Posts Tagged Aging

Cocoa May Slow Cognitive Impairment of Aging


Cocoa May Slow Cognitive Impairment of AgingIf there is a more pleasurable way of staving off the cognitive impairment of aging than drinking cocoa, perhaps only red wine drinkers have found it.

Flavanols are naturally occurring antioxidants found in abundance in cocoa plants. They help the body deal with free radicals that trigger negative changes in body chemistry and help prevent blood clots.

Now, a new study led by Giovambattista Desideri, M.D., study lead author and associate professor of internal medicine and public health at the University of L’Aquila in Italy, suggests ingesting cocoa flavanols daily may improve mild cognitive impairment.

Experts say that more than six percent of people aged 70 years or older develop mild cognitive impairment (MCI) annually. Moreover, MCI can progress to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Researchers say flavanols may aid brain health by protecting neurons from injury, enhancing metabolism, and facilitating neuronal interaction with the molecular structures responsible for memory. They are also found in tea, grapes, red wine and apples and have been associated with a decreased risk of dementia.

Indirectly, flavanols may help by improving brain blood flow.

In the study, 90 elderly participants with mild cognitive impairment were randomized to drink daily either 990 milligrams (high), 520 mg (intermediate) or 45 mg (low) of a dairy-based cocoa flavanol drink for eight weeks.

Researchers controlled participants’ diet to eliminate other sources of flavanols from foods and beverages other than the dairy-based cocoa drink.

Cognitive function was examined by neuropsychological tests of executive function, working memory, short-term memory, long-term episodic memory, processing speed and global cognition.

Researchers found:

  • Scores significantly improved in the ability to relate visual stimuli to motor responses, working memory, task-switching and verbal memory for those drinking the high and intermediate flavanol drinks;
  • Participants drinking daily higher levels of flavanol drinks had significantly higher overall cognitive scores than those participants drinking lower-levels;
  • Insulin resistance, blood pressure and oxidative stress also decreased in those drinking high and intermediate levels of flavanols daily. Changes in insulin resistance explained about 40 percent of the composite scores for improvements in cognitive functioning.

“This study provides encouraging evidence that consuming cocoa flavanols, as a part of a calorie-controlled and nutritionally-balanced diet, could improve cognitive function,” Desideri said. However, he warns that the beneficial findings may have been influenced by a variety of factors.

“The positive effect on cognitive function may be mainly mediated (influenced) by an improvement in insulin sensitivity. It is yet unclear whether these benefits in cognition are a direct consequence of cocoa flavanols or a secondary effect of general improvements in cardiovascular function.”

Furthermore, the study population was generally in good health without known cardiovascular disease. Thus, it would not be completely representative of all mild cognitive impairment patients.

In addition, only some clinical features of mild cognitive impairment were explored in the study.

“Given the global rise in cognitive disorders, which have a true impact on an individual’s quality of life, the role of cocoa flavanols in preventing or slowing the progression of mild cognitive impairment to dementia warrants further research,” Desideri said.

“Larger studies are needed to validate the findings, figure out how long the positive effects will last and determine the levels of cocoa flavanols required for benefit.”

The research is reported in the American Heart Association’s journal Hypertension.

Source: American Heart Association

Woman drinking cocoa photo by shutterstock.

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Older Adults Beat Younger at Staying Positive


Older Adults Stay PositiveDespite aches and pains and senior moments, older adults display more positive emotions than younger adults, say researchers. And they can pull out of a negative emotional state quicker than much younger adults.

Such emotional control may seem paradoxical, as many would expect that age would be associated with poor moods and emotional distress.

In a new study, Derek Isaacowitz, Ph.D., of Northeastern University attempts to explain the paradox.

He believes positive looking is a possible explanation: older adults may be better at regulating emotion because they tend to direct their eyes away from negative material or toward positive material. In the study, Isaacowitz presents evidence indicating that compared to younger adults, older adults prefer positive looking patterns.

Older adults also show the most positive looking when they are in bad moods — a time when younger adults show the most negative looking.

Researchers believe there is a causal relationship between looking for the good in life and mood. In the study they discovered for adults with good attentional abilities, positive looking patterns can help to regulate their mood.

So focusing on the positive seems to pay off for senior adults. Researchers also discovered that although elders prefer to focus on the positive, this perspective does not prevent them from missing other important information.

Source: Association for Psychological Science

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Regular Use of Computer Program Improves Seniors’ Memory


Regular Use of Computer Program Improves Seniors MemoryA new study by UCLA researchers finds that regular use of computerized memory and language training can help seniors.

Age-related memory decline affects approximately 40 percent of older adults. The cognitive decline is characterized by self-perception of memory loss and a decline in memory performance.

This was one of the first studies to assess the cognitive effects of a computerized memory training program. Researchers found that dedicated use of the program significantly improved memory and language skills among older adults.

In the study, researchers followed 59 participants with an average age of 84. Participants were recruited from local retirement communities.

Seniors were divided into two groups. The first group used a brain fitness program for an average of 73, 20-minute sessions, over a six-month period; the second group performed 45 20-minute sessions times during the same period.

The first group demonstrated significantly higher improvement in memory and language skills, compared to the second group.  Researchers said the study’s findings confirm that brain fitness tools may help improve language and memory.

Experts say that computer-aided training may ultimately help protect individuals from the cognitive decline associated with aging and Alzheimer’s disease.

Previous studies have shown that engaging in mental activities can help improve memory, but little research has been done to determine whether the numerous brain fitness games and memory training programs on the market are effective in improving memory.

Source: UCLA

Elderly woman on a computer photo by shutterstock.

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Sleep Problems A Global Epidemic?


Sleep Problems A Global Epidemic?Can’t sleep? You’re not alone. New research shows that the levels of sleep-related problems in the developing world are approaching those seen in developed nations, linked to an increase in depression and anxiety.

According to an analysis of sleep problems in African and Asian countries by researchers at the Warwick Medical School at the University of Warwick, an estimated 150 million adults are suffering from sleep-related problems across the developing world.

Researchers said 16.6 percent of the population report insomnia and other severe sleep disturbances in the countries surveyed, which is quite close to the 20 percent found in Canada and the U.S.

The researchers looked at the sleep quality of 24,434 women and 19,501 men aged 50 years and over in eight rural areas in Ghana, Tanzania, South Africa, India, Bangladesh, Vietnam, and Indonesia, as well as an urban area in Kenya.

They examined potential links between sleep problems and social demographics, quality of life, physical health, and psychiatric conditions.

The strongest link was found between psychiatric conditions such as depression and anxiety and sleep problems, mirroring trends seen in the developed world, the researchers note.

The researchers also point out that there was a “striking variation” across the countries surveyed. For example, Bangladesh had the highest prevalence of sleep problems, with a 43.9 percent rate for women — more than twice the rate of developed countries and far higher than the 23.6 percent seen in men. Bangladesh also saw very high patterns of anxiety and depression, according to the researchers.

In Vietnam, 37.6 percent of the women and 28.5 percent of the men reported sleep problems. Meanwhile, Tanzania, Kenya and Ghana saw rates of between 8.3 percent and 12.7 percent.

The researchers also pointed out that South Africa had double the rate of other African countries — 31.3 percent for women and 27.2 percent for men.

People in India and Indonesia had very little sleep issues — 6.5 percent for Indian women and 4.3 percent for Indian men, while Indonesian men reported rates of sleep problems of 3.9 percent and women had rates of 4.6 percent.

The research also found a higher prevalence of sleep problems in women and older age groups, consistent with patterns found in higher-income countries.

“Our research shows the levels of sleep problems in the developing world are far higher than previously thought,” said Dr. Saverio Stranges, who was the lead author of the study, published in the journal Sleep.

“This is particularly concerning as many low-income countries are facing a double burden of disease with pressure on scarce financial resources coming from infectious diseases like HIV, but also from a growing rate of chronic diseases like cardiovascular diseases and cancer. This new study suggests sleep disturbances might also represent a significant and unrecognized public health issue among older people, especially women, in low-income settings.”

The research also found that sleep problems are not linked to living in big cities, as most of the people surveyed lived in rural settings, he said, noting, “We might expect even higher figures for people living in urban areas.”

Source: The University of Warwick

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Alzheimer’s More Aggressive in Younger Elderly


Alzheimers More Aggressive in Younger Elderly New research shows that Alzheimer’s disease hits people in their 60s and 70s harder than people who are 80 years and older.

Researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine note that the greatest risk factor for Alzheimer’s is age. In fact, by the age of 85, the likelihood of developing the dreaded neurological disorder is roughly 50 percent, they say.

But in their study, they found that the “younger elderly” — those in their 60s and 70s — showed higher rates of cognitive decline and faster rates of tissue loss in brain regions that are vulnerable during the early stages of Alzheimer’s, according to Dominic Holland, Ph.D., a researcher in the Department of Neurosciences at UC San Diego and the study’s first author.

“Additionally cerebrospinal fluid biomarker levels indicate a greater disease burden in younger than in older individuals,” he said.

Holland and his colleagues, using imaging and biomarker data from participants in the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative, examined 723 people, ages 65 to 90 years, who were categorized as either cognitively normal, with mild cognitive impairment (an intermediate stage between normal, age-related cognitive decline and dementia) or suffering from full-blown Alzheimer’s disease (AD).

The findings have implications for diagnosing the disease — which currently afflicts an estimated 5.6 million Americans, a number expected to triple by 2050 — and efforts to find new treatments, the researchers said.

At present, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s and existing therapies do not slow or stop the disease’s progression.

A key feature in the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s is its “relentless progressive course,” Holland said.

“Patients typically show marked deterioration year after year. If older patients are not showing the same deterioration from one year to the next, doctors may be hesitant to diagnose AD, and thus these patients may not receive appropriate care, which can be very important for their quality of life.”

Holland said it’s not clear why the disease is more aggressive among the younger elderly.

“It may be that patients who show onset of dementia at an older age, and are declining slowly, have been declining at that rate for a long time,” added co-author Linda McEvoy, Ph.D., associate professor of radiology. “But because of cognitive reserve or other still-unknown factors that provide ‘resistance’ against brain damage, clinical symptoms do not manifest till later age.”

Another possibility is that older patients may be suffering from mixed dementia — a combination of Alzheimer’s and other neurological conditions, Holland said. These patients might withstand the effects of Alzheimer’s until other adverse factors, such as brain lesions caused by cerebrovascular disease, take hold. At that time, Alzheimer’s can only be definitively diagnosed by an autopsy, he said.

Clinical trials to find new treatments for the disease may be affected by the differing rates of progression, researchers said.

“Our results show that if clinical trials of candidate therapies predominately enroll older elderly, who show slower rates of change over time, the ability of a therapy to successfully slow disease progression may not be recognized, leading to failure of the clinical trial,” said Holland. “It’s critical to take into account age as a factor when enrolling subjects for AD clinical trials.”

While the obvious downside of the findings is that younger patients with Alzheimer’s lose more of their productive years, “the good news in all of this is that our results indicate those who survive into the later years before showing symptoms of AD will experience a less aggressive form of the disease,” Holland concluded.

The research appears online in the journal PLOS One.

Source: University of California, San Diego

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Mindfulness Practice Helps Seniors Combat Loneliness


Mindfulness Practice Helps Elders Combat LonelinessLoneliness can be a major risk factor for health conditions such as depression, cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer’s. It is especially problematic among seniors, for whom seclusion and isolation may even lead to death.

Experts say that modern strategies to reduce loneliness in the elderly population — by participation in social networking programs in community centers — have not been successful. But a new study finds that a new/old approach may provide an innovative solution.

In the investigation, J. David Creswell, Ph.D., from Carnegie Mellon University looked at the use of mindfulness meditation to reduce loneliness in older adults.

In the review, researchers found that mindfulness meditation — a 2,500-year-old practice dating back to Buddha that focuses on creating an attentive awareness of the present moment — not only reduced loneliness but also lowered inflammation levels.

Inflammation is believed to promote the development and progression of many diseases.

These findings, published in Brain, Behavior & Immunity, provide valuable insights into how mindfulness meditation training can be used as a novel approach for reducing loneliness and the risk of disease in older adults.

“We always tell people to quit smoking for health reasons, but rarely do we think about loneliness in the same way,” said Creswell.

“We know that loneliness is a major risk factor for health problems and mortality in older adults. This research suggests that mindfulness meditation training is a promising intervention for improving the health of older adults.”

For the study, the research team recruited 40 healthy adults aged 55-85 who indicated an interest in learning mindfulness meditation techniques. Each person was assessed at the beginning and end of the study using an established loneliness scale. Blood samples also were collected.

The participants were randomly assigned to receive either the eight-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program or no treatment.

The MBSR program consisted of weekly two-hour meetings in which participants learned body awareness techniques — noticing sensations and working on breathing — and worked their way toward understanding how to mindfully attend to their emotions and daily life practices.

They also were asked to practice mindfulness meditation exercises for 30 minutes each day at home and attended a daylong retreat.

Investigators determined that eight weeks of the mindfulness meditation training decreased the participants’ loneliness.

They also discovered that participants reduced genetic blood inflammatory responses as well as a measure of C-Reactive Protein (CRP).

These findings suggest that mindfulness meditation training may reduce older adults’ inflammatory disease risk.

“Reductions in the expression of inflammation-related genes were particularly significant because inflammation contributes to a wide variety of the health threats including cancer, cardiovascular diseases and neurodegenerative diseases,” said study collaborator Steven Cole.

While the health effects of the observed gene expression changes were not directly measured in the study, Cole noted that “these results provide some of the first indications that immune cell gene expression profiles can be modulated by a psychological intervention.”

Creswell added that while this research suggests a promising new approach for treating loneliness and inflammatory disease risk in older adults, more work needs to be done.

“If you’re interested in using mindfulness meditation, find an instructor in your city,” he said. “It’s important to train your mind like you train your biceps in the gym.”

Source: Carnegie Mellon University

Elderly woman meditating photo by shutterstock.

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Memory Connections Change from Childhood to Adulthood


Memory Connections Change from Childhood to AdulthoodIn a new area of study, researchers explore how brain mechanisms for memory retrieval differ between adults and children.

Neuroscientists from Wayne State University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have discovered that while the memory systems are the same in many ways, the aging process appears to impart important differences in how we learn and respond to education.

Noa Ofen, Ph.D., an assistant professor in WSU’s Institute of Gerontology and Department of Pediatrics, says that cognitive ability, including the ability to learn and remember new information, dramatically changes between childhood and adulthood.

This ability parallels with dramatic changes that occur in the structure and function of the brain during these periods.

In the study, Ofen and her collaborative team tested the development of neural foundations of memory from childhood to young adulthood.

Researchers did this by exposing participants to pictures of scenes and then showing them the same scenes mixed with new ones. They then and asked them to judge whether each picture was presented earlier.

Participants made retrieval judgments while researchers collected images of their brains with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

Using this method, the researchers were able to see how the brain remembers. “Our results suggest that cortical regions related to attentional or strategic control show the greatest developmental changes for memory retrieval,” said Ofen.

This finding suggests that older participants use the cortical regions of the brain to retrieve past memories more so than younger participants.

“We were interested to see whether there are changes in the connectivity of regions in the brain that support memory retrieval,” Ofen added.

“We found changes in connectivity of memory-related regions. In particular, the developmental change in connectivity between regions was profound even without a developmental change in the recruitment of those regions, suggesting that functional brain connectivity is an important aspect of developmental changes in the brain.”

Researchers say this study is unique as it is the first time that the development of connectivity within memory systems in the brain has been tested.

Findings suggest the brain continues to rearrange connections to achieve adult-like performance during development.

Future studies by Ofen and her research team will focus on modeling brain network connectivity, and applying these methods to study abnormal brain development.

The team’s findings are published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

Source: Wayne State University

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