Responding to Harvey: What We Can Do

Nancy Lundebjerg
Chief Executive Officer
American Geriatrics Society

Here at the AGS and Health in Aging Foundation offices, we’ve been closely following Hurricane Harvey and its impacts on the Gulf Coast. Many of the images circulating on social media and in the news have been heart-breaking. At the same time, it’s been inspiring to see the general outpouring of support and the many volunteers who have turned out to assist neighbors, friends, and strangers.

The AGS and the Health in Aging Foundation have a history of doing what we can to help smaller, sometimes overlooked organizations working on the ground in response to national emergencies like Hurricane Harvey. Earlier this week, in fact, we reached out to AGS members and leaders in storm-hit communities to check in on how they were doing and to ask how we could help. They recommended donating to Jewish Family Services (a Houston-based organization working with a host of faith-based and nondenominational partners on short-term and long-term recovery) and BakerRipley (a 110-year-old community development organization tasked with running one of Houston’s largest hurricane recovery shelters).Based on their advice, the AGS Health in Aging Foundation made donations to both organizations to assist with recovery efforts.

Like the staff here, you likely have been tracking the ways you can help those in need. Here are some suggestions:

  • If you’d like to volunteer in a storm-hit community, register through a volunteer organization or disaster recovery group. Two organizations that are coordinating volunteers in Houston, for example, are Volunteer Houston and All Hands Volunteers. Remember: It’s best not to contact local law enforcement or emergency medical services directly to offer your services. Try to keep their lines open for emergency calls.
  • For those of you who may not be in or near a storm-hit city, you can still make an impact by donating to a national or local charity working on emergency relief and recovery. In addition to the two organizations mentioned above, here are examples of other local organizations to consider:

Elder Abuse: Being Part of the Solution

American Geriatrics Society Staff

The mistreatment of older adults is called elder abuse. It is more widespread than many of us realize. Although statistics suggest that one in 10 older people is abused every year, the actual number is likely to be much higher because so many cases of elder abuse go unreported.

That’s why it’s so important for us to put elder abuse on our individual radars. Signs of elder abuse may not be immediately obvious. Members of our own families may be subject to abuse, as can our older neighbors, friends, and acquaintances.

No matter how old we are, justice requires that we all be treated as full members of our communities, say experts at the National Center on Elder Abuse. However, because some older adults are not visible to other members of the community, they can be at greater risk for being neglected or abused.

The range of situations that make up elder abuse is broad. Elder abuse can include neglect (both intentional as well as self-neglect), and abuse that is financial, emotional and psychological, physical, and/or sexual. These are all forms of injustice we need to address to better serve our communities.

As difficult as it might be to realize that an older person is being abused, it may be even more difficult for us to report it—we may fear that we’ve misunderstood a situation or are overreacting. Trust your instincts. If you suspect that something isn’t right, act. Continue reading

Pedometers Allow Healthcare Practitioners to Track Physical Activity for Older Adults

JAGS graphicJournal of the American Geriatrics Society Research Summary

Loss of mobility is one of the leading causes of a decreased quality of life, loss of independence, and even death for us all as we age. Since physical activity is the key to helping prevent mobility loss, it’s important to maintain a decent level of physical activity for as long as possible.

Researchers for a new study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society now suggest that we don’t know much about how the duration and intensity of physical activity affects the development of major mobility problems.

In their study, the researchers tracked the activity of 1,590 adults between the ages of 70 and 89. To measure the participants’ activity levels, they were asked to wear a pedometer, which is a research instrument that measures how many steps you take. Participants wore the devices for at least three days for 10 hours a day while going about their daily routines. None of the participants had major mobility problems at the start of the study. Continue reading

A Personalized Approach to Alzheimer’s Disease Prevention

Journal of the American Geriatrics Society Research Summary

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking, and behavior. It affects more than 5 million Americans. The Alzheimer’s Association estimates that some 16 million people will develop the disease by the year 2050 if an effective treatment is not discovered. Symptoms of AD usually develop slowly and worsen over time. They often become severe enough to interfere with daily tasks, and can eventually cause death.

In a new study, published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, James E. Galvin, MD, MPH, Professor of Integrated Medical Science and Associate Dean for Clinical Research, Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine, Florida Atlantic University, examined potential AD prevention strategies.

Dr. Galvin notes that just four medications have been approved to treat AD symptoms. A major effort is underway to develop new treatments for the disease by the year 2025, and researchers have launched several new studies. Continue reading

Older Adults May Need Better Follow-up After Emergency Room Screenings for Suicide

JAGS graphicJournal of the American Geriatrics Society Research Summary

According to the World Health Organization, suicide rates for men over the age of 70 are higher than in any other group of people. In 2015, almost 8,000 older adults committed suicide in the U.S., and the proportion of suicides is higher among older adults than younger people. When older adults try to commit suicide, they are more likely to be successful compared to younger adults.  This is why suicide prevention strategies are especially important for older men and women.

Hospital emergency departments (EDs) are caring for an increasing number of people with mental health concerns, including thoughts or actions related to suicide attempts. For example, nearly half of the older adults who committed suicide had visited an ED in the year before their death. However, when healthcare providers see older adults in the ED, some may be too quick to assume that the warning signs for suicide are just a natural part of aging. As a result, many older adults may not get the help they need to address suicidal thoughts. These facts prompted a team of researchers to study older adults seen in EDs and the related risks for committing suicide. Their study was published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. Continue reading