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March 28, 2008
Granny is ready for gadgetry. According to a report released Friday by AARP, older people are willing to use devices—like those that regulate lights and temperature, detect when someone has fallen, or monitor blood pressure—if doing so will help them continue living in their own home. "Here's a population who did not grow up with this technology but is willing to use it to maintain independence, choice, and control," says Elinor Ginzler, AARP's senior vice president for livable communities. The reason, she explains, is that the stakes are high.
Seniors' family caregivers also see a benefit to implementing techie solutions. More than 80 percent of those surveyed said technology could "make them feel the person they care for is safer" and offer peace of mind. But both the seniors and their caregivers agreed that cost is a concern: Eighty percent of the former and 75 percent of the latter are willing to pay no more than $50 per month for safety technologies such as fall detectors and other devices for their home.
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March 18, 2008
My grandmother lost her memory—and ultimately her independence—over the course of almost two decades. Before she died of congestive heart failure at 89, she would routinely ask my dad if he was George, her husband (and my grandfather), who had died years earlier. "No, Mom, I'm Gregory, your son," he'd say, seeking a flicker of recognition. Grandma Sally would mull this over a few moments, size up my dad, then jab him in the arm, giggling, as if he'd tried to pull one over on her. Somehow, as her mind slipped away, she'd become docile, even silly—the near antithesis of the stern woman she was with cognition intact. Reflecting on this surreal shift and her memory's prolonged departure, I can't help but wonder if such a chapter might await my parents—or me.
According to a study published Monday in the Annals of Internal Medicine, the odds, unfortunately, are pretty good. Using neuropsychological testing and in-depth interviews of 856 elderly subjects and their families, researchers surmised that more than 1 in 3 people over 70 have some degree of cognitive impairment, though not necessarily the full-blown dementia that robbed my grandmother of the ability to live independently. That suggests nearly all of us will either know a cognitively impaired person or be that person. "It could be mild impairment in areas including memory, judgment, orientation, language, or problem solving," explains the lead study author, Brenda Plassman, a memory researcher at Duke University. (Such a description would certainly apply to my grandmother, who for years before her dementia became obvious would regularly forget to turn the stove off after cooking, causing my grandfather's refrain: "I'm afraid she'll burn the house down!") Twelve percent of impaired subjects progressed to dementia each year, Plassman found.
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March 7, 2008
I admit it: My 4-pound toy poodle, Sage, wears sweaters and T-shirts. Riding in a shoulder bag designed for little dogs like him, he has grown used to accompanying me everywhere: to family cookouts, the supermarket, the post office, even to the mall. I like having him around. As a medical reporter, I'm a bit skeptical when I see reports like the one last month that showed that owning a cat lowers your risk of heart attack. But as Sage's doting owner, I find the growing body of research into the health benefits of having a pet intriguing, to say the least.
Given that people do gain healthwise from having a strong social network, it makes sense that having an animal companion would also do some good, says Alan Beck, a professor and director of the Center for the Human-Animal Bond at the Purdue University School of Veterinary Medicine. "Do animals cure everything? Of course not," Beck says. But people relate to animals by nurturing, caring for, and talking to them—much as they do with other humans, so "it's not surprising that people who have relationships with animals actually report benefits," he says.