Tag Archives: aging

Saving Sight

Eyesight fades a little bit with age. It’s a natural process, one that is an ordinary result of the eye getting older. What is not normal is gradually losing the ability to see things in the center of the visual field, having difficulty adapting to low light levels, not being able to read normally because the words are blurred, or having difficulty making out enough detail on other people’s faces to recognize them.

That is a condition called age-related macular degeneration the most common cause of blindness in developed nations. Macular degeneration runs in families and is more common among smokers and obese people. A healthy diet is recommended to avoid the condition, and studies suggest cholesterol-fighting drugs can help prevent the condition or stop its progress.

Although it’s called age-related macular degeneration and most commonly affects people over age 65, researchers have recently found that the processes within the eye that lead to the condition begin earlier, with some patients starting to show symptoms in their 40s in eye exams. Regular eye exams are an important part of fighting the condition—the degeneration can be slowed or stopped, but lost eyesight cannot be restored. The symptoms of the disease are not always noticeable early on, but there are some signs an eye doctor would be able to spot.

While the cause of macular degeneration isn’t entirely clear, research has found that one culprit might be deposits of minerals forming in the eye. The condition has long been understood to involve fat-and-protein deposits in the retina starving the cells of the center of the eye of needed nutrients. The latest study found the source of these deposits. The scientists discovered that calcium phosphate from the bones and teeth act as seeds, places fat and proteins cluster around to form these blockages. Armed with this information, doctors may be able to diagnose the condition before it really gets underway by looking for calcium phosphate in the eyes.

A different study found that an anti-inflammatory drug called sulindac can help protect the eyes from damage. The researchers determined that the drug helps prevent a type of damage to the cells called oxidative stress, which is behind many signs of aging.

Arthritis Relief

Osteoarthritis is a condition of aging. As a person gets older, the cartilage that protects the joints and helps them move better wears away, leading to pain. Although some wear on the cartilage happens with everybody, arthritis is not simply an inevitable feature of aging. It can be controlled, and even prevented. Repetitive motion without a break wears down the cartilage, and finding a way to avoid that can stave off arthritis. Resting the joints provides some benefit, and lessens wear and tear. On the other hand, exercise can help keep the joints flexible and increase bone strength. Exercise can also help keep weigh under control, which means less strain on the joints, less deterioration of cartilage, and less pain.

One particularly helpful kind of exercise is running. Running wouldn’t seem like an activity that would be beneficial, or even possible, for someone with osteoarthritis, but recent research suggests that going for a run on a regular basis helps prevent damage to the cartilage in the knees. In the past, studies done on professional runners found an increased incidence of arthritis, but people who are involved in less intense forms are less prone to developing the condition. Running helps lower BMI, putting less strain on the knees, as well as building tolerance for movement.

No one has yet found a cure for arthritis, or a way to reverse the damage. A different kind of joint has been suggested as a treatment, but research has found no evidence that medical marijuana is an effective remedy. Medical treatment generally involves drugs to reduce inflammation, along with pain medication. Physical and occupational therapy are used in addition to or instead of medication to manage or relieve pain or to increase range of motion. Braces and orthopedics can help take pressure off affected joints so that the worn-away cartilage isn’t stressed.

Anti-inflammatory drugs called COX-2 inhibitors are commonly prescribed for arthritis, but have been shown to increase the risk of stroke. Another common treatment, acetaminophen, was found in studies to be useless for arthritis pain. However, research has found that high zinc levels contribute to the destruction of cartilage that is behind arthritis, and reducing zinc could help save joints.

Who Is At Risk For Renal Disease

Chronic kidney disease often is not felt or recognized until kidney function is almost completely gone. Although it gets progressively worse over a period of months, symptoms don’t generally appear until around three-fourths of the function has already been lost. However, even though there are no noticeable symptoms of renal disease in the early stages, there is still damage occurring. While generally the value of screening is negligible in people who don’t already show signs of kidney trouble, regular screening is recommended for people who are at risk. That means obese people, smokers, people with high blood pressure or heart problems, people with a family history of kidney failure, people over 60, diabetics, and black, Asian, and Native American people.

Not only are people from racial minority backgrounds more prone to kidney disease due to genetics, studies now suggest that socioeconomically disadvantaged people—poor people and members of racial minorities—are more prone to kidney disease and tend to have worse outcomes when they do have kidney disease, with it being far more likely to lead to complete kidney failure than for the population overall. The researchers say this study is a first step towards shrinking this gap by improving outcomes for these population.

Treating renal disease is next to impossible, especially in the later stages. Most patients who progress all the way to kidney failure are forced to manage the disease by periodically using a dialysis machine, essentially a mechanical kidney. Instead of treatment, the primary focus is on prevention. Quitting smoking lowers risk of kidney disease, as does moderation in alcohol and over-the-counter pain medications—these can affect the digestive system, kidneys included, if taken too much. Maintaining a healthy weight can help, with one study suggesting the "Mediterranean diet," high in plant foods and low in red meat, lowers kidney disease risk.

However, possible treatments are being investigated, particularly to arrest the progress of the disease before the kidneys shut down entirely. Statins, used to lower cholesterol, are now being recommended to kidney patients as well. A separate research team found tat kidney disease is associated with poor metabolism, and fixing the metabolism might stop the disease from worsening.

Osteoporosis Prevention Starts Early

Osteoporosis, a condition in which the bones become porous and weak, is common in older people. As people age—and exacerbated, in women, by menopause—the cycle of bone restoration becomes disrupted. Ordinarily, the skeleton in a constant state of renovation and restoration, like a suspension bridge; some part is always adding new material and replacing worn-out material. However, for many people, the removal speeds up over time, or the replacement slows down, or both. This has no noticeable symptoms on its own, but it does contribute to the loss of height and posture seen as people age, as well as leaving the bones fragile and more prone to fracture.

This bone loss is more common in women than in men. In addition to osteoporosis related to menopause, that related to aging, which happens to people over 75, is twice as common in women than in men. Changes in the sex hormones that result from aging play a large role in the development of osteoporosis, and anything else that reduces the level of those hormones—breast cancer treatments that reduce estrogen levels, or prostate cancer treatments that have a similar effect on testosterone—can contribute to osteoporosis. Overactive thyroid, or thyroid medication to treat underactive thyroid, also increase the risk. People who take corticosteroid drugs for chronic inflammation often experience bone loss as well.

Preventing osteoporosis, for people at risk, means consulting a medical professional, particularly for people who take corticosteroids, have been treated for breast or prostate cancer, have experienced hormonal problems, or who have thyroid illness. There are some lifestyle changes that can also help ward off bone loss. A sedentary lifestyle is a risk factor for osteoporosis, and so getting exercise can help reduce the risk. Calcium and vitamin D, either in the diet or from supplements, can also prevent the condition from developing.

However, experts now say the foundation for osteoporosis in old age is laid in childhood, and so the foundation for bone health needs to be as well. While calcium and vitamin D later in life can help, they are particularly important in childhood. Many other risk factors, such as exercise and body weight, are likewise rooted in habits best developed while young.

Yoga For Health

More and more Americans are discovering the benefits of yoga. In fact, more than 20 million Americans include yoga in their exercise regimen. Though it developed from a spiritual practice in Hinduism, modern yoga as a form of exercise is entirely secularized; in many cases, the only real sign of it origins is that the positions are named in Hindi. Whatever the spiritual effects, yoga has important benefits for physical health. Yoga has been shown to help strength, mobility, and energy levels. People who do yoga report better sleep and less food cravings. There is evidence it helps alleviate chronic lower back pain, and it may even help ward off type 2 diabetes.

Yoga also helps lower stress levels and improve mood. Even prisoners, in what is inherently a high-stress environment, were shown to benefit from yoga—and for them, less stress means better self-control, which, if they are able to maintain it, means they are less likely to re-offend once released. In another study, yoga was shown to reduce anxiety in the broader population as well. Yoga boosts levels of a brain chemical called gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA, which tends to be in short supply in people with depression, anxiety, or similar issues. People who practice yoga have higher GABA levels and showed less anxiety

Other groups also benefit from reduced stress. People undergoing radiation therapy for breast cancer often experience fatigue as a result of the treatment. Yoga helps fight that fatigue. In addition, research has found that, in part due to stress reduction, patients who do yoga find that it improves their quality of life. Radiotherapy patients who do yoga report more energy, better ability to live more normal lives, and better overall health. Patients even reported more of a sense of well-being after treatment if they had done yoga during the treatment than if they had not.

Yoga also has been shown to benefit seniors. One study found that when people over 55 practice a form of yoga called hatha three times a week, it boosts their cognitive ability, including ability to focus. Post-menopausal women in a different study reported sleeping better, with the practice of yoga helping with the insomnia that can come with age.

Living Alone In Later Years

As people get older, their health care needs change. The body’s abilities don’t necessarily diminish, but things may be less easy than they used to be. The mind may not stay as sharp as in youth; while senility and dementia are by no means inevitable, a brain full of memories and experiences is going to take slightly longer with mundane tasks. Physical weakness isn’t inevitable either, but here again the years of wear and tear can take their toll. That’s why it’s important for the more than 40 million elderly people in the United States—and those who care about if not necessarily for them—to be fully informed on their options, in order to make the best decision.

That’s because it is generally considered best—by experts, by families, not least by elderly people themselves—for people to live as independently as they can, as late in life as is feasible. Studies have found that as many as 90 percent of elderly people want to remain in their own homes as long as they can manage it. For this to be possible, it is necessary for elderly individuals to work with their families and doctors to figure out what is necessary to make this happen.

Some people have no trouble living independently. They show no signs of being unable to take care of themselves, they live full lives, age is just a number. This is the ideal situation for many people. The best way for a person to maintain their independence is to maintain their health. Taking classes can help keep the mind healthy, and physical exercise helps preserve both body and mind. Plenty of calcium and commonsense fall prevention can help with the biggest danger to otherwise healthy older adults. Avoiding boredom is always nice, but for older people on their own and trying to live at home, it can be crucial.

If more is needed, in-home care can bridge the gap. Perhaps a nurse will visit regularly, every day or two, to make sure the resident is all right, that medications are being taken appropriately, that the person is eating and cleaning and everything else. In some cases, such as when the person has no unusual medical needs beyond taking medicines, family can fill his role if they live in the area, calling and or visiting two or three times a week. The next step up is a live-in nurse or companion. These health-care workers help elderly patients with basic needs, while making it possible for them to stay in their homes.

Avoiding Falls

Every year, one in three people over age 65 suffers a fall. "Falling" doesn’t sound serious, but falls are the number one reason for emergency-room visits among elderly people, and the leading cause of injury, fatal and nonfatal alike. Falling often means breaking bones, particularly the hip bone. Falling is also the most common cause of traumatic brain injury, which is responsible for almost half of fatal adult falls. Even without physical injury, falling can be detrimental to quality of life. People who have fallen often fear falling again. In fact, it’s a vicious cycle—people who have fallen curtail activities, which lowers mobility and fitness, which makes another fall more likely.

This effect is compounded by the fact that many people, as they get older, resign themselves to falling, or to fear of falling. It’s thought of as an inevitable part of aging, one of many grim equations: getting older equals falling down. In fact, falling isn’t simply something that happens to people when they get old; falls can be prevented. One often-overlooked preventative measure is getting new glasses. Eyesight really does diminish with age, and people over about 30 should get their eyes examined regularly. Regular checkups also make it possible to avoid drastic changes in prescription, which can make things worse. Even people who didn’t need glasses or contact lenses growing up should see an optometrist in their later years.

Exercise is good for staying fit, allowing for easier recovery from near-falls, and maintaining balance. T’ai chi, a martial art introduced to the United States in 1939, has proven benefits in helping balance and preventing falls. In a study of stroke survivors, who are particularly prone to falling, t’ai chi cut the risk in half. The destressing effect can also lessen fear of falling.

It is also helpful to make a person’s space as fall-proof as possible. That means tucking away tripping hazards such as shoes, cords, plants, and boxes. All rooms in the house should be well-lit, and stairway railings should be secure. Stairs are especially dangerous, and carrying bulky items like laundry a particular hazard. Throw rugs and the like should be secured so thy don’t bunch up and so the edges don’t curl, such as with non-skid mats or double-sided tape.

Spotting Dementia

Dementia is surprisingly visible. In particular, people who have it often recognize that they have it, at least in the early stages—elderly people who have a feeling that their faculties aren’t what they once were, and that this is getting worse, tend to be proven correct in their assessment when given professional screening for Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia. The symptoms they are, on some level, noticing are generally poor memory for recent events or an apparent inability to pay attention, poor judgment, decline in organizational skills, disorientation, trouble dealing with abstract issues, and difficulty communicating.

The onset of dementia is a gradual process, but these symptoms, especially en masse, are not often difficult to recognize. What’s hard is being willing to recognize them. There is a fear that dementia means the end of living independently, the end of participating fully in one’s life, the end of enjoyable activities. The majority of dementia cases are due to age, meaning patients have generally been living in the adult world for some time, and the prospect of losing that may be difficult to bear. Current treatments are in fact focused on keeping the patient as independent as possible for as long as possible.

There is a ray of hope, however. A new diagnostic tool makes early detection easier and more accurate, and a biochemical compound has been shown to reverse signs of Alzheimer’s in laboratory animals. The diagnostic technique analyzes data from multiple sources to determine whether a patient has dementia, and what specific type they have. The analysis facilitates the determination of the proper course of treatment—mild cognitive impairment, which is not a form of dementia but can be a precursor to it, may need little more than close monitoring.

As for the possible cure, it is a compound called antisense oligonucleotide. In mouse studies it was shown to erase both physiological symptoms of Alzheimer’s and, as best as can be determined in mice, behavioral indicators. Another study looked at the effects of the compound on specifically human forms of the proteins and genes implicated in Alzheimer’s disease, and found that it was effective. It has yet to be tested on humans directly.

Battling Arthritis

The most common and most familiar form of arthritis affects 27 million people in America. People tend to think of arthritis as something that just happens with age. Indeed, it’s sometimes referred to as wear-and-tear arthritis, and results in part from the protective layer of cartilage covering the ends of the joints getting ground down by use over time. However, it isn’t an inevitable part of aging. Not everyone gets arthritis when they get older, and there are even things that can be done to prevent it.

Obesity is a significant risk factor for arthritis, particularly in the knees. Some people think that exercise can be a contributing factor to arthritis, but there is no evidence of a connection, and no reason to believe that the benefits of exercise in terms of preventing obesity and easing the stress on the bones don’t outweigh any risk there may be. Repetitive stress to the joints, however, can increase the risk of arthritis.

Other risk factors can’t be controlled. While arthritis isn’t inevitable with age, the risk of developing it does increase over time as the cartilage degrades. People with bone deformities are more likely to get arthritis; the unusual shapes of the bone cause unusual wear patterns, weakening the layer of cartilage. Joint injuries, too, can lead to arthritis, though there is no sign of any link with cracking knuckles.

Research has also suggested a possible genetic link, not to arthritis itself but to being vulnerable to the disease. Arthritis does tend to run in families, and in particular siblings of arthritis sufferers tend to get it themselves as well. That may not be entirely down to heredity, however. In a study published earlier this year, researchers fund that while drug use does not lead to arthritis, parental drug abuse might.

The researchers discovered that people whose parents had used drugs or drank excessively while the patients were under 18 and living at home were almost 60 percent more likely to get arthritis. The patients’ own substance use appeared to have no significant effect on the likelihood of getting arthritis. The researchers warn that what they have discovered is only a statistical construct, and what, if any, causal relationship exists is unknown.

Treatments For Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is a disease of aging. It’s the result of a natural process: bone tissue is actually constantly being destroyed and replaced, but around age 25 the breaking down starts to outpace the replacement. The reason osteoporosis is associated with old age is simply that it takes a while—often more than 20 years—for this to have a clear effect. Osteoporosis is also often thought of as a disease of women. This is mostly the case, but about a quarter of people with the condition are male. Osteoporosis can make a simple fall a devastating injury, as lowered bone mass makes the bones brittle and prone to injury. It also becomes harder for the skeleton to support the weight of the body, leading to various problems with such things as posture.

The usual treatment for osteoporosis is with medications called bisphosphonates, but these drugs can cause jaw and thigh problems, as well as having a host of side effects. These drugs work by slowing bone loss to give the regeneration process an opportunity to catch up. In rare cases, the problem is addressed from the other side, with medications being administered in order to accelerate bone regrowth rather than inhibit breaking it down. Sometimes the two re used in tandem. In some cases, surgery is performed. Surgeons are beginning to instigate ways to incorporate 3D printing technology to create artificial joints perfectly matched to the patient’s body and using the patient’s own stem cells.

Another surgical technique uses a dissolving material to create a scaffold for new bone to grow on. This, too, uses stem cells to create what is essentially cloned tissue, ensuring an exact match to the patient, who is both donor and recipient. This helps minimize the likelihood of problems after the surgery. This material has only recently been perfected, and there are no long-term reports indicating how effective the technique is over time.

Preventing osteoporosis is easier than treating it. Prevention has had snags, however. While vitamin D from sunlight can help preserve bone tissue, vitamin D supplements seem to have little effect on osteoporosis risk. Calcium, on the other hand, does help prevent osteoporosis from developing. There has long been speculation in the medical community that calcium supplements might lead to heart disease, but a recent study found no link, meaning calcium supplements are a good plan to lower osteoporosis risk.