aging | KUOW News and Information

aging

A doctor takes a blood sample from an older patient.
Flickr Photo/World Bank Photo Collection (CC BY NC ND 2.0)/https://flic.kr/p/bq7jFt

American seniors are growing in numbers. But the number of geriatricians, doctors who specialize in treating older patients, is actually shrinking.

And there aren’t enough in the pipeline to meet the growing need.

Elderly couple walking
Flickr Photo/Abdulsalam Haykal (CC BY 2.0)

If you’re an older person, a fall can be devastating. One in every three older adults falls each year, and the risk of falling increases with each decade.

Jon Tucker (left), 76, has been a regular mall walker for 10 years.
KUOW Photo/Ruby de Luna

Shops aren’t open yet, but a little before 8 a.m., Bellevue Square is already buzzing with walkers.

Carrying a portable oxygen tank, Jon Tucker is one of them. “I’m not very fast, but I get there,” he says.

Mountlake Terrace resident Jennifer Calnon, 67, recently discussed her advance directive with her doctor. Starting January, Medicare plans to pay physicians for end of life counseling.
KUOW Photo/Ruby de Luna

For Jennifer Calnon, end-of-life discussions boil down to this: “This is my life,” she says. “I should be the one who gets to make the decision.”

Calnon, of Mountlake Terrace, is 67 years old and fairly new to retired life. These days she has a list of projects she wants to finish. Like finishing the pillowcase she started years ago for her daughter’s birthday and cleaning out her junk room. 

The default in Washington state is to be rescusitated. Residents must fill out this bright green end-of-life care form (known as a POLST) to forgo being revived.
Washington State Department of Health

If you’ve talked with your family about end-of-life wishes – that’s the first step. You’ll also need paperwork to make your wishes clear.

There are different names for the documents you’ll need — living wills, advance directivesFive Wishes. They all serve the same purpose; they spell out what kind of medical treatment you’ll want if you become seriously ill, and how aggressive you want the treatment to be.

Maria Fabrizio

It’s a discussion that most people avoid: end-of-life planning.

Doctors say it’s important to have these conversations while you’re still able. But let’s face it, talking about advanced directives can be uncomfortable, even terrifying.

Labor organizer Ai-Jen Poo says the U.S. doesn't have a plan for its elderly.
Flickr Photo/Elliot Margolies (CC-BY-NC-ND)

The annual Citizen University conference brings together community leaders, artists and activists to discuss the art and practice of citizenship. Their motto is “Let’s Do Democracy!”

The gathering evolved out of the work of the Guiding Lights Network, founded by author and educator Eric Liu in 2005. The theme this year was Citizen Power Now. To that end, participants focused on best practices for problem solving in a climate of political polarization.

Labor organizer Ai-jen Poo gave the keynote address, “The Future of Elder Care.”

Greta Austin's family faced the issues surround end-of-life care when her father, George Austin, was diagnosed with cancer. He is pictured here with his wife, Shirley, On Easter Day, 2013.
Courtesy of Greta Austin

Greta Austin has spent a lot of time in medical waiting rooms.

Two years ago last fall, her father came to Seattle from Wisconsin for treatment, and she sat with him at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance.

When we think of Alzheimer's disease or other dementias, we think of the loss of memory or the inability to recognize familiar faces, places, and things. But for caregivers, the bigger challenge often is coping with the other behaviors common in dementia: wandering, sleeplessness and anxiety or aggression.

Flickr Photo/hapal (CC-BY-NC-ND)

Ross Reynolds speaks with Page Ulrey, senior deputy prosecuting attorney with King County's Office of Elderly and Vulnerable Adult Abuse, about House Bill 1499, which seeks to increase prosecutorial power in cases of elder abuse in Washington.

Edna Daigre, center, teaches a class for older dancers in Seattle's Central Area.
KUOW Photo/Marcie Sillman

Doris Tunney doesn’t even pretend to be offended when you ask how old she is.

“I’m 86,” she says proudly. “I’ll be 87 on March 26.”

Tunney is petite, with cinnamon brown skin, short, curly white hair and perfect posture. Dressed in denim capris and a long-sleeved cotton shirt, this octogenarian is ready to dance.

This past weekend, when I visited my mother in her assisted living home as I do once or twice a week, I brought along a present. That's not unusual: She and I share a craving for chocolate, and I often bring her new varieties of dark chocolate, her favorite, and other little gifts from my travels.

In Silicon Valley's youth-obsessed culture, 40-year-olds get plastic surgery to fit in. But IDEO, the firm that famously developed the first mouse for Apple, has a 90-year-old designer on staff.

Barbara Beskind says her age is an advantage.

When the Legislature convenes next week, Rep. Sherry Appleton plans to introduce a bill for a silver alert system in Washington state.

Similar to the Amber Alert for children, this alert would be for elderly people with dementia who wander off. Appleton says 60 people went missing in the past year.

“Six-zero,” says Appleton. “I think it’s a lot of people.”

In a little more than a decade, one in five Americans will turn 65 or older.

A study out of Harvard University found that there isn’t enough housing to meet the needs of these aging boomers.

The issue is especially problematic for gay and lesbian seniors who report facing discrimination when seeking housing. But there are a growing numbers of cities that have created affordable housing specifically for gay and lesbian seniors.

Joanne Hubacka has been doing hair for four decades at a nursing home in Kirkland, Washington.
KUOW Photo/Ruby de Luna

Getting your hair done can be good medicine. It’s one reason why Joanne Hubacka, 69, is so busy. For four decades, Hubacka has been fixing people’s hair at life care center, a nursing home in Kirkland. Her profile is part of an ongoing series of audio portraits of people who challenge our assumptions of old age. 

Poet Heather McHugh.
Courtesy of the University of Washington

Ross Reynolds speaks with Seattle poet Heather McHugh, who is the author of eight volumes of poetry and numerous works of translation. She won a  MacArthur Fellowship, the so-called genius award, in 2009. Since her retirement as a professor of creative writing at the University of Washington this year, she has been working full time on a non-profit organization called Caregifted, which provides relief for family caregivers of  severely disabled people.

When an assisted living home in California shut down last fall, many of its residents were left behind, with nowhere to go.

The staff at the Valley Springs Manor left when they stopped getting paid — except for cook Maurice Rowland and Miguel Alvarez, the janitor.

"There was about 16 residents left behind, and we had a conversation in the kitchen, 'What are we going to do?' " Rowland says.

"If we left, they wouldn't have nobody," the 34-year-old Alvarez says.

Their roles quickly transformed for the elderly residents, who needed round-the-clock care.

Mahadevan Iyer and a friend sit outside his apartment at a senior living community near Chennai, India.
KUOW Photo/Liz Jones

BANGALORE, INDIA – Three generations live under the same roof in this bustling home: two rambunctious kids, their weary parents and an 80-year-old grandfather.

The grandfather, Raj Krishnamurthy, is an eager host, and keeps offering me Indian snacks as we talk on the couch. He serves up a homemade yogurt drink specially made today for a Hindu holiday. Then he leans closer, as if to tell a secret.

Flickr Photo/hapal (CC-BY-NC-ND)

Ross Reynolds has a wide-ranging discussion of end-of-life issues with Atul Gawande, author of “Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End."  

Gawande discusses  several issues such as how medical science views death as a failure, and does not always examine how medical treatments affect people at the end; innovations in assisted living and hospice to not only improve the quality of life, but also allow people to live longer; and how health care professionals are trying to become better at end of life care.

Matthew Thomas' book "We Are Not Ourselves."

Marcie Sillman talks to author Matthew Thomas about his first novel "We Are Not Ourselves."

Ross Reynolds speaks with Issaquah-based filmmaker Taylor Guterson about his new film, "Burkholder," which opens at SIFF on Friday. 

Guterson doesn't use a script. He suggested situations and let the actors improvise lending a documentary feel to many scenes.

KUOW Photo/Ruby de Luna

There’s a lot of emphasis on healthy aging, as more baby boomers hit 65. But what about those seniors who don’t ski and skydive for fun?

Roz Chast's book "Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?"

Marcie Sillman speaks with Roz Chast, a featured cartoonist in the New Yorker, about her latest work of art is about taking care of her very elderly parents.

Flickr Photo/hapal (CC-BY-NC-ND)

Steve Scher talks with Norma Rosenthal and Toby Donner about the joys and pitfalls of caring for aging parents. They share their own experiences on the blog "Girlfriends With Aging Parents."

Courtesy Greenwood Senior Center

Living with dementia can be isolating for both patients and their families. As social interactions get awkward, people begin to withdraw. Not only do their memories fade, but people themselves begin to fade from view.

At least that's the common perception.

Flickr Photo/egwnd

Marcie Sillman talks with Kevin Bovenkamp, assistant secretary for the Health Services Division at Washington's Department of Corrections, about the new challenges prisons are facing with a rapidly aging population including elder care, hospice services and assisted living.

KUOW Photo/Ruby de Luna

Memory loss is one of the symptoms of dementia. So is wandering. Over the last five years, at least 10 people in Washington state have died after wandering away from where they live. It’s a problem that communities will have to confront as the population ages. But not all police departments are prepared for these kinds of incidents.

There are different challenges when searching for people with dementia than for other missing person cases. Certain kinds of information play a key role, too. For example, when an elderly person is reported missing medical information is critical; it can mean the difference between life and death.

The Dangers Of Wandering For Dementia Patients

Jul 19, 2013

When people have Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia, they are at risk for wandering.  What that really means is they get lost. For an elderly person, that can sometimes lead to death. In Washington in the last five years, at least 10 people with some form of dementia have died after getting lost.

Jason Alcorn from Investigate West  has been looking into the problem in collaboration with KUOW and KCTS 9 and he tells Ross Reynolds what he’s found.

Jean Raichle

One of the hardest things for families dealing with Alzheimer’s disease is loss -- loss of memory, loss of a loved one's ability to recognize family, and sometimes, loss of the ability to communicate. The changes can be devastating. But one Seattle woman found a way to be part of her mother’s new world.

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