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What is the 'Senior' Flu Shot? October 05, 2017 14:07

Basically, it's a stronger flu shot.  Four times stronger to be precise.

This flu vaccine could significantly reduce the risk of hospitalization among especially vulnerable seniors, a large, random clinical trial has found.

Vaccines typically don’t work very well in older people—a problem because the flu can lead to serious respiratory infections in frail patients such as elderly nursing home residents.

“…the rate of hospitalization for any reason, respiratory or otherwise, was significantly lower in the high-dose group…”

While a prior study showed that older individuals could respond better to the high-dose vaccine, it focused on relatively healthy older adults, says lead author Stefan Gravenstein, professor at both the Warren Alpert Medical School and the School of Public Health at Brown University.

It still needed to be established that it would help even the frailest folks, like those who reside in nursing homes.

In this study, a quarter of the sample was over 90. DId the high-dose vaccine also work better than regular-dose vaccine in the population we consider least able to respond. This paper says yes, it can.

The study compared hospitalization rates among more than 38,000 residents of 823 nursing homes in 38 states during the 2013-14 flu season based on Medicare claims data. Just under half the homes, 409 to be exact, administered the high-dose vaccine while the other 414 provided a standard dose.

In the end, the hospitalization rate for respiratory illnesses among high-dose patients was 3.4 percent compared to 3.8 percent among standard-dose patients over the six months after vaccination. Statistical analysis revealed that the relative risk of hospitalization for respiratory illness was 12.7 percent lower for the high-dose group.

Moreover, the rate of hospitalization for any reason, respiratory or otherwise, was significantly lower in the high-dose group as well. For every 69 people given the high-dose vaccine vs. the standard-dose vaccine, one more person stayed out of the hospital during the flu season.

“Respiratory illness as the primary reason for hospitalization accounted for only about a third of the reduction in hospitalization that we measured,” says Gravenstein.

For many patients, the vaccine appeared to help prevent hospitalization for other problems also, including cardiovascular symptoms.

Nope, the flu vaccine won’t give you the flu

Gravenstein says the finding of a significant reduction in hospitalizations was particularly notable because the predominant flu strain during the 2013-14 season, A/H1N1pdm, was believed to be less virulent in older people who had spent a long lifetime building up immunity to similar strains.

“That there was differential protection in this context both underlines the potential importance of even low-virulence or less transmissible strains to older populations and the fact that vaccines may afford relevant effectiveness among frail older persons even when A/H1N1 predominates,” the authors write.

The study did not find a significant difference in the rate of death. Researchers speculate that while the standard-dose vaccine might not have been strong enough to stave off illness entirely, it may still have been sufficient to prevent deaths in combination with hospital care.

But a significant reduction in hospitalizations can still be a benefit, Gravenstein says, even though the high-dose vaccine is more expensive than the standard-dose vaccine. Especially for older, frail patients, reducing otherwise necessary trips to the hospital can maintain a higher quality of life.

Ultimately, Gravenstein says, the study should provide nursing home leadership with useful information to consider as they plan for future flu seasons.


Turning 65 Soon? September 06, 2017 12:26

If you are, well, congratulations.  If you are planning on signing up for Medicare, here are the 'basic' basics to know before enrollment begins October 15th.  

Also, you should start browsing Medicare.gov


Where Can You Find the Best Health Care in the US? August 14, 2017 22:44

50 states are graded for healthy living based on 

35 measures of cost, accessibility and outcome. The measures included monthly insurance premiums, cost of visiting a medical professional, quality of hospitals, life expectancy and rates of cancer and heart disease.


Geriatricians Can Help Aging Patients Navigate Multiple Ailments February 27, 2017 09:59

Geriatricians are “experts in complexity,” said Dr. Eric Widera, director of the geriatrics medicine fellowship at the University of California, San Francisco.

No one better understands how multiple medical problems interact in older people and affect their quality of life than these specialists on aging. But their role in the health care system remains poorly understood and their expertise underused.

Interviews with geriatricians offer insights useful to older adults and their families:

Basic knowledge. Geriatricians are typically internists or family physicians who have spent an extra year becoming trained in the unique health care needs of older adults.

They’re among the rarest of medical specialties. In 2016, there were 7,293 geriatricians in the U.S. — fewer than two years before, according to the American Geriatrics Society.

Geriatricians can serve as primary care doctors, mostly to people in their 70s, 80s and older who have multiple medical conditions. They also provide consultations and work in interdisciplinary medical teams caring for older patients.

Recognizing that training programs can’t meet expected demand as the population ages, the specialty has launched programs to educate other physicians in the principles of geriatric medicine.

“We’ve been trying to get all clinicians trained in what we call the ‘101 level’ of geriatrics,” said Dr. Rosanne Leipzig, a professor of geriatrics at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City.

Essential competencies. Researchers have spent considerable time over the past several years examining what, exactly, geriatricians do.

A 2014 article by Leipzig and multiple co-authors defined 12 essential competencies, including optimizing older adults’ functioning and well-being; helping seniors and their families clarify their goals for care and shaping care plans accordingly; comprehensive medication management; extensive care coordination; and providing palliative and end-of-life care, among others skills.

Underlying these skills is an expert understanding how older adults’ bodies, minds and lives differ from middle-age adults.

“We take a much broader history that looks at what our patients can and can’t do, how they’re getting along in their environment, how they see their future, their support systems, and their integration in the community,” said Dr. Kathryn Eubank, medical director of the Acute Care for Elders unit at the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center. “And when a problem arises with a patient, we tend to ask ‘How do we put this in the context of other concerns that might be contributing?’ ”

Geriatric syndromes. Another essential competency is a focus on issues that other primary care doctors often neglect — notably falls, incontinence, muscle weakness, frailty, fatigue, cognitive impairment and delirium. In medicine, these are known as “geriatric syndromes.”

“If you’re losing weight, you’re falling, you can’t climb a flight of stairs, you’re tired all the time, you’re unhappy and you’re on 10 or more medications, go see a geriatrician,” said Dr. John Morley, professor of geriatrics at Saint Louis University.

“Much of what we do is get rid of treatments prescribed by other physicians that aren’t working,” Morley continued.

Recently, he wrote of an 88-year-old patient with metastasized prostate cancer who was on 26 medications. The older man was troubled by profound fatigue, which dissipated after Morley took him off all but one medication. (Most of the drugs had minimal expected benefit for someone at the end of life.) The patient died peacefully eight months later.

Eubank tells of an 80-year-old combative and confused patient whom her team saw in the hospital after one of his legs had been amputated. Although physicians recognized the patient was delirious, they had prescribed medications that worsened that condition, given him insufficient pain relief and overlooked his constipation.

“Medications contributing to the patient’s delirium were stopped. We made his room quieter so he was disturbed less and stopped staff from interrupting his sleep between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.,” Eubank said. “We worked to get him up out of bed, normalized his life as much as possible and made sure he got a pocket talker [hearing device] so he could hear what was going on.”

Over the next four days, the patient improved every day and was successfully discharged to rehabilitation.

Finding help. A geriatric consultation typically involves two appointments: one to conduct a comprehensive assessment of your physical, psychological, cognitive and social functioning, and another to go over a proposed plan of care.

The American Geriatrics Society has a geriatrician-finder on its website — a useful resource. Also, you can check whether a nearby medical school or academic medical center has a department of geriatrics.

Many doctors claim competency in caring for older adults. Be concerned if they fail to go over your medications carefully, if they don’t ask about geriatric syndromes or if they don’t inquire about the goals you have for your care, advised Dr. Mindy Fain, chief of geriatrics and co-director of the Arizona Center on Aging at the University of Arizona.

Also, don’t hesitate to ask pointed questions: Has this doctor had any additional training in geriatric care? Does she approach the care of older adults differently — if so, how? Are there certain medications she doesn’t use?

“You’ll be able to see in the physician’s mannerisms and response if she takes you seriously,” Leipzig said.

If not, keep looking for one who does.

 Judith Graham- Kaiser Health News, 

Geriatricians Can Help Aging Patients Navigate Multiple Ailments