At the top of each month, we like to give you information about current health research and alerts that impact people 50 and older. Here’s what’s new that you should know about:
1. Cold Temperatures Increase Fracture Risks. A study out of the University of Michigan recently found that all the severely cold weather that’s been crossing the country lately has a significant impact on bone health. Their research revealed that older people are at an increased risk of dangerous, disabling fractures from severe cold and ice.
In fact, University of Michigan is working on the “Slipperiness Score”, designed much like pollen alerts that would tell people how elevated their risk is during certain days of the week due to bad weather. So in the not too distant future, the weather reports may also feature “slip and fall” alerts.
For example, on a day with a score of 4 or above, your risk for a wrist fracture (common in older women) increases to 21%. With severely cold weather, the risk could jump to 40%. Over 1,000 wrist fractures occur in the winter compared to other seasons. Medicare spends over $240 million a year in claims for fractures of these types, which can be very disabling and lead to loss of independence.
2. New Food Labels Can Help You Manage Your Health. Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences report that food nutrition labels are getting an update. The new labels will reflect what’s currently known about nutrition that wasn’t known 20 years ago when the labels first came into use. Such information like specific types of fiber, serving sizes, sugar content and transfats that wasn’t clearly known 20 years ago will be part of the label update, as well as serving size data.
Studies show that about 75% of Americans refer to nutrition labels before buying foods with women tending to use them more than men. They’ve also demonstrated that using them has a positive impact on creating healthier diets and achieving weight control. The new labels will allow serving size information to be more clearly understood.
Many people think that certain foods and beverages are “single serving” foods when they more often contain 2-3. This miscomprehension can account for a much greater intake of calories, fat, sugar, etc than the consumer understood. In addition, the researchers feel that it would be more helpful to consumers to post measurement sizes in teaspoons, tablespoons, rather than in grams.
It’s also proposed that visual aids on labels like a traffic light symbol with red (not healthy), green (healthy), yellow (moderation), can provide additional help to consumers in choosing healthier foods. Many researchers feel the label updates will help all consumers eat healthier, but particularly older people who may have certain conditions associated with aging like diabetes or heart disease.
3. Got Afib? Watch Your Aspirin Intake. New studies out of the European Society of Cardiology have delineated the concern of people being over-treated with aspirin for stroke prevention in atrial fibrillation. Atrial fibrillation, or Afib, is a fairly common condition in older people, occurring in 1.5–2% of the world population over the age of 40. People with Afib have a five-fold increase risk of stroke and, when stroke occurs in Afib patients, they more often result in greater disability and/or death.
Aspirin acts as a blood thinner and is commonly given to prevent the development of stroke. It’s often given in tandem with another anticoagulant such as warfarin, etc. The researchers concluded, based on the number of incidences of brain, and other types of hemorrhaging, in Afib patients treated with aspirin, that aspirin is being over-prescribed, is not really that effective and at worst is harmful. It’s their opinion that aspirin should not be given at all in patients with stable vascular disease. If you’re on aspirin for atrial fibrillation, talk to your doctor about it.
4. Caregiving and Psychological Stress. Many people over the age of 50 are caregivers to older parents, siblings, or even their children. A recent study out of the University of Washington shows that caregiving can cause psychological distress characterized as anxiety, depression, insomnia, etc. But, the severity of the distress – how stressful it is perceived to be to the person affected – depends more on genes and familial upbringing rather than the severity of the caregiving chores themselves.
In homes where caregivers grew up, if there was a lot of fear and anxiety, distress, in relation to illness, loss of job, than the caregiver will likely experience that same type of response in their caregiving roles. Likewise, caregivers who were experiencing stress and anxiety in their lives before taking on caregiving roles were more likely to experience worsening of these symptoms in a kind of “salt in the wound” effect.
Caregivers with chronic illnesses, like diabetes or heart disease, also experience worsening of their conditions while caregiving. Caregiver stress can be positively helped by having better support systems in place through friends, other family members, and stable incomes. Learning coping mechanisms for caregiving can also help.