Seniors Spell Out Health Concerns

Vioxx, Medicare changes and obesity weigh on their minds, survey finds

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HealthDay Reporter

FRIDAY, Jan. 28, 2005 (HealthDayNews) -- Vioxx. Medicare. Obesity.

These three health issues are the hot topics for people over 50 in 2005, says a new survey of health professionals.

Also named of interest to seniors are the importance of exercise to stay fit mentally and physically, and better information about diet -- particularly the role of carbohydrates in diet.

Forty-three percent of the more than 200 health professionals responding to the survey conducted by the International Council on Active Aging reported that the recall of Vioxx, a drug used by many seniors to control the pain caused by arthritis, was of major concern to the people they serve. The cox-2 inhibitor was pulled from the shelves last September by its maker after clinical trials showed heart problems among those taking it.

"People want to take more responsibility for their medical care. They are now starting to question should I or should I not take these drugs, and find out more alternatives to drugs," said Colin Milner, CEO of the council. "The underlying theme of this survey was that people want to make their health decisions based on information rather than just accepting what is told to them."

Denys Lau, a Northwestern University researcher who studies how medicines affect the elderly, said that questioning the safety of drugs is a positive step for seniors who tend to not question what their doctors prescribe. But, he added, there is a danger that fears about Vioxx might lead some seniors to assume that all their drugs might not be good, which isn't true.

"Then they might not take any drug at all, which leads to non-compliance," he said.

The council is a senior fitness trade association whose 4,000 members include professionals in public and private organizations, primarily in the United States, which serve the health and wellness needs of older adults. For this survey, the council sent out a questionnaire to a cross-section of its members, asking them to identify the top health issues for seniors for the coming year. The respondents, who included representatives from the National Council on the Aging, the American Society on Aging, Fifty Plus Lifelong Fitness, Jazzercise and various city, county and state health services organizations, represent at least 500,000 seniors, Milner said.

Thirty-four percent of those surveyed reported that the impact of the Medicare Modernization Act of 2003 will be important to seniors in 2005 as they sort through how the law will affect their health care. Seventeen percent cited the newly released Medicare drug cards as also important to seniors, adding there was a lot about the law and the cards that needs to be explained.

Obesity and awareness that regular physical exercise sharpens mental and cognitive skills were cited by 28 percent and 21 percent of the respondents, respectively, as important to seniors in 2005. Fourteen percent said that fad diets -- particularly "the low-carb diet craze" -- were of interest to the people they served. Eleven percent cited nutrition research on supplements and "nutraceuticals" as topics of interest to seniors.

"No matter how old you are, you're influenced by the media, and the dream in society is to have a perfect body. This doesn't stop when you hit 50, although older people may try these diets for health reasons," Milner said. "At the same time, people are becoming more apprehensive and confused about how to eat a balanced diet. They're looking for credible sources of information."

The respondents reported that the prevalence of obesity and the impact of type 2 diabetes, which is linked to obesity, were concerns they would address with seniors this year, Milner said.

"There are a lot of initiatives to address these issues, like the 'You Can!' campaign by the Administration on Aging, and we expect to see more of them," he said.

Helping this trend, he added, is the significant increase in accessibility to fitness facilities as more adult communities are being built that include fitness centers.

Overall, Milner said he was encouraged by the results of the survey.

"People are healthier and they're taking more responsibility for their health, questioning what has been previously recommended, and looking for healthier alternatives," he said. "The news is great."

More information

For more on the You Can! health campaign, visit the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

SOURCES: Colin Milner, CEO, International Council on Active Aging, Vancouver, B.C.; Denys Lau, assistant professor and director, Health Services Evaluation and Policy Research Section, Buehler Center on Aging, Northwestern University, Evanston. Ill.; January 2005 Survey: Top Health Issues to Watch

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