Clues to Dementia Often Missed in Vulnerable Older Adults


Dr. Anna Chodos, a UCSF geriatrician, has worked with many seniors who lived in dangerous situations due to lack of awareness and early screening for dementia. (Ryder Diaz/KQED)

Editor’s Note: As Californians live longer, the number of dementia, a disease that destroys not only memory but also critical-thinking skills will grow. As part of our ongoing series on health, called Vital Signs, we hear from Anna Chodos, a physician specializing in geriatrics. She says that social services can often keep people with dementia safe in their homes, but many older adults aren’t getting the diagnosis they need. 

By Anna Chodos

To diagnosis [dementia] early is to give people a chance to be a part of planning for the future in a very meaningful way. And that’s exactly what I’m not seeing. I’m seeing people stuck in situations where they now don’t have the ability to engage with you in complicated decision making and they’re not making safe decisions for themselves.

Dementia can affect your ability to remember to pay bills. It affects your ability to comply with your medical plan. Continue reading

How 6 Fabulous British Women Age — With Style

By Rachael Myrow

A great Friday story if ever there was one!

This British documentary looks at aging through the lens of six women in their 70s, 80s and 90s. But not just any women, these women are Fabulous Fashionistas who dress “with style and panache that belies their advancing years,” according to the film’s website. Check it out:

How a Video Game Can Make an Aging Brain Young(er) Again

By Angela Hart

Who knew playing video games might be good for you?

A provocative new study from researchers at UC San Francisco shows that playing a specially designed video game increased the ability to multitask for people in their 60s, 70s and 80s.

Adam Gazzaley of UCSF’s Neuroscience Imaging Center led the study. He recruited 174 people over 60 to play NeuroRacer, a custom-built game that forced participants to navigate winding roads, quickly turn left and right, go uphill and downhill — and then click a button whenever a distracting green sign pops up. Take a look:

The participants played the video game three times a week for a month and improved cognitive functions of the brain, not only in multitasking but also in paying attention for longer time spans. In fact, they improved so much that they reached the level of an untrained 20-year-old. This is the first time this kind of improvement has been demonstrated, the researchers noted in their study.

Gazzaley explained more on KQED’s “Forum” recently. He said the idea is to identify the brain’s “plasticity,” meaning its ability to change even as it ages — a concept that brain researchers haven’t always thought possible. Continue reading

More Single Boomers Share Homes — and Health Support

By Julie Rovner, NPR

Lorene Solivan moved into the "Golden Girls" house in October after seeing an ad on Craigslist. An event manager at a food company, Solivan says she often cooks dinner for the group. (Maggie Starbard/NPR)

Lorene Solivan moved into the “Golden Girls” house in October after seeing an ad on Craigslist. An event manager at a food company, Solivan says she often cooks dinner for the group. (Maggie Starbard/NPR)

Today more than 1 in every 3 baby boomers — that huge glut of people born between 1948 and 1964 — is unmarried. And those unmarried boomers are disproportionately women. As this vast generation rushes into retirement, there’s a growing concern among experts on aging: Who will take care of all these people when they’re too old to care for themselves?

It’s a question many of the experts take personally. “That is what scares me,” says Sara Rix, who works for the AARP Public Policy Institute, studying the economic prospects of women in the workforce. “Because I am one of those people,” she says, “and I do think about it.”

“Oh, I’ve got wonderful nieces and nephews,” Rix says, noting that’s what a lot of her boomer peers claim, too. “Well, in fact, they’ve got their families. They’ve got their in-laws. They’ve got their parents. And I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect much out of them.”

Kathleen Kelly, who runs the Family Caregiver Alliance and the National Center on Caregiving in San Francisco, says she’s seeing the same sort of concern in her social circle. “I’m in my 50s, and my friends are all talking about, ‘Could we all move in together? Could we buy an apartment building and all live together?’ There are all sorts of permutations of this conversation,” Kelly says. “But it really is something that people are thinking about, particularly women.”

And, because boomers are boomers, some are doing more than just thinking about it. Already, there’s a small but apparently growing movement of boomer women forming group houses with their single peers. Continue reading

Support for Patient and Caregivers: New Program for Alzheimer’s and Dementia Care

By Stephanie O’Neill, KPCC

There is a 45% increased risk of death in people who are lonely compared to not lonely, according to a UCSF study.

(Photo: Getty Images)

It’s late morning as Linda Kerr of Canyon Country helps her 85-year-old mother navigate the indoor hallway of her Hollywood apartment.

“Be careful, Ma,” she gently cautions as her mother takes tentative steps forward. “C’mon, get closer to the walker — you’re walking too far away.”

The going is slow and precarious as Martha Kerr, who is recovering from a cracked vertebra in her neck, inches along the corridor guiding the walker for her mom. Her caregiver, Virginia, walks behind her with the wheelchair that will be used to transport Martha after the journey to the elevator is complete.

“The most important resource that a person with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia has is their caregiver — much more important than their doctors.”
This particular morning is a good one for the elder Ms. Kerr. She’s in good spirits, and she recognizes her daughter. On other days she’s more irritable, and she sometimes confuses Linda for her own mother. A series of strokes have left her with dementia. Today, the trek to the elevator lasts about five minutes and is the first leg in the Kerrs’ commute to the Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center.

They’re heading to the hospital to get help and become among the first to enroll in UCLA’s Alzheimer’s and Dementia Care Program. Funded by philanthropic dollars and a federal innovations grant, the program is designed to help patients and family caregivers deal with dementia. Continue reading

Henry Cisneros on Policies to Help California Seniors Age in Place

California's aging baby-boomer population has policymakers and developers thinking about how to let them age at home. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

California may be the sixth youngest state right now. But it has an outsized population of Baby Boomers.

“They are turning 65 soon,” says Adele Hayutin, a Senior Research Scholar at the Stanford Center on Longevity.

“We’ll have a doubling of our older population over the next 20 years,” Hayutin says. “That makes us aging faster than the United States, which I think is a bit of a surprise to people.”

In a recent paper, Hayutin wrote that projections show in 2040 California’s population will be slightly older than the nation’s as a whole. That has implications for policy makers, developers, and residents — everyone who lives here will feel the effect.

And the sooner the planning starts the better, says Henry Cisneros.

Cisneros is the former Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development under President Clinton. He just co-edited a book with two scholars at Stanford – Jane Hickie and Margaret Dyer-Chamberlain – called “Independent for Life: Homes and Neighborhoods for an Aging America.

“When we listen to older Americans themselves,” Cisneros says, “when they describe the things they fear about aging in place … it’s things like isolation, being left alone and not being able to negotiate neighborhood streets. Not being able to get to the doctor or grocery store.” Continue reading

Who Will Care for the Caregivers?

By Kamal Menghrajani

Some paid caregivers are barely making ends meet. (Getty Images: Justin Sullivan)

Some paid caregivers are barely making ends meet. (Getty Images: Justin Sullivan)

Some people who care for vulnerable older adults are in dire economic straits, according to a new study [PDF] from the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research.

Hundreds of thousands of people provide care – from cooking and cleaning to bathing and dressing – for adults with disabilities or long-term illnesses who receive benefits from Medi-Cal. As it turns out, those who get paid for this work may not be pulling in enough money to make ends meet.

Geoffrey Hoffman, a researcher at the Center and lead author of the report said, “These paid Medi-Cal caregivers have incomes that are quite low compared to other Californians, about half as much monthly household income.”

“This aging population [of caregivers] is going to lead to great burdens on the health care system.”

He continued, “A third of them do not have health insurance. A number of them live in poverty or near-poverty, and, among those, a third of them have what is called ‘food insecurity’ – not enough food to put on the table every month.”

At issue is the amount that Medi-Cal is paying these caregivers. Even if you add income from other jobs, they earn a little over $11 per hour on average — close to minimum wage, and about two-thirds of the median income in California — making it difficult for them to live on their earnings. Many believe that the value of the care they provide is much greater than what they earn, but monetary constraints have led California lawmakers to decrease financial support for these services.

Continue reading

Aging is a Part of Life, Not a Disease

(Patrick: Flickr)

(Patrick: Flickr)

Researchers and health advocates have long been encouraging people to make their end-of-life wishes known. While most people say they want to die a natural death at home, few actually put those wishes into writing.

But at least equally important is thinking about how to enjoy quality of life while aging. A new book seeks to help people address these questions. Kaiser Health News interviewed Nortin Hadler, the author of “Rethinking Aging.”

I especially like the book’s tagline: “Growing Old and Living Well in an Overtreated Society.” Hadler is concerned about the medicalization of aging. “We’re taught and marketed that all changes in appearance and in function in older people are forms of disease that demand treatment,” he told Kaiser Health News. “But often, that isn’t true. Much that is termed a disease is a normal aspect of this time of life and needs to be viewed as such.” Continue reading