A new study suggests that symptoms of Alzheimer’s may be harder to detect in patients over the age of 80. The study tested the relationship between age-related brain shrinkage and Alzheimer’s correlated memory loss. It used just over 100 Alzheimer’s patients and 125 dementia-free people who were grouped by age.
These participants then underwent a series of brain tests with scans that looked at attention, information processing speed and memory.
“People in both groups had similar levels of overall cognitive impairment, but the pattern of changes associated with Alzheimer's disease seemed to be less noticeable in very-old patients than in the young-old”.
Compared to other younger patients, the immediate memory and processing speed in very old Alzheimer’s patients was less abnormal indicating that it may be harder to diagnose.
The study also demonstrated that 80+ Alzheimer’s patients had less thinning of certain areas of the cerebral cortex and cerebellum than the younger patients. This also supports the “hard to diagnose” conclusion because thickness of these brain areas decreases in everyone with age so the differences aren’t as noticeable.
A new study revealed that two commonly prescribed antidepressants for dementia patients are not better than a sugar pill for reducing depression symptoms in Alzheimer’s patients.
This study published in the Lancet tested Zoloft (sertraline) and Remeron (mirtazapine), which are both generic antidepressants that have generated more severe side effects than placebo. These side effects have led researchers to suggest that these types of medicine should be only used in dementia patients who cannot be treated in a simpler fashion.
The study only tested around 300 patients but was still the largest placebo-controlled trial to date on antidepressants in dementia patients.
More than one-fifth of the 35 million people around the world who have dementia have also been linked with depression symptoms, making this study immensely important. “Alan Manevitz, M.D., a psychiatrist at Lenox Hill Hospital, in New York City, agrees with the authors' conclusion that doctors should consider nondrug treatments before prescribing antidepressants to depressed dementia patients”.
This study is a key step forward yet it is surely not a final statement on the subject. It was a bit small and the findings weren’t diverse enough to apply to a large population of patients. Hopefully more progress will be made on this issue in the future.
The Obama administration announced another piece of good news for seniors today: there will be no increase in Medicare premiums and these fees for prescription drugs will actually drop a bit.
“Overall, the average premium cost of the Medicare Part D prescription drug plan in 2012 will be about $30, a modest decline from $30.76 paid out on average in 2011”. Many will ask “how did this happen?”. The answer is that Medicare’s drug benefits program is being aided by competition from private insurers and increased use of generic medicines. And experts predict that the prices may continue to drop as more big-time drugs become generic over the next year few years.
DHHS (Department of Health and Human Services) secretary Kathleen Sebelius credited President Obama’s health care reform efforts for being crucial in these cost savings. "The Affordable Care Act is strengthening a very critical Medicare program and helping million[s] of seniors and Americans with disabilities get the care they need," she said. "Thanks to the new discounts, beneficiaries are saving hundreds of millions of dollars in the Medicare Part D coverage gap, known as the donut hole, at the same time as Part D premiums are falling”.
Although this was big news, experts cautioned that much more work needs to be done. Sebelius said that there were still “critical” gaps in coverage especially with prescription drugs. Hopefully this trend of progress will continue and this will make life easier for the elderly everywhere.
The debt ceiling bill passed Congress yesterday which is good news for the country as a whole but many seniors are wondering how it will affect them. With all the horse-trading and compromising finally over, the news looks good (at least in the short term) for the elderly.
Most major programs of interest will be protected under the deal including Social Security, Medicaid, veteran’s benefits and pensions, civil and military pay and programs for women, infants and children. The deal does not raise taxes (due to Republican insistence) and will cut spending by over $900 billion starting in October.
What happens after this bill remains to be seen. A bipartisan committee has been tasked with finding another $1.5 trillion in savings later this year and that could definitely affect some of the aforementioned programs. Seniors may want to hope that Washington continues to struggle with compromising because if the committee fails to reach an agreement, automatic cuts would occur and Social Security would be safe again.
Everyone should be glad that a government shutdown was avoided but this process left an ominous future for new agreements and put many important programs at risk. We’ll just have to wait and see.
Everyone wants to feel younger. Whether it’s to help deal with that aching back, constant tiredness or diet, these solutions have been coveted for generations. Use these simple tips to help you feel a lot younger:
Go to bed earlier – getting adequate amounts of sleep is one of the best ways to feel younger fast. Henry Lodge (MD and co-author of “Younger Next Year for Women”) calls sleep “the only time your body can truly restore itself…it helps build a more vibrant body and brain”. It’s very likely you aren’t currently getting enough sleep. It is recommended that adults get 7-8 hours of sleep a night. Try to get to this number for six weeks straight and you’ll feel the energy difference.
Eat healthier, revitalizing food – Try to have something healthy at the start of every meal. It can be simple like a big glass or water or your favorite fruit. But by increasing your vitamin and antioxidant intake you will feel refreshed and recharged all the time.
Go to the gym – A good, regular gym workout can help you feel 10-20 years younger. This is because a good workout involving weights causes micro-tears in your muscles which then allow your body to create thicker, stronger muscle fibers. Working out will also increase your stamina and reduce your risk of injuries during everyday activities.
Freestyle a bit – your brain and body love variety so you need to stimulate that to help create that sense of novelty that you had when you learned something new as a child. These don’t have to be drastic changes every day. They can be as simple as trying out a different workout machine at the gym or getting a different coffee in the morning.
Try these tips and you’ll be making the right steps toward feeling 25 again.
 Sarah Jio, “Defy your age: What truly helps you stay younger inside and out”, http://www.cnn.com/2011/HEALTH/07/19/defy.your.age/index.html?hpt=he_c2
With the so called “Heat Dome” affecting much of the continental United States, it seemed like a prudent time to write about being safe and keeping cool outside. The Heat Dome is “a perfect storm of sizzling summer weather exacerbated by relatively cloudless skies and the higher angle of the sun in the summer”. This has caused the entire continental US to face a huge heat wave that has already broken 221 records across the country.
With this increased heat, experts at the US National Institute on Aging recently stated that the risk of heat-related illness increases with age. As people get older, their bodies are less able to adapt to increased temperatures which can exacerbate their pre-existing conditions. Furthermore, medications that seniors take may also cause dehydration or decrease their body’s ability to respond to heat.
Once the body reaches 104 degrees Fahrenheit, a heat stroke may occur which can be deadly. Signs that indicate this has occurred include “a strong, rapid pulse; lack of sweating; dry flushed skin; faintness; staggering; and mental status changes, such as confusion, combativeness, disorientation or even coma”.
Researchers strongly cautioned seniors to avoid the heat as much as possible by staying inside with air conditioning as much as possible. However, if someone is suffering from a heat-related illness the following steps should be taken:
- Call 911 immediately
- Move them into air conditioning or another cool place
- Urge them to lie down and rest
- Remove or loosen tight-fitting or heavy clothing
- Encourage them to drink water or juices if they are able to drink, but avoid alcohol and caffeine
- Apply cold water or cold compresses to their skin
 Eli Jacks, meteorologist at the National Weather Service, http://www.theatlanticwire.com/national/2011/07/whats-heat-dome-anyway/40291/
 HealthDay, “Elderly at Greater Risk for Heat Stroke, Experts Warn”, http://news.yahoo.com/elderly-greater-risk-heat-stroke-experts-warn-130609458.html;_ylt=AqL5A21cJKH.mEb7cpaqkE_VJRIF;_ylu=X3oDMTM4OTg0ZnBlBHBrZwMzZjQwYzc3ZC0yMTVmLTM2MmQtYTAwOC1jYzQyYzhjYmI2YmEEcG9zAzMEc2VjA2xuX0FnaW5nX2dhbAR2ZXIDODEyZDRjYzAtYjM5YS0xMWUwLWJmZGItNWNlODFkYThjNGI1;_ylv=3
Dementia is a reduction in brain function that occurs with certain diseases such as Alzheimer’s. It adversely affects memory, thinking, language, judgment, and behavior. Alzheimer’s is extremely common as it affects 13% of people over 65 and 50% over 85 years old. Extreme agitation and aggression are commonalities in patients with advanced dementia and can create extreme stress for loved ones as well as medical practitioners. These facts make new research increasingly important in the fight to help as many people as possible.
A new study concludes that ordinary painkillers may work more effectively than antipsychotic drugs to calm agitation in dementia patients. Normally, powerful antipsychotics are the primary medications prescribed but this treatment can cause strokes and even death. This new study led by Dag Aarsland treated over 300 patients with one of four different medications.
The patients treated with ordinary painkillers such as paracetemol showed a marked improvement leading researchers to conclude that “the intervention produced a clinically and statistically significant reduction in agitation and pain”. The scientists urged more studies to confirm their results but this definitely opens the door to newer and simpler treatments for dementia patients. Hopefully this is another key step in the path to helping every patient in their recovery.
 PubMed Health Definition, “Dementia”, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001748/
 Marlowe Hood, AFP, “For dementia, common painkillers may work best: study”, http://news.yahoo.com/dementia-common-painkillers-may-best-study-160607059.html
A presentation at this week's Alzheimer's Association International Conference has brought up a link between falls and Alzheimer's disease.
Elderly adults with Alzheimer's are more likely to fall than elderly adults without the disease. That's why scientists at the Alzheimer's Disease Research Center at Washington University have been following 125 older adults over 8 months and having them record any time they've fallen.
To determine whether any of the study participants have preclinical Alzheimer's, they were tested for the presence of amyloids, a known sign of the disease. Among those without amyloids, the fall rate was about 30 percent. Among those with amyloids -- and by extension, preclinical Alzheimer's -- the fall rate was 66 percent.
"There was a statistically significant marked difference in the fall rates between the 2 groups," study author Dr. Susan Stark told Medscape.
"These are all cognitively normal, healthy, aging people who otherwise do not look any different from us, so this hints to us that there are probably things other than the changes in the brain that are occurring that are affecting other things," Dr. Stark said.
"We are trained to look for cognitive changes, but in fact there probably are other changes that are happening. In this case, it's the motor changes that are making a fall occur."
The results are important because falls witnessed by a caretaker or relative or nurse could cause increased vigilance for the disease by physicians and even earlier diagnoses. There are even some promising potential treatments for the disease, but Alzheimer's must be caught early for them to be effective.
This blog usually only covers past studies and developments but today this post will discuss a current event that may have a huge effect on every American but specifically senior citizens.
President Obama and Congress have yet to come to an agreement to raise the debt ceiling even though the US Treasury has said that on August 2nd it will run out of money to pay for the country’s bills. Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell recently said “a real solution to the U.S. debt problem was unlikely while Obama was in office”.
This presents a scary situation for all Americans but in particular for the elderly because Obama has warned that these seniors could suffer first due to lack of Social Security checks. “I cannot guarantee that those checks go out on August 3rd if we haven't resolved this issue…there may simply not be the money in the coffers to do it,” Obama said. Other areas like veterans’ checks and disability benefits could also be affected if a compromise is not reached soon. Senator Harry Reid has seconded Obama’s statements today but the Republicans continue to balk, calling these “scare tactics” by the Democrats.
Hopefully our country’s leaders will come to their senses and put together a deal that allows our government to continue to function normally. Otherwise, not only will seniors see their benefits end, but “this could have catastrophic consequences for our economy as well as the economic stability of the rest of the world…threatening to take us into a second Great Depression”.
 Reuters, “Obama: seniors could be hurt without debt deal”, http://reut.rs/pcZuM7
 David Min, Associate Director for Financial Markets Policy, Center for American Progress, “The Big Freeze”, 10/28/2010, http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2010/10/big_freeze.html
Previous articles both on this blog and other sources have indicated that genetics and age are the primary factors that contribute to Alzheimer’s and dementia but new studies show that there are other more surprising indicators as well.
The author of the study, Kenneth Rockwood concluded that “keeping up with your general health may help reduce the risk for dementia”. The study followed over 7,000 people who were older than 65 and cognitively healthy. It evaluated their conditions at both the five and ten year marks after the start of the study.
This study looked beyond the normal factors associated with Alzheimer’s and dementia. “Researchers evaluated the group based on an index that included 19 different health deficits frequently associated with aging...it was the first time an evaluation of dementia using non-cognitive factors has ever been done. After 10 years, 40 percent of the participants had died. Of the participants left, 607 had developed Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia, while an additional 677 participants had developed some other cognitive problem. The remaining 883 participants who were cognitively healthy were the subject who scored lowest, or healthiest, on the initial health index evaluation. Those who had died or had developed dementia or Alzheimer’s were among patients who had scored highest on their initial health index evaluations. Researchers also found that each health problem a participant had, made him or her 3% more likely to develop dementia over those who didn’t have the same problems” .
Although further research is needed in this area, it is clear that by improving general health people should be able to lessen the likelihood of having to deal with Alzheimer’s or dementia later in life.
 Nadia Kounang, “General health may tell your Alzheimer's risk”, http://thechart.blogs.cnn.com/2011/07/13/general-health-may-tell-your-alzheimers-risk/?hpt=he_c2