Booster Shots

Oddities, musings and news from the health world

Category: aging

Who's afraid of long-term care? Californians

April 21, 2010 |  9:41 am

Cane Two-thirds of registered voters in California, those 40 and older anyway, say they worry about whether or not they could afford long-term care for themselves or a family member, finds a new poll from the SCAN Foundation and the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research.

Here are the poll results and the news release.

They're right to worry.

As the L.A. Times' Michael Hiltzik noted in his recent column, Long-term-care policies: Pouring money down a hole?:

"Here's a lesson baby boomers are just beginning to learn: You pay for long-term-care insurance for years, even decades, and then your insurance company changes the rules."

But Bruce Chernof, president and chief executive of the SCAN Foundation, seems cautiously optimistic in the wake of the recent healthcare overhaul. As he noted in his recent opinion article, Healthcare reform: What's in it for our seniors?:

"Lost in the maelstrom of misinformation, however, is the reality that the newly passed legislation lays the groundwork for greatly improving the full continuum of healthcare services for seniors, which includes renovating our nation's nonexistent long-term care system."

Here's more on how the healthcare overhaul would affect long-term care, courtesy Kaiser Health News.

-- Tami Dennis

Photo credit: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images



Getting around may be getting harder for those in middle age

April 6, 2010 |  3:01 pm

Middle-aged men and women are having a tougher time moving around, according to a new study that saw a boost in mobility-related problems among people 50 to 64 years old.

Gcf9fmke The study, published in the April issue of the journal Health Affairs, looked at mobility-related disability trends among those taking part in the 1997-2007 National Health Interview Survey, a nationally representative study. The participants were asked if they had difficulty with nine particular physical functions, if they had a health problem requiring the use of equipment such as a cane or wheelchair, and what health conditions might be responsible for their limitations. Overall, the number of people ages 50 to 64 who need help with personal care activities is less than 2%.

The number of people reporting difficulty with physical functions didn't change much, but difficulty with certain functions saw an uptick over the 11 years: stooping, bending and kneeling; standing for two hours; walking a quarter mile; and climbing 10 steps without resting. More than 40% of people surveyed said that due to a health problem they had trouble with at least one of nine physical functions, without using any equipment. The researchers, from the University of Michigan and the RAND Corporation, also saw an increase in people needing help with personal care endeavors such as getting in and out of bed or moving around in their homes.

From 2005 to 2007, the most common reasons for needing help were arthritis; rheumatism; back or neck problems; diabetes; and depression, anxiety or emotional problems. Those who reported these problems were more apt to say the disorders started at age 30 to 49. Obesity was tied for seventh place on the list, tied with heart problems, and there was no substantial increase over the study period. In the study the researchers noted that some of the participants may not have wanted to list obesity, and that many obese people are healthy. Still, they wrote, "our findings regarding arthritis or rheumatism, back or neck problems, other musculoskeletal conditions, and diabetes may be related to the growth in obesity."

"This is a disappointing trend with potentially far-reaching and long-term negative consequences," said Richard Suzman in a news release. Suzman, director of the Division of Behavioral and Social Research at the National Institute on Aging, which funded the study, added: "If people have such difficulties in middle age, how can we expect that this age group -- today's baby boomers -- will be able to take care of itself with advancing age? If it continues, this trend could have a significant effect on the need for long-term care in the future."

-- Jeannine Stein

Photo credit: Los Angeles Times

I'm OK, you're OK...but that might change as we get older

April 1, 2010 | 12:47 pm

How you feel about yourself may be different in your 20s than your 60s, according to a new study that shows self-esteem could be somewhat fluid throughout life.

Kzt4jtnc Researchers looked at data on 3,617 people from the Americans' Changing Lives study, a national study of people ages 25 to 104. Surveys were done over a 16-year period from 1986 to 2002, in which men and women were asked questions relating to self-esteem, such as, "I take a positive attitude toward myself," "At times I think I am no good at all" and "All in all, I am inclined to feel that I am a failure." In addition, information was also obtained on the participants' education levels, ethnicity, income, job status, relationships, health and social support, all things that can factor into self-esteem.

People's levels of self-esteem waxed and waned through the years, with various issues having influences. Overall, self-esteem increased during young adulthood through middle age, peaked at about age 60, then declined as people got older. During young adulthood women had lower self-esteem than men, but the genders were neck-and-neck in old age.

Both whites and blacks had comparable self-esteem levels through middle age, but blacks experienced a steeper decline than whites as they got older, and that didn't change after the study authors adjusted for income and health. Income, health, job status and education predicted higher self-esteem, especially as people got older.

"Specifically, we found that people who have higher incomes and better health in later life tend to maintain their self-esteem as they age," said lead author Ulrich Orth of the University of Basel, in Switzerland, in a press release. "We cannot know for certain that more wealth and better health directly lead to higher self-esteem, but it does appear to be linked in some way. For example, it is possible that wealth and health are related to feeling more independent and better able to contribute to one's family and society, which in turn bolsters self-esteem."

Relationships affected self-esteem as well -- those in supportive and fulfilling relationships felt better about themselves. But as people in good relationships aged they experienced a drop in self-esteem, the same as people in unhappy relationships.

The study appears in the April issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

-- Jeannine Stein

Photo credit: Dimitar Dilkoff / AFP/Getty Images

Smile your way to a long life

March 25, 2010 |  6:00 am

People who smile a lot are usually happier, have more stable personalities, more stable marriages, better cognitive skills and better interpersonal skills, according to research. Science has just uncovered another benefit of a happy face. People who have big smiles live longer.

Vladdy Researchers at Wayne State University used information from the Baseball Register to look a photos of 230 players who debuted in professional baseball before 1950. The players' photos were enlarged and a rating of their smile intensity was made (big smile, no smile, partial smile). The players' smile ratings were compared with data from deaths that occurred 2006 and 2009. The researchers then corrected their analysis to account for other factors associated with longevity, such as body mass index, career length, career precocity and college attendance.

For those players who had died, the researchers found longevity ranged from an average of 72.9 years for players with no smiles (63 players), to 75 years for players with partial smiles (64 players) to 79.9 years for players with big smiles (23 players).

This isn't a bunch of psycho-hooey, the authors said. Smiles reflect positive emotion. Positive emotion has been linked to both physical and mental well-being. They added a caveat to their study, noting: "The data source provided no information as to whether expressions were spontaneous or in response to a photographer's request to smile." Still, big smiles are more likely to reflect true happiness than partial smiles.

What I'm wondering is, did they account for each team's winning records? Maybe the non-smilers were thinking about batting averages.

The study is published in the journal Psychological Science.

-- Shari Roan

Photo: Former Los Angeles Angels' player Vladimir Guerrero is known for his beatific smile. Credit: Alex Gallardo  /  Los Angeles Times

For a long sex life, stay healthy

March 9, 2010 |  4:01 pm

Just in case avoiding death isn’t a good enough reason to pay attention to your health, researchers from the University of Chicago offer another incentive: people who are healthy have better – and longer – sex lives.

SexStacy Tessler Lindau and Natalia Gavrilova examined data from more than 6,000 American adults between ages 25 and 85. The men and women provided information about their overall physical health and their activity between the sheets.

The researchers found that people in “very good” or “excellent” health were 50% to 80% more likely to be interested in sex than those in poorer health.

What’s more, being in good health greatly boosted the odds of being sexually active. Healthy men were 2.2 to 4.6 times more likely to be sexually active than their unhealthy peers; for women, being healthy increased the likelihood of an active sex life by 1.6 to 2.8 times.

And among those who were having sex, those in good health were more likely to say their sex life was good. For men, good health meant having sex more frequently as well.

The study is being published online Wednesday in the journal BMJ. You can read the full results here, along with an editorial welcoming the news that “adults in the U.S. can enjoy many years of sexual activity beyond age 55.”

-- Karen Kaplan

Photo: If you stay healthy, you can maintain an active sex life well into your golden years. Photo credit: Lightscapes Photography Inc./Corbis

Elevators and the elderly don't always go together, researchers say

February 12, 2010 |  3:51 pm

An elevator can be a dangerous place for the elderly, according to researchers from the Indiana University School of Medicine. An estimated 120 billion riders enter about 750,000 elevators in the United States every year, and by and large the devices represent one of the safest ways to travel. But every year, about 2,640 elevator injuries severe enough to require a visit to the emergency room occur among the elderly, according to data from the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Epidemiologist Greg Steele of Indiana University and his colleagues studied CPSC data from 1990 to 2006 and concluded that many of the accidents could have been avoided. They reported in the January issue of the Journal of Trauma Injury, Infection and Critical Care that hip fracture was the most common injury for the 14% of victims who were admitted to the hospital. Elevator

Three-fourths of the injuries were to women. More than half involved slipping, tripping or falling, and about a third resulted from the elevator door closing on the individual. Injuries related to wedging a walker in the elevator door were also common. Overall, the injury rate was seven times greater in those older than 85 than in those in the 65-to-69 age group.

"Elevator injuries are not accidental, they are easily preventable," Steele said. "Individuals of any age, but especially older adults, who often have vision or balance issues, should not stick an arm or leg or walker into the path of a closing elevator door. Elevator-open buttons should be made twice the size of the other elevator buttons so they are not hard to find by individuals wanting to stop the door from closing on an approaching individual."

Misalignment of the elevator floor and the floor of the hallway is also a common cause of injury because it is hard to see for older adults with vision problems. Steele recommends that bright paint be applied to the two edges to make them easier to see.

The cost of such changes would be pennies, but the savings huge, Steele said. "Slips, trips and falls often start a downward decline in an older individual's health and quality of life."

-- Thomas H. Maugh II

Photo credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times 

Rodent of the Week: Mixing young blood with old

January 29, 2010 |  1:00 pm

Rodent_of_the_week As we age, cells do not replicate as efficiently and lose their ability to repair damage. That leads to disease and physical decline. There is still no way to reverse aging, but researchers in Boston this week announced that it may be possible to use the blood of younger people to boost the healing powers of cells in older people.

The people part is still theoretical. But in mice, researchers at Harvard Stem Cell Institute and the Joslin Diabetes Center found that exposing old mice with the blood of younger mice caused their cells to start acting younger. The study, published in the journal Nature, suggests that a better understanding the body's blood-forming mechanisms may lead to treatments for age-related illnesses as well as stem-cell therapies.

In the study, researchers connected the circulatory systems of a young mouse and an older one so that the older animal was exposed to the blood of the younger one. They found that the blood-forming stem cells in the older animals functioned better, generating various types of blood cells in more appropriate ratios. Further, the study showed that bone-forming cells called osteoblasts play a key role in the process of blood stem cell maintenance and regeneration.

"What's most exciting is that the changes that occur in blood stem cells during aging are reversible through signals carried by the blood itself," Amy J. Wagers, the lead investigator of the study, said in a news release. "This means that the blood system offers a potential therapeutic avenue for age-related stem cell dysfunction."

In an article about the research in MIT Technology Review, writer Emily Singer points out that many questions remain about the research, including whether the older mice exposed to the younger-blood treatment will be more resistant to age-related ailments.

-- Shari Roan

Photo credit: Advance Cell Technology Inc.

You're 70? Have the cheesecake

January 28, 2010 |  6:00 am

Lose some pounds, get rid of that belly fat, maintain a healthy weight — the messages for people of all ages are loud and clear.

Jv6nn2nc But a new study finds that older people may be exempt from those commands. It found that men and women ages 70 to 75 had a lower mortality rate if they were overweight than if they were normal weight.

Australian researchers looked at data from two population-based longitudinal studies and concentrated on a subgroup of 9,240 men and women who were ages 70 to 75 at the beginning of the study. They were followed for 10 years or until they died, and body mass index was used to determine if the participants were underweight, normal weight, overweight or obese.

For both men and women, those who were overweight according to their BMI had the lowest risk of mortality. When they were divided into healthy or non-healthy groups, the results were virtually the same. Another discovery was made: Being sedentary increased the risk of mortality in men by 28%, and it doubled the risk for women.

People who were underweight had a higher death risk than those who were normal weight, and the obese had about the same mortality rate as men and women who were normal weight.

"These results add evidence to the claims that the [World Health Organization] BMI thresholds for overweight and obese are overly restrictive for older people," said lead author Leon Flicker of the University of Western Australia in a news release. "It may be timely to review the BMI classification for older adults."

As for why being overweight might extend life, the researchers referenced a meta-analysis that showed that those with existing coronary artery disease, being overweight or obese was linked to better survival rates, perhaps because the extra weight also provided metabolic and nutrition stores for people who are older and ill. They also speculate that as people grow older there may be a weaker link between being overweight and a lower risk of death.

So eat (not to excess) and be merry, but get off your duff.

The study was released today in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

— Jeannine Stein

Photo credit: Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles Times

Omega-3 fatty acids may protect against cell aging

January 19, 2010 |  1:00 pm

FishOilResearchers from UC San Francisco reported today that people with heart disease who had high levels of omega-3 fatty acids in their blood had a lower rate of shortening of telomere length--a marker for aging--compared with similar heart patients who had the lowest levels of omega-3 fatty acids.

A telomere is a structure at the end of a chromosome that dictates the replication and stability of the chromosome. Shortening of the telomere means the cell is aging. Researchers have been examining various substances, such as vitamins, to see if they have an impact on slowing the telomere shortening rate. Meanwhile, other studies have demonstrated that omega-3 fatty acids are beneficial to heart health. The American Heart Assn. recommends increased intake of oily fish, which are high in omega-3 fatty acids, or the use of omega-3 fatty acid supplements for the prevention and treatment of heart disease.

Researchers don't know how omega-3 fatty acids may affect telomeres. But, they wrote: "Although the mechanisms involved remain incompletely understood, there is increasing evidence that omega-3 fatty acids exert direct effects on aging and age-related diseases."

The study is published in the Journal of the American Medical Assn.

-- Shari Roan

Photo credit: Beatrice de Gea  /  Los Angeles Times

Exercise also trains the brain

January 13, 2010 | 11:58 am

We know exercise has a positive effect on the body, but more and more evidence shows that regular exercise may be good for the mind too. The latest information comes by way of two studies released this week in Archives of Neurology that show the possible benefits of physical activity on cognitive function.

Kvfeuxnc In one paper, researchers found that six months of high-intensity aerobic exercise was linked with improved cognitive function. The small study included 33 people, about half women, average age 70. The participants had mild cognitive impairment, described as a condition between the normal cognitive changes that occur with aging and dementia. They were divided into two groups -- an exercise group that did 45 to 60 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity four days a week for six months and a control group that did stretching and kept their heart rates much lower.

The subjects were given various tests before, during and after the study, including a fitness assessment, body-fat analysis, blood tests for metabolic markers and cognitive evaluations.

After the six months, several cognitive functions improved, including multitasking, cognitive flexibility, information processing efficiency and selective attention. However, the changes were seen more substantially in women than in men, although both showed improvements in cardiorespiratory fitness. Researchers speculate that the differences might be due to the fact that the genders differ in how their bodies use and produce glucose, insulin and cortisol.

In a second study, the emphasis was on moderate exercise. Researchers examined data on 1,324 people who were part of the Mayo Clinic Study of Aging who did not have dementia. The participants reported their frequency and intensity of exercise in a questionnaire, and a panel of experts determined who had normal cognition (1,126 people) and who had mild cognitive impairment (198 people).

They determined that engaging in moderate exercise in midlife was linked with a 39% reduction in the odds of developing mild cognitive impairment. Moderate exercise later in life was associated with a 32% decrease. Light exercise (slow dancing, golfing using a cart) and vigorous exercise (jogging, skiing) did not show the same connection.

Researchers speculate that the positive effects could come from improved blood flow to the brain, less risk of cardiovascular and cerebrovascular disease and other factors. Then again, it could be that exercise usually brings with it an overall healthy lifestyle, including eating a good diet and getting regular checkups.

-- Jeannine Stein

Photo: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times


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