Study of Centenarians Seeks to Find Good Genes to Mimic With Drugs

Mt. Sinai Hospital researchers are studying the genes of centenarians – those living to 100 – to determine if there is some genetic disposition that helped them to live that long.  The researchers would then like to come up with some medicines that could help people to remain living healthy for longer periods of time and end up with a short period of illness at the end of life.

Dr.  Nir Barzilai, director of the Institute of Aging Research at Albert Einstein College of Medicine told the New York Times earlier this year that “it should be possible to devise drugs that mimic the ones’ effects.” He said two gene based drugs are showing early promise in early tests.

Metformin is another drug we reported on before and that shows it has the ability to protect against diabetes which it is now prescribed as well as for cancer, cognitive impairment and cardiovascular disease.  Rapamycin, a drug used following organ transplants is also proving to be effective in warding off the big killing diseases.  Their studies show that green tea has little effect on life span benefits though it may have dietary benefits.

The researchers, called “geoscientists,” are trying to raise $50 million for the five year study that they are seeking.  Dr. James Kirland, author of the book, :Aging:  The Longevity Dividend,” says that “Aging is by far the best predictor of whether people will develop a chronic disease.”  The point therefore would be to develop drugs to slow down aging and ward off several diseases.


Community Caregivers Sponsoring Health Engagement and Literacy Project

I am working as a consultant with a great organization in the Albany area, Community Caregivers.  Tomorrow, February 26 (10:00, Hampton Inn, Western Avenue Albany) we are launching a series of workshops called HELP, Health Engagement and Literacy Project to assist families and caregivers to understand the changes in health and better manage their care and their rights as patients.  Over the next two months we have five sessions scheduled and we hope to train and recruit older persons and volunteers or any age to be involved in helping people remain living independently in the community and perhaps serve as health care coaches.

Community Caregivers was founded in 1994 to support older residents to remain living in the community and support their families and caregivers. Our organization also helps persons of all ages who need caregiver supports.  Our work began in the village of Altamont and has spread and currently includes the Towns of Guilderland, Bethlehem, Knox, Berne, New Scotland and the City of Albany.  This service area outside of the City of Albany encompasses a population of approximately 65,000 with 13,500 who are age 60 or older.  Approximately 5,000 are 75 or older.

We recruit and train volunteers to provide clients with non-medical services including shopping, transportation, light chores and visits and reassurance phone calls.   The organization also is involved in special projects such as currently working with local hospitals to improve care coordination after a hospital visit to prevent re-admissions.  Often, this requires making sure that food and medicine are in the home.

Currently, we have about 150 volunteers serving over 300 clients and families in our area. In the last ten years, Community Caregivers has provided over 31,000 services with 550 total volunteers providing service, free of charge, to 1000 clients during this period.  The volunteers drove 400,000 miles and donated more than 53,000 hours of service.  Many of our volunteers are older persons themselves who live in the community.  Many have retired from state government or have worked in health-related occupations so they are very knowledgeable and capable in providing information and assistance to help their neighborhoods.

Community Caregivers is administered by an all-volunteer Board of Directors whose members include prominent leaders in the communities we serve.

Mike Burgess

Time Magazine Focuses on Longevity and Pills to Delay Alzheimers and Aging

In its February 22/February 29 issue, Time magazine includes a number of articles in its “Longevity Issue.”  It notes that diet, exercise and  stress reduction are three key factors in slowing biological aging.  The report notes that “diet is the most powerful intervention to delay aging and age-related diseases.”  Restricting total calories does a lot to lower blood pressure and blood sugar.  Exercise is also important:  “Scientists have shown that sedentary behavior, like sitting all day, is a risk factor for earlier death.”  57% of Americans aged 65 to 74 spend more than seven hours sedentary each day.  The report also said that having a negative outlook, especially as we age can contribute to a less healthy brain and an increased risk of Alzheimers Disease.

Regarding Alzheimers, the cover title was “The Alzheimers Pill.”  The pill being tested is designed not to defeat the plaque that builds up and causes Alzheimers but to keep brain cells healthier.  “The answer to extend healthy life spans lies not in how we break down at age 70 but in how we keep functioning at age 50,” it quoted Brian Kennedy, president and CEO of the Buck Institute for Research on Aging.  A new focus of treatment is to realize that aging is a leading risk factor for cancer, heart disease and Alzheimers and that medications that fight aging and the breakdown of cells might be a new and better way rather than only developing medicines to  address each disease.

Another pill being tested for its anti-aging qualities is not actually a new drug but a current one called Metformin, most often used to treat diabetes.  A major study is underway called TAME or Targeting Aging with Metformin run by the Institute for Aging Research at Albert Einstein College of Medicine.  “A 2014 study found that people with Type 2 diabetes who took Metformin lived longer than healthy people without diabetes who weren’t taking it,” the magazine reported.  The drug controls blood sugar levels and responds to insulin better and may help the body slow down aging. The study will involve 3000 people at 14 sites from ages 65 to 80 at risk for cancer, heart disease or dementia.

Maybe the studies will shed light on why so many more people are living into the late 80s and 90s and beyond.

Commentary: Business Council Short-Sighted on Paid Family Leave

by Michael Burgess
You can read all my blog posts at
The position of the New York State Business Council that paid family leave is a burden on business is an unfortunate reaction that does not address the needs of workers as family members and caregivers.  There are many businesses in this state that have recognized that a progressive workplace is family friendly.  A large number offer maternity and paternity leave to care for newborns.
It is important also to provide support to the many middle age employees caring for seriously ill family members, primarily parents and older relatives.  Businesses know quite well that they already face this situation because family caregiving responsibilities cause employees to regularly take unexpected absences.
This caregiving is already happening with employees having to drop everything at work  when a health care emergency happens, such as when a parent has a stroke.  Others have to juggle their work responsibilities with taking a parent or family member to numerous doctor appointments or make arrangements to provide home care at times when other help is not available.
Many businesses are sympathetic and supportive to employees and give them flexibility to take sick time off, work different hours or make other adjustments short of paid family leave.
If paid time off is needed for several weeks and the employer won’t allow that, then the employee faces only two other options:  either quit the job to take care of the loved one – which most can’t afford to do or want to do – or face the on-going stress of working a job while being distracted and having to take a lot of unplanned emergency time off.
Paid family leave gives the employee an option that reduces the stress, financial and emotional toll of caring for family members at a critical time, especially at the end of life.

106 Year Old Woman Dances with Obama in White House

106 year old Virginia McLaurin, an African American woman from Washington, DC, got the thrill of her life on Monday when she danced with President and Mrs. Obama at the White House.  She was born in South Carolina and was at the White House as part of Black History Month.  She said she never thought she would meet the President and said it was the highlight of her long life.

Talk about active aging, she is still volunteering forty hours a week at a local community agency!  She has become an internet sensation.  Here is the story and video from NBC.  Click below

AARP Pushing Retirement Savings Plans for Private Sectors Workers without 401s

In addition to paid family leave, AARP is pushing a retirement savings plan as one of its top priorities in this legislative session.  The New York State Secure Choice Savings Plan would automatically deduct savings from a worker’s payroll unless they opted out.  52% of private sector workers in the state do not have a retirement plan such as a 401k plan paid provided for them by their employer.  47% of those without a plan are minorities including over 67% of Hispanics.

A similar bill passed the New Jersey Legislature in 2015 but was vetoed by Governor Chris Christie last month.  Instead, he proposed a marketplace for retirement savings and legislators passed his proposal, calling it a start toward the bill they preferred which he vetoed.  California approved a similar plan  in 2012.  Illinois approved it last year and it will take effect in 2017.  Maryland, Minnesota and Oregon are among other states considering it.  In the New York State Assembly the bill has been referred to the Government Employees committee – odd because it is about private sector employees.

Here are more details on the AARP supported plan

New York State Secure Choice Savings Program- A.8332-A(Rodriguez)

same as S.6045-A(Savino)
• The legislation establishes New York State Secure Choice Savings Program. The program creates a self-sustaining retirement savings option through an automatic IRA payroll deduction for private sector employees who have no way to save for their future through their workplace. The savings account would be portable and the employee can opt out at any time.

• Access to an employer-based retirement savings plan is critical to helping New Yorkers help themselves by building financial security and independence later in life. Workers with access to such a savings plan at work are 15 times more likely to save for retirement than those who lack access. Yet, about 52 percent of New York’s private sector employees—roughly 3,507,000—work for an employer that does not offer a retirement savings plan.

• The probability of having a workplace retirement plan also differs considerably by workers’ earnings level, education, and race and ethnicity. Access to a plan differs substantially by race and ethnicity: About 67 percent of Hispanic workers, about 52 percent of African Americans, and 36 percent of Asian Americans lacked access to an employer-provided retirement plan. Minorities accounted for about 47 percent (1,649,000) of the roughly 3,507,000 employees without a workplace retirement plan.

• The legislation would give millions of New Yorkers access to savings options so they can build their own economic security. Retirement savings help workers achieve financial resilience through their own efforts. Greater access could also help improve economic mobility and reduce wealth disparity.

Half Million Workers Age 55+ Would Benefit from $15 Minimum Wage

In its New York State Economic and Fiscal Outlook, 2016-17, the Fiscal Policy Institute discussed a number of key economic issues including the proposal to raise the minimum wage to $15 by 2021.  Among the key findings in the report is that 497,906 workers who are 55 or older would benefit from the increase.    This number represents 28.6% of the estimated 1,746,198 persons in the age group who are working.  Another 795,543 in the 40 to 54 age group wold benefit, which is 28.1% of that age group.  Among all age groups 3,162,345 would benefit or about 36.6% of 8,635,791 workers in the state. The report says that 53% of those who would benefit are women.  Over 75% of all workers in or near poverty would see a raise.

The report says 48.4% of workers in “home based and residential care, social assistance and child care” would see raises.  This equals an estimated 419,888 workers which is the third highest sector of workers.  The top industries effected would be retail trade and restaurants at 555,196 and 427,268 workers respectively.  Governor Cuomo has not included added funds in his state budget proposal for health care and human service agencies to make up for the phased in increase in the minimum wage and those agencies are lobbying the Legislature vigorously to get some further state aid to cover costs.

The report notes that while some state and local workers will get higher wages and that will increase state costs, those costs are partially offset by 43%.  The savings comes from higher income tax collections which would occur with higher wages plus the offset of social services costs for low wage workers falling below income thresholds for public assistance benefits. $2.9 billion of the $9.1 billion in public assistance expenditures to low wage workers in the state would be saved.

Governor Cuomo and others have argued in support of the increase, noting that the state is subsidizing workers of large companies like McDonalds and Walmart whose workers are paid so low they qualify for public assistance.

Only 28% of Oregon Assisted Suicide Dead Cite Pain Management as Factor in Decision; 92% Cite Loss of Autonomy

You can read all blog posts at

There is much debate about the proposed legislation in New York to allow physician assisted suicide.  While the issue is being called “a human right,” or a “moral issue,”  it is important to take a look at the actual persons who have made this choice and what their reasons have been.   A required annual report for 2015 on the law enacted in the state Oregon in 1997 provides some interesting data.

Clearly, one has to sympathize with those who faced the end of their lives and terminal illness.  Unless you have been in that situation, I am sure none of us knows what it is like.  What the data show though is that the decisions made were not entirely based on pain.  Only 28% cited inadequate pain management as a factor in their decision to end their lives with medication.  75% cited a  loss of dignity, 92% cited a loss of autonomy and 96% said the loss of the ability to have an enjoyable life were factors.  48% said they felt a burden on family and caregivers.  Doctors were present for only 11% of these deaths reported in 2015.

Also, the statistics reveal that those choosing to end their lives this way were disproportionately white and well educated.  62% were Medicare or Medicaid beneficiaries and 99% had some form of health insurance.  92% were enrolled in hospice.  Most had terminal cancer.  Here is a summary from the actual report.

Patient Characteristics

Of the 132 DWDA deaths during 2015, most patients (78.0%) were aged 65 years or older. The median age at death was 73 years. As in previous years, decedents were commonly white (93.1%) and well‐ educated (43.1% had a least a baccalaureate degree).

While most patients had cancer, the percent of patients with cancer in 2015 was slightly lower than in previous years (72.0% and 77.9%, respectively). The percent of patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) was also lower (6.1% in 2015, compared to 8.3% in previous years). Heart disease increased from 2.0% in prior years to 6.8% in 2015.

Most (90.1%) patients died at home, and most (92.2%) were enrolled in hospice care. Excluding unknown cases, most (99.2%) had some form of health care insurance, although the percent of patients who had private insurance (36.7%) was lower in 2015 than in previous years (60.2%). The number of patients who had only Medicare or Medicaid insurance was higher than in previous years (62.5% compared to 38.3%).

Similar to previous years, the three most frequently mentioned end‐of‐life concerns were: decreasing ability to participate in activities that made life enjoyable (96.2%), loss of autonomy (92.4%), and loss of dignity (75.4%).

Here is a link to the full report

Corrections on paid family leave, aging services

I reported in my last post that Governor Cuomo’s 30 day budget amendments included an enhancement of his paid family leave proposal.  I had said that the Governor would raise it to 67% of the worker’s weekly wage.  I said this would start at 35% of the weekly wage, however, this should be corrected to 50% of the weekly wage as the Paid Family Leave coalition requested.  Also the statewide average weekly wage cap is raised to 67%.  See the outline of changes below
Major 30-day amendments:

Benefit level. The amendments revise the original proposal with respect to both wage replacement and cap on the benefit levels. The cap and wage replacement rates will both start at a higher percentage than in the original and go up to a higher level at the end of 4 years.
The Governor’s new phase in/wage replacement/benefit cap proposal is as follows:
2018: 50% of a worker’s own average weekly wage up to 50% of the statewide average weekly wage
2019: 55% of a worker’s own average weekly wage up to 55% of the statewide average weekly wage
2020: 60% of a worker’s own average weekly wage up to 60% of the statewide average weekly wage
2021: 67% average weekly wage up to 67% Statewide average weekly wage

Protecting health insurance during leave. Addition of language indicating that any health insurance provided to the employee by the employer must be continued during family leave on the same terms it was provided before the leave.

Self-employed opt-in. Allowing self employed individuals to elect coverage under paid family leave.

Public employee opt-in. Public unions may opt their employees in to the paid family leave program through collective bargaining; also in Nolan/Addabbo

Timeline for contested claims extended. The time for claimants to challenge a benefit determination was extended from 60 days to 26 weeks for both TDI and PFL.

Enforcement of job protection clarified. Job protection was strengthened by clarifying the enforcement provision.


Correction on funding for aging services:

I noted that $177 million in funds for enhancing aging community services was requested by LiveOn-NY, Lifespan and AARP.  AARP was not part of that recommendation but rather the New York Association on Aging representing area agencies on aging.

In addition StateWide Senior Action Council has made the following recommendations separately:

1. Increase appropriations to reduce waiting lists in these vital services
2. Ensure that additional funds added do not require a match by local governments in order for the funds to be distributed.
3. Commit to a multi-year investment of additional resources to bring core services into alignment with the client population growth.
4. Provide sufficient funding to local offices for the aging to meet the minimum wage increases for home care workers.

The following StateWide recommendations were made jointly with AARP:
Community Services for the Elderly program (CSE): additional funding during budget negotiations in order to eliminate waiting lists.  Request an additional $25 million, with no local government match required.
Caregiver Supports: an additional $30 million in order to create additional respite and caregiver support services.


Assembly Speaker Heastie Wants to Add Higher Tax Bracket for $5 Million Households

The national debate about income inequality in the presidential campaign is also fully playing out in this state legislative session with calls for paid family leave and a minimum wage increase to $15/hour.  Now, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie wants to extend a higher tax on households with income of one million dollars, add a new rate for those making more than $5 million or more while offering a tax decrease for middle income households.   This issue was supposed to take center stage next year when 2011 tax increases on the wealthy expire but Heastie wants to have that battle this year and wants to raise over a billion dollars to pay for education increase and infrastructure projects.

Though Governor Cuomo has moved to the left on paid family leave and the minimum wage, he is not endorsing tax increases for the wealthy . The State Senate Republican leadership is also opposed.   Heastie’s decision to boldly put a tax increase on the wealthy as a key part of the agenda is a clear indication of how much the political climate has changed from the days when tax increases were only discussed during times when there were budget deficits to be balanced.  Heastie is proposing the tax increases while there is a budget surplus.


Governor Cuomo has now officially put forward a change in his 30 day budget amendments to make his proposed paid family leave proposal gradually reach a 2/3 wage replacement rate though it will start at 35%.  Previously the Governor was only willing to propose raising the amount of the paid leave to equal up to 50% of a worker’s weekly wage up to 50% of the statewide average wage.    By agreeing to raise the paid leave to 2/3 of a worker’s weekly wage, he is more in line with the Paid Family Leave Coalition though it wants to start the program at 50% of a worker’s salary and raise it to two thirds.

Meanwhile Sen. Jeff Klein, leader of the Independent Democratic Caucus proposed last week his own paid family leave proposal which would be entirely employee paid and would address an increase in the temporary disability insurance program separately.   That idea will be more amenable to the Senate Republican leadership which is also trying to shield business from added costs for paid family leave.

Cuomo’s agreement to enhance his proposal came after pressure from the Paid Family Leave Coalition which balked at his plan to only provide 50% of weekly wages.  The Governors new proposal is an indication of how seriously he wants to build support to pass paid family leave this year.