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Apathy in older folks could signal shrinking brain
April 16th, 2014
04:13 PM ET

Apathy in older folks could signal shrinking brain

Being apathetic is usually defined as showing a lack of enthusiasm or energy. Most people who experience it say they just aren’t motivated to do anything.

Although anyone in any age group can become apathetic, it has been well documented that apathy tends to affect those in their golden years. Now scientists believe that an elderly person’s lack of emotion and indifference to the world could be a sign his or her brain is shrinking.

A study published Wednesday in the journal Neurology, and funded by the National Institutes of Health's National Institute of Aging, found that older folks, who are apathetic - but not depressed – may be suffering from smaller brain volumes than those without apathy. FULL POST


Middle-aged? Put down the meat
March 5th, 2014
09:12 AM ET

Middle-aged? Put down the meat

Eating a high-protein diet in middle age could increase your risk of diabetes and cancer, according to a study published this week in the journal Cell Metabolism. But don't stay away from meat for too long - the same study showed those over 65 need more protein to reduce their mortality risk.

Background

Insulin-like growth factor 1, or IGF-1, is a protein in your body related to growth and development. Past studies have linked IGF-1 to age-related diseases, including cancer. Mice and humans with higher levels of IGF-1 often have a higher risk of developing these diseases.

Scientists believe protein intake plays a role in IGF-1 activity. Eating less protein, studies have shown, can lead to lower levels of IGF-1 in your body. So theoretically, protein consumption could be directly linked to disease incidence and death. FULL POST


November 18th, 2013
09:18 AM ET

Long-term Pill use may double glaucoma risk

Women who used birth control pills for three years or more have twice the risk of developing glaucoma later in life, according to new research.

Glaucoma is a disease that damages the eye’s optic nerve and is a leading cause of blindness in the United States.

It’s been well documented that low-estrogen levels following menopause contribute to glaucoma in women. Scientists don’t know exactly why this happens.  But years of using birth control pills, which can also lower estrogen levels, may add to the problem.

The study, conducted by researchers at University of California, San Francisco, Duke University School of Medicine and Third Affiliated Hospital of Nanchang University, Nanchang, China, did not differentiate between women who took low-estrogen or regular birth control pills. Investigators theorize that when women are not on the pill, their natural estrogen levels go up and down, which seems to prevent the eye from developing glaucoma.  When women go on the pill, their estrogen levels are consistent, and in some cases consistently low, which could cause them to develop the condition.

This research project is the first to suggest an increased risk of glaucoma in women who have used oral contraceptives for three or more years. The researchers looked at data on more than 3,400 women aged 40 and older from across the United States, who answered questionnaires about their reproductive health and eye exams.    FULL POST


Oprah and Einstein photos offer clues about early dementia
August 12th, 2013
04:05 PM ET

Oprah and Einstein photos offer clues about early dementia

You are looking at a woman's face; the contours and features seem so familiar.  You see the billowing brown hair, the broad smile, the almond-shaped eyes.  You may even be able to describe things about her:  Famous talk show host, actress in "The Color Purple," philanthropist.

You feel a familiar pang of frustration because the name seems to be in your grasp, but you cannot come up with it.

The person, of course, is Oprah Winfrey.  The inability to conjure the name of such a famous face, for some people, is one of several symptoms of a brain disease called primary progressive aphasia (PPA).

The disease "affects a person's ability to communicate," said Tamar Gefen, a doctoral candidate at the Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer's Disease Center at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University, adding that the disease attacks language centers in the brain.

"Slowly, over time a person loses the ability to name, comprehend, write and communicate," Gefen said.

The loss is not fleeting, but persistent, progressive, and socially crippling.  Patients do not just have difficulty naming Oprah, but can have problems recognizing their own family members or friends.  All of that makes having an accurate test for the disease important.

FULL POST


Anemia linked to increased risk of dementia
July 31st, 2013
04:08 PM ET

Anemia linked to increased risk of dementia

There is no single test to determine if someone has dementia. The harsh reality is that at this point, it can only be conclusively diagnosed during an autopsy.

So for now doctors rely on physical exams, lab work and cognitive indicators to diagnose dementia with a high degree of certainty while a patient is still alive.

Anemia may be one sign someone has an increased risk of developing dementia, according to a new study published in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

“I’ve been studying Alzheimer’s for a long time,” says study author Dr. Kristine Yaffe, of the University of California – San Francisco. “In particular, I’m interested in things you can modify: cardiovascular disease, sleep, physical activity. We’ve done a number of studies looking at how different chronic diseases of the body effect aging. We started looking into the issue of anemia... after seeing rudimentary studies that linked it to dementia.”
FULL POST


Blacks die earlier from homicide, heart disease
Life expectancy is the highest it has ever been for Americans, but whites still live longer than blacks.
July 18th, 2013
10:48 AM ET

Blacks die earlier from homicide, heart disease

Americans are living longer than ever before. But if you are an African-American in the United States, a new report shows your life, on average, will not be as long as your white neighbors’.

The report comes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics.  Lead author Ken Kochanek says his agency has always run these kinds of numbers internally. The results, though, get a little lost in the larger report on overall mortality rates that goes out annually to the public. This year the agency wanted to highlight some of the important racial disparities in the data.

This particular report shows a deeply troubling trend, Kochanek said: Too many black men are the victims of homicides, and that is one of the main reasons black men, on average, don’t live as long as white men do.

The report

The study looked at life expectancy at birth between 1970 and 2010.  The National Center for Health Statistics collects this data directly from death certificates. By law, a death certificate is filed with every person who dies.  The certificates note cause of death and race.

This particular analysis compared life expectancy rates by race and gender. It also looked at the causes of death and how these causes influenced the difference in life expectancy between the black and white populations. It then sliced the numbers even further by comparing the causes of death and their influence on life expectancy between black and white males born in 2010, and black and white females born in 2010. The researchers did not look at socioeconomic status.

The results

Research shows that life expectancy at birth increased from 70.8 years in 1970 to 78.7 years in 2010 for the population overall – that’s an 11% increase.  Life expectancy in the United States has been gradually improving since 1900.  The 78.7 average was a new high.  In 2010 however, the life expectancy for the African-American population still fell short of the white population’s by 3.8 years. Studies have shown that white Americans have always lived longer on average than black Americans - at least for as long as the U.S. government has collected this data. 

Black men did fare the worst of all the groups they compared – with their life expectancy at 4.7 years lower than white men, who live on average to the age of 76.5.

The statisticians found that black men don’t live as long as white men primarily because of higher incidence rates of death from heart disease, homicide and cancer. It is the homicide issue that stands out most for Kochanek.

“The causes of death that account for these differences between the populations haven’t changed all that much,” Kochanek said. “Heart disease, diabetes, stroke – these differences always seem to be there. But what’s interesting in this particular report is just what a difference homicide plays ...  The difference between homicides for black and white men in particular is gigantic.”

“From a public health standpoint I’m sure the experts would say it’s especially worrying,” he said. “You would hope the (racial disparities) would be accounted for by natural causes. You can try and do prevention work to keep heart disease down or diabetes for instance. But when you see homicide as having such a big impact it’s like, ‘Wow, this is a much more complicated issue to fix.'”

White women still have the longest life expectancy at birth - 81 .3 years - followed by black women at 78 years.

This report is the first in a series that will take a closer look at causes of death. The CDC will continue to study other life expectancy issues with ethnic and racial populations in the United States.


Lessons about disease...from mummies
March 10th, 2013
07:58 PM ET

Lessons about disease...from mummies

Talk about a startling juxtaposition: A mummy in a CT scanner. You may be wondering: Why in the world would a mummy get a CT scan?

It turns out that preserved peoples are great study subjects, especially when you are trying to figure out the roots of health problems that span millennia.

A study released Sunday in The Lancet suggests that atherosclerosis - the disease that makes arteries go rigid, and is a leading cause of death worldwide - may have been around for thousands of years.

"We like to say that we found the serial killer that's stalked mankind for 4,000 years," said Dr. Randall Thompson, attending cardiologist at Saint Luke's Mid America Heart Institute, and lead author of the study.
FULL POST


Electronic health records improve colon cancer screening rates
March 4th, 2013
05:01 PM ET

Electronic health records improve colon cancer screening rates

Centralized record-keeping systems may help improve rates of colon cancer screening, according to a new study.

Researchers at the Group Health Cooperative, a non-profit health care and insurance system in Washington state, used electronic health records to identify and monitor almost 5,000 patients who were due for a colon cancer screening but hadn't gotten it.

One group of patients received "normal care" - reminders from their doctor during appointments. A second group received a letter in the mail encouraging them to get screened; a third group got a call from a medical assistant on top of all of that, and a fourth group got a "patient navigator" to manage the screening process.

Each additional step increased the percentage of people who got screened, from 26% in the "normal" group to 65% in the patient navigator group.
FULL POST


Hearing loss may push decline in memory, thinking
January 22nd, 2013
11:03 AM ET

Hearing loss may push decline in memory, thinking

Older Americans who have hearing loss have an accelerated decline in thinking and memory abilities, compared to those with normal hearing, according to a study published in JAMA Archives of Internal Medicine.

Those with hearing loss experience a 30% to 40% greater decline in thinking abilities compared to their counterparts without hearing loss, according to the findings published Monday.

Hearing loss is common among old older adults, affecting about two-thirds of adults 70 and older, and about one-third of adults younger than 60, according to lead study author Dr. Frank R. Lin of Johns Hopkins University.  A large number of people with hearing loss are untreated, Lin explained, because they associate hearing loss with the stigma of getting older.

FULL POST


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About this blog

Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.

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