Thursday, December 31, 2015

Study Demonstrates Benefits of Brain Training

Image result for old people brain training
A trial from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) showed a 10-year benefit in realms of reasoning and speed.
Ten years after completing a brain training program, a group of older people still had improved cognitive abilities, according to results of a randomized clinical trial supported by the National Institutes of Health.
The report, from the Advanced Cognitive Training for Independent and Vital Elderly (ACTIVE) study, appeared in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. The project was funded by the National Institute on Aging (NIA) and the National Institute of Nursing Research (NINR), components of the NIH.
“Previous data from this clinical trial demonstrated that the effects of the training lasted for five years,” said NIA Director Richard J. Hodes, M.D. “Now, these longer-term results indicate that particular types of cognitive training can provide a lasting benefit a decade later. They suggest that we should continue to pursue cognitive training as an intervention that might help maintain the mental abilities of older people so that they may remain independent and in the community.”
“ACTIVE is an important example of intervention research aimed at enabling older people to maintain their cognitive abilities as they age,” said NINR Director Patricia Grady, Ph.D. “The average age of the individuals who have been followed over the last 10 years is now 82. Given our nation’s aging population, this type of research is an increasingly high priority.”
The investigators were also interested in whether the training had an effect on the participants’ abilities to undertake some everyday and complex tasks of daily living. They assessed these using standardized measures of time and efficiency in performing daily activities, as well as asking the participants to report on their ability to carry out everyday tasks ranging from preparing meals, housework, finances, health care, using the telephone, shopping, travel and needing assistance in dressing, personal hygiene and bathing.
At the end of the trial, all groups showed declines from their baseline tests in memory, reasoning and speed of processing. However, the participants who had training in reasoning and speed of processing experienced less decline than those in the control groups. Results of the cognitive tests after 10 years show that 73.6 percent of reasoning-trained participants were still performing reasoning tasks above their pre-trial baseline level compared to 61.7 percent of control participants. This same pattern was seen in speed training: 70.7 percent of speed-trained participants were performing at or above their baseline level compared to 48.8 percent of controls. However, the researchers said memory training did not have an effect after 10 years.
“The speed-of-processing results are very encouraging,” said Jonathan W. King, Ph.D., program director for cognitive aging in the Division of Behavioral and Social Research at NIA and co-author. “The self-reported improvements in daily function are interesting, but we do not yet know whether they would truly allow older people to live independently longer; if they did, even a small effect would be important, not only for the older adults, but also for family members and others providing care.”
Source: The National Institute on Aging (NIA). The NIA leads the federal government effort conducting and supporting research on aging and the health and well-being of older people. The Institute’s broad scientific program seeks to understand the nature of aging and to extend the healthy, active years of life. For more information on research, aging, and health, go The study was published here.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Top Ten Healthy Aging Resolutions for 2016

Seniors, people who provide care for seniors, and people who are looking ahead to their own senior years will want to add a few of these great ideas to their list of resolutions.
The New Year is the traditional time when many of us are motivated to make positive changes in our lives. Why not add a few resolutions that can impact your health and well-being through the New Year and beyond? During 2015, research institutions from around the world released new studies shedding light on factors that encourage optimum aging. Take advantage of this information as you make your list, and share these ideas with senior loved ones.
Resolution #1: Increase physical activity in your daily routine. Study after study demonstrates the vital role that exercise plays in keeping us well and independent as we grow older. No matter what a senior’s health status, there is some form of exercise almost everyone can do. Talk to your healthcare provider about an exercise program that is right for you.
Resolution #2: Read food labels. Look for “heart smart” foods that are rich in nutrients and fiber. Avoid foods with added sweeteners and trans fat. Look for foods labeled “low sodium” or “reduced sodium.” Talk to your doctor about a diet that is right for you.
Resolution #3: Give your brain a workout by learning a new skill. Did you know that today’s imaging technologies allow neurologists to observe the effects of mental stimulation in our brains? Experts tell us that activities that stimulate the brain in a new way are especially effective. Take a language class, try a new instrument, or improve your computer skills. It’s never too late to learn.
Resolution #4: Discover a great new walking path. Walking is one of the best forms of exercise, but we can lose motivation and become bored with our same old routine. Check out local parks, neighborhoods, even shopping malls when the weather is bad. And invest in a pair of good quality walking shoes.
Resolution #5: Ask your doctor about the shingles vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that people aged 60 years and older get this one-dose shot, which can help seniors avoid this often painful, sometimes debilitating condition. While you’re at it, ask your doctor to be sure your other immunizations are up to date.
Resolution #6: Plant a vegetable garden. What a nice way to get some exercise and add nutritious veggies to your menu! Spring isn’t far away, so start planning your garden. If you don’t have a yard or if kneeling to the ground is challenging for you, a container garden or pots of windowsill herbs can also yield a nutrient-rich “crop.” Or, check out local farmers markets for fresh, locally grown produce…and perhaps a flower bouquet for a mood boost?
Resolution #7: Watch a funny movie. Studies confirm that laughter is good for the heart and immune system, relieves depression, and is a great social “icebreaker.” Your public library probably has a good collection of comedy films that you can borrow at no cost—or check out the latest offerings on YouTube.
Resolution #8: Take a fall prevention tour of your home. Look for situations and conditions that could be hazardous as you move from place to place. Removing clutter and fixing unsafe conditions helps older adults avoid falls and live more confidently. Improve lighting indoors and out, and add grab bars and other modifications that make the home safer for everyone.
Resolution #9: Ask your doctor to review your medications. During your next appointment, arrange in advance to bring in a list of all drugs you take, both prescription and over-the-counter. (Some healthcare providers suggest bringing along the containers.) Ask about side effects, possible interactions, and whether switching to a generic might save you money.
Resolution #10: Spend more time with other people. This year, several more studies confirmed the damaging effects of loneliness, for both our bodies and our minds. Good relationships are one of the top ways to stay active and achieve emotional well-being. Companionship has even been shown to strengthen our immune system, and offers a host of other benefits.
No matter what your age and health condition, taking positive steps to follow healthy aging guidelines can pay off and help you have a happier 2016!

Monday, December 14, 2015

Use Space Heaters Safely

The Burn Center at Loyola University Medical Center is warning the public about the dangers of space heaters.
Whenever bitter cold, ice and snow arrive, hospitals see more burn injuries caused by improper use of heating devices, said Michael Mosier, MD. Mosier is a burn surgeon at the Loyola Burn Center, which treats nearly 700 patients annually in the hospital and another 3,500 patients each year in its clinic.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) estimates that more than 25,000 residential fires and more than 300 deaths are caused each year by space heaters. More than 6,000 Americans receive hospital emergency room care annually for burn injuries associated with room heaters.
Some tips from Loyola and the U.S. Department of Energy for space heater safety include:
  • Keep space heaters at least three feet away from furniture or other combustible material, such as curtains and bedding. Don’t place heaters on carpets or rugs.
  • Locate space heaters on a hard, level surface where a child or family pet cannot brush up against them.
  • Never leave a space heater on when an adult is not present in the room.
  • Never keep flammable liquids near a space heater.
  • Mobile homes should use only vented fuel-fired heaters or electric heaters.
Electric space heaters are the safest space heaters for the home. Plug electric space heaters directly into a wall outlet and use a heavy-duty cord of 14-gauge wire or larger if an extension cord is needed. Buy a unit with a tip-over safety switch to shut off the heating element if the unit topples over.
Use unvented combustion heaters only outside your home, because they can introduce harmful products such as carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide into your breathing area. With these combustion heaters, remember to never fill a heater that is hot and make sure there is a guard around the heating element or flame area.
Source: Loyola University Health System (, which includes over 30 primary and specialty care facilities throughout the Chicago area. Loyola Burn Center consists of a multidisciplinary team, which includes resuscitation, pulmonary support, wound management, nutritional support and rehabilitation personnel, and was awarded verification by the American College of Surgeons (ACS) and the American Burn Association (ABA). This recognition is only granted to those programs that have met and exceeded the ACS and ABA standards and review.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Resolve to Have a Better Attitude About Aging

Those of us in the field of aging have seen a big change in the ways we think and talk about growing older. There’s been a movement toward empowerment, toward helping everyone remain as independent, active and engaged as possible, even as they face physical and intellectual challenges. With our increased longevity, this is so important to individuals, families and our society as a whole.
But, says a new report released by the American Geriatrics Society, general public opinion has not kept up with this evolution. And this can be a barrier in the way of improved supports and solutions for promoting good quality of life for seniors.
The report was created by Leaders of Aging Organizations (LAO), a collaborative of aging expert groups. Titled “Gauging Aging: Mapping the Gaps between Expert and Public Understanding of Aging in America,” the report is intended “to reclaim the social narrative on what aging really means by building better perceptual connections between health care experts, advocates, and the thousands of Americans who turn 65 every day.”
The report showed that while improved healthcare and support services have improved the lives of seniors today, allowing them to be productive and independent longer, negative attitudes about aging persist. The report identified several areas of misperception, where the public believes that aging is…
  • Someone else’s problem. Instead of perceiving aging as an inherent aspect of development, people tend to focus on “the aged” as an “otherized” group to which they do not belong.
  • Undesirable. The public associates aging with decline and deterioration. A large percentage of interviewed individuals emphasized their belief that capability “faded away” with time.
  • Inevitable. For most, this “fading away” also is tied to a strong sense of inevitability—a resignation to “slowing or breaking down” as a central aspect of growing old.
  • Isolated. A majority of the public perceives old age not only as an outside obstacle or opponent, but also as a personal or familial problem and not a challenge that society shares.
  • Fatalistic. Intimately tied to these perceptions are fears of decline, depression, and dependence. Such fears not only imbue the aging process with dread, but also impede support for policies and solutions that actually address the challenges (and opportunities) associated with age.
  • Out of sight and out of mind. Fear and misperception ultimately fuel a lack of attention to older adult health. But keeping aging “off the radar” does little to remedy impediments to health as we grow older.
“Aging is something we all experience. It isn’t a barrier or a battle, but it is a characteristic of who we are—and who we are becoming—and it needs to be reflected in public thinking, public policy, and public discourse,” said Eric Lindland, PhD, a senior researcher with the nonprofit FrameWorks Institute and a lead author of the report. “Not surprisingly, that type of change begins with the public—or more specifically, with our ability to convey a truer vision for what aging in America really means for us all.”
Source: IlluminAge AgeWise reporting on news release from the American Geriatrics Association. Read the full “Gauging Aging: Mapping the Gaps between Expert and Public Understanding of Aging in America” report here.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Low Vitamin D May Hasten Dementia

Vitamin D, sometimes called “the sunshine vitamin,” is necessary for building strong bones, and lowers the risk of high blood pressure, certain cancers and problems with the immune system. Studies have shown that consuming adequate vitamin D lowers the risk of falls, improves mobility and even leads to a longer life.
This year, researchers from University of California Davis Alzheimer’s Disease Center and Rutgers School of Environmental and Biological Sciences revealed that vitamin D also appears to help slow the development of memory and thinking problems.
Over the course of eight years, the researchers tested the levels of vitamin D in a diverse group of older adults, and also tracked their cognitive abilities. Researcher Charles DeCarli of the UC Alzheimer’s Disease Center reports, “We expected to see declines in individuals with low vitamin D status. What was unexpected was how profoundly and rapidly [low vitamin D] impacts cognition.”
Indeed, the researchers found that people who were deficient in vitamin D showed cognitive declines two to three times faster than those with adequate vitamin D! Professor Joshua Miller says, “Independent of race or ethnicity, baseline cognitive abilities and a host of other risk factors, vitamin D insufficiency was associated with significantly faster declines in both episodic memory and executive function performance.”
We can get a certain amount of vitamin D from the foods we eat. Egg yolks, fatty fish and mushrooms are some of the naturally occurring sources, and other foods may also be fortified with vitamin D, such as milk, cheese, juice and cereal. We also soak in vitamin D from sun exposure. But during the cooler months of the year, the latter is a challenge for most of us. Even in the summer, most of us limit our sun exposure to avoid raising the risk of skin cancer, so supplements may be recommended.
The researchers note that elderly African Americans and Hispanics are at particularly high risk of vitamin D deficiency. People with more pigment in their skin absorb less of the nutrient from the sun. African American and Hispanic seniors also on average consume fewer dairy products, the other main source of vitamin D.
Miller, who was a professor with the UC Davis Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at the time that the research was conducted, and now serves as professor and chair of the Department of Nutritional Sciences at Rutgers University, says that the results of this study should encourage people in their 60s and older to discuss taking a daily vitamin D supplement with their healthcare provider. Vitamin D is stored in the body’s fat, so taking too much can allow dangerous levels to build up, making it important to discuss our vitamin D intake with our healthcare provider.
DeCarli says, “This is a vitamin deficiency that could easily be treated and that has other health consequences. We need to start talking about it. And we need to start talking about it, particularly for people of color, for whom vitamin D deficiency appears to present an even greater risk.”
Source: AgeWise reporting on news releases from University of California Davis Alzheimer’s Disease Center and Rutgers School of Environmental and Biological Sciences

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Practical Holiday Gifts to Keep Senior Loved Ones Safe

Santa is making his list and checking it twice. This holiday season, make your own list—of emergency preparation plans, that is! Are you shopping for your older parents, grandparents or other senior loved ones? It can be hard to think of the perfect gift for older adults. A tie, a fruitcake, cologne, a gadget that he or she is unlikely to use…?
Here’s an idea for a thoughtful holiday gift: give the gift of preparedness! Year after year, news coverage of natural disasters and other emergencies raises awareness that older adults are hardest hit by the effects of storms, tornadoes, earthquakes and other disasters. For example: almost three-fourths of the people who died as the result of Hurricane Katrina were over 60. When Hurricane Sandy hit the east coast, about half of the victims were seniors. Older adults in Japan are still feeling the effects of the 2011 tsunami. And heat waves claim the lives of seniors every year.
Seniors with physical limitations may be stranded in their homes, unable to evacuate, cut off from the services upon which they rely. Older adults who use oxygen, power wheelchairs, dialysis and other medical equipment face real danger in power outages.
It may not seem very festive to focus on this reality during the holidays—but this is a great time for the whole family to show their love and caring for senior relatives by taking practical steps to ensure their safety.
Recently, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) compiled a list of holiday gift ideas that can help loved ones be prepared.
“Disasters can happen anytime, anywhere, and the holiday season provides a great opportunity to ensure that you and your loved ones are taking simple steps to be prepared,” said FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate. “As families gather this holiday season, I encourage everyone to take a few minutes and discuss what you would do in case of an emergency or disaster. The public is the most important member of our nation’s emergency response team and the more the public does to be prepared, the more successful this team will be.”
Fugate reminds us that the most important gift is the gift of time. During holiday visits, discuss with your loved one what they would do in case of an emergency or disaster. Find out the location of the nearest emergency shelter. If your loved one has medical challenges, uses dialysis, oxygen, or an electric wheelchair, find out which shelter is designated for people with special needs. Arrange for someone to help if your loved one needs to evacuate, and someone to check in if your loved one is advised to shelter in place. Create a family communications plan so everyone knows how they would get in touch if they were separated when an emergency takes place.
Once the planning stage is over, you still probably want to wrap up a pretty package for that Christmas, Kwanzaa or Hanukkah gathering, right? What about emergency preparedness supplies that are practical and show your concern for your loved one’s well-being? FEMA suggests these gifts that could assist in disasters:
  • A home disaster kit, including first aid supplies, food, water, blankets, flashlight and some extra clothing
  • NOAA weather radio with extra batteries
  • Enrollment in a CPR or first aid class
  • Smoke detectors
  • Fire extinguishers (for kitchen, garage, car, etc.)
  • Foldable ladders for second-story escape from a fire
  • Car kits (emergency flares, shovel, ice scraper, flashlight and fluorescent distress flags)
  • Pet disaster kit (food, water, leash, dish, carrying case or crate)
  • Battery powered lamps
For more information and preparedness tips, visit, where you will find special information for older adults (
Love and caring are the real spirit of the holidays. And knowing your loved one is that much safer brings increased peace of mind to everyone—a welcome gift indeed!
Source: IlluminAge AgeWise with information from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).