Aging and Caregiving in the News

Related topics: Eating Right, Fall Prevention, Safety

Information, updates and interesting tidbits about healthy aging, senior care and family caregiving from across the country and around the world. In this issue:

  • Obesity can have a devastating effect on senior independence.
  • Patients are urged to avoid errors in their care by taking a more active role and speaking up.
  • Each year, many people are injured during air travel—while they are still in the airport.

Overweight Seniors Experience Decreased Muscle Strength and Walking Speed

University of New Hampshire researchers test research subject Martha Thyng for walking speed, power and strength. Credit: Courtesy of Dain LaRoche. Photo used with permission.


Gerontologists have long been concerned about disability caused by loss of muscle mass in "bird-thin" elder patients. "That's the chorus that's been sung for the last 20 years," says Dain LaRoche, assistant professor of kinesiology at University of New Hampshire. "But with two-thirds of Americans overweight or obese and the elderly population expected to double by year 2030, we are going to see a large portion of people who are disabled due to the concurrent gaining of weight and loss of strength."

LaRoche was lead researcher on a study that examined the impact of excess weight on senior health. The UNH team found that overweight test participants had an average of 24% lower strength than normal-weight participants, and a 20% slower walking speed. "Everything pointed to the fact that it was the extra fat that these people were carrying that was really limiting their mobility," says LaRoche. "Being of a normal body weight lets you perform activities of daily living and live on your own longer."

The researchers urge overweight older adults to lose weight and build up their strength through an appropriate muscle training exercise program. Says LaRoche, "Even the oldest old people can have dramatic increases in strength."

The study was published in the Journal of Electromyography and Kinesiology.

Patients Are Urged to Speak Up About their Care

A recent study in the journal Health Affairs showed that patients often hesitate to ask questions during health care appointments and treatment. The Joint Commission, the largest health care accrediting body in the United States that promotes quality and safety, reminds us that patients play a pivotal role in avoiding medical mistakes. To educate the public about the problem and to help improve the quality of care, the Joint Commission recently released helpful, easy-to-read information to help patients take charge of their own health quality. The SpeakUp program reminds patients to:

  • SPEAK UP if you have questions or concerns. If you still do not understand, ask again. It is your body and you have a right to know.
  • PAY ATTENTION to the care you get. Always make sure you are getting the right treatments and medicines by the right health care professionals. Do not assume anything.
  • EDUCATE YOURSELF about your illness. Learn about the medical tests you get, and your treatment plan.
  • ASK a trusted family member or friend to be your advocate (advisor or supporter).
  • KNOW what medicines you take and why you take them. Medicine errors are the most common health care mistakes.
  • USE a hospital, clinic, surgery center, or other type of health care organization that has been carefully checked out. For example, The Joint Commission visits hospitals to see if they are meeting The Joint Commission's quality standards.
  • PARTICIPATE in all decisions about your treatment. You are the center of the health care team.
Source: The Joint Commission. Find the full-length "Speak Up" free booklet and more patient education materials on The Joint Commission's website. 

For Senior Air Passengers, the Greatest Danger May Be…the Escalator

At Boston's Logan International Airport, emergency vehicles arrive, on average, every 56 hours—not in response to an airplane accident, but because someone, often a senior, has experienced a fall inside the terminal. Over a third of these people required treatment in a hospital emergency room.

The Massachusetts Port Authority, who are in charge of the airport, recently asked Boston Medical Center researchers to study the problems of airport falls. The team found that almost half of the people who fell were over age 65. The most common location for the falls was the escalator. The study's leader, Dr. Jonathan Howland of the BMU Injury Prevention Center, reports that carrying luggage on the escalator, using a cell phone during the escalator ride, not using handrails and compromised strength and balance due to age were factors in these fall incidents.

Logan International has put a fall prevention plan in place, which will include signage to urge certain passengers to take the elevator. No matter which airport you are traveling through this summer, skip the escalator and take the elevator instead if you have mobility or balance problems or are traveling with a large or heavy bag. Arrive at the airport a few minutes early, in case there is a line for the elevator. This can help ensure that your trip will be to your vacation destination—not to the hospital.