Should Nursing Home Residents Nearing the End of Life Continue Taking Statins?

Journal of the American Geriatrics Society Research Summary

Cardiovascular disease (also called heart disease) is one of the most common medical conditions older adults face. In nursing homes, almost half of all older adult residents have been diagnosed with problems affecting the heart and/or blood vessels.

In spite of this, we know very little about how effective a class of popular heart disease medications may be for those 75 and older. Known as statins, these medications are prescribed to reduce the amount of cholesterol in your blood. High blood levels of cholesterol can damage your heart’s blood vessels and lead to the formation of blood clots, which can cause stroke and heart attacks.

The reason we have a knowledge gap as to how well statins work in older adults is because early medical studies that examined statin therapy for heart disease prevention included few adults age 75 and older. More recent trials that did include older adults often found that statin therapy did not help prevent these individuals from developing heart disease.

Why? It’s possible that, as we age, our sensitivity to medications may change. For instance, myopathy (muscle pain and weakness) is a commonly reported side effect of statins. This side effect may have a heightened effect on older adults who are already frail, which could speed up physical decline.

A team of researchers conducted a study to learn more about statin use among older adults, especially those nearing the end of their lives. Their study stemmed from concern about unclear statin prescribing guidelines for people over age 75, and a lack of information on the medications’ uses in nursing homes. The study, published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, evaluated statin use by people with life-limiting conditions across nearly all U.S. nursing homes. The researchers hoped to identify statin use among nursing home residents who were unlikely to benefit from treatment. Continue reading

Should Diabetes Treatment Lessen for Older Adults Approaching the End of Life?

Journal of the American Geriatrics Society Research Summary

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One in four people aged 65 or older has diabetes. The disease is the seventh leading cause of death in the United States and a major contributor to heart disease. Experts have recommended that the best way to slow the progression of diabetes—and help prevent its many complications—is to maintain strict control of blood sugar levels. For healthy younger people, this means keeping the target blood sugar level (known as A1c or HbA1c) lower than 6.5 percent to 7.0 percent.

For older adults who have a limited life expectancy or who have advanced dementia, however, maintaining that target blood sugar level may cause more harm than good. For example, these older adults may not live long enough to experience potential benefits. What’s more, maintaining these strict blood sugar levels can raise the risk of potentially harmful events such as low blood sugar (also known as hypoglycemia). This can cause falls or loss of consciousness.

For these reasons, many guidelines now suggest targeting higher HbA1c targets—such as between 8.0 percent and 9.0 percent—for older adults who have multiple chronic conditions or limited life expectancy, or who live in nursing homes.

There is not much existing research to guide health care practitioners as to what the appropriate levels of diabetes medications are for this group of older adults. There is also little information about the effects for these individuals of taking fewer or lower dose of diabetes medications.

Experts suspect that lessening diabetes treatment in these older adults has the potential to prevent unnecessary hospitalizations due to lowering the risk for harmful drug events and increasing the patients’ comfort.

In order to investigate the issue, a team of researchers conducted a study—one of the first national studies to examine potential overtreatment and deintensification of diabetes management in nursing home residents with limited life expectancy or dementia. The researchers chose nursing home residents to study because admission to a nursing home could give healthcare practitioners a chance to learn more about patient goals and preferences and to review and adjust medications accordingly. The researchers published their results in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. Continue reading

A Creative Way to Expand the Geriatrics Workforce

Journal of the American Geriatrics Society Research Summary

Geriatrics is the field of health care focused on care for older adults. Experts suggest that our current geriatrics workforce needs better preparation to care for the 5.7 million people living with dementia in this country. To help meet this challenge, the Institute of Medicine has called for enhancing educational and training programs for improving the competence of the workforce, and to ensure that our workforce reaches the level needed to serve the growing population of older adults with dementia.

Despite these ongoing efforts, the shortage of geriatricians makes it difficult to meet these urgent educational needs. For this study, a team of researchers looked “outside the box” to learn more about whether creative solutions could offer valuable opportunities for addressing these issues. In this new study, the researchers outlined the results and outcomes of an undergraduate service-learning course that used music and filmmaking to teach person-centered approaches to dementia.

The course, which included music, filmmaking, and reflective writing components, focused on service at local dementia care settings and was conducted in collaboration with Music & Memory, a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing personalized music playlists to people living with dementia or other serious medical challenges.

The three-credit undergraduate service-learning course was developed and taught by a music professor over three consecutive semesters with 16 to 18 students each term.

The students worked in pairs at one of two dementia care settings. Students received initial classroom training on dementia, ethnomusicology (music anthropology), ethnographic fieldwork methods (the technical term for expert research based on studying people and culture), filmmaking basics, and creative aging. Continue reading

Keep Moving to Prevent Major Mobility Disability

Journal of the American Geriatrics Society Research Summary

Having trouble getting around on your own—such as difficulty walking, climbing steps, or being able to get in and out of a chair—can lead to physical disability and losing your independence.

According to research, being physically inactive is the strongest risk factor for disability as we age.

We know that physical activity has proven health benefits, especially moderate-to-vigorous physical activity such as walking to the store or many types of gardening. But perhaps surprisingly, we don’t know much about the benefits of lighter forms of physical activity or the effects of spreading our physical activity throughout the day. Understanding the benefits of moving more often and engaging in even lighter forms of physical activity is important for older adults’ health. These types of physical activity may be easier for older adults to practice regularly, especially those who are frail.

That’s why a team of researchers created a study to examine the effects of performing light physical activity and moderate-to-vigorous physical activity on older adults. The researchers were interested in studying how participating in these different intensities of activity, and whether a person spreads their physical activity throughout the day, affects the chances for developing a major mobility disability. The participants in the study were older adults who had challenges with physical function and who participated in the Lifestyle Interventions and Independence for Elders (LIFE) study. The researchers published their study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. Continue reading

Are Older Adults Getting the Most Effective Cancer Treatments?

Journal of the American Geriatrics Society Research Summary

As people age, cancer becomes an increasing health concern. Solid cancer tumors are cancers that don’t affect the blood and instead form tumors, or growths of abnormal cells in certain parts of the body. These solid cancer tumors mainly impact people who are 65 and older.

If you or an older loved one is diagnosed with cancer, many different factors come into play to guide treatment choices. However, leading geriatric oncologists (specialists who treat cancer in older adults) say that, perhaps surprisingly, age is not necessarily one of them. Recently, leaders in the field emphasized that being older, on its own, does not necessarily mean that surgical treatment is not an option for you.

Older patients with cancer may not receive the same treatment as younger adults. The reasons for this are unclear and may include the fact that surgical oncologists fear a higher risk of poor outcomes for older cancer patients following surgery. They may be uncertain about how surgery will affect an older patient’s survival and quality of life. But since long-term outcomes after surgery for older adults with cancer have not been well-studied, we don’t know whether such concerns are justified.

Fortunately, a screening tool exists that may help surgical oncologists and other physicians decide which patients might face complications after surgery. The “Preoperative Risk Estimation for Onco-Geriatric Patients” (or PREOP) risk score uses several easy-to-administer tests and can be given to people before surgery. The risk score includes a nutritional risk score to make sure you aren’t malnourished and a test called Timed Get Up and Go (TUG). In this simple test, you are timed getting out of a chair, walking 10 feet, and sitting back down again.

In addition to these two tests, the PREOP risk score also takes into consideration your gender, how significant your surgery will be, and an anesthesiologist’s assessment of your physical condition. In a previous study, a high PREOP risk score was found to be associated with an increased risk of major postoperative complications within 30 days after surgery.

A team of researchers recently examined how the PREOP score might predict how older adults fared following surgery for cancer. The researchers said they hoped their study would help both physicians and patients make decisions regarding cancer surgery. They published their study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. Continue reading