This Virus you’ll never want to meet

The must-get shot for those over 50 offers breakthrough effectiveness

New and improved shingles vaccine

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The new vaccine is expected to be available by January.

Calling a new shingles vaccine “nothing short of astounding” for how it protects older adults in particular from this common but often painful virus, experts are encouraging those over 50 to get the new vaccine, Shingrix — even if you were already vaccinated for shingles as an adult.

The enthusiasm follows the new vaccine’s approval last month by the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s early endorsement through an advisory committee, which not only recommended that Shingrix replace the currently available shot but lowered the age of vaccination from 60 to 50. The CDC expects their official recommendation to be published in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, the critical official step for things like insurance coverage, by early 2018. Shingrix will likely be available in pharmacies and doctors’ offices in January.

A dirty little secret of many of the vaccines recommended for older adults has been how ineffective they are (or become) when paired with older and less robust immune systems. This new vaccine from GlaxoSmithKline blasts through that age-related barrier to be a whopping 90 percent effective in preventing shingles, says William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. What’s more, the effectiveness doesn’t seem to wane, which means you get a nearly identical level of protection whether you’re 50 or 80, as the vaccine “stimulates the system to respond as though it were that of a young adult.” Schaffner says that lowering the age to 50 better matches when your chance of developing the disease starts to rapidly increase.

According to Kathleen Dooling, a medical epidemiologist at the CDC’s Division of Viral Diseases, only about one-third of Americans age 60 and older currently get vaccinated for shingles, though most — through nearly universal childhood exposure to chicken pox — carry a dormant form of the Varicella zoster virus that causes it. By the time you’re 80, you have a 50 percent chance of developing an active case of the virus. Dooling also notes that vaccinating those 50 to 59 with Shingrix is expected to prevent an estimated 80,000 cases of shingles a year.

While Schaffner warns that this new vaccine is an “ouch-y” one, with arm pain and other side effects that can linger for a day or two, he calls it a small price to pay for avoiding the virus’s blistering rash or the possibility of intense, long-lasting nerve pain, known as postherpetic neuralgia. “Anyone who’s known a person with shingles, particularly one involving the face or postherpetic neuralgia, knows how this disease is capable of changing people lives,” he says, adding that his colleagues who treat older patients with the virus describe the associated pain as potentially debilitating.

Even though the new vaccine, which requires two doses spaced at least eight weeks apart, is expected to be available by January, it might take longer for some insurance coverage to kick in. Schaffner suspects that like the current vaccine, Shingrix will be covered under Medicare Part D. Finally, if you recently got the existing shingles vaccine, you should wait at least eight weeks before getting this new version.

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Smart Glasses… making reading easier

Frames with sensing chips were a hit at the Consumer Electronics Show

A woman reads a book outside in a red chair

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The device consists of eyeglass frames fitted with regular prescription progressive bifocal lenses.

If you’re an older American, you likely have presbyopia, an age-related condition that affects many people over 50 and that prevents the eyes’ ability to focus on nearby objects. And those with eyeglasses may know that annoying feeling of continually having to move your head to adjust the angle of your gaze to read a book or the fine print on a computer or phone screen.

But now a new wearable piece of technology promises to help people read while giving their necks a rest.

Dynafocals, developed by Dallas area-based PH Technical Labs, was among the winners of the 2018 Innovation Awards at the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

As the company’s cofounder and CEO, Shariq Hamid, explains, the device consists of eyeglass frames fitted with regular prescription progressive bifocal lenses. A sensing chip built into the frames detects the distance to a book, screen or other object and then communicates with the glasses’ nose pads. They then subtly inflate and adjust a few millimeters, just enough to lift the lens to the proper angle for the wearer to see more clearly.

“You don’t have to look at the bottom,” Hamid says. “You can keep your eyes at the same level, and your glasses adjust.”

Hamid said that he and PH Technical Labs’ chief technology officer, Ram Pattikonda, started working to make life easier for nearsighted people when they reached their 40s and started experiencing the condition themselves. “Looking at the phone all day long, we felt that we needed a solution,” he said.

They initially considered creating eyeglasses with smart lenses that would adjust to the distance but decided that such a device would be too bulky and conspicuous. “Then we thought, ‘What about moving the lenses?’ ” Hamid recalls.

The company has applied for a patent and is planning to market Dynafocals later this year, probably for around $150.

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Cardiac survival is severely higher from 11pm-6am…why?

Survival rates dip for hospital patients during late nights and weekends

Man holds hand to chest, pained expression

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Lower survival rates may be due to lower nurse-to-patient ratios, physicians who may be less familiar with their patients, or workers whose CPR skills are diminished by shift work.

Hospital patients who have cardiac arrests at night or on the weekend have lower survival rates than those who have them during the day, according to a study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

New research shows that while overall survival rates have improved for the 200,000 individuals who suffer from an in-hospital cardiac arrest (IHCA) in the United States each year, the mortality rate during “off-hours” — from 11 p.m. to 6:59 a.m. Monday to Friday or anytime on weekends — is 18.4 percent higher than for those who have an “on-hours” cardiac arrest.

Lower survival rates may be due to fewer nurses per patient; physicians who may be less familiar with their patients; or workers whose CPR skills are diminished by shift work.

Uchenna R. Ofoma, a physician in the critical care medicine department at Geisinger Health System in Danville, Pa., and the lead author of the study, was encouraged by the overall survival rates but said to narrow the gap, hospital systems need to improve. It is “critical to exactly define the factors that may be responsible for the persistent disparities in in-hospital cardiac arrest survival,” Ofama noted, in an email interview. “One way to do that would be to identify hospitals that have the smallest survival differences and figure out what they are doing right.”

For patients and family members the key takeaway is this: “In-hospital cardiac arrest usually happens as a consequence of deterioration in the condition of a patient who has been admitted to hospital for some other reason,” Ofoma said. “Hospital systems and care providers are better at treating in-hospital cardiac arrest than they were several years ago, regardless of the time of arrest. If your loved one is admitted to the hospital, for any reason, be very engaged in his/her care by working with the care providers to make informed treatment decisions. Families should not shy away from asking questions or voicing concerns at any time.”

The study followed 151,071 patients 18 and older who experienced in-hospital cardiac arrest between January 2000 and December 2014.

Digital Pills, you swallow them and it monitors your meds intake

A sensor in the pill sends a message to a wearable patch, which transmits the information to a mobile app.

The FDA has approved a pill with a sensor that will digitally track patients’ use of medication.

The drug, called Abilify MyCite, will be used for the treatment of schizophrenia, acute treatment of bipolar I disorder and as “an add-on treatment for depression in adults,” the FDA said in a statement.

When the medication is swallowed, a sensor in the pill will send a message to a wearable patch, which then transmits the information to a mobile app so that patients can track their intake on their smartphones. With the consent of the patient, caregivers and doctors can also retrieve the information online.

Use of the new “digital pill” could lead to more consistent treatment of patients as well as save unnecessary costs down the road. But it also raises concerns that “big brother” is emerging.

Peter Kramer, a psychiatrist and the author of Listening to Prozac, told the New York Times that the new pill might amount to “packaging a medication with a tattletale.”

In the context of treating mental disorders, he told the Times, the digital pill “sounds like a potentially coercive tool.”

While the digital pill is approved so far only for Abilify MyCite, similar medications are in the works for various treatments from HIV to diabetes to heart-related problems. Some experts, according to the Times, believe that older people in particular might benefit from the technology as a reminder to take their medications and use the appropriate dosage.

Where this disease is headed in the coming years

Alzheimer’s Is Accelerating Across the U.S.

As populations age, rates soar

Alzheimer¹s Is Accelerating Across the U.S.

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The Alzheimer’s Association says, “Someone in the United States develops Alzheimer’s dementia every 66 seconds.”

Degenerative brain disease and dementia are on the rise across all 50 U.S. states, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. As the rate of Alzheimer’s continues to escalate, more financial stress will be placed on health care programs. The trend will also increase the need for caregivers nationwide.

An estimated 5.5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. The statistics are broken down by age and ethnicity and are listed as follows on their site.

  • One in 10 people age 65 and older (10 percent) has Alzheimer’s dementia.
  • Almost two-thirds of Americans with Alzheimer’s are women.
  • African Americans are about twice as likely to have Alzheimer’s or other dementia as whites.
  • Hispanics are about one and one-half times as likely to have Alzheimer’s or other dementia as whites.

Another startling figure exposed by the Alzheimer’s Association (AA) is that “Someone in the United States develops Alzheimer’s dementia every 66 seconds.”

The state with the highest rate of Alzheimer’s is Alaska. Cases of the disease are projected to increase from 7,100 in 2017 to 11,000 in 2025 — an increase of 54.9 percent, reports AA.

Why are rates so high there? It’s most likely due to the projected growth of Alaska’s elderly population. The older population is expected to increase to 35.6 percent by 2025; an estimated 70,900 to 110,000 people will be 65 and over.

Below is a list of the 10 states that are predicted to have the highest rate increases of Alzheimer’s by 2025.

1. Alaska

Alzheimer’s Increase, 2017-2025: 54.9 percent

Alaska may have the highest rate of Alzheimer’s, but it also has the lowest mortality rate from the disease. For Alaska, the rate is 9.2 deaths per 100,000 people. The U.S. rate is 29 deaths per 100,000, which is more than triple the mortality projected for Alaska.

2. Arizona

Alzheimer’s Increase, 2017-2025: 53.8 percent

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Alzheimer’s disease was the eighth-leading cause of death in Arizona. Arizona’s older population, one of the largest of all states, is estimated to grow by approximately 29.1 percent by 2025.

3. Nevada

Alzheimer’s Increase, 2017-2025: 48.8 percent

The expected increase in the older population in Nevada is 32.3 percent, which is a much higher rate than the anticipated growth of the entire country.

4. Vermont

Alzheimer’s Increase, 2017-2025: 41.7 percent

Vermont’s older residents encompass 7.2 percent of Vermont’s population, the sixth highest among all states. The sharp increase in Alzheimer’s in Vermont is due to the large portion of people who are 75 and over.

5. Utah

Alzheimer’s Increase, 2017-2025: 40.0 percent

It’s estimated that older residents are just 10.3 percent of the population, but are expected to increase to 33 percent by 2025.

6. New Mexico

Alzheimer’s Increase, 2017-2025: 39.5 percent

Although lower than the national average, the estimated increase in New Mexico’s older population is 24.6 percent.

7. South Carolina

Alzheimer’s Increase, 2017-2025: 39.5 percent

The death rate from Alzheimer’s in South Carolina is the eighth highest in the U.S. — 40.1 deaths among every 100,000 people. Medicaid cost for Alzheimer’s patients in South Carolina reached $544 million in 2017 and is estimated to climb to $793 million by 2025.

8. Florida

Alzheimer’s Increase, 2017-2025: 38.5 percent

Florida’s older population is above average. Approximately 1 in 5 residents are 65 and older and the older population is expected to grow by 25 percent by 2025.

9. Wyoming

Alzheimer’s Increase, 2017-2025: 38.3 percent

The older population will grow from 83,000 to an estimated 116,800 in 2025.

10. Idaho

Alzheimer’s Increase, 2017-2025: 37.5 percent

The Medicaid cost of care for the disease is expected to soar to 47.8 percent from 2017 to 2025 in Idaho.

Where does your state rank on the list? See the full report.