Category Archives: Aging

Jun 13 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: June 13

Racial and Ethnic Minorities Face Greater Subtle Housing Discrimination
Blatant acts of housing discrimination faced by minority prospective home buyers are declining in the United States, but more subtle forms of housing denial persist, according to a new study by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Urban Institute. The study found that African-Americans, Hispanics and Asians learn about fewer housing options than equally qualified whites. According to the study, which sent out pairs of “mystery home buyers” — one white and one minority — to contact real estate agents and rental housing providers, the minority pairs were recommended and shown fewer available homes and apartments, which can increase their costs and restrict housing options, according to HUD. “Fewer minorities today may be getting the door slammed in their faces, but we continue to see evidence of housing discrimination that can limit a family’s housing, economic and educational opportunities,” said HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan. Read more on housing.

After Second or Third Concussion Kids Take Longer to Recover
Children and adolescents who suffer a concussion have a much longer recovery time if they have had a concussion in the past, according to a new study in Pediatrics. The study authors evaluated 280 patients between the ages of 11 and 22 who were treated for concussion symptoms in emergency departments. Children who had a second concussion within a year had nearly three times the average duration of symptoms compared to children whose concussions occurred more than one year apart. The number of previous concussions also affected recovery time. Two or more prior concussions resulted in a much longer duration of symptoms compared to those who experienced no or one previous concussion. Other factors that resulted in a longer recovery time included being age 13 or older and having more severe symptoms at the time of the emergency room visit. Read more on injury prevention.

Hearing Loss in Seniors Can Increase Hospitalizations and Poor Health
A new study published in JAMA finds that seniors with hearing loss are at increased risk for hospitalization, illness, injury and depression. The study authors reviewed records of more than 1,000 men and women age 70 and older with hearing loss, finding that over a four-year period they were 32 percent more likely to have been admitted to the hospital than a comparison group the same age with normal hearing. The hearing-impaired seniors in the study were also 36 percent more likely to have extended stretches of illness or injury and 57 percent more likely to have extended episodes of stress, depression or bad mood. According to the researchers, hearing loss affects two-thirds of men and women aged 70 and older. Among their recommendations to reduce the health burdens of hearing loss are expanding Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement for hearing-related services; increased installation of amplification technology in more facilities; and more accessible and affordable approaches for treating hearing loss. Read more on aging.

Apr 10 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: April 10

Smoking in Youth-rated Movies Up Dramatically
Smoking scenes in youth-rated movies is back up to the same levels as about a decade ago, with approximately half of such movies in 2012 providing 14.8 billion “tobacco impressions,” according to a new study funded by Legacy. Tobacco impressions are calculated by multiplying incidents of tobacco use by the number of film tickets. From 2010 to 2012 alone the rate was up 169 percent; 2010 was an historic low for tobacco impressions. This trend is dangerous because of the way movies can influence youth behavior. "Increases in smoking imagery in the movies are discouraging," said Tom Frieden, MD, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Every day in the United States approximately 3,800 youth under 18 smoke their first cigarette, and approximately 1,000 become daily cigarette smokers. Reducing smoking and tobacco use in youth-oriented movies will help save lives, money, and years of suffering from completely preventable smoking-related chronic diseases." Read more on tobacco.

Online Tool Helps Family, Friends Determine Whether an Older Driver is Safe
A new free online tool can help family members and caregivers of drivers age 65 and older determine whether they’re safe to continue going out on the roads. The Fitness-to-Drive Screening Measure questionnaire, developed by researchers at the University of Florida (UF), provides a rating profile, recommendations on how to move forward and links to an array of resources. Sherrilene Classen, PhD, MPH, an associate professor of occupational therapy at the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions and the tool’s lead developer, said it’s designed to give a realistic assessment of the driving abilities without requiring an on-the-road evaluation. “We know from our research and others’ that drivers do not give valid self-reports,” said Classen, “Most everybody thinks they are driving better than they actually are. Because we don’t have the evaluators to assess the 36 million older adults who may potentially at some stage require a driving evaluation, we went to the next-best step, which is involving their caregivers or family members.” Read more on aging.

Study Links Breakfast Cereal, Healthier BMIs for Kids
Helping kids maintain a low BMI could be as simple as giving them cereal for breakfast, according to a new study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The study found that children who had cereal for breakfast four out of nine mornings were in the 95th percentile for BMI; kids who had cereal every day were in the 65th percentile. Researchers say the study shows the ability to combat childhood obesity by making breakfast cereal available to low-income kids; one in four U.S. kids live in a “food insecure household,” according to lead author Lana Frantzen, PhD. "(Cereal) is an excellent breakfast choice, it's simple, and gets those essential nutrients that children need, especially low income minority children," she said. Read more on obesity.

Apr 4 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: April 4

U.S. Spends More on Dementia than Either Heart Disease or Cancer
At as much as $215 billion annually, the cost of dementia care in the United States is now higher than the costs for either heart disease or cancer, according to a new study in the New England Journal of Medicine. That includes the costs for both professional and family care. And the costs will only rise as the population ages, with as many as 14 million Americans expected to have Alzheimer’s by 2050, according to HealthDay. "It's not a happy situation," said lead researcher Michael Hurd, a senior principal researcher at the nonprofit research institute RAND. "A lot of the costs fall on families, and right now, there's no solution in sight." Read more on aging.

Brain Stimulation Could ‘Turn Off’ Compulsive Drug-Taking
Targeting a specific region of the brain could help turn off addictive behavior, according to a new study in the journal Nature. Researchers at the Intramural Research Program of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), part of the National Institutes of Health, and the University of California, San Francisco were able to reduce compulsive cocaine-seeking in rates by stimulating their prefrontal cortexes. They believe this technique could ultimately be used to stop compulsive drug-taking in humans. “We already knew, mainly from human brain imaging studies, that deficits in the prefrontal cortex are involved in drug addiction,” said NIDA Director Nora D. Volkow, MD. “Now that we have learned how fundamental these deficits are, we feel more confident than ever about the therapeutic promise of targeting that part of the brain.” Read more on addiction.

Study: Black Men Wait Longer to Begin Prostate Cancer Treatment
Black men wait longer than white men to begin prostate cancer treatment after diagnosis, according to a new study in the journal Cancer. Researchers at the University of North Carolina found a delay of seven days with early prostate cancer and nine days with aggressive prostate cancer. As the study looked at Medicare data, the researchers know all the men were insured so it wasn’t a lack of insurance stopping them from seeking treatment earlier. Multiple studies also show that black men in general are less likely to be screen for cancers and to receive aggressive treatment. "Now we have shown that African American patients also wait longer for treatment,” said study leader Ronald Chen, MD, an assistant professor at UNC's Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center. “I think all of these disparities together add up to contribute to worse long-term survival outcomes for African American patients." Read more on health disparities.

Mar 18 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: March 18

Harvard Study: Public Supports Policy Interventions to Reduce Disease Burden
A survey by the Harvard School of Public Health finds that the public greatly supports government action with the goals of changing lifestyle choices that can lead to obesity, diabetes and other non-communicable diseases. However, the survey found that people are less likely to support actions that seem intrusive or coercive. The survey was published in Health Affairs. In a second poll from the Harvard School of Public Health, National Public Radio and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, researchers found a large gap between parents’ perceptions of their children’s weight and expert definitions. According to the parents, 15 percent of children are a little or very overweight; national data suggest more than twice as many, or 32 percent of all children, are overweight or obese. Read more on obesity.

Is Facebook Biased Against Older People?
Researchers at the Yale School of Public Health reviewed publicly available Facebook pages and found that many sites created by younger people often included negative age stereotypes. Some even suggested (possibly in jest) that older people should be killed. One Facebook group description, for example, stated that anyone “over the age of 69 should immediately face a firing squad.”

“Facebook has the potential to create new connections between the generations,” says Becca Levy, the lead author of the study. “Instead, it may have created new obstacles.” The study was published in The Gerontologist. Read more on aging.

Drug Use and Mental Health Issues Linked to Dropping Out of College
Marijuana and other illegal drug use, as well as mental health problems, are associated with an increased likelihood of dropping out of college, according to research from the University of Maryland School of Public Health. The research was part of the College Life Study, a longitudinal prospective study of health-risk behaviors among 1,253 college students between 17-19 years old, who were interviewed annually for four years, beginning with their first year of college. The study was published online in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs. Read more on substance abuse.

Mar 6 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: March 6

Study: Tech-based Aids Can Prevent Costly Mistakes, Delayed Diagnoses
Technology-based health care aids may help physicians and prevent costly mistakes and delayed diagnoses, according to a new review of evidence in Annals of Internal Medicine. Examples of effective aids include text message alerts sent to doctors, computer programs that use symptoms to generate lists of possible diagnoses and policies that reward doctors who make accurate diagnoses. "I think there's a general feeling that we're probably going to need multiple strategies," David Newman-Toker, MD, who studies diagnostic errors at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore and was not involved in the study, told Reuters. "Ultimately I think the biggest bang for the buck is going to come out of decision-based computer support of one kind or another, but it's not going to be easy, and it's not going to be tomorrow." Read more on technology.

Checklist Could Help Older Americans Estimate Whether They’ll Live Another Decade
A new checklist in the Journal of the American Medical Association could estimate whether people age 50 and older will still be alive in 10 years. The checklist is designed to help health care providers and patients make better decisions. The 12 factors were determined through an analysis of data from a national study of nearly 20,000 U.S. adults older than 50. They include age, sex, weight, smoking, the presence of diabetes, lung disease, heart disease and certain physical limitations. Read more on aging.

CDC: Lethal, Drug-resistant Bacteria Spreading in U.S. Healthcare Facilities
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) March 2013 Vital Signs report, a family of bacteria called Carbapenem-Resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE) has become increasingly resistant to last-resort antibiotics during the past decade, and more hospitalized patients are contracting infections that in some cases cannot be cured. CRE are usually transmitted from person-to-person, often on the hands of health care workers. During just the first half of 2012, almost 200 hospitals and long-term acute care facilities treated at least one patient infected with these bacteria. 

Currently, almost all CRE infections occur in people receiving significant medical care in hospitals, long-term acute care facilities, or nursing homes. “CRE are nightmare bacteria. Our strongest antibiotics don’t work and patients are left with potentially untreatable infections,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH.

Last year, CDC published a CRE prevention toolkit with recommendations for hospitals, long-term acute care facilities, nursing homes and health departments. Key recommendations include:

  • Enforcing use of infection control precautions (standard and contact precautions)
  • Grouping patients with CRE together
  • Dedicating staff, rooms and equipment to the care of patients with CRE, whenever possible
  • Having facilities alert each other when patients with CRE transfer back and forth
  • Asking patients whether they have recently received care somewhere else (including another country)
  • Using antibiotics wisely

In addition, CDC recommends screening patients in certain scenarios to determine whether they are carrying CRE. Because of the way CRE can be carried by patients from one health care setting to another, facilities are encouraged to work together regionally to implement CRE prevention programs. In some parts of the world, CRE appear to be more common, and evidence shows they can be controlled. Read more on bacteria.

Feb 8 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: February 8

Baby Boomers’ Health Trailing Their Parents’ Generation Despite Medical Advances

Baby boomers, the generation born in the two decades after World War II, are in worse health than their parents were at the same stage of life, according to a U.S. study published in JAMA Internal Medicine. Researchers analyzed data from National Health and Nutrition Surveys (NHANES) of people 46 to 64 years old between 1988 and 1994 and the baby boomers who were in the same age range between 2007 and 2010.

In spite of medical advances, the study shows the boomers fared worse than their parents at the same age:

  • 13 percent of the baby boomer generation reported being in “excellent” health in middle age, compared to 32 percent of the previous generation
  • 39 percent of boomers were obese, compared to 29 percent of the previous generation
  • 16 percent of boomers had diabetes, compared to 12 percent of the previous generation.

While the study doesn’t explain why baby boomers are in worse shape than their predecessors, Dana King, the study’s lead author believes it may be attributed to their poor lifestyle habits.

Read more on nutrition and obesity

Alcohol Price Increase Leads to Immediate Drop in Drink-Related Deaths

Increasing the minimum price of alcohol by 10 percent can lead to immediate and significant drops in drink-related deaths, according to a study published in the journal, Addiction. Conducted by Canadian researchers in the western province of British Columbia, the study looks at three categories of alcohol related deaths: wholly alcohol attributable, acute, and chronic.

Each death rate was analyzed from 2002 to 2009 against increases in government-set minimum prices of alcoholic drinks. The major finding relates to wholly attributable deaths in which a 10 percent price rise was followed by a 32 percent death rate drop. Researchers say the reason for the lower death rates are likely due to the fact that raising the price of cheaper drinks makes heavy drinkers drink less.

Read more on alcohol

Intimate Partner Violence and Maternal Depression May Be Associated with Child’s ADHD

Preschoolers with known exposure to intimate partner violence (IPV) or parental depression may be more likely to develop attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) by the age of six and be prescribed psychotropic medication, new research from JAMA Pediatrics Journal suggests. Researchers from Indiana University looked at 2,422 children who were part of the Child Health Improvement Through Computer Automation (CHICA) program, a computer-based decision support system that combines elements for implementing clinical guidelines in pediatric practice. Researchers collected information related to IPV and mental status of the parents, as well as the child's psychotropic drug treatment between 2004 and 2012.

Fifty-eight caregivers reported a history of IPV and/or parental depressive symptoms before their child turned three. Sixty-nine reported IPV only and 704 reported depressive symptoms only during this time frame. Children of parents reporting both IPV and depressive symptoms were more likely to have a diagnosis of ADHD and children whose parents reported depressive symptoms were more likely to have been prescribed psychotropic medication. While the study doesn’t prove a cause-and-effect link between IPV and/or maternal depression and likelihood of an ADHD diagnosis, the researchers say it does show a strong association.

The American Association of Obstetrics and Gynecology recently issued guidelines recommending that women get screened by their physicians for intimate partner violence at regular intervals, including during pregnancy. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, which advises the Department of Health and Human Services, recently issued final guidelines for doctors to screen women of childbearing age for intimate partner violence and either provide or refer women who appear to be victims of IPV for services.

Read more on pediatrics

Jan 16 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: January 16

CNN: President Will Call for Wider Gun Control
CNN is reporting that when President Obama releases his list of gun control proposals later today, they will include a ban on assault weapons, restrictions on high-capacity ammunition magazines, stronger background checks for people purchasing guns and increased funding for U.S. mental health services and school safety efforts. Read more on violence.

DOT Proposes Minimum Sound Rules for Hybrid, Electric Cars
The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) is proposing  minimum sound standards for electric and hybrid cars to help make pedestrians and bicyclists more aware of the cars when the vehicles are approaching.  

According to DOT, electric and hybrid vehicles do not rely on traditional gas or diesel-powered engines at low speeds, making them much quieter and more difficult to hear when they approach people walking or biking. DOT estimates that the proposals could result in 2,800 fewer pedestrian and cyclist injuries over the life of each model year of hybrid cars, trucks and vans and low speed vehicles, compared to vehicles without sound.

New sounds for the cars created by car manufacturers would need to be detectable under a wide range of street noises and other ambient background sounds when the vehicle is traveling under 18 miles per hour. A sixty day comment period on the new proposals begins today. Read more on safety.

New NIH-Supported Alzheimer's Studies to Focus on Prevention and Innovative Treatments
With a goal of effectively treating and preventing new cases of Alzheimer’s disease by 2025, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has announced funding for four major studies: drug and exercise interventions for people in the early stages of the disease, a new drug to reduce agitation in people with the disease, and a new approach to faster testing of drugs in clinical trials. Read more on aging.

Dec 26 2012
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Public Health News Roundup: December 26

APHA Supports Measures to Protect Against Gun Violence
The American Public Health Association (APHA) has expressed its strong support for action to protect our nation’s children and their families from the growing epidemic of gun violence. “Gun violence is one of the leading causes of preventable death in our country and we must take a comprehensive public health approach to addressing this growing crisis,” said APHA Executive Director Georges Benjamin, MD. “For too long, we as a nation have failed to take on this devastating problem in our communities, and we can wait no longer.” Key steps recommended by the APHA include:

  • Adopting common sense gun control legislation (such as reinstating the federal ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines) and closing the “gun show loophole,” which exempts private sellers of firearms from conducting criminal background checks on buyers at gun shows.
  • Expanding the collection and analysis of data related to gun violence and other violent deaths to better understand the causes and allow authorities to develop appropriate interventions to prevent such violence.
  • Ensuring adequate funding for critical mental health services.

Read more on violence.

FDA Expands Use of Flu Drug for Kids Younger than 1 Year
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has expanded the approved use of Tamiiflu, a key drug used to treat influenza, for children as young as two weeks who have had flu symptoms for no longer than two days. Eight babies have already died of flu this season, so having an approved treatment is critical. Tamiflu was first approved in 1999 to treat adults. Its approved use was later expanded to treat children a year old and older as well as to prevent the flu in adults and in children a year old and older. The new approval is for treatment only, not for prevention of the flu. Vaccination with flu vaccine begins at six months of age, according to the CDC. Read more on flu.

HUD Awards $26M to Convert Apartments to Assisted Living or Enhanced Service Senior Housing
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has awarded $26 million in grants to the owners of multi-family housing developments in nine states to convert some or all of their apartments into assisted living or service-enriched environments for elderly residents. The funding is provided through HUD’s Assisted Living Conversion Program, which helps convert apartments into units that can accommodate the special needs of seniors who want to “age in place.” “We’re getting older as a nation and with that demographic shift, there is a growing demand for affordable housing that will allow our seniors to live independently in their own homes,” said Carol Galante, HUD’s Assistant Secretary for Housing and Federal Housing Commissioner. Read more on aging.

University of North Carolina Researchers Receive Grant to Develop Post-Disaster Recovery Benchmarks
Two University of North Carolina (UNC) researchers have received a U.S. Department of Homeland Security Grant to develop indicators of effectiveness for post-disaster recovery efforts. "This project is particularly important because it focuses on giving practitioners at the federal, state, and local levels the tools they need to measure how well a community is recovering from a disaster," said Jennifer Horney, PHD, research assistant professor of epidemiology and director of the UNC Center for Public Health Preparedness at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Gillings School of Global Public Health. The grant will be administered by the Coastal Hazards Center of Excellence at UNC. Read more on Hurricane Sandy.

Dec 12 2012
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Public Health News Roundup: December 12

Study Links Diabetes, Rise in Severe Vision Problems
Diabetes may be responsible for a significant increase in serious vision problems in U.S. adults, according to a new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association. From 1999 to 2008, the rate of severe problems climbed 21 percent for adults ages 20 and older. "There has been a change on two fronts during the last seven to 10 years. One is that visual impairment is increasing, and this is visual impairment that can't be fixed with glasses. The other is that 20- to 39-year-olds are now losing vision as well," said Fang Ko, MD, an study author, ophthalmologist and resident at the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore. There were other contributing factors, but researchers identified diabetes as a consistent contributor. While diabetes has become more manageable, the study’s findings demonstrate the need for people to be more away about the risk factors that can lead to the disease. Read more on diabetes.

Americans Living Longer, But Not Always Healthier
While Americans are living longer on average, chronic diseases mean that those extended lives are not always healthier, according to the United Health Foundation's 2012 America's Health Rankings. In 2009, the American life expectancy was 78.5 years. "As a nation, we've made extraordinary gains in longevity over the past decades, but as individuals we are regressing in our health," said Reed Tuckson, MD, a medical adviser at the United Health Foundation and chief of medical affairs at the UnitedHealth Group. Preventable chronic conditions include diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure. Read more on aging.

Study: Junk Food Taxes Can Improve Nutrition, Health
Junk food taxes that help subsidize fruits and vegetables can help improve eating habits and overall public health, according to a new study in the journal PLoS Medicine. A price increase of as little as 1 percent would cut the consumption of fatty foods by 0.02 percent, while a 10 percent jump in the price of soda would cut consumption by as much as 24 percent. While the rates might seem relatively low, researchers believe the positive health benefits would be greater for low-income families, who are at higher risk for poor health due to inadequate nutrition. Read more on nutrition.

Dec 11 2012
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Public Health News Roundup: December 11

Study: Genetics Could Keep People from Quitting Tobacco
Is genetics to blame for a recent plateau in the numbers of people who smoke?  Quite possibly, according to a new study by Jason Fletcher, PHD, an associate professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Yale School of Public Health. Cigarette smoking in the United States dropped sharply after the release of a landmark Surgeon General’s report on the dangers of tobacco was released in 1964, according to Fletcher, a former Robert Wood Johnson Health & Society scholar. But in the last two decades smoking cessation has stopped its descent, despite increased efforts from both the private and public sectors. Fletcher’s study, published in PLOS ONE, says some smokers may have a variation of a nicotine gene receptor that does not respond to social efforts to reduce smoking, such as higher taxes and clean-air laws that prohibit smoking in many public places. The study found that smokers with a specific nicotine genetic variant decreased their tobacco use by nearly 30 percent when faced with high tobacco taxes, while smokers with an alternative genetic variant had no response.  Fletcher says the study “is an important first step in how to further reduce adult smoking rates.” Read more on tobacco.

Regular Exercise Can Add Years to a Person’s Life
Regular exercise can help extend a person’s life for years, according to a new study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. Specifically, researchers found white men who were physically active at the age of 20 lived about 2.5 years longer than non-active white men. However, the most dramatic findings were for black women, who lived an average of six years longer if they exercised for about 2.5 hours a week. "We were able to show that if black women engage in an hour of vigorous activity like jogging or swimming, that would extend their lives by 11 hours,” said Ian Janssen, study author and an associate professor who studies physical activity at Queen's University in Ontario. Researchers said there could be other contributing factors to the longer lifespans, such as diet, and the subject needed further research. Read more on aging.

HUD: Number of Homeless People Down Slightly in 2012
The number of homeless people is down slightly—0.4 percent—from last year, according to data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). “We continue to see a stable level of homelessness across our country at a time of great stress for those at risk of losing their housing,” said HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan in a release. “We must redouble our efforts to target our resources more effectively to help those at greatest risk.  As our nation’s economic recovery takes hold, we will make certain that our homeless veterans and those living on our streets find stable housing so they can get on their path to recovery.” The analysis is a part of HUD’s 2012 Point-in-Time Estimates of Homelessness. Read more on housing.