Category Archives: aging

Poor eyesight unfairly mistaken for brain decline

Millions of older people with poor vision are at risk of being misdiagnosed with mild cognitive impairments, according to a new study by the University of South Australia.

Cognitive tests that rely on vision-dependent tasks could be skewing results in up to a quarter of people aged over 50 who have undiagnosed visual problems such as cataracts or age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

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Age-related macular degeneration is a leading cause of vision loss for older people. It doesn’t cause complete vision loss, but severely impacts people’s ability to read, drive, cook, and even recognise faces. It has no bearing on cognition.

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On being 82 years old …

Last year I posted The Ravages of Age which I intended as a kind of joke on the reader as I enumerated the toll that age was taking on my 15-year-old dog, not me. The fact is that I enjoy reasonably good health. I feel well-informed on the subject of health as I read and write about it every day of my life. Nonetheless, one of the distinctive aspects of my age is the loss of a sense of context.

This is my bike. The black circular item is my bluetooth speaker for my music while riding.

I hope that isn’t too vague. What I mean is that since I have outlived many of my friends, family and loved ones, I don’t have many contemporary friends. I have lots of friends and acquaintances 10, 20, 30, 40 and 50 years younger than I am. But people within a decade of my age are few and far between.

For that reason I often feel out there and alone when it comes to a lot of the nitty-gritty aspects of daily life.

I hope the following example makes this clear.

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Aging slows down walking speed – What you need to know to improve

I have a Page on the benefits of walking as well as numerous posts on various aspects of the subject. I have called it numerous times, “The Cinderella of the Exercise World” because it is so unappreciated. The following is from the Optimal Aging Portal of McMaster University.

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Walking speed (gait speed) or mobility is necessary for most tasks that humans undertake. Slowing of walking speed is associated with aging in all persons. Walking speed has also been associated both with how long a person will live (survival) and with changes that occur when older persons are having difficulty or become unable to do tasks. In research studies walking ability has been assessed by tests where persons are either asked to walk at their usual speed (sometimes called self-selected walking speed) OR fast walking speed where a person is instructed to walk as fast as they can safely.

How fast do I need to walk to cross the road safely?

To undertake various activities within the community that involve walking, the average distances required to walk vary from 200-600 metres. The task that usually concerns older persons most in relation to walking speed is how quickly they need to walk in order to cross a road safely. The critical speed cited for this task is 1.14 meters/second and has been broken down in the following way:

  • Crossing a 2 lane road (4 metres/lane) in 10 seconds (5 seconds per lane),
  • And 3 seconds to get up and down off either curb (1.5 seconds per curb).
  • The critical speed is 8 metres/7 seconds = 1.14meters/second.

The speed we are able to walk decreases as we age. There are several reports that indicate some normal ranges for older persons. For example, general walking speeds for community activities are 1.2-1.4 metres/sec until 80 years and 1.0-1.8 metres/second until 90 years and older.

Older persons who have a walking speed of less than 1 metre/second have reported ceasing involvement in any regular physical activity. Self-selected walking speed associated with frailty has been reported as less than 0.65 metres/second if you are short (i.e. = 159cm) and 0.75m/sec if you are taller (height >159cm).

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Weight-bearing exercises protect against osteoporosis – Study

“As I reported here, after the age of 50 men are as likely to get osteoporosis as prostate cancer. More to the point, older people of both sexes have great vulnerability to it.”

Now comes a new study that explains how weight-bearing exercises affect our bone structure and fight that disease.

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Osteoporosis affects more than 200 million people worldwide and is a serious public health concern, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation. Now, Pamela Hinton, associate professor in the Department of Nutrition and Exercise Physiology, has published the first study in men to show that long-term, weight-bearing exercises decrease sclerostin, a protein made in the bone, and increase IGF-1, a hormone associated with bone growth. These changes promote bone formation, increasing bone density. Continue reading

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Exercise, Not Just Sudoku for Seniors

Grampa, when you finish that puzzle please slip on your walking shoes and step outside.

A lot of senior citizens are doing Sudoku puzzles and crosswords to ‘exercise their brains’ and slow the aging process. These puzzles can be fun, and they do build puzzle-solving skills which are long-lasting. They are not even half the battle against aging, though.

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“Unless the activities that you’re practicing span a broad spectrum of abilities, then there is not a proven general benefit to these mental fitness programs. So, the idea that any single brain exercise program late in life can act as a quick fix for general mental function is almost entirely faith-based,” Professor Wang said in our post on physical exercise vs mental exercise.

Walking, on the other hand, boosts blood flow to the brain. Medicine.net reported that moderate aerobic exercise helps boost blood flow to the brain.
Continue reading

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How to Maintain a Sharp Brain as you age – Harvard

Health Secrets of a SuperAger

Although all of us senior citizens have our ‘moments,’ recent studies have shown that we can retain our mental clarity by following some basic habits of good health.

Harvard Medical School lists a number of habits that can cut into our chances of suffering from dementia in our old age. They include staying physically active, getting enough sleep, not smoking, having good social connections, limiting alcohol to one drink a day, and eating a balanced diet low in saturated and trans fats.

In addition, they point out several health conditions that can impair cognitive skills, including diabetes, high blood pressure, sleep apnea, depression, hypothyroidism, and high LDL (bad) cholesterol. If you suffer from any of these, they recommend that you follow your doctor’s advice.

They list six strategies that Harvard offers to protect and sharpen our memory and our minds.

1. Keep learning
According to experts challenging your brain with…

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Primary care doctors can help preserve brain health – AHA

Primary care doctors can play an important role in helping to preserve brain health by encouraging healthy behaviors and addressing risk factors associated with cognitive decline, according to a new scientific report.

The American Heart Association statement published in the journal Stroke outlines seven lifestyle targets and six risk factors for brain health that primary care doctors should address in adults of all ages. The statement also has been endorsed by the American Academy of Neurology as an educational tool for neurologists.

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As the nation ages, preserving brain health has become a growing concern. Mild cognitive impairment affects an estimated 1 in 5 Americans age 65 and older; 1 in 7 has dementia – a number expected to triple by 2050.

“Primary care is the right home for practice-based efforts to prevent or postpone cognitive decline,” Ronald Lazar, chair of the scientific statement writing group, said in a news release. Lazar directs the Evelyn F. McKnight Brain Institute at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

“Prevention doesn’t start in older age; it exists along the health care continuum from pediatrics to adulthood,” he said. “The evidence in this statement demonstrates that early attention to these factors improves later life outcomes.”

The statement asks primary care doctors to integrate brain health into their treatment of adults guided by the AHA’s Life’s Simple 7, a collection of lifestyle targets shown to help achieve ideal heart and brain health. These include managing blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels; increasing physical activity; eating a healthy diet; losing weight; and not smoking.

The statement also asks them to assess their patients’ risk factors for cognitive health, including depression, social isolation, excessive alcohol use, sleep disorders, lower education levels and hearing loss.

“Scientists are learning more about how to prevent cognitive decline before changes to the brain have begun,” Lazar, a professor of neurology and neurobiology, said. “We have compiled the latest research and found Life’s Simple 7 plus other factors like sleep, mental health and education are a more comprehensive lifestyle strategy that optimizes brain health in addition to cardiovascular health.”

Dr. Deborah Levine, one of the statement’s co-authors, said it is never too soon to target risk factors for ideal heart and brain health. It’s also never too late.

“For example, lower blood pressure levels reduce the risk of cognitive impairment and dementia in older adults,” she said. “In adults of all ages, the metrics in Life’s Simple 7 prevent stroke, and stroke increases the risk of dementia by more than twofold.”

Additional risk factors can help physicians identify which patients may need special attention, said Levine, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor.

For example, “Primary care doctors can help their patients reduce dementia risk by identifying and aggressively treating vascular risk factors like high blood pressure. Black and Hispanic individuals, women and individuals with lower educational levels appear at higher risk for dementia, so these high-risk groups are a top priority,” Levine said.

According to the statement, recent research shows high blood pressure, diabetes and smoking in adulthood and midlife increase the odds of cognitive decline in middle age. And they accelerate cognitive decline in older age.

“Many people think of high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes and other risk factors as affecting only heart health, yet these very same risk factors affect our brain health,” Lazar said. “Patients might be more likely to pay attention to the importance of addressing modifiable risk factors if they understood the links.”

The statement defines brain health using the term cognition, which includes memory, thinking, reasoning, communication and problem-solving.

Together, these functions enable people to navigate the everyday world, according to the report. The ability to think, solve problems, remember, perceive and communicate are crucial to successful living; their loss can lead to helplessness and dependency.

“Studies have shown that these domains are impacted by factors that are within our control to change,” Lazar said. “Prevention and mitigation are important, because once people have impaired cognition, the current treatment options are very limited.”

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Besides vision, dry eye disease negatively affects physical and mental health – Study

Patients suffering from dry eye disease symptoms have a lower quality of life compared to those without symptoms, a new study reports. The findings showed that patients with the condition reported negative effects on visual function, their ability to carry out daily activities and their work productivity.

Dry eye disease is a common condition and a frequent reason for patients to seek medical care. It can affect people of any age but is most prevalent in women and in older people. Symptoms include irritation and redness in the eyes, blurred vision, and a sensation of grittiness or a foreign body in the eye. It has been reported that up to a third of adults over 65 years old have the condition, although the actual number is likely to be higher as there is no established diagnostic test and people with mild symptoms are less likely to report them to their doctor.

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Treatment often involves prescriptions of artificial tears, ocular lubricants and astringents, which come at a cost to the NHS; in 2014, 6.4 million items were prescribed at a cost of over £27 million.

This new study, led by the University of Southampton, set out to explore how dry eye disease affects the lives of adults in the UK through an online survey of one thousand patients with the condition and further one thousand without. Participants undertook a questionnaire from the National Eye Institute about their visual function and a EuroQol questionnaire on health-related quality of life. Those who declared that they experienced dry eye disease also answered further questions to assess the severity of their symptoms.

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Study identifies countries and states with greatest age biases

As a guy in his early 80’s working every day on making it into his ’90’s, I found it kind of disturbing that here in the States elders aren’t necessarily held in very high regard.

Elders are more respected in Japan and China and not so much in more individualistic nations like the United States and Germany, say Michigan State University researchers who conclude in a pair of studies that age bias varies among countries and even states.

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“Older adults are one of the only stigmatized groups that we all become part of some day. And that’s always struck me as interesting — that we would treat so poorly a group of people that we’re destined to become someday,” said William Chopik, assistant professor of psychology and author of the studies. “Making more equitable environments for older adults are even in younger people’s self-interests.”

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How the Aging Brain Affects Thinking

The brain controls many aspects of thinking — remembering, planning and organizing, making decisions, and much more. These cognitive abilities affect how well we do everyday tasks and whether we can live independently.

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Some changes in thinking are common as people get older. For example, older adults may:

  • Be slower to find words and recall names
  • Find they have more problems with multitasking
  • Experience mild decreases in the ability to pay attention

Aging may also bring positive cognitive changes. For example, many studies have shown that older adults have more extensive vocabularies and greater knowledge of the depth of meaning of words than younger adults. Older adults may also have learned from a lifetime of accumulated knowledge and experiences. Whether and how older adults apply this accumulated knowledge, and how the brain changes as a result, is an area of active exploration by researchers.

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Middle-aged adults with healthy heart habits may lower high blood pressure risk years later

Better heart health, as measured by the American Heart Association’s Life’s Simple 7 (LS7) scale, was associated with a significantly lower risk of developing high blood pressure (also known as hypertension) in middle-aged, Black and white adults, according to new research published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

“High blood pressure is among the most common conditions in the U.S., and it contributes to the greatest burden of disability and largest reduction in healthy life expectancy among any disease,” said Timothy B. Plante, M.D., M.H.S., lead study author and assistant professor in the department of medicine at the Larner College of Medicine at the University of Vermont in Burlington. “Even though high blood pressure causes so much death and disability, we don’t know the root cause of it.”

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Some very simple suggestions on good health …

The National Institute on Aging offered the following infographic on living a healthy and long life. There is nothing new in it, but I think it is good to see simple rules like this that we all know and refresh them in our minds.

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Lower wealth linked with faster physical and mental aging – NIA Study

People with lower household wealth (or socioeconomic status) have a higher risk of many diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, and depression. They also have shorter lifespans. Some lifestyle factors may play a role. For example, people with lower incomes have higher rates of smoking. However, other factors—including chronic stress and reduced access to resources—also likely contribute, according to the National Institute on Aging (NIA).

elderly gentleman making silence gesture in studio

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Less is known about how socioeconomic status influences the general aging process. To look more closely at this question, Drs. Andrew Steptoe and Paola Zaninotto from University College London followed more than 5,000 adults, aged 52 and older, for 8 years beginning in 2004. The team broke the study participants into four groups based on household wealth. Continue reading

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Living environment may be key to longevity – Study

When it comes to living to the ripe old age of 100, good genes help but don’t tell the full story. Where you live has a significant impact on the likelihood that you will reach centenarian age, suggests a new study conducted by scientists at Washington State University’s Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine.

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Published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health and based on Washington State mortality data, the research team’s findings suggest that Washingtonians who live in highly walkable, mixed-age communities may be more likely to live to their 100th birthday. They also found socioeconomic status to be correlated, and an additional analysis showed that geographic clusters where the probability of reaching centenarian age is high are located in urban areas and smaller towns with higher socioeconomic status, including the Seattle area and the region around Pullman, Wash.

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Seniors share fewer memories as they tack on years

By the time people reach a certain age, they’ve accumulated enough life experience to have plenty of stories to tell about life “back in their day.”

However, a new study suggests that the older a person is, the less likely they are to share memories of their past experiences. And when they do share memories, they don’t describe them in as much detail as younger people do.

The results of the study, conducted by researchers at the University of Arizona and published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, echo previous findings from lab-based research suggesting that memory sharing declines with age.

The UArizona study came to the conclusion in a new way: by “eavesdropping” on older adults’ conversations “in the wild.”

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Avoiding Dehydration – Tufts

As a senior, I want to stress to you that we seniors are more vulnerable to dehydration than our younger associates.

The hot summer months are upon us, but sweating in the sun is not the only factor that raises risk for dehydration. This potentially dangerous drop in body fluid affects everything from blood pressure to the brain, so knowing the causes, signs, and symptoms of dehydration—as well as how to avoid it—is critical.

Dehydration Basics: Any situation that involves either not taking in enough fluid or losing too much fluid can cause dehydration. “We don’t drink enough if fluids are unavailable, or if we lack an adequate thirst response,” says Roger Fielding, PhD, director and senior scientist at the Nutrition, Exercise Physiology, and Sarcopenia Laboratory at Tufts’ Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging. “We lose fluid through sweat, diarrhea, vomiting, or blood loss. Medications like diuretics (water pills), or medical conditions like uncontrolled diabetes, can also cause too much water to leave the body. These factors, alone or in combination, can lead to dehydration.”

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