Topic: Research

Single versus Married

Thursday, August 23rd, 2012 by American Senior Fitness Association   View This Issue of Experience!

A recent study published in the journal The Gerontologist reported that single baby boomers generally have less money, as well as poorer health, than their married peers.
Those who appear to be struggling the most as they age are widows and men who never married, according to a report on the study by HealthDay, an affiliate of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The United States’ population of approximately 79 million baby boomers — persons born between 1946 and 1964 — began turning 65 in 2011. Roughly a third of the group are not married due to divorce, the death of a spouse or because they never got married.

The study’s authors I-Fen Lin and Susan Brown said in a news release distributed by The Gerontologist journal: "Unmarried boomers are disportionately women, younger and non-white. They tend to have fewer economic resources and poorer health."

Widowed boomer women were found to have less money and worse health than divorced or never-married boomer women. Regarding single boomer men, those who never got married were found to have less money and were more likely to live alone.

Single boomers have higher rates of disability than married boomers, but are less likely to have health insurance. Compared to six percent of the married boomers assessed by the study, 19 percent of the single boomers said they received food stamps, public assistance or supplemental Social Security income.

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“Nanorobots” to the Rescue

Thursday, August 23rd, 2012 by American Senior Fitness Association   View This Issue of Experience!

Scientists at the University of Florida (UF) have developed a "nanorobot" that can be programmed to target different diseases. Following is a fascinating UF news release on the topic:

University of Florida researchers have moved a step closer to treating diseases on a cellular level by creating a tiny particle that can be programmed to shut down the genetic production line that cranks out disease-related proteins.

In laboratory tests, these newly created “nanorobots” all but eradicated hepatitis C virus infection. The programmable nature of the particle makes it potentially useful against diseases such as cancer and other viral infections.

The research effort, led by Y. Charles Cao, a UF associate professor of chemistry, and Dr. Chen Liu, a professor of pathology and endowed chair in gastrointestinal and liver research in the UF College of Medicine, was described online recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“This is a novel technology that may have broad application because it can target essentially any gene we want,” Liu said. “This opens the door to new fields so we can test many other things. We’re excited about it.”

During the past five decades, nanoparticles — particles so small that tens of thousands of them can fit on the head of a pin — have emerged as a viable foundation for new ways to diagnose, monitor and treat disease. Nanoparticle-based technologies are already in use in medical settings, such as in genetic testing and for pinpointing genetic markers of disease. And several related therapies are at varying stages of clinical trial.

The Holy Grail of nanotherapy is an agent so exquisitely selective that it enters only diseased cells, targets only the specified disease process within those cells and leaves healthy cells unharmed.

To demonstrate how this can work, Cao and colleagues, with funding from the National Institutes of Health, the Office of Naval Research and the UF Research Opportunity Seed Fund, created and tested a particle that targets hepatitis C virus in the liver and prevents the virus from making copies of itself.

Hepatitis C infection causes liver inflammation, which can eventually lead to scarring and cirrhosis. The disease is transmitted via contact with infected blood, most commonly through injection drug use, needlestick injuries in medical settings, and birth to an infected mother. More than 3 million people in the United States are infected and about 17,000 new cases are diagnosed each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Patients can go many years without symptoms, which can include nausea, fatigue and abdominal discomfort.

Current hepatitis C treatments involve the use of drugs that attack the replication machinery of the virus. But the therapies are only partially effective, on average helping less than 50 percent of patients, according to studies published in The New England Journal of Medicine and other journals. Side effects vary widely from one medication to another, and can include flu-like symptoms, anemia and anxiety.

Cao and colleagues, including graduate student Soon Hye Yang and postdoctoral associates Zhongliang Wang, Hongyan Liu and Tie Wang, wanted to improve on the concept of interfering with the viral genetic material in a way that boosted therapy effectiveness and reduced side effects.

The particle they created can be tailored to match the genetic material of the desired target of attack, and to sneak into cells unnoticed by the body’s innate defense mechanisms.

Recognition of genetic material from potentially harmful sources is the basis of important treatments for a number of diseases, including cancer, that are linked to the production of detrimental proteins. It also has potential for use in detecting and destroying viruses used as bioweapons.

The new virus-destroyer, called a nanozyme, has a backbone of tiny gold particles and a surface with two main biological components. The first biological portion is a type of protein called an enzyme that can destroy the genetic recipe-carrier, called mRNA, for making the disease-related protein in question. The other component is a large molecule called a DNA oligonucleotide that recognizes the genetic material of the target to be destroyed and instructs its neighbor, the enzyme, to carry out the deed. By itself, the enzyme does not selectively attack hepatitis C, but the combo does the trick.

“They completely change their properties,” Cao said.

In laboratory tests, the treatment led to almost a 100 percent decrease in hepatitis C virus levels. In addition, it did not trigger the body’s defense mechanism, and that reduced the chance of side effects. Still, additional testing is needed to determine the safety of the approach.

Future therapies could potentially be in pill form.

“We can effectively stop hepatitis C infection if this technology can be further developed for clinical use,” said Liu, who is a member of The UF Shands Cancer Center.

The UF nanoparticle design takes inspiration from the Nobel prize-winning discovery of a process in the body in which one part of a two-component complex destroys the genetic instructions for manufacturing protein, and the other part serves to hold off the body’s immune system attacks. This complex controls many naturally occurring processes in the body, so drugs that imitate it have the potential to hijack the production of proteins needed for normal function. The UF-developed therapy tricks the body into accepting it as part of the normal processes, but does not interfere with those processes.

“They’ve developed a nanoparticle that mimics a complex biological machine — that’s quite a powerful thing,” said nanoparticle expert Dr. C. Shad Thaxton, an assistant professor of urology at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University and co-founder of the biotechnology company AuraSense LLC, who was not involved in the UF study. “The promise of nanotechnology is extraordinary. It will have a real and significant impact on how we practice medicine.”

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Let Go of Regrets

Friday, June 22nd, 2012 by American Senior Fitness Association   View This Issue of Experience!

A recent study published in the journal Science suggests that persons who don’t dwell on missed opportunities may have more satisfying later years. The German study involved healthy young people in their twenties, depressed older adults in their sixties, and healthy older adults in their sixties.

Using functional MRI brain scans, the researchers gauged their subjects’ responses to missing opportunities while playing a computerized game-based test. Winning or losing at the game was largely a matter of chance. When the young adults and depressed older adults realized they had missed opportunities earlier in the game, they typically began taking greater risks as the game continued. The healthy older adults, however, reacted more calmly without greatly changing their game-playing strategies. The brain scans revealed that the healthy older adults were feeling less regret and were better able to control their emotions. They seemed better able to keep in mind that luck played an important role in the game’s outcome, whereas the depressed subjects seemed more likely to blame themselves.

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Temperature Fluctuation Concerns

Friday, June 22nd, 2012 by American Senior Fitness Association   View This Issue of Experience!

Research conducted at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston suggests that temperature swings may place elderly persons who have chronic conditions (for example, diabetes, heart failure and lung disease) at a higher risk for death during the summer months. Published recently in the online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the study found that for every 1-degree Centigrade* increase in summer temperature variability, there was a corresponding increase of from 2.8 to 4 percent in the death rate of elderly people with chronic diseases.

In a news release about the study, Harvard researcher Antonella Zanobetti stated: "We found that, independent of heat waves, high day-to-day variability in summer temperatures shortens life expectancy. This variability can be harmful for susceptible people."

The study’s lead author Joel Schwartz said in the news release: "People adapt to the usual temperature in their city. That is why we don’t expect higher mortality rates in Miami than in Minneapolis, despite the higher temperatures. But people do not adapt as well to increased fluctuations around the usual temperature. That finding, combined with the increasing age of the population, the increasing prevalence of chronic conditions such as diabetes and possible increases in temperature fluctuations due to climate change, means that this public health problem is likely to grow in importance in the future."

Additional, more specific study findings included:

  • The risk of death for persons with diabetes rose 4 percent for each 1-degree C increase in summer temperature variability.
  • The risk of death for persons with a previous heart attack rose 3.8 percent for each 1-degree C increase in summer temperature variability.
  • The risk of death for persons with chronic lung disease rose 3.7 percent for each 1-degree C increase in summer temperature variability.
  • The risk of death for persons with heart failure rose 2.8 percent for each 1-degree C increase in summer temperature variability.
  • Temperature-related mortality risk was 1 to 2 percent higher for persons living in poverty and for black persons.
  • Risk of death was greater for elderly persons living in hotter climes.

The researchers concluded that greater summer temperature variability in the U.S. alone could result in over 10,000 additional deaths per year. Areas that may be particularly affected include the mid-Atlantic states. Elsewhere in the world, areas that may be particularly affected include parts of France, Spain and Italy.

*approximately 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit

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Research to Help Seniors Stay Healthy

Friday, June 22nd, 2012 by American Senior Fitness Association   View This Issue of Experience!

For the latest good news on staying healthy while growing older, enjoy this recent news release from the University of Florida’s Institute on Aging:

The University of Florida Institute on Aging has been awarded a major grant from the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute on Aging that is expected to total $5.2 million over five years. The award, in renewed support of the UF Pepper Older Americans Independence Center, will fund studies to better understand the biological and behavioral processes that lead to physical disability in older adults, and to develop and test disability prevention and rehabilitation therapies.

The new award comes on the heels of $3.9 million in NIH funding that established Florida’s first Pepper Center at UF in 2007.

“We are honored by this strong, continued support as we use scientific tools to tackle the issue of aging,” said principal investigator Marco Pahor, M.D., director of the UF Institute on Aging and chairman of the department of aging and geriatric research in the UF College of Medicine. “Each grant and each resulting research finding brings us one step closer to providing older adults with the means to maintain their health, independence and dignity as they age.”

UF is one of just 15 institutions in the nation to receive the award, which is named for the late Claude D. Pepper, a U.S. senator-turned-representative from Florida. Pepper advocated for the rights of the elderly and championed laws aimed at improving the health and well-being of older Americans.

“The UF Pepper Center has long been interested in maintaining and improving function of older adults in the community,” said Basil Eldadah, M.D., Ph.D., acting chief of the geriatrics branch of the National Institute on Aging. “It has made several significant contributions to our understanding of aging processes, particularly in the areas of prevention and rehabilitation of disability in older people.”

Aging takes its toll in varied ways, affecting many different organs. It can show up as acute effects such as hip fracture or stroke, or as chronic health conditions such as heart disease, osteoarthritis or mental decline. But although aging reveals itself in so many ways, mounting research points to one main process — muscle loss — as having a hand in all those changes.

The work of the UF Pepper Center focuses on understanding age-related muscle loss from different perspectives, and the potential role of skeletal muscle as a key target for therapies to counteract age-related damage to the body. The center’s researchers work in a wide range of scientific disciplines, including molecular biology, gerontology, epidemiology and behavioral sciences.

“The UF Institute on Aging has demonstrated its commitment to easing the burden of age-related illnesses, and has taken a lead role in finding research-based ways to help older adults maintain the best possible quality of life,” said David S. Guzick, M.D., Ph.D., senior vice president for health affairs and president of the UF&Shands Health System. “The Pepper award is a recognition of the world-class, patient-centered research being carried out at UF.”

Since 2007, the center’s researchers have conducted several basic science and clinical studies and published more than 450 scientific papers in noted journals such as Nature, The Journals of Gerontology and the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

The researchers have discovered that higher levels of physical activity are associated with longevity, better mood and improved strength among older adults; that low levels of an enzyme found in white blood cells are linked to better survival in frail older adults, and that a cancer drug can extend the lives of older mice, among other findings. Pepper-funded preliminary studies have formed the basis of 36 pending grant proposals totaling $38 million, for larger studies.

In addition to conducting basic, clinical and translational studies of age-related changes in the body, another central part of the center’s mission is to train the next generation of researchers and help them develop skills in both aging research and leadership. Junior faculty selected for the Pepper scholars career development program hail from various disciplines, including medicine, dentistry and public health, as well as from affiliated institutions such as the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

“This invaluable research training complements national efforts to increase the number of physicians and other clinical professionals who are specially trained in the area of geriatrics,” said UF College of Medicine Dean Michael L. Good. “These physicians and scientists will develop tomorrow’s medical tools and therapies that their clinical colleagues will use to care for patients in community practices and health care organizations.”

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Activity Level and Alzheimer’s Disease

Thursday, May 17th, 2012 by American Senior Fitness Association   View This Issue of Experience!

New research published in the journal Neurology indicates that performing everyday activities — including those that don’t officially meet the definition of "exercise" — may lower one’s risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease.
The researchers, led by Aron Buchman of Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, found that elderly persons who moved about more (compared to their less active peers) were less likely to develop Alzheimer’s. This was true even for active persons who did not work out, but who nevertheless kept busy by gardening or puttering around the house.

The study involved more than700 subjects, average age 82, without dementia. Their activity was monitored for up to ten days by an actigraph. The actigraph, a small device worn by the subjects, detected when they engaged in conventional forms of exercise, as well as when they moved around in other ways.>

Fast forward roughly four years. During that follow-up period, 71 subjects developed the signs of Alzheimer’s disease. Those in the 10 percent of subjects who were most active showed an 8 percent likelihood for developing signs of the illness. Those in the 10 percent of subjects who were least active had an 18 percent likelihood.

Since 602 of the 716 test subjects were female, it is not clear whether this study’s results can be applied to the general population. As no cause and effect relationship has been proven, one question that remains unanswered is: "Which comes first, lower activity level or cognitive decline?" (It is possible that experiencing the initial stages of Alzheimer’s disease somehow leads people to slow down.) Even so, this investigation adds to earlier research suggesting a possible connection between regular physical activity and brain health. Increasing all types of movement may be healthful in the long run.

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Can Financial Incentives Boost Fitness?

Thursday, May 17th, 2012 by American Senior Fitness Association   View This Issue of Experience!

The University of Florida Academic Health Center, which conducts patient care activities under the banner "UF&Shands," is the most comprehensive program of its kind in the southeastern United States. The following news release describes an important upcoming UF&Shands venture:


GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Joining a gym to log in hours on the elliptical or hiring a nutritionist for guidance are good ideas to shed pounds but typically too pricey for people with low incomes, as are many programs geared toward boosting wellness.

To address that issue, University of Florida researchers have received a $9.9 million grant from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Texas State Health and Human Services Commission to test whether increasing access to wellness services could improve the health of patients already facing physical and mental health conditions.

Study subjects who take part in the Texas Wellness Incentives and Navigation project will receive a small stipend to pay for items such as gym memberships, tools to quit smoking or even a simple bathroom scale. They also will work closely with a navigator who will help them set goals and identify health risks, said Elizabeth Shenkman, director of the UF Institute for Child Health Policy and the grant’s primary investigator.

“We know that patients with co-morbid physical and mental health conditions are at particularly high risk for a shortened lifespan, a sedentary lifestyle and alcohol use. They also are at risk for high health expenditures because they are hospitalized or use the emergency room often,” said Shenkman, who also serves as chairwoman of the UF College of Medicine department of health outcomes and policy. “Some of these folks have conditions such as asthma, diabetes and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease combined with depression or other mental health problems. The improved healthy lifestyle can help people better manage their physical health conditions and also have a positive effect on their mental health.”

For each year of the three-year study, participants will receive a $1,150 debit card to use on various wellness services and products, based on the plan each makes with his or her personal navigator.

Using a counseling technique called motivational interviewing, navigators will coach participants and help them determine what services they need and what steps they need to take to achieve a healthy lifestyle. Participants will meet with their navigators once a month.

“The utilization of motivational interviewing has been shown to be effective in improving patient engagement in and commitment to the treatment process in numerous clinical contexts, including in health care settings,” said Carson Ham, a UF psychologist and expert on motivational interviewing.

The researchers are developing an electronic form that will not only help assess patients’ risks and needs but also will be coded to provide links to resources in the specific areas where patients live.

“Many of these patients have transportation issues that affect their access to services, too,” Shenkman said.

The study is one of 10 the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services recently funded to assess how helpful financial incentives are in promoting wellness. After the studies are complete, the most effective projects will be used as models for the rest of the country.

Keeping in mind the ability to serve as a model, UF researchers are working in concert with three health plans in Houston that handle Medicaid. The navigators are working with patients through the three health plans as part of the grant.

“We want the project to take place in a context where it could be implemented in other settings,” Shenkman said.

To measure the success of the study, researchers will examine several key outcomes, such as whether it reduces visits to the emergency room. They also will monitor participant’s blood pressure and cholesterol levels and total health care expenditures. If health benefits and cost savings are achieved, hiring health navigators and providing small stipends for wellness up front could save money down the road by keeping patients out of hospitals, Shenkman said.

“We are very excited about this partnership with the health plans, to really test a novel program and see what works best,” Shenkman said. “This is a phenomenal opportunity.”

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Mental Distress Tied to Physical Disability

Friday, April 20th, 2012 by American Senior Fitness Association   View This Issue of Experience!

Older adults experiencing depression or anxiety are more vulnerable to physical disabilities, according to an Australian study published recently in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.However, researchers found that performing regular physical activity can help to guard against such outcomes.

The scientists analyzed data on approximately 100,000 Australian men and women ages 65-plus. Psychological distress was detected in 8.4 percent of the subjects. The risk for physical disability was more than four times higher in those with any degree of psychological distress, compared to those with none. It was almost seven times higher in those with moderate levels of psychological distress.

The good news: Investigators found that the older adult subjects who were more physically active were less prone to physical disabilities. In a news release, lead author Gregory Kolt of the University of Western Sydney wrote, "Our findings can influence the emphasis that we place on older adults to remain active. With greater levels of physical activity, more positive health gains can be achieved, and with greater physical function (through physical activity), greater independence can be achieved."

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Sunlight and Stroke

Monday, March 19th, 2012 by American Senior Fitness Association   View This Issue of Experience!

A recent exploratory study suggests that a lack of sunlight might increase one’s risk for stroke, according to a report by HealthDay, an affiliate of the National Institutes of Health:

The study’s co-author, Leslie McClure of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, told HealthDay, "We hear a lot about how sun may be bad for us, in terms of skin cancer, for example. But this examination of sunlight exposure indicates that there may be some positive results related to being in the sun… The bottom line is that sunlight may be both a friend and a foe with respect to health."

Researchers analyzed data involving more than 30,000 black and white subjects over 45 years of age. Particular attention was paid to approximately 16,500 of those subjects, none of whom had a history of heart disease or stroke when they entered the project between the years of 2003 and 2007. All had undergone medical examinations, provided their health history, and disclosed places where they had resided in the past.

During a five-year follow-up period, 351 of the 16,500 participants had a stroke. That stroke incidence was compared with satellite and ground data regarding geographical monthly sunlight patterns going back as far as 15 years. Subjects in the bottom half of the sunlight exposure range had a 1.6 times higher risk for stroke, compared to those in the top half. Evidence also emerged that subjects living in colder climates had a greater risk for stroke.

Researchers stressed that this work is preliminary, not research that proves a cause and effect relationship between a lack of sunlight and increased stroke risk. Future investigations will seek to clarify the matter.

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A Promising Alzheimer’s Treatment

Monday, March 19th, 2012 by American Senior Fitness Association   View This Issue of Experience!

When mice with an Alzheimer’s-like condition were given bexarotene, a cancer drug, the undesirable plaque-forming protein in their brains began clearing within hours and their Alzheimer’s-like behavior was largely reversed within days. Laura Sanders, writing for ScienceNews (March 10, 2012), described the study, which was undertaken at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland, Ohio:

The brains of persons with Alzheimer’s disease contain high levels of the plaque-forming protein amyloid-beta (A-beta). Like people, mice with a lot of A-beta in their brains experience memory loss and difficulty learning new things. For example, when normal laboratory mice are placed in cages with a supply of soft tissue paper, they usually chew it up and arrange it into a pile, thereby making a soft, comfortable nest for themselves. But mice with high A-beta levels lose their ability to make a mental connection between seeing the paper and the opportunity to form a soft place to lie. However, after three days of bexarotene treatment, these mice began building nests again.

Also like people with Alzheimer’s disease, mice with high A-beta levels often lose their sense of smell. When normal mice smell a strong odor again and again, they grow used to it and don’t act surprised the third, fourth or fifth time they’re exposed to it. But high A-beta mice don’t become accustomed to the scent and continue to act surprised every time they encounter it. Given bexarotene, these mice recovered their ability to get used to a smell.

Researchers reported that after 14 days of treatment, plaque levels in the laboratory mice decreased by 75 percent. However, they cautioned that making the leap from research animals to human beings is the most difficult step in the drug development process. In any event, this study added to scientists’ understanding of amyloid-beta, so progress has been achieved.

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