Once a month, this column focuses on what’s new in health and medical research aimed at older adults – the Boomers. Here are 3 surprising new findings that can change the future health of older Americans and the ailments that they are at higher risk for.
1. What’s Your True Age? Your age is not just the years you’ve lived on the planet, says a new study published recently in the journal Population and Development. In fact, your true age may be much younger than your chronological age. Similarly, depending on your health, it can go the other way too. Researchers are now looking at methodologies in studying aging other than through chronological age, to get a more accurate picture of the impact of aging on populations.
These methods include more function-based things that tend to change with age such as – life expectancy, overall health, cognitive function, physical fitness, disability rates, etc. As lifespans get longer, say the researchers, the same age no longer correlates with the same level of health of previous generations. For example, in the 1960’s, the age of 65 was considered “old”, but today with changes in medical technology, knowledge about nutrition and physical fitness, etc., 65 is closer to 55, or less, in true age. So, it could likely be very true that 60 is the new 40.
2. Brain Injuries and Music. How music affects brain-injured persons may hold part of the key to re-igniting personal memories in Alzheimer, or other cognitive impaired, brain conditions. This was the finding of a study published recently in the journal, Neuropsychological Rehabilitation. The research referred to as MEAMs – music-evoked autobiographical memories – revealed that music can help patients with acute brain injuries (ABI’s) recall happier, personal memories.
In their study, participants identified a particular song from a time in their past as bringing back a memory in their life. In addition, they generally regarded the recalled memories as positive ones. The researchers concluded that music was a more effective stimulus at evoking autobiographical memories than verbal prompts across each life period. In other research noted by the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, music therapy can greatly improve a memory-impaired person’s mood, reduce stress agitation, and actually help with motor movement.
3. Exercise Reduces Dementia. The results of a 35 year study are in; exercise greatly reduces risk of dementia. Regular exercise contributed to lower body weight, lower rate of diabetes and heart disease. Exercise decreases insulin levels that can pack on body fat and up risk for diabetes. It also decreases the inflammatory hormones that can cause damage to vascular systems that lead to heart disease.
And, what’s good for your heart is good for your head – as preserved, non-inflamed vascular systems in the brain can greatly reduce the risk of developing dementia. Other factors that contribute to lowered risk of dementia are not smoking and low alcohol intake. In other studies, exercise was shown to also improve depression in Parkinson disease patients. Parkinson’s disease frequently is accompanied by muscular stiffness and the inability to move well. Moving regularly, as much and as often as possible, can help combat that and the depression that is present in about 50% of Parkinson’s patients.