Archive For: Healthy Aging

Forget Me Not: Normal Aging, Mild Cognitive Impairment or Dementia?

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We’ve all had the experience of frantically searching for car keys in the morning or walking purposefully into another room only to forget why we were going there, and as we age, it seems to occur with increasing frequency. Are these just signs of normal aging, or harbingers of a more serious condition? It’s a question more seniors and their families are asking, as awareness of progressive memory disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease grows.

The answers can be more reassuring than yo• may imagine. Many symptoms of memory loss are benign,or due to the aging process, and no further evaluation is needed (see the signs of normal aging, at right). Experts agree that most people who are aware of—and nervous about—their own declining memory, most likely do not have mild cognitive impairment or dementia.

However, it’s vital to know that if you do have symptoms of mild cognitive impairment (MCI), this may be due to underlying medical conditions that can be treated, such as thyroid dysfunction, vitamin deficiency, anxiety/depression, sleep disorders and uncontrolled chronic conditions such as diabetes.

You may want to consider seeking an evaluation if you experience increasing difficulty, compared to your past ability, over a range of everyday activities that include: remembering important details of things you’ve done in the past few weeks; completing complex tasks at work or home, such as keeping track of monthly bills; requiring personal assistance to remember family occasions or holidays; or having trouble finding your way around familiar environments.

Cognitive abilities are also affected by depression, so if you have experienced these feelings during the last month, further evaluation is recommended:

Felt that I cannot stop feeling “down” or “blue,” even with help from family or friends.

  • Felt all pleasure and joy has gone from life.
  • Felt hopeless about the future.
  • Felt that everything was an effort.
  • Felt low in energy or slowed down a lot.
  • Did You Know?

150 minutes a week

Amount of exercise time needed to improve memory and reduce the risk of dementia. Source: Harvard Health

“Having memory loss does not necessarily mean yo• have Alzheimer’s disease (AD),” says neurologist William Rodman Shankle, MD, chair of California’s Memory and Cognitive Disorders Program at Hoag Neurosciences Institute. “In fact, there is a treatable cause in the majority of patients with cognitive impairment, provided it is detected early.”

Additionally, a rigorous combination of physical exercise, healthy diet, strict control of hypertension and diabetes, medication and ongoing social and intellectual stimulation, has proven highly effective in stopping or slowing down progression of all types of dementia, including Alzheimer’s.

Sources: Medical Care Corporation (www.mccare.com), Alz.org

Did You Know?

Learn, then sleep

While we sleep, memories are shifted to more permanent brain regions; studies have shown that sleeping shortly after learning new information can help retention in the long term. Source: The National Sleep Foundation

Signs of Normal Aging

  • Forgetting the name of someone I know well, but remembering it later
  • Forgetting what I was going to say in a conversation
  • Forgetting what I was going to when going into another room
  • Finding things I have recently put down
  • Recalling a specific word I want
  • Making occasional errors when balancing a checkbook
  • Occasionally needing help to record a television show or adjust the microwave settings
  • Getting confused about the day of the week but remembering it later
  • Misplacing things from time to time, such as a pair of glasses
  • Sometimes feeling weary of work, family and social obligations
  • Becoming irritable when a routine is disrupted

Sources: mccare.com, Alz.org

Making Memories

  • The creation of a memory begins with its perception, a quick sensation that is then stored in short-term memory, which lasts a few minutes to a few weeks before being erased. Strategies to enhance short term memory can be effective, such as dividing a 10-digit phone number into smaller chunks. Important information is gradually transferred from short-term into long-term memory.
  • Working memory is the type most affected by normal aging. While a teenager will perform better on memory and word recall tests, a 70-year old can adapt by using associations to remember e.g. ‘Every Good Boy Does Fine’ for lines on a music staff.
  • Long-term memory consists of procedural (knowing how to do things like ride a bike), semantic (knowledge of the world), and episodic (information about events you have personally experienced). Long-term memory decays very little over time, and can store a seemingly unlimited amount of information almost indefinitely.

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Hepatitis C Testing Recommended for All Baby Boomers

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It’s called ‘the forgotten virus,’ but after a sustained advertising campaign and years of strong recommendations for testing by the Centers for Disease Control it’s almost certain that the liver-damaging Hepatitis C will be remembered…and for good reason. All people born between 1945 and 1965 – the Baby Boomer years – are now advised to take a screening test for Hepatitis C virus, the most common bloodborne infection in the United States. The reason? Boomers, born in a time before universal precautions and infection control guidelines were fully established, are five times more likely to have Hepatitis C than other adults, but not likely to be aware of it, as symptoms lay dormant for years. Testing was first recommended for all Boomers in 2013, but less than 15 percent of this at-risk generation have heeded the advice, which means many who are infected remain unaware they carry a potentially fatal but very curable virus.
Below we dispel some of the misperceptions and the breakthrough treatments available today. Most importantly, we explain why scheduling a blood screening is a vital act of prevention, and one we encourage every Baby Boomer to take.

What is hepatitis C?

The common, chronic bloodborne infection known as hepatitis C is caused by the hepatitis C virus, and is a major cause of liver disease.

How does it happen?

The virus causes an inflammation that triggers a slow cascade of damage in the liver, with hard strands of scar tissue replacing healthy liver cells. The liver is no longer able to effectively filter toxins or make the proteins the body needs to repair itself.

Why is testing critical?

Hepatitis C can hide in the body for decades without causing symptoms, while it attacks the liver. Since most people don’t have warning signs of hepatitis C, they don’t seek treatment until many years later, when the damage often is well underway. Left untreated, hepatitis C can result in cirrhosis or liver cancer, and is the leading indication for liver transplant in the U.S. If treated, however, the vast majority of patients can be cured within a few months.

Did You Know?

80% – Of the 3.2 million people affected by chronic hepatitis C, almost 80% were born during the baby boomer generation

10.5 million – Out of 76.2 million Baby Boomers, the number who have been tested for hepatitis C

Sources: American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Centers for Disease Control

Why are Baby Boomers at particularly high risk for hepatitis C?

Once thought of as a disease primarily of drug users, contracted from sharing of needles, hepatitis C can also be contracted through inadequate sterilization of medical equipment and the transfusion of unscreened blood. Boomers grew up before the hepatitis C virus was identified in 1979, so it’s likely that many became infected through medical equipment or procedures before universal precautions and improved infection control techniques were adopted. Others may have been infected from contaminated blood before widespread screening nearly eliminated the virus from the blood supply by 1992.

What is the test for Hepatitis C?

A simple blood test for hepatitis C antibodies will indicate if you’ve been exposed to the virus at some point in your life. If you test positive, further testing will be done to determine if the virus remains in your body, how much is circulating and what specific strain or genotype you have. At least six strains of hepatitis C exist and treatment is based on the specific genotype. Other tests, including ultrasound, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and a liver biopsy can be performed to identify inflammation and see if any permanent scarring has taken place in the liver.

What treatments are available?

Today’s regimens of direct acting oral antivirals stop the virus from reproducing and clear hepatitis C from the body in a matter of weeks. These breakthrough drugs, first made available in 2013, represent a tremendous step forward in treatment, with a success rate upwards of 95% in those infected with the hepatitis C virus. Medication is targeted to the specific genotype of the virus, and most patients experience few side effects – a vast improvement over previous options of pegylated interferon and ribavirin which caused uncomfortable side effects and were effective less than half the time.

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The Healthy Aging Brain: Making Strides by Taking Strides

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“Walking is man’s best medicine.” Hippocrates
Put away the handheld brain games and turn your focus from lifelong learning to lifelong walking. The road to sustaining brain health is an active one and taking that first step, followed by thousands more on a daily basis, can make an enormous difference in quality of life in your later years. Arthur Kramer, PhD, director of the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at the University of Illinois, has amassed decades of research that clearly points to the prescience of Hippocrates’s ancient wisdom. His studies have become a focus of public health policy as well, sparked by 10,000 Baby Boomers crossing the over-65 threshold each day for the next 15 years, each hoping to age with vigor and dignity intact. We checked in with Dr. Kramer for an update on how physical activity keeps the brain healthy over the lifespan.

What are the most striking results seen in your research?
Our 2006 study was one of the first to report actual increases in brain volume in the prefrontal and temporal cortices of seniors who participated in aerobic exercise. These areas of the brain normally decline with age, but in our group, significant improvements in cognitive performance and memory were noted.  We subsequently explored the impact of exercise on white matter, which allows information to be transferred within the brain, and found that connectivity is markedly improved, which is linked to more efficient memory, attention and decision making capabilities. All this points to the fact that age-related cognitive and brain changes are not inevitable, and can actually be reversed.

Why does exercise trigger these changes?
Several theories: increased blood flow, which improves cerebrovascular health; the release of proteins in the brain that stimulate the growth of new neurons; and the benefits of glucose and lipid metabolism which bring nourishment to the brain.

What type of exercise is most effective?
Only modest increases in physical activity are needed.  Walking 40 minutes three times a week for a year, at up to 70 percent of maximum heart rate, resulted in increased volume of the hippocampus, a part of the brain responsible for memory. You don’t have to run marathons – just walk, bike or swim at moderate intensity.

Tell us why you joined an international group of leading scientists who posted a strongly worded statement on the Stanford Center on Longevity website as to the unproven efficacy of ‘brain games.’
We felt that the scientific literature does not support claims made by the manufacturers of software-based brain games…that these can make people smarter, more alert, able to learn faster, and even prevent or reverse Alzheimer’s disease. What we discerned from the research was that when people practice a task repeatedly, they will get better at that task, but it is not necessarily applicable to real-world functions. The relationship between brain training games and real-world performance and cognition needs to be explicitly tested. Unfortunately, this is rarely done. Further, time spent on brain training can be better used for activities we know improve cognitive functioning – aerobic exercise, learning a new sport or a new language, staying socially connected. Our consensus was that the promise of a magic bullet detracts from the best evidence to date…cognitive health in old age reflects the long-term effects of healthy, engaged lifestyles.

As a contributor to the recent Institute of Medicine report on cognitive aging, what lifestyle modifications do you suggest?
Being physically active is unquestionably a top recommendation for enhancing cognition and longevity. We also noted the critical importance of reducing and managing cardiovascular disease risk factors; staying socially and intellectually engaged; getting adequate sleep and receiving treatment for sleep disorders as needed; and regularly reviewing health conditions and medications
that might influence cognitive health with a physician. What’s on your radar for future research? We are looking at what types of exercise lead to the largest cognitive and brain benefits. Dance is
particularly interesting because it’s physical, social and intellectually complex. Defining the optimal doses of exercise, and how these might differ with age, health and other factors are also a focus. We are working with children, who increasingly suffer from adult diseases like diabetes, due to obesity and inactivity. And we want to determine whether a combination of nutrition and exercise provides greater benefits than either of these factors alone. The definitive answers have not yet been found. We’ll continue to seek them out, to ensure we don’t just live long, but live well.

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