Health News for Seniors

The Health Benefits of Dogs

We’ve talked about the benefits of pets for aging seniors before, but a new study shows that dog ownership has even more benefits for seniors than previously thought.

According to a study by the University of Lincoln in England, seniors who have dogs meet internationally recognized exercise goals simply by walking their canine companion. The researchers took a group of 43 seniors with dogs and 43 without. The study subjects were 65 to 81 years old, lived independently, and were matched by gender, height, weight, health conditions and walking abilities.

The result? Those with dogs walked an average of 22 minutes more a day – or 2760 additional steps – than those who did not have dogs.

“It’s good evidence that dog ownership amongst the elderly increases physical activity in a meaningful and healthy way,” senior author Dr. Daniel Simon Mills told Reuters. “If you’d like to get a dog, don’t be put off by the fact you’re elderly. It’s good for the dog, and it’s good for you.”

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Depression and Falls

A University of Michigan study has concluded that even a moderate increase in depression in people over 65 is associated with a 30 percent increase in the risk of having a fall in the next two years.

But Geoffrey Hoffman, research fellow and assistant professor at the U-M School of Nursing said that simply adjusting the dose of an older adult’s psychiatric medication could reduce that risk.

“We’ve pinpointed that we think the relationship between depression and falls involves medication use with important implications for patient safety and fall risk reduction,” Hoffman said. “Many interventions to prevent falls are expensive and time-intensive, but this is a simple and inexpensive matter of encouraging continued use of psychiatric medication while improving monitoring of fall risk and adjusting medication appropriately.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC):

  • One-fourth of Americans aged 65+ falls each year, but fewer than half tell their doctor.
  • Falls are the leading cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries among adults aged 65 and over
  • Every 11 seconds, an older adult is treated in the emergency room for a fall; every 19 minutes, an older adult dies from a fall.
  • Adjusted for inflation, the direct medical costs for fall injuries are $31 billion annually.

While researchers found depression preceded fall risk, they didn’t conclude fall risk precipitates depression.

However, fear of falling can lead to depression in older adults. When afraid of falling, those individuals limit their activities and become isolated, leading to physical decline, depression, and feelings of hopelessness.

The lesson for older adults is to stay active and take care to reduce fall risks. Depressed seniors should talk to a family member and/or a doctor, and be sure to discuss medications with your doctor.

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Aspirin Risk for Seniors

Taking aspirin daily for heart attack prevention causes an increased risk of serious, and even fatal, gastrointestinal bleeding in seniors over the age of 75, a recent study has determined. According to Reuters, between 40% and 60% of people over 75 in Europe and the U.S. take aspirin every day. But until now the link between age and bleeding risk was not known because most of the studies involved people under 75.

The researchers concluded that people taking aspirin daily should be given proton-pump inhibitors (heartburn medications) to minimize the bleeding danger.

The connection between bleeding and aspirin has long been known, but until now, it was deemed to be more of a nuisance than a serious health risk.  “But our data shows that actually the bleeding is more likely to be disabling than the strokes in this age group so really needs to be taken more seriously,” said Peter Rothwell, MD, of John Radcliffe Hospital in the United Kingdom.

Now researchers need to take a closer look at how long older patients should be prescribed aspirin following a heart attack or stroke. Most studies on the benefits of aspirin in these cases have been done with people under the age of 65.

Rothwell told Time that for older people, the risks associated with bleeding were actually higher than the risk of having a heart attack or stroke, which the aspirin was supposed to prevent.

However, if you are over 75 and take aspirin daily to prevent heart attack or stroke, Rothwell doesn’t recommend stopping the therapy immediately, but suggests instead that you discuss the issue with your doctor first.

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