Learning about the Impact of Multiple Symptoms in Older Adults

Journal of the American Geriatrics Society Research Summary

“Symptoms” is the medical term for any sign of a health problem, even if that sign doesn’t help your healthcare provider diagnose a specific illness. Symptoms, such as feeling tired or rundown (also called fatigue), are among the leading causes of disability for older adults.

Sometimes symptoms are directly caused by illness—for example, an aching chest can be a symptom associated with a heart attack. But often, symptoms have multiple causes. For example, fatigue can be a common symptom when you have conditions such as knee osteoarthritis, depression, and heart failure.

What’s more, older adults often experience more than one symptom at a time, which can make each symptom feel worse.

Up until now, we haven’t had much information about how symptoms that occur at the same time affect an older adult’s ability to function. To learn more, a team of researchers recently examined information from a large study of older adults, the National Health and Aging Trends Study (NHATS), which included more than 7,500 participants aged 65 and older. The study was published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. Continue reading

For Older Women, Taking High Blood Pressure Medication May Not Raise Risk for Falls

Journal of the American Geriatrics Society Research Summary

High blood pressure (also known as hypertension) is the medical term for when the force of blood against your blood vessel walls is too high. We know that using medication to lower high blood pressure can prevent heart attacks and strokes. But healthcare professionals often worry that prescriptions for lowering high blood pressure can sometimes lower it too much. This can put you at risk for becoming dizzy and falling.

Falls are a serious problem in older adults. In 2014, falls caused 2.8 million emergency room visits, 800,000 hospitalizations, and 27,000 deaths, and cost Medicare an estimated $31.3 billion.

Although some healthcare experts suspect that taking high blood pressure medication over time is linked to falls and fractures, very little research supports that belief. In fact, at least two major studies examining blood pressure reduction did not find an increased risk for falls among people taking medication to reduce high blood pressure. Other studies have not shown an increase in fracture risk for people taking medication for high blood pressure—in fact, some studies suggest that high blood pressure medicines may actually reduce the risk for fractures.

Researchers decided to learn more about the links between falls, high blood pressure, and high blood pressure medication in older women. They published their study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. Continue reading

Memory and Cognition Problems Affect Recovery in Rehabilitation Facilities

Journal of the American Geriatrics Society Research Summary

After a hospital stay, many older adults will be discharged to a skilled nursing facility to recover. The goal of this type of short-term nursing care is to help patients regain their ability to function and perform their daily activities to the best of their ability so they can return home, if possible.

Cognitive impairment is when you have difficulties with memory and your ability to think and make decisions. Some studies have examined how cognitive impairment can affect recovery for nursing home residents. But recently, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) added new ways to measure patients’ abilities to perform their daily routines in nursing facilities and other after-care settings.

So far, studies have not examined how skilled nursing care residents who have cognitive difficulties perform on the new self-care and mobility measurements. Researchers designed a new study to fill that knowledge gap. Using new measurements, it examines changes in residents’ self-care and their ability to get around. The study was published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. Continue reading

For Older Adults with Heart Failure: Can Taking Too Many Medications Reduce the Ability to Perform Daily Activities?

Journal of the American Geriatrics Society Research Summary

As we age, we tend to develop a number of chronic health conditions and concerns. Often, managing health problems can mean that older adults may take many different medications. When older adults take five or more medicines (a scenario health experts call “polypharmacy”), it can increase the risk of harmful side effects.

Polypharmacy can contribute to serious problems including falls, disability, and hospitalizations. Taking more than five medications is especially common among older adults with heart failure, which is the leading cause of hospitalization for people age 65 and older. Doctors often prescribe several different drugs to improve heart failure, but this can increase your risk of harmful side effects and interactions between your medications. Older adults who have trouble performing routine daily activities are at a particularly high risk for the negative effects of taking a large number of medications.

In a new study, researchers examined whether limitations in older adults’ abilities to perform their routine daily activities were linked to taking multiple medications for heart failure. They published their study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. Continue reading

Having Poor Vision Can Raise Risk for Falls Among Older Adults

Journal of the American Geriatrics Society Research Summary

Vision impairment and blindness affect one in 11 Americans age 65 and older. Because our population is aging, the number of older adults with vision problems is predicted to rise. Older adults who have impaired vision may be at risk for decreased independence, poorer well-being, and an increased risk of falls. For example, in any given year, approximately 30 percent of adults over age 65 will fall. Having impaired vision more than doubles this risk.

For older adults, falls are a major cause of illness and death. Even having a fear of falling is a challenge that can limit activity and worsen quality of life and independence as you age.

However, we don’t have much information on how often visually impaired older adults experience a fall, and we have even less information about what happens to them after a fall. A team of researchers suggested that we need this information in order to understand the scope of the problem and create ways to prevent falls in visually impaired older adults.

To learn more, the research team examined information from the National Health and Aging Trends Study (NHATS). They published their study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. Continue reading