Health In Aging Blog


Physical and Mental Exercise Lower Chances for Developing Delirium After Surgery

Journal of the American Geriatrics Society Research Summary

After having surgery, many older adults develop delirium, the medical term for sudden and severe confusion. In fact, between 10 and 67 percent of older adults experience delirium after surgery for non-heart-related issues, while 5 to 61 percent experience delirium after orthopedic surgery (surgery dealing with the bones and muscles).

Delirium can lead to problems with thinking and decision-making. It can also make it difficult to be mobile and perform daily functions and can increase the risk for illness and death. Because adults over age 65 undergo more than 18 million surgeries each year, delirium can have a huge impact personally, as well as for families and our communities.

Healthcare providers can use several tools to reduce the chances older adults will develop delirium. Providers can meet with a geriatrician before surgery, review prescribed medications, and make sure glasses and hearing aids are made available after surgery (since difficulty seeing or hearing can contribute to confusion). However, preventing delirium prior to surgery may be the best way to help older adults avoid it.

A team of researchers from Albert Einstein College of Medicine designed a study to see whether older adults who are physically active before having surgery had less delirium after surgery. The research team had previously found that people who enjoy activities such as reading, doing puzzles, or playing games experienced lower rates of delirium. The team published new findings on physical activity in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

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Medications Used to Treat Atrial Fibrillation May Raise Risk of Falls and Fall-Related Injuries

Journal of the American Geriatrics Society Research Summary

For older adults, fainting and falls are serious health concerns. They can lead to injury, hospitalization, and other severe consequences. Having certain chronic conditions, as well as taking certain medications, can raise your risk of experiencing falls and fall-related injuries.

One condition that contributes to fainting and falls is atrial fibrillation. Atrial fibrillation occurs when the upper (atrial) part of your heart contracts rapidly and irregularly (fibrillates). Atrial fibrillation may be continuous or occasional and is the most common irregular heart rhythm in older adults. It occurs in three to five percent of people over age 65.

To prevent atrial fibrillation symptoms, health professionals may treat patients with medications to control their heart rate or rhythm. However, these medications can potentially raise the risk for falls and fainting, though the connection hasn’t studied significantly in the past.

To learn more, researchers in Denmark designed a study to learn more about the potential risk for falls and fainting among older adults taking medication for atrial fibrillation. Their study was published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. Continue reading

High Blood Pressure Treatment and Nursing Home Residents

Journal of the American Geriatrics Society Research Summary

Although 27 percent of all older adults who live in nursing homes in this country have both high blood pressure and dementia, we don’t have enough research yet to inform healthcare providers about the best way to treat their high blood pressure.

Specifically, we don’t know when the benefits of taking medication to lower blood pressure outweigh the potential risks, especially in older adults who also have moderate to severe dementia and a poor prognosis (the medical term for the likely course of a disease). That’s because clinical trials for high blood pressure treatments typically do not include older adults who have severe chronic illnesses or disabilities.

 A team of researchers designed a study to learn more about the best high blood pressure treatments for older adults who live in nursing homes. Their study was published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

The research team used information from Medicare records. The team identified 255,670 long-term nursing home residents in the United States during 2013 who had high blood pressure. Of these, nearly half had moderate or severe dementia-related difficulties with thinking and decision-making. Slightly more than half of them had no or only mild cognitive impairment. Continue reading

Slower Walking Speed May Predict Future Mobility Problems

Journal of the American Geriatrics Society Research Summary

Being able to walk outside for several blocks at a leisurely pace plays an important role in living a vibrant, healthy life. Walking short distances allows you to get the physical activity you need, live independently, go shopping, access health care, and engage in a social life.

Being able to walk at even a slow speed is essential to all these benefits—but walking too slowly may foreshadow future problems that could prevent you from being fully mobile.

Until now, there has been no ideal way for healthcare providers to measure walking ability, since it involves more than just walking speed. It also is about how you deal with your environment (such as uneven pavement) and demands on your attention (such as traffic, other pedestrians, and street crossings).

In a new study, researchers assessed ways to measure complex walking tasks to learn more about early, subtle changes in walking. Their study was published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

In their study, the researchers examined whether performance on complex walking tasks involving both physical and mental challenges predicted a higher risk for an inability to walk one-quarter mile (roughly four blocks). The researchers suspected that these complex walking tasks would be more strongly tied to the risk for mobility problems than simple walking.

The researchers studied information from the Health Aging and Body Composition (Health ABC) study, which enrolled black and white adults in Pittsburgh and Memphis from 1997 to 1998. The participants were 70 to 79 years old when they entered the study, and they had no difficulty walking a quarter mile or climbing 10 steps without resting. Continue reading

How Do Older Adults Fare After Hip Fracture?

Journal of the American Geriatrics Society Research Summary

Hip fractures in older adults can be extremely serious, and often result in chronic illness, death, and increased health care costs. Experts estimate that some 18 to 33 percent of all older adults who have suffered hip fractures will die within a year, with even higher rates of death among people who have dementia or who live in a nursing home.

As many as 50 percent of older adults face difficulties following a hip fracture, and may be unable to bathe, feed, or dress themselves (called “activities of daily living,” or ADLs). They may not be able to get around for months to even years after their fracture. This physical decline can lessen their quality of life, and some 20 percent of older adults go on to long-term care facilities after having a hip fracture.

Studies conducted on older adults who have had hip fractures suggest that the strongest indication that a person will experience a decline after a hip fracture is being disabled before the fracture occurs.

What’s more, hip fractures affect not only the quality of life and health of the older adult, but also that of their caregivers—and can cause financial burdens when the individual requires more care.

Despite all this, the number of daily hours of care people need after a hip fracture has not been well studied. To learn more, researchers designed a study to better understand how older adults fare after suffering hip fractures. Their study was published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. Continue reading