…the healthiest states for people over age 65. Minnesota tops the list of the healthiest places to live for older adults in 2017, according to a new report. It’s the third time in five years that the North Star State has held the top slot in America’s Health Rankings Senior Report. The report ranks each state on 34 measures that help determine overall health, including behaviors such as smoking, access to physical spaces like walking paths, preventable hospitalizations and community efforts to build healthy populations.
Minnesota got the best scores for regular dental care, lower obesity rates and efforts to combat excessive drinking. At the bottom of the list, older residents in Mississippi, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Arkansas all struggle with low physical activity and high levels of smoking and obesity, in addition to difficulty in accessing healthy food.
Those problems are also occurring across the country at the same time that funding for nutrition programs, transportation and other services for low-income people over age 60 is being cut on the national level, so many states are struggling to provide necessary support.
On the positive side, hospital readmissions are down across the United States, and nearly three-quarters of Medicare enrollees now get recommended health screenings. However, when it comes to saving for retirement, many older adults fall short. The report noted that, no matter where they live, most people aren’t saving enough. Nearly three out of four people age 50 to 64—and more than six out of 10 age 65 and older—have saved less than what experts recommend putting aside to cover future health costs.
…geography and heart disease. Your risk of dying from certain types of heart disease may depend on where you live.
Researchers from the University of Washington, Seattle, analyzed public data on deaths from heart disease between 1980 and 2014. Dying from the most common type, coronary heart disease (also called coronary artery disease), happened more often in parts of Oklahoma, the Mississippi River valley and eastern Kentucky.
Clusters of other types of heart disease appeared in the Northwest, Mountain West and Midwest. And stroke risks were higher for those living in the South, including Mississippi, Arkansas and Alabama.
But if you’re lucky enough to live in San Francisco, or in parts of Colorado, Nebraska, Minnesota or Virginia, your chances of dying from coronary heart disease are lower than in other locations.
Pinpointing where more people die from specific diseases can affect local and national health efforts, like community health programs and recommendations for screenings. More research is needed to better understand why these regional difference exist, but experts believe obesity, smoking, diet and physical activity play a role. The study appeared in the May 16, 2017 issue of JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association.
…whether learning like a child can improve an older brain. A researcher at the University of California, Riverside, thinks so. Rachel Wu, PhD, says healthy cognitive aging may be a result of learning new habits and strategies throughout life.
As children, we constantly acquire new patterns and skills, learn from our mistakes and develop multiple abilities at the same time. We also apply previous knowledge and proficiency to new experiences. During infancy and childhood, using these methods actually increases our basic cognitive abilities, like working memory, suppressing distractions and paying attention.
That process slows down as we age. Learning tends to become more specialized, especially as we progress in our careers. We tend to become more efficient in our day-to-day expectations and activities and rarely stray from what we know. Though there are some benefits to this approach, such as productivity and accuracy, there are also downsides, like becoming too rigid or less open to new ideas.
Wu thinks if older adults stretch beyond their comfort zones and embrace the broad learning they did as children, they could improve cognitive health in ways similar to that of children. She wants adults to realize they can learn many new skills at any age. It just takes time and dedication. Wu’s study was published in the April 2017 issue of the Journal of Human Development.
…improving treatment for older pneumonia patients. Antibiotics don’t work at first for nearly one in four adults diagnosed with community-acquired pneumonia (CAP), according to new research presented at the 2017 American Thoracic Society International Conference in May.
Nearly a quarter of patients studied required additional medications, hospitalization or emergency room visits. Patients over 65 were nearly twice as likely to be hospitalized compared to younger patients. The study specifically looked at patients diagnosed with pneumonia who live in the community, versus those who live in nursing homes or developed the disease while hospitalized.
Pneumonia kills more Americans than any other infectious disease and it’s more likely to kill those 65 and older, says the American Lung Association.
In the CAP study presented at the conference, certain types of common antibiotics led to treatment failure for about 22 percent of patients, who were then often prescribed a second round of medications. The problem is that taking too many antibiotics increases the risk of antibiotic resistance. This can make long-term treatment of pneumonia less effective and possibly lead to further complications, including life-threatening infections, according to lead researcher James A. McKinnell, MD, an infectious disease specialist at LA BioMed, a scientific research organization affiliated with the UCLA School of Medicine.
McKinnell said existing treatment guidelines for CAP need to be updated to include more data about those at greater risk of complications and treatment failures. This will help physicians make better care decisions, such as whether to prescribe stronger medication from the start.
Freelance journalist Liz Seegert has been writing about health for nearly 30 years. Her work has appeared in Consumer Reports and Kaiser Health News, on the AARP and New America Media websites and on WBAI-FM/Pacifica Radio. She covers aging for the Association of Health Care Journalists. A native of Queens, NY, she loves to walk with her rescue dog, Duke. You can follow Liz on Twitter: @lseegert.