles each. For the three years I lived there, I even zipped through the Italian countryside, up hills and through narrow, cobblestoned streets, in my second-hand, four-on-the-floor Mitsubishi. Coming to a stop on Tuscan hills in first gear took plenty of practice. Just ask my husband.

Thankfully, I’ve never had a crash and despite a speeding ticket or two over the years, my driving record is pristine.

I’m 66 now. My faculties are sharp and intact. But when I’m driving, I recognize that I have to be more conscious, more focused, and more alert than my younger self ever was. I exert a deliberate effort when I’m behind the wheel: I don’t pass as frequently, I don’t go as fast, and I don’t take chances like I may have done in the past. I am acutely aware of keeping myself, and my passengers, safe on the road. 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
Professor
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

Mental Health Awareness for Older Adults

Palmer MH high(8) res

Alice Pomidor, MD, MPH, AGSF
Professor
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

Many of today’s older adults grew up during a time when mental health problems were not as well understood as they are today. People didn’t discuss problems like depression, for example, and many people considered mental health issues as “weaknesses” that could be cured by simply improving one’s attitude.

Now, of course, we understand that good mental health and good physical health are equally important to our well-being. Experts understand that mental health challenges are treatable. You can improve the quality of your life, or that of an older adult you care for, by making sure healthcare professionals address any potential mental health issues.

Mental Health Problems: Common Among Older Adults

Among adults aged 65 and older, about one in five have a mental disorder, including dementia.   Over 50% of people living in long-term care facilities have some form of cognitive impairment.

Other common mental health problems that affect older adults include anxiety and mood disorders, such as depression and bipolar disorder.

Even though older adults commonly have mental health issues, they are less likely than younger adults to receive treatment for them. When they do receive treatment, it’s also less likely for them to see a mental health specialist. More often, older adults seek mental health treatment from their primary care providers. Continue reading