News Release: Emory Healthcare , School of Medicine

Mar. 5,  2010

Emory Sound Science Podcast: A New Look at Old Age

News Article ImageDr. Ted Johnson of the Emory Center for Health in Aging.

Are the difficulties commonly associated with aging inevitable? Incontinence, accidental falls, muscle weakness and depression--can these and other health problems be moderated or even eliminated as we grow older?

It depends on the individual, says Emory geriatrician Ted Johnson, MD, MPH.

"There is a difference between what is a normal part of aging and what is a common experience of aging," says Johnson. "For example, lots of epidemiological studies show that as people get older, they may have a greater chance of having urinary incontinence. But while sometimes that's the case, it's not the usual or average experience."

To listen to Johnson's own words about aging and health, access Emory's new Sound Science podcast at http://whsc.emory.edu/soundscience/.

Johnson and his colleagues study a wide variety of health issues related to aging in hopes of finding ways to forestall or lessen their effects. He is now looking at ways to block the intersection between accidental falls and frailty, which includes difficulty walking, low energy, weight loss and reduced strength.

The notion of frailty is becoming a hot topic, says Johnson. "There are thoughts that there might be some genes that are in control of how someone ages or the rate at which someone ages," he says. "In addition, markers of inflammation might be very important in understanding why one person may become frail and another not."

No matter the reasons, the combination of frailty and nighttime trips to the bathroom set the stage for an accidental fall and its subsequent complications. Accidental falls are very common as people age and are associated with fractures, particularly hip fractures, followed by significant adverse health outcomes.

"Falls are really one of those things that can affect someone's independence," Johnson says. "If you're falling at home, it's very shortly after that you'll likely need some change in your situation."

That's why one of Johnson's current studies focuses on nocturia. "Nocturia is about waking up from sleep at night to go to the bathroom," explains Johnson. "Falls are not unrelated to nighttime voiding. One of the big mysteries of nocturia research is determining whether people who wake in the middle of the night are groggy and not well rested and thus falling, or is it simply walking to the bathroom at night that makes them fall."

Johnson and his colleagues have several other ongoing studies aimed at understanding how to prevent accidental falls in older populations. One study involves a gaming platform popular with children and young adults.

"We're looking at the Nintendo Wii Fit Balance Platform and seeing if some of the balance games that kids and young adults are doing might have some relevance to older adults," says Johnson. "We're looking to see if the balance that people have on this game correlates, or agrees at all, with a standard measure. Participants have three sessions on the platform. We look at how they do at their games, whether they get better, and how that relates to measures of balance."

Johnson is an associate professor in the department of medicine and director of the division of geriatric medicine and gerontology. He is also the Atlanta site director and associate director of the Birmingham/Atlanta VA Geriatrics Rehabilitation, Education, and Clinical Center (GRECC) at the Atlanta Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center. Johnson received his MD from Northwestern University Medical School and his MPH from the University of North Carolina School of Public Health in Chapel Hill, NC. He is board certified in internal medicine and geriatric medicine.

Writer: Robin Tricoles

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The Robert W. Woodruff Health Sciences Center of Emory University is an academic health science and service center focused on missions of teaching, research, health care and public service.

Learn more about Emory’s health sciences:
Blog: http://emoryhealthblog.com
Twitter: @emoryhealthsci
Web: http://emoryhealthsciences.org

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