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Geriatric Health and Psychology Round-Up

Posted Oct 03 2008 12:52pm

Here is a round-up of some recent articles involving various geriatric issues I have been either too busy, or to lazy, to write up, depending on your perspective:

1) This article reviews recent research that provides more evidence an active lifestyle wards off aging.  Not only does exercise help decrease the prevalence of medical conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer, heart problems, etc., it also positively impacts the aging process itself. 

2) More news regarding long, healthy living.  Here you can find a review of two articles regarding longevity, including longevity without disability.  The first article reviewed examined almost 2,400 men aged 72 in the early 1908s, and tracked their progress, as well as various health factors.  The researchers found that:

  • 970 men lived to be 90 or more (41 per cent).
  • Several "modifiable" factors about their biology and behaviour were linked with survival for this group.
  • Smoking, diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure appeared significantly to reduce the odds of living to 90 or more.
  • On the other hand, vigorous exercise, "substantially improved it".
  • Also, men who lived to 90 and beyond had better physical function, mental wellbeing and rated themselves as healthier in late life than the men who died younger.
  • Smoking, obesity and having a sedentary lifestyle were also significantly linked to poorer functional status in elderly years.
  • It was also found that "a 70 year old man who did not smoke, was of normal weight, had no diabetes, exercised two to four times a week, and had normal blood pressure had a 54 per cent chance of living to be 90 years old." On the other hand, the following factors reduced that chance:

    • Sedentary lifestyle reduced the chances of living to 90 from 54 to 44 per cent.
    • High blood pressure reduced it to 36 per cent.
    • Obesity, 26 per cent.
    • Smoking, 22 per cent.
    • Three factors together, such as sedentary lifestyle, obesity and diabetes, 14 per cent.
    • Five factors, 4 per cent.

    The second article reviews the idea that many of the elderly who are living to 100 are doing so not by avoiding certain diseasing and medical problems, but by learning to cope with them in such as way as to maintain much of their functioning.  The study also examined gender differences in this group, noting that while more women than men reach the age of 100, the men who do make it that far are even higher functioning than the women.

    3) Here is an article that suggests men who have employment that requires physical activity are less susceptible to prostate cancer.  Money quote:

    "The message from this study for today is that if you're more active, you may be able to prevent this cancer from happening," said Beate Ritz, a Jonsson Cancer Center researcher, an associate professor of epidemiology in the UCLA School of Public Health and the study's senior author. "If you have a desk job, do something physically active to counterbalance it."

    4) Good news for coffee drinkers! It appears that one cup of coffee a day can reduce the risk of Alzheimer's.  Research suggests that a breakdown in the "Blood Brain Barrier" (BBB) can lead to memory deficits, and Alzheimer's is just one of the suspected culprits in causing this breakdown.  From the article:

    "Caffeine appears to block several of the disruptive effects of cholesterol that make the blood-brain barrier leaky," says Jonathan Geiger, University of North Dakota School of Medicine and Health Sciences. "High levels of cholesterol are a risk factor for Alzheimer's disease, perhaps by compromising the protective nature of the blood-brain barrier. For the first time we have shown that chronic ingestion of caffeine protects the BBB from cholesterol-induced leakage."

    Unfortunately, the article did not discuss the impact of drinking five cups of coffee per day.  However, the researchers did note that this finding was consistent with previous research that credits caffeine with positively impacting memory.

    5) On the Alzheimer's treatment front, this article discusses how a new vaccine has demonstrated an ability to clear out the plaque build up in the brain (which is implicated in Alzheimer's Disease), but that, by itself, does not lead to a recovery of cognitive functioning.  The authors suggest that this treatment may need to be used in conjunction with other interventions to not only address the disease, but also facilitate recovery of lost functioning.

    That seems to be the implication, by the way, of this article in Scientific American Mind (subscription required for the whole article).  The article reviews recent efforts to use stem-cell treatment in recovery of brain functioning related to memory.  The article suggests that the use of stem-cell therapy (which was tested on rats in the reviewed research) does not facilitate cognitive recovery through replacing dead neurons.  Rather, it appears the stem cells facilitate an increase in the number of synaptic connections between the living cells, than in the control group. 

    6) Speaking of Alzheimer's and Scientific American Mind, last months issue also had an article (sorry, you again need a subscription to read the whole thing) on efforts to not only more effectively assess Alzheimer's, but to actually be able to predict it.  The article reviews research that uses positron emission tomography (PET scans) to assess plaque build up, which is associated with later onset of Alzheimer's.  The researchers are hopeful that they will not only eventually be able to predict whether a person will develop the disease, but how soon.  This will give families more time to plan, and will allow for preventive measures to be administered as they are developed.

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