Aging and Caregiving in the News

Related topics: Brain Health, 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:

  • You know not to talk on your cell phone while driving. Is making a call while walking safe?
  • A new online incontinence information center encourages women to overcome embarrassment and take charge of their treatment.
  • Neurologists report that merely watching another person in action might be beneficial for people who are recovering from stroke.

Millions Injured as they Walk and Talk … Or Text

Most of us are aware of the dangers of driving and cell phone use, and prudent senior drivers pull over if they need to make a call. "The role of cell phones in distracted driving injuries and death gets a lot of attention and rightfully so," says Ohio State University professor Jack L. Nasar. "But we need to also consider the danger cell phone use poses to pedestrians."

Nasar and a research team from the OSU Department of City and Regional Planning examined data related to pedestrian-car accidents, falls and other injuries involving "distracted walking," and conjectured that up to two million injuries each year may be related to walking while using a cell phone. Most of the injured walkers were talking on their phones; a smaller number were texting. (Nasar cautions that this does not mean that texting is safer than talking—instead, it is probably because more people interrupt their stroll so as to text with greater ease.) As might be expected, most of the injured were younger people, who are more likely to be distracted by their devices. But seniors too should obviously be cautious. Nasar says, "As more people get cell phones and spend more time using them, the number of injuries is likely to increase as well. Now people are playing games and using social media on their phones, too." So, the lesson is: if you want to chat, text, post on Facebook or play a quick game of Angry Birds—pull over! Even if you are walking.

New Resource Helps Women Take Control of Urinary Incontinence

Over 25 million Americans experience urinary incontinence, most of them women. Urinary incontinence (UI) is the inability to maintain control over the release of urine from the bladder. Women who suffer from this problem often withdraw from social connectedness and physical activity—both of which are so important for healthy aging. Yet many people think UI is "just part of growing older," and that nothing can be done. To help dispel this notion, and to help women who are living with UI take charge of their own treatment, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHQR) recently released an online, interactive decision-making tool to help women learn more about the causes and treatment of UI. The decision aid materials include easy-to-understand information and four sensitive, informative videos. For example, the well-known Kegel exercises are helpful for many women, but patients often leave the doctor's office in embarrassment, clutching a sheet of how-to instructions that don't adequately explain the correct technique—which is especially serious because performing these exercises incorrectly can actually make the problem worse. The AHQR offers a five-minute video of detailed instructions that women can watch in the privacy of their own homes. Other features of the site include a comparison of treatments and a list of questions patients should ask at medical appointments.

Could Stroke Rehabilitation Patients Benefit From Watching Others?

Neurology research continues to provide fascinating insights into the amazing versatility of the human brain. Recently, using MRI imaging, a University of Southern California team found that when a person who has suffered a stroke watches another person performing tasks that would be difficult for the patient—for example, using a pencil—their strongest brain activity occurs in the damaged region that would be used perform the action they are observing. Could this finding lead to new therapies promoting a more rapid rehabilitation curve for people who have had a stroke? Explains Carolee Weinstein, director of the USC Motor Behavior and Neurorehabilitation Laboratory, "It's like you're priming the pump. You're getting these circuits engaged through the action observation before they even attempt to move." She describes the process as being "a kind of virtual exercise program for the brain that prepares you for the real exercise that includes the brain and body." Lead author Kathleen Garrison of Yale University School of Medicine says, "If we can help drive plasticity in these brain regions, we may be able to help individuals with stroke recover more ability." The study appeared in the journal Stroke.