Old and happier


Old age is generally associated with a downward spiral as far as your physical health and cognitive skills are concerned. But there is an upside to ageing! Happiness and emotional well-being increase as you age, according to a US study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.

The researchers analysed the physical, cognitive and mental health of 1,546 individuals, aged 21 to 99 years. Older participants scored significantly higher on mental health than younger folks, despite faring worse on physical and cognitive functions.

“Their improved sense of psychological well-being was linear and substantial. Participants reported that they felt better about themselves and their lives year upon year, decade after decade," said the senior author. Adults in their 20s and 30s reported higher levels of perceived stress and symptoms of depression and anxiety. "This 'fountain of youth' period is associated with far worse levels of psychological well-being than any other period of adulthood," he added.

So why are older people happier? Older adults are better at handling stressful situations. “They learn not to sweat out the little things. And a lot of previously big things become little." They tend to retain fewer negative emotions and memories. They are also wiser. Wisdom increases with age.

"Inadequate attention has been paid to mental health issues that continue or get exacerbated post-adolescence. We need to understand mechanisms underlying better mental health in older age in spite of more physical ailments. That would help develop broad-based interventions to promote mental health in all age groups, including youth."


Fortify with folic acid

Pregnant women and women who are planning to become pregnant are advised to take folic acid supplements to prevent neural tube defects, birth defects such as spina bifida, an abnormality of the spine and spinal cord. A new Canadian study published in the journal Circulation has found that folic acid can also reduce the risk of congenital heart defects.

Folic acid food fortification was made mandatory for all types of flour, enriched pasta and cornmeal in 1998 in Canada. Researchers reviewed data from nearly 6 million births that occurred between 1990 and 2011 to analyse the impact of folic acid food fortification on various congenital heart diseases.

After controlling for factors such as maternal age, multiple births, pregnancy complications, prenatal diagnosis and pregnancy terminations, folic acid food fortification was associated with a 11 per cent reduction in rates of congenital heart defects overall.

There was a 27 per cent reduction in severe heart outflow tract abnormalities; 23 per cent reduction in the narrowing of the aorta; and a 15 per cent reduction in atrial and ventricular septal defects—holes in the wall separating heart chambers.

But there was no effect on heart defects related to an abnormality in the number of an infant's chromosomes.

According to lead researcher Dr K.S. Joseph, women should start taking folic acid supplements before trying to get pregnant as they may not get adequate folate from diet alone.

Sound awakening

Researchers at UCLA have successfully used ultrasound to jump-start the brain of a 25-year-old man recovering from a coma. The technique, called low-intensity focused ultrasound pulsation, uses sonic stimulation to excite the neurons in the thalamus, a very crucial structure for processing information.

The device, about the size of a coffee cup saucer, was placed by the side of the patient’s head and was activated 10 times for 30 seconds each, for about 10 minutes. The device emits only a small amount of energy, less than a conventional Doppler ultrasound.

The patient, who showed only minimal signs of consciousness, had remarkable progress following the procedure. The patient regained full consciousness and full language comprehension three days after the treatment. He was able to communicate by nodding and shaking his head.

“The changes were remarkable,” the lead researcher said. “It’s almost as if we were jump-starting the neurons back into function. Until now, the only way to achieve this was a risky surgical procedure known as deep brain stimulation, in which electrodes are implanted directly inside the thalamus. Our approach directly targets the thalamus but is noninvasive.”

The researchers hope to test the technique on more patients to determine whether it could be a viable treatment option for coma patients.

Did You Know
People with a history of gallstones have a 23 per cent increased risk of coronary heart disease.
Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology


Calming gadget

Most parents know that iPads are an excellent tool to calm kids down. But what about calming anxious kids before a surgery?

According to a study presented at the World Congress of Anesthesiologists in Hong Kong, letting kids play on their iPads is as effective as conventional sedatives in lowering their anxiety before a surgery.

French researchers compared the effect of using an iPad to taking a sedative called midazolam before surgery that required general anaesthesia in 112 children between the ages of 4 and 10. Twenty minutes before administering anaesthesia, 54 kids were given the sedative midazolam and 58 were allowed to play on an iPad.

The children’s anxiety levels were assessed four times on the day of surgery—arrival at the hospital, separation from their parents, during induction and in the post anaesthesia care unit. Parental anxiety and satisfaction were also measured.

Anxiety levels in both kids and their parents were similar across both groups. Additionally, parental satisfaction and quality of anaesthesia induction was higher in children who were allowed to use iPads.

“Our study showed that child and parental anxiety before anaesthesia are equally blunted by midazolam or use of the iPad. However, the quality of induction of anaesthesia, as well as parental satisfaction, were judged better in the iPad group. Use of iPads or other tablet devices is a non-pharmacologic tool which can reduce perioperative stress without any sedative effect in pediatric ambulatory surgery," the lead researcher added.

Did You Know
25 per cent of premature births can be prevented if three modifiable risk factors are addressed—sufficient spacing between pregnancies; starting with an optimal pre-pregnancy weight; and eating healthy/gaining adequate weight during pregnancy.
Maternal and Child Health Journal


The right way

Many patients with diabetes who inject themselves with insulin are not doing it correctly. The right technique is important for optimal control of diabetes.

Based on an international survey of 13,289 insulin-injecting diabetics from 42 countries, Mayo Clinic Proceedings has issued new recommendations for insulin delivery.

Many patients were using longer and thicker needles and reusing the needles frequently. According to the recommendations, patients should use the shortest pen needles or syringe needles available (currently 4mm and 6mm, respectively).

Long needles can increase the risk of intramuscular injections, which can speed up insulin uptake and action, increasing glucose variability and risk of hypoglycaemia. Shorter needles, on the other hand, are less painful and safe, have higher patient acceptance and give comparable glucose control.

Pen needles and syringe needles should not be reused. They are not sterile after one use.

The recommended injection sites are the abdomen, thigh, buttock and upper arm. Injections should be given into clean sites, only using clean hands. Pens and cartridges should not be shared.

The survey also found that a third of the patients use the same injection site causing bumps known as lipohypertrophy, or lipos. Injecting into lipos can lead to improper and variable absorption of insulin. To counter that, patients may inject more insulin, putting them at risk of glucose variation and hypoglycaemia and increasing their risk for eye, kidney and nerve complications.

To avoid lipohypertrophy and improve glycaemic control, patients are advised to rotate the injection sites frequently. Injections should be spaced about one finger-breadth apart and a single injection site should be used no more frequently than every four weeks.

“Adherence to these new recommendations should lead to more effective therapies, improved outcomes, and lower costs for patients with diabetes,” the study concluded.

Did You Know
_Men who underwent hair transplants were rated as more youthful, attractive, successful and approachable_.
JAMA Facial Plastic Surgery


Vision loss

Diabetes has become a leading cause of vision loss worldwide. As the number of people living with diabetes has been soaring, so too has blindness and visual impairment associated with diabetic retinopathy, according to a study published in the journal Diabetes Care.

From 1990-2010, the number of people worldwide with diabetes-related blindness increased by 27 per cent and those with moderate or severe vision impairment increased by 64 per cent.

Diabetic retinopathy is a condition that damages the retina. Chronic high blood sugar can damage the delicate blood vessels in the retina, which can start leaking and distort vision. In more advanced cases, new abnormal blood vessels grow, damaging the retina and leading to blindness. Poor control of blood glucose levels and lack of access to eye health services in many parts of the world are contributing factors.

“Unfortunately diabetic retinopathy usually does not have any symptoms in the early stages. People diagnosed with diabetes should have a dilated eye health exam at least every year and be advised by their eye care practitioner for their personal situation. Patients should work closely with their health care provider to determine the best methods to control their blood sugar levels,” the study co-author suggested.

Did You Know
Children who are given antibiotics by their first birthday are 1.21 times more likely to be diagnosed with a food allergy compared to children who have not taken any antibiotics in their first year of life. The risk of food allergy increased with the number of antibiotic prescriptions a child received. The strongest association was seen among children who were given cephalosporin and sulfonamide antibiotics.
Allergy, Asthma & Clinical Immunology


Bow wow!

Just like humans, dogs can understand not just what you say, but how you say it.

Dogs can understand both the meaning of words and the intonation of human speech the way humans do, Hungarian researchers report in the journal Science.

Using fMRI scans, researchers studied how dogs process speech. They scanned the brains of 13 dogs as they listened to recordings of their trainers' voices. Trainers said both praise words (good boy) and neutral words (however) in neutral and praising tones.

Like humans, dogs process vocabulary using the left hemisphere of the brain, and they process intonation separately from vocabulary, using the right hemisphere of the brain.

Both words and their intonation, or the emotion behind the words, are important to dogs. Only positive words said in a positive tone activated the reward centres of the brain.

"This shows … that dogs not only separate what we say from how we say it, but also that they can combine the two for a correct interpretation of what those words really meant," the lead researcher noted.


Laser harm

According to a case report published in the journal Pediatrics, laser pointers can cause permanent vision loss in kids, if not used correctly.

The report details the cases of four children, aged 9 through 16, who had severe injury to the retina after playing with lasers.

One child looked at the reflection of a laser pointer in a mirror; two others pointed the lasers at themselves, and the fourth child had a laser war with a friend. The resulting retinal damage included blurry, distorted or absent vision in the centre of the visual field. Three children had potential irreversible vision loss.

“Laser pointer devices among children should be discouraged and limited due to the possibility of permanent harm to themselves and others,” the authors conclude.


Twin effect

Twins don’t just have someone to always cover their backs; they also enjoy a longer life.

A Danish study published in PLOS ONE looked at 2,932 pairs of same-sex twins born in Denmark between 1870 and 1900 and lived past the age of 10. Researchers compared their ages at death with that of the general population.

"We find that at nearly every age, identical twins survive at higher proportions than fraternal twins, and fraternal twins are a little higher than the general population," said the lead author.

The authors suggest that the longer lifespan enjoyed by twins can be attributed to the social support they share, similar to the marriage protection effect—married adults are generally healthier and have lower mortality risk than unmarried adults.

The social bond that twins share may protect them from engaging in risky behaviour, provide emotional and material assistance during stressful times and promote healthy behaviour.

"Research shows that these kinds of social interactions, or social bonds, are important in lots of settings. Most people may not have a twin, but as a society we may choose to invest in social bonds as a way to promote health and longevity."

Traffic jams make you ill

Sitting in traffic jams can be quite frustrating. A study led by Dr Prashant Kumar of the University of Surrey published in the journal Environmental Science: Processes and Impacts finds that it can be harmful to your health, too.

The World Health Organization has classified outdoor air pollution as a carcinogen and is among the top ten health risks faced by humans, linking it to seven million premature deaths a year.

Outdoor air pollution is the eighth leading cause of death each year in the US, and in London, it kills 10 times more people than road traffic accidents. Air pollution can cause lung cancer, asthma and other respiratory diseases. It has also been linked to heart disease and stroke.

Pollution levels inside cars while waiting in traffic jams or at red traffic lights are up to 40 per cent higher compared to when traffic is moving. Drivers stuck at traffic lights are exposed to up to 29 times more harmful pollutants than those driving in free flowing traffic.

Exposure to pollutants was highest when the windows are closed, but the fan is turned on.

The study also has suggestions to reduce exposure: keep the windows closed. Keeping the windows closed and turning off the fan can reduce pollutants inside the car up to 76 per cent. If you have to turn on the fan, the safest setting is the air being circulated internally only, so it doesn’t draw in outside pollutants.

“Where possible and with weather conditions allowing, it is one of the best ways to limit your exposure by keeping windows shut, fans turned off and to try and increase the distance between you and the car in front while in traffic jams or stationary at traffic lights. If the fan or heater needs to be on, the best setting would be to have the air re-circulating within the car without drawing in air from outdoors. Of course improving the efficiency of filtering systems of vehicles in future could further benefit to curtail the on-road exposure in such situations,” Kumar noted.


Active seniors

Retirement does not mean a sedentary lifestyle. According to two separate studies, seniors who engage in moderate physical activity can considerably reduce their risk of heart disease and dementia.

For the study published in Journals of Gerontology: Medical Sciences, researchers analysed the physical activity of 3,714 participants aged 60 and older and followed them for over a decade, during which 236 people developed dementia.

The most sedentary people were 50 per cent more likely to develop dementia compared to those who did any amount of exercise. Brain scans showed that those who exercised regularly had less brain shrinkage associated with ageing and more total brain volume.

"It doesn't require intensive physical activity to decrease risk of dementia. Even moderate amounts are fine,” said the senior researcher.

Participants aged 75 or older showed the greatest benefits.

"The message here is that you're never too old to exercise and gain benefit from it. These patients derive the most benefit from exercise because they are the ones who are at the age of greatest risk for dementia."

The second study, presented at the annual meeting of the European Society of Cardiology, analysed the health outcomes of almost 2,500 Finnish people aged 65 and older for almost 12 years.

People who exercised at moderate levels had a 31 per cent lower risk for a cardiovascular event such as a heart attack, and 54 per cent lower risk of dying during the study period. The protective benefits were even greater for those who engaged in high intensity activity. They had a 45 per cent lower risk of heart events, and a 66 per cent lower risk of death.


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