The young and old could learn a thing or two from each other, at least when it comes to mental health and cognition.
In a new study, published September 12, 2022 in Psychology and Aging, researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine found that healthy older adults show greater mental well-being but poorer cognitive performance than younger adults. The underlying neural mechanisms may inspire new interventions to promote healthy brain function.
The study sampled 62 healthy younger adults in their 20s and 54 healthy older adults above age 60. Researchers evaluated participants’ mental health, surveying symptoms of anxiety, depression, loneliness and overall mental well-being. Participants also performed several cognitively demanding tasks while their brain activity was measured using electroencephalography (EEG).
If you’re 45 years old, that means that you’ve completed 45 rotations around the sun. But, how old are you really?
Humanity has been interested in slowing the aging process and finding the “fountain of youth” since the dawn of time, but conversations about longevity are especially relevant as life expectancy in the U.S. has decreased by more than a year since 2020.
“Thanks to science, the mysteries of aging are now being revealed,” says Douglas E. Vaughan, MD, chair of Medicine and the Irving S. Cutter Professor of Medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, and co-director of Potocsnak Longevity Institute at Northwestern Medicine with Northwestern Medicine Infectious Disease Physician Frank J. Palella, MD. “The biology that drives the aging process is being demystified right in front of our eyes to the point that it’s conceivable to think about slowing the pace of aging, turning the clock back and altering the course of someone’s lifespan.”
Biological Versus Chronological Age
Chronological age is how long you have existed. Biological age is how old your cells are.
Sometimes these two numbers are the same for people, but everyone ages at different rates.
Your healthspan is the period of life where you are free of any aging-related disease. Dr. Vaughan and the Potocsnak Longevity Institute are aiming to increase the human healthspan by slowing down the aging process to push back the onset of aging-related diseases.
For many diseases, the most important risk factor is biological age, meaning that if your cells are older, they are more susceptible to a variety of diseases, such as:
“For most people, if you live long enough, you’re going to get an aging-related disease like high blood pressure,” says Dr. Vaughan. “There’s a quantifiable alteration and deterioration in function as you age.”
Aging on a Cellular Level
You can see some signs of aging with the naked eye — gray hair, wrinkles, limited mobility — but aging really happens on a cellular level.
As your cells age, they eventually enter a phase called senescence, when they lose their ability to regenerate and repair themselves. Environmental factors like stress, or genetic factors like family history can trigger senescence in your cells.
“In the last 20 years, we have unraveled the biology of senescence to the point where we are able to see a fingerprint of the molecular markers of biological age,” says Dr. Vaughan.
Chromosomes are structures that carry your DNA, which is the blueprint for your cells. Telomeres are groups of molecules called nucleotides on the ends of your chromosomes that act like bumpers, protecting your chromosomes from deterioration.
Every time your cells divide for normal repair and regeneration (which is all the time), your telomeres get shorter, which means they get shorter as you age. Research suggests that if you have shorter telomeres, you are more likely to die early or develop a disease like a neurodegenerative disorder.
In fact, there are people with short telomere syndromes (STS) who have genetic mutations that result in rapid aging due to short telomere lengths.
Humans have an estimated 30,000 genes, which carry the instructions for making proteins that make up your body and carry out all of its functions. Genes can be turned on or off like light switches. When your cells replicate and repair, a process called DNA methylation can occur. DNA methylation doesn’t alter or mutate your genes, but instead changes how you express your genes.
In short, DNA methylation can turn your genes on or off.
Examining DNA methylation is part of epigenetics, the study of how your genes are expressed based on your lifestyle and environment. This is important, because you don’t age in a vacuum. A variety of external factors contributes to how you age, including lifestyle, stress and even access to health care.
DNA methylation can also be a very precise predictor of your biological age.
“Someone who has diabetes will have a very different DNA methylation pattern than someone who doesn’t. Someone who smokes cigarettes will have a different DNA methylation pattern than someone who doesn’t,” says Dr. Vaughan. “DNA methylation can be reversed by lifestyle changes. You can alter your fate with diet and exercise, for example.”
Your actual age
Scientists may be able to measure your biological age in the not-so-distant future.
“We are not far away from having very precise measures that allow us to determine someone’s biological age,” says Dr. Vaughan. “We’re optimistic that we’ll soon be able to tinker with the biology of aging so that people can live longer healthspans.”
Heart health and your health in general are clearly tied to your psychological health. It should come as no surprise to regular readers here that eat less; move more; live longer works.
The American Heart Association has released a scientific statement addressing how psychological health can contribute to cardiovascular disease (CVD). Their analysis of science to date concluded that negative psychological health (depression, chronic stress, anxiety, anger, pessimism, and dissatisfaction with one’s current life) is linked to CVD risk and may play a direct role in both biological processes and downstream lifestyle behaviors that cause CVD. Conversely, positive psychological health can contribute to better cardiovascular health and reduced cardiovascular risk.The majority of research suggests interventions to improve psychological health can have a beneficial impact on cardiovascular health.
Get regular health check-ups that include basic screening for psychological health and seek help from a mental health professional if you have concerns. The study also recommends exercise, meditation, and other self-care as potential ways to promote both mental and physical health.
In a new paper, researchers challenge the longstanding view that the force of natural selection in humans must decline to zero once reproduction is complete. They assert that a long post-reproductive lifespan is not just due to recent advancements in health and medicine. The secret to our success? Our grandparents.
According to long-standing canon in evolutionary biology, natural selection is cruelly selfish, favoring traits that help promote reproductive success. This usually means that the so-called “force” of selection is well equipped to remove harmful mutations that appear during early life and throughout the reproductive years. However, by the age fertility ceases, the story goes that selection becomes blind to what happens to our bodies. After the age of menopause, our cells are more vulnerable to harmful mutations. In the vast majority of animals, this usually means that death follows shortly after fertility ends.
Which puts humans (and some species of whale) in a unique club: animals that continue to live long after their reproductive lives end. How is it that we can live decades in selection’s shadow?
Higher levels of optimism were associated with longer lifespan and living beyond age 90 in women across racial and ethnic groups in a study led by researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
“Although optimism itself may be affected by social structural factors, such as race and ethnicity, our research suggests that the benefits of optimism may hold across diverse groups,” said Hayami Koga, a PhD student in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences studying in the Population Health Sciences program in partnership with Harvard Chan School and lead author of the study. “A lot of previous work has focused on deficits or risk factors that increase the risks for diseases and premature death. Our findings suggest that there’s value to focusing on positive psychological factors, like optimism, as possible new ways of promoting longevity and healthy aging across diverse groups.”
Ah, coffee. Whether you’re cradling a travel mug on your way to work or dashing out after spin class to refuel with a skinny latte, it’s hard to imagine a day without it. The caffeine perks you up, and there’s something incredibly soothing about sipping a steaming cup of joe. But is drinking coffee good for you?
Good news: The case for coffee is stronger than ever. Study after study indicates you could be getting more from your favorite morning beverage than you thought: Coffee is chock full of substances that may help guard against conditions more common in women, including Alzheimer’s disease and heart disease.
Caffeine is the first thing that comes to mind when you think about coffee. But coffee also contains antioxidants and other active substances that may reduce internal inflammation and protect against disease, say nutrition experts from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
What are the top health benefits of drinking coffee?
Your brew gives you benefits beyond an energy boost. Here are the top ways coffee can positively impact your health:
Your body may process glucose (or sugar) better. That’s the theory behind studies that found that people who drink more coffee are less likely to get type 2 diabetes.
You’re less likely to develop heart failure. Drinking one to two cups of coffee a day may help ward off heart failure, when a weakened heart has difficulty pumping enough blood to the body.
You are less likely to develop Parkinson’s disease. Caffeine is not only linked to a lower chance of developing Parkinson’s disease, but it may also help those with the condition better control their movements.
Your liver will thank you. Both regular and decaf coffee seem to have a protective effect on your liver. Research shows that coffee drinkers are more likely to have liver enzyme levels within a healthy range than people who don’t drink coffee.
Your DNA will be stronger. Dark roast coffee decreases breakage in DNA strands, which occur naturally but can lead to cancer or tumors if not repaired by your cells.
Your odds of getting colon cancer will go way down. One in 23 women develop colon cancer. But researchers found that coffee drinkers — decaf or regular — were 26 percent less likely to develop colorectal cancer.
You may decrease your risk of getting Alzheimer’s disease. Almost two-thirds of Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease are women. But the caffeine in two cups of coffee may provide significant protection against developing the condition. In fact, researchers found that women age 65 and older who drank two to three cups of coffee a day were less likely to develop dementia in general.
You’re not as likely to suffer a stroke. For women, drinking at least one cup of coffee a day is associated with lowered stroke risk, which is the fourth leading cause of death in women.
For the record, I love coffee. I confess that the caffeine part scares me, so I drink decaf. My favorite snack, which I have every day, is a cup of hot coffee and a handful of roasted and salted pumpkin seeds in the shell. Don’t know how this came to be, but I have been doing it for years and look forward to it every afternoon. Tony
Older people who overestimate their health go to the doctor less often. This can have serious consequences for their health, for example, when illnesses are detected too late. By contrast, people who think they are sicker than they actually are visit the doctor more often. This is what a new study by Sonja Spitzer from the Institute for Demography at the University of Vienna and Mujaheed Shaikh from the Hertie School in Berlin found based on data from over 80,000 Europeans aged 50 and older. The results were published in The Journal of the Economics of Aging.
Our confidence affects our behavior. People who overestimate their abilities earn more, invest their money differently, and are more likely to be leaders. But they also act riskier, have more accidents, and live less healthy by drinking more alcohol, eating less healthily, and sleeping too little.
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).
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.
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.
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 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.
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).
“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.
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 →
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.
“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 →
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…
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
“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.”