Entries in Elderly (35)


General Anesthesia Linked to Increased Risk of Dementia in Elderly

Pixland/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A new study shows that senior citizens who go under general anesthesia during medical procedures may experience an increased rate of dementia.

General anesthesia is used to make a patient unconscious and unable to feel pain or discomfort during medical procedures. Often, anesthesia is delivered through intravenous drugs or inhaled gases.

Elderly patients frequently develop a conditioned known as post-operative cognitive dysfunction (POCD) after major surgeries. Experts believe that POCD may be a precursor to lasting dementia.

In a study, researchers in France followed over 7,000 patients who did not suffer from dementia and analyzed data taken from those patients over a span of ten years.

Over 22 percent of those who had a medical history including general anesthesia developed dementia. That rate is 35 percent higher than in patients without a history of general anesthesia, 18.7 percent of whom developed dementia.

It is possible that other health conditions contributed to a higher rate of dementia, as senior citizens who undergo procedures requiring general anesthesia may be less healthy than those who did not require those procedures.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


How Old Is Too Old to Drive?

Hemera/Thinkstock(LOS ANGELES) -- A driver who will be 101 in September backed out of a parking lot near an elementary school in Los Angeles, plowing into 11 people, including nine children.  Fortunately no one died as a result of the incident on Wednesday, but it highlights the challenge that aging drivers and their families face in deciding when it’s time to get off the road.

Although they only account for about nine percent of the population, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration statistics show senior drivers account for 14 percent of all traffic fatalities and 17 percent of all pedestrian fatalities.

A recent report by Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found the rate of deaths involving drivers 75 to 84 is about three per million miles driven -- on par with teen drivers. Once they pass age 85, vehicular fatality rates jump to nearly four times that of teens.

Richard Nix, executive director of, says many senior drivers don’t realize their eyesight, hearing and reflexes aren’t as sharp as they used to be. They may be taking medication that impairs judgment, memory or coordination, or suffer from arthritis or Alzheimer’s. Consequently they may not realize it when they blow past a stop sign, forget to signal a right turn or confuse the gas pedal with the brake.

Even when they admit to themselves that they’re driving skills may not be up to par, some older drivers are still reluctant to hand over their keys. According to Nix, loss of driving privileges is a difficult and emotional issue for many.

“People have been driving their whole life and have trouble believing they’re incapable of continuing,” he said. “They feel like their independence has been taken away.”

And Nix points out, it’s frequently a difficult subject for loved ones to face as well. They may feel a pang of fear every time their elderly parent gets behind the wheel but are reluctant to confront them for fear of hurting their feelings.

Nix says that if need be enlist the help of other family members, friends or their physician when a loved one presents a danger on the road. In some cases, it may even be appropriate to take legal action, though laws vary from state to state.

Whether an elderly driver comes to the conclusion on their own that it’s time to surrender their license or they’re forced to do so, it’s a big moment and it can be devastating. But the consequences of not doing so may be even more devastating. offers the following advice for senior drivers to evaluate when it’s time to stop driving:

  • Conditions like cataracts and glaucoma can diminish sight and hamper driving ability. An eye doctor can help establish whether your sight is good enough to drive safely.
  • Many older drivers no longer have the strength or dexterity to handle a car. They may shrink in height so much they can no longer see over the windshield. This is especially true for seniors who do little or no physical activity.
  • Alzheimer’s can impair memory and judgment. Diabetics risk falling into a coma while driving. Even if you have long periods of time when health issues cause no problems, why risk it?
  • Medications, especially multiple medications, can greatly impair driving ability. Your doctor should advise you of the dangers your medications present while driving.
  • If the minor fender-benders are adding up or you simply feel less confident about driving, it’s OK to admit it to yourself that your driving days are over.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Super-Agers: How Some 80-Year-Olds Can Have the Memory of a 50-Year-Old

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Researchers are looking at the brains of "Super-Agers," the small percentage of people who retain a sharp mind even as they age well into their 80s.

Watch ABC News' World News report on Super-Agers:

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Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Heart Weakness Common Yet Undiagnosed in Some Older Patients

Comstock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Older people living with heart abnormalities that could lead to heart failure may have never had those abnormalities diagnosed, meaning they miss out on treatments that could help, according to a new study.  But deciding whether someone would benefit from taking these drugs in the last stages of life is important too, doctors say.

The heart naturally gets weaker as people age, but Bernard Keavney, a professor of cardiology at Newcastle University in Tyne, England, and the study's lead author, said scientists don't often study heart failure or the best way to treat it in the very old.

"We can only treat heart failure if we know it's there," Keavney said.

Keavney and his team went to the homes of about 375 people ages 87 to 89 living in northeast England, armed with equipment to test their heart function.  They found that about one-third of them had a heart with a reduced ability to pump blood, called a left ventricular systolic dysfunction.  Another 20 percent had a diastolic dysfunction -- heart muscles that could not relax enough to allow the heart's chambers to fill with blood, keeping the heart from pumping enough blood to the rest of the body.

People aren't born with these abnormalities, but they increase as people age and develop cardiovascular diseases, such as high blood pressure and coronary artery disease.  They can also lead to heart failure, a condition in which the heart can't pump blood effectively to the rest of the body.

For 26 percent of the people in the study, the problems had never been diagnosed by a physician.

The findings were published Tuesday in the journal Heart.

It's not clear why these people had never gotten a diagnosis.  Doctors say it could be that they simply didn't realize there was a problem and may have thought their symptoms, such as shortness of breath and fatigue, were simply part of old age.

"Likely because the level of activity in these patients in these kinds of home care settings is low, they don't stress their heart enough to know that there is a problem," said Dr. Robert Myerburg, a professor of medicine and physiology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.

About 5.8 million Americans have heart failure, according the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, and as greater numbers of people reach old age in many Western countries, it's possible that that number will grow.

Keavney said because greater numbers of people survive heart attacks, these kinds of heart abnormalities may increase.

"There would have been people in previous years who would have come into the hospital after a heart attack and died from it.  Now more may survive, but they're going home with a weakened heart," he said.

Doctors say although the symptoms of these heart abnormalities seem pretty common for older people, it's important that they not be dismissed as simply signs of "old age."

"There is no clinical diagnosis of 'old age,'" said Dr. Clyde Yancy, chief of cardiology at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and a past president of the American Heart Association.  "We should keep our antenna up at all times for treatable diseases that may reduce symptoms and improve the quality of life."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Elderly Binge Drinkers Face Higher Risk of Cognitive Decline

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(VANCOUVER, British Columbia) -- Women have been told for years that a glass of wine a day could actually improve their health, because it's good for the heart and brain. But researchers in San Francisco warned Wednesday at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference in Canada that elderly women who drink moderately could be at increased risk for decline in brain function.

The researchers said that adults older than 65 who reported heavy drinking at least twice each month more than doubled their likelihood to suffer loss of memory and brain function. Consuming four or more alcoholic beverages at a time was considered in the study as heavy binge drinking.

So how much alcohol should a woman be drinking?
"As always, the key is moderation or one drink a day for women be it wine, beer or spirit. It lowers risk of heart disease and stroke.  And it helps protect your brain from mental decline," said Dr. Richard Besser, ABC News' chief health and medical editor.

But, Dr. Besser cautions, "women who are pregnant or trying to get pregnant shouldn't drink. And women at high risk for breast cancer should also think twice. Your risk goes up 10 percent if you have a daily drink. But otherwise, drink up -- a little."

Tina Hoang, the study's lead author and clinical research coordinator at the San Francisco Veterans Administration Medical Center explained why alcohol consumption in late-life may not be beneficial for cognitive function in older women.

"It may be that the brains of oldest old adults are more vulnerable to the effects of alcohol, but it is also possible that factors associated with changing alcohol use related to coping or loss could be involved," Hoang said. "Clinicians should carefully assess their older patients for both how much they drink and any changes in patterns of alcohol use."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Higher Doses of Vitamin D Reduce Hip Fracture Risk for Elderly Women

Creatas Images/Thinkstock(ZURICH) -- Not all studies have drawn positive conclusions about vitamin D. Now a new study published in a prestigious medical journal suggests it can have a powerful positive impact on the elderly, who account for about 75 percent of hip fractures.
Called the "sunshine vitamin" because it's manufactured in our bodies naturally with exposure to sunlight, vitamin D has been found to have a protective effect on women's bones. Swiss researchers found that women 65 and older who took at least eight international units (IU) of D per day, reduced their risk of hip fractures by 30 percent.

But, reports HealthDay, the higher the dosage -- the better, according to study author Dr. Heike Bischoff-Ferrari from the Center on Aging and Mobility at the University of Zurich.

"[D]ose matters, as we saw this benefit only at the highest intake level of greater than 800 IU per day, and no dose below 792 IU per day reduced fracture risk," she said.

The authors concluded their study, which appears in the New England Journal of Medicine, that if everyone took the recommended daily dose, the impact would be enormous since hip fractures are the most severe and frequent fractures among the elderly and often lead to disability and death.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Fospice Program Provides Homes for Elderly, Terminally Ill Pets

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- It may be hard for an animal lover to imagine, but many elderly and terminally ill dogs and cats are abandoned by their owners just when they need their people the most.

And that's where the ASPCA of New York City's "Fospice" volunteers step in.  These volunteers open their hearts and their homes to animals at the end of their lives.  The animals chosen for the Fospice program are not adoptable, and are instead placed in homes that are part foster, part hospice.

"It's a very special call, and not everybody is up for it or can do it.  But we've never had anybody drop out of the program once they've gotten in," said Diane Wilkerson, director of volunteer programs.

The program grew out of a need to place animals that weren't easily adopted out.

"We started to get this subset of elderly dogs and cats.  Sometimes it was animals that had a terminal illness," said Wilkerson.  "They weren't suffering, they could still move along, but it brought back their ability to be adopted.  So we got to thinking about how we could help these animals out and decided to hybrid hospice and foster."

While the baby animals tend to get adopted quickly, the same isn't true for older pets.

"They love to be around people, they're still eating their food, but they're at the end of their lifespan and not just suitable for adoption," said Dr. Jennifer Lander, director of Medicine at the ASPCA of New York City.  "People aren't coming in and saying I'd like a 15-year-old Labrador Retriever, they're coming in looking for puppies or younger animals."

There's a wide range in the health of the dogs and cats in the program.  Many are simply old; others have a more serious condition.

"In years past, when an animal was diagnosed with cancer or organ failure, it was sort of a death sentence but it doesn't mean that it's a death sentence on that day," said Lander.  "It's a matter of watching and managing and doing what you can do while balancing quality of life."

The shelter provides full support for the Fospice parents, including all medical care and even sheltering the animal if the family needs to go away.

"We consult with the foster parents like they're the owners or adopters and they get literature with a lot of information.  They get websites to refer to so they really understand the animal's medical condition, and they have a support network so when they have questions or problems we can answer," Lander said.

People who are interested in a Fospice-type program should call their local animal shelter and ask if there's a subset of the foster program -- very common in shelters around the country -- that deals specifically with elderly and terminally ill animals.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Nursing Home Sex Stifled by Safety Fears

Comstock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- With single beds behind unlocked doors, nursing homes do little to support sex among seniors, argues an editorial that says the elderly -- even those with dementia -- retain the right to a healthy sex life.

The editorial, published Monday in the journal Public Health Ethics, tackles the touchy topic of geriatric sex just as the early baby boomers begin to hit their 70s.

But one in eight Americans over age 65 has Alzheimer's disease, a sobering stat that stokes safety fears among nursing home staff.

"[Nursing home] staff should keep in mind that persons with dementia have lived with their sexuality for much longer than they have lived with dementia," wrote the editorial's authors, from the Australian Center for Evidence-Based Aged Care at La Trobe University in Bundoora.  "It should not be up to the individuals with dementia to prove that they have the capacity to decide whether or not to engage in sexual behavior, but, rather, the onus is on staff to prove incontrovertibly that they do not."

Alzheimer's disease affects memory, thinking and behavior, raising delicate questions about a person's ability to make important decisions.

"A resident with dementia may not be able to render informed consent to an operation that has a significant risk of death but may be able to decide on what flavor of ice cream he would like for dessert," the authors wrote.  And, they argue, "decisions about whether or not to engage in sexual behavior are closer to those about ice cream than surgery."

Sexuality is considered a fundamental human right, say the authors.  And intimate relationships can help lessen feelings of loss and loneliness that come with age, says Robin Dessel, director of memory care services and sexual rights educator at the Hebrew Home at Riverdale in New York.

"Older adults need to have pleasures, because that's what helps counterbalance the challenges they face when they become infirmed and move into a nursing home," said Dessel, who in 1995 helped draft the home's policies on sexual expression.  "Our general philosophy is that this is still a life to be lived.  Your rights carry with you throughout your lifetime.  It's not as though you arrive at a nursing home and you vacate those rights."

At the Hebrew Home, residents have access to private rooms, and staff members carefully read cues to ensure sexual relationships are consensual.

"I fully appreciate and never stand in judgment of nursing homes that are reluctant or concerned," said Dessel, explaining how the subject of sex can make some staff, not to mention residents' loved ones, uncomfortable.  "We have to safeguard older adults, but that doesn't mean medicalizing their lives."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Older Adults Pick Better Online Passwords

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The old adage, “With age comes wisdom,” continues to be true, even in this youth-oriented tech-savvy world. A new study finds that people over the age of 55 are far better at choosing secure passwords than teens and young adults.

In a study conducted by the University of Cambridge, computer scientist Joseph Bonneau analyzed password data from 70 million Yahoo users and found the passwords of older adults are twice as strong as those under the age of 25.

The study also discovered that people who changed their passwords frequently were more likely to have stronger passwords.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


‘Old People’s Odor’ Exists, But Not Unpleasant

Comstock/Thinkstock(PHILADELPHIA) -- Elderly people do emit a characteristic odor, but it turns out they might actually smell better than younger people, according to a new study published online in PLoS ONE.

Researchers at Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia found that people could distinguish among the body odors of different age groups.

They asked 41 people to evaluate odors collected from the armpits of study participants from three different age groups -- people between the ages of 20 and 30; between 45 and 55; and between 75 and 95.

The evaluators rated the odors from the younger groups as more unpleasant than the odors from the elderly participants, and they also found that the older people’s odors were less intense.  The evaluators could also determine that odors came from old people, but could not correctly attribute the odors from the other groups.

These findings, said co-author Johan Lundstrom, confirm the popular belief of an “old people smell.”

“We do have an old people odor, but when taken out of the popular context, it doesn’t smell as bad,” said Lundstrom.

The study also found that younger men smelled worse than younger women, but among the participants older than 75, men and women smelled pretty much the same.

It’s not clear exactly what’s behind the ability to discriminate between the age groups and the sexes, the authors wrote.

“An older study found that there is one chemical that varies with age, but we don’t know if that’s the chemical people are picking out,” Lundstrom said.

It’s also possible that the loss of testosterone, changes in the skin, changes in the sweat glands or a combination of these factors play a role in why the sexes don’t smell much different at older ages.

There may be an advantage to being able to discern the smell of old age among animals.

For example, the authors wrote, “older male insects have a higher reproductive success than their younger competitors,” and “reproductive success is a highly sought-after trait.”

The authors also believe it’s likely that had the evaluators been aware that the odors came from elderly people, they may have rated them as more unpleasant.

Future research, they continued, will focus on identifying the mechanism behind age-related body odor discrimination.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio