During National Women’s Health Week, Honor Your Own Health

National Women’s Health Week (May 13-19, 2018) is a perfect reminder to female healthcare providers to practice what we preach. As caregivers and as women who serve our communities’ health, we all too often focus on the health needs of others before our own. In the immortal words of every flight attendant, “Put on your oxygen mask before assisting others.” Meaning, of course, that if you’re neglecting your own well-being, it will be difficult for you to help your clients and loved ones.

And as we age, it becomes increasingly important to monitor our health. That’s because older women are more likely than men to have chronic health conditions, including arthritis, high blood pressure, and osteoporosis.

Happily, a great deal of what it takes to boost your chances for staying physically and mentally healthy is within your power. Below is what the experts with the American Geriatrics Society’s Health in Aging Foundation recommend.

See your healthcare provider regularly. Even if you feel perfectly healthy, get a check-up at least once a year, or as often as your provider recommends.

Take medications, vitamins, and supplements only as directed. When you visit your provider, bring all the pills and other supplements you take—even those you buy over the counter without a prescription. Your provider should check all of your pills to make sure they’re safe for you, and you should check with her before taking any new medication or supplement.

Let your provider know right away if a medication or supplement seems to be causing a problem or a side effect. Continue reading

Are High-Risk Anticholinergic Medicines Prescribed Too Often for Older Adults?

Journal of the American Geriatrics Society Research Summary

Anticholinergics are a class of medications that are often prescribed for allergies, lung disease, and urinary incontinence. They also often can increase health risks for older adults. These medicines can affect your memory and ability to think, and they can even lead to increases in the risk for falls, dementia, and death. Additionally, older adults often have a difficult time tolerating anticholinergics because of age-related physical changes, such as reduced liver and kidney function, and because medications can impact our brain chemistry more strongly as we age.

Experts use tools to help older adults and healthcare professionals understand the risks associated with medications like anticholinergics. One of these tools is the AGS Beers Criteria for Potentially Inappropriate Medication Use in Older Adults. The AGS Beers Criteria details medications with risks that may outweigh their benefits for older adults. The AGS Beers Criteria identifies 52 “high-risk” anticholinergics. Thirty-five of these are included on a list of medications worth avoiding altogether for older people, unless a healthcare professional has a compelling reason for prescribing them on a case-by-case basis.

Recently, a team of researchers decided to study how frequently healthcare providers prescribe potentially inappropriate medications like anticholinergics in light of recommendations like those from the AGS Beers Criteria. Their study was published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. Continue reading

Helping Older Adults Discontinue Using Sedatives

Journal of the American Geriatrics Society Research Summary

Older adults, especially those who are admitted to hospitals, are at risk for potentially dangerous side effects if they are taking multiple medicines. Taking several medications at the same time is called polypharmacy. Of special concern are benzodiazepine and non-benzodiazepine sedative hypnotics. These medications, which include lorazepam, clonazepam, zopiclone, and others, are often prescribed for sleep—despite the fact that organizations like the American Geriatrics Society recommend that they not be used as a first choice for sleep problems, agitation, or delirium (the medical term for an abrupt, rapid change in mental function).

As many as one in three older adults receive sedatives while they are hospitalized, and many are given new prescriptions for them when they leave the hospital. This can put older adults at risk for falls, fractures, problems with thinking and making decisions, and even death.

In a new study, published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, researchers looked at a way to help older adults taper off and stop using sedatives. This was based on an earlier study that suggested giving older adults the following:

  • an educational brochure outlining the problems that sedatives pose
  • instructions for safely taking themselves off the medication.

Continue reading

Aerobic Exercise May Mildly Delay or Slightly Improve Alzheimer’s Disease Symptoms

Journal of the American Geriatrics Society Research Summary

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a brain disorder that destroys memory and thinking skills over time. It is the most common form of dementia in older adults.  There is presently no cure for the condition, though treatment options are available. Today, some 5.3 million Americans live with AD, and it is now the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. The number of older adults who will develop AD is expected to more than triple by 2050.

Geriatrics experts have suggested that exercising can improve brain health in older adults. The World Health Organization (WHO) has recommendations for how much older adults should exercise. They suggest that older adults perform 150 minutes a week of moderate exercise (such as brisk walking), 75 minutes a week of vigorous aerobic training, or a combination of the two types. The WHO also recommends older adults perform muscle-strengthening exercises on at least two or more days a week.

However, not all studies of exercise and older adults have proven the benefits of exercise. We don’t know for sure whether exercise slows mental decline or improves older adults’ ability to think and make decisions. Continue reading

Can Special Training Improve Memory and Thinking Abilities in Older Adults with Mild Cognitive Impairment?

JAGS graphicJournal of the American Geriatrics Society Research Summary

Cognition is the ability to think and make decisions. Medication-free treatments that maintain cognitive health as we age are attracting the attention of medical experts. Maintaining the ability to think clearly and make decisions is crucial to older adults’ well-being and vitality.

Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is a condition that affects people who are in the early stages of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. People with MCI may have mild memory loss or other difficulties completing tasks that involve cognitive abilities. MCI may eventually develop into dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Depression and anxiety also can accompany MCI. Having these conditions can increase the risk of mental decline as people age.

A new, first-of-its-kind study was published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society by scientists from research centers in Montreal and Quebec City, Canada. They designed a study to learn whether cognitive training, a medication-free treatment, could improve MCI. Studies show that activities that stimulate your brain, such as cognitive training, can protect against a decline in your mental abilities. Even older adults who have MCI can still learn and use new mental skills.

For their study, researchers recruited 145 older adults around the age of 72 from Canadian memory clinics. The participants had been diagnosed with MCI, and were assigned to one of three groups. Each group included four or five participants, and met for eight weekly sessions for 120 minutes.

The three groups were:

  • Cognitive training group. Members of this group participated in the MEMO program (MEMO stands for a French phrase that translates to “training method for optimal memory”). They received special training to improve their memory and attention span.
  • Psycho-social group. Participants in this group were encouraged to improve their general well-being. They learned to focus on the positive aspects of their lives and find ways to increase positive situations.
  • Control group. Participants had no contact with researchers and didn’t follow a program.

During the time the training sessions took place, 128 of the participants completed the project. After six months, 104 completed all the sessions they were assigned.

People in the MEMO group increased their memory scores by 35 to 40 percent, said Sylvie Belleville, PhD, a senior author of the study. “Most importantly, they maintained their scores over a six-month period.”

What’s more, the improvement was the largest for older adults with “delayed recall.” This means memory for words measured just 10 minutes after people have studied them. Because delayed memory is one of the earliest signs of Alzheimer’s disease, this was a key finding.

Those who participated in the MEMO group said they used the training they learned in their daily lives. The training gave them different ways to remember things. For example, they learned to use visual images to remember names of new people, and to use associations to remember shopping lists. These lessons allowed them to continue maintaining their memory improvements after the study ended.

The people in the psycho-social group and the control group didn’t experience memory benefits or improvement in their mood.

This summary is from “MEMO+: efficacy, durability and impact of cognitive training and psychosocial intervention in MCI.” It appears online ahead of print in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. The study authors are Sylvie Belleville, PhD; Carol Hudon, PhD; Nathalie Bier, PhD; Catherine Brodeur, MD; Brigitte Gilbert, PhD; Sébastien Grenier, PhD; Marie-Christine Ouellet, PhD; Chantal Viscogliosi, PhD; and Serge Gauthier, MD.