Add an improved memory to the list of the many benefits that accompany having a sense of purpose in life.
A new study led by Florida State University researchers showed a link between an individual’s sense of purpose and his ability to recall vivid details. The researchers found that while both a sense of purpose and cognitive function made memories easier to recall, only a sense of purpose bestowed the benefits of vividness and coherence.
The study, which focused on memories related to the COVID-19 pandemic, was published in the journal Memory.
“Personal memories serve really important functions in everyday life,” said Angelina Sutin, a professor in the College of Medicine and the paper’s lead author. “They help us to set goals, control emotions and build intimacy with others. We also know people with a greater sense of purpose perform better on objective memory tests, like remembering a list of words. We were interested in whether purpose was also associated with the quality of memories of important personal experiences because such qualities may be one reason why purpose is associated with better mental and physical health.”
Researchers at Cedars-Sinai have found that aging produces significant changes in the microbiome of the human small intestine distinct from those caused by medications or illness burden. The findings have been published in the journal Cell Reports.
“By teasing out the microbial changes that occur in the small bowel with age, medication use and diseases, we hope to identify unique components of the microbial community to target for therapeutics and interventions that could promote healthy aging,” said Ruchi Mathur, MD, the study’s principal investigator.
Research exploring the gut microbiome, and its impact on health, has relied predominantly on fecal samples, which do not represent the entire gut, according to Mathur. In their study, investigators from Cedars-Sinai’s Medically Associated Science and Technology (MAST) Program analyzed samples from the small intestine–which is over 20 feet in length and has the surface area of a tennis court–for examination of the microbiome and its relationship with aging.
The goal of balance exercises is to improve stability and coordination throughout your body. Balance helps you stay upright as you do activities like walking, biking, climbing stairs, or dancing. It’s important to do exercises that improve your balance, especially as you get older.
Having good balance helps prevent injuries. Older individuals are especially at risk for accidents involving slips and falls, so it’s necessary to keep your balance well trained as you get older.
Research has shown the significant role that balance exercises play in an older person’s quality of life. For instance, a study from 2016 found that older adults who began a regular balance exercise program improved their ability to move unassisted.
The following exercises are meant to help you balance better. Take your time as you start them, and be sure you have something nearby to grab onto in case you lose your balance while doing the exercise. Remember to stop if you feel pain. If the pain lasts for days or weeks, talk to your doctor.
Scientists recently discovered a process by which immune cells can drive aging in the brain, and how to block this pathway to improve memory and maze navigation in older mice. The findings suggest a potential avenue to develop new treatments for cognitive conditions like Alzheimer’s disease. The study, led by researchers from Stanford University, was published in Nature on Jan. 20.
Inflammation is part of the immune system response to infection or injury. But as people age, they may have chronic low-level inflammation, which is linked to age-related diseases and cognitive decline.
Normally, immune cells — including a group of cells called macrophages — create immune responses that protect the brain, such as disposing of abnormal forms of proteins that are tied to neurodegeneration. But as people — and mice — age, immune cells can start encouraging inflammation rather than protecting against it.
People often get sicker as they grow older, but new research from Gil McVean of the University of Oxford and colleagues finds that the impact of a person’s genes on their risk of getting sick actually wanes with age. The researchers published their new findings August 26thin the journal PLOS Genetics.
The genes we inherit from our parents influence our risk for almost all diseases, from cancer to heart disease to autoimmune disorders. With new genomic technologies, scientists can now use a person’s genome to predict their future disease risk. However, recent work has shown that the predictive power of a person’s genetics can depend on their age, sex and ethnicity.
In the new study, McVean’s team investigated whether the risk of developing a disease posed by carrying certain genes changes as a person gets older. In other words, they wanted to know if there are windows when people are more or less likely to develop diseases linked to genetics. They used genomic data from 500,000 people in the UK Biobank to look at how their genetics impact their risk of developing 24 common diseases. While different diseases had different risk patterns, the researchers showed that a person’s genetic risk is highest early in life and then drops off for many diseases, including high blood pressure, skin cancer and underactive thyroids.
Currently, the reasons why the risk posed by a person’s genes decreases with age are not clear. The researchers suspect that there may be unknown processes at work, such interactions between a person’s genes and their environment that lead to disease. A better understanding of how age impacts a person’s risk of developing a disease linked to their genes may help researchers make more accurate predictions about whether an individual will ultimately become sick with that condition.
McVean adds, “Our work shows that the way in which genetics affects your risk of getting a disease change throughout life. For many diseases, genetic factors are most important in determining whether you will get a disease early in life, while — as you age — other factors come to dominate risk.”
Most of us remember a time when we could eat anything we wanted and not gain weight. But a new study suggests your metabolism, the rate at which you burn calories, actually peaks much earlier and starts its inevitable decline later than you might think.
The findings appear in the journal Science.
“As we age, there are a lot of physiological changes that occur in the phases of our life such as during puberty and in menopause. What’s odd is that the timing of our ‘metabolic life stages’ doesn’t appear to match the markers we associate with growing up and getting older,” said study co-author Jennifer Rood, PhD, Associate Executive Director for Cores and Resources at Pennington Biomedical Research Center.
Four Pennington Biomedical researchers were part of an international team of scientists who analyzed the average calories burned by more than 6,600 people as they went about their daily lives. The participants’ ages ranged from one week old to 95 years, and they lived in 29 different countries. The other Pennington Biomedical scientists are Peter Katzmarzyk, PhD, Associate Executive Director for Population and Public Health Sciences; Corby Martin, PhD, Professor and Director, Ingestive Behavior Laboratory; and Eric Ravussin, PhD, Associate Executive Director for Clinical Science.
Older adults with obesity who combine aerobic exercise with eating slightly fewer calories each day see greater improvements in blood vessel health than those who just exercise or who exercise and eat a more restrictive diet, new research finds, according to a study in the American Heart Association News.
The study found eating just 200 fewer calories per day while increasing physical activity could help offset age-related stiffening of the aorta, the largest artery in the body. Aortic stiffness is a measure of blood vessel health and a risk factor for cardiovascular events such as heart attacks and strokes.
The aorta, which brings oxygen and vital nutrients from the heart to other key organs, stiffens as people age. When it does, the heart has to work harder to contract and pump blood throughout the body. Chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes and obesity can accelerate aging and cause the aorta to stiffen at a younger age. Higher body mass index, body weight, total body fat and abdominal fat, as well as a larger waist circumference, all are associated with increased aortic stiffness.
When it comes to healthy aging and your diet, there are plenty of mixed up “facts” that need to be unraveled, says Johns Hopkins registered dietitian Kathleen Johnson, M.A., R.D., L.D.N. Here, she separates nutrition fact from fiction.
Myth: You should avoid dairy as you get older.
Truth: Only if it aggravates your stomach or digestive system.
Our bodies often become less tolerant of certain foods as we get older, says Johnson. Dairy is one of them because production of the enzyme lactase, which aids in the digestion of dairy, decreases as we age.
But unless you’re not feeling well after having dairy products (symptoms such as gas and bloating), there’s no need to start shunning dairy.
Myth: You can only get calcium from dairy.
Truth: Many other foods are surprisingly good sources.
If you can’t tolerate dairy anymore (see above), you can still meet the daily recommended amount (1,300 milligrams to help prevent osteoporosis) by eating foods such as bok choy (79 milligrams per serving) and white beans (96 milligrams). Other foods with calcium: spinach (146 milligrams), salmon (181 milligrams) and sardines (325 milligrams).
Myth: You should switch to a low-carb, high-protein diet.
Truth: It’s better to follow a well-balanced eating plan that helps you maintain a healthy weight.
Protein does help build muscle mass — something our body naturally loses after the age of 50 (thus the importance of resistance training). However, Johnson says, what’s most important for those over 50 is achieving and maintaining a healthy weight.
For that goal, she says, “practicing moderation, and making sure the largest food on your plate is a vegetable, followed by whole grains and protein” is important. One eating plan that most medical experts support for healthy aging is the Mediterranean diet.
Myth: You should avoid saturated fats.
Truth: Some can be good for you. Instead, focus on eating more healthy fats.
“There is good nutrition science supporting the benefits of good monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats,” Johnson says — fats found in foods such as nuts and fatty fish.
“Just don’t make fats — of any type — the largest part of your diet,” she says. Bear in mind that fats help our bodies absorb many key vitamins and minerals for healthy aging.
There are many reasons to avoid getting diabetes, or to keep it controlled if you already have it: Higher risks for heart disease, stroke and for having a foot or leg amputation. But here’s another one: It’s a major risk factor for dementia.
While researchers are still investigating what causes that increased risk, one thing they do know is it’s linked to highs – and lows – in the body’s blood sugar levels.
“Whether it’s Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, glycemic control is very important” for maintaining good brain health, said Rachel Whitmer, chief of the division of epidemiology at University of California, Davis and associate director of the school’s Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center. “This is another motivation to have good control.”
Good management of blood glucose levels is one of seven lifestyle changes people can make to support better heart and brain health, called Life’s Simple 7 by the American Heart Association. It’s a step that could potentially help more than 34.2 million people in the U.S. living with diabetes.
Contrary to what science once suggested, older people with a declining sense of smell do not have comprehensively dampened olfactory ability for odors in general – it simply depends upon the type of odor. Researchers at the University of Copenhagen reached this conclusion after examining a large group of older Danes’ and their intensity perception of common food odors.
That grandpa and grandma aren’t as good at smelling as they once were, is something that many can relate to. And, it has also been scientifically demonstrated. One’s sense of smell gradually begins to decline from about the age of 55. Until now, it was believed that one’s sense of smell broadly declined with increasing age. However, a study from the University of Copenhagen reports that certain food odors are significantly more affected than others.
The Department of Food Science’s Eva Honnens de Lichtenberg Broge and her fellow researchers have tested the ability of older Danes to perceive everyday food odors. The researchers measured how intensely older adults perceived different food odours, as well as how much they liked the odours.
Researchers from Tokyo Metropolitan University have discovered that a specific chemical feature of a key protein known as tau may cause it to accumulate in the brain and trigger illnesses like Alzheimer’s. They found that disulfide bonds on certain amino acids act to stabilize tau and cause it to accumulate, an effect that got worse with increased oxidative stress. The identification of chemical targets triggering tau accumulation may lead to breakthrough treatments.
The tau protein is key to the healthy function of biological cells. It helps form and stabilize microtubules, the thin filaments that crisscross cell interiors to help keep them structurally rigid and provide ‘highways’ to shuttle molecules between organelles. However, when they are not formed correctly, they can accumulate and form sticky clumps. In the brain, these aggregates block the firing of neurons and cause a wide range of neurodegenerative diseases known as tauopathies, one of which is Alzheimer’s disease. It is vastly important that scientists find the ‘switch’ that transforms tau from an indispensable part of cell function to a deadly pathology.
A team led by Associate Professor Kanae Ando of Tokyo Metropolitan University has been using model organisms like the Drosophila fruit fly to uncover how specific features of the tau protein cause it to stop working properly. Flies can be genetically altered to express the same tau protein as in humans. By systematically modifying parts of the gene encoding for tau, they have been trying to pinpoint how certain features of mutant tau proteins affect their behavior.
In their most recent work, they found that alterations to amino acid residues in the protein known as cysteines in two different locations (C291 and C322) had a drastic effect on the amount and toxicity of tau. In a further breakthrough, the team pinned down the specific chemical feature responsible for making them toxic to normal cell function, that is, disulfide bonds formed by these cysteine groups. The toxic accumulation of tau got worse when cells were put in an environment with elevated levels of reactive oxygen species, as thiol groups on the cysteines were oxidized to form disulfide links. Biochemical environments with elevated oxidative stress are similar to those seen in patients with tauopathies. The co-expression of antioxidants to counter this effect helped natural processes clear away tau proteins, resulting in dramatically lower tau levels.
The team hope that knowledge of exactly which chemical groups are responsible for tau toxicity may lead to novel therapies which reduce or prevent tau accumulation, helping sufferers of tauopathies around the world.
Legend has it that Marie Antoinette’s hair turned gray overnight just before her beheading in 1791.
Though the legend is inaccurate–hair that has already grown out of the follicle does not change color–a new study from researchers at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons is the first to offer quantitative evidence linking psychological stress to graying hair in people.
And while it may seem intuitive that stress can accelerate graying, the researchers were surprised to discover that hair color can be restored when stress is eliminated, a finding that contrasts with a recent study in mice that suggested that stressed-induced gray hairs are permanent.
The study, published June 22 in eLife, has broader significance than confirming age-old speculation about the effects of stress on hair color, says the study’s senior author Martin Picard, PhD(link is external and opens in a new window), associate professor of behavioral medicine (in psychiatry and neurology) at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons.
“Understanding the mechanisms that allow ‘old’ gray hairs to return to their ‘young’ pigmented states could yield new clues about the malleability of human aging in general and how it is influenced by stress,” Picard says.
Sarcopenia, the gradual loss of muscle mass that can occur with aging, affects 15 percent of people over age 65, and 50 percent of people over age 80. As we lose muscle mass, we lose strength, and if we lose too much, our ability to function suffers. Fortunately, emerging research is shedding new light on the role dietary protein plays in maintaining muscle, functionality, and health as we age.
Some of this gradual, age-associated loss of muscle mass, strength, and function has to do with a decrease in activity, but not all of it. “Like many complex syndromes of older adults, many factors contribute to sarcopenia,” says Roger A. Fielding, PhD, director of the Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging (HNRCA) Nutrition, Exercise Physiology and Sarcopenia laboratory. “Decreased physical activity, hormonal changes, increase in low-grade inflammatory processes, and changes in dietary intake that include decline in protein intake are all involved.”
Protein and Muscle: The body’s ability to manufacture muscle from protein decreases a bit with aging, so increasing dietary protein—in concert with muscle-building exercise—could help to maintain muscle mass and strength. “We know that in extreme conditions of protein malnutrition people lose muscle mass pretty rapidly,” says Fielding. “But even in older individuals who are taking in protein around the recommended levels, consuming lower amounts of protein is associated with higher rate of muscle loss than consuming higher amounts of protein.”
Paul F. Jacques, DSc, a professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy and senior scientist at the HNRCA Nutritional Epidemiology Team, and his colleagues found higher protein intake may translate to less frailty, disability, or physical dysfunction “We found that higher protein intake was associated with a 30 percent lower risk of losing functional integrity with time,” says Jacques. “This is observational data, but it clearly demonstrates the potential importance of a higher protein diet.”
A strange thing sometimes happens when we listen to a spoken phrase again and again: It begins to sound like a song.
This phenomenon, called the “speech-to-song illusion,” can offer a window into how the mind operates and give insight into conditions that affect people’s ability to communicate, like aphasia and aging people’s decreased ability to recall words.
Now, researchers from the University of Kansas have published a study in PLOS ONE examining if the speech-to-song illusion happens in adults who are 55 or older as powerfully as it does with younger people.
The KU team recruited 199 participants electronically on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (MTurk), a website used to conduct research in the field of psychology. The subjects listened to a sound file that exemplified the speech-to-song illusion, then completed surveys relating to three different studies.
“In the first study, we just played them the canonical stimulus made by the researcher that discovered this illusion — if that can’t create the illusion, then nothing can,” said co-author Michael Vitevitch, professor of psychology at KU. “Then we simply asked people, ‘Did you experience the illusion or not?’ There was no difference in the age of the number of people that said yes or no.”
Because I have people on both sides of my family who have suffered from Alzheimer’s or dementia, I know I am particularly sensitive to my cognitive state. But, I believe that is typical of everyone over 50 years old.
Misplacing keys. Forgetting names. Struggling to find the right word. Walking into a room and forgetting why.
Are these early signs of dementia? Or normal signs of aging?
It all depends on the circumstances, health experts say. To distinguish between changes associated with typical aging and concerning signs of cognitive loss requires a deeper look.
“Instead of thinking about things in terms of what is a sign of dementia, I would ask, ‘What is the situation in which those signs appear?'” said Dr. Jeffrey Keller, founder and director of the Institute for Dementia Research and Prevention in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. “It’s how the brain functions in response to a challenge that demonstrates early changes that can lead to dementia.”
In other words, a person experiencing normal aging may experience some memory lapses, he said. But more important than whether they’ve misplaced their keys is whether they’re able to retrace their steps to find them. Or whether they can retain information long enough to carry out a multi-part task, such as filling out medical or tax forms, even if interrupted while doing so.
People who feel younger have a greater sense of well-being, better cognitive functioning, less inflammation, lower risk of hospitalization and even live longer than their older-feeling peers. A study published by the American Psychological Association suggests one potential reason for the link between subjective age and health: Feeling younger could help buffer middle-aged and older adults against the damaging effects of stress.
In the study, published in Psychology and Aging, researchers from the German Centre of Gerontology analyzed three years of data from 5,039 participants in the German Ageing Survey, a longitudinal survey of residents of Germany age 40 and older. The survey included questions about the amount of perceived stress in peoples’ lives and their functional health – how much they were limited in daily activities such as walking, dressing and bathing. Participants also indicated their subjective age by answering the question, “How old do you feel?”
The researchers found, on average, participants who reported more stress in their lives experienced a steeper decline in functional health over three years, and that link between stress and functional health decline was stronger for chronologically older participants.
However, subjective age seemed to provide a protective buffer. Among people who felt younger than their chronological age, the link between stress and declines in functional health was weaker. That protective effect was strongest among the oldest participants.