Journal of the American Geriatrics Society Research Summary
“Polypharmacy” is the term used when someone takes many (usually five or more) different medications. Experts suggest that, for most older adults, taking that many medications may not be medically necessary. Taking multiple medications also can be linked to problems such as falls, frailty, disability, and even death. Polypharmacy also is a problem for older adults due to side effects or interactions resulting from the use of different medications. Older adults may have difficulties taking the medications properly, and the medications may interfere with a person’s ability to function well.
The ability to walk well is a sign of independence and good health for older adults, for example, and it may be affected by the use of multiple medications. Although healthcare providers know that some treatments can slow or hamper an older person’s ability to walk, little is known about the effects of polypharmacy on walking while performing other tasks, like talking. In a new study, researchers examined how polypharmacy affected walking while talking. They published their study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.
The researchers examined information from 482 people age 65 and older who were enrolled in the “Central Control of Mobility in Aging” study. That study’s main purpose was to determine how changes to the brain and our central nervous system occur during aging, and how they might impact an older person’s ability to walk. Continue reading
Grant 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
Krupa Shah, MD, MPH
University of Rochester School of Medicine & Dentistry
Division of Geriatrics & Aging, Department of Medicine
Rochester, New York
According to a survey conducted by AARP, those age 50 or older take on average six non-business related trips at least 50 miles from home each year. And Travelzoo, Inc, a global internet media company, tells us that 40% of Americans are planning to take more summer vacations compared to last year. The most popular type of vacation is the road trip, both for a short weekend or for a longer period of time.
Going on vacation can be a much more enjoyable experience with a little advance planning to make sure that we all stay safe and healthy.
- Be sure to pack all your medications. Before you leave, check if you need refills during your trip. Most pharmacies will accommodate flexible refills when they know you will be travelling away from home. Also carry a list of your current medications, their doses, and the time of day you take them.
- Remember to actually take all your medications. Vacations often change our normal daily routine. It is important to make time for correct medication use during all the fun and new places that a summer vacation may bring. Asking others who are with you to help remember, or setting a small timer, carrying a calendar or using a pill organizer may be helpful.
- Be aware of side effects. Some medications can cause side effects related to more time outside in the sun, like increased sensitivity to ultraviolet (UV) rays. It may be helpful to review all medications with your pharmacist, and ask for further consultation with your doctor if you have any questions. Continue reading
Maryjo L. Cleveland, MD
Medical Director, Post Acute & Senior Services
Chief, Division of Geriatric Medicine
Summa Health System
It is the middle of winter here in Cleveland and we have experienced an unusual amount of snow, sleet and ice. In fact, if you live anywhere with winter, I’ll bet this weather has been challenging. One problem that we see more of in the winter is falls. I ask all of my patients if they have experienced a fall. Can you guess the most common answer I get? It isn’t “no”— it’s “not yet.” Isn’t that interesting? That answer means that they expect to fall sometime. In other words, they think it’s normal. But we are here to find out otherwise!
Falls are certainly common. Most people can tell you about friends or family members who have fallen and suffered a serious injury from a fall, such as a broken hip. Most people also tell me that falling is one of the things they fear the most. The good news is that while falls are common, they are not inevitable. There are well defined risk factors that make it more likely for someone to fall. And there are also recommendations on how to prevent falls. These recommendations will require you and your healthcare professional to work closely together.
When the weather starts warming up—as it is in much of the United States right now—the body uses a variety of clever strategies to cool down. Sweat glands work overtime, sending more sweat to the surface of the skin where it evaporates and cools the body. Muscles relax so more heat-carrying blood flows to the skin where that heat can escape into the air. Even tiny body hairs get involved. They flatten themselves so surrounding air can more easily circulate over the skin and allow more heat to escape.
However, as we get older, age-related changes in our bodies lessen our ability to use these important cooling strategies. And this increases our risks of dangerous heat-related health problems such as heat stroke—a potentially life-threatening increase in the body’s internal temperature. Age-related changes also makes it harder for the body to tell when it’s getting dangerously dehydrated—or “dried out”—and needs water right away. In addition to age, medical conditions such as heart disease and diabetes can boost older people’s risks of heat-related medical problems. Some medications can also affect how you feel in the heat. Heat-related medical problems can be very serious. An estimated 200 older Americans die of heat-related health complications each year.
And that simply shouldn’t happen. With some simple precautions, older adults can avoid heat- related dangers. There are several tips from the experts in this new, easy-to-understand “tip sheet” for staying safe when it’s just too darn hot. You can find the new tip sheet, Hot Weather Safety Tips for Older Adults, here.
Older adults and their caregivers need to be especially careful when the temperature reaches 90°F and keep an eye out for signs of heat-related problems. The Health in Aging team hope you’ll share these tips with older friends and neighbors as well, and that this important information will make the livin’ easier, even as the mercury rises this summer.
How do you plan to stay cool this summer?