Is frailty becoming less fatal?

Professor Fiona Matthews is Professor of Epidemiology at Newcastle University, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK. In this blog, she shares a recent Age and Ageing publication looking at data collected since the 1990s on how much frailty exists in the population and whether it is more or less related to dying now than 30 years ago.

Most doctors involved in the care of older people would claim to know a frail patient when they see one. Being able to detect this frailty is crucial to ensure that treatment is appropriate, proportionate and likely to produce positive outcomes wherever possible. The measurement of frailty has become important recently with the inclusion of frailty within the requirements of an assessment in general practice, and tools to assist doctors in emergency departments evaluate frailty quickly. The most popular method for these investigations has been the frailty index, where diseases and impairments are added all together to give a score. The relationship between this frailty index and mortality has been seen across the world, giving rise to suggestions that it is one measure that is consistent across time and place. Continue reading

The Great Balancing Act – perspectives from older people on falls risk

Dr Kristy Robson is a Lecturer in Podiatry at Charles Sturt University, a regional university in Australia. In this blog she shares a recent Age and Ageing publication that explores the behavioural decisions older people make when they knowingly and unknowingly undertake activities or tasks that pose a risk of falling. She tweets @KristyRobson2

Fall related injuries in older people constitute a significant public health issue in Australia and internationally. Falling represents the leading cause of unintentional injury in this population with approximately one third of older adults falling each year. Effective management of falls in older populations has proven to be challenging. Despite the substantial focus on falls prevention by the Australian government over the last decade the age standardised hospital admission rates attributed to falls continue to increase. The complexity of managing falls risk in the diverse populations found within Australia, coupled with an ageing population and finite resources, drives the need to better understand factors that can influence falling from the perspective of the older person. Continue reading

When low blood pressure is too low in old age

Sven Streit is a general practitioner at the Institute of Primary Health Care (BIHAM) in Bern (CH) and PhD Candidate at Leiden University Medical Center (NL). In this blog, he introduces the results of his PhD in a recent Age & Ageing paper on blood pressure, mortality risk and cognitive decline in a population-based cohort of oldest-old (all 85 years) in Leiden. He tweets @Sven_Streit

With increasing age, blood pressure rises as a consequence of arterial stiffness. It has been debated whether or not to it is beneficial to treat hypertension in old age, especially in >75-year-olds when they have multimorbidity, polypharmacy or frailty. Large hypertension trials showed that lowering blood pressure in over 60-year-olds is beneficial and lowers the risk for myocardial infarction, stroke and all-cause mortality, even in >80-year-olds. However, these trials lack generalizability and typically excluded patients with multimorbidity and frailty. At the same time, observational studies raise concerns about lowering blood pressure too much, since there are several cohort studies showing a reverse association between low blood pressure and increased mortality and accelerated cognitive decline starting from age >75-year-olds. Continue reading

Frequent drinkers unravelled

Beth Bareham, NIHR SPCR  doctoral fellow at Newcastle University Institute of Health and Society and Institute for Ageing (@bkateb1) She co-authored the Age and Ageing Paper Drinking in later life: a systematic review and thematic synthesis of qualitative studies exploring older people’s perceptions and experiences with Professor Eileen Kaner @EileenKaner, Liam Spencer @LiamPSpencer and Professor Barbara Hanratty @BarbaraHanratty.

Within the United Kingdom, older people experience more alcohol-related hospitalisations and deaths than any other age group. Risky drinking amongst  older people is not just confined to the United Kingdom. Potentially harmful patterns of drinking are common amongst older age groups across the globe. Older people are not only at risk because they drink more often, but also because quantities of alcohol that may have been safer earlier in life have the potential to damage an older person’s health if, like most, they have medical conditions or take medications. However, moderate drinking in older age has been linked with some health benefits, and drinking may also have a positive impact on their social lives. The impact of alcohol on older people is complex, and many different factors can influence their choices. To modify riskier drinking in later life and support people to live longer, healthier lives, it’s vital that we understand these complexities.  Continue reading

Drug burden in older people approaching end of life

Dr. Denis Curtin is a specialist registrar in Geriatric Medicine in Cork University Hospital, Ireland. His paper Drug consumption and futile medication prescribing in the last year of life: an observational study was recently published the Age and Ageing journal.

The vast majority of older adults are admitted to hospital in their last year of life. For many of these people, hospitalizations are frequent and prolonged.

We reviewed the medical records of 410 older adults who were admitted to our hospital in the year prior to death. The median number of days spent in hospital was 32. While in hospital, patients consumed an average of 24 different medications. One-in-six patients consumed 35 or more individual medications. When discharged home from hospital, patients were prescribed an average of 2 unnecessary or inappropriate medications. Continue reading

Why it gets harder to prevent falls when older people leave hospital

Chiara Naseri is a physiotherapist and is currently completing her PhD at Western Australia’s Curtin University School of Physiotherapy and Exercise Science. She has recently published a review in Age and Ageing entitled “Reducing falls in older adults recently discharged from hospital: A systematic review and meta-analysis.”

The paper reveals the complexity of the discharge process for older people and that more support is required than is currently widely recognised. Her team found that falls prevention strategies, known to reduce falls for older people in general, were not as effective for older people following hospital discharge.

Evidence has shown 30% of the population of older people who live in the community fall at least once per year, 10% of these falls result in a serious injury. Whereas 40% of the population of older people who have recently been discharged home from hospital fall within 6 months of discharge, most of these falls occur in the first month and 54% result in a serious injury, particularly hip fractures. Continue reading

The ‘Geriatrician’s Salute’: emerging evidence on deprescribing

Professor Sarah Hilmer works as a geriatrician and clinical pharmacologist at Royal North Shore Hospital in Sydney, and conjoint professor of geriatric pharmacology at Sydney University, Australia.  Dr Danijela Gnjidic is a pharmacologist who is a NHMRC Dementia Leadership Fellow and Senior Lecturer in Pharmacy Practice at Sydney University, Australia. 

One of the most reversible causes of a geriatric syndrome in our older patients is an adverse drug event.  Approximately 1 in 5 hospital admissions amongst older people are due to adverse drug reactions and during their time in hospital 1 in 6 older people experience an adverse drug reaction.  Consequently, comprehensive medication review is an integral part of the practice of geriatric medicine.

The process of a health professional withdrawing medicines for which the current risk may outweigh the benefit in their patient has been given a variety of names including the ‘geriatrician’s salute’ and increasingly ‘deprescribing’.  Continue reading

MY heart leaps up…

John Starr, Professor of Health & Ageing, Director of the Alzheimer Scotland Dementia Research Centre, University of Edinburgh.

I have been a consultant geriatrician in Edinburgh for over twenty years. I studied in Cambridge and London, and worked in Kent, the West Midlands and London before moving to Scotland.

Recently, one of my PhD students had just got a post-doc post. He’s a mathematician by training and we’ve been working on applying graph theory to EEGs to understand changing connections in the brain before the onset of dementia. He’s shortly going on to work with the Dementia Research Institute, including the vast genomic data of UK BioBank. He has no background in biology so I was explaining to him how all our cells have the same DNA, but not all the genes are expressed by all cells. Continue reading

May 2018 issue of Age and Ageing journal is out now

The May 2018 issue of Age and Ageing, the journal of the British Geriatrics Society is out now.  A full table of contents is available here, with editorials, research papers, reviews, short reports, case reports book reviews and more.  

    Hot topics in this issue include:
  • New pain assessment guideline
  • Future population burden of
    multimorbidity
  • Systemic anti-cancer treatment for
    older people
  • Treating malnutrition in care homes
  • Effects of different types of
    exercise in older people
  • Research methods – diagnostic test
    accuracy studies

The Editor’s View article gives an overview of the issue with a summary of highlights. This article is free to read and can be viewed here. Continue reading

The Lonely brain

Dr Samuel Barnes Ph.D is a Lecturer at Imperial College London in the Division of Brain Sciences and was recently awarded a UK Dementia Research Institute Fellowship. The goal of his research is to understand the role of neural circuit plasticity in aging and neurodegeneration. His group uses a combination of in vivo voltage and calcium imaging, bioelectronics and electrophysiology to investigate the neural plasticity factors that make the aged brain susceptible to neurodegeneration and ultimately dementia. You can read more about his work here.  He will be speaking at the Loneliness in Older People and its Impact on Health event on 13 June at Wellcome Collection in London.

Daydreaming can be one of life’s great pleasures. Losing yourself in a thought or spending time quietly reflecting on the day’s events is an important part of modern life. But what if solitary thought was the only option? For many older people periods of loneliness are all too frequent. Such periods of social isolation can involve little to no contact with people for prolonged periods of time. What do these prolonged stretches of loneliness do to the brain?

To answer this question, we must consider how the brain processes the sensory and social world. The substrate of thought is the electrical activity that flows between neurons in the brain. These tiny nerve cells are connected to each other forming complex circuits that store and process sensory experience. Continue reading