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Monday, July 10, 2017

Worship Is Good for Your Health

Newswise, July 10, 2017 — People who attend services at a church, synagogue or mosque are less stressed and live longer, according to new research from Vanderbilt University.

“Sometimes in health science we tend to look at those things that are always negative and say, ‘Don’t do this. Don’t do that,’” said Marino Bruce, a social and behavioral scientist and associate director of the Center for Research on Men's Health at Vanderbilt and an ordained Baptist minister.

The new research findings, however, are “encouraging individuals to participate in something,” he said.

According to the study, middle-aged (ages 40 to 65) adults – both men and women -- who attend church or other house of worship reduce their risk for mortality by 55 percent.

“Our findings support the overall hypothesis that increased religiosity – as determined by attendance at worship services – is associated with less stress and enhanced longevity,” said Bruce, a research associate professor of medicine, health and society at Vanderbilt. He is also a Baptist minister.

“We’ve found that being in a place where you can flex those spiritual muscles is actually beneficial for your health,” Bruce said.

The study, Church Attendance, Allostatic Load and Mortality in Middle-Aged Adults, was published May 16 in PLOS ONE, a multidisciplinary open access journal, using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics. The data are available to the public. Bruce is the main author of the study with Keith Norris, professor of medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. There are nine other co-authors.

The researchers analyzed subjects’ attendance at worship services, mortality and allostatic load. Allostatic load is a physiological measurement of factors including cardiovascular (blood pressure, cholesterol-high density lipoprotein ration and homocysteine), nutritional/inflammatory (albumin, C-reactive protein) and metabolic (waist-hip ratio, glycated hemoglobin) measures. The higher the allostatic load, the more stressed an individual was interpreted as being.

Of the 5,449 people of all races and both sexes who were surveyed, 64 percent were regular worshipers, Bruce said. Non-worshipers had significantly higher overall allostatic load scores and higher prevalence of high-risk values for three of the 10 markers of allostatic load than did church-goers and other worshipers.

The effects of attendance at worship services remained after education, poverty, health insurance and social support status were all taken into consideration, Bruce said. The study did not address the effects of frequency of worship.

“We found that they go to church for factors beyond social support,” Bruce said. “That’s where we begin to think about this idea of … compassionate thinking, that we’re … trying to improve the lives of others as well as being connected to a body larger than ourselves.”

U.S. Asian populations may have different risk profiles for common geriatric conditions like cognitive and physical decline

Newswise, July 10, 2017– U.S. Asian populations may have different risk profiles for common geriatric conditions like cognitive and physical decline. Researchers from the PINE study—the first ever longitudinal study of U.S. Chinese older adults in the greater Chicago area—found the cognitive and physical function of U.S. Chinese immigrants may be greatly impacted by their social and cultural context more than non-immigrant populations, according to three studies published in the special issue of the Journals of Gerontology: Medical Sciences.

Each of the three studies focused on different components of geriatric syndromes: physical function decline, cognitive decline, and the relationship between social support and cognitive function.

The PINE Study from Rush University Medical Center was initiated in 2011 with over 3,000 U.S. Chinese older adults, who were surveyed 2 years after their first interview.

The status of physical function and cognitive function was examined, and profiles of socio-demographic characteristics were collected at each visit. In total, these studies provide an in-depth understanding of U.S. Chinese older adults and their health and present the need for more in-depth studies into the health of U.S. Asian communities to further efforts toward health equity.

Contrary to existing research, the PINE Study showed mixed findings regarding the effect of socioeconomic status on functional decline over time.

 Researchers had previously theorized that lower education and income were risk factors for rapid functional decline, but the PINE Study showed that only lower education was associated with worse physical function, and these effects diminished over time. Income was not related to physical performance or rate of decline in age.

“Our findings showed the unique characteristics of Chinese older immigrants. For example, lower income is usually associated with faster rate of physical performance decline in other populations, but we did not find a significant relationship in the U.S. Chinese aging population,” said Dr. XinQi Dong, MD, MPH, professor of Rush University Medical Center, and the principal investigator of the PINE study.

“In our population, individual income may not fully capture an individual’s socioeconomic status. There is also significant socioeconomic variability within the category of Asian Americans, contrary to the Model Minority conception, which may obfuscate the association between socioeconomic status and physical function decline.”

These findings regarding the complexities of the U.S. Chinese population were reflected in a study regarding cognitive function trajectory among Chinese older adults. Dr. Lydia Li, PhD, Associate Professor at the School of Social Work, University of Michigan, found that the change of different cognitive abilities, which represent components of cognitive function, varies greatly between individuals. For example, more highly educated individuals have clear advantages in all types of cognitive abilities at baseline, they have more decline in episodic and global memory in two years.

Further, men performed better than women in most cognitive abilities at baseline but had faster rates of decline in working memory.

“The sex differences in baseline and the change of cognition over a two-year period may be explained by a recent study indicating that older women are more resilient than their male counterparts in cognitive decline. However, they found women to perform better in some cognitive domains at baseline, and that study was based on a sample of primarily White adults with higher level of education,” Li continued.

“It may be gender inequality in Chinese society that renders older women at disadvantages in cognitive testing.”

Building on the idea that Chinese culture and context may influence cognitive status in late life, the PINE Study researchers also found that social relationships, in the form of both more social support and more social strain, were associated with better cognitive function.

“We were surprised that social strain was positively associated with cognitive function. This is not common in other populations. Social support and social strain are important facets in older adults' social life,” said Shaoqing Ge, MPH, PhD candidate at Duke University School of Nursing.

The reason, Ge noted, may be culturally-based: “this finding may be the result of the unique appraisals among Chinese older adults. Reporting higher social strain may reflect a more socially engaged lifestyle.

Influenced by the traditional Chinese culture and norm, the U.S. Chinese older adults view their active engagement in the family as indications of self-value. Consequently, U.S. Chinese older adults may interpret social strain in a positive way.”

These articles are part of a special issue in the Journals of Gerontology: Medical Sciences to be fully released in July, 2017. Electronic version can be accessed through JGMS website.
For more information about the PINE study, please visit the PINE Study Wikipedia page or our website.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

As America Ages, New National Poll Will Track Key Health Issues for Those Over 50

National Poll on Healthy Aging will release first results June 29

Newswise, June 29, 2017— Nearly a third of U.S. adults have celebrated their 50th birthday – a sign of an aging nation. Now, a new poll based at the University of Michigan will take the pulse of this population on a wide range of health issues, and provide data and insights to inform healthcare policy, clinical practice, and future research. 

Later this month, the U-M Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation (IHPI) will release the first results from the National Poll on Healthy Aging (NPHA), with data on prescription drug use for people between the ages of 50 and 80.

Directed by IHPI and sponsored by AARP and Michigan Medicine, U-M’s academic medical center, the poll will issue new data 10 times a year focusing on key health-related issues facing older Americans.

IHPI’s poll team, led by Preeti Malani, M.D., will tap into the perspectives of older adults and their caregivers using a national sample. The overall goal of the poll is to inform the public, health care providers, policymakers, and aging advocates on issues related to health, health care and health policy.

“In medicine, sometimes we focus so much on the latest research findings that we lose the individual patient voice. Yet there are gaps in our understanding of health that cannot be filled with traditional medical research,” says Malani, a professor of internal medicine at the U-M Medical School who specializes in infectious disease and geriatric medicine.

“Some research studies can take years to complete. One of the most valuable aspects of this poll is that the results are available quickly and can provide timely insight into current issues.”

Adds Alison Bryant, AARP Senior Vice President of Research, “We know research drives insights that affect our ability to impact behavior change. Our hope is that these polls will provide new information that will ultimately help older Americans adopt and maintain healthy behaviors.”

The poll grew out of a strong interest in aging-related issues and policies among IHPI researchers, who include 510 members of the U-M faculty from a wide range of fields. The poll is modeled on U-M’s highly successful C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health, which for 10 years has provided new data every month on issues facing children, teens and parents.

For more information about the poll methodology or to sign up for monthly emails, visit Anyone interested in receiving the latest poll findings may join the NPHA mailing list. To learn more about IHPI, visit

AARP is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, social welfare organization focused on a wide range of issues affecting older adults. Poll results will appear regularly in the AARP Bulletin, which goes to more than 22 million households, starting in the July-August issue. For more information, visit

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Why the ‘Peculiar’ Stands Out in Our Memory Ohio State professor speaks on the neuroscience of remembering

How Memory worksNewswise, June 27, 2017 – Memories that stick with us for a lifetime are those that fit in with a lot of other things we remember – but have a slightly weird twist.

 It’s this notion of ‘peculiarity’ that can help us understand what makes lasting memories, according to Per Sederberg, a professor of psychology at The Ohio State University.

 “You have to build a memory on the scaffolding of what you already know, but then you have to violate the expectations somewhat. It has to be a little bit weird,” Sederberg said.

 Sederberg talked about the neuroscience of memory as an invited speaker at the prestigious Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity in France on June 19. He spoke at the session “What are memories made of? Stirring emotions and last impressions” along with several advertising professionals and artists.

 Sederberg has spent his career studying memory. In one of his most notable studies, he had college students wear a smartphone around their neck with an app that took random photos for a month. Later, the participants relived memories related to those photos in an fMRI scanner so that Sederberg and his colleagues could see where and how the brain stored the time and place of those memories.

 From his own research and that of others, Sederberg has ideas on which memories stick with us and which ones fade over time.

 The way to create a long-lasting memory is to form an association with other memories, he said.

 “If we want to be able to retrieve a memory later, you want to build a rich web.  It should connect to other memories in multiple ways, so there are many ways for our mind to get back to it.”

 A memory of a lifetime is like a big city, with many roads that lead there.  We forget memories that are desert towns, with only one road in. “You want to have a lot of different ways to get to any individual memory,” Sederberg said.

 The difficulty is how to best navigate the push and pull between novelty and familiarity. Novelty tells us what is important to remember. On the other hand, familiarity tells us what we can ignore, but helps us retrieve information later, Sederberg said.

 Too much novelty, and you have no way to place it in your cognitive map, but too much familiarity and the information is similarly lost.

 What that means is that context and prediction play critical roles in shaping our perception and memory. The most memorable experiences are those that arise in a familiar and stable context, yet violate some aspect of what we predict would occur in that context, he said.

 “Those peculiar experiences are the things that stand out, that make a more lasting memory.”

 Sederberg’s co-presenters, all based in London, are Dominique Bonnafoux, a senior strategist at FITCH; Mike Reed, founder and creative director of Reed Words; and Jason Bruges, a multidisciplinary artist and designer.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Study by Nation's Leading Senior Care Provider Explores Sandwich Generation's Growing Concerns

June 6, 2017--PRNewswire/ -- With nearly 75 million Americans ages 51-691, Baby Boomers are currently the second largest living generation in the United States.

 According to a recent survey of 1,000 adult children ages 45-64 issued by Senior Helpers®, the nation's premier provider of in-home senior care, nearly 60 percent of Baby Boomers and Gen Xers are concerned about juggling the responsibility of caring for their families alongside of also providing for the wellbeing of their aging parents.

Many find it is nearly impossible to maintain a full-time job and care for children at home or in college, while assuming the additional role of a full-time caretaker for an aging loved one. The added duty of elderly care can create added emotional, financial and physical stress, the study finds
"While caring for an aging loved one is a noble act, this should not come at the expense of one's own physical and mental health," said Chris Buitron, chief marketing officer, Senior Helpers.

"Above all, it's important to be realistic and determine what care you can or cannot provide, and then know when to seek assistance. In-home senior care companies like Senior Helpers help relieve the burden that family members experience when caring for an elderly loved one."

Key insights uncovered by Senior Helpers' survey include:
  • A majority of respondents (34 percent) indicated they would prefer someone with prior caregiving experience to care for their loved one's daily needs, but do not require a professional care facility.
  • Nearly 85 percent of adult children would prefer for their loved ones to age at home.
  • A surprising 67 percent of Baby Boomers and Gen Xers are comfortable talking to aging loved ones about long-term care options.
  • When asked why their aging parents still live at home, 58 percent of respondents said it was because of the comfort and dignity associated with living independently.
  • Nearly 60 percent of Baby Boomers and Gen Xers feel that when the elderly are cared for in their own homes their experience is more positive than in an assisted living facility.
  • When asked hypothetically who would make the ideal caregiver of choice, 37 percent of respondents chose Jill Taylor of "Home Improvement" to care for their aging loved ones. Others cited include Fran Fine of "The Nanny" at 25 percent, Tony Micelli of "Who's The Boss" at 24 percent and "Uncle Phil" of "The Fresh Prince of Bel Air" at 13 percent, respectively.
Founded in 2001 with a vision to help seniors who wish to remain in their homes – despite age-related illnesses and mobility challenges – Senior Helpers serves elderly individuals and their families around the world. Senior Helpers differentiates itself with its proprietary, specialized programs that have been developed in collaboration with leading medical experts. The company was the first provider in the industry to offer specialized care services for individuals with Alzheimer's, dementia and Parkinson's disease.

For more information about Senior Helpers, visit

1 According to the Pew Research Center

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Research Shows 'Baby Boomer' Disdain For Massachusetts Nursing Homes

Dramatic Fear of Nursing Homes & Concern for Plight of Nursing Home Residents
MS Study shows disdain of Boomers for Nursing Homes

PRNewswire-USNewswire, May 20, 2017-- A new survey of 250 Massachusetts 'baby boomers' shows overwhelming anxiety about nursing homes with 90% of those surveyed fearing a move into a nursing home. 92% of respondents do not support the nursing home industry's attempts to reduce protections for nursing home residents. 88% felt nursing homes in Massachusetts did not have enough staff to provide quality care.

The survey, sponsored by the Massachusetts Advocates for Nursing Home Reform (MANHR) sheds light on attitudes towards nursing homes, among Massachusetts 'baby boomers,' as millions of Massachusetts baby boomers will retire over the next 20 years.

"Such strong negative results show that the vast majority of Massachusetts nursing homes are not living up to their promise of quality care," said Arlene Germain, president, MANHR.  The nursing home industry continues to work hard to remove regulations – we call them protections -- that ensure the care, safety and dignity of nursing home residents."

96 percent of Massachusetts 'Baby Boomers' favor comprehensive reform to improve the lives of nursing home residents with 88 percent agreeing the MA Legislature does not make the quality of care of nursing home residents a high enough priority. 97 percent believe it is important for nursing homes where abuse occurs to be shut down.

"Nursing home residents are 'the forgotten ones' as most people don't pay attention to this truly needy segment of our population," said Martin Alintuck, senior advisor at MANHR.

"When our elderly need help the most, we fail them by not reforming a system that many of them must choose because they get old and run out of money."

Other Survey Results
  • 73% do not believe nursing homes make the best interests of their residents a priority.
  • 86% do not believe there is enough media coverage of nursing home problems in Massachusetts.
  • 66% do not believe it is right the Commonwealth does not have enough resources to investigate and police the thousands of annual complaints about nursing homes.
Survey Details

MANHR/SurveyMonkey research conducted between 3/31/17 and 4/11/17.  The 250 respondents, 44% male and 56% female, live in Massachusetts and are between the ages of 52-72.

The nation’s acute shortage of home health aides is jeopardizing care for vulnerable older adults

Acute shortages of home health aides and nursing assistants are cropping up across the country, threatening care for people with serious disabilities and vulnerable older adults.

In Minnesota and Wisconsin, nursing homes have denied admission to thousands of patients over the past year because they lack essential staff, according to local long-term care associations

In New York, patients living in rural areas have been injured, soiled themselves and gone without meals because paid caregivers aren’t available, according to testimony provided to the state Assembly’s health

In Illinois, the independence of people with severe developmental disabilities is being compromised, as agencies experience staff shortages of up to 30 percent, according to a court monitor overseeing a federal consent decree.

The emerging crisis is driven by low wages — around $10 an hour, mostly funded by state Medicaid programs — and a shrinking pool of workers willing to perform this physically and emotionally demanding work: helping people get in and out of bed, go to the bathroom, shower, eat, participate in activities, and often dealing with challenging behaviors.

It portends even worse difficulties to come, as America’s senior citizen population swells to 88 million people in 2050, up from 48 million currently, and requires more assistance with chronic health conditions and disabilities, experts warn.

“If we don’t turn this around, things are only going to get worse” said Dr. David Gifford, senior vice president of quality and regulatory affairs for the American Health Care Association, which represents nursing homes across the U.S.

“For me, as a parent, the instability of this system is terrifying,” said Cheryl Dougan of Bethlehem, Pa., whose profoundly disabled son, Renzo, suffered cardiac arrest nearly 19 years ago at age 14 and receives round-the-clock care from paid caregivers.
Rising demand, stagnant wages
For years, experts have predicted that demand for services from a rapidly aging population would outstrip the capacity of the “direct care” workforce: personal care aides, home health aides and nursing assistants.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates an additional 1.1 million workers of this kind will be needed by 2024 — a 26 percent increase over 2014. Yet, the population of potential workers who tend to fill these jobs, overwhelmingly women ages 25 to 64, will increase at a much slower rate.

After the recession of 2008-09, positions in Medicaid-funded home health agencies, nursing homes and community service agencies were relatively easy to fill for several years. But the improving economy has led workers to pursue other higher-paying alternatives, in retail services for example, and turnover rates have soared.

At the same time, wages for nursing assistants, home health aides and personal care aides have stagnated, making recruitment difficult. The average hourly rate nationally is $10.11 — a few cents lower than a decade ago, according to PHI, an organization that studies the direct-care workforce. There is a push on now in a handful of states to raise the minimum to $15 an hour.

Even for-profit franchises that offer services such as light housekeeping and companionship to seniors who pay out-of-pocket are having problems with staffing.

“All the experienced workers are already placed with families. They’re off the market,” said Carrie Bianco, owner of Always Best Care Senior Services, which is based in Torrance, Calif., with franchises in 30 states.

Finding new employees was so difficult that Bianco started her own 14-week training program for caregivers nine months ago. To attract recruits, she ran ads targeting women who had left the workforce or been close to their grandparents. In exchange for free tuition, graduates must agree to start working for her agency.

“There’s much more competition now — a lot of franchises have opened and people will approach our workers outside our building or in the lobby and ask if they want to come work for them,” said Karen Kulp, president of Home Care Associates of Philadelphia.

Hardest to cover in Kulp’s area are people with disabilities or older adults who live at some distance from the city center and need only one to two hours of help a day.  Workers prefer longer shifts and less time traveling between clients, so they gravitate to other opportunities and “these people are not necessarily getting service,” she said.

It isn’t possible to document exactly how common these problems are nationally. Neither states nor the federal government routinely collect information about staff vacancy rates in home care agencies or nursing homes, turnover rates or people going without services.

“If we really want to understand what’s needed to address workforce shortages, we need better data,” said Robert Espinoza, vice president of policy at PHI.

Hard times in Wisconsin
Some of the best data available come from Wisconsin, where long-term care facilities and agencies serving seniors and people with disabilities have surveyed their members over the past year.

The findings are startling. One of seven caregiving positions in Wisconsin nursing homes and group homes remained unfilled, one survey discovered; 70 percent of administrators reported a lack of qualified job applicants. As a result, 18 percent of long-term facilities in Wisconsin have had to limit resident admissions, declining care for more than 5,300 vulnerable residents.

“The words ‘unprecedented’ and ‘desperate’ come to mind,” said John Sauer, president and chief executive of LeadingAge Wisconsin, which represents not-for-profit long-term care institutions. “In my 28 years in the business, this is the most challenging workforce situation I’ve seen.”

Sauer and others blame inadequate payments from Medicaid — which funds about two-thirds of nursing homes’ business — for the bind. In rural areas, especially, operators are at the breaking point.

“We are very seriously considering closing our nursing facility so it doesn’t drive the whole corporation out of business,” said Greg Loeser, chief executive of Iola Living Assistance, which offers skilled nursing, assisted living and independent living services in a rural area about 70 miles west of Green Bay.

Like other short-staffed operators, he’s had to ask employees to work overtime and use agency staff, increasing labor costs substantially. A nearby state veterans home, the largest in Wisconsin, pays higher wages, making it hard for him to find employees. Last year, Iola’s losses on Medicaid-funded residents skyrocketed to $631,000 — an “unsustainable amount,” Loeser said.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has proposed a 2 percent Medicaid increase for long-term care facilities and personal care agencies for each of the next two years, but that won’t be enough to make a substantial difference, Loeser and other experts say.

The situation is equally grim for Wisconsin agencies that send personal care workers into people’s homes. According to a separate survey in 2016, 85 percent of agencies said they didn’t have enough staff to cover all shifts, and 43 percent reported not filling shifts at least seven times a month.

Barbara Vedder, 67, of Madison, paralyzed from her chest down since a spinal cord injury in 1981, has witnessed the impact firsthand. Currently, she qualifies for 8.75 hours of help a day, while her husband tends to her in the evening.

“It’s getting much, much, much more difficult to find willing, capable people to help me,” she said. “It’s a revolving door: People come for a couple of months, maybe, then they find a better job or they get pregnant or they move out of state. It’s an endless state of not knowing what’s going to happen next — will somebody be around to help me tomorrow? Next month?”

When caregivers don’t show up or shifts are cut back or canceled, “I don’t get proper cleaning around my catheter or in my groin area,” Vedder continued. “I’ll skip a meal or wait later several hours to take a pill. I won’t get my range-of-motion exercises, or my wheelchair cushion might slip out of place and I’ll start getting sore. Basically, I start losing my health.”

Debra Ramacher and her husband have been unable to find paid caregivers since June 2015 for daughter Maya, 20, and son Michael, 19, both of whom have cerebral palsy, epilepsy and other significant disabilities. The family lives in New Richmond in western Wisconsin, about 45 minutes from the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area.

“At least three agencies told me they’ve stopped trying to hire personal care aides. They can’t find anybody and it costs them money to advertise,” said Ramacher, executive director of Wisconsin Family Ties, an organization for families with children with emotional, behavioral and mental disorders.

“It’s incredibly stressful on all of us, living with this kind of uncertainty,” she said.

Every few months, Ramacher tries to find caregivers on her own by putting ads up on Craigslist, in local newspapers and on job boards.

“We get a few bites,” she said. “Most recently, two people came and interviewed. One never got back to us; the other got a better job that paid more.”

In the meantime, she and her husband are being paid by Medicaid to look after Maya and Michael.

“We don’t want to be the caregivers; we want to have our own life,” Ramacher said. “But we don’t have any option.”

KHN’s coverage related to aging & improving care of older adults is supported by The John A. Hartford Foundation.