weekly blog--one for the ages
With a full leg brace limiting where I can go and what I can do, I spend a considerable part of the day sitting on my couch in the family room. That gives me plenty of time to read, work on the computer and stare out the window. The window overlooks the park across the street where the tree leaves, with their golden yellow and orange colors, have hit their fall peak.
The New Yorker magazine recently featured an article on why we can’t tell the truth about aging. The author surmised that a contented old age probably depends on what we were like before we became old. Vain, self-centered people will likely find aging less tolerable than those who seek meaning in life by helping others. And those fortunate enough to have lived a full and productive life may exit without undue regret.
But with aging comes restrictions. Many older men have to pee right after they pee, and many older women pee whenever they sneeze. Life doesn’t necessarily get worse after reaching age 65, but you know something is missing. Perhaps the comedian Rodney Dangerfield, who died a month short of his eighty-third birthday, said it best: “I’m at the age where food has taken the place of sex in my life. In fact, I’ve just had a mirror put over my kitchen table.”
This will be a short one today. Home now from surgery for a torn quadricep. No pain, but the recovery process will take some time. Adding to the setback is a knee brace that will limit mobility for the next few weeks, and I join one in four Americans aged 65+ that fall each year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
That means that every 11 seconds, an older adult is treated in the emergency room for a fall; every 19 minutes, an older adult dies from a fall. Falls are the leading cause of fatal injury and the most common cause of nonfatal trauma-related hospital admissions among older adults.
Falls result in more than 2.8 million injuries treated in emergency departments annually, including over 800,000 hospitalizations and more than 27,000 deaths. In 2015, the total cost of fall injuries was $50 billion. Medicare and Medicaid shouldered 75% of these costs.
Falls, with or without injury also carry a heavy quality of life impact. A growing number of older adults fear falling and, as a result, limit their activities and social engagements. This can result in further physical decline, depression, social isolation, and feelings of helplessness.
Life expectancy very much depends on where you land on the economic ladder, according to a recent study by Boston College’s Center for Retirement Research. Between 1979 and 2011 the increase in lifespans was much larger for more educated, higher-earning Americans than the gains for people with less education and lower incomes.
Important factors in the socioeconomic divide...while all Americans are smoking less today, those in lower socioeconomic groups still smoke much more. Today, one in four of them is a smoker, compared with just one smoker for every 10 people who attended college. And like smoking, obesity is more pervasive among less-educated people. There are two primary culprits: less exercise and diets high in salt and fats. The risks linked to inactivity and poor diet--heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and some cancers.
A new Harvard study shows that recent income gains--from investments, property appreciation, and retirement income--have gone disproportionately to the highest earners in the 65-and-older age group, while the number of older households burdened by housing costs has reached an all-time high.
The number of households headed by someone over 65 climbed from 27 million to 31 million in the period studied. Within that age group, incomes of those in the top 10 percent rose 22 percent, while incomes of those in the bottom 10 percent fell 4 percent. Over-65 homeownership rates as a whole dipped to among the oldest Americans. The percentage of single-person households is rising, with the number living alone projected to more than double to 10 million by 2038.
Harvard researchers also cited figures from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development showing an uptick in homelessness among older adults. The percentage of the homeless population that is over 50 jumped from 22.9 percent to 33.8 percent from 2007 to 2013, with the number of people over 62 living in housing shelters rising nearly 70 percent to 76,000.
Since 2013, mail carriers in France have been checking in on vulnerable and elderly residents. The “Watch Over My Parents” program was created by accident. The service began after a heat wave when a number of overburdened city halls asked their local post offices to check on vulnerable and elderly residents. At first, La Poste was happy to do the check-ins for free. Soon afterward it proposed a paid version of the program, called Cohésio, for insurance companies and municipal governments. The service was extended to the general public in 2017 under the name V.S.M.P.
Regular Exercise is good for your heart regardless of your age. You can lower your risk of dying early with a pet dog. Eating mushrooms may lower the risk of prostate cancer.
Some new tech devices for elder care:
Virtual Reality headsets that offer simulations in which caregivers take on the persona of an aging person facing a variety of situations, including macular degeneration, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
A virtual assistant like Amazon’s Alexa that initiates conversation to help a senior stay in touch with family or loved ones, engage in healthy behaviors including nudges to take medication, and stay connected with the outside world.
Robotic cats and pups with sensors that allow them to interact with a human companion as they would with a live pet. The cat responds to touch, rolls over and utters 32 different types of purring sounds. The pup’s heartbeat slows down if a hand is placed on its back.
A toilet seat with sensors that can determine who the user is, and then scans the toilet bowl to determine the size, color, consistency, frequency and shape of the excreta. The data is provided to senior living managers so they can monitor their residents’ health. Information can reveal dehydration, urinary tract infections and diseases like Clostridium difficile (also known as C. difficile and C. diff) and norovirus.
About a third of the people on Medicare select Medicare Advantage plans which are broadening their coverage to keep people healthy instead of waiting to cover their claims once they become sick. The idea behind this thinking is that someone who improves their diet or keeps a chronic condition like asthma under control is less likely to generate a big medical bill.
What’s different this year? The federal government is giving Medicare Advantage plans more leeway to pay for things they would ordinarily never cover. The new supplemental benefits aim to help people with chronic diseases or certain health issues stay healthy when they aren’t seeing a doctor or receiving care.
On the list...carpet shampooing to help their customers with asthma avoid a flare-up that lands them in an emergency room, food for a service dog, pest control and rides to a nutritionist. Also in the works--telemedicine benefits to help patients connect remotely with doctors and other care providers.