The baby boom cohort, those who were born between 1946 and 1964, is the largest birth cohort that has ever been produced in the United States. As soldiers returned home from the war, the birth rate increased and subsequently for a decade and a half, we witnessed a very large number of children being born. Furthermore, we also have witnessed an increasing life expectancy as many acute illnesses that formerly lead to early mortality have now been controlled or conquered. Given the burgeoning birth cohort, coupled with an increased life expectancy, our population will be witnessing a large increase in those who are 65 years of age and older. The impetus for much of this increase will be found in the baby boom cohort as more and more of the group continues to age and move into the later stages of life. Inevitably, as the population ages, there will be a need for many older adults who will need placement in nursing care facilities. However, given the need, will they actually be able to afford such care is a question that is being asked.
A recent report, released by the National Institute on Aging, states that the problem of affordability for nursing home care may be very serious in the years ahead and may limit those in the baby boom cohort from being able to obtain the needed nursing home care that many will need. One of the changes that occurred among the baby boom generation is that as they aged and married, their birth rates went down. Many of those baby boomers had significantly less children than their parents and grandparents did. As the baby boom cohort ages, many of them will have more chronic illnesses and will be in need of extended care. However, since they have had fewer children, who in past generations often assisted with parental care, nursing home care for many may be the only alternative. Yet, nursing home care is expensive and will continue to be even more expensive in future years. Furthermore, with a greater life expectancy, more chronic illnesses, and less adult children to assist with care, the baby boomers will be facing the potential need for a greater number of years in which care will be provided from an extra-familial source like a nursing care facility.
Richard Suzman, who is director for the National Institute on Aging's Behavioral and Social Research division states that this demographic change that will be part of the baby boomers entering later adulthood will approach a crisis situation in the years ahead, stating "Baby boomers had far fewer children than their parents. Combined with higher divorce rates and disrupted family structures, this will result in fewer family members to provide long-term care in the future. This will become more serious as people live longer with conditions such as cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer's"1.
The National Institute on Aging examined the average cost of nursing home care. In 2010, the average cost of a private room within a nursing care facility was $229 a day, which equated to $84,000 each year1. Although semi-private rooms, which most older adults are placed in are less expensive, the costs still are typically well over what most can afford, especially on an extended level. Furthermore, the National Institute on Aging also found that given the cost of nursing home care, less than one-fifth of all older adults in the United States can afford to live within a nursing home for more than three years. Even more disconcerting, nearly two-thirds are unable to afford the cost of nursing home care for even a single year1.
As one can see, given the current problems of affordability, coupled with the increasing size of the future older adult cohort, a serious problem for servicing the chronic health care needs of the older adult population is quite evident. Since the current older adult population makes up approximately 13 percent of our population and will expand over the next 35 years to approximately 20 percent of the total population, one can start to see the important issue that arises as it relates to older adults and their potential long-term health care needs. How will they as a group be able to get the needed long-term care to assist with their needs if it is a resource that they will not be able to afford?
Another concern that needs to be mentioned is that Medicare payment covers at most only 100 days of skilled nursing home care after a qualifying hospital stay. However, even this level of small assistance is not a given. As mentioned, not all individuals qualify for 100 days, and even if they do there are also copayments that also are applied as well. Moreover, as the high inflationary costs of the medical industry continue to place a tremendous burden on our social system, one has to ask will there be any cuts in Medicare as it applies to nursing home care in future years.
Furthermore, Medicare, an insurance for the indigent, pays almost one-half of the long-term care nursing home expenses in the United States1. However, to qualify, most individuals have to severely reduce most of their personal assets to an indigent level. This has to give many a time to pause and consider that after a lifetime of accruing some level of net worth, at the end of their lives when they need care most, they have to become indigent just to be able to obtain the care they need. This is not a dignified level of existence as one moves to their final stage of life.
Moreover, currently, the Affordable Care Act has mandated greater allocation of assets to increase the state Medicare coffers. However, that is not explicitly for nursing home care. Furthermore, here again, one has to wonder, given the inflationary health care climate, how long additional resources diverted to Medicaid will be able to last to support this endeavor.
As one can hopefully see, we are approaching a crisis mode for individuals of the baby-boom cohort. As this large birth cohort now is moving into the older adult stages of life, the population that is 65 years of age and over will start to increase dramatically and will be approaching approximately 20 percent of the total population over the next 35 years. However, the question remains, how will many of these individuals, with increasing life expectancies and the greater burden of an ever-increasing amount of chronic conditions be cared for? Will they be able to afford the long-term care options to assist them with their health care needs? Furthermore, with less children available to shoulder the burden of care for their older adult parents, the need for long-term placement, which may be a placement even longer for many in future years than it has been in past years, may become an insurmountable financial burden. This situation definitely is legitimately able to be termed a "crisis" situation that will be part of our future health care years and that we cannot ignore.
Preidt, R. (2014, June 30). Nursing Home Care Out of Reach for Many 'Boomers'? WebMD. http://www.m.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/news/20140630/nursing-home-care-may-be-out-of-reach-for-many-aging-boomers-study
Oxytocin, secreted by the posterior pituitary, is not a new hormone. Nor is its importance for the biological health of the organism something new. Oxytocin has been known about for many years. It was known to be instrumental in helping uterine contraction during childbirth, for enhancing breast contraction during breast feeding, and even more recently, it has been found to be instrumental in helping to establish bonds between parents and infants as well as enhance bonding and trust in social relationships. Furthermore, oxytocin increases dramatically during sexual intercourse, and has often been referred to as the love hormone. However, this hormone that already has been found to be so instrumental in so many areas of our life is now providing us with new findings, and these findings may be the most significant yet.
Recent research out of the University of California, Berkeley has found that oxytocin may help to heal and reverse atrophic changes in muscles as we age, countering many of the sarcopenic changes in muscle mass and strength that is often found among older adults. This is a particularly important discovery since falls resulting in severe injuries, such as fractures, exist at epidemic proportions in the elderly. Generally, the probability for such falls and injuries, some even resulting in death, are due to muscle weakness associated with aging.
In studies on mice, injections of oxytocin on a subdermal level enhanced the regenerative potential of muscle in aging mice. Older mice that were given oxytocin injections demonstrated greater muscle healing and regeneration as compared to those older mice that did not receive oxytocin injections. Furthermore, the oxytocin appeared to work on muscle healing and muscle regeneration very quickly. As one of the lead researchers, Christian Elabd stated, "The action of oxytocin was fast ... The repair of muscle in the old mice was at about 80 percent of what we saw in the young mice"1. This is an incredible reversal, with older mice having a repair and regenerative potential that is 80 percent of the more youthful mice.
The synthetic form of oxytocin has existed for years to assist women with delivery. Since the Food and Drug Administration already has a synthetic agent approved, if the hormone continues to show promising results, using the already approved synthetic form could be very important in bringing it to use for diseases related to aging. Since it already has been brought to market and is in use, the already approved drug could lead to new therapeutic interventions for reversing muscle aging in the near future.
One of the first clues that oxytocin might have important effects on muscle cells was when scientists noticed that women who had their ovaries removed also experienced a reduction in oxytocin levels. They also noted that the precursor cells to mature muscles cells had oxytocin receptors. Since many ovarectomized women experienced effects that were similar to those found in aging individuals in their muscle tissue, they hypothesized that a connection between oxytocin and muscle aging may exist.
There is also further good news about the introduction of oxytocin into the bodies of mice. In young mice it did not seem to cause an appreciable effect in changing muscle regeneration. At first this may not seem very encouraging. However, it points to important safety concerns. Since oxytocin appears to focus on aging stem cells without affecting more youthful muscle, this seems to address the issue of whether it may lead to controllable mitotic division, leading to cancerous changes. In this case since it did not appear to do so in the more youthful mice, the drug appears to have answered some important concerns about its safety.
The reduction of oxytocin in later years may also be strongly genetically driven. The researchers investigated the oxytocin gene and the effects of the gene after it was disabled. They found that when they disabled the gene it did not automatically manifest results when the mice were young. However, as the mice became older, they started to show early senescent changes, aging changes that occurred at ages much earlier than one would anticipate and as compared to a control group of mice who did not experience the genetic manipulation.
Although these are exciting results, one has to be cautious against using terminology and references to oxytocin as an "anti-aging" drug or hormone. Senescence is a natural process. There is nothing that reverses aging or is an "anti-aging" remedy as some will have you believe through media sources. Yet, the important scientific finding that oxytocin may help regenerate muscle may eventually lead toward helping address many diseases and the symptoms of these diseases that are often associated with aging. Furthermore, it may help prevent many injuries such as falls resulting in fractures, especially of the hip, that often result in premature mortality.
Oxytocin is an exciting agent. It became known almost exclusively for its biological effects during childbirth and infant feeding. However, recently, just over the last couple of decades, the research on oxytocin has shown that it also has important social effects on individuals, especially regarding bonding and trust. And now comes another connection with this hormone that is growing in stature. In fact, this may be the most important one of all, and may have important implications for enhancing healthy aging and eliminating many common diseases or illnesses associated with aging. Is it not deserving of being known as the "wonder hormone"?
1. Choi, C. (2014/June 11). Aging Muscles May Just Need a Little 'Love Hormone.' LiveScience. Accessed at: http://news.yahoo.com/aging-muscles-may-just-little-love-hormone-140029679.html
Generally speaking, fasting is often viewed quite negatively. However, a new study done by the University of Southern California has found that fasting could help the body fight disease, showing that a two day fast may actually regenerate the immune system. The study sheds some hope for those with compromised immune systems such as those receiving chemotherapy and the elderly.
Studies were done on both mice and humans. It was found that long periods of fasting significantly lowered white blood cell counts, demonstrating that long periods of fasting could have a negative effect on one's immune, subsequently increasing a person's susceptibility to disease.
In mice, it was found that each fasting cycle "flipped a regenerative switch" that led to the regeneration of new white blood cells. Apparently a short period of fasting was found to shock the immune system, renewing the body's defense. It was analogous to the immune system being given a wake-up call, with the fasting period reviving the immune system and more or less communicating to it and saying "you are sluggish and need to get moving." Valter Longo, who is a professor of gerontology at the University of Southern California said, "it gives the OK for the stem cells to go ahead and begin proliferating and rebuild the entire system. And the good news is that the body got rid of the parts of the system that might be damaged or old, the inefficient parts, during the fasting."
The study also found that fasting for a short period led to a reduction is the enzyme PKA, as well as reducing levels of IGF-1, all of which have been related to reduced longevity, accelerated aging and cancer cell development. How fasting leads to these reductions was not definitively stated.
The results appear promising, yet it is too early to start recommending periodic fasting. I think they must be interpreted very cautiously at this point. It must be remembered that overall, nutritional sustenance is typically much more important, and that deprivation of important nutritional components for extended periods of time can have deleterious effects for individuals, including a reduced immune capacity.
It must further be remembered that for many older adults, their immune systems are often compromised by inadequate dietary intake of proper nutrients. Therefore, the question I would ask the researchers that conducted this study is if fasting would have similar effects for those who fail to take in the proper levels of nutrition in their daily diets. Here again, I do not think any answer to that particular question could be ascertained from the study's very preliminary findings. However, this does not mean that we should be dismissive of the results either. If the results can be further replicated, it may have some important significance for addressing many older adults who need a jump start immunologically to ward off many diseases that they become more susceptible to as a result of aging. However, until more results are found that support this type of intervention, caution and a healthy level of skepticism should continue to guide our approach in this area.
Delhidailynews.com (2014/June 8). Fasting Twice a Year Rebuilds Immune System. http://www.delhidailynews.com/news/Fasting-regenerates-immune-system-1402181003/
Recent research that has been conducted at Washington University Medical School and the University of Pennsylvania has found that the use of an commonly prescribed antidepressant medication may help prevent or reduce the likelihood of acquiring one of the most feared diseases-Alzheimer's disease.
Beta amyloid is a protein that has been instrumental in the development of plaques that has been found to exist in the brains of those with Alzheimer's disease, although these plaques have also been found to a lesser degree among those who did not have Alzheimer's disease. Nevertheless, these plaques and the amyloid beta buildup that has contributed to their development, has been strongly associated with Alzheimer's disease. Amyloid beta is normally produced in the brain, but an excessive amount of this protein that builds up in the brain appears to be strongly associated with the impairment in memory and cognition that is found among those with Alzheimer's disease.
Some previous studies have demonstrated that serotonin, a normal neurotransmitter chemical found in the brain and metabolized from tryptophan, an amino acid, has been associated with also helping to alleviate depression as well as calm anxiety. Most new forms of antidepressants have been developed to specifically target serotonin in a much more focused manner than was found with many of the first generation antidepressants.
The researchers worked with mice that were genetically altered to develop Alzheimer's disease. The mice were young and subsequently did not experience age changes normally found within older brains, especially those associated with increased levels of plaque formation. Amazingly, the researchers found that after introducing a serotonin-enhancing antidepressant into the mice, their amyloid beta protein level was reduced on an average by 25 percent after 24 hours of treatment. This was an astonishing result to say the least.
In a more recent test, using citalopram, the antidepressant commonly known as Celexa, the researchers administered this medication into older mice that already had a significant level of beta amyloid build up and subsequently significant plaque formation in their brains. After administering the medication they tracked the plaque growth over 28 days using a sophisticated type of brain scanning. Here again, the results were quite amazing. The mice that were given citalopram had their existing plaque development halted. However, even more astonishing was new plaque formation was reduced by 78 percent!
Interestingly, in another phase of the experiment, citalopram was tried on humans. Citalopram was given to 23 human participants between the ages of 18 and 50. Citalopram is a common medication administered to humans for depression and even anxiety, so it is not an experimental medication by any means. In these phases of the experiment, none of the participants in the study suffered any cognitive impairment or depression. After the citralopram was administered, spinal fluid was obtained from the participants 24 hours after the administration of the medication. Here again, the spinal fluid showed that amyloid beta production had dropped in this group as well, by 37 percent!
However, one of the study's authors, Dr. John Cirrito has stated "There is still much work to do." Cirrito states that, "Antidepressants appear to be significantly reducing amyloid beta production, and that's exciting ... But while antidepressants generally are well tolerated ... they have risks and side effects. Until we can more definitively prove that these drugs help slow or stop Alzheimer's in humans, the risks aren't worth it. There is still much more work to do."
The next step in the research according to the study's authors is that they need to examine more closely if serotonin is truly causing this reduction. If the reduction is directly related to the increase in brain serotonin, than the scientists will have to work out what it is doing on a molecular level that is preventing and halting the development of amyloid beta and its associated plaques.
What is very interesting about this research is not only the preventative and possible treatment modalities associated with enhancing serotonin in the brain toward reducing amyloid beta production, but that we may already have medications that have been in use for some years that could be immediately available to many individuals who suffer from this disease or for those who could benefit from preventative intervention to preclude earlier development of this disease. Furthermore, given that the medications are already available, the need to further research drugs that are already being used helps to decrease the time lag often associated with the development of a new drug. Although these studies are not stating that using serotonergic antidepressant agents by any means is a cure, the encouraging results that have been found to exist in reducing amyloid beta up to this time, which is the protein that when built up to higher levels in the brain is associated with Alzheimer's disease, is very encouraging to say the least. However, as the authors warn, we should not start randomly prescribing these medications. More research is still needed. However, this research up to this point has shined brightly.
McNamee, D. (2014/May). Could a commonly prescribed antidepressant slow onset of Alzheimer's? Medical News Today. Accessed at: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/276838.php
In a recent survey, when centenarians were asked how old they felt, they stated they felt approximately 17 years younger, on average 83 years of age. Also, when those who were 65 years of age were surveyed on how old they felt, they said they felt on average 10 years younger than their chronological age, or approximately 55 years of age.
The results sound somewhat unwieldy. One may ask how are they measuring these subjective evaluations provided by the older adults surveyed. The results are part of the ninth annual 100@100 survey conducted by United Healthcare, which has polled 65 year olds and 100 year olds to compare the attitudes and lifestyles of American adults who were about to enter retirement with those that have already done so 35 years ago. In other words, the survey compared the subjective statements of the most recently surveyed older adults with those who were surveyed in past years in the previous surveys. The current survey looked at the responses of 104 centenarians and 302 baby boomers entering retirement.
In evaluating some of the common responses that were found among centenarians, some of the following were found among those surveyed.
- When asked how it felt to be 100 years of age, the top three responses given were 1.) blessed at 36 percent, 2.) happy at 31 percent and 3.) surprised at 12 percent.
- Another interesting common theme found in the responses was that 53 percent of the centenarians felt they had achieved everything in life. However, approximately one-third said 100 years of life was not enough and one in five stated they would like to live just a few more years. So much for the misconceptions that view older adults as inevitably suffering and welcoming death.
- Another fascinating finding was that the centenarians were far from a totally dependent group. The survey found that 53 percent said they lived independently and were able to carry out their activities of daily living without any assistance!
- An interesting psychological finding was that not one centenarian described themselves as being sad, and only 3 percent said they experienced feelings of loneliness.
In comparing the responses of the 104 centenarians with the 302 baby boomers on a number of questions, there were some common similarities and some noted differences that were found. For instance, when both the centenarians and the baby boomers were asked to give the three top keys to healthy aging, the centenarians stated:
- 1) Staying close to friends and family (91 percent)
- 2) Keeping a sense of independence (88 percent)
- 3) Eating right (86 percent)
The baby boomers had similar views on this question as well stating the following:
- 1) Maintaining a sense of independence (87 percent)
- 2) Laughing and having a sense of humor (87 percent)
- 3) Staying close to family and friends (84 percent)
Centenarians and baby boomers also appear to be getting much more health conscious, especially on a preventative level. Both of these groups stated they see their family physician at least once each year for a physical examination, as well as maintaining current with their vaccines. Furthermore, both the centenarians and baby boomers are remaining physically active and are apparently becoming more conscious of doing so for their health. Most stated they walked or hiked at least once each week. In addition, approximately one-third reported engaging in regular strength training weekly.
Dr. Rhonda Randall, the chief medical officer for the United Healthcare Retiree Solutions was quite encouraged by the results found in this year's 100@100 survey. According to Randall, "This year's 100@100 survey paints an encouraging and exciting view of longevity." Randall is especially optimistic about the number of older adults who are actively involved in their health on a proactive level. The increasing level of self-efficacy found among older adults toward becoming proactively involved in their health to forestall or attenuate disease is very encouraging to Randall, stating, "This is a good reminder for all Americans to take charge of their health now so that they can enjoy life for many years to come"(Paddock, 2014).
It is definitely encouraging that, in this study, older adults were more involved in managing their health more proactively and not just their disease as was often the case in the past. Some of this may be due to a more informed and better educated older adult population, as well a public health measures that have often encouraged greater levels of health consciousness as an important preventative health care measure. However, one must also look at these results cautiously. The sampling methodology may preclude one from generalizing these results beyond the current study's sample. Nevertheless, the current results, as compared to previous 100@100 surveys, demonstrating greater levels of health, activity, independence and demonstrable levels of optimism are to say the least, quite encouraging.
Paddock, C. (2014, April 25). American centenarians and baby boomers feel 'younger than their years.' http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/275940.php
It has been known for some time that nursing home care is not the same in every nursing care facility. In a recent study published by a nonprofit advocacy group, Families for Better Care, the group's review looked at nursing homes and care found in these facilities found in each state. The Families for Better Care state that it is the first state-by-state review of nursing home care that has been undertaken.
The data for this undertaking was obtained from three major existing data sources: The Kaiser Health Foundation, Performance measures from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Nursing Home Care site, and from the Office of State Long-term Care Ombudsman regarding complaint data information. The data obtain compiled information regarding the following areas as they relate to nursing home care:
- State's average registered nurse (RN) hours per resident per day
- State's average certified nurse assistant hours (CNA) hours per resident per day
- Percentage of facilities with above average registered nurse staffing
- Percentage of facilities with above average direct care staffing
- Percentage of facilities with above average health inspections
- Percentage of facilities with deficiencies for the 2012 calendar year
- Percentage of facilities with severe deficiencies for the 2012 calendar year
- Percentage of verified ombudsman complaints for the 2011 federal fiscal year
The abovementioned nursing home data was examined on a state-by-state basis, averaged and then a final letter grade provided to each state based on the quantitative state average. The grades given to the state were letter grades such as A, B, C, D, and F.
The study found that the following states were ranked the highest, or in other words, received an A grade. These states had that highest overall average nursing home care performance:
- Rhode Island
- New Hampshire
- South Dakota
- North Dakota
Conversely, there were a disconcertingly large number of states that had failing marks. These states had the lowest overall average nursing home care performance ratings. These states were as follows:
- New Mexico
- New York
Key Findings From This Study
The study revealed some important findings found among nursing homes and nursing home care throughout the United States. Many of these finding were directly linked to the type of care they provided on a state aggregate level and subsequently the grade that the states received on the basis of the data examined. Here is a brief summary of some of the major findings:
- States who had greater levels of average nursing home staffing, both professional nursing care staffing and paraprofessional caregivers such as nursing assistants, had higher grades.
- A very disconcerting finding is that only seven states were found to provide more than one hour of professional nursing care per resident day. Furthermore, it was found that 96 percent of the states offered residents fewer than three hours of direct resident care each day, which entails care not just from nurses, but all staff such as physical therapists, nursing care assistants and activity therapists.
- Nearly 90 percent of all nursing homes were cited with a deficiency. This statistic has to be viewed cautiously, since it does not say anything about the type or severity of deficiency. However, when looking at the severity of the deficiency as a separate category, Rhode Island nursing care centers scored the lowest with less than four percent of their deficiencies falling into the severe range. Conversely, Michigan performed worst on this statistic, with more than 50 percent of the nursing care facilities receiving a severe deficiency.
- Resident abuse and neglect in nursing homes was quite common. It was found that one in five nursing homes experienced issues of abuse, neglect or mistreatment in almost one-half of the states.
- When complaints were submitted and the proper authorities were notified, certain states were found to have higher levels of verified complaint verification. Montana, Connecticut, Wyoming, Washington DC, Missouri, and Massachusetts had extraordinary high complaint verification rates. Conversely, New Hampshire, Nevada, and New Jersey had the fewest. Again, this has to be looked at cautiously as well since those who investigate complaints have a level of subjectivity in their investigative protocol.
- Health care inspections for nursing homes was found to be low.
The study that has just been discussed is a very large state-by-state study that is the first of its kind in examining nursing home care on a national basis. It provides an important level of information in that it is not just conducting an inter-facility based comparison, but a state-by-state comparison, showing that some states on an aggregate level are doing better than others. However, more needs to be discussed why these states are not doing as well as other states that received superior grades in this area? In particular, why are those states with failing marks not providing enough staffing for the provision of quality care in relation to those states that are given an A grade. This is just but one indicator that needs to be examined in greater depth regarding the disparity found to exist. Nevertheless, the study provides a picture of state-based nursing home care and which states are doing better than others. However, here again, caution has to exist in interpreting the results. The data was obtained from pre-existing databases, which themselves hold data from surveyors and groups that often obtain data in not exactly the same manner. In other words, although surveys and survey protocol do follow a standard federal basis for surveyors to use, states probably have considerable variability in how they employ and carry out this protocol. This being stated, the study does provide some very interesting, if not attention getting information, that could be used to further nursing home care on a national level.
Renovating seniors' homes may lead to longer independence. Accessed at: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/renovating-seniors-homes-may-lead-to-longer-independence/
Families for Better Care. Accessed at: http://nursinghomereportcards.com/about/
[Editor's note: the following blog post was written by Brian Garavagli]
A national report on nursing homes, conducted by the Office of the Inspector General of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, has found some very sobering, if not frightening, results. The study found that as many as one-third of all nursing home residents were harmed by their treatment!
The Office of the Inspector General used a large sampling of Medicare patients that were discharged from hospitals to nursing homes within a particular year. It found approximately one-third of the patients that were studied in these nursing homes experienced treatment that harmed them in some way. It was also found that most of these cases of harm were preventable.
Ruth Ann Dorill of the Department of Health and Human Services stated, "We were surprised at the seriousness of many cases." Many of the problems were not based on case or treatment complexity. Dorrill states that many of the issues were oversights and failures in carrying out proper everyday care. In other words, many of the cases of harm that existed were due to failures in carrying out normal standard protocol correctly. Paying proper attention or failing to monitor an individual correctly were often some of the apparently simple, yet highly important oversights, which lead to many harmful forms of nursing home care, or maybe better stated, lack thereof. Dorrill states that many of these forms of improper treatment intervention leading to harm fall under the classification of "what clinicians would call substandard medical care."
The study found that approximately 60 percent of the nursing home residents that experienced harmful treatment eventually ended up being readmitted back into the hospital. The Office of the Inspector General estimates that the cost to Medicare for such improper and substandard care is approximately 2.8 billion dollars annually. This 2.8 billion dollar estimate is just considering the hospital cost, and it does not entail the cost of physician care and extra time spent being readmitted to a nursing home. Therefore, the cost of improper medical treatment in nursing home care may be adding considerably to the overall health care expenditures that exist in our country. This, during a period in which the government and many third party paying sources are strongly attempting to curtail health care costs, which has become a serious economic problem for our country. However, given the serious economic impact that it has on our health care system, more serious are the concerns related to the potential harm, and in some cases death, that has resulted from improper care.
Dorill states that today's nursing homes are harboring sicker individuals than in the past, and many have a greater complexity of care found within their nursing home populations. Given this, they need to have staff that pays particular attention to the regimentation of treatment protocol, covering a greater number of patients than had previously needed such types of oversight in past decades. As the population ages, this will become an ever-increasing problem as more individuals may be in need, at least for short-periods of time, of care and rehabilitation provided within a nursing home setting. That being the case, what is quite disconcerting is that many of these forms of inappropriate treatment that lead to harm, or even to the death of the patient, were often simple human factor issues. Paying attention to the administration of certain medications, providing proper attention to prevent falls, or providing proper food administration to prevent aspiration are some of the issues that were found to exist. Many of the problems therefore were not due to a technical inability found to exist in the provider of care. They were acts of omission or commission that could be considered very preventable forms of negligence.
What can be drawn from this current study? First, there are still considerable care issues that need to be addressed in the nursing home industry. There have been considerable improvements over the past couple of decades, especially since nursing home care improvement was targeted by the federal government and the Institute of Medicine in the 1980's. However, to paraphrase Robert Frost, the nursing home industry still has miles to go until we can sleep. Furthermore, a more effective and efficient form of care has to be focused on, especially toward eliminating unnecessary behaviors and interventions that can actually not only harm individuals, but exacerbate their conditions that lead to greater health care costs in the long run. As was found, many of the clinical aspects that may need to be targeted to avoid harmful treatment interventions are not highly complex issues, in as much as they are human factor issues. Subsequently, better logistical processes, focusing on human factor engineering issues may be of considerable importance. One last thing to note as well is that iatrogenic forms of illness or treatment are not unique to the nursing home area. Nevertheless, the study's finding of approximately a third of all Medicare nursing home residents experiencing some form of harm has to give one great pause, as well as sensitize the nursing home industry toward addressing this deficiency properly and expediently.
Jaffe, I. (2014, March 5). One-third of nursing home patients harmed by their treatment. Accessed at: http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2014/03/05/286261742/a-third-of-nursing-home-patients-harmed-by-their-treatment
In a recent study conducted by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, a high percentage of Medicare residents who are discharged from nursing homes often are re-hospitalized within 30 days. Individuals receiving care within nursing homes in which the care is being paid for by Medicare are often there after they have been discharged from the hospital and are in continued need of receiving rehabilitative care. Nursing homes in the United States have become increasingly used as a continuum of care within the rehabilitative process of many acute care patients. Although nursing home care is still predominately a chronic care enterprise, more nursing homes are being used as an intermediate phase for continued rehabilitation after the hospital is no longer able to maintain the patient and bill insurance for in-patient hospital services.
Given that more patients, including a younger patient population, are using nursing home facilities as acute care rehabilitative services, the need to address appropriate discharge planning needs are becoming a rising concern with increasingly important ramifications for the health of the patient, as well as the economic costs for society. The current study may indicate that greater administrative organization may need to be untaken in the discharge area.
The current study followed 50,000 Medicare residents who were treated within a skilled nursing home environment within North and South Carolina. The study found that approximately 22 percent of those Medicare beneficiaries that were being treated within the nursing home environment, with the expectation for discharge after rehabilitation, required emergency care within 30 days of discharge from the nursing home environment and 37.5 percent required some level of acute or hospital type care within 90 days of discharge from the nursing home. As one can see this is a high rate of return to the hospital after a supposedly successful rehabilitation.
Demographic factors were also examined in the study to find out if there were any differences between certain groups. They found African Americans were more likely to need additional acute care services and subsequently be readmitted to a hospital after discharge from a nursing care facility. Additional factors were also found to be associated with the increased rate of return to the hospital such as being an older adult who suffers from cancer or respiratory disorders. Moreover, having a higher number of previous hospitalizations, having greater levels of comorbidity, and interestingly, receiving care from a for-profit nursing care facility, were associated with higher rates of hospital return.
The study's authors are not sure how many of these re-hospitalizations or returns to the emergency room are preventable. Under the Affordable Care Act hospitals incur a penalty for readmitting Medicare patients. Therefore, hospitals have a monetary incentive to maintain patients from being re-hospitalized for the same conditions they were treated for previously within the hospital. One can see that this disincentive to readmit patients that hospitals have sent to a nursing home will not aid toward producing productive hospital-nursing home relationships. Furthermore, more has to be examined as to exactly where the problem lies and what has to be done to solve this issue.
Nursing homes have taken on many new roles within the overall health care spectrum. One of these is the increasing dependence on nursing care facilities to take up the rehabilitative burden for hospitalized patients that no longer qualify for in-patient hospitalization. Since nursing homes are facing a greater rehabilitative burden, and since many are now becoming increasingly post-acute care environments that often have many non-traditional younger, as well as traditional older, long-term care clientele, the need for closer administrative and clinical sensitivity regarding the greater diversity of rehabilitative needs has to be cogently addressed. Along with this, increased sensitivity for out-patient or discharge care planning has taken on an increasingly important and demanding responsibility for nursing home professionals. This is not to say it has not been important previously, but as this study shows, it may have become an even more important skill in today's long-term health care environment. However, we also need to be cautious about extrapolating further on the results of this study. It looked at nursing home discharge and re-hospitalization in two states. Whether this may also be a significant issue in the other 48 states still needs to be answered more definitively. However, it does appear quite plausible that this may be a wide-spread issue that may be found throughout the nursing home industry.
Since time spent within hospitals has decreased over the years, and since nursing homes have taken on an increasing amount of patient-care slack in the rehabilitation of patients, the need to pay greater attention to the rehabilitative and discharge needs of nursing home residents is becoming very important. When you add this to the pressing economic issues of reducing health care costs, avoiding expensive hospital care through re-hospitalization has become an increasingly paramount issue. Furthermore, providing a targeted and specific form of rehabilitation for an increasingly diverse rehabilitative population that has not previously been part of the nursing home environment, including many younger individuals who were not normally a part of the long-term care environment, is becoming an increasingly pressing issue as well. A diverse and multifaceted rehabilitation population that is now becoming a natural part of the long-term care environment creates different skill-needs that need to be addressed by the physical, occupational, speech and activity therapists. Furthermore, the psychosocial placement issues have increased dramatically, creating the need for greater skill in this area as well. Finally, the financial disincentives for re-hospitalizations found in the hospital environment need to bring greater collaboration between hospitals and nursing homes toward solving this potential problem, a collaboration that has often not existed between these two parts of the health care sector. Consequently, although more needs to be found through future studies regarding this issue, the current study may be an important sensitizer toward directing our attention and efforts toward solving an important issue that may be quite endemic within our country's nursing homes and among their post-acute care clientele.
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. (2014, February 20). "After nursing home discharge, many Medicare beneficiaries return to ER." Medical News Today. Retrieved from http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/272891.
[Editor's note: this is only a portion of the complete article]
A current book that is on the New York Times best seller list, Grain Brain: The Surprising Truth About Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar-Your Brain's Silent Killers, written by Neurologist Dr. David Perlmutter, asserts that a diet high in carbohydrates can actually be instrumental in the development of dementia. Perlmutter, who is a professor of Medicine at the University of Miami as well as a Fellow with the American College of Nutrition, has raised some important and interesting arguments in favor of this position. Yet, his arguments are far from airtight.
Perlmutter has pointed to the use of the A1C test that measures glycolated hemoglobin over a period of three to four months previous to the blood test. It provides an average blood sugar measurement. He does raise an interesting and important point. Often the test is used to measure the average metric of blood sugar over the past few months for many diabetics. However, it is really looking at more than that; it is looking at the glycation going on in the body, which ultimately leads to oxidative stress, free radical formation and inflammation. These are all harmful to the body and in particular, to the brain. He also points to recent studies that have shown an association between elevated levels of blood glucose and an increased probability for dementia. Furthermore, he states that even mild blood glucose increases, which can be in the high normal range, can still be detrimental and lead to glycation, inflammation and an increased likelihood for dementia. He states that too many physicians look at the blood glucose level and as long as it is within the normal laboratory parameters they feel comfortable with the results. However, he states that physicians should not be dismissive about these high normal results and should advocate lower blood glucose levels under 100. He states that regardless of the normal parameters, as they approach the high levels of the normal range, a person increases their probability for acquiring dementia. However, I am not sure how Dr. Perlmutter has determined this, or how much of a probabistic increase results if it does, and what is the mathematical means that he has used to determine this result?
Dr. Perlmutter does quote a number of studies that have found associations between higher carbohydrate dietary consumption and a higher risk for acquiring dementia. However, he further admits the shortcomings of many of these studies, which were observational. Therefore, although relationships were found between higher carbohydrate diets and the probability for acquiring dementia, this should not be interpreted as carbohydrates necessarily being causative. Without true experimental-based studies that are able to control for many of the confounding factors, too many possible variables could be influencing the relationships that have been witnessed in the studies cited by Perlmutter. Furthermore, the correlational studies, since they are not being held constant, all probably had quite different levels of what they viewed as higher carbohydrate levels. Therefore, how high is what is referred to as being too high as it relates to carbohydrate consumption? Where is the level of demarcation that quantifies a healthy level from a potentially harmful level? Finally, is there anything that he can quote and identify as an identifiable quantification that provides an empirical basis of support other than guesswork and an intellectual eyeballing of what he thinks in his clinical judgment are valid quantifiable parameters? The answers to these are far from clear and need greater empirical support.
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Recent research over the last few decades has paid increasing attention to aging at the molecular level. In particular, a genetic component called telomeres, has garnered much attention over the last few decades. Chromosomes are long strands of deoxyribonucleic acid or DNA. DNA is our molecular blueprint of who we are, being the genetic blueprint for forming our genome. Telomeres are found at the end of the chromosome, looking like a cap that helps prevent other chromosomes from fusing together. In essence, a telomere is a part of the DNA found in the nucleus of the cell, made up of six repeating nucleotide bases-- thymine (T), adenine (A), and cytosine (C), or a TTAGGG sequence. Under normal conditions, when cells divide, telomeres and their repeating nucleotide sequence shorten with each cell division. Therefore, similar to determining a tree's age by cutting the tree and examining the number of rings that exist, examining telomere length on the molecular level can provide an indication of the age of the person.
As cells continue to shorten, the cell and ultimately the human being age, a process referred to as senescence. If the telomere shortens too much, the DNA can be damaged. Furthermore, as the telomere shortens to very short lengths, cell division ultimately stops. Certain cells need to naturally die off for proper health. However as individuals age, all of their body cells' genetic material are ultimately undergoing a telomeric reduction. Conversely, with cancer, the reverse is often witnessed. Certain cells in the body do not die off naturally and continue an unending life cycle due to enzymatic telomerase production and a tumor-type agglutination of unhealthy cells.
Given the information that has been presented so far, it appears that aging is an inevitable feature that is determined by the molecular structure of our genetic blueprint. Furthermore, although truth for this proposition appears to be found in what has come to be referred to as the Hayflict Phenomenon, which is the programmed capacity for cells to divide, even under optimal conditions, no more than approximately 50 to 60 times, setting a genetic upper limit to our lifespan, this does not mean human beings have no control in how long they can live. In fact, recent information has provided important knowledge on how we may ultimately slow aging down through the perseveration of telomere integrity.
A recent study that was led by Dean Ornish, Professor of Medicine as the University of California, San Franciso followed 35 men over five years. All 35 men had been diagnosed with low-risk prostate cancer. Of the 35 men, 10 of the men in the study were assigned to engage in a healthy lifestyle that was composed of a vegetarian diet, regular exercise and regular sessions of stress reduction through use of meditation and yoga. This served as the experimental group. The other individuals who did not experience lifestyle changes served as controls.
The study demonstrated some interesting results. Until recently most have assumed that the telomeric shortening was ultimately inevitable with aging, give or take some level of individual variation in the speed or progression of the shortening of the telomere, leading to individual differences in how fast one ages. However, in the Ornish study, at the end of five years, the researchers found that those that adopted the healthier lifestyle habits mentioned above demonstrated a younger looking DNA in terms of the degree of its shortening (Raffensperger, 2013). Not only was telomere shortening slowed, but it was actually reversed. In the 10 men who made lifestyle changes, telomere length grew by an average of 10 percent over the five year study period. Moreover, the quantitatively greater number of healthier lifestyle changes made was associated with more telomere growth. Conversely, the control group experienced a three percent reduction, or shortening in telomere length over the five year length of the study. The study results do have to be interpreted cautiously since the study was far from representative, quite small, with a fairly loose level of control. Yet, they do present some very interesting results that need further investigation, results that are quite inspiring and salubrious to say the least.
Telomere shortening is also related with many diseases. However, whether the diseases are caused by the shortening of the telomere or the telomere shortening causes the disease needs to be further studied. Furthermore, centenarians were found to have longer telomeres than those who were 85 years of age. Here again the question is whether the longer telomere led to centenarians reaching their status or was it due to their health being better, leading to greater telomere length, and subsequently greater age (Knox, 2013). Nevertheless, there does appear to be a connection between telomere length, disease and aging.
Overall however, there is increasing evidence that exercise, better nutrition, and subsequently enhanced health leads to a reduction in the rate of telomere degradation. Both younger and other marathon runners and track athletes demonstrated upregulation of telomere-stabilizing proteins. They also demonstrated decreased expression of apoptosis regulators. Both of these features were not found in more sedentary controls.
Both younger track-and-field athletes and the older runners had up-regulation of telomere-stabilizing proteins and decreased expression of vascular apoptosis regulators in circulating leukocytes compared with individuals who did not exercise frequently. Furthermore, other research has found that subjects who spent more than three hours each week in vigorous physical activity had longer telomere length as compared to subjects who were 10 years younger than them and who exercised less than 16 minutes each week (Giuliano, 2010). Even with mice that were subjected to increased exercise levels in the laboratory as compared to those that were sedentary controls, telomere length was enhanced among the more active mice (WebMD).
Genetics may also be susceptible to the anti-aging effects of exercise. One would anticipate that identical twins, given that they share the same genetic information, would be an ideal group to see if exercise has a telomeric-enhancing effect that could trump genetic blueprint they are born with and is part of their DNA. What in fact was found is that when one twin was active and one was sedentary and telomere lengths were compared, the identical twin with the greater activity had longer telomeres. This is quite compelling since identical twins share exactly the same genetic material.
Given what has been reviewed in this article, it appears that we are not just prisoners of our biology. It has been known for some time that exercise, healthy diets and healthy lifestyles can enhance our health and possibly even our longevity. However, now we are seeing increasing evidence for the health-enhancing effects of exercise and nutrition on the molecular level. It appears that exercise, a healthy diet, and a healthy overall lifestyle may have an epigenetic effect on our telomeres that exogenously can have a very beneficial impact on our immanent genetic profile, and potentially on our health and longevity.
Giuliano, V. (2010/Jan). Exercise, telomerase and telomeres. http://www.anti-agingfirewalls.com/2010/01/14/exercise-telomerase-and-telomeres/
Knox, R. (2013/Sept). Healthful Living May Lengthen Telomeres And Lifespans. http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2013/09/17/223386084/healthful-living-may-lengthen-telomeres-and-lifespans
Neale, T. (2009/Nov). Exercise May Slow Telomere Shortening, Aging. http://www.medpagetoday.com/PrimaryCare/ExerciseFitness/17221
Raffensperger, L. (2013/Sept). Healthy Diet and Exercise Can Reverse Aging in Our Cells. http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/d-brief/2013/09/17/healthy-diet-and-exercise-can-reverse-aging-in-our-cells/
WebMD. Molecular Proof: Exercise Keeps You Young
Intense Activity Keeps Telomeres Long. http://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/news/20091201/molecular-proof-exercise-keeps-you-young
A recent editorial in the Annals of Internal Medicine has provided considerable debate about whether multivitamin use has any efficacy. The editorial titled, "Enough is Enough: Stop Wasting Money on Vitamin and Mineral Supplements," avers, in a very definitive manner, that using multivitamins is useless, providing no help in aiding one's health. The editorial goes on to state, "we believe that the case is closed - supplementing the diet of well-nourished adults with (most) mineral or vitamin supplements has no clear benefit and might even be harmful. These vitamins should not be used for chronic disease prevention. Enough is enough." The exclamatory and definitive nature of this editorial statement, however, leaves some room for pause.
Before one closes the case on the issue of multivitamins, a few things need to be addressed. The first contention that needs to be addressed is use of multivitamins for fighting disease. Whether multivitamins do or do not aid in preventing certain diseases is probably not fully closed since some studies have previously found that multivitamin usage does assist in maintaining health, especially among the elderly. Although they probably will not ward off chronic health issues that result from smoking, being overweight, failing to get adequate exercise, drinking heavily, eating poorly, or engaging in a myriad of other counterproductive health behaviors, the intent of multivitamin usage was never meant to override these types of issues. However, yes, it is true that many individuals attempt to delude themselves into thinking that using vitamins, or for that matter any type of pill, will lead to an easy and salubrious form of health-based intervention.
The next issue that needs to be addressed is the benefits derived from taking a multivitamin among those that eat well. Here again, the studies that were reviewed as the basis of the editorial are probably correct in stating that those who eat well and have well-balanced and nutritious dietary habits will receive little, if any, additional benefits from a multivitamin. However, many older adults fail to have proper dietary intake, and subsequently many fail to take in the necessary level of many vitamins and minerals to maintain proper health. This is often found among many older adults who live alone.
Also quite surprising is how the statement was framed and presented, especially to a professional audience. The Annuls is a respected journal and it therefore is more surprising that even in the editorial section, it would allow such a potentially problematic, misleading and for the most part, unscientific statement to be rendered to the public, and in particular, professional audience that makes up most of its readers. Within the realm of science, claims that often attempt to make broad generalization in a definitive manner are often quite problematic. The editorial in the Annuls provides a broad and definitive statement and their wording is quite misleading by stating that the "case is closed" on the use of multivitamins. It extrapolates from three studies, using the results of these three studies to apply to all individuals. Stating that "enough is enough" and the "case is closed" are words that often are not used in science, and the unscientific word usage that the author of the editorial uses indicates a level of hubris and bias that can mislead the public.
As mentioned, the editorial is based on the results of three studies. Even when a meta-analysis is done on previous studies, the minimum to justify their results often is well beyond three studies. Also, the studies often have to have some level of similarity. In this case one study is based on results of 450,000 individuals (an impressive number to say the least, but the number of individuals by themselves do not lend credence to the soundness of the study), and the effects that multivitamin use had on health, cancer and mortality. Another study tracked 6,000 men, who were all physicians, over a period of 12 years, to see if multivitamins had any effect on cognitive decline. The use of just men and physicians is far from being a representative study. Finally, the third study, also quite different than the previous two mentioned, looked at 1,700 men and women, only this time it looked at the effects of multivitamin usage on those that were recovering from heart attacks, and whether using a multivitamin prevented a second heart attack. These three studies failed to demonstrate any level of efficacy for multivitamin usage. These three studies are the basis by which the editorial extrapolated its results and justifications for the definitive stance that it took toward multivitamin use.
It must also be stated that this article is not saying that the statements in the Annuals' editorial is incorrect. However, the statements made were definitely cursory and excessively brazen. Furthermore, making such a definitive statement based on three studies, which all are looking at something different on a health and medical level, does not provide adequate justification for such a commentary. Therefore, whether the editorial's statement is correct or not will depend on much more scientific investigation. Science is a continuous enterprise. Typically, nothing is ever closed since our reality is far from invariant. Therefore, saying that one is closing discussion and any further investigation based on the paucity of investigative results used to justify the statements made in the editorial is troublesome.
As has already been mentioned, making a blanket statement as was made in the editorial usually fails to truthfully cover reality. Furthermore, as previously mentioned, many older adults do suffer from nutritional deficiencies that may ultimately benefit from vitamin supplementation. Although holding grand delusional thoughts about vitamin supplementation negating poor lifestyle or health behaviors or reversing chronic forms of illness is also a problem found in our society, this is a different issue that is a separate problem. However, making exclusionary statements regarding multiple vitamins is also quite injudicious. As with most things in life issues of high variability often preclude the use of either/or reasoning, an error that was made by the Annuals' editorial, which can mislead and ultimately result in harmful ramifications.
Jaslow R. Multivitamin researchers say "case is closed" after studies find no health benefits. http://www.cbsnews.com/news/multivitamin-researchers-say-case-is-closed-supplements-dont-boost-health/
Neergaard L. Two new studies debunk benefits of multivitamins. http://www.nbcnews.com/health/two-new-studies-debunk-benefits-multivitamins-2D11757314
Walton AG. Vitamins lack clear health benefits, may pose risks. http://www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2013/12/17/study-multivitamins-lack-clear-health-benefits-may-pose-risks/
Cognitive decline as one gets older is often something that is feared by many. There are many reasons for cognitive decline, and although many associate it with age, for the most part age in isolation is usually not the only reason for cognitive decline. Furthermore, cognitive decline is not inevitable as one gets older. However, some new research has found that some pathogenic agents that have often been associated with causing diseases in other parts of the body can also influence cognition as well.
One microorganism that has been implicated is the herpes simplex type 1 virus. Research published in the journal, Neurology, examined 1,625 people who were on average 69 years of age. Memory and blood tests were taken at eight year intervals. The researchers found that those with higher levels of the herpes simplex type 1 virus in their blood were more likely to have more cognitive deficits. The herpes simplex type 1 virus is the virus that is often associated with cold sores. It should not be confused with genital herpes, or herpes simplex type II.
More research needs to be done before one can be more definitive about the relationship between the virus and cognitive decline. As was mentioned, the study found a relationship or association between the herpes virus and cognitive decline, but again the association does not indicate causation. There are too many variables that were not controlled for in this study.
In line with the above study, other studies have found the Helicobacter Pylori (H. pylori), a bacterium linked to many ulcers found in the gastrointestinal tract, may also be instrumental in mood problems and cognitive impairment. It has been known for some time that the gastrointestinal tract is linked to the brain. In fact, we also have what is known as an enteric nervous system, a special nervous system for our gastrointestinal tract, which works in association and complements our autonomic and central nervous system.
In what has been referred to a "leaky gut" disease, pathogenic agents such as H. pylori can leak out of the stomach region and impact the brain. Normally the stomach is a well-contained organ that prevents any type of leakage; however individuals can have their gastrointestinal mucosa compromised leading to the leakage out of pathogenic microorganisms. H. pylori has been found to be associated with increased depressive disorders and cognitive impairment. Again, these studies are far from being definitive.
It must also be mentioned that as individuals age, intestinal mucosa often thins considerably. When this happens, gut leakage can happen. If microorganisms are found to be truly implicated in mood and cognitive disorders, becoming more sensitive toward conducting tests for microorganisms found in the blood that may be instrumental in causing cognitive decline and depression may have to be done more readily during the examination process.
The good news about these finding is that they are highly correctable. Although many people suffer from many forms of intractable depressive disorders as well as cognitive decline that cannot be reversed, depression and cognitive decline that may be associated with these forms of infectious agents could be addressed through highly efficacious pharmacological interventions. Especially with the bacterial infection like H. pylori, a treatment regimen of antibiotics and proton pump inhibitor agents often can eradicate the intestinal microorganism that is not only causing distress within the gastrointestinal tract, but also influencing the neurological system as well.
Given this information, one may want to think how their stomach can not only influence their gastrointestinal health, but also be mindful on how their stomach and gastrointestinal tract can dramatically impact our cognitive health. Understanding that the enteric system with its own enteric nervous system is intricately aligned with our other nervous systems can help us understand how our stomach may influence our brain, our thinking and our mood.
Bakalar N. Infections tied to cognitive decline. http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/03/29/infections-tied-to-cognitive-decline/?_r=0
Jaslow R. Herpes virus may lead to memory loss, cognitive declines. http://www.cbsnews.com/news/herpes-viruses-may-lead-to-memory-loss-cognitive-declines/
Rodriguez T. Gut bacteria may exacerbate depression: Microbes that escape the digestive tract may alter mood. Scientific American. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=gut-bacteria-may-exacerbate-depress
The Longevity Project was a longitudinal study started by Stanford University Psychologist Lewis Terman in 1921. Terman's study initially looked at issues of intellect. The 1,500 subjects were tracked over eight decades. From this initial study some important information was revealed about longevity, including what was instrumental in helping some age well, and what also failed to enhance longevity and healthy, functional aging.
A common thought has been that marriage will guarantee greater longevity (Friedman & Martin). This is a partial truth. To say marriage in itself enhances longevity for all, and therefore acts as a constant without any variation among men and women is incorrect. Marriage apparently benefits men more than women. In fact, divorce also appears to have disparate impact on men, severely curtailing men's longevity. However, for women, the benefits that marriage held among those who participated in the Terman study appeared negligible. Married women did show some mild enhancement in longevity, but overall, marriage was not a statistically significant variable for enhancing longevity among women. Furthermore, women who experienced divorce and did not remarry also did not necessarily suffer severe reductions in longevity as was found to exist among men.
Another common thought is that taking it easy and disengaging from active involvement in society can enhance longevity. However, the Terman study participants who experienced the most career success and had the greatest productivity also had greater longevity (Friedman & Martin). Furthermore, those who continued to remain productive and actively engaged were more likely to live longer lives. This is not to say that enhanced stress is good for someone. However, what may be happening is that a continued level of productivity helps the person remain physically and mentally active and provides them with a sense of purpose. Remaining active and productive may also moderate many of the deleterious stressors that may actually lead to reduced longevity.
Conversely, being detail-oriented, obsessive and worrying about small details has been thought to be traits that could shorten one's life expectancy. However, one of the most consistent findings among those in the Terman study was that having higher levels of conscientiousness led to greater longevity (Friedman & Martin). The study found that the best predictor of longevity in children was having higher levels of conscientiousness and this continued to remain a firm predictor into adulthood. Thrifty, detailed-oriented, and meticulously planning individuals lived the longest among the participants in the Terman study. Apparently, as long as individuals do not engage in a pathological level of stressfully conscientious behavior, being meticulous, punctilious and mildly of the so-called Type A personality variation may be quite enhancing for one's longevity.
A higher level of education has been thought in itself to enhance the probability for greater longevity. However, as an isolated variable, it was not found to be a highly important predictor of longevity (Friedman & Martin). This is not to say that education is irrelevant for longevity. Much more relevant than the number of years of formal education was what has already been mentioned: the level of productivity as well as facing appropriate levels of challenges with a level of efficacy and resiliency. Education could well enhance this given that those with greater education also have more productive and challenging types of work in their daily lives.
Another myth often associated with longevity is that those who are more social and extroverted live longer. However, research has not found this to be necessarily true. In fact, those who were more extroverted did not have any significant differences in their longevity as compared to those who were more introverted. Consider that who are more social and extroverted may also engage in unproductive behaviors such as drinking and smoking that may reduce one's longevity.
Optimism is often touted as a sure-fire characteristic that enhances one's longevity. However, cheerful, optimistic children were actually less likely to live to an older age than their counterparts who were less optimistic and cheerful (Friedman & Martin). Moreover, excessively optimistic individuals who fail to worry about much may actually fail to give credence to signs that may portend potentially important indicators of illness or other forms of deleterious issues.
Exercise is one of the most important lifestyle factors for enhancing longevity. However, just because one is athletic when one is younger does not necessarily mean this confers greater longevity. In fact, those who are very active in youth and fail to stay active in middle and later adulthood, thereby increasing their sedentary lifestyles, nullify any benefits incurred through early life activity. It is important to stay active throughout one's life. Furthermore, one does not have to run long distances, lift heavy weights, or be a gym rat to incur benefits from exercise. An individual who engages in even mild activities like walking daily, gardening, cutting grass, and attempting to limit their amount of sedentary lifestyle can increase longevity.
Many myths and misconceptions related to aging and longevity continue to exist. Although this post has attempted to succinctly address some of the more common ones, this list is far from exhaustive. Nevertheless, this author has attempted to address and refute some of the more common myths that continue to be stated in relation to longevity. That being stated, these findings are based on evidence up to this point in time, so one must view the research tentatively. Furthermore, one must also be careful in interpreting some of the results in binary, either-or, fashion. For instance, just because optimism by itself was not found to be an important predictor of longevity, that does not mean one should look at this in a Janus-faced fashion and become the ultimate pessimist. Furthermore, many things have to be examined in context. Although education, in exclusivity, was not found to be a significant predictor of longevity, education as it relates to other contextual features associated with greater levels of education can, and often do, have important implications for longevity.
Subsequently, research on longevity continues to be in its infancy. There are many more myths that need to be dispelled. Furthermore, there is a need to disseminate the inaccuracies to the public, including a continued need for more accurate information among professionals who work with, and service, the older adult population. As we continue to make greater strides in research on aging more myths and misconceptions will be addressed and corrected as they relate to the myriad of anecdotal types of information that are often associated with what has often come to be termed the "anti-aging industry."
Friedman HS & Martin LR. The myths of living longer. In Aging-Annual Editions 13/14, Harold Cox (Ed). 2011; pp. 30-31. McGraw-Hill, New York, NY.
During the 2013 meeting of the American Psychiatric Association, the renowned neurologist, Gary Small, MD, addressed whether a change in one's lifestyle can aid in the prevention of Alzheimer's disease. Although research continues to look for a cure, there currently is no form of treatment that can cure the more than 5 million individuals in the U.S. with the disease. At best, we have a few medications that may slow the disease progression, and in some, these medications may not work at all and even lead to serious side effects.
There is compelling evidence that certain genes play a significant role in this disease. Small pointed out that some of these genes actually enhance an inflammatory response that may lead to the progression of Alzheimer's disease. However, he claimed we are not necessarily prisoners of our genes, and that behaviors such as exercise, nutrition and proper sleep habits can act as anti-inflammatory mechanisms that enhance our brain health.
Physical exercise appears to have the greatest scientific support for helping to prevent Alzheimer's disease. It appears to work by reducing the inflammatory index in the brain and reducing the biomarkers indicative of Alzheimer's disease. Small noted that even as little as 15 minutes of walking each day has been found to demonstrate an appreciable preventive effect of Alzheimer's disease. Small also addressed the issue of enhanced mental stimulation, such as through learning or doing challenging mental tasks. This has been a very common area that has been touted as being important for prevention in the area of dementia as one grows older.
Small also addressed stress as an issue that could potentially accentuate the development of Alzheimer's disease. It is imperative that as individuals age, learning how to relax can be critical in fostering enhanced brain health. Getting a proper quantity and quality of sleep is important to augment relaxation as well as enhancing brain health.
Nutritional intake, especially increasing anti-oxidant fruit and vegetable intake, coupled with increased omega-3 fatty acid, has been found to hold strong preventive features toward enhancing health and warding off inflammation.
Click here to read a full-length article to learn more about preventing Alzheimer's disease.
The fear of cognitive debilitation as we age is one of the greatest apprehensions that individuals have about aging. It is also an area of misconception as well. Although dementia and other forms of major cognitive decline are not inevitable as we age as so many think, aging is correlated with greater levels of cognitive debilitation, especially through various forms of dementia. Furthermore, as a larger number of our population reaches older age, more concern has continued to exist on how one may be able to ward off feared neurocognitive disturbances such as Alzheimer's disease. The following are some suggestions that have been made by a number of experts in the field of aging and neuroscience.
The first, and possibly the most important source of enhancing brain health, is to remain physically active, especially through regular exercise. Higher rates of physical exercise can have a pronounced effect on reducing dementia. However, even smaller amounts of exercise, as little as 15 minutes three days each week, can have an appreciable effect on enhancing brain health (Howard, 2012).
Another recommendation has been to engage in resistance exercise through the use of weights or even resistance training through exercise bands or calisthenics. In addition to helping to maintain bone and muscle health as we age, it is thought that resistance training helps to promote insulin-like growth factors to nourish and protect brain cells (Howard, 2012).
A third important tip for brain health is to seek out new skills. This is basically tantamount to learning a new and challenging skill. The emphasis on new and challenging is important since it helps to ramp up metabolic activity in the brain and increase brain cell connections. If a person continues to do things that they are already facile at it fails to provide the neurological fodder for building new brain connections. Do not fall prey to the adage of "old dogs cannot learn new tricks." Although learning may not come as easy as when one was younger, attempt to learn new and challenging things to enhance the connectivity of the brain.
The fourth recommendation is to reduce stress. Stress enhances cortisol levels, an important stress hormone, and unremitting cortisol flooding the brain is neurotoxic, which can lead to cell death in the brain. Subsequently, engaging is various forms and techniques of relaxation, such as through meditation, yoga, or other forms of tension reduction strategies can be very important to one's overall brain health.
One's diet is important. Eating a diet that has higher levels of important fatty acids and antioxidants, such as those found in certain fish, nuts, fruits and vegetables can provide a considerable benefit to long-term brain health. Columbia University found that eating a Mediterranean diet reduced the risk of Alzheimer's disease by 34%-48% (Howard, 2012).
Another area that has been given greater attention is possibly using certain spices that may have a potentially therapeutic effect on the brain. Spices like black pepper, cinnamon, oregano, basil, parsley, ginger, and vanilla are high in antioxidants. In addition, the ingredient curcumin found in turmeric, which is a common ingredient in many Indian curries, might hold considerable potential. In looking at the effect of curcumin in animal research, scientists have found that it reduces amyloid plaques, the plaques that play a considerable role in Alzheimer's disease, as well as also helping to reduce tissue inflammation in the brain (Howard, 2012).
Another tip for brain health that researchers provide is developing a unified sense of purpose in one's life. Researchers have found that those that have a greater purpose with a greater clarity in their goals had reduced levels of Alzheimer's disease.
Developing a strong social life may be a protective buffer in helping to prevent dementia. Being socially engaged and interactive has been found to be very instrumental in enhancing one's health at all levels, and as it relates to brain health, it continues to show important health enhancing effects.
Remaining healthy in other areas helps to promote brain health. Reducing levels of obesity and maintaining a healthy weight, maintaining a healthy blood pressure, and keeping one's blood glucose levels under control are all significant in warding off cardiovascular disease, kidney disease as well as many other forms of physical illnesses, all of which can further increase the likelihood for impairing one's brain health.
Finally, make sure you are mindful of maintaining proper vitamin intake. Most of this can be done through a well-balanced diet, but as we age, one may suffer from vitamin deficiencies due to impaired digestive absorption from food intake. Physicians also have to make sure they are more aware of examining deficiencies in this area that could lead to possible cognitive declines.
Although many individuals think that cognitive decline is an inevitable part of aging, this is not true. Many things can be done to reduce and even prevent cognitive decline. However, as with anything in life, a level of effort is needed to achieve the desired goals. However, getting into a regular habit can provide benefits that lead to individuals achieving a much more functional life.
Howard B. Age-proof your brain: 10 easy ways to stay sharp forever. AARP The Magazine. 2012, Feb/Mar, p. 53-54, 56.