Aging and Caregiving in the News

Related topics: Health & Wellness, Caregivers, Brain Health

Information, updates and interesting tidbits about healthy aging, senior care and family caregiving from across the country and around the world

In this issue:

  • Having a job doesn't decrease the workload of family caregivers.
  • A call for senior-friendly emergency rooms and increased geriatric training for ER personnel.
  • Why our brains can't clean up until we go to sleep.

Study: Having a Job Doesn't Reduce Caregiving Duties

Family caregivers today are performing more and more medical and nursing tasks for their elderly relatives. A study by the United Hospital Fund and AARP found that these family members provide medication management, perform wound care, monitor their loved one's health conditions and operate specialized medical equipment. The researchers also looked at the level of care and number of care hours provided by family members who were also employed outside the home, compared with those who were not. Said Susan Reinhard of the AARP Public Policy Institute, "We expected that caregivers who didn't have to manage the demands of a job would have more time to take on these challenging tasks—tasks that would make a nursing student tremble—but our data shows that there's little difference between the two groups."

Though the employed caregivers and non-working caregivers were in a dead heat when it comes to the amount of care provided, the working caregivers pull out way ahead in another category. Said Carol Levine of the United Hospital Fund, "Where we did find a difference was in the stress associated with juggling the demands of caregiving with other responsibilities." Levine reports that while 49 percent of family caregivers who are not employed report feeling stressed, fully 61 percent of the working caregivers reported such stress.

Read the entire study on the United Hospital Fund website.

Are Emergency Rooms Senior-Friendly?

A report from the American College of Emergency Physicians calls for increased training in geriatrics for emergency room personnel, as well as ER features that support the needs of older patients.  Researchers examined data from around the world and found that many senior patients experienced functional and cognitive problems after a trip to the hospital after a fall or other health event.  Said study author Dr. Leonard Gray of the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, "These patients have complex profiles before they come to the ER, and even more complicated needs once they get there. Dependence on others and geriatric illnesses, such as cognitive impairment and mobility problems, affect the majority of older emergency patients across a wide range of nations with different health systems and cultural contexts. They require specialized care to avoid missed diagnoses, pressure ulcers and a range of other potential problems associated with this particular population."

With the growing senior population, more hospitals in the U.S. have established specialized ER facilities for older adults. Said Dr. Gray, "Frailty, confusion and dependence on others make these our most fragile emergency patients. Specialized training in geriatric care and even specialized layout and procedures can help us provide the best assessment and care."

Find the full study in the Annals of Emergency Medicine.   

A Good Night's Sleep Equals a Tidy Brain

Even though you are lying in bed all night, your brain is no slacker! Neurologists recently gained new insight into the mystery of why humans, and most species, sleep. Sleep might seem like a waste of time, and living creatures are certainly more vulnerable during slumber. What function does this biological state serve?

Researchers from the University of Rochester Medical Center recently showed that the old saying, "a good night's sleep clears the mind," is literally true. Using sophisticated new brain imaging technologies, they showed that brain cleans itself during sleep by means of a newly discovered waste removal network called the glymphatic system, removing cellular waste that could be harmful and even lead to diseases such as Alzheimer's. This system does its best work while we sleep. "This study shows that the brain has different functional states when asleep and when awake," said lead author Dr. Maiken Nedergaard. "In fact, the restorative nature of sleep appears to be the result of active clearance of the by-products of neural activity that accumulate during wakefulness."

Why can't our brains clean up while we are awake? Says Dr. Nedergaard, "The brain only has limited energy at its disposal and it appears that it must choose between two different functional states—awake and aware, or asleep and cleaning up." She explains, "You can think of it like having a house party. You can either entertain the guests or clean up the house, but you can’t really do both at the same time."

Watch Dr. Nedergaard and her colleague Dr. Lulu Xie demonstrate the cleansing system of the brain on the University of Rochester Medical Center website.