Researchers from the Center for Aging and Population Health (CAPH) were featured in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Vitals Issue on The New Old Age – Trends in Senior Health. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Vitals includes four special sections to be published throughout 2014 that focus on the nation’s and the region’s changing health care landscape. In the Sunday November 16, 2014 installment, Vitals examined the benefits and challenges of our increasing lifespans and the implications for medicine, society and our quality of life. CAPH faculty were featured in two articles by Eric Boodman.
The New Old Age: Unlocking the secret to longevity asks the question, “How will our longer life spans change health care and society?” In this piece, Dr. Steven Albert, PhD, MSPH, and Dr. Lewis Kuller, MD, DrPH, discuss the public health implications of an aging population.
“As Steven Albert, an epidemiologist at University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Aging and Population Health, put it, ‘We don’t have to revolutionize or control the rate of aging to have a big public health impact. We could just control the effect of arthritis.’
But human aging, they explain, is more complicated than that. At Pitt’s Center for Aging and Population Health, researchers put elderly Pittsburghers through a battery of tests to try to figure out what keeps them functional or what lands them in a nursing home. Participants are strapped into machines that assess their balance and are asked questions that measure their cognitive skills. Their tissues are sampled and their genes are sequenced. Some are even taught how to cook with less fat and salt.
‘The concept that there’s a huge elderly population in Pittsburgh who are functioning normally — it’s just hogwash,’ says Lewis Kuller, 80, a longtime faculty member at the Center for Aging. By prolonging our lives with better medical care, he says, ‘we’ve created a huge epidemic of dementia.’ And while high levels of learning, either inside or outside of the classroom, can help stave off dementia, there is no cure and no other preventive.
‘Talking about longevity is not the story,’ adds his colleague Mr. Albert. ‘Disability within longevity is the story. Nobody wants all those years to be spent in the nursing home with dementia.’
Even if Mr. Rose insists that his research and advice can reduce disability in the elderly, to researchers like Dr. Kuller and Mr. Albert, fruit flies and paleo diets seem very distant from the problems of the elderly. They have read Alzheimer’s studies that produced promising results in animals, only to see no effect in humans.”
In the second article, Costs of health care at end of life pose concern, Dr. Steven Albert, PhD, MSPH, touches on the issue of health care costs on the elderly.
“Mr. Albert, a professor in the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health in the Department of Behavioral and Community Health Science, feels it is unfair to pin all our worries about health care costs on the elderly. ‘Good old age depends on prevention across the lifespan,’ he said. ‘It begins in utero. You can’t truncate old age at 65 and say, What are we going to do about these people now?’
But he knows that baby boomers like him have high expectations for health care as they get older. He knows, too, that many people are concerned about unnecessarily aggressive medical treatment when hospice would be more appropriate. Hospice caregivers do not try to cure patients’ illnesses, helping instead to manage pain and make them more comfortable with the process of dying. And many people believe that getting people into hospice earlier not only would improve a patient’s last days but also save the health care system a lot of money. After all, one-third of all Medicare dollars are spent on the last year of life.
‘The inappropriate part is people in the last week of life getting MRI scans,” Mr. Albert said. “The problem is we don’t know it’s their last week of life.’ ”
The full Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Vitals Articles can be found at:
The New Old Age: Unlocking the secret to longevity. http://www.post-gazette.com/healthypgh/2014/11/16/The-New-Old-Age-Unlocking-the-secret-to-longevity-vitals-health-care-medicine-seniors-elderly/stories/201411160223
Costs of health care at end of life pose concern. http://www.post-gazette.com/healthypgh/2014/11/16/Costs-of-health-care-at-end-of-life-pose-concern-elderly-seniors/stories/201411160232
The full Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Vitals Issue can be found at:
The New Old Age – Trends in Senior Health. http://www.post-gazette.com/healthypgh