Aging & Caregiving in the News

Information, updates and interesting tidbits from across the country and around the world.

In this issue:

  • Repairing a damaged heart
  • Women's verbal skills may mask Alzheimer's
  • Using virtual reality to understand senior falls

Senior man getting an EKG while on a treadmill

Reversing the Risk of Heart Failure

We often think of heart health in terms of prevention. But a study from UT Southwestern Medical Center shows that exercise can not only prevent but reverse the damage that leads to heart failure. Study author Dr. Benjamin Levine studied a group of middle-aged people, half of whom took part in an exercise program. After two years, the group that exercised had notably healthier hearts. Dr. Levine compared the difference to "a stretchy, new rubber band versus one that has gotten stiff sitting in a drawer." He advises, "Based on a series of studies performed by our team over the past five years, this 'dose' of exercise has become my prescription for life. I think people should be able to do this as part of their personal hygiene—just like brushing your teeth and taking a shower." Talk to your doctor about an exercise program that's right for you.

Why Is It Trickier to Diagnose Early-Stage Dementia in Women?

While Alzheimer's disease can be diagnosed by using imaging to examine changes in the brain, such as atrophy of certain structures and the presence of beta-amyloid deposits, a simple verbal screening test is usually the first step to spotting the condition. But a study presented at the July 2018 Alzheimer's Association International Conference showed that because women, on average, have greater recall of words, the dementia diagnosis could be clouded. University of Illinois, Chicago professor Pauline Maki, Ph.D., reported, "These findings also may help to explain why women show a more rapid decline across a wide range of cognitive abilities [shortly] after being diagnosed with Alzheimer's. While the female advantage may be functionally beneficial, it could mask early stages of Alzheimer's, resulting in a more severe burden of disease at the time of diagnosis, with more rapid deterioration thereafter." Maki's team suggested a gender-based diagnostic approach for better accuracy in the early stages.

A Futuristic Way to Learn More About Senior Falls

Test subject using VR treadmill

A test subject in the virtual reality lab at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. (Photo courtesy of the UNC/NC State Department of Biomedical Engineering.)

When we're young, we rely on messages from our feet and legs to know where we are in space—a sense called proprioception. But as we grow older, this sense declines, and we rely more on visual cues. To better understand how to prevent falls in older adults, researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill wanted to learn more about how these two types of sensory input work together. The team, headed by Prof. Jason R. Franz, Ph.D., used virtual reality to create the illusion of balance changes while test participants walked on a treadmill. Reported Franz, "We were able to identify the muscles that orchestrate balance corrections during walking. We also learned how individual muscles are highly coordinated in preserving walking balance. These things provide an important roadmap for detecting balance impairments and the risk of future falls."

Source: Kentuckiana Regional Planning & Development Agency (KIPDA) in association with IlluminAge Communication Partners; copyright 2018 IlluminAge