Recent News on Aging

Anti-ageing pill pushed as bona fide drug

From the journal Nature comes this article that poses a paradigm-shifting question: Is aging a natural occurrence of life or a treatable condition?

Doctors and scientists want drug regulators and research funding agencies to consider medicines that delay ageing-related disease as legitimate drugs. Such treatments have a physiological basis, researchers say, and could extend a person’s healthy years by slowing down the processes that underlie common diseases of ageing — making them worthy of government approval. On 24 June, researchers will meet with regulators from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to make the case for a clinical trial designed to show the validity of the approach.

The article focuses on a clinical trial called Targeting Aging with Metformin, or TAME:

Plans call for the trial to enrol 3,000 people aged 70–80 years at roughly 15 centres around the United States. The trial will take 5–7 years and cost US$50 million.

The key to the significance of such research is that it examines a change in the way clinicians would approach aging: instead of treating conditions such as heart disease, cancer, and cognitive impairment that arise with aging, they would treat aging itself. If this were possible, aging itself would become a treatable condition instead of a natural progression of life.

Two Views of Aging While Creative

In this article for Psychology Today, Susan K. Perry addresses the question “What happens when prolific writers get old?” She contrasts two books by writers who remained creative into old age:

  • At Eighty-Two, A Journal by poet, novelist, and memoirist May Sarton, who died in 1995
  • Essays After Eighty by poet and essayist Donald Hall, recently published

About Sarton’s journal Perry writes, “Most of all I noted and appreciated her honesty about the highs and ever-more-frequent lows of her mood.” Perry contrasts Sarton’s outlook with Hall’s: “According to his new book of essays, he’s still at it in his mid–80s… . He omits nothing (or little) of the humiliations and challenges of growing old.” She continues:

Above all, Hall’s essays demonstrated to me that not all aging men and women become depressed to the point of not being able to be creative.

The 10 warning signs of Alzheimer’s

Most researchers and clinicians agree that early diagnosis and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease can help slow the disease’s progress. And if you’re at or approaching your older years, you’ve probably seen quizzes and lists all over newspapers, magazines, and the internet on warning signs you should look for.

But while early diagnosis leads to early intervention, some news out of the 2013 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference is troubling: An expert panel found 16 online tests for Alzheimer’s disease scored poorly on scales of overall scientific validity, reliability and ethical factors.

While such self-diagnosis tools may be unreliable, other people may be more accurate in recognizing these warning signs put together by the Alzheimer’s Association:

  1. Memory changes that disrupt daily life
  2. Challenges in planning or solving problems
  3. Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work, or at leisure
  4. Confusion with time or place
  5. Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships
  6. New problems with words in speaking or writing
  7. Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
  8. Decreased or poor judgment
  9. Withdrawal from work or social activities
  10. Changes in mood and personality

But don’t try to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease at home. Visit a doctor for a thorough examination and diagnosis.

For more information see Alzheimer’s Association.

New questions about why more women than men have Alzheimer’s

Nearly two-thirds of Americans with Alzheimer’s disease are women, and now some scientists are questioning the long-held assumption that it’s just because they tend to live longer than men.

What else may put woman at extra risk? Could it be genetics? Biological differences in how women age? Maybe even lifestyle factors?

Here’s yet another article indicating that we need much more research into Alzheimer’s disease: “A recent Alzheimer’s Association report estimates that at age 65, women have about a 1 in 6 chance of developing Alzheimer’s during the rest of their lives, compared with a 1 in 11 chance for men.” Further, evidence suggests that once women develop Alzheimer’s, their condition worsens at a faster pace than in men.

Plans are underway to study both genes and hormones as possible contributors to the increased prevalence of the disease in women over men.

The unforgettable Glen Campbell

David Wild discusses watching CNN’s film Glen Campbell … I’ll Be Me:

Like a lot of people around the world, I have been listening to and loving the extraordinary music of Glen Campbell all of my life. Yet it was only this week that I could emotionally bring myself to see “Glen Campbell … I’ll Be Me,” the very beautiful, very musical and even more moving documentary directed by James Keach that quite rightly received an Oscar nomination for Best Original Song.

Especially take a look at Wild’s list of the 10 most unforgettable of Glen Campbell’s songs.

Retirement Lifestyle

Mean Girls in the Retirement Home

Here’s a sad story indeed. Jennifer Weiner writes about her 97-year-old grandmother’s entry into an independent living facility. The mean girls at the facility wouldn’t let Weiner’s grandmother sit at their table in the dining room. They talked about playing bridge but told Weiner’s grandmother that they didn’t need any new players.

Weiner uses her grandmother’s experience to ponder the question of how typical or atypical this treatment is among residents of independent living centers. She cites a recent study by Karl Pillemer of Cornell University that found aggression among residents in nursing homes to be widespread:

According to the study’s news release, one in five residents was involved in at least one “negative and aggressive encounter” with another resident during a four-week period. Sixteen percent were cursed or yelled at; 6 percent were hit, kicked or bitten; 1 percent were victims of “sexual incidents, such as exposing one’s genitals, touching other residents, or attempting to gain sexual favors;” and 10.5 percent dealt with other residents’ entering their rooms uninvited, or rummaging through their belongings.

Weiner also points out that age discrimination is rampant: “Even in a residence for the elderly, the 80-somethings will still be cold to the 95-year-olds.” This discrimination leaves people like her grandmother, now 99 and without cognitive impairment, with no one to talk to. Such is the pain of having outlived almost all of one’s contemporaries.

An Unexpected Bingo Call: You Can’t Play

Here’s another story that even goes beyond the experiences of Jennifer Weiner’s grandmother. Paula Span describes what happened to Ann Clinton, who is 80 and has Parkinson’s disease, at Redstone Village in Huntsville, AL. Redstone is a type of facility known as a continuing care retirement community (CCRC). Such communities offer a full range of care, from independent living through assisted living and then skilled nursing care. Many CCRCs promote their range of care as a benefit for potential residents.

Ann Clinton and her husband began their retirement life in an independent living apartment at Redstone. Her husband moved through the assisted living and skilled nursing continuum and died last fall. Throughout her husband’s decline Ann Clinton found companionship and support at the weekly bingo game held in the independent living area of the building. But when she entered the Redstone nursing wing after back surgery, she was told she could no longer participate in the Monday night bingo game, even though she could easily ride her motorized scooter to the game.

And thus began the bingo wars at Redstone. My heart sank as I read how the conflict has escalated. Both Redstone administration and some independent-living residents want to keep Mrs. Clinton out.

Read how lawyers from AARP and the National Senior Citizens Law Center are attempting to fight such discrimination as a violation of both the federal Fair Housing Act and and the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Retirees Find Meaning Serving the Needs of Their Communities

Not all the news about retirement life is bad, though. This New York Times article describes how retired folks are volunteering to do “difficult and meaningful work” to give back to their communities:

According to the Corporation for National and Community Service, a government agency that runs the AmeriCorps and Senior Corps programs, some 24 percent of older adults volunteered in 2013, providing nearly 190 million hours of service. Despite the disruption of a recession six years ago, that rate has held fairly steady over the past decade.

Read here about three people who

personify what Mitch Anthony, a consultant, speaker and author of “The New Retirementality,” calls the “legacy or mission phase” of life. At this point, people may be less concerned with paying bills and more interested in paying back.

Over 50 and Back in College, Preparing for a New Career

And there’s more good news in another New York Times article:

For many, a retirement of babysitting grandchildren, golfing and relaxing on the beach is passé. Older people today approach work as a pillar of a retirement lifestyle, planning ahead and adding skills even before leaving their current jobs.

Colleges and universities are trying to figure out how to tap into this growing population of potential students. According to the United States Census Bureau, by 2030 the number of Americans age 65 and older will reach 72 million, up from 40.2 million in 2010.

A Merrill Lynch study conducted in partnership with Age Wave, a research firm that focuses on aging, found that nearly three of every five working retirees said retirement was an opportunity to shift to a different line of work.

For some of those seeking to change careers, retirement offers an opportunity to pursue a calling that wasn’t economically feasible earlier. Still others, forced into earlier-than-expected retirement by health concerns or layoffs, need to keep working for financial reasons.

Read here how many colleges and universities, including community colleges, are working to develop both degree and non-degree programs for older adult students. Especially encouraging is the news that state universities in California, Texas, and Pennsylvania offer tuition-free enrollment for older adultls.

As Cognition Slips, Financial Skills Are Often the First to Go – NYTimes.com

Studies show that the ability to perform simple math problems, as well as handling financial matters, are typically one of the first set of skills to decline in diseases of the mind, like Alzheimer’s, . . . Research has also shown that even cognitively normal people may reach a point where financial decision-making becomes more challenging.

via As Cognition Slips, Financial Skills Are Often the First to Go – NYTimes.com.

This article contains a list of early signs of financial decline in the elderly.

Too Many Open Browser Tabs

Whenever I find an interesting article, I leave it open on my browser because I just know it will form the basis of a spectacular blog post. I’ve always done this, but in the past I would finally just close everything and start over again because the web is, after all, an infinite source of riches. But since I challenged myself to write a blog post a day in 2015, I’ve been less eager to close all those tabs down. What if I face a day when I can’t think of anything to write about?

My browser has now become so bloated that I have to do something to make my system work faster. Instead of just closing all those tabs, I’m resorting to a collection of the very best ones here. Because I have lots of wide-ranging interests, this is quite an eclectic collection. But every one of these articles is worth attention. I guarantee it.

The Moral Bucket List

New York Times op-ed columnist David Brooks writes here about some special people:

ABOUT once a month I run across a person who radiates an inner light. These people can be in any walk of life. They seem deeply good. They listen well. They make you feel funny and valued. You often catch them looking after other people and as they do so their laugh is musical and their manner is infused with gratitude. They are not thinking about what wonderful work they are doing. They are not thinking about themselves at all.

Brooks distinguishes between two types of virtues, the résumé virtues and the eulogy virtues:

The résumé virtues are the skills you bring to the marketplace. The eulogy virtues are the ones that are talked about at your funeral — whether you were kind, brave, honest or faithful. Were you capable of deep love?

He goes on to say that a while back he set out “to discover how those deeply good people got that way.” In the rest of the article he describes what he found out.

It’s a good article, and I encourage you to read it. But I’ve left this browser tab open for a while now because this article reminded me of a former friend of mine. She could, at times, act caring and loving, but I always detected the tiniest disconnection between her inner workings and her outer behavior. For example, one day after she had spent a long time describing how each of her three children had recently hurt her feelings, she paused for a second while looking at me, then asked, “How’s your daughter?” During that second I could see the gears working inside her head: “I’ve talked about my kids, so I should now ask about hers.” I knew she wasn’t truly interested, so I said, “She’s fine” and left it at that. She visibly exhaled with relief.

This women always blamed other people for any problem in her own life. Everything was always the other person’s fault. She even developed a convoluted philosophy of life—it involved a person’s True Center of Pure Being (her caps)—that allowed her to avoid having to take responsibility for her own actions. When one of her children made her feel down on herself, she would explode and scream at me, trying to make me feel just as bad about myself as she felt about herself. When I told her, several times, how hurtful her behavior was to me, she said that I should understand that she was under a lot of pressure. “I’m not what I do,” she said.

This woman is the opposite of the people David Brooks describes. One can’t simply invoke one’s True Center of Pure Being. She is what she does. We all define ourselves by what we do and say. And this is why she’s a former friend, not a current one.

Sex, Dementia and a Husband on Trial at Age 78

This article brings up one of those issues that’s so complex and deeply personal that I have trouble figuring out what I think about it. In Iowa, Henry Rayhons, age 78, has been arrested for having sex with his 78-year-old wife, who had severe dementia, in a nursing home. The couple was married in 2007 after each had been widowed.

The top-level issue is whether Mrs. Rayhons was capable of giving consent for sex. But the lower-level issue is the question of who gets to decide whether Mrs. Rayhons was capable of giving consent: her husband, nursing home administrators, her doctor, her children?

This case suggests that someone must take the initiative in setting guidelines:

Sex is one of the most ambiguous areas in the scientific understanding of Alzheimer’s. While there are established methods of measuring memory, reasoning and the ability to dress, bathe and balance checkbooks, no widely used method exists for assessing the ability to consent to intimate relations.

Furthermore, dementia symptoms fluctuate. What may be appropriate on one day may not be appropriate on another day. Even more confusing, what may be appropriate in the morning may not be appropriate in the afternoon of the same day.

I’m glad I’m not sitting on the jury for this case.

Parsing Ronald Reagan’s Words for Early Signs of Alzheimer’s

Lawrence K. Altman, M.D., reports:

Now a clever new analysis has found that during his two terms in office, subtle changes in Mr. Reagan’s speaking patterns linked to the onset of dementia were apparent years before doctors diagnosed his Alzheimer’s disease in 1994.

The findings of the study by Arizona State University researchers were published in The Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. Altman points out that these findings “do not prove that Mr. Reagan exhibited signs of dementia that would have adversely affected his judgment and ability to make decisions in office.”

But the findings do suggest that alteration in speech may one day be used to predict the development of Alzheimer’s and other neurological conditions long before clinical symptoms appear. Earlier detection could lead to earlier treatment, which in turn could help reduce or at least slow damage to the brain.

This research used the same computer algorithm that other researchers have used to analyze changes in writing by novelists, which I have written about here:

Canadian researchers have reported that analyses of syntax in novels by Iris Murdoch and Agatha Christie indicated early signs of dementia (Ms. Murdoch died of Alzheimer’s; Ms. Christie is suspected to have had it.) The same analysis applied to the healthy P. D. James, who died at 94 last year, did not find signs of dementia.

Scientists not involved in this study caution that much more research is necessary before analyses such as this can confidently be used in examining for Alzheimer’s disease.

Diabetes Prevention That Works

It’s Week 5 of the Diabetes Prevention Program, and however commonplace the conversation, the results can be impressive. In 2002, a large national clinical trial showed that among adults at risk for Type 2 diabetes, this “lifestyle modification program” and resulting weight loss reduced the incidence of the disease by 58 percent in 1,000 subjects participating in the program, compared with those who did not — and by an even more substantial 71 percent in those over age 60.

So the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began rolling out the National Diabetes Prevention Program in 2012. Now, 527 organizations around the country — health care providers, community groups, employers, colleges, churches — offer it in every state, often at multiple sites. Several providers are experimenting with online versions. The Y.M.C.A., the largest single organization involved, enrolls 40 percent of participants nationally.

via Diabetes Prevention That Works – NYTimes.com.

Did you know that nearly 26% of people over age 65 have Type 2 (sometimes referred to as adult-onset) diabetes? Here’s news about a program aimed at helping us make lifestyle changes to decrease our likelihood of developing the disease.

Many YMCAs across the country are offering this program. There’s a link here to help you find out if your local Y is among them.

When the Grandchildren Grow Older, and Closer – NYTimes.com

When the Grandchildren Grow Older, and Closer – NYTimes.com

Much of the research on grandparents and grandchildren has focused on young children and on the safety-net function that grandparents can provide in troubled families. But lengthening lifespans mean that more people will have adult relationships with their grandparents, too, sometimes for many years.

“We know relatively little about what grandparents and grandchildren do for each other on a daily basis during the grandchildren’s adulthood,” said Sara Moorman, a Boston College sociologist who set out to learn more. She presented the results of her research at the American Sociological Association’s annual meeting in New York this week.

I don’t have any grandchildren, so this is a topic I had not thought about: the relationship between grandparents and adult grandchildren.

Frontline: Life and Death in Assisted Living

Frontline: Life and Death in Assisted Living

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/life-and-death-in-assisted-living/

What can one expect in an assisted living facility? It can be hard to evaluate their seemingly bucolic surroundings based solely on their websites and promotional literature. The team at Frontline teamed up with Pro Publica to craft this well-done documentary on the assisted living industry in the United States. Visitors can watch the entire 53 minute documentary online or explore the site’s wealth of extra features. Users shouldn’t miss the interviews with two of the nation’s largest assisted living companies or the very compelling live chat transcript with the filmmakers, titled Is Assisted Living Safe for Your Parents? Journalists, in particular, will appreciate the section How “Life and Death in Assisted Living” Was Reported.

From The Scout Report, Copyright Internet Scout 1994-2013. https://www.scout.wisc.edu/

Film Review: “Still Mine”

‘Still Mine’ Adds to Movies on Aging

Paula Span reviews this new film:

Not long ago, I could name the really excellent recent movies about aging on one hand. Now I’m running short of fingers, which I hope reflects filmmakers’ dawning recognition of the way this global demographic shift affects all our lives. The latest entry, a Canadian movie called “Still Mine,” opened in New York, Washington, Phoenix and several other cities last month and will arrive in Denver, Atlanta, Seattle, Charlotte and more locations today.

And, just as rain is the standard symbol for Seattle, dementia has become a standard trope for aging:

Interesting, isn’t it, how many of the best films about aging zero in on dementia? On my personal favorites list (adding “Still Mine” to “Amour,” “The Iron Lady,” “Iris,” “The Savages,” “Away from Her” and “About Schmidt”), all but the last incorporate a central character suffering from this disease. Screenwriters, and novelists like Walter Mosley and Alice LaPlante, can’t seem to resist its intrinsic here-but-not-here drama.

“Still Mine” is clear-eyed about this phase, not nearly as brutal as the masterful “Amour,” but more grounded than “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” and “Quartet,” both of which featured charming British actors in fluffy screenplays that carefully evaded most realities of advanced age.

This film doesn’t, but it is gentle, more gentle than life can be.

 

Mick Jagger at 70 is Still Ripping the Joint

Mick Jagger at 70 is still ripping the joint

Here’s a jolt: Mick Jagger turns 70 today.

MIck Jagger
Mick Jagger performing in London last year. Photo: Reuters

Michael Dwyer, writing in Australian newspaper The Age, entertains with a historic look at The Rolling Stones and Jagger, who refuses to age gracefully.

Life Is Too Short. Or Is It?

Life Is Too Short. Or Is It?

Liah Greenfeld, Ph.D., writes that medical advances in prolonging life may have unintended consequences. She offers as evidence the fate of her parents:

My mother, who will be 85 next month and whose mind is still sharper than a surgical scalpel, repeats now and then: one must die in time. She was a doctor, she watched many deaths. She believes that the ability of medical science in developed countries to prolong life into the 80s and beyond is nothing to celebrate and, in fact, actively contributes to unnecessary suffering.  My mother is tired of life – and since my father’s death eleven years ago, in 2002, has often wished she were dead. They were married for 53 years, with his death meaningful life ended for her – there was nothing to live for anymore. His death – sudden, on the operation table, at 75 — was a terrible loss for all of us. For two years I, his eldest daughter, 48 when this happened, was overwhelmed by grief. Yet, before that, I had been consciously happy, that is, I realized that my life was a truly happy one, full to the brim of love and passionate interest in the surrounding world, which make life worth living. My father knew that he was going to die: we have discovered this in his diary. He was a doctor too, and a very good doctor, in contrast to the young and eager to cut surgeons who operated on him. He knew that, given the regimen of medications he was on, if operated, he would die of the loss of blood; his doctors, who suggested an exploratory surgery, missed this essential detail. Signing the consent form, my father was, therefore, consciously signing his death warrant. He was a man interested in so many things, always excited about something, always full of projects. In fact, at the time of his death he was learning a new language. And he was afraid of dying, as he wrote in the last entry of his diary, adding, though, but can life after 75 be considered life? I understand now that he died, as my mother says, “in time.”

After his death, my mother suddenly became very old. Her health drastically deteriorated. She started dying and has been dying for eleven years.

She ends by asking: “When is the time? Shouldn’t we at least think of this before further advancing our ability to prolong physical existence, without at the same time being able to fill the additional years with meaning?”