Aging & Caregiving in the News

Information, updates and interesting tidbits

In this issue:

  • Back pain can shorten life
  • What's the cure for ageism?
  • A "forgotten symptom" of dementia

Senior woman discussing xray with doctor

Another Reason to Seek Treatment for Back Pain

A majority of older adults will experience back pain at least periodically. Back pain can be miserable, leading to depression, inactivity, and a loss of independence. It can even shorten life! Researchers from Boston Medical Center (BMC) studied 8,000 older women over the course of 14 years, and found that those who suffered frequent back pain also had a 24% increased risk of death during the study.

Back pain can be caused by conditions such as arthritis, osteoporosis or problems with the discs of the spine. The top risk factor is age—the years can take a toll on the structures of the back. Back pain makes it harder to be physically active, take care of one's health and perform the activities of daily living. The BMC research team concluded that these factors were the reason for the shorter lives of the people in the study.

The team wants to learn more about whether better management of back pain throughout life could help reduce later-life disability and associated earlier death. If you are suffering back pain, talk to your doctor. Treatment is available and includes exercise, physical therapy, medications and surgery.

Experts Tackle Ageism—What Did They Learn?

Have you heard the term "microaggressions"? Usually used when discussing race or gender, it refers to small incidences of bias that can add up to a real burden for people who are discriminated against. We've reported before in this publication about the damaging effect of ageism on older adults. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), "Unlike other forms of discrimination, including sexism and racism, ageism is socially acceptable, strongly institutionalized, largely undetected and unchallenged."

What's the best way to fight microaggressions targeting older adults? WHO recruited experts from Cornell University to find out. Their conclusion mirrors efforts to fight other forms of discrimination: education, plus frequent interactions between groups—in this case, more intergenerational contact. "If we teach people more about aging—if they're less frightened of it, less negative about it and less uncomfortable interacting with older people—that helps," said study author Prof. Karl Pillemer. "If we get them into contact with older people, where they're getting to know each other, that also helps. And if you put those two things together, we found that works best of all." You can read more about the June 2019 study here.

Apathy Called "The Forgotten Symptom of Dementia"

Some of the behavioral expressions of Alzheimer's disease and other dementia can cause a great deal of distress for both patients and families. Hallucinations, aggression and anxiety draw perhaps the most attention. But researchers from the University of Exeter in the U.K. recently reminded us that apathy—the loss of interest in life and a seeming lack of emotions—is the most common change caused by dementia, and should not be overlooked.

"Apathy is an under-researched and often ignored symptom of dementia," reported researcher Miguel da Silva Vasconcelos. "It can be overlooked because people with apathy seem less disruptive, but it has a huge impact on the quality of life of people living with dementia, and their families. Where people withdraw from activities, it can accelerate cognitive decline and we know that there are higher mortality rates in people with apathy. It's now time this symptom was recognized and prioritized in research and understanding."

The Alzheimer's Society suggests helping people who are living with dementia be more engaged through the use of exercise, one-on-one connections, music therapy and appropriate tasks and activities.

Source: IlluminAge Communication Partners; copyright 2019 IlluminAge