Aging/Exercise & Brain

Mediterranean-style diets linked to better brain function in older adults

July 25, 2017

Science Daily/American Geriatrics Society

Eating foods included in two healthy diets -- the Mediterranean or the MIND diet -- is linked to a lower risk for memory difficulties in older adults, according to a new study.

 

The Mediterranean diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, potatoes, nuts, olive oil and fish. Processed foods, fried and fast foods, snack foods, red meat, poultry and whole-fat dairy foods are infrequently eaten on the Mediterranean diet.

 

The MIND diet is a version of the Mediterranean diet that includes 15 types of foods. Ten are considered "brain-healthy:" green leafy vegetables, other vegetables, nuts, berries, beans, whole grains, seafood, poultry, olive oil, and wine. Five are considered unhealthy: red meat, butter and stick margarine, cheese, pastries, sweets and fried/fast foods.

 

Researchers examined information from 5,907 older adults who participated in the Health and Retirement Study. The participants filled out questionnaires about their eating habits. Researchers then measured the participants' cognitive abilities -- mostly on their memory and attention skills.

 

The researchers compared the diets of participants to their performance on the cognitive tests. They found that older people who ate Mediterranean and MIND-style diets scored significantly better on the cognitive function tests than those who ate less healthy diets. In fact, older people who ate a Mediterranean-style diet had 35% lower risk of scoring poorly on cognitive tests. Even those who ate a moderate Mediterranean-style diet had 15% lower risk of doing poorly on cognitive tests. The researchers noted similar results for people who ate MIND-style diets.

 

This study suggests that eating Mediterranean and MIND-style diets is linked to better overall cognitive function in older adults, said the researchers. What's more, older adults who followed these healthy diets had lower risks for having cognitive impairment in later life, noted the researchers.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/07/170725154208.htm

A changing society: 100 is the new 80

Centenarians healthier than previously thought during last years of life

July 20, 2017

Science Daily/Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin

When it comes to aging successfully and remaining in good health, are centenarians the perfect role models? Researchers have been studying illness trajectories in centenarians during the final years of their lives. According to their findings, people who died aged 100 or older suffered fewer diseases than those who died aged 90 to 99, or 80 to 89.

 

Forty years ago, life expectancy was such that, in the industrialized world, only (approximately) one in 10,000 people were expected to reach the age of 100 or more. Today's estimates suggest that half of all children born in the developed world during this century will live to at least 100. Therefore, the question that poses itself is whether extreme old age is necessarily associated with increased morbidity. There is evidence to suggest that centenarians develop fewer diseases than younger cohorts of extreme old people. In discussions surrounding the issues associated with aging populations, this is referred to as the 'compression of morbidity' hypothesis -- a term which describes the phenomenon of the onset of disability and age-related diseases being increasingly being well into old age, resulting in a shortening (or compression) of this phase. "Our aim was to gain a better understanding of multimorbidity, i.e. the number and severity of chronic diseases affecting centenarians towards the end of their lives," explains Dr. Paul Gellert of Charité's Institute of Medical Sociology and Rehabilitation Science.

 

Using diagnoses and health care utilization data routinely collected by the German statutory health insurance company Knappschaft, the researchers studied relevant events during the final six years of life of approximately 1,400 of the oldest old. For the purposes of analysis, this cohort was then divided into three groups. Data on persons who had died aged 100 or older were compared with random samples of persons who had died in their eighties or nineties. The analysis, which included data on very old persons living in their own homes as well as data on those living in residential care, focused on comorbid conditions classified by the Elixhauser Comorbidity Index as being usually associated with in-hospital mortality. "According to the data, centenarians suffered from an average of 3.3 such conditions during the three months prior to their deaths, compared with an average of 4.6 conditions for those who had died in their eighties," says Dr. Gellert, summarizing the findings. "Our results also show that the increase in conditions seen during the last few years of life was lower in centenarians than in those who had died between the ages of 90 and 99, or 80 and 89."

 

If one includes disorders commonly associated with extreme old age, such as different types of dementia and musculoskeletal disorders, approximately half of all centenarians recorded a total of five or more comorbid conditions. The same number of comorbid conditions was found in 60 percent of persons who had died in their nineties and 66 percent of persons who had died in their eighties. While different types of dementia and heart failure were found to be more common among centenarians than among the younger cohorts, high blood pressure, cardiac arrhythmia, renal failure, and chronic diseases were less common in those who had died after reaching 100 years of age. The incidence of musculoskeletal disorders was found to be similar in all three age groups. While there appears to be a clear link between extreme old age and the number of diseases recorded, the extent to which this is the case requires careful analysis.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/07/170720103148.htm

Day-to-day experiences affect awareness of aging, mood

July 20, 2017

Science Daily/North Carolina State University

A study of older adults finds an individual's awareness of aging is not as static as previously thought, and that day-to-day experiences and one's attitude toward aging can affect an individual's awareness of age-related change -- and how that awareness affects one's mood.

 

"People tend to have an overall attitude toward aging, good or bad, but we wanted to know whether their awareness of their own aging -- or AARC -- fluctuated over time in response to their everyday experiences," says Shevaun Neupert, an associate professor of psychology at North Carolina State University and lead author of a paper on the study.

 

For the study, researchers enrolled 116 participants between the ages of 60 and 90. Each participant took a survey to establish baseline attitudes toward aging. For the following eight days, participants kept a log of daily stressors (such as having an argument), completed a daily evaluation of age-related experiences (such as "I am becoming wiser" or "I am more slow in my thinking"), and reported on their affect, or mood.

 

"We found that people's AARC, as reflected in their daily evaluations, varied significantly from day to day," says Jennifer Bellingtier, a recent Ph.D. graduate from NC State and co-author of the paper. "We also found that people whose baseline attitudes toward aging were positive also tended to report more positive affect, or better moods."

 

"People with positive attitudes toward aging were also less likely to report 'losses,' or negative experiences, in their daily aging evaluations," Neupert says.

 

"However, when people with positive attitudes did report losses, it had a much more significant impact on their affect that day," Neupert says. "In other words, negative aging experiences had a bigger adverse impact on mood for people who normally had a positive attitude about aging."

 

The study expands on previous work that found having a positive attitude about aging makes older adults more resilient when faced with stressful situations.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/07/170720103137.htm

Natural plant compound may reduce mental effects of aging, more evidence shows

July 10, 2017

Science Daily/Salk Institute

The benefits of antioxidant fisetin have been demonstrated in mouse model of premature aging, Alzheimer's disease.

 

Salk scientists have found further evidence that a natural compound in strawberries reduces cognitive deficits and inflammation associated with aging in mice. The work, which appeared in the Journals of Gerontology Series A in June 2017, builds on the team's previous research into the antioxidant fisetin, finding it could help treat age-related mental decline and conditions like Alzheimer's or stroke.

 

"Companies have put fisetin into various health products but there hasn't been enough serious testing of the compound," says Pamela Maher, a senior staff scientist in Salk's Cellular Neurobiology Laboratory and senior author of the paper. "Based on our ongoing work, we think fisetin might be helpful as a preventative for many age-associated neurodegenerative diseases, not just Alzheimer's, and we'd like to encourage more rigorous study of it."

 

Maher, who works in the lab of David Schubert, the head of Salk's Cellular Neurobiology Lab, has been studying fisetin for over a decade. Previous research by the lab found that fisetin reduced memory loss related to Alzheimer's in mice genetically modified to develop the disease. But that study focused on genetic (familial) AD, which accounts for only 1 to 3 percent of cases. By far the bigger risk factor for developing what is termed sporadic AD, as well as other neurodegenerative disorders, is simply age. For the current inquiry, Maher turned to a strain of laboratory mice that age prematurely to better study sporadic AD. By 10 months of age, these mice typically show signs of physical and cognitive decline not seen in normal mice until two years of age.

 

The Salk team fed the 3-month-old prematurely aging mice a daily dose of fisetin with their food for 7 months. Another group of the prematurely aging mice was fed the same food without fisetin. During the study period, mice took various activity and memory tests. The team also examined levels of specific proteins in the mice related to brain function, responses to stress and inflammation.

 

"At 10 months, the differences between these two groups were striking," says Maher. Mice not treated with fisetin had difficulties with all the cognitive tests as well as elevated markers of stress and inflammation. Brain cells called astrocytes and microglia, which are normally anti-inflammatory, were now driving rampant inflammation. Mice treated with fisetin, on the other hand, were not noticeably different in behavior, cognitive ability or inflammatory markers at 10 months than a group of untreated 3-month-old mice with the same condition. Additionally, the team found no evidence of acute toxicity in the fisetin-treated mice, even at high doses of the compound.

 

"Mice are not people, of course," says Maher, "But there are enough similarities that we think fisetin warrants a closer look, not only for potentially treating sporadic AD but also for reducing some of the cognitive effects associated with aging, generally."

 

Next, Maher hopes to partner with another group or company in order to conduct clinical trials of fisetin with human subjects.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/07/170710160954.htm

Purpose in life by day linked to better sleep at night

Older adults whose lives have meaning enjoy better sleep quality, less sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome

July 10, 2017

Science Daily/Northwestern University

Having a purpose in life means you are more likely to sleep better at night with less sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome, reports a new study. Cultivating a purpose in life could be drug-free strategy to improve sleep, scientists said. The study participants were older adults -- who tend to have more insomnia and sleep disturbances -- but researchers said the findings are likely applicable to the broader public.

 

Having a good reason to get out of bed in the morning means you are more likely to sleep better at night with less sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome, reports a new Northwestern Medicine and Rush University Medical Center study based on older adults.

 

This is the first study to show having a purpose in life specifically results in fewer sleep disturbances and improved sleep quality and over a long period of time. Previous research showed having a purpose in life generally improves overall sleep when measured at a single point in time.

 

Although the participants in the study were older, researchers said the findings are likely applicable to the broader public.

 

"Helping people cultivate a purpose in life could be an effective drug-free strategy to improve sleep quality, particularly for a population that is facing more insomnia," said senior author Jason Ong, an associate professor of neurology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. "Purpose in life is something that can be cultivated and enhanced through mindfulness therapies."

 

The paper will be published in the journal Sleep Science and Practice.

 

Individuals have more sleep disturbances and insomnia as they get older. Clinicians prefer to use non-drug interventions to improve patients' sleep, a practice now recommended by the American College of Physicians as a first line treatment for insomnia, Ong said.

 

The next step in the research should be to study the use of mindfulness-based therapies to target purpose in life and resulting sleep quality, said Arlener Turner, the study's first author and a former postdoctoral fellow in neurology at Feinberg.

 

The 823 participants -- non-demented individuals 60 to 100 years old with an average age of 79 -- were from two cohorts at Rush University Medical Center. More than half were African American and 77 percent were female.

 

People who felt their lives had meaning were 63 percent less likely to have sleep apnea and 52 percent less likely to have restless leg syndrome. They also had moderately better sleep quality, a global measure of sleep disturbance.

 

For the study, participants answered a 10-question survey on purpose in life and a 32-question survey on sleep. For the purpose in life survey, they were asked to rate their response to such statements as, "I feel good when I think of what I've done in the past and what I hope to do in the future."

 

The next step in the research should be to study the use of mindfulness-based therapies to target purpose in life and resulting sleep quality, Turner said.

 

Poor sleep quality is related to having trouble falling asleep, staying asleep and feeling sleepy during the day. Sleep apnea is a common disorder that increases with age in which a person has shallow breathing or pauses in breathing during sleep several times per hour. This disruption often makes a person feel unrefreshed upon waking up and excessively sleepy during the day.

 

Restless leg syndrome causes uncomfortable sensations in the legs and an irresistible urge to move them. Symptoms commonly occur in the late afternoon or evening hours and are often most severe at night when a person is resting, such as sitting or lying in bed.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/07/170710091734.htm

Well-being in later life: The mind plays an important role

July 7, 2017

Science Daily/Helmholtz Zentrum München - German Research Center for Environmental Health

Well-being in later life is largely dependent on psychosocial factors. Physical impairments tend to play a secondary role, as scientists have discovered.

 

"Aging itself is not inevitably associated with a decline in mood and quality of life," says Prof. Karl-Heinz Ladwig, summarizing the results. "It is rather the case that psychosocial factors such as depression or anxiety impair subjective well-being, the Head of the Mental Health Research Group at the Institute of Epidemiology II, Helmholtz Zentrum München and Professor of Psychosomatic Medicine at the TUM University Hospital explains. "And in the case of women, living alone also plays an important role."

 

"To date the impact of emotional stress has barely been investigated"

 

For the current study, Prof. Ladwig and his team relied on data derived from about 3,600 participats with an average age of 73 who had taken part in the population-based KORA-Age Study. "What made the study particularly interesting was the fact that the impact of stress on emotional well-being has barely been investigated in a broader, non-clinical context," explains PD Dr. Karoline Lukaschek, epidemiologist in the Mental Health Research Group and lead author of the paper. "Our study therefore explicitly included anxiety, depression and sleep disorders."

 

Generally high levels of well-being but...

 

To ascertain levels of subjective well-being, the scientists used a questionnaire devised by the World Health Organization (the WHO-5 Well-Being Index) with a score range of 0 to 100. For the purpose of analysis, they divided the respondents' results into two categories: 'high' (score > 50) and 'low' (score ? 50). The subsequent evaluation revealed a high level of subjective well-being in the majority (79 percent) of the respondents. The average values were also above the threshold set by the WHO. In the 'low' group, however, there was a conspicuously high number of women: about 24 percent compared to 18 percent for men.

 

Depression and anxiety disorders are the biggest risk

 

Trying to uncover the most important causes for subjective well-being, the scientists mainly identified psychosocial factors: above all, depression and anxiety disorders had the strongest effect on well-being. Low income and sleep disorders also had a negative effect. However, poor physical health (for example, low physical activity or so-called multimorbidity) seemed to have little impact on perceived life satisfaction. Among women, living alone also significantly increased the probability of a low sense of well-being.

 

"The findings of the current study clearly demonstrate that appropriate services and interventions can play a major role for older people, especially for older women living on their own," Prof. Ladwig says, categorizing the results. "And this is all the more important, given that we know that high levels of subjective well-being are linked to a lower mortality risk."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/07/170707095413.htm

Deep sleep may act as fountain of youth in old age

Restorative, sedative-free slumber can ward off mental and physical ailments, suggests research

April 5, 2017
Science Daily/University of California - Berkeley
As we grow old, our nights are frequently plagued by bouts of wakefulness, bathroom trips and other nuisances as we lose our ability to generate the deep, restorative slumber we enjoyed in youth. But that does not mean the elderly need less sleep, according to neuroscientists.
https://images.sciencedaily.com/2017/04/170405144431_1_540x360.jpg
This image shows neural activity during sleep differs between older and younger adults.
Credit: Courtesy of Matthew Walker and Bryce Mander

But does that mean older people just need less sleep?

Not according to UC Berkeley researchers, who argue in an article published April 5 in the journal Neuron that the unmet sleep needs of the elderly elevate their risk of memory loss and a wide range of mental and physical disorders.

"Nearly every disease killing us in later life has a causal link to lack of sleep," said the article's senior author, Matthew Walker, a UC Berkeley professor of psychology and neuroscience. "We've done a good job of extending life span, but a poor job of extending our health span. We now see sleep, and improving sleep, as a new pathway for helping remedy that."

Unlike more cosmetic markers of aging, such as wrinkles and gray hair, sleep deterioration has been linked to such conditions as Alzheimer's disease, heart disease, obesity, diabetes and stroke, he said.

Though older people are less likely than younger cohorts to notice and/or report mental fogginess and other symptoms of sleep deprivation, numerous brain studies reveal how poor sleep leaves them cognitively worse off.

Moreover, the shift from deep, consolidated sleep in youth to fitful, dissatisfying sleep can start as early as one's 30s, paving the way for sleep-related cognitive and physical ailments in middle age.

And, while the pharmaceutical industry is raking in billions by catering to insomniacs, Walker warns that the pills designed to help us doze off are a poor substitute for the natural sleep cycles that the brain needs in order to function well.

"Don't be fooled into thinking sedation is real sleep. It's not," he said.

For their review of sleep research, Walker and fellow researchers Bryce Mander and Joseph Winer cite studies, including some of their own, that show the aging brain has trouble generating the kind of slow brain waves that promote deep curative sleep, as well as the neurochemicals that help us switch stably from sleep to wakefulness.

"The parts of the brain deteriorating earliest are the same regions that give us deep sleep," said article lead author Mander, a postdoctoral researcher in Walker's Sleep and Neuroimaging Laboratory at UC Berkeley.

Aging typically brings on a decline in deep non-rapid eye movement (NREM) or "slow wave sleep," and the characteristic brain waves associated with it, including both slow waves and faster bursts of brain waves known as "sleep spindles."

Youthful, healthy slow waves and spindles help transfer memories and information from the hippocampus, which provides the brain's short-term storage, to the prefrontal cortex, which consolidates the information, acting as the brain's long-term storage.

"Sadly, both these types of sleep brain waves diminish markedly as we grow old, and we are now discovering that this sleep decline is related to memory decline in later life," said Winer, a doctoral student in Walker's lab.

Another deficiency in later life is the inability to regulate neurochemicals that stabilize our sleep and help us transition from sleep to waking states. These neurochemicals include galanin, which promotes sleep, and orexin, which promotes wakefulness. A disruption to the sleep-wake rhythm commonly leaves older adults fatigued during the day but frustratingly restless at night, Mander said.

Of course, not everyone is vulnerable to sleep changes in later life: "Just as some people age more successfully than others, some people sleep better than others as they get older, and that's another line of research we'll be exploring," Mander said.

Meanwhile, non-pharmaceutical interventions are being explored to boost the quality of sleep, such as electrical stimulation to amplify brain waves during sleep and acoustic tones that act like a metronome to slow brain rhythms.

However, promoting alternatives to prescription and over-the-counter sleep aids is sure to be challenging.

"The American College of Physicians has acknowledged that sleeping pills should not be the first-line kneejerk response to sleep problems," Walker said. "Sleeping pills sedate the brain, rather than help it sleep naturally. We must find better treatments for restoring healthy sleep in older adults, and that is now one of our dedicated research missions."

Also important to consider in changing the culture of sleep is the question of quantity versus quality.

"Previously, the conversation has focused on how many hours you need to sleep," Mander said. "However, you can sleep for a sufficient number of hours, but not obtain the right quality of sleep. We also need to appreciate the importance of sleep quality.

"Indeed, we need both quantity and quality," Walker said.
Science Daily/SOURCE :
https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/04/170405144431.htm

Want to stay mentally healthy in older age? Stimulate your brain in early life

Stimulating the brain by taking on leadership roles at work or staying on in education help people stay mentally healthy in later life, according to new research.

 

April 20, 2017
Science Daily/University of Exeter
Stimulating the brain by taking on leadership roles at work or staying on in education help people stay mentally healthy in later life, according to new research.

The large-scale investigation published in the journal PLOS Medicine and led by the University of Exeter, used data from more than 2,000 mentally fit people over the age of 65, examined the theory that experiences in early or mid life which challenge the brain make people more resilient to changes resulting from age or illness -- they have higher "cognitive reserve."

The analysis, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) found that people with higher levels of reserve are more likely to stay mentally fit for longer, making the brain more resilient to illnesses such as dementia.

The research team included collaborators from the universities of Bangor, Newcastle and Cambridge.

Linda Clare, Professor of Clinical Psychology of Ageing and Dementia at the University of Exeter, said: "Losing mental ability is not inevitable in later life. We know that we can all take action to increase our chances of maintaining our own mental health, through healthy living and engaging in stimulating activities. It's important that we understand how and why this occurs, so we can give people meaningful and effective measures to take control of living full and active lives into older age.

"People who engage in stimulating activity which stretches the brain, challenging it to use different strategies that exercise a variety of networks, have higher 'Cognitive reserve'. This builds a buffer in the brain, making it more resilient. It means signs of decline only become evident at a higher threshold of illness or decay than when this buffer is absent."

The research team analysed data from 2,315 mentally fit participants aged over 65 years who took part in the first wave of interviews for the Cognitive Function and Ageing Study Wales (CFAS-Wales).

They analysed whether a healthy lifestyle was associated with better performance on a mental ability test. They found that a healthy diet, more physical activity, more social and mentally stimulating activity and moderate alcohol consumption all seemed to boost cognitive performance.

Professor Bob Woods of Bangor University, who leads the CFAS Wales study, said: "We found that people with a healthier lifestyle had better scores on tests of mental ability, and this was partly accounted for by their level of cognitive reserve.

"Our results highlight the important of policies and measures that encourage older people to make changes in their diet, exercise more, and engage in more socially oriented and mentally stimulating activities."

Professor Fiona Matthews of Newcastle University, who is principal statistician on the CFAS studies, said "Many of the factors found here to be important are not only healthy for our brain, but also help at younger age avoiding heart disease."

Professor Clare is supported by the National Institute for Health Research Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care South West Peninsula (NIHR PenCLAHRC).

Testing our the efficacy of brain stimulation is part one aspect of the PROTECT (Platform for Research Online to investigate Genetics and Cognition in Ageing) trial, which involves Professor Clare. It has already recruited 20,000 people over the age of 50. They are taking part in Exeter-led research to establish which lifestyle measures can make a meaningful difference to keep people stay physically and mentally active in older age.
Science Daily/SOURCE :https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/04/170420113809.htm

Sense of purpose in life linked to lower mortality and cardiovascular risk

December 3, 2015

Science Daily/Wolters Kluwer Health: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins
People who have a higher sense of purpose in life are at lower risk of death and cardiovascular disease, reports a pooled data analysis.
https://images.sciencedaily.com/2015/12/151203112844_1_540x360.jpg
An analysis showed a lower risk of death for people with a high sense of purpose in life.
Credit: © alexbrylovhk / Fotolia

"Possessing a high sense of purpose in life is associated with a reduced risk for mortality and cardiovascular events," according to the study by Drs. Randy Cohen and Alan Rozanski and colleagues at Mt. Sinai St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital, New York. While the mechanisms behind the association remain unclear, the findings suggest that approaches to strengthening a sense of purpose might lead to improved health outcomes.

How Does Purpose in Life Affect Health and Mortality Risks?

Using a technique called meta-analysis, the researchers pooled data from previous studies evaluating the relationship between purpose in life and the risk of death or cardiovascular disease. The analysis included data on more than 136,000 participants from ten studies -- mainly from the United States or Japan. The US studies evaluated a sense of purpose or meaning in life, or "usefulness to others." The Japanese studies assessed the concept of ikigai, translated as "a life worth living."

The study participants, average age 67 years, were followed up for an average of seven years. During this time, more than 14,500 participants died from any cause while more than 4,000 suffered cardiovascular events (heart attack, stroke, etc).

The analysis showed a lower risk of death for participants with a high sense of purpose in life. After adjusting for other factors, mortality was about one-fifth lower for participants reporting a strong sense of purpose, or ikigai.

A high sense of purpose in life was also related to a lower risk of cardiovascular events. Both associations remained significant on analysis of various subgroups, including country, how purpose in life was measured, and whether the studies included participants with pre-existing cardiovascular disease..

There is a well-documented link between "negative psychosocial risk factors" and adverse health outcomes, including heart attack, stroke, and overall mortality. "Conversely, more recent study provides evidence that positive psychosocial factors can promote healthy physiological functioning and greater longevity," according to the authors.

The new analysis assembles high-quality data from studies assessing the relationship between purpose life and various measures of health and adverse clinical outcomes. The researchers write, "Together, these findings indicate a robust relationship between purpose in life and mortality and/or adverse cardiovascular outcomes."

While further studies are needed to determine how purpose in life might promote health and deter disease, preliminary data suggest a few basic mechanisms. The association might be explained physiologically, such as by buffering of bodily responses to stress; or behaviorally, such as by a healthier lifestyle.

"Of note, having a strong sense of life purpose has long been postulated to be an important dimension of life, providing people with a sense of vitality motivation and resilience," Dr. Rozanski comments. "Nevertheless, the medical implications of living with a high or low sense of life purpose have only recently caught the attention of investigators. The current findings are important because they may open up new potential interventions for helping people to promote their health and sense of well-being."

Science Daily/SOURCE :https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/12/151203112844.htm

Mentally challenging activities key to a healthy aging mind

Individuals who participated in high challenge activities like quilting and photography showed enhanced brain activity, according to a new Restorative Neurology and Neuroscience report

January 15, 2016

Science Daily/SOURCE :http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/01/160115100906.htm
Science Daily/IOS Press
One of the greatest challenges associated with the growing numbers of aged adults is how to maintain a healthy aging mind. Taking up a new mental challenge such as digital photography or quilting may help maintain cognitive vitality, say researchers.

Recent evidence suggests that engaging in enjoyable and enriching lifestyle activities may be associated with maintaining cognitive vitality. However, the underlying mechanism accounting for cognitive enhancement effects have been poorly understood.

Investigators at the University of Texas at Dallas proposed that only tasks that involved sustained mental effort and challenge would facilitate cognitive function. Senior author Denise Park and lead author Ian McDonough compared changes in brain activity in 39 older adults that resulted from the performance of high-challenge activities that required new learning and sustained mental effort compared to low-challenge activities that did not require active learning. All of the participants underwent a battery of cognitive tests and brain scans using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), an MRI technology that measures brain activity by detecting changes associated with blood flow.

Participants were randomly assigned to the high-challenge, low-challenge, or placebo groups. The high-challenge group spent at least 15 hours per week for 14 weeks learning progressively more difficult skills in digital photography, quilting, or a combination of both. The low-challenge group met for 15 hours per week to socialize and engage in activities related to subjects such as travel and cooking with no active learning component. The placebo group engaged in low-demand cognitive tasks such as listening to music, playing simple games, or watching classic movies. All participants were tested before and after the 14-week period and a subset was retested a year later.

The high-challenge group demonstrated better memory performance after the intervention, and an increased ability to modulate brain activity more efficiently to challenging judgments of word meaning in the medial frontal, lateral temporal, and parietal cortex regions of the brain. These are brain areas associated with attention and semantic processing. Some of this enhanced brain activity was maintained a year later. This increased neural efficiency in judging words was demonstrated by participants showing lowered brain activity when word judgments were easy and increasing activity when they became hard. This is a pattern of response typical of young adults. Before participating in the high-challenge intervention, the older adults were processing every item, both easy and hard, with maximum brain activity. After participation, they were able to modulate their brain activity to the demands of the task, thus showing a more efficient use of neural resources. This change in modulation was not observed in the low-challenge group.

The findings show that mentally demanding activities may be neuroprotective and an important element for maintaining a healthy brain into late adulthood.

"The present findings provide some of the first experimental evidence that mentally-challenging leisure activities can actually change brain function and that it is possible that such interventions can restore levels of brain activity to a more youth-like state. However, we would like to conduct much larger studies to determine the universality of this effect and understand who will benefit the most from such an intervention," explained senior author Denise C. Park, PhD, of the Center for Vital Longevity, School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences, University of Texas at Dallas.

Ian McDonough, who is now an assistant professor of Psychology at the University of Alabama and was first author on the study, said: "The study clearly illustrates that the enhanced neural efficiency was a direct consequence of participation in a demanding learning environment. The findings superficially confirm the familiar adage regarding cognitive aging of 'Use it or lose it.'"

Denise Park added, "Although there is much more to be learned, we are cautiously optimistic that age-related cognitive declines can be slowed or even partially restored if individuals are exposed to sustained, mentally challenging experiences."

Science Daily/SOURCE :http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/01/160115100906.htm

Health goes downhill when older adults stop driving

Study shows seniors experience double the risk of depressive symptoms, along with declines in cognition and physical functioning

January 25, 2016

Science Daily/Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health
While 81 percent of the 29.5 million older U.S. adults continue to hold a license and get behind the wheel, age-related declines in cognition and physical function make driving more difficult, and many seniors eventually stop driving altogether. Researchers examined the health of older adults after they stopped driving and found that driving cessation nearly doubled the risk of depressive symptoms, while also contributing to diminished cognitive abilities and physical functioning.

"For many older adults, driving is more than a privilege; it is instrumental to their daily living and is a strong indicator of self-control, personal freedom, and independence," said Guohua Li, MD, DrPH, Mailman School professor of Epidemiology, the founding director of the Center for Injury Epidemiology and Prevention at Columbia, and senior author. "Unfortunately, it is almost inevitable to face the decision to stop driving during the process of aging as cognitive and physical functions continue to decline."

Dr. Li and a team of researchers reviewed and analyzed quantitative health-related data for drivers aged 55 and older from 16 studies that met eligibility criteria and compared results with data from current drivers. The study updates and expands on earlier findings with more than 10 additional years of empirical research.

Data showed that older adults experienced faster declines in cognitive function and physical health after stopping driving. Driving cessation was also associated with a 51-percent reduction in the size of social networks of friends and relatives--something the researchers say can contrain the social lives of seniors and their ability to engage with others. Decline in social health after driving cessation appeared greater in women than in men.

Former drivers were also nearly five times as likely as current drivers to be admitted to a nursing home, assisted living community, or retirement home, after adjusting for marital status or co-residence.

"As older ex-drivers begin substituting outside activities with indoor activities around the home, these activities may not be as beneficial to physical functioning as working or volunteering on the outside," said Thelma Mielenz, PhD, assistant professor of Epidemiology at the Mailman School and co-author. "When time comes to stop driving, it is important to make personalized plans to maintain mobility and social functions."

The researchers note that merely making alternative transportation available to older adults does not necessarily offset the adverse health effects of driving cessation. "What we need most of all are effective programs that can ensure and prolong an older adult's mobility, physical, and social functioning," said Li.

Science Daily/SOURCE :http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/01/160125184502.htm

For older adults, serious depression symptoms increase risk for stroke and heart disease

February 1, 2016

Science Daily/American Geriatrics Society
Adults 65-years-old and older who had high levels of depressive symptoms had a greater risk for experiencing heart disease or stroke events over the 10 years of a study, scientists report. As a result, the researchers concluded that depression could be a risk factor for heart disease or stroke.

Depression and its symptoms increase as people age, and have been linked to heart disease and stroke in both middle-aged and older adults. But whether depression and its symptoms are risk factors for these two dangerous conditions has been unclear.

In a new study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, researchers set out to learn more about whether depression or its symptoms affect heart disease and stroke in older adults.

The researchers studied 7,313 older adults selected from the election rolls of three large French cities between 1999 and 2001. None of the participants had a history of heart disease, stroke, or dementia at the start of the study. Researchers conducted face-to-face interviews with the participants when the study began, and checked them again three times--two years, four years, and seven years after their initial interview. In addition, researchers tested the participants' mental health status, blood sugar, and cholesterol levels, and asked them questions about medical history and medications. In addition, the researchers determined whether or not the participants had symptoms of depression.

At the beginning of the study, nearly 30 percent of the women and 15 percent of the men (23 percent of all participants in total) had high levels of depressive symptoms. The researchers discovered that about 40 percent of people with high levels of depressive symptoms "recovered" and the same amount of people developed new depression symptoms at each follow-up visit. During all study visits, fewer than 10 percent of the participants were taking medications for depression.

The researchers discovered that adults 65-years-old and older who had high levels of depressive symptoms on one, two, three, or four occasions during the study had 15 percent, 32 percent, 52 percent, and 75 percent greater risk, respectively, for experiencing heart disease or stroke events over the 10 years of the study. As a result, the researchers concluded that depression could be a risk factor for heart disease or stroke. They suggested that physicians pay close attention to symptoms of depression in older adults under care.

Science Daily/SOURCE :http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/02/160201141733.htm

Membership of social/community groups after retirement linked to longer life

Health and wellbeing benefits equal to those of regular exercise

February 15, 2016

Science Daily/BMJ
Membership of social groups, such as book clubs or church groups, after retirement is linked to a longer life, with the impact on health and wellbeing similar to that of regular exercise, suggests new research.

The more groups an individual belongs to in the first few years after s/he stops working, the lower their risk of death, the findings show.

Retirement represents a major life change, with the evidence from large long-term studies suggesting that the health and wellbeing of a substantial number of retirees goes downhill after they stop formal work.

But some people adjust to this transition better than others. In a bid to assess the potential impact of social group memberships, the researchers tracked the health of 424 people for six years after they had retired.

They were compared with the same number of people, matched for age, sex, and health status, but who were still working.

All the participants were at least 50 years old, living in England, and taking part in the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing, which started in 2002-3.

Each participant was asked how many different organisations, clubs, or societies, s/he belonged to, and which ones. They were also asked to complete a validated scale to assess quality of life, and another, to assess subjective physical health.

The results showed that individuals whose quality of life was good before retirement were more likely to score highly on quality of life assessment after retirement.

But membership of social groups was also associated with quality of life. Compared with those still working, every group membership lost after retirement was associated with around a 10% drop in quality of life score six years later.

Some 28 (6.65%) of the retirees died in the first six years after stopping work. Unsurprisingly, the strongest predictor of death was age, with someone at the age of 55 running a 1% risk of dying compared with an 8% chance for someone aged 65.

Subjectively rated health was not a significant predictor of death, but the number of group memberships was.

If a person belonged to two groups before retirement, and kept these up over the following six years, their risk of death was 2%, rising to 5% if they gave up membership of one, and to 12% if they gave up membership of both.

No such patterns were seen for those still in formal employment.

The researchers separately assessed whether changes in physical activity levels affected risk of death and compared this with the magnitude of the effect of social group membership.

They found that if a person exercised vigorously once a week before retirement, and kept up this frequency afterwards, their chance of dying over the next six years was 3%, rising to 6% if they reduced the frequency to less than once a week, and to 11% if they stopped altogether.

Among those who were still working, the equivalent figures were 3%, 5%, and 8%.

"Accordingly, we can see that the effects of physical activity on health were comparable to those associated with maintaining old group memberships and developing new ones," write the researchers.

This is an observational study so no firm conclusions can be drawn about cause and effect, but the findings have unique practical implications for retirement planning, say the researchers.

"They suggest that as much as practitioners may help retirees adjust by providing support with financial planning, they may also help by providing social planning," they write.

"In this regard, practical interventions should focus on helping retirees to maintain their sense of purpose and belonging by assisting them to connect to groups and communities that are meaningful to them," they conclude.

Science Daily/SOURCE :https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/02/160215210701.htm

Older adults have their own perspectives on sadness, loneliness and serenity

February 25, 2016

Science Daily/University of Massachusetts at Amherst
Older adults have different, more positive responses than young adults about feelings such as serenity, sadness and loneliness, a new study shows. An author calls the findings 'highly clinically significant' because the information could help caregivers, psychotherapists and workers at assisted living facilities better understand the emotions of older people in their care.

Ready calls the findings "highly clinically significant" because the information could help caregivers, psychotherapists and workers at assisted living facilities, for example, better understand the emotions of older people in their care, which could lead to improved treatment and quality of interactions. Findings appear in the current online issue of Aging and Mental Health.

She says, "Older adults report feeling more serenity than younger persons. They also have a richer concept of what it means to feel serene than younger persons." In a word grouping task, older adults associated more positive emotional terms with serene, such as cheerful, happy and joyful, than did younger people. The authors speculate that "this broader conception of serene" is associated with the fact that older adults report more calming positive emotions than younger people.

She adds, "We were surprised to find that younger adults associated more self-deprecating terms with feeling sad and lonely, such as being ashamed or disgusted with themselves, than older persons." When grouping other emotion words with sadness, older adults included words such as droopy and sheepish, while younger adults included more self-deprecating terms with the word, such as dissatisfied with self, ashamed, angry and disgusted with self. A similar pattern was observed for lonely.

For this study, Ready and her graduate student Gennarina Santorelli recruited 32 older adults ages 60 to 92, and 111 younger adults ages 18 to 32, and asked them to judge 70 emotion terms on whether the words had a positive or negative connotation and if the words were activating or arousing. For example, excited is generally rated as a high activation word, while serene is associated with less activation. They then had participants group similar words together.

Ready and colleagues found the word groupings were similar between older and younger persons for many words but they noted systematic differences for sadness, loneliness and, as noted above, serenity. They also found that older adults perceive emotion terms as most positive and more active than younger persons. Emotions overall may be more stimulating for older than younger persons.

The older adults in this study reported fewer depressive symptoms than the younger participants. Controlling for age group differences in these symptoms, Ready says, "We gained a deeper appreciation of some relatively unknown benefits of aging, such as increased positive emotions and less shame associated with feeling sad or lonely."

As the percentage of older adults in the United States increases, Ready says, "It is imperative to determine how older adults define emotions differently than younger adults. These data ensure effective communication with older adults, accurate understanding of their emotion experiences, and appropriate access to psychological interventions."

Science Daily/SOURCE :https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/02/160225140042.htm

Exercise may slow brain aging by 10 years for older people

March 23, 2016

Science Daily/American Academy of Neurology
Exercise in older people is associated with a slower rate of decline in thinking skills that occurs with aging. People who reported light to no exercise experienced a decline equal to 10 more years of aging as compared to people who reported moderate to intense exercise, according to a population-based observational study.

"The number of people over the age of 65 in the United States is on the rise, meaning the public health burden of thinking and memory problems will likely grow," said study author Clinton B. Wright, MD, MS, of the University of Miami in Miami, Fla., and member of the American Academy of Neurology. "Our study showed that for older people, getting regular exercise may be protective, helping them keep their cognitive abilities longer."

For the study, researchers looked at data on 876 people enrolled in the Northern Manhattan Study who were asked how long and how often they exercised during the two weeks prior to that date. An average of seven years later, each person was given tests of memory and thinking skills and a brain MRI, and five years after that they took the memory and thinking tests again.

Of the group, 90 percent reported light exercise or no exercise. Light exercise could include activities such as walking and yoga. They were placed in the low activity group. The remaining 10 percent reported moderate to high intensity exercise, which could include activities such as running, aerobics, or calisthenics. They were placed in the high activity group.

When looking at people who had no signs of memory and thinking problems at the start of the study, researchers found that those reporting low activity levels showed a greater decline over five years compared to those with high activity levels on tests of how fast they could perform simple tasks and how many words they could remember from a list. The difference was equal to that of 10 years of aging. The difference also remained after researchers adjusted for other factors that could affect brain health, such as smoking, alcohol use, high blood pressure and body mass index.

"Physical activity is an attractive option to reduce the burden of cognitive impairment in public health because it is low cost and doesn't interfere with medications," said Wright. "Our results suggest that moderate to intense exercise may help older people delay aging of the brain, but more research from randomized clinical trials comparing exercise programs to more sedentary activity is needed to confirm these results."

Science Daily/SOURCE :https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/03/160323185527.htm

Depression symptoms that steadily increase in later life predict higher dementia risk

April 29, 2016

Science Daily/The Lancet
Depression symptoms that steadily increase in older adults are more strongly linked to dementia than any other types of depression, and may indicate the early stages of the disease, according to the first ever long-term study to examine the link between dementia and the course of depression.

Symptoms of depression are common in people with dementia, but previous studies have often looked at single episodes of depression, failing to take into account how depression develops over time. The course of depression varies greatly between individuals -- some might experience depressive symptoms only transiently, followed by full remission, others might have remitting and relapsing depression, and some might be chronically depressed. Different courses of depression may reflect different underlying causes, and might be linked to different risks of dementia.

The study included 3325 adults aged 55 and over, who all had symptoms of depression but no symptoms of dementia at the start of the study. The data was gathered from the Rotterdam Study, a population-based cohort study of various diseases in the Netherlands which allowed the authors to track depressive symptoms over 11 years and the risk of dementia for a subsequent 10 years.

Using the Center for Epidemiology Depression Scale (CES-D) and the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale-Depression (HADS-D), the authors identified five different trajectories of depressive symptoms -- low depression symptoms (2441 participants); initially high symptoms that decreased (369); low starting scores that increased then remitted (170); initially low symptoms that increased (255); and constantly high symptoms (90).

Of the 3325 participants, 434 developed dementia, including 348 cases of Alzheimer's disease. Among the group with low symptoms of depression, 10% (226/2174) developed dementia. The researchers used this as the benchmark against which to compare other trajectories of depression -- the study did not compare the risk of dementia following depression with the risk of dementia for adults in the general population (without depression).

Only the group whose symptoms of depression increased over time was at an increased risk of dementia- 22% of people (55/255) in this group developed dementia. This risk was particularly pronounced after the first 3 years. Individuals with remitting symptoms of depression were not at an increased risk of dementia compared to individuals with low depressive symptoms. The authors say that this suggests that having severe symptoms of depression at one point in time does not necessarily have any lasting influence on the risk of dementia.

The authors say their findings support the hypothesis that increasing symptoms of depression in older age could potentially represent an early stage of dementia. They also say that the findings support previous suggestions that dementia and some forms of depression may be symptoms of a common cause. They say that at the molecular levels, the biological mechanisms of depression and neurodegenerative diseases overlap considerably including the loss of ability to create new neurons, increased cell death and immune system dysregulation.

According to Dr M Arfan Ikram, Department of Epidemiology, Erasmus University Medical Center, Rotterdam, Netherlands, "Depressive symptoms that gradually increase over time appear to better predict dementia later in life than other trajectories of depressive symptoms such as high and remitting, in this study. There are a number of potential explanations, including that depression and dementia may both be symptoms of a common underlying cause, or that increasing depressive symptoms are on the starting end of a dementia continuum in older adults. More research is needed to examine this association, and to investigate the potential to use ongoing assessments of depressive symptoms to identify older adults at increased risk of dementia."

Writing in a linked Comment, Dr Simone Reppermund from the Department of Developmental Disability and Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing at the University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia, says: "In conclusion, several factors can contribute to the development of both depression and dementia. The questions are if, and how, the presence of depression modifies the risk for dementia. The study by Mirza and colleagues provides an answer to the first question: depression, especially steadily increasing depressive symptoms, seems to increase the risk for dementia. However, the question of how the presence of depressive symptoms modifies the risk of dementia still remains. More studies of depression trajectories over a long period, with inclusion of biological measures, are necessary to understand the link between depression and dementia, in particular the underlying mechanisms. A focus on lifestyle factors such as physical activity and social networks, and biological risk factors such as vascular disease, neuroinflammation, high concentrations of stress hormones, and neuropathological changes, might bring new treatment and prevention strategies a step closer."

Science Daily/SOURCE :https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/04/160429192926.htm

Among the oldest adults, poor balance may signal higher risk for dementia

July 25, 2016

Science Daily/American Geriatrics Society
In a first-of-its-kind study, researchers examined whether four different measures of poor physical performance might be linked to increased dementia risk for people aged 90 and older.

The number of people living well into their 90s is projected to quadruple by 2050. By mid-century, nearly 9 million people will be 90-years-old or older. In a first-of-its-kind study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, researchers from the University of California at Irvine examined whether four different measures of poor physical performance might be linked to increased dementia risk for people aged 90 and older.

Previous studies have shown that poor physical performance is linked to increased odds for dementia in people younger than 85. But until now, we didn't know whether a link between poor physical performance and dementia existed for people 90 and older.

The researchers examined 578 people aged 90 and older who were participants in The 90+ Study, a community-based longitudinal study -- a research method that follows the same subjects repeatedly over a period of time -- of the oldest-old in Southern California. Examiners see the participants every six months to conduct physical and neurological (the branch of medicine dealing with the study of nerves and the nervous system) examinations as well as cognitive tests, with the goal of looking critically at aging and dementia specifically.

At the start of the study, about 50 percent of the participants were cognitively impaired (had trouble thinking or remembering), but did not have dementia. The rest were cognitively normal. Researchers followed the participants for 2.6 years and, during that time, almost 40 percent of participants developed dementia.

The researchers observed a unique link between dementia risk and poor performance on two different physical performance tests: the standing balance test and the four-meter (about 13 feet) walking test.

The researchers suggested that, since walking and standing balance require complex brain activity, testing these functions may help doctors predict who among the "oldest-old" might be most at risk for developing dementia. The researchers also note that future studies could lead to the development of prevention programs and treatment strategies.

Science Daily/SOURCE :https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/07/160725151154.htm

Good attitudes about aging help seniors handle stress

August 3, 2016

Science Daily/North Carolina State University
Having a positive attitude about aging makes older adults more resilient when faced with stressful situations, new psychology research finds.

"There has been a lot of research on how older adults respond to stress, but the findings have been mixed: some studies have found that older adults are less resilient than younger adults at responding to stress; some have found that they're more resilient; and some have found no difference," says Jennifer Bellingtier, a Ph.D. student at NC State and lead author of a paper describing the work. "We wanted to see whether attitudes toward aging could account for this disparity in research findings. In other words, are older adults with positive attitudes about aging more resilient than older adults with negative attitudes?"

The answer is yes.

For the study, researchers had 43 adults between the ages of 60 and 96 fill out a daily questionnaire for eight consecutive days. At the beginning of the study, participants were asked about their attitudes toward aging. For example, participants were asked if they felt they were as useful now as they had been when they were younger, and whether they were as happy as when they were younger.

The daily questionnaire asked participants about any stress they'd experienced that day, as well as the extent to which they experienced negative emotions, such as fear, irritability or distress.

The researchers also accounted for the personality of study participants. Were they optimistic and upbeat about everything, or are there benefits tied specifically to an individual's attitudes about aging?

"We found that people in the study who had more positive attitudes toward aging were more resilient in response to stress -- meaning that there wasn't a significant increase in negative emotions," Bellingtier says. "Meanwhile, study participants with more negative attitudes toward aging showed a sharp increase in negative emotional affect on stressful days."

"This tells us that the way we think about aging has very real consequences for how we respond to difficult situations when we're older," says Shevaun Neupert, an associate professor of psychology at NC State and senior author on the paper. "That affects our quality of life and may also have health ramifications. For example, more adverse emotional responses to stress have been associated with increased cardiovascular health risks."

"Our findings are likely applicable to other Americans, but it's not clear to what extent the findings would be relevant elsewhere," Bellingtier says. "Attitudes toward aging vary widely across cultures, and more work would need to be done to determine the importance of aging attitudes in other settings."

Science Daily/SOURCE :https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/08/160803084145.htm

Volunteering later in life can enhance mental health and wellbeing

August 9, 2016

Science Daily/University of Southampton
Becoming a volunteer later on in life can result in good mental health and wellbeing, according to researchers. However, their study found these effects did not apply before the age of 40, suggesting that the association with volunteering may be stronger at certain points of the life course.

However, the study which is published in the BMJ Open online, found these effects did not apply before the age of 40, suggesting that the association with volunteering may be stronger at certain points of the life course. The results also point to the need for further efforts to engage middle aged and older people in volunteering activities.

Researchers from the Southampton Statistical Sciences Research Institute and Birmingham's Third Sector Research Centre reviewed over 66,000 responses by British adults to questions posed through the British Household Panel Survey (BHPS), now part of the UK Household Longitudinal Study called Understanding Society.

The original Survey, which ran between 1991-2008, asked a range of questions on leisure time activities including the extent of formal volunteering. The Survey also included a validated proxy indicating mental health/emotional wellbeing known as GHQ-12.

Around 21% of respondents said they had carried out some kind of formal volunteering activity with women tending to volunteer more than men.

Across the entire sample, the average GHQ score was the best (lowest) among those who were frequent volunteers and worst (highest) among those who never volunteered.

When age was factored in by the research team, the positive association between volunteering and good mental health and emotional wellbeing became apparent at around the age of 40 and continued up into old age (80+).

"Voluntary action might provide those groups with greater opportunities for beneficial activities and social contacts, which in turn may have protective effects on health status," said Dr Faiza Tabassum, Visiting Research Fellow at the University of Southampton. "Particularly, with the ageing of the population, it is imperative to develop effective health promotion for this last third of life, so that those living longer are healthier."

The researchers found that those who had never volunteered had lower levels of emotional wellbeing, starting at midlife and continuing into old age compared with those who did volunteer.

Previous research has indicated that volunteering in older age is associated with better mental and physical health, but it was unclear whether this extends to other age groups until now.

Dr Tabassum added: "Volunteering may also provide a sense of purpose, particularly for those people who have lost their earnings, because regular volunteering helps contribute to the maintenance of social networks, and this is especially the case for older people who often live in isolation."

The findings held true even after taking account of a range of potentially influential factors, including marital status, educational attainment, and social class. The researchers were not able to gauge the extent of 'informal' volunteering, such as helping out neighbours so couldn't capture the full spectrum of voluntary activities.

"Precisely how opportunities for engagement in volunteering can be provided and sustained is a considerable challenge at the present time, because of the pressures of austerity, while the distribution of voluntary organisations means that opportunities to participate are not always available everywhere," said Professor John Mohan, Deputy Director of the Third Sector Research Centre at the University of Birmingham. "But this study does suggest that we should pay attention to the diversity of experience of people across their life course, and not just uncritically assume that volunteering has benefits for everyone, everywhere."

Science Daily/SOURCE :https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/08/160809122133.htm

Midlife physical activity is associated with better cognition in old age

September 9, 2016

Science Daily/Helsingin yliopisto (University of Helsinki)
Moderately vigorous physical activity -- for example, more strenuous than walking -- has been found to be associated with better cognition in a 25-year follow-up, a new study of 3050 twins finds.

A long-term follow-up study of 3050 twins from the Finnish Twin Cohort has shown that midlife, moderately vigorous physical activity is associated with better cognition at old age. The association was statistically independent of midlife hypertension, smoking, education level, sex, obesity and binge drinking. "This suggests that the beneficial influence of physical activity on the brain and cognition is not solely based on decreasing vascular risk factors," says researcher Paula Iso-Markku from the University of Helsinki.

The association was studied first in all individuals of the cohort, and then by comparing later cognition in pairs where one twin was more physically active than the other.

Increasing the volume of physical activity was not, however, associated with increased memory-protecting benefits. Instead, quite a moderate amount of physical activity was found to be sufficient for memory-protecting benefits, and only the most inactive group of twins stood out with a significantly higher risk for cognitive impairment.

"Overall, the study shows that moderately vigorous physical activity, meaning more strenuous than walking, is associated with better cognition after an average of 25 years," states Professor Urho Kujala from the University of Jyväskylä.

This finding is in accordance with earlier animal model studies, which have shown that physical activity increases the amount of growth factors in the brain and improves synaptic plasticity.

The prevalence of dementia has increased with aging populations both in Finland and globally. Although the incidence of dementia seems to have decreased in less senior generations, the total prevalence of dementia is still expected to rise. No cure for dementia exists, but during the last decade research has produced an abundance of new information on dementia prevention. The traditional vascular risk factors (elevated blood pressure, hypercholesterolemia, obesity, diabetes and lack of exercise) have also been associated with dementia risk. "However, few long-term, high-quality, follow-up studies on physical activity and cognition have been published, and it has remained unclear what type and amount of exercise is needed to safeguard cognition," Iso-Markku says.

The study, published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, was conducted by scientists at the universities of Helsinki, Jyväskylä and Turku. The twins provided information on physical activity through questionnaire surveys from 1975 and 1981 (mean age in 1981: 49 years), while cognition was assessed by validated telephone interviews conducted between 1999 and 2015.

Science Daily/SOURCE :https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/09/160909095045.htm

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