Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Dangerous Prescription Painkiller Addictions - Opioids

The United States has an addiction problem.  No, it is not just teens and young adults who are affected; it also affects Baby Boomers and the growing epidemic of addiction and overdoses related to opioid prescription pain medications like morphine, oxycodone and hydrocodone.

Risks of Prescription Painkiller Addictions

There are a number of risks associated with these opioid prescription pain medications.  To make matters worse, many doctors are unaware of the dangers and, consequently, the patients are not well-informed, either.  By the time people are addicted, it is difficult for them to get off the drugs.  Here are some of the facts that people should know ... especially if a doctor suggested an opioid medication for them or someone they love:

*  Between 1993 and 2012, there was a 500% increase in the rate of hospitalizations for overdoses from prescription pain pills among people between the ages of 45 and 85.

*  At the same time, the number of overdose deaths rose 700% for adults between the ages of 55 and 64.

*  The highest number of deaths was in people between the ages of 45 and 54.  Their rate was actually four times the overdose death rate for teens and young adults!  This statistic alone should terrify any adult who believes these drugs will be safe for them to take, because they were prescribed by a physician.

*  The death rate may be even higher than we realize because so many deaths in the elderly are attributed to natural causes, especially when the person has multiple health issues.  However, the real cause may have been an accidental overdose or the inability of the liver and kidneys to clear multiple medications from the body.

*  In 2012, 8% of adults ages 40 or older reported that they had taken an opioid painkiller in the past 30 days.  (That is correct.  According to AARP, during a single month, approximately one out of twelve people over the age of 40 had taken an opioid painkiller.)

Side Effects of Prescription Opioid Painkillers

What many people do not realize when they begin taking these drugs is that there are a number of dangerous side effects, in addition to the risk of becoming addicted and/or dying of an overdose (as though that was not bad enough)!

Opioid drugs also result in:

*  Increased rate of heart attacks
*  Increase in number of falls and related fractures
*  Grogginess or foggy thinking
*  Constipation
*  Sexual dysfunction
*  The drugs become less effective at controlling chronic pain over time
*  The drugs may actually make people more sensitive to pain
*  It can be very difficult to stop using the drugs.  (ABC News reported in a news special in March, 2016 that 80% of new heroin users start out on opioid painkillers and, when the opioids are removed, the patients seek out an affordable substitute ... heroin.)

How to Use Opioid Pain Medications Safely

If you are suffering from acute pain after surgery or at the end of your life, it is possible that your doctor may prescribe one of these medications for you.  If this happens and you decide to use these medications, here is how to make sure you are using them safely:

*  Try taking only one-quarter to one-half of the normal dose.

*  Let your doctor know about other medications you are taking, especially benzodiazepines which may be prescribed for anxiety or insomnia.

*  Do not mix opioids with alcohol or other medications, which could trigger an overdose.

*  Make sure your doctor is monitoring you frequently, up to once a month.  They need to order frequent urine tests to measure the opiate levels in your system.

*  Be realistic about your pain.  Painkillers, including opioids, cannot eliminate all pain completely.  In fact, studies show that painkillers can only reduce chronic pain by 30%, at the most.  Patients should try less risky alternative treatments such as physical therapy, stress management, yoga, acupuncture, massage, etc.

*  Protect your loved ones by keeping all prescription painkillers locked up in a special cabinet or lockbox.  Thieves and even teenage relatives could be tempted to steal them and either use or sell them.

If you would like additional information on medical issues affecting Baby Boomers, where to retire, financial planning, family relationships, travel and more, use the tabs or pull down menu at the top of the page for links to hundreds of additional articles.


"46 Americans Die Each Day from Painkiller ODs," AARP Bulletin, September, 2015, pg. 6.

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Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Laws Regarding Caregivers for Senior Citizens

Are you thinking about getting a caregiver, either for your aging parents, an ill spouse or yourself?  There are definite advantages to having a caregiver.  Since an estimated 90% of people over the age of 65 would like to stay in their own homes as long as possible as they age, a caregiver is often necessary in order to make this possible.

Caregivers can help with shopping, meal preparation, light housekeeping, dispensing medication, bathing, dressing and transportation.  Without this help, many individuals would need to move into assisted living in order to get the care they need.  Those who want to stay in their own homes benefit by having caregivers who come to their home and provide whatever services they need.

However, if you are going to have a caregiver in your home or the home of a relative, it is important that you know the law.

A Caregiver is an Employee, Not an Independent Contractor

According to the IRS, there is no such thing as a 1099 Independent Contractor Caregiver.  This means that a caregiver must either be hired by an agency or by the consumer, and become that consumer's employee.

If an agency employs the caregiver, they are responsible for meeting all the requirements and making sure that payroll taxes, worker's compensations, etc., are handled correctly.

If an individual hires someone to be a caregiver, they automatically become that person's employer.  They must make sure they are paying them the minimum wage for the first 40 hours a week or 9 hours a day that they work.  If they exceed either the daily or weekly maximum, they must pay their employee wages that are at least 1 1/2 times their normal hourly rate.  This is according to Federal Law.

In addition, a consumer who is hiring a caregiver as an employee immediately becomes responsible for handling workers' compensation insurance, income tax withholding, and all other payroll taxes.

Most health care providers believe that the cost is approximately the same whether you use an agency or employ the caregiver privately.  Using an agency requires far less paperwork, which could be an advantage as you get older.

Other Laws Affecting Caregivers

In addition, most states require that caregivers go through a certain amount of education and training.  While some of the programs may only take a few weeks, it is still important that you are certain the caregiver you use has received this training.

Most states also require that caregivers are licensed and registered with the appropriate state agency.

Be Sure You Comply with All Laws and Check References

It is extremely important that, whether you find a caregiver through an agency or on your own, you are complying with all the necessary laws.  The laws are there to protect both the employee and the person receiving the care.

In addition, take the time to check references and do background checks.  While there have been very few instances of a hired caregiver taking advantage of a patient, it has happened occasionally. This person will have complete access to the home and belongings of the person under their care.  You want to be sure they are someone you can trust.

If you are interested in more helpful retirement information, use the tabs or pull down menu at the top of this article to find links to hundreds of additional articles on medical issues that can arise, financial planning, where to retire, family relationships and more.

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Monday, March 14, 2016

Stanford Research on Alzheimers

Many experts believe that if someone lives long enough, it is virtually inevitable they will develop some type of dementia, most likely Alzheimer's.  While many of us express the desire to live a long, healthy, active life, very few of us like the idea that Alzheimer's will be a part of that scenario.

The University of California - Irvine has been studying people who are 90+ or the "oldest of the old" for over 30 years, and the results of their research has been included in this blog.  Meanwhile, Stanford University and several other well-known research universities have been doing their own research on Alzheimer's and dementia.

Dr. Frank Longo, chairman of the Department of Neurology and Neurological Sciences at Stanford University, heads up their research into treatments for Alzheimer's.  So far, although over 200 Alzheimer's drugs have been developed and tested in the U.S. since 2000, none of them have proven successful at stopping or reversing this disease. In a few cases, some of the drugs have shown a little promise in relieving the worst problems related to memory loss and confusion.  However, much more needs to be done.

Dr. Longo is frustrated by their limited success.  He reports, "My biggest frustration is that we've cured Alzheimer's in mice many times.  Why can't we move that success to people?"

Longo is now studying a drug known as LM11A-31 (or C31) that shows promise.  Rather than trying to erase the plaques of amyloid that seems to be present in most cases of Alzheimer's, this drug attempts to keep brain cells strong enough that, hopefully, they will be protected against neurological onslaughts, whether they are caused by amyloids or other factors.  This is a new, but important approach, because about 30 percent of people over 70 have amyloid in their brains but no signs of dementia.  In addition to amyloids, another Alzheimer's related protein is called tau.  Tau usually appears in the late stages when memory, organized thinking, and language have already begun to decline.

Approximately 1/3 of Americans over the age of 85 already are afflicted with Alzheimer's.  Around the world, 50 million people are living with some form of dementia.  Within 20 years, that number is expected to double.  Within three years, the global cost of caring for people with dementia could reach over $1 trillion.

Doctors are now able to do brain scans that can identify whether or not someone has amyloid deposits or tau in the brain.  However, they do not have a way to remove either problem, even if they see it in the scan.  That is why Longo's drug, C31, could be game changing.  If this drug is able to successfully slow down or stop the deterioration of nerve cells, it could enable doctors to prevent some of the damage caused by the amyloid in the brain. In mice, this drug has even been able to reverse some of the damage that has already been done ... although researchers are not sure if it can restore lost memory.

Other avenues of research are also being pursued.  For example, researchers at the Rush Alzheimer's Disease Center have discovered that people who have higher levels of a nerve-growth factor called BDNF tend to retain their cognitive functions longer, even when amyloid builds up.  Those who have the most BDNF saw a 50 percent slower rate of cognitive decline.  So far, there are no drugs that will boost a person's BDNF levels, although that is another avenue of exploration.

While more research needs to be done, these studies at Stanford and other locations are encouraging.

You may also want to read more about the University of California at Irvine's 90+ Study on the Oldest of the Old.


"Alzheimer's From a New Angle," Time Magazine, Feb. 29, 2016.

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Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Longevity Tips from Time Magazine

In the Feb. 22, 2016 issue of Time Magazine, the editors devoted an entire section to longevity and and how to age well.  While I recommend that people read the entire issue, I also wanted to summarize their major findings in this article.

In the past, this blog has covered a number of longevity discoveries, including the findings of the University of California - Irvine 90+ Study ... which has been going on for more than three decades.

Researchers continue to learn new things about why some people are able to live decades longer than their counterparts, as well as why some of the elderly seem to escape many of the physical and mental health issues related to aging.  Below is a summary of recent findings from the Stanford Center on Longevity and the Sightlines Project, both of which were cited in the Time Magazine article.

Longevity Tips from Time Magazine

As most of us have always suspected, having good genes is the reason why at least some people manage to live long lives despite bad behavior.  Dr. Nir Barzilai, the director of the Institute for Aging Research at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, studied a group of 500 long-lived Jews who had a mean age of 97.3.  Over 50 percent of the group was either overweight or obese;  60 percent of the men and 30 percent of the women had been heavy smokers at some time in their life; only half said they did even moderate exercise.  What Dr. Barzilai's group discovered was that these subjects had two gene sequences that reduced their bad cholesterol and raised their good cholesterol. They also seemed to obtain other health and longevity benefits from these special gene sequences. 

Fortunately, for those of us who do not have these powerful gene sequences, there are still actions we can take that will significantly increase the odds that we, too, can live a long life.

Our diets are extremely important.  One approach to a long life is to cut the number of calories you eat by 25 percent.  That action alone will lower your blood pressure and cholesterol a small amount.  However, it will also cut you C-reactive protein, an inflammatory marker linked to heart disease, by 47 percent.  For those who have read the University of California-Irvine 90+ Study, this may seem to fly in the face of their research that shows that people tend to live longer when they weigh up to 10 percent over their "ideal" weight when they are in their 70s.  Some of this could be attributed to the fact that many of the people who live to be in their 90s are the ones who have those special gene sequences. 

Occasional fasting also lowers the risk factors for age-related diseases, according to the Time Magazine article.  In a study performed on mice, a low-calorie and low-protein fasting diet improved their metabolism, slowed down bone loss, and improved cognitive function.  The mice also developed cancer at a lower rate and lived longer lives.  When people were put on a similar fasting plan for five days a week, they got similar results including lower rates of diabetes, heart disease and cancer.  The periodic fasting diet also lowered their blood sugar levels, as well as levels of the growth hormone IGF-1, which is believed to accelerate aging.

Reduce your protein consumption so that only 10 percent of your calories come from protein.  People who get 20 percent or more of their calories from protein have a 400 percent increase in cancer risk compared to people who only get 10 percent of their calories from protein.

Another advantage of fasting is that it appears to flush bad cells from the body and spurs the generation of new stem cells.  The new cells replace the lost cells and rejuvenate the body.

Lower your inflammation levels by eating a diet rich in plants and omega-3 fatty acids.  Inflammation is believed to be the culprit in comorbidity, which means having more than one disease.  Meditation and regular exercise can also reduce inflammation and your risk of comorbidity.

Move a little more.  Researchers have discovered that just moving around a little bit during the day is enough to lower your risk of a heart event.  In addition, moving more also helps older people keep their mobility.  Sitting all day is a risk factor for an earlier death.  It can contribute to Type 2 diabetes and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease ... even for those people who get regular exercise.  It is actually more important that the elderly get out of their chairs and fidget, do chores around the house, take a walk and engage in other easy activities than it is to take an exercise class, if all they do is sit in a chair the remainder of the day.

Manage your stress, cultivate a positive outlook about aging, and reduce feelings of anger and resentment.  All of these actions contribute to a longer, healthier life.  The elderly see positive improvements in their health, resilience and mental acuity when they practice mindful meditation.  It is believed that it actually slows biological aging by stabilizing telomeres.  What are telomeres?  They are defined as "The disposable buffers at the ends of chromosomes which are truncated during cell division; their presence protects the genes before them on the chromosome from being truncated instead. Over time, due to each cell division, the telomere ends become shorter." (Wikipedia)  The bottom line is that the shorter your telomeres, the less time you have left to live.  Anything that slows down their deterioration or stabilizes them, such as meditation, will extend your life.

As you can see from the list above, most of the above behavioral changes involve being aware of what you eat.  The other two were simply taking the time to move around your house as much as possible, and spending a little time each day in meditation.  While not everyone can have the magic gene sequence mentioned at the top of the article, nearly anyone can learn how to manage their own lives.


Time Magazine, Feb. 22, 2016:

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Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Statistics About Senior Citizens

Sitting too much can lead to an early death.
The February 29, 2016 issue of Time Magazine contained a large section that was dedicated to aging ... far more information than can be relayed in one blog post.  As a result, additional information will be shared over the next couple of weeks.

This week's post contains some of the fascinating statistics Time provided about people in the U.S. over the age of 45.

Time Magazine's Statistics about Senior Citizens

*  Since 2003, there has been an 11 percent increase in the number of people over age 75 who are married.

*  57 percent of Americans between the ages of 65 and 74 admit they spend 7 hours or more a day being sedentary.

*  Sedentary behavior, specifically sitting all day, is a risk factor for earlier death.

*  45 percent of Americans between the ages of 45 and 64 exercise three or more times a week (which means that 55 percent do not get exercise at least three times a week.)

*  47 percent of Americans over the age of 75 take five or more prescription drugs every day.

*  29 percent of Americans ages 65 to 69 still work for pay.

*  Since 2000, only one Alzheimer's drug has been approved, out of 244 that have been tested.

*  "Diet is by far the most powerful intervention in delaying aging and age-related diseases," according to Valter Longo, director of the University of Southern California's Longevity Institute.  Their research shows that when people periodically fast, they lower their risk factors for age-related diseases.

*  When people were put on a low-calorie, low-protein diet for five days a week, with approximately 34% to 54% fewer calories than was normal for them, after three months they had lower rates of aging, diabetes, heart disease, blood sugar, and cancer.    

*  Cancer risk increases about 400% for Americans who get 20% or more of their calories from protein, compared to people who get only about 10% of their calories from protein.

*  Mindfulness meditation reduces stress and appears to slow biological aging by stabilizing your telomeres.

*  A 2011 study published in "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences" revealed that older people who reported they were the least happy died at almost twice the rate in the next five years as people who reported they were the most happy.  Happier people also retained their physical functions, such as walking speed, longer.

*  Social Security is the sole source of income for one in four recipients.  By 2033, payroll taxes at the current rate will only be enough to pay 77 percent of promised benefits.  One possible solution is raising or removing the cap on annual earnings that are subject to the Social Security tax.  The limit is currently $118,500.  (Some smaller actions have already been taken to save Social Security, such as eliminating the file and suspend option.)

Summary of the Time Magazine Findings

If you wanted to sum up the statistics about senior citizens in America today, it would boil down to the fact that each of us needs to eat less food, particularly less protein, exercise more, meditate more and cultivate a more positive outlook on life.  Saving additional money towards retirement would be a good idea, too.

Want to know more about aging and retirement?  Use the tabs or pull down menu at the top of the page to find links to hundreds of additional articles on retirement, where to retire, common medical issues, financial planning and more.

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