MILWAUKEE – It isn’t easy to be patient when you can’t work and you’re in pain, as Christine Morgan knows all too well.
Her chronic pain comes from fibromyalgia. Morgan, 60, also has spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spaces within the spine that pinches the nerves, most often in the lower back and neck. To top it off, she is diabetic, has kidney disease, high blood pressure and depression.
Yet Morgan has been turned down for Social Security Disability Insurance – twice. “They sent me a letter that said I wasn’t disabled,” she said.
Better tactics for detecting, preventing and treating Alzheimer’s disease depend on a clearer understanding of cellular-level changes in the minds of patients, and a new study has uncovered novel details about the vulnerability of one type of brain cell.
Researchers found that excitatory neurons — those that are more likely to trigger an action (as opposed to inhibitory neurons, which are less likely to prompt neural activity) — are more vulnerable to accumulations of abnormal tau protein, which is increasingly being implicated in Alzheimer’s disease.
The study also uncovered some possible genetic explanations for the vulnerability of those cells, work that has the potential to one day lead to targeted treatment. The study, co-led by Hongjun “Harry” Fu of The Ohio State University, appears today (Dec. 17, 2018) in the journal Nature Neuroscience. Fu, who recently came to Ohio State from Columbia University, co-led the research with Karen Duff of Columbia and Michele Vendruscolo of the University of Cambridge.
DOING “BRAIN exercises,” such as Sudoku and crossword puzzles later in life won’t protect against mental decline, according to a new study.
Brain games, such as number or word challenges, have been widely promoted as ways for people to keep their brains sharp into old age. However, a study published Monday in The BMJ suggests that may not be so.
Instead, the study found that people who did mental activities regularly throughout their life had superior cognitive abilities to those who didn’t do such activities. Still, this regular exercise will not cause people’s mental capabilities to decline any more slowly later in life.
Instead, people who participate in brain stimulating activities will begin their late-life mental decline from a higher point than people who do not exercise their brain.
Once, turning 65 typically meant retirement, Medicare and the inevitable onset of physical decline. It also often signaled the need to search for a geriatrician, a doctor who specializes in caring for the complex medical problems of the elderly.
But many of today’s older Americans are healthy, vigorous and mentally sound, with no urgent need to change doctors. They aren’t afflicted with age-related diseases or functional impairments. This raises interesting questions about when — and whether — those 65 and older need to make that switch.
Seeing a geriatrician “should never be age specific,” says Nir Barzilai, a longevity researcher at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. “Biological age and chronological age are not the same. Asking what age to start seeing a geriatrician is not the right question. The right questions are: What conditions do you have? Are you mobile? Are you starting to get frail? Are you losing weight, or not walking well? Can you shop? Can you get to your apartment? Can you live by yourself?”
Researchers at Boston Medical Center found that frequent, persistent back pain is associated with earlier death in a study of more than 8,000 older women who were followed for an average of 14 years. After controlling for important sociodemographic and health factors, women who reported frequent, persistent back pain had a 24 percent increased risk of death compared to women with no back pain. Published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, the study is the first to measure the impact of back pain persisting over time on mortality. The researchers also found that disability measured after back pain helped explain the association.
Back pain is the leading cause of disability worldwide, and women aged 40-80 years have the highest prevalence of back pain. Also, women report more frequent and debilitating back pain compared to men. The proportion of adults over the age of 65 is increasing rapidly in the United States, and optimizing physical health in order to extend life for older adults is a well-documented public health goal.
“To our knowledge, our study is the first to measure disability after measurement of back pain. This allowed for a prospective analysis of back pain that persisted over time and later rates of disability, which may help explain the association between back pain and mortality,” said Eric Roseen, DC, MSc, a research fellow at Boston Medical Center and leading author of the study. “Our findings raise the question of whether better management of back pain across the lifespan could prevent disability, improve quality of life, and ultimately extend life.”
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My grandmother, Bella, a former nurse in the Ukraine, moved to the United States to help raise me when I was 7 months old. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease last year.
There was nothing to do to prevent her inexorable loss of memory and independence, her Massachusetts General Hospital memory specialist told our family, except to take a drug called memantine that slightly improves cognition in Alzheimer’s patients, but does not treat the underlying disease.
IT STARTS OUT SLOWLY, almost imperceptibly. The misplaced keys. The forgotten birthday or anniversary. Using the wrong word or losing the thread in mid-conversation. These are often dismissed as typical signs of aging, but in some people, they may be the earliest signs that something bigger is at work – the development of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. When a doctor diagnoses dementia or Alzheimer’s in your loved one, you should be sure to ask a lot of questions to make sure you understand your loved one’s current state of being and so you can appropriately prepare for how this progressive disease could change over time.
1. Is it Alzheimer’s or another kind of dementia?
There are several types of cognitive decline people may experience. “Dementia is simply an umbrella term,” says Dr. Susann Varano, a geriatrician at Maplewood Senior Living, a Westport, Connecticut–based senior living residence company. “If a physician says, ‘you have dementia,’ it’s the same thing as saying, ‘you have cancer.'” She says it’s critical to pinpoint exactly which type of dementia it is. “Is it Lewy body dementia? Is it vascular? Is it a frontotemporal disorder? Is it mixed dementia? Is it Alzheimer’s disease?” Although all dementias affect the brain and cognitive function, “each of those types of dementias have a different path. Some accelerate more than others and some have different presenting symptoms, so it’s very important to get the actual diagnosis of dementia.”
I never wanted to be a concussion expert. I know some of the world’s leading authorities on head injuries and I’m certainly not one of them, but “expert” is a relative term. My expertise comes from personal experience.
During my two decades behind the wheel as a full-time Nascar driver, I suffered more than a dozen concussions. For a long time, I managed to keep most of them a secret, but then my symptoms got too severe to keep up the charade and I was forced to get help. My battle with head injuries has given me a wealth of firsthand knowledge of the causes, symptoms, and types of concussions, and their treatments.
Racers get every injury you can think of, from broken legs to cracked collarbones. But it was concussions, not fractures, that forced me to retire as a full-time Nascar driver in 2017. Twice I was pushed out of the driver’s seat because of concussion-related symptoms, missing two major races in 2012 and an entire half-season in 2016.