Life Expectancy Growth in the U.S. – Slowing Down

When I read the article Americans Fall Behind in the Getting Older Race at National Public Radio (NPR), I was impressed by the graphics — and how easy they were to understand — so I decided to share one or two of them here at As Our Parents Age, along with more information about the report that the NPR article describes.


NPR’s life expectancy story, by Robert Krulwich, shares a good deal of  information, but I’ve added links to the book and PDF as well as sharing the two graphs. Explaining Divergent Levels of Longevity in High-Income Countries (194 page pdf), is a book recently published by the National Academy of Sciences. The book attempts to answer the question about why the United States is experiencing decreasing gains in life expectancy, a question posed by the National Institute on Aging (NIA), a part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Reading chapter I of the book, which includes many more graphs, is not difficult. Though the balance of the book includes a lot of technical language, it might be called descriptive epidemiology, it’s not at all impossible to read, and the digital version allows a reader to click and enlarge the charts.

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Grandfather First Refused Medicare Because of Scare Tactics and Misinformation

Affordable Care

If the system is too busy or too slow, do exactly what you do with online banking or at other online sites — wait a while and try again.

It’s funny how changes in health care policy seem to generate anxiety, anger, and all sorts of misinformation in the United States. Well, actually it’s not so funny.

How is it that so few people can scare so many others when it comes to keeping many more people healthy? But that describes what has happened with the Affordable Care Act. A small number of fear mongers have frightened many others — often citizens who can benefit from better access to health care.

My husband’s grandfather, a small-town merchant, refused Medicare for years, because of the anxiety, anger, and misinformation associated with the passage of the laws. He would have benefitted if he had signed up in a timely manner for the Medicare coverage that he was entitled to receive. In those days he would have needed to get the forms, probably lengthy ones, fill in the information, mail them, and wait around for several weeks — not like today when, once the IT experts tweak the computer systems, people will be able to sign up in a day or two.

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Inside the Dementia Epidemic: A Book Review

pb_rgb_72dpi1A few  years ago, when my mother-in-law was sinking deeper and deeper into dementia, my husband and I suddenly realized, with some help from professional geriatric counselors, that the devious brain disease had been lurking for some time. Although we had noticed a number of memory issues and behaviors, we continually chalked them up to mundane issues of aging and personality. By the time we realized what was really going on and got serious about supporting his mother, she was well into the fourth stage of dementia, and we had missed many opportunities to offer support.

When I first read Inside the Dementia Epidemic by Martha Stettinius, I could not put it down. Right in front of my eyes, the author described and documented almost every step that her mother (and ours) experienced, first early on and then as it progressed incrementally. I wish that the book had been around for us to read five or six years ago.

Inside the Dementia Epidemic should be required reading for anyone who is beginning to notice changes and to feel concern about an elderly parent. Stettinius writes clearly, though not without emotion, about her caregiving role and her mother’s developing illness, sharing observations, explaining how her mother was changing, noting the effects of caregiving on her family’s life, and documenting the many caregiver support services that she found to be personally helpful. She describes the nuances of aging parental finances, sharing what she learned, pinpointing her mistakes, and highlighting the difficult decisions that she and her husband made.

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Empowering Through Design: What a Health-Wellness Concept!

We’ve all had experiences trying to accomplish a task that is way too hard — and one reason it’s so difficult is because the environment is not designed to help a person function and work efficiently. Many of us have watched our aging parents grow frustrated, especially in medical settings, where equipment and furniture is overly complex and where even simple things, like light switches, sometimes look like they belong in the complex control panel of an airplane. And it’s not just elders, but patients in general. In the biography by Walter Isaacson, Apple Computer’s Steve Job, then seriously ill and hospitalized, noted that hospital equipment needed dramatic redesigning.

Click on this thumbnail to see a larger picture of the rolling hospital tray mentioned in the Wired article.

To learn more check out Empowering Patients Through Design, a short article at Wired Science reporting on a speech at the Wired Health Conference. The October 15, 2012 article describes Michael Graves’ presentation, explaining how he became a hospital patient and then discovered that he could no longer function efficiently — even in a rehabilitation setting. The medical rooms, equipment, and other materials were poorly designed for people with disabilities.

Graves, a renown architect, found a new calling, combining his professional knowledge with his experience as a patient and becoming a proponent of human centered design. This type of architecture aims to make health care environments, as well as other settings, more comfortable and user-friendly. “I decided that since I was a designer and architect and a patient, I have the credentials to do this,” Graves said at the conference.

In health care human centered design focuses on every part of the patient’s care experience from hospital and patient rooms to floors, light switches, and even signs. Graves and his group have designed hospital furniture that takes the specific needs of patients into consideration.

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Don’t Forget About Your Blood Pressure

Over at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website, the Vital Signs September 2012 issue focuses on controlling good pressure. The article, Getting Blood Pressure Under Control: Many Missed Opportunities to Prevent Heart Disease and Stroke, explains that many people are not treating their blood pressure and many others are taking medication but not monitoring enough to know that the treatment is not effective.  Adult children and their aging parents need to monitor blood pressure.

To make the point that people of all ages need to tune in about blood pressure issues, the Vital Signs feature includes some terrific graphs such as the one I’ve reproduced below.

Aging Parents and Hospital Admission for Observations

When your parents go to the hospital and need to stay over night or longer, be sure the medical staff admits them as official patients and not for observation (which means that technically they are not admitted at all).

People hospitalized for observation do not qualify for Medicare’s skilled nursing care benefit after leaving the hospital, and they will have much higher out-of-pocket costs because many Medicare benefits require formal admission as an inpatient to a hospital, not a stay for observation, which is more like outpatient status.

Much has been written recently about this situation. Brown University gerontologists published their findings in the June 2012 Health Affairs (abstract), explaining that the number of observations rose 34% when compared to standard hospital admissions in 2007-2009. The study analyzed a huge amount of data — the Medicare claims of 29 million individuals between 2007 and 2009.

A report on the study in the June 4, 2012 Kaiser Health News, Study: Hospital Observations Stays Increase 25 Percent in Three Years, points out how researchers also found that patients under observation stayed in the hospital longer than admitted patients — some “observed” for longer than three days.

Interesting Quote from the Kaiser Article                 Continue reading