Review Category : Health

How the Brains of ‘SuperAgers’ Are Different

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — The brains of a select group of elderly people called “SuperAgers” look very different from many of their peers, a new study has found.

The SuperAgers were picked to be studied because all were over age 80 and had the memory capability of a person 20 to 30 years their junior, according to the study recently published in the Journal of Neurology.

To understand how SuperAgers managed to keep their mental ability intact, researchers performed a battery of tests on them, including MRI scans on 12 SuperAgers and post-mortem studies on five other SuperAgers to understand the make-up of their brains.

“The brains of the SuperAgers are either wired differently or have structural differences when compared to normal individuals of the same age,” Changiz Geula, a study senior author and a research professor at the Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease Center, said in a prepared statement. “It may be one factor, such as expression of a specific gene, or a combination of factors that offers protection.”

For one thing, a part of the SuperAgers’ brains called the anterior cingulate cortex, associated with the ability to focus attention, was much thicker than those in their elderly peers and younger subjects, according to the study.

Geula said the new findings could mean that part of the cortex “assists in the formation of memory,” and a thicker cortex could mean better memory function.

Dr. Al Lerner, director of the Brain Health and Memory Center at UH Case Medical Center in Cleveland, said that a thinner cortex has been associated with cognitive declines so, in theory, a thicker cortex could mean less chance of decline.

“[The] thinning of the cortex is emerging as a valuable marker in dementia,” said Lerner, who did not take part in the study. “It would imply that there’s a loss of cells.”

In addition to the thicker cortex, Northwestern researchers discovered a lack of protein “tangles” that end up killing cells and are known to become more prevalent as people age.

“These tangles that form inside the cells are fewer in SuperAgers than in both normal elderly and these individuals with mild cognitive impairment,” Geula told ABC News.

He said that the thicker cortex and lack of tangles might be related, although more study was needed.

“[Tangles] may shrink cells, and that’s why the area is thinner” in people who are not SuperAgers, Geula said.

Finally, researchers found that the SuperAgers had a specific kind of neuron thought to play a role in social interactions, called the von Economo neuron. These rare spindly neurons were found to be three to five times higher in SuperAgers than in elderly peers or those experiencing mild cognitive decline.

Geula said the high number of these neurons in SuperAgers might be associated with the high level of “social intelligence.”

He said more studies will need to be done to confirm the initial findings of the study, but that they give direction to how scientists can approach studying memory decline.

“[The results] give directions on what future studies will be done to help normal elderly and even Alzheimer patients to not lose cognitive function as much as we do,” Geula said.

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What Would It Take for Measles to Return Permanently to the US

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Measles was declared “eliminated” from the U.S. 15 years ago by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention but recent outbreaks have health experts concerned that the disease could make a more permanent return to the U.S. if vaccination rates fall.

Dr. Stephen Morse, an infectious disease expert at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, said for measles to become permanent — that is, become “endemic” — again to the U.S., measles immunizations would have to drop below 90 percent.

“It is highly contagious,” Morse said of measles, noting that every infected person could infect another 10 to 20 non-immune people. “You could have sporadic cases anytime [immunization levels] fall below something that approaches 90 to 95 percent.”

Currently the national immunization rate for measles is 91.9 percent as of 2013, according to the CDC. However during this time pockets of unimmunized people have helped fan recent outbreaks, the agency noted.

“The concern is that some groups are opting out of vaccination,” the CDC said in a statement to ABC News. Over time they become “susceptible to outbreaks despite high national vaccine coverage levels.”

In the last month, a measles outbreak has infected at least 102 people in 14 states, according to U.S. health officials. Last year, 644 people were infected with the virus in various outbreaks.

Before the measles vaccine was introduced in the U.S., approximately 3 to 4 million people were infected with the virus every year, nearly 50,000 were hospitalized and 400 to 500 people died of the virus, according to the CDC.

The disease was considered eliminated by the CDC in 2000 due to an absence of continuous transmission of the disease over 12 months.

While the recent outbreaks are a tiny fraction of the total annual cases in the U.S. before the vaccine was introduced, Morse said they could signal a worrisome trend if there is an increase in pockets of people who have not been immunized.

If enough people are not protected, the virus could be re-introduced from abroad and then continuously circulate throughout the country, meaning it has become endemic again in the U.S.

Morse, who had measles as a child, said he hoped parents on the fence about vaccines would reconsider in the wake of the latest outbreak.

“I would say there’s no comparison between having the disease and having the vaccine,” said Morse. “Even in the best case, [measles] really knocks you out.”

The CDC currently recommends two shots to protect against measles — one at 12 to 15 months and another between the ages of 4 to 6 years. One shot will provide 95 percent protection and two will provide 99 percent protection, according to the CDC.

The virus remains endemic to many other parts of the world, including Africa, Europe and parts of Asia. In these areas, measles remains a deadly problem, killing on average 400 people every day across the globe, according to the World Health Organization.

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Depending on Age, Recommended Sleep Ranges from Seven to 17 Hours

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — Imagine sleeping as much as 17 hours a day.

That would literally be sleeping your life away but for a newborn, it’s pretty standard.

The National Sleep Foundation has just issued its latest sleep recommendations for Americans, and the suggested amount of sleep for an infant up until three-months-old is 14 to 17 hours daily and then, 12 to 15 hours until they turn one.

In both cases, the previous recommended hours of sleep were 12 to 18 hours and 14 to 15 hours, respectively.

Other National Sleep Foundation recommendations include 11 to 14 hours of shuteye for one-and-two-year-olds, ten to 13 hours for three-to-five-year-olds, nine to 11 hours for kids through the age of 13 and eight-ten hours for teens.

The NSF recommends seven to nine hours of sleep daily for people ages 18 through 64 and seven to eight hours for adults 65 and older.

The foundation determined its sleep duration recommendations after consulting sleep experts and physicians from various fields, including pediatrics, neurology and gerontology.

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Spanish-Speaking Children Should Learn English Early

iStock/Thinkstock(COLUMBIA, Mo.) — The burgeoning Latino population in the U.S. has created various problems, including a widening education gap between children whose first language is English and mostly Spanish-speaking children.

Although it seems elementary, researchers at the University of Missouri College of Human Environmental Sciences stress the importance of young Latinos learning English as early as possible because it improves their chances of doing better in school and narrows the gap with their peers who only speak English.

In a study of 100 preschoolers who mostly spoke Spanish, those taught English at home and in the classroom had a far better vocabulary than if they tried to pick up the language only at school.

Study author Francisco Palermo says that even if adults at home are not particularly proficient at English, any exposure to it at all gives their children a leg up when they enter preschool.

Palermo also emphasized that the quality and variety of English used by teachers was more important than how much of the language they used since what’s taught by instructors is not as essential in picking up the language as the social interactions that the kids engage in.

In both home and school environments, the researchers stress that it remains important for adults to use the children’s native language to better help them adapt to English.

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Study Shocker! Men and Women Not So Different After All

iStock/Thinkstock(CHAPEL HILL, N.C.) — Men may never understand women and vice versa but researchers from three colleges have apparently figured out that the sexes aren’t all that different when it comes to psychological characteristics.

To make this rather astounding discovery, Zlatan Krizan of Iowa State University, Ethan Zell from the University of North Carolina and Western Carolina University’s Sabrina Teeter poured over 100 meta-analyses of gender differences covering some 12 million people.

Contrary to longstanding gender stereotypes, the trio ascertained that nearly three-quarters of psychological characteristics overlap, meaning men and women have a commonality in such things as risk-taking, stress at work and morality.

Krizan said these men and women are similar in most psychological attributes, regardless of age, intelligence, personality traits and well-being.

However, that’s not to say that the sexes are similar all the way down the line. The researchers contend that there are 10 attributes in which differences are clearly discernible such as men being more aggressive than women and females forming closer attachments to others like them than men.

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Many Often Silent About Asthma-Causing Agents at Work

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — Americans will put up with a lot at the workplace in order to maintain a steady income, going as far as enduring certain hazards that might jeopardize their health. Potential health hazards include airborne exposures that can cause respiratory diseases such as asthma.

And yet, as Jacek Mazurek of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health explains, many people who have contracted asthma at work are fearful of telling that to their physicians because it could affect their employment.

In a study of over 50,000 adults with jobs across the U.S., it was learned that only 15 percent of adults suffering from asthma actually talked with their doctors about how where they work might exacerbate their problem.

Even more shocking is that work may have possibly affected the estimated 46 percent of employed people with asthma.

If airborne exposures do exist at certain workplaces, people run the risk of developing permanent lung damage, which may not be treatable with medications.

Therefore, Mazurek suggests that a “thorough occupational history is critical to first establishing a diagnosis of work-related asthma, and then putting measures in place to prevent further exposure, or to treat it.”

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Americans’ Exposure to Secondhand Smoke Declines Significantly

Zoonar/Thinkstock(ATLANTA) — Restrictive public laws enacted since the turn of the century and fewer people puffing cigarettes inside their homes have dramatically reduced the public’s exposure to deadly secondhand smoke.

However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that even with this reduction, exposure to smoke loaded with carcinogens is still responsible for 41,000 preventable deaths annually.

In a report issued Tuesday, the CDC says that the actual exposure of smoke fell to 25 percent in 2012 from 53 percent in 2000.

This is due in a large part to people taking their cigarettes outside, especially in large gathering places such as restaurants, bars, stadiums and the workplace because of laws that prohibit smoking.

The CDC says the number of homes that barred smoking indoors stood at 83 percent in 2011, up from 43 percent in 1993.

According to the CDC, African-Americans, the poor and children between the ages of three and eleven are exposed to secondhand smoke more than all other groups.

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As Income Gap Widens, So Do Adolescent Health Disparities

Thomas Northcut/Digital Vision/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — In a multinational survey study of nearly half a million adolescents in wealthy countries like the U.S., it seems that adolescents from lower-income populations have worse health than they’ve had in the past.

The findings, published in The Lancet, reveal that socioeconomic differences across multiple areas of adolescent mental and physical health increased between 2002 and 2010, with young people from the poorest socioeconomic groups more likely to be in worse health, such as being less physically active, with larger body mass index, and reporting more physical and psychological symptoms.

As the gap between rich and poor increased in these countries, the disparity in health worsened in poorer teenagers, according to the study.

As inequities worsen in adolescents, there is growing concern among the study’s authors for the same or decreased health as these teens become adults.

The study’s authors say that without legislation to improve adolescent health care in low-income neighborhoods, the problem will continue to get worse.

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Nearly $1 Billion in Ebola Aid in Limbo

Fuse/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — The Ebola outbreak linked to several countries in Western Africa was one of the biggest health concerns of 2014, and the international community pledged billions of dollars in efforts to fight it.

Now, according to tracking data from the United Nations published in The BMJ, while the pledges during the outbreak totaled $2.89 billion, only two-thirds of that, $1.9 billion, actually reached those who needed it.

In other words, one out of every three dollars pledged has not yet made it to affected countries.

Authors of this new report say the problem is not getting the money, but rather dispensing it.

The data shows that a more rapid distribution of funds is needed in cases such as the Ebola outbreak, and will hopefully prepare the world for future epidemic relief efforts.

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UK Moves Towards Making Babies from DNA of Three People

Siri Stafford/Photodisc/Thinkstock(LONDON) — British politicians voted by a big margin in favor of letting scientists create babies from the DNA of three people.

The House of Commons voted in favor of the measure on Tuesday in a final tally of 382 to 128.

The move by lawmakers would help to prevent some children from inheriting potentially fatal diseases from their mothers.

“The families that carry that very, very high risk of such diseases have the right to have the world of science come to their aid,” said Labor lawmaker Andrew Miller, who chairs the Science and Technology Parliamentary Committee.

It’s thought the intervention could be useful in breaking the inheritance of certain diseases such as muscular dystrophy.

The bill still needs approval by the House of Lords and a further Commons vote on any amendments before becoming law.

If the bill is approved, it would make Britain the first nation to allow embryos to be genetically modified.

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