Thursday, August 25, 2016

Brain Study - "SuperAgers"

They’re age 80 and older, yet they have the memory and brain power of people in their 50s. So what’s their secret? That’s what researchers at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine are trying to figure out. A new study found that this elite group of elderly — or SuperAgers, as researchers call them — have brains that appear as young as people in the prime of middle-age. In fact, one brain region of this SuperAger group was even bigger and healthier than a person’s in midlife. The senior study author wanted to know what was different about the brains of people in their 80s who were super-sharp cognitively. For the study, participants in their 80s and older were screened. Only 10 percent of those who considered themselves to have “outstanding memories,” made the cut. Eventually, 12 SuperAgers, plus a control group of 10 normally aging adults with an average age of 83, were chosen, as well as 14 middle-aged participants, average age 58. Looking at three-dimensional MRI scans, researchers were surprised by the remarkable appearance of the SuperAgers’ cortex – that is the portion of the brain responsible for memory, attention and other thinking abilities. While the cortex had begun to thin among normally aging people in their 80s, the SuperAger group had a thick, healthy cortex similar to adults 20 or 30 years younger. Plus, in another brain region important for memory, the SuperAgers’ was actually thicker than those age 50 to 65. Researchers’ ultimate goal is to unlock the secret behind why some people are protected against the deterioration of memory and diminished brain cells that typically accompanies aging. She hopes her discoveries can help protect others from memory loss or even Alzheimer’s disease. Many scientists study what’s wrong with the brain, but maybe we can ultimately help Alzheimer’s patients by figuring out what goes right in the brains of SuperAgers.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Drugs: Risks, Benefits, Alternatives

People age 60 and over make up 15% of the United States population, but take 30% of all prescription drugs and 40% of all sleeping pills. Older adults account for 30% of all hospitalizations and 51% of all deaths due to drug side effects. Because unlike younger people (who are bombarded with drug information from an early age) older people are often overlooked when it comes to information on chemical abuse. In recent years, a good deal of interest has focused on the use of drugs by older adults. Older adults are America’s largest group of drug users. Over 600 million prescriptions a year are written for people over 60. That’s an average of 15 prescriptions per person per year. In fact, 37% of older Americans use five or more prescriptions at the same time. Nineteen percent use seven or more. And these figures don’t include over-the-counter drugs like aspirin, laxatives, and sleeping pills. One result according to experts is over medication and risks to health. The risks become even clearer when they’re considered alongside aging-related changes that affect the way drugs work in the body. From about the age of 30 on, our bodies begin a process of change that fundamentally alters the internal environment in which drugs and alcohol act and produce their effects. We accumulate more body fat; as a result fat-soluble drugs stay in the body longer, often at higher concentrations than in younger people. Organs that eliminate drugs also become less efficient. For example, the heart becomes less efficient and pumps less blood to brain, kidneys, and liver. In the kidneys, cell loss lowers efficiency in filtering blood and eliminating waster. And in the liver, less blood flow reduces metabolism, ability to eliminate toxins. Additionally, some drugs may hit the older individuals harder than they do younger people; alcohol, caffeine, penicillin, and Valium (among others) trigger stronger effects. Anesthetics and hormones don’t hit as hard. There are many solutions worth considering: Be aware that every drug carries risks and benefits, and the risks change as our bodies change. Don’t assume that there’s a pill for every problem and a fast fix for every sleepless night. Become an informed, active participant in your own health care. Remember that no one is better suited to the task of keeping us well than we are ourselves. Sometimes the best solution to a health or emotional problem is activity – not a pill. The combination use of drugs is another source of problems for many older people. In fact, according to a recent study one in five Americans over 60 has had an adverse reaction to prescription drugs, and many are the product of interactions between different drugs. Most involve people who would never consciously overuse drugs. That does not make the problem any less real when it happens. The simplest way to reduce risk is to avoid mixing drugs – including over the counter cold pills, allergy drugs, and sleeping pills. And it’s a really good idea to stay away from alcohol if you are taking anything. Also, be aware of the risk of an accidental overdose if you see more than one doctor for more than one condition. A good way to avoid problems is to remember to tell your doctor or doctors about all the drugs you are using. Or conduct a “brown bag” inventory and let your doctor sort things out. Simply put all the drugs you’ve taken in the past month in a paper bag and review them with your doctor during your next appointment. This is particularly a good idea if you see more than one doctor. If drugs are a problem for you – do something about it. Talk it over with a friend or get professional help if you need it. If drugs aren’t a problem – do something anyway. You’ll feel better for it and you’ll push potential problems that much further away.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Understanding Dementia and Alzheimer's

Do you know someone dealing with Alzheimer’s or dementia? Feeling stretched caring for an older adult? It is well known that caring for a family member with a chronic illness such as Alzheimer's disease, stroke, or other diseases is stressful and takes an enormous physical and emotional toll on caregivers. Caregivers often completely change their lifestyle to take care of those they love. Caregivers include senior citizens caring for relatives under the age of eighteen, as well as spouses, adult children, and/or friends. Did you know that 85% of all care to the frail and disabled is being provided by family and friends? Are you one of them? The Dale Association has received training to conduct a six part training program to enable caregivers to better care for themselves by improving their own self-confidence and problem solving skills. Powerful Tools for Caregivers is an educational series designed to provide you with the tools you need to take care of yourself. This program will help family caregivers: reduce stress, improve self-confidence, better communicate your feelings, balance your life, increase ability to make tough decision and locate helpful resources. Current research is finding that taking care of tired caregivers could be as important as providing care for their care-recipients. The class is being offered on Tuesdays beginning August 2nd and running through September 6th from 9:30am to 12:00 noon at Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center, 621 10th St, Auditorium B, Niagara Falls, NY 14031. Two experienced class leaders will conduct each session. Interactive lessons, discussions and brainstorming will help you take the “tools” you choose and put them into action for your life. The cost for the six-week program is $25 and includes a copy of The Caregiver Help book, but is covered in full for members of Blue Cross/Blue Shield of WNY and Independent Health. Pre-Registration is required - Call Erie County Senior Services at (716) 858-2177 or email caregiver@erie.gov for more information and to register. Additional classes are also being scheduled; additional classes can be found at erie.gov/depts./seniorservices. Powerful Tools for Caregivers supported by a grant from Community Health Foundation of Western and Central New York and is co-sponsored by The University at Buffalo School of Public Health and Health Professions and the Erie County Caregiver Coalition. Cannot make the six week class? A one day informational presentation is being held on Thursday, August 11th from 1:00 – 2:00pm at The Dale Association, 33 Ontario Street, Lockport titled “Navigating Alzheimer’s Disease and other Dementia: Considering Decision Making from a Human Service Perspective”. This program will give an easy to understand description of the diseases, risk factors, warning signs, and what to expect if you or a loved one are facing a diagnosis. Learn about normal and abnormal changes, along with how they can affect decision making and independence. The information will be presented by Julia Szprygada, LMSW Director of Education and Training Alzheimer’s Association WNY Chapter. It is free and open to the public. For more information or to register, call 1-800-272-3900 or 433-1886.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Health and Aging

A new study may shift how we define health and aging. Instead of focusing on diseases, researchers looked at 54 health measures to see which factors or clusters of factors had the greatest association with mortality or incapacity. These factors fell into six major health categories: diseases, health behaviors, psychological health, sensory function, immunity, and frailty. Six clusters of conditions emerged from this analysis: The first cluster was, surprisingly, the “robust obese group”. None of these individuals had a normal BMI, but they had the fewest diseases or vulnerabilities. This group had the lowest prevalence of dying or incapacity 5 years later! The second cluster was “one minor condition group”, comprised of individuals of normal weight with a low prevalence of cardiovascular disease and diabetes. As the group’s name suggests, these individuals tended to have one minor condition or disease. While still classified as robust, their prevalence of death five years later was significantly higher than the robust obese group, suggesting their “minor” conditions could be early warnings of vulnerability. Individuals in these two clusters had stronger social lives than the general population. The two intermediate clusters are “broken bones group” and “poor mental health group”. Those in the first group had broken a bone past 45 years old—but this group was average or above average in mobility. However, they were five times more likely to be incapacitated by frailty or accidents five years later. And the poor mental health group, characterized primarily by depression, was the only group more likely than average to be incapacitated by alcohol, drug abuse, or suicide attempts. The most vulnerable clusters were characterized by multiple comorbid diseases, including diabetes, hypertension, and immobility. Most vulnerable was a group with extensive comorbidity and frailty, which had a high prevalence of 47 of the 54 measures, with an average of 17 vulnerable health measures. Forty-four percent passed away five years later. The outcomes from this study are mostly consistent with many other articles about healthy aging. Many factor combine to affect the health of individuals and communities. Moreover, there is a growing recognition that a broad range of social, economic, and environmental factors shape individuals’ opportunities and barriers to engage in healthy behavior. You may be surprised to learn the impact of different factors on the health and wellness of individuals. An individual’s risk of premature death are most greatly affected by: individual behaviors (such as smoking) having the greatest impact at 40%; Genetics is at 30%; social and environmental factors is 20% and health care is at 10%. This information may help us re-conceptualize health and aging. One main finding is that “Health status in older adults does not correspond to chronological age.” And as the authors conclude, “a shift of attention is needed from disease-focused management… to overall health,” so that risks can be more accurately identified and addressed.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Bridge: A Fun and Social Game

The card game of bridge is fun and a great way to build a social network of friends. But bridge, a partnership card game that originated in the Middle East in the 19th century, has even more going for it: It can sharpen your wits, help ward off Alzheimer's, and even make you physically healthier. Bridge works its magic through sheer complexity. Players must remember each player's cards, which builds memory skills. They must plan ahead, strategize, and use logic, all of which challenge and stimulate the brain. Plus bridge is played in groups. According to a study of adults 50 and older published in the Journal of Gerontology, social interaction markedly decreased intellectual decline. In a study published in New England Journal of Medicine, researchers followed the leisure activities of 469 senior citizens for five years. Those who regularly played cards showed a greatly reduced incidence of dementia, while those who exercised exhibited little change from the normal population. Daryl Fisher, who taught English, speech, and debate at a New Orleans private school, could have told you that from his own experience. "When I taught bridge to retired adults," he says, "you could see their interest in life perk up as they made friends and got hooked on the game." A more bridge-specific University of California, Berkeley study shows that playing bridge increases the number of immune cells. Participants in the study included a group of 12 female bridge players. The women, in their 70s and 80s, were divided into three groups; two groups played bridge for 90 minutes, the third didn't. Blood samples were taken before and after play. The two bridge-playing groups showed a significant increase in CD-4 positive T cells, which seek out and destroy foreign bodies in the body. The third group displayed only a modest increase. The study suggests that brain activity might be able to stimulate the immune system. Bridge is casual and funny and serious all at the same time, and you make lifelong friends. It is a great game for adults of all ages. If you are interested in playing bridge, opportunities abound. If you’d like to play bridge on Tuesdays at 1:00pm, call Gretchen at 433-1886; you can play regularly or be a substitute. Duplicate Bridge is played every Tuesday at 7:00pm and Saturdays at 1:00pm; please call Dian at 688-1226 or 238-2230. Again, you can play regularly or be a substitute. Or, there is a Friendly Duplicate Bridge Group that plans Fridays at 1:00pm for fun and good times (no master points). For more information or to join the Friday group, please call Gerry at 791-4075 or Karen at 751-6646. All these bridge sessions are played at The Dale Association, 33 Ontario Street, Lockport. If you are looking for fun, friendship and bridge – I hope you will call.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Tribute to Fathers

Sunday, June 19th is Father’s Day. Father’s Day began in the United States, but no one is quite sure of its exact origin. The first occurrence dates back to 1908 in West Virginia. However, Sonora Smart Dodd of Spokane, Washington is credited with being the driving force behind the holiday. In 1909 Mrs. Dodd campaigned for a Father’s Day celebration in honor of her dad who had served as both father and mother to six children for 21 years after her mother passed away. A statewide celebration was proclaimed in 1910. Eventually, annual celebrations were held throughout the United States. In 1924 President Calvin Coolidge publicly supported plans for a national holiday. In 1966 President Lyndon Johnson signed a proclamation of official holiday and in 1972 President Richard Nixon signed a permanent law declaring the third Sunday in June as Father’s Day. As a result the holiday was officially recognized by the US Congress. So dad has his own day! With the hustle and bustle of today’s hectic lifestyle, when was the last time you took the time to stop and say thank you to your dad or other significant men in your life? It may be your father, grandfather, uncle, big brother, mentor or friend. As you are planning your Father’s Day celebration there is no substitute for spending quality time with them. Is your father more like the character Jim Anderson played by Robert Young in Father Knows Best, Heathcliff Huxtable played by Bill Cosby, Home Improvement’s Tim Taylor played by Tim Allen or a dad with characteristics from all of them? However you describe your father, think about what his favorite past times are – you can spend the day with him and make it a special day. You probably remember your dad with a gift or card; presents are nice, but not a substitute for time with dad.

Dehydration

A new study found that 31% of older adults are dehydrated. Sufficient fluid consumption among older adults is associated with fewer falls, less constipation, less laxative use, improved rehabilitation in orthopedic patients, and a reduction in bladder cancer (among men). Dehydration is partly due to natural aging. Your body is a temple for water. In fact, most of your body is made up of water. Newborns have the most water at 78 percent of total body mass, dropping to 65 percent by age one. On average, bodies of adult men are 60 percent water. Women contain about 55 percent. When you don't get enough water, dehydration can occur and can be serious. The key is to know the early warning signs of dehydration - such as thirst, dry mouth or sticky saliva, or reduced output of urine. People who are moderately dehydrated may have extreme thirst, a mouth very dry in appearance, decreased urination (three times or less daily and dark brown in color), and lightheadedness. The symptoms of severe dehydration include: *Severe anxiety and confusion * Inability to remain awake * Weak, rapid pulse * Skin that is cold and clammy or hot and dry * Little or no urination * Loss of consciousness Older adults have an increased risk of dehydration, but often for different reasons. Seniors may have: * Less of an urge to drink; * Kidneys that don't function efficiently; * Difficulty communicating; * A disease that makes using the bathroom painful; * An incontinence problem that causes them to limit fluid intake; and * Physical problems like arthritis and pain that interfere with their ability to drink. Older adults should be monitored for early signs of shock - including lightheadedness, signs of fear or confusion, thirst, nausea, vomiting, profuse sweating, and rapid, weak breathing. To learn more about dehydration, contact your physician.