An experimental blood test was highly accurate in detecting Alzheimer’s disease, scientists have reported. A promising breakthrough that could make diagnosis simple, affordable and widely available.
The test was able to determine whether people with dementia had Alzheimer’s instead of another condition, the New York Times reported. It also identified signs of Alzheimer’s 20 years before memory and thinking problems were expected in people with a genetic mutation that causes the degenerative, deadly disease, the outlet said.
“This blood test very, very accurately predicts who’s got Alzheimer’s disease in their brain, including people who seem to be normal,” Dr. Michael Weiner, an Alzheimer’s disease researcher at the University of California, San Francisco, told The Times.
The research was published in JAMA Network Open and presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference.
The blood test — which performed as accurately as more invasive methods such as MRI brain scans, PET scans and spinal taps — provides a much simpler and more affordable way to diagnose whether people with cognitive problems were experiencing Alzheimer’s, as opposed to another type of dementia.
Such a blood test also may eventually be used to predict whether someone without symptoms would develop the disease, according to The Times.
“It’s not a cure, it’s not a treatment, but you can’t treat the disease without being able to diagnose it. And accurate, low-cost diagnosis is really exciting, so it’s a breakthrough,” said Weiner, who was not involved in the study.
The test could be available for clinical use in as little as two to three years, experts said.
by Matt Sutterer Health Specialist, Division of Neuroscience (DN)
The ability to stand or sit without falling seems simple enough, but it actually involves a complex orchestration behind the scenes of our visual, positional, and vestibular systems. Aging can affect all three of these sensory systems, resulting in balance disorders such as dizziness or vertigo and increased risk for falls. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in four Americans aged 65 or older reports falling each year, and 20% to 30% of those who fall suffer moderate to severe injuries.
Robust research has helped us understand how vision contributes to balance in older adults. However, there has been significantly less research conducted on how balance is affected by the aging vestibular system — the organs of the inner ear that help us sense movement and orientation in space. How these systems interact in the brain, both in healthy aging and in older adults with neurodegenerative diseases and conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias and Parkinson’s disease, is not well understood.
Seeking a steadier research landscape
In April 2019, NIA, in partnership with the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), hosted a two-day workshop, “Central and Peripheral Control of Balance in Older Adults.” Workshop co-chairs Coryse St. Hillaire-Clarke (Program Director, Division of Neuroscience) and Lyndon Joseph (Program Director, Division of Geriatrics and Clinical Gerontology) led the effort that featured presentations from an array of researchers and clinicians across diverse fields, including gerontology, geriatrics, neurology, neuroscience, movement science, and rehabilitation. A white paper was recently published highlighting the workshop’s outcomes.
The discussion focused on three key questions:
How does aging impact vestibular function?
We lack a good understanding of aging’s impact on vestibular organs and the brain areas to which they connect and how these changes relate to clinical symptoms.
How do we tease apart the different contributions of age-related sensory and motor changes in an older adult with balance problems?
Common symptoms like dizziness, disequilibrium, unsteady walking, and increased falls can result from age-related changes in the vestibular system, other sensory systems, and even musculature or cognition. Determining the effects of each is vital for identifying treatments for balance disorders.
How can we develop a better classification system of balance problems in older adults?
The field currently lacks a widely accepted model of balance that reflects its multimodal nature. This is needed to guide the development of clinical outcome measures and to translate balance interventions into clinical or community settings.
NIA is interested in helping to answer the question of how aging affects the vestibular system and how these changes interact with other factors that lead to balance impairment. Given the multidisciplinary and multisystem nature of balance, a team science approach will be critical to this effort.
Funding available — let’s hear your ideas!
If you are interested in tackling these and other questions about the vestibular system and balance in aging, please apply for the funding opportunity announcement released earlier this year in collaboration with NIDCD by October 2, 2020. Contact Dr. Joseph or Dr. St. Hillaire-Clarke for more details. We would love to hear your questions or comments!
In June We celebrated World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. There can be many ways the elderly are abused by family or those close to them. Let’s look at abuse from a financial aspect.
Financial abuse can be a complicated subject, but at its most basic level it involves taking advantage of an older adult through manipulation or intimidation to steal their money or property.
Elderly adults are some of the most vulnerable to financial abuse. Some of the biggest risk factors for older adults include:
Isolation – Isolation can cause extreme loneliness in seniors, leaving them desperate for any sort of social connection. Many abusers target elder adults for this reason.
Lack of knowledge of financial matters – Elder adults who don’t pay much attention to or don’t understand financial issues can be tricked into giving over secure information.
Disability – Whether the older adult has a physical or mental disability, they are dependent on others to take care of themselves. This leaves them vulnerable to manipulation and intimidation by caregivers. Disability can also make an elder adult seem less likely to take action against the abuser.
Who is most likely to abuse?
Unfortunately, abusers are rarely unknown to the abused. In fact, those who are most likely to abuse are the ones who are closest to the elder individual or someone that he or she trusts. The most common financial abusers include:
Family members – Family members can have different motivations for committing financial abuse. They may feel entitled to their relative’s money or property, especially if they are due to inherit from the elder or are in a caretaking position.
Caretakers – A caretaker can be a family member or someone who is paid to provide care to an older adult in the elder’s own home. As such, a caretaker is the person who has the most access to the elder.
Professionals in whom the elder trusts – Professionals are people in whom the elder adult depends on to take care of the things he or she is not capable of handling alone anymore. These services can range from attorneys to someone your relative hires to take care of the lawn. Abusers can take advantage of older adults by overcharging for services or manipulating them into signing documents that they don’t understand.
Scammers and con artists – Some predators prey specifically on elder adults, counting on their social isolation and lack of knowledge about financial matters to be able to gain access to their victim and their financial assets.
What types of financial abuse exist?
Financial abuse can take different forms, depending on the relation of the abuser to the elder adult. Common tactics include (but are not limited to):
Theft of money or property
Using manipulation or intimidation to force him or her to sign legal/financial documents
Forging his or her signature
Telemarketing and email scams
How can you prevent financial abuse of elders?
The best thing that you can do to prevent elder financial abuse is to keep your older relative or friend from being isolated. Check in regularly, make sure you know who has access to him or her, and know the signs of financial abuse. Keep an eye out for suspicious signatures on checks, suddenly unpaid bills, and new and unexplained “friends.” By knowing the signs, you can help prevent the financial abuse of your loved one.
Millions of America’s seniors could face disruptions to audiology and speech-language pathology therapy services vital to their health and quality of life unless Congress and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) act to protect them, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) have warned
At issue is CMS’s 2021 proposed Medicare Physician Fee Schedule rule, released on August 3, in which the agency recommends significant payment reductions to more than three dozen health care provider groups, including audiologists and speech-language pathologists. This is an effort to offset increasing payments for office/outpatient evaluation and management (E/M) codes typically used by primary care physicians.
Audiologists are facing a 7% cut to Medicare reimbursement, and speech-language pathologists are facing a 9% cut—which would translate into significant reductions in therapy services for a range of communication, cognition, and swallowing problems common in seniors. These problems are often a result of conditions including stroke, brain injury, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and head and neck cancers, along with hearing loss—one of the most common health conditions that seniors experience.
“The services provided by audiologists and speech-language pathologists are absolutely essential to our seniors as they recover from serious medical events and live with chronic conditions such as neurological disorders and hearing loss,” said Theresa H. Rodgers, MA, CCC-SLP, ASHA 2020 President. “Medicare cuts are most unfortunate, and especially ill-advised, given the treatable nature of many of these conditions—and the tremendous improvements that our members witness every day when patients have appropriate access to needed diagnostic and rehabilitative services. Our seniors deserve better.”
The proposed cuts are the product of a Medicare statutory requirement known as budget neutrality, which requires that any increase in costs to the Medicare program (in 2021, higher spending on E/M codes) must result in decreased spending elsewhere under Medicare. The cuts will go into effect in 2021, unless Congress and CMS act to waive the budget neutrality requirement.
ASHA, along with the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), and many other physician and nonphysician provider groups, has engaged in vigorous advocacy efforts over the past several months aimed at Congress, CMS, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Office of Management and Budget to curtail these cuts and stress the serious impact that such cuts would have on seniors.
While recognizing the importance of funding the services provided by primary care physicians, ASHA notes the equally important value of its members’ diagnostic and rehabilitative services—calling for a holistic reimbursement approach. In a joint statement issued August 4, ASHA, AOTA, and APTA noted: “Our organizations call on Congress and CMS to advance well-reasoned fee schedule payment policies and waive budget neutrality.”
Further reinforcing this approach, ASHA joined with a broad coalition of organizations representing more than 330,000 physicians and 884,000 nonphysician providers. In a collective statement, those groups specified: “Our groups are calling on Congress and CMS to collaborate on developing a solution that will allow the changes to the E/M services to proceed, while at the same time preventing cuts to our health care professionals.”
Can’t find your keys? Not sure where you put your glasses? Most people have been there — occasional memory lapses are normal. But memory loss that affects your senior loved one’s quality of life and their ability to live independently may be a sign of a serious medical condition.
Age, genetics, and other factors can increase someone’s risk for dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. But research shows that certain steps can help lower the risk of memory loss associated with these cognitive conditions
Many things can cause memory loss. Age is a key factor, as the normal aging process causes a slight decline in brain function. With age, connections between brain cells that store and transfer information are weakened, affecting memory.
About 10% of people who have a stroke and nearly one-third of those who have a second stroke develop dementia. Heart disease and fat buildup in the arteries also contribute to cognitive decline and dementia.
Other causes of temporary memory loss in elderly adults may include medications, infections, vitamin B-12 deficiency, depression, and excessive alcohol consumption.
Occasional forgetfulness can be a normal part of aging. Examples of memory loss that comes with age include forgetting to pay a bill one month or not remembering what day it is. However, memory loss that affects your ability to do everyday activities can be a sign of a serious problem.
Signs of memory problems in elderly adults that warrant a visit to the doctor may include:
Asking repetitive questions
Getting lost in places you know well
Having trouble following directions or learning new things
Being confused about people, time, and places
Having difficulty following a conversation
Staying mentally, physically, and socially active may lower the risk of memory loss, according to the National Institute on Aging.
Exercise helps lower your risk of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and stroke — all risk factors for cognitive and memory disorders. Encourage your parent to try low-impact exercises such as yoga, tai chi, or even a walk around the block to help improve blood flow to the brain and keep their mind sharp.
A diet that is rich in vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, and whole grains can help your brain and heart health. Eating healthy can stave off conditions that contribute to cognitive decline, such as diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure. Some healthy food groups that may have cognitive benefits include leafy green vegetables, berries, whole grains, fish, lean poultry, beans, and olive oil.
Reading, learning something new, doing crossword puzzles, or playing games can help keep the mind active. Stimulating the mind may help prevent memory loss by enhancing connections between cells in the brain that support memory.
High blood pressure is a risk factor for Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Controlling blood pressure when it’s high can help lower your risk of memory-related conditions.
Social isolation in seniors can be both a symptom of and a risk factor for dementia. Staying connected with others helps lower stress and prevent depression, which can contribute to memory loss.
Sleep helps your brain rest and restore. It also helps to consolidate your memories. Sleep problems over time have been associated with an increased risk of cognitive decline and dementia. If your loved one regularly has sleep problems, talk to the doctor about strategies to help improve sleep.
Smoking can lead to several long-term health problems, but did you know that people who smoke are also at increased risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s? Talk to your loved one’s doctor about how to help them quit smoking for improved overall health.
There’s some evidence that a glass of red wine a day may have beneficial effects in terms of reducing inflammation and even lowering the risk of memory disorders. However, drinking more than four drinks a day for men and more than three drinks a day for women is considered excessive.
Over the next two years, the National Council on Aging (NCOA) will connect 1.15 million eligible older adults to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), thanks to a $4.35 million grant from the Walmart Foundation.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, over 9.8 million older adults experienced food insecurity, meaning they lack consistent access to adequate, nutritious food. Today, those numbers are quickly rising. SNAP is the nation’s most effective and widest-reaching anti-hunger program. Research by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities shows that participation in SNAP reduces food insecurity overall by 30%, yet the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that only 48% of eligible older adults aged 60+ participate in the program.
During the coronavirus pandemic, older adults have been turning to NCOA for resources related to SNAP, food, and nutrition as they struggle to access and pay for food while being homebound. In the first week of the pandemic, more than 30,000 individuals downloaded a SNAP application on NCOA’s BenefitsCheckUp®, a free and confidential screening tool that connects eligible older adults to benefits.
“We’ve heard from older adults and our local partners that accessing and paying for food is a critical need right now,” said Josh Hodges, NCOA Chief Customer Officer. “Food, on average, is the second highest household expenditure for people aged 60+, and too often they have to stretch their food budget in order to make ends meet. That’s where SNAP can help.”
“Now more than ever, older adults need support accessing the resources that help them put nutritious food on the table,” said Eileen Hyde, director of sustainable food systems and food access for Walmart.org. “This new grant builds upon the innovative work on benefits access that NCOA has championed for several years.”
Over the past 7 years, with support from the Walmart Foundation, NCOA has helped 3.6 million older adults access their SNAP applications, resulting in 1.14 million enrollments.
The new grant will support both in-person and online SNAP outreach and enrollment. NCOA will fund 40 community-based organizations that provide trusted, in-person benefits counseling in communities across the country. The grant also will be used to find and connect eligible older adults to their SNAP applications using the virtual tool BenefitsCheckUp, which is accessible to anyone with an internet connection. Funding will target vulnerable and difficult-to-reach populations, including African Americans, Hispanic/Latinx, women, and rural Americans, many of whom have been severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Older adults can find out right now if they’re eligible for SNAP by visiting www.BenefitsCheckUp.org/SNAP.
The National Council on Aging (NCOA) is a trusted national leader working to ensure that every person can age well. Since 1950, our mission has not changed: Improve the lives of millions of older adults, especially those who are struggling. NCOA empowers people with the best solutions to improve their own health and economic security—and we strengthen government programs that we all depend on as we age. Every year, millions of people use our signature programs BenefitsCheckUp®, My Medicare Matters®, and the Aging Mastery Program® to age well. By offering online tools and collaborating with a nationwide network of partners, NCOA is working to improve the lives of 40 million older adults by 2030. Learn more at ncoa.org and @NCOAging.
by Peter J. Pitts, former FDA associate commissioner, is president of the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest.
For chronically ill Americans, the economic damage from COVID-19 could be nearly as life-threatening as the virus itself. More than 40 million workers have filed for unemployment since the beginning of the outbreak. For many, the financial challenges of joblessness have made it harder than ever to afford their insurance companies’ medication copays.
That’s why a new decision from the Trump administration couldn’t have come at a worse time. The rule, which was finalized in May, enables insurers to artificially inflate patients’ out-of-pocket drug costs. In so doing, it creates unnecessary challenges for Americans who are already struggling to stay healthy.
For many patients, high pharmacy bills were a heavy burden even before COVID-19. A November Kaiser Family Foundation survey found that half of patients in poor health had difficulty paying for their medications. Three in ten reported skipping doses for financial reasons.
This “non-adherence” causes 125,000 deaths each year and as many as a quarter of hospitalizations. It also inflates U.S. healthcare spending by up to $289 billion annually.
Now that coronavirus lockdowns have sent our economy into a tailspin, drug adherence rates are likely to plummet further as Americans look for new ways to make ends meet.
Consider that a quarter of the country has dipped into savings in recent weeks, while 14 percent have borrowed money from friends or family, per Northwestern Mutual. It’s only a matter of time before large numbers of Americans stop filling the prescription medicines they need.
In times like these, helping the hardest-hit patients take their medications ought to be a top priority. Yet the Trump administration has done precisely the opposite. The new rule from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) would help insurance companies nullify the prescription drug coupons that make medicines affordable for millions of Americans.
In many health plans, patients pay for their own drugs up to a certain limit, known as a deductible, after which they are responsible for a smaller copay. The patient remains on the hook for those copays until he or she reaches the federally mandated out-of-pocket limit, which in 2020 was $16,300 for families.
To help defray out-of-pocket costs, drug firms usually offer generous coupons on brand-name medications.
For cash-strapped patients, these discounts can be life-changing. About a fifth of commercially insured patients use coupons to lower their pharmacy costs. These coupons cut out-of-pocket drug spending by $13 billion in 2018. Just as important, drug coupons have been shown to increase adherence for everything from cholesterol medication to anti-inflammatory drugs.
These coupons only benefit patients if they count towards the out-of-pocket limit. Otherwise, patients would still be on the hook for huge pharmacy bills.
Unfortunately, the new CMS rule allows insurers to stop counting coupons towards the out-of-pocket cap. That means insurance giants will extract more money out of struggling Americans’ pockets.
Officials in states like Virginia, West Virginia, Illinois, and Arizona have already banned this practice. Unless other states follow suit — or Congress intervenes and passes legislation nullifying the rule — millions of Americans could face higher pharmacy bills while battling the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.
Barring intervention, America could face a pandemic of non-adherence that puts millions of lives at risk. Unlike COVID-19, this new public health emergency won’t be caused by a wily virus, but by the callousness of Washington policymakers.
The Ventura County Area Agency on Aging is the recipient of two National Mature Media Awards and a California Association of Public Information Officers (CAPIO) award. Projects that received acknowledgement include LIVEWell and the Navigating Medicare Enrollment video production, both of which are being recognized among the state and nation’s best marketing, communications, and educational materials produced for older adults.
LIVEWell, which won a CAPIO Award of Distinction and a Silver Award from the National Mature Media Awards, is the premier resource guide for older adults, people with disabilities, and caregivers in Ventura County. LIVEWell is published annually with content available in English and Spanish. Click here to view the 2020 issue of LIVEWell.
Navigating Medicare Enrollment received a Silver Award from the National Mature Media Awards and was produced as part of the VCAAA’s Health Insurance and Advocacy Program (HICAP) with a goal to assist people who are new to, or have questions regarding, Medicare enrollment. Click here to view the video.
“The VCAAA is honored to receive this recognition and is proud of the impact our marketing and communication efforts have had on the community,” said Victoria Jump, Director of the VCAAA. “We take pride in the work we produce and strive to find new ways to strengthen our methods of communication so that we can continue to empower Ventura County residents to age optimally.”
For more information, visit www.vcaaa.org or call (805) 477-7300.
The Ventura County Area Agency on Aging, an agency of the County of Ventura, is the principal agency in Ventura County charged with the responsibility to promote the development and implementation of a comprehensive coordinated system of care that enables older individuals, caregivers, and individuals with disabilities to live in a community-based setting and to advocate for the needs of those 60 years of age and older in the county, providing leadership and promoting citizen involvement in the planning process as well as in the delivery of services.
The most common type of dementia.
A progressive disease beginning with mild memory loss possibly leading to loss of the ability to carry on a conversation and respond to the environment.
Involves parts of the brain that control thought, memory, and language.
Can seriously affect a person’s ability to carry out daily activities.
The symptoms of the disease can first appear after age 60 and the risk increases with age.
Younger people may get Alzheimer’s disease, but it is less common.
The number of people living with the disease doubles every 5 years beyond age 65.
This number is projected to nearly triple to 14 million people by 2060.1
What is known about Alzheimer’s Disease?
Scientists do not yet fully understand what causes Alzheimer’s disease. There probably is not one single cause, but several factors that affect each person differently.
Family history—researchers believe that genetics may play a role in developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Changes in the brain can begin years before the first symptoms appear.
Researchers are studying whether education, diet, and environment play a role in developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Scientists are finding more evidence that some of the risk factors for heart disease and stroke, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol may also increase the risk of Alzheimer’sA man and a woman standing. The middle-aged man is in the foreground, looking into camera. The woman is standing behind him with her hands on his shoulder, smiling and also looking into the camera.
There is growing evidence that physical, mental, and social activities may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
According to the National Institute on Aging, in addition to memory problems, someone with Alzheimer’s disease may experience one or more of the following signs:
Memory loss that disrupts daily life, such as getting lost in a familiar place or repeating questions.
Trouble handling money and paying bills.
Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work or at leisure.
Decreased or poor judgment.
Misplaces things and being unable to retrace steps to find them.
Changes in mood, personality, or behavioral.
Some causes for symptoms, such as depression and drug interactions, are reversible. However, they can be serious and should be identified and treated by a health care provider as soon as possible.
Early and accurate diagnosis provides opportunities for you and your family to consider or review financial planning, develop advance directives, enroll in clinical trials, and anticipate care needs.
How is Alzheimer’s disease treated?
A middle-aged man and woman sitting. Both are smiling into the camera. The woman is leaning onto the man with her head on his shoulder.
Medical management can improve the quality of life for individuals living with Alzheimer’s disease and their caregivers. There is currently no known cure for Alzheimer’s disease.
Caregiving can have positive aspects for the caregiver as well as the person being cared for. It may bring personal fulfillment to the caregiver, such as satisfaction from helping a family member or friend, and lead to the development of new skills and improved family relationships.
Although most people willingly provide care to their loved ones and friends, caring for a person with Alzheimer’s disease at home can be a difficult task and might become overwhelming at times. Each day brings new challenges as the caregiver copes with changing levels of ability and new patterns of behavior. As the disease gets worse, people living with Alzheimer’s disease often need more intensive care.
The ongoing COVID-19 global pandemic has disrupted life in countless ways. The health crisis has led many people to examine their own mortality and realize that they are not prepared for the end of life situations. As the crisis continues to rage on, it is more important than ever to make sure that your will and other important estate planning directives are in place.
According to Caring.com, 52% of people over the age of 55 do not have a will or other vital estate planning documents in place. While it can be a bit more challenging to get these directives signed and notarized during a pandemic, it is still possible to get it done. Here five things that you need to include in your estate planning document.
Will: The backbone of any estate planning document is the will. This legal document governs the distribution of assets and wealth after your death. This document can also be used to appoint guardians for minor children.
Advanced Care Directive: In today’s uncertain times, an advanced care directive is an essential piece of your estate planning process. Also called a living will, this document lays out what type of medical care you wish to receive should you become terminally ill. In this document, you can outline plans for life-support directives and organ donation wishes. Having a living will in place will take a substantial amount of pressure off of your loved ones if you are unable to make your own medical care decisions.
HIPPA Authorization: While combing through all of your healthcare directives, be sure to devote time to declaring a HIPPA authorization. The federal Health Insurance Affordability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) legislates privacy rules for medical records. A HIPPA authorization allows you to release your medical records to designated individuals. Most people give this authority to their spouse, children, and other close family members. This allows others to effectively communicate with healthcare providers about your condition if you are hospitalized.
Health Care Power of Attorney: In addition to an advanced care directive, a health care power of attorney will ensure that your medical care future is secured. This legally binding power of attorney will allow you to name a trusted individual to make health care decisions on your behalf if you are not able to do so yourself.
Financial Power of Attorney: Lastly, it is important to give a specified person the authority to direct your financial transactions if you are not able to do so. Depending on your state’s rules, you may need witnesses to sign this power of attorney to make it legally binding.
Considerations to Make in Light of COVID-19: With many states still in various
stages of closure, it can be challenging to procure the necessary witnesses and notarizations of signatures needed to legalize your estate planning documents. Be sure to talk with your estate planner about possible options for you to finalize these papers. Before the pandemic, there had already been 23 states that had passed legislation that enabled remote online notarization using two-way audiovisual communication. Because of the crisis, Arizona, Iowa, and Pennsylvania have also permitted online polarization. In addition, other states have passed legislation or issued executive orders that allows for remote witnessing.