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Senior Care News

February 27, 2017        

By Mendy Hecht, Hamaspik Gazette

Home as good as (or better than) rehab

New research by the Thomas Jefferson University Medical School shows that patients who go straight home from the hospital following hip or knee replacement surgery recover as well as, or better than, those who first go to a rehabilitation center—including those living alone without family or friends..

“We can say with confidence that recovering independently at home does not put patients at increased risk for complications or hardship,” said study co-author Dr. William Hozack.

Possible Alzheimer’s/blood sugar link

A March study in Scientific Reports indicates that increased blood sugar levels may lead to Alzheimer’s disease by damaging a protein essential to fighting the disease’s early stages.

Excessive levels of glucose (a sugar type) in the blood, and its breakdown products, can damage proteins through a reaction called glycation.  Glycation has been associated with Alzheimer’s.

Researchers have now found that glycation damages a protein called MIF in early Alzheimer’s stages.  The protein plays an important role in control of glucose levels.

After glycation, MIF can no longer stimulate glial cells, which help prevent accumulation of faulty proteins in the brain.  As Alzheimer’s progresses, glycation of MIF increases, further contributing to neuronal damage, the research shows.

Exercise better than weight loss for senior hearts

A new study suggests that seniors who want to give their hearts a healthy boost may want to focus on exercise first.  The Dutch study by the Erasmus University Medical Centre in Rotterdam, the Netherlands tracked 15-year outcomes of over 5,300 people aged 55 to 97—finding that that physical activity was tied to a lower risk of heart disease.  The findings were published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.

Expert guidelines currently recommend 150 minutes a week of moderate intensity physical activity to decrease the risk of heart disease in seniors.

Staying socially active nourishes aging brains

A new report finds that socializing with lots of relatives and friends may help people stay mentally sharp as they age.  According to the joint report by the AARP and the Global Council on Brain Health (GCBH, close relationships and age-friendly communities benefit both physical and mental health in older adults.

More Parkinson’s/strokes and strokes/Parkinson’s

Researchers at Manhattan’s Weill Cornell Medical College reviewed data on 1.6 million Medicare recipients between 2008 and 2004—finding a link between Parkinson’s disease and stroke prevalence, and stroke prevalence and Parkinson’s disease, but no direct cause and effect.

The data review found that seniors with Parkinson’s had about twice as many strokes as those without Parkinson’s—and that seniors who had had strokes had twice the diagnoses of Parkinson’s than those with no history of strokes.

The scientists now wonder if Parkinson’s somehow raises stroke risk, or if a stroke-weakened brain somehow has more Parkinson’s risk, or even if an unknown third factor is involved.

Low education+excess sleep=more dementia?

Previous Alzheimer’s research suggests that sleep functions as a brain-cleansing mechanism.  In healthy seniors, studies have found that levels of beta amyloid build up in the brain by the end of each day, only to be flushed down to lower levels during sleep through the night.

That research suggests that Alzheimer’s may result from the brain not getting enough sleep to lower its daily beta amyloid buildup—suggesting that more sleep would lower Alzheimer’s risk.

But now, a newly-published study suggests that seniors suddenly developing a habit of sleeping over nine hours each night is just as bad for in terms of Alzheimer’s risk—at least for seniors with less education.

Researchers at Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) observed a large group of adults for a full decade to see who developed dementia, including dementia due to Alzheimer’s disease.  The researchers found that participants without high school degrees who recently developed nine-hour-plus sleep habits were six times likelier to develop dementia.  (The study found no increased dementia risk among seniors

The researchers now believe that screening for sleeping problems may aid in the early detection of cognitive impairment and dementia.

Now Hear This: U.S. Hearing-loss Rise Projected

Studies Warn, Senators Pen Voice of Concern

A new study by Johns Hopkins University’s Center on Aging and Health projects that hearing loss among U.S. adults 20 and older will reach 44 million in 2020 and 73.5 million by 2060. 

The most common cause of hearing loss is prolonged exposure to loud noise, including loud music and a noisy workplace.  Prevention includes limiting the volume of sound from headphones and speakers, and protecting oneself from industrial noise at work.

It’s never too early, or too late, to start protecting your hearing—so start today!

The study was published Mar. 2 in JAMA Otolaryngology—Head & Neck Surgery.

The projection comes after FDA’s Dec. 2016 announcement (see Gazette #145) that it would no longer be enforcing the requirement that people 18 and up get medical evaluations or sign waivers before buying most hearing aids. 

The FDA also announced then that it would be looking at “creating a category of over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids that could deliver new, innovative and lower-cost products to millions of consumers.” 

The FDA is concerned that hearing aids typically cost around $4,600 a pair and are only sold in the U.S. by six companies—and is hoping that eventually allowing OTC hearing aids without doctor visits and prescriptions will make cheap hearing aids readily available to the millions who will need them, just like reading glasses can be bought in any store today without prescriptions.

At the same time, in a Mar. 3 editorial in JAMA Internal Medicine, U.S. Senators Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) gave bipartisanship a fair hearing—by jointly echoing the FDA’s moves towards greater OTC hearing-aid availability.

In “Over-the-Counter Hearing Aids: The Path Forward,” the Senators noted that “approximately 48 million Americans, including half of those in their 70s, have hearing loss in at least one ear,” that “the risk of hearing loss in older adults is about ten to 20 times higher than the risk of heart disease and 100 times higher than the risk of cancer,” and that “only a small share—roughly 14 percent, according to one analysis—actually use a hearing aid.”

In that vein, Sens. Warren and Grassley had introduced the Over the Counter Hearing Aid Act of 2016 in the 114th Congress, and plan to introduce the bill again in the 115th Congress.

 “There is no one-size-fits-all solution to addressing these issues,” the Senators wrote, “but increasing access to innovative, low-cost hearing technologies must be part of the policy response to the untreated hearing loss now experienced by millions of Americans.”

Incubator sideshow infant of 1920s dies at 96

Lucille Conlin Horn, who passed away on Feb. 11 at age 96, weighed barely two pounds when she was born—a perilous size for any infant, especially in 1920.

But her life spanned nearly a century after her parents put their faith in a sideshow doctor at Coney Island who put babies on display in incubators to fund his research to keep them alive.

Dr. Martin Coumey was a hero neonatologist who fearlessly—if not outrageously—championed the use of incubators for premature newborns when the technology was not universally accepted.

The pioneering doctor would not charge parents for caring for their children, instead charging curious visitors to see a display that by today’s standards is unsettling if not outright illegal.

Nevertheless, by Dr. Coumey’s estimates, most of the preemies displayed in incubators at his “Baby Farm” survived and eventually thrived as normal adults.  Thanks to his trailblazing vision, Lucille Conlin Horn and some 7,500 others lived long and healthy lives.

Spanish brain-scan software catches Alzheimer’s, other diagnoses

Spanish researchers created a computer program with the ultimate goal of diagnosing Alzheimer’s far earlier than people are currently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

Modern medicine currently knows that the brain changes that eventually cause Alzheimer’s can begin years or even decades before the memory loss of Alzheimer’s becomes apparent.

The new computer program, essentially artificial-intelligence software, was first fed huge amounts of data from MRI brain scans of healthy people. 

It was then programmed to perform vast calculations that would allow it to detect changes in the brain’s gray matter (brain cells) and white matter (nerve fibers connecting areas of gray matter).

The program was then tested on brain scans from an Alzheimer’s patient database.

The program was able to accurately distinguish between Alzheimer’s and cognitively healthy people with 90 percent accuracy.

The diagnostic software could also identify people with mild cognitive impairment, a precursor to Alzheimer’s, at a high level of accuracy—and distinguish between both mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s and between mild cognitive impairment and healthy patients.

The study on the program was published in the International Journal of Neural Systems.