Articles Posted in End of Life

aspirinDoctors subject older patients to risky, costly, invasive, and painful tests and treatments, perhaps with good intention but also because they fail to see that the seniors in their care are individuals with specific situations with real needs that must be considered.

If  physicians too readily accept conventional wisdom in their field, for example, they may push patients 65 and older to take low-aspirin, with the popular but mistaken belief that this practice will help prevent heart attacks, strokes, and dementia. This doesn’t work, and, it increases the risk in seniors of “significant bleeding in the digestive tract, brain or other sites that required transfusions or admission to the hospital,” the New York Times reported.

The newspaper cited a trio of studies, published in the New England Journal of Medicine and based on “more than 19,000 people, including whites 70 and older, and blacks and Hispanics 65 and older. They took low-dose aspirin — 100 milligrams — or a placebo every day for a median of 4.7 years.”

Nursing homes, by scrimping on their staffing to maximize their profits, put their residents at grave risk for infections that too often have grisly and deadly results. Low-rated facilities run by Uncle Sam to care for elderly veterans also may be concerning. And those oft-pricey assisted living facilities may have their own response to dealing with difficult to care for elders — putting them out on the street.

Kaiser Health News Service, the Chicago Tribune, USA Today, and the Boston Globe all deserve credit for their digging into problems at facilities caring for the old, focusing on issues that should be at the fore for regulators, policy-makers, and politicians as the nation grays.

carehands-300x205Life can be hard, lonely, and difficult for adults who must become caregivers for their parents. If that sounds like the challenging story for tens of millions of millennials and Gen-Xers, yes, it’s true. But Judith Graham, in a column for the Kaiser Health News Service, describes what may be an even tougher role for startling numbers of seniors who find themselves solo caregivers for still older moms and dads.

Graham reported that a new analysis from the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College has found that 1 in 10 Americans between the ages 60 and 69 take care of parents in their 80s, 90s, and even older. For those 70 and older, the numbers increase, so 12 percent of these seniors care for even more elderly relatives. The research is based on data from 80,000 interviews (some people were interviewed multiple times) conducted from 1995 to 2010 for the Health and Retirement Study.

The analysis found that roughly “17 percent of adult children care for their parents at some point in their lives, and the likelihood of doing so rises with age. That’s because parents who’ve reached their 80s, 90s or higher are more likely to have chronic illnesses and related disabilities and to require assistance.”

hjobs-300x174It’s unlikely to surprise anyone who has visited friends or loved ones at a nursing home that such facilities too often are woefully staffed.

But why have federal regulators allowed themselves to be gulled about nursing home personnel levels, and how will not just these care-giving sites but also others, notably hospitals, deal with the growing need for and imbalances in health care staff, including a tilt toward “astonishingly high” numbers of costly administrative staff folks who don’t provide direct patient care?

Jordan Rau, a reporter for Kaiser Health News Service, deserves credit for digging into daily payroll records that Medicare only recently has gathered and published from 14,000 nursing homes nationwide. Rau found that:

intubation-300x181Grown-ups with the least bit of gray on them may want to step up their thinking on how they want to receive medical care under tough circumstances, especially if they consider a new, clear-eyed and hard-nosed study that dispels any myths about possible life-sustaining “miracles” of artificial breathing machines.

A research team with experts from Boston, San Francisco, and Dallas studied 35,000 cases in which adults older than 65 had undergone intubation and use of mechanical ventilators at 262 hospitals nationwide between 2008 and 2015.

They found that a third of patients intubated died in the hospital.

alzheimers-300x168As many as five million Americans already have Alzheimer’s and other dementia-related conditions, and their resulting loss of cognitive capacity and personal control rank among the top causes for health dread among those 55 and older, polls show.  So it’s worth noting that new studies are showing that seniors 65 and older get on average a dozen years of good cognitive health ── and that span is expanding.

Further, the onset of problems typically may occur in relatively mild fashion, with the most serious cognitive decline occurring in a short but late period of 18 months or so, Judith Graham reported for the independent, nonpartisan Kaiser Health News Service.

In her story for the KHNS feature “Navigating Aging,” Graham looks at an array of the latest and reliable research on seniors and cognitive decline, finding glimmers of optimism in what has been increasingly gloomy, evidence-based studies on how huge a challenge may be posed for our fast-graying nation by dementia, Alzheimer’s and their care.

antidepressant-300x225Even as the nation enters an even scarier phase in its battle against the raging opioid abuse epidemic, new and sterner warnings are flying about antidepressants. The costs of these powerful drugs add up, as does the toll of depression and its care. Users say antidepressants are a nightmare to get off of. And medical experts cast growing doubt about whether their benefits outweigh their risks.

The New York Times deserves credit for detailing the worrisome plight of an estimated 15.5 million Americans who have been taking antidepressants — sold as brand drugs like Zoloft, Effexor, Paxil, Prozac, and Cymbalta — for at least five years. The rate of the psychiatric medications’ use “has almost doubled since 2010, and more than tripled since 2000,” the newspaper reported, adding that “nearly 25 million adults … have been on antidepressants for at least two years, a 60 percent increase since 2010.”

Users who try to wean themselves from the drugs find themselves, fast, in nasty situations with “dizziness, nausea, headache and paresthesia — electric-shock sensations in the brain that many people call brain zaps,” patients told the New York Times.

frail-300x150Although patient advocates long have pressed Big Medicine to eliminate unnecessary care — waste in the health care system that some experts estimate adds as much as $765 billion annually in needless costs — it may be past due for a public condemnation of a notably extreme example of this practice: The all too frequent, unhelpful surgeries for the old, many of whom are at the end of life.

Liz Szabo of the independent, nonprofit Kaiser Health News Service, and National Public Radio deserve credit for their report, detailing how 1 in 3 Medicare patients undergoes a serious procedure, “even though the evidence shows that many are more likely to be harmed than to benefit from it.”

As the story explains:

srabuse-300x150Imagine if Uncle Sam permitted everyone who lives in Newport News, Va., or maybe Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to be chemically restrained, drugged with powerful medications so they fell, day and night, into a speechless stupor. Now, further envision the furor if these 180,000 souls and their families each were forced to pay as much as $100,000 annually  to be reduced to a near vegetative state.

This real situation with over-medicated Americans, in this case seniors in nursing homes, is just one more cruelty happening against the aged. It’s also hard to see federal officials issuing faint praise on how regulations slowly — too painfully so — are reducing abuse of potent anti-psychotics in the nation’s care for the old, especially those with dementia.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, aka CMS, has issued new data on its seven-year campaign to slash elder care facilities administering antipsychotics sold under brand names like Abilify, Risperdal, and Zyprexa. Questions also have been raised about a newer drug, the little red pill branded as Nudexta.

alive-300x115Nick Tullier once was a handsome, strapping sheriff’s deputy in Baton Rouge, La. Then, in a blink, he and five others were gunned down by a former Marine and black separatist who had come from Missouri to Louisiana to kill cops. Tullier was one of three deputies who survived the attack.

What happened next to him is part of a series worth reading in the Houston Chronicle, a year-long dig the newspaper has dubbed “Alive Inside.” The work asks whether doctors and hospitals across the country have stayed current with medical advances that maybe, just might, possibly offer greater glimmers of hope to patients like Tullier who suffer traumatic brain injuries.

Such individuals, the Chronicle carefully says, may too quickly be deemed too injured to survive. Doctors, in sincere acts of perceived compassion, may be too fast to urge family and loved ones to withhold or halt medical services for the brain-injured, partly out of the pragmatic reality that their recovery prospects remain poor.

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