Category Archives: Aging

Nov 12 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: November 12

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Study Questions Long Term Success of Some Popular Diets
A new study published in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, an American Heart Association journal, suggests that popular commercial diets can help people lose some weight in the short term, but keeping the weight off after the first year and the diet’s impact on heart health are unclear. “Despite their popularity and important contributions to the multi-million dollar weight loss industry, we still do not know if these diets are effective to help people lose weight and decrease their risk factors for heart disease,” said Mark J. Eisenberg, MD, MPH, the study’s senior author and Professor of Medicine at Jewish General Hospital/McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. “With such a small number of trials looking at each diet and their somewhat conflicting results, there is only modest evidence that using these diets is beneficial in the long-term.”

The longest diet studies researchers analyzed lasted for two years, and results were only available for the Atkins or Weight Watchers diets. Those studies found dieters regained some of their weight over time. To better understand the potential benefits from any one or all of these diets, researchers need to conduct large clinical trials directly comparing all four popular diets for long-term weight loss and changes in other heart disease risk factors, said Eisenberg. Read more on obesity.

Bilingual Brains Better Equipped to Process Information
Speaking more than one language is good for the brain, according to new research in the journal Brain and Language that indicates bilingual speakers process information more efficiently and more easily than do those who know a single language. The benefits occur because the bilingual brain is constantly activating both languages and choosing which language to use and which to ignore, said Northwestern University's Viorica Marian, the lead author of the research and a professor in the department of communication sciences and disorders in the School of Communication. When the brain is constantly exercised in this way, it doesn't have to work as hard to perform cognitive tasks, the researchers found. "It's like a stop light," Marian said. "Bilinguals are always giving the green light to one language and red to another. When you have to do that all the time, you get really good at inhibiting the words you don't need." Read more on education.

Alzheimer's-Related Costs Expected to Soar in Coming Decades
Health policy researchers at the University of Southern California have used modeling that incorporates trends in health, health care costs, education and demographics to determine that models show that the number of people expected to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease will soar in the next three decades.

Key findings:

  • From 2010 to 2050, the number of individuals aged 70+ with Alzheimer's will increase by 153 percent, from 3.6 to 9.1 million.

  • Annual per-person costs of the disease were $71,000 in 2010, which is expected to double by 2050.

  • Medicare and Medicaid currently bear 75 percent of the costs of the disease.

"Alzheimer's disease is a progressive disease with symptoms that gradually worsen over time. People don't get better," said Julie Zissimopoulos, lead author of the study and an assistant professor at the USC Price School of Public Policy. "It is so expensive because individuals with Alzheimer's disease need extensive help with daily activities provided by paid caregivers or by family members who may be taking time off of work to care for them, which has a double impact on the economy.” Read more on aging.

Nov 3 2014
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Preventing Elder Falls Before they Happen

Deaths and injuries from falls in people older than age 65 have doubled in the last decade. Last year, 24,000 older people died after a fall and more than two million sustained severe injuries—which can often lead to permanent disability. To find ways to prevent those falls and the injuries, deaths and costs that come with them, earlier this year the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) joined forces on the Falls Injuries Prevention Partnership, which will fund clinical trials at ten U.S. centers over the next five years.

The trials include some implementation of proven fall prevention strategies at the ten research sites. NIH researchers say a key goal is to help change physician behavior about fall prevention, because recent education efforts through conventional medical education channels and other methods have not been very effective.

“With this trial, we will be able to evaluate interventions on a comprehensive and very large scale,” said Richard J. Hodes, MD, director of the National Institute on Aging, which is a division of NIH. “This study will focus on people at increased risk for injuries from falls, the specific care plans that should be implemented—including interventions tailored to individual patients—and how physicians and others in health care and in the community can be involved.”

Each person in the trial will be assessed for their risk of falling, and receive either the current standard of care—information about preventing falls—or individualized care plans first shared with the trial participant’s primary care physician for review, modification and approval. They will include proven fall risk reduction interventions that can be implemented by the research team, physicians and other health care providers, caregivers and community-based organizations.

The trial directors hope to enroll 6,000 adults age 75 and older who have one or more risk factors for falls. The first year of the study is a pilot phase; if the go-ahead is given by NIH and PCORI to proceed with the study after that, enrollment for the full trial will start in June 2015, with participants followed for up to three years. The main goals of the trial are reductions in serious injuries from falls.

“With active input from patients and other stakeholders from the very beginning of this study, we think we can have a major impact, changing practice to make a real difference in the lives of older people,” says PCORI Executive Director Joe Selby, MD, MPH.

The ten trial sites and regions they serve are:

  • Essentia Health, Duluth, Minnesota (Midwest)
  • HealthCare Partners, Torrance, California (Southern California)
  • Johns Hopkins Medicine, Baltimore (Mid-Atlantic)
  • Mount Sinai Health System, New York City (Northeast)
  • Partners HealthCare, Waltham, Massachusetts (Northeast)
  • Reliant Medical Group, Worcester, Massachusetts (Northeast)
  • University of Iowa Health Alliance, Iowa City (Midwest)
  • University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (Mid-Atlantic)
  • University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston Health (Southwest)
  • University of Michigan, Ann Arbor (Midwest)

Data management and analysis will be coordinated by the Yale School of Public Health.

>>Bonus Links:

Oct 28 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: October 28

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EBOLA UPDATE: U.S. Begins Isolating Soldiers Returning from West Africa; Australia Institutes Visa Ban
(NewPublicHealth is monitoring the public health crisis in West Africa.)
The U.S. military has begun isolating soldiers returning from Ebola-fighting efforts in West Africa, while Australia has become the first “rich nation” to impose a visa ban on the affected countries. Public health officials, including those in Washington, D.C., say such measures risk turning the doctors and nurses who help Ebola patients into “pariahs,” according to Reuters. "Returning health workers are exceptional people who are giving of themselves for humanity," said Stephane Dujarric, spokesperson for United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. "They should not be subjected to restrictions that are not based on science. Those who develop infections should be supported, not stigmatized." Read more on Ebola.

Study: Brain Injuries After Age 65 May Increase the Risk for Dementia
Brain injuries after the age of 65 may increase a person’s risk of developing dementia, according to a new study in the journal JAMA Neurology. Researchers analyzed data on almost 52,000 emergency room patients who had suffered traumatic injuries in California from 2005 to 2011, finding that while just under 6 percent of those with injuries outside the brain went on to develop dementia, more than 8 percent of those with moderate to mild traumatic brain injuries did so. While at ages 55 and older, moderate to severe brain injury was associated with increased risk of dementia, by age 65 even mild brain injury increased the dementia risk. "This was surprising and suggests that the older brain may be especially vulnerable to traumatic brain injury, regardless of the traumatic brain injury severity," said study lead author Raquel Gardner, MD, a clinical research fellow with San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center. "Or to spin it more positively, the younger brain may be more resilient to mild traumatic brain injury or may take longer to show symptoms of dementia.”  Read more on aging.

Study: Greater Use of Spices, Herbs Could Promote Healthier Eating
Using spices and herbs to make healthy food more appealing can help reduce sodium, calorie and fat intake, according to a new study in the journal Nutrition Today.  A special edition of the publication, titled Spices and Herbs: Improving Public Health Through Flavorful Eating, includes 16 papers exploring the latest research on spices, herbs and their links to healthy eating. "We now understand that spices and herbs have a meaningful role to play in bringing flavor to the forefront of today's health and wellness conversations," said Johanna Dwyer, DSc, RD, professor of medicine and community health at Tufts University School of Medicine, editor of Nutrition Today. "It will take all of us working together – from scientists to chefs and product developers to policy makers – before we can really begin to improve public health through flavorful eating." Read more on nutrition.

Oct 21 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: October 21

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CDC Updates Guidelines on Health Worker Protective Gear when Treating Ebola Patients
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced last night that it is tightening its infection control guidance for health care workers caring for patients with Ebola, with a specific focus on several key steps:

  • All health care workers must undergo rigorous training and become practiced and competent with protective equipment, including taking it on and off in a systemic manner.
  • No skin exposure is allowed when the equipment is worn.
  • All workers must be supervised by a trained monitor who watches each worker taking the equipment on and off.

The CDC is recommending all of the same equipment in its earlier guidance, with the addition of coveralls and single-use, disposable hoods. Single-use face shields are now recommended instead of goggles. Read more on Ebola.

Most People Polled Don’t Know New ACA Enrollment Period Begins in November
A poll just released from the Kaiser Family Foundation finds few people know that open enrollment for 2015 health insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act begins next month. Other findings of the poll:

  • Two-thirds of responders say they know “only a little” or “nothing at all” about the marketplaces where people who don’t get coverage through their employers can shop for insurance.
  • Just over half say they know that financial assistance is available to help low- and moderate-income individuals purchase insurance. 

Signup begins November 15 and runs through February 15, 2015.

Risk Factors for Sexual Assault Need to be Included in Prevention Efforts
Researchers who conducted a Danish study on sexual assault say that certain risk factors for the attacks—including the age of the victim and their prior relationship with the attacker—must be considered when developing strategies to help prevent sexual assaults. The researchers looked at data from more than 250 women who sought help at a Danish center for sexual assault victims between 2001 and 2010. The researchers found that 66 percent of the women were 15-24 years old and 75 percent had met their attacker before the assault. Nearly half of the women reported that the attacker was a current or former boyfriend, a family member or someone they considered a friend. Women who did not know their attacker previously were more likely to report the assault to the police. “We need to raise awareness of the fact that most sexual assaults are perpetrated by someone known to the woman, often in familiar surroundings ... in order to change the general attitudes towards sexual assault, this information should not only target young people, but also the police, health care professionals and the general public,” said Mie-Louise Larsen, of the Centre for Victims of Sexual Assault and the University of Copenhagen and a coauthor of the study, which appeared in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. Read more on injury prevention.

Positive Images Improve Function in Older Adults
Older individuals who are subliminally exposed to positive stereotypes about aging showed improved physical functioning that can last for several weeks, according to work done by researchers at the Yale School of Public Health. The study, which will be published in Psychological Science, included 100 older individuals with an average age of 81 years. Some participants saw positive age stereotypes on a computer screen that flashed words such as “spry” and “creative.” Those participants who were exposed to positive messaging displayed both psychological and physical improvements but control participants did not. Read more on aging.

Oct 16 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: October 16

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EBOLA UPDATE: CDC May Add Some Health Care Workers to Federal No-Fly List
(NewPublicHealth is monitoring the public health crisis in West Africa.)
In response to the news that a Dallas nurse who tested positive for Ebola flew on a commercial airliner between when she was exposed to the disease and when she was diagnosed, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is considering adding the names of health care workers being monitored for Ebola to the government’s no-fly list, according to Fox News. Seventy workers who helped treat Ebola patient Thomas Edward Duncan at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital are being monitored by the CDC. Read more on Ebola.

HUD: $38.3 Million to Enforce Fair Housing Practices
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has awarded $38.3 million to help enforce the Fair Housing Act through investigations of alleged discriminatory practices, as well as to educate housing providers, local governments and potential victims of housing discrimination about the Fair Housing Act. More than 100 fair housing organizations and other non-profit agencies in 43 states and the District of Columbia will share the funding, which is available through HUD’s Fair Housing Initiatives Program. “Ending housing discrimination is at the core of HUD’s mission and it takes dedicated people on the ground to address it,” said HUD Secretary Julián Castro, in a release. “These funds support community-based organizations that do great work every day on the front lines in the fight for fairness and equality in our nation’s housing market.” Read more on housing.

Study: Adults Who Are Comfortable With Aging More Likely to Seek Preventive Health Care
Older adults who are comfortable with aging are also more likely to be proactive in getting preventive health care services, according to a new study in the journal Preventive Medicine. One of the obstacles that keeps some older adults from seeking out preventive care is the belief that all their physical and mental declines are typical of old age. Researchers at the University of Michigan examined data on 6,177 participants age 50 and older. Among their findings for individuals who reported higher satisfaction with aging:

  • They were more likely to obtain a cholesterol test and colonoscopy over time
  • Women received a mammogram/X-ray or pap smear with greater frequency
  • Men made medical appointments more often to get a prostate exam

Read more on aging.

Sep 12 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: September 12

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EBOLA OUTBREAK: WHO Says Ebola is Spreading at a Faster Rate than Health Workers Can Handle
(NewPublicHealth is monitoring the public health crisis in West Africa.)
Earlier this week, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that the Ebola outbreak in West Africa—the largest in history—shows no signs of slowing down. Today the global health organization followed that by declaring that health officials are currently unable to handle the growing number of cases. "In the three hardest hit countries, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, the number of new cases is moving far faster than the capacity to manage them in the Ebola-specific treatment centers," said Margaret Chan, the WHO director-general, according to CNN. "Today, there is not one single bed available for the treatment of an Ebola patient in the entire country of Liberia." More than 2,400 people have died from Ebola since the start of the outbreak. Read more on Ebola.

Study: Majority of Nursing Home Residents with Advanced Dementia Receive Questionable Medications
The majority of nursing home residents dealing with advanced dementia receive medications that are both questionable—if not outright ineffective—and cost them needless amounts of money, according to a new study in JAMA Internal Medicine. In a review of 5,406 nursing home residents with advanced dementia, researchers determined that slightly more than half (53.9 percent) received at least one medication with questionable benefit; the medications constituted approximately 35.2 percent of the total cost of care for those patients. According to the researchers, the patients’ goals of care should dictate the treatment they receive when dealing with a terminal illness, and medications that don’t promote that primary goal should be minimized. Read more on aging.

Study: ‘Fat Shaming’ is Counterproductive
“Fat shaming” does not promote weight loss and in fact can be counterproductive, according to a new study in the journal Obesity. In an analysis of nearly 3,000 adults tracked over four years, researchers determined that weight discrimination was associated with a weight gain of approximately 2 pounds, while the participants who reported no fat shaming lost an average of 1.5 pounds. "Our study clearly shows that weight discrimination is part of the obesity problem and not the solution," said the study's senior author, Jane Wardle, director of the Cancer Research UK Health Behaviour Centre at University College London (UCL), in a release. "Weight bias has been documented not only among the general public but also among health professionals, and many obese patients report being treated disrespectfully by doctors because of their weight. Everyone, including doctors, should stop blaming and shaming people for their weight and offer support, and where appropriate, treatment.” Read more on obesity.

Aug 21 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: August 21

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Ebola Update: U.S. Doctor Being Treated for Ebola Expected to Be Released from the Hospital Today
(NewPublicHealth is monitoring the public health crisis in West Africa.)
Reuters
and other news outlets are reporting that Kent Brantly, MD, who contracted Ebola in Liberia where he was treating patients for the disease, has recovered from the virus and is expected to be released from Emory University Hospital in Atlanta today. An update on the condition of Nancy Writebol, a health worker who also contracted Ebola in West Africa, is also expected today. Since the start of the current outbreak in West Africa, more than 1,350 people have died of the disease. In an effort to reduce the spread of the disease, officials in Monrovia, the densely populated urban capital of Liberia, began a quarantine to stem the disease outbreak, sparking clashes between residents and troops. Read more on Ebola.

Many Older ER Patients Show Signs of Malnutrition
A new study in the Annals of Emergency Medicine found that many patients over age 65 who go to the emergency room for medical care are also found to be malnourished or at risk of malnourishment. The study authors say the reasons behind the insufficient nutrition include dental problems that make it difficult to eat, depression and lack of access to food. The study suggests that all older patients be assessed for malnutrition during emergency room visits. Read more on aging.

Free Online Search Tool from DOT Lets Consumers Check Vehicle Safety
The U.S. Department of Transportation has released a free, online search tool—accessible at www.safercar.gov—that consumers can use to find out whether a vehicle, including a motorcycle, has been recalled by using the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN). Consumers can find their vehicle identification number by looking at the dashboard on the driver’s side of the vehicle, or on the driver’s side door where the door latches when it is closed. After entering the VIN number into the search tool, a message indicating whether the vehicle was recalled will appear, which will let users choose not to buy or rent the car, or if they own it or are planning to buy it, to have it fixed according to the recall specifics. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is working with the National Automobile Dealers Association to make sure that the VIN tool is used by all U.S. car dealerships. Read more on safety.

 

Aug 19 2014
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A Call to Action to Help Caregivers

This week, NewPublicHealth will run a series on new and creative public health campaigns that aim to improve the health of communities across the country through the use of public service announcements, infographics and more. Stay tuned to learn more about a new campaign each day.

As the country turns increasingly gray, more and more adults are experiencing the stresses and strains of caring for aging family members. It has long been a silent struggle for many of the nation’s 42 million unpaid caregivers, but the full impact of family caregiving is starting to come out from the shadows thanks to a major ongoing campaign from the AARP and the Ad Council first launched in 2012. Through a series of ads for television, radio, print media and digital venues, the campaign aims to raise awareness of the ripple effects of family caregiving and to steer overwhelmed families toward resources that may ease the pressure.

The public service advertisements (PSAs) depict the sense of isolation, responsibility and frustration family caregivers often feel as they tend to their loved ones—providing reassurance that they are not alone with these challenges. The ads also highlight a community of experts set up by the AARP to help caregivers take better care of themselves while caring for others and to encourage caregivers to access online tools or call a toll-free hotline (877-333-5885). The website includes resources on planning for long-term care (legally, financially and in other ways) and advice on dealing with emotional issues such as grief and loss.

Nearly 30 percent of caregivers report feeling sad or depressed, and 33 percent isolate themselves by avoiding people or social situations, according to a 2013 AARP report, Caregivers: Life Changes and Coping Strategies. Moreover, 38 percent of those caring for a loved one say they sleep less since they became caregivers, and 44 percent admit they try to squelch their feelings. An earlier survey by the AARP and the Ad Council, involving 500 caregivers between the ages of 40 and 60, revealed that 31 percent describe their caregiving tasks as extremely or very difficult; 21 percent say they don’t feel like they have the support they need; and 26 percent don’t feel confident about knowing where to turn to find support and information for unpaid caregivers.

“Only those who care for others know what it’s really like to care for others—that’s why we created a community where caregivers can connect with experts and others facing similar challenges,” said AARP CEO Barry Rand. “We hope this campaign will help the millions of family caregivers in the U.S. feel heard and supported, in turn, helping them better care for themselves and for the ones they love.”

As an offshoot of the Caregiver Assistance PSAs, the AARP and Ad Council also launched the “Thanks Project”, a digital opportunity for family members and friends to publicly acknowledge and appreciate how much they value the contributions from the caregivers in their lives. The idea is that a note of thanks can mean a lot to caregivers.

>>Bonus link: Read a NewPublicHealth interview with Gail Sheehy, author of “Passages in Caregiving: Turning Chaos into Confidence.”

Aug 19 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: August 19

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EBOLA UPDATE: Death Toll Passes 1,200; Improvement Seen in Three African Doctors Who Received Experimental Treatment
(NewPublicHealth is monitoring the public health crisis in West Africa.)
The death toll in the ongoing Ebola outbreak in West Africa has passed 1,200, according to the World Health Organization, with infection rates continuing to outpace containment efforts. Concerns over the disease also continue to spread, with a 30-year-old woman in Germany isolated and then taken to a specialist medical unit after being found with a high fever. However, the Liberian information minister was also recently quoted as saying that three African doctors treated with the experimental ZMapp treatment are showing “remarkable signs of improvement.” The drug was used to treat two Americans who are now also showing signs of improvement. Read more on Ebola.

Study: Older Americans Receiving Cancer Screenings Against Recommendations
As many as half of older Americans continue to receive cancer screenings despite the recommendation by several professional societies that certain cancers not be screening for in people who aren’t expected to live for another 10 years, according to a new study in JAMA Internal Medicine. “There is general agreement that routine cancer screening has little likelihood to result in a net benefit for individuals with limited life expectancy,” wrote Trevor Royce, MD, in the study. Keith Bellizzi of the University of Connecticut‘s Center for Public Health and Health Policy in Storrs added that "Each screening test carries different risks and benefits ... Individuals should be counseled about these risks in order to make an informed decision (sometimes involving caregivers or family members)." Read more on cancer.

Study: Dramatic Drop in Deaths, Hospitalization for Heart Disease and Stroke
Lifestyle changes, better treatment and effective preventive measures have caused a dramatic drop in deaths and hospitalizations for heart disease over the past decade, according to a new study in the journal Circulation. In a review of data on nearly 34 million Americans covered by Medicare, researchers found that from 1999 to 2011 hospitalizations rates for heart attacks dropped by 38 percent; rates of unstable angina dropped by almost 85 percent; and hospitalizations for both heart failure and stroke dropped by approximately one-third. "The findings are jaw-dropping," said lead researcher Harlan Krumholz, MD, a professor of cardiology at the Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, Conn, according to HealthDay. "They really show that we have begun to reverse this epidemic of heart disease and stroke." Read more on heart and vascular health.

Jul 28 2014
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Recommended Reading: Life Expectancy Gains Threatened When Older Americans Have Multiple Medical Conditions

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A new study from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health finds that nearly four in five older Americans are living with multiple chronic medical conditions. That’s very concerning, say the researchers, because their work shows that the more ailments a person has after retirement age, the shorter their life expectancy. The researchers say the new study is one of the first to look at the burden of multiple chronic conditions on life expectancy among the elderly and may help explain why increases in life expectancy among older Americans are slowing.

“Living with multiple chronic diseases such as diabetes, kidney disease and heart failure is now the norm and not the exception in the United States,” said Eva H. DuGoff, PhD, a researcher at the school of public health and the lead author of the new study. “The medical advances that have allowed sick people to live longer may not be able to keep up with the growing burden of chronic disease. It is becoming very clear that preventing the development of additional chronic conditions in the elderly could be the only way to continue to improve life expectancy.”

The study found that a 75-year-old American woman with no chronic conditions will live to be an average of 92, but a 75-year-old woman with five chronic conditions will only live to an average age of 87 and a 75-year-old woman with 10 or more chronic conditions will only live to the age of 80. Women continue to live longer than men and white people live longer than black people, based on data from annual U.S. surveys.

On average, life expectancy is reduced by 1.8 years with each additional chronic condition, the researchers found. But while the first disease shaves off just a fraction of a year off life expectancy for older people, the impact grows as the diseases add up. The study is based on an analysis of the records of 1.4 million Medicare enrollees and was published in the journal Medical Care.

Other groups are also beginning to look at this issue. Healthy aging will be this year’s focus of the President’s Initiative of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officers. A year-long focus on healthy aging will begin during the association’s annual conference in September.

Read the full study.