The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Health Canada, and other health agencies around the world want to keep you from getting one thing from friends and family during the holidays: the seasonal flu. In the United States, the CDC and US Department of Health and Human Services have named next week (Dec. 8-14th) as "National Influenza Vaccination Week". First established in 2005, the campaign aims to let people know about the dangers of seasonal flu, and that getting a flu shot still offers the best protection against it.
Why seniors are at greater risk: Older adults with chronic age-related illnesses like heart disease, diabetes, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are often more vulnerable to complications from the flu because their immune system is already taxed. Likewise, conditions like asthma and congestive heart failure may be made worse by influenza.
- Read more: Flu Risk for Seniors
The risk is born out by the statistics: as many as 90% of deaths related to the seasonal flu occur in adults older than 65, according to the CDC. In addition, this age group accounts for 60% of hospitalizations due to complications from the flu. People in residential care are perhaps at greatest risk because they live in close proximity with one another, increasing the chances of catching the flu.
Best prevention: Good personal hygiene such as regular hand-washing, along with covering your coughs and sneezes and avoiding people who are sick, can go a long way to preventing the flu. An annual flu shot - provided free of charge in many communities - remains the most reliable way to prevent the flu, which is why the CDC recommends the flu vaccine for all adults over the age of 50.
Seasonal Flu: Protect Yourself, Your Family, and Your Community. Health Canada Public Information Sheet. Accessed December 5, 2013.
Preventing Seasonal Flu With Vaccination. US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Public Information Sheet. Accessed December 5, 2013.
If you've been laid up with a fever, chills and aching joints recently, it may be more than the common cold you're battling: you could have seasonal influenza. While most people recover well from the flu, people over the age of 65 are at greater risk of serious complications like bronchitis, pneumonia and sinus infections than younger people.
Despite the discomfort associated with these secondary infections - especially in the case of sinus infections - antibiotics are rarely necessary to help you recover. That's according to recent prescribing guidelines published by the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA), which recommend using nasal anti-inflammatory medications to improve drainage of congestion and nasal irrigation with saline solution to flush out viruses instead.
The ISDA's expert panel was made up of clinicians and researchers in the fields of epidemiology, infectious disease and public health, among others.
Read the entire article: Do I need antibiotics for a sinus infection?
If you are coughing and suspect you may have developed a more serious chest infection such as pneumonia or bronchitis, see your doctor or health-care provider. They can assess whether your illness is likely bacterial or viral in origin, and which medication is most appropriate for you.
And remember, getting the vaccination against seasonal influenza still represents the best way to prevent this potentially serious illness.
This Thursday the American Cancer Society holds its annual Great American Smokeout. Held on the third Thursday of November, the organization appeals to all smokers to use the day as a trial run for quitting, or to build a smoking cessation plan.
The society has good reason to promote quitting: named by the World Health Organization as the largest preventable cause of death, smoking causes an estimated 6 million deaths worldwide each year. Studies have shown that continuing a heavy habit can rob you of a decade of life, compared with adults who've never smoked. Tobacco can promote heart disease and other serious health problems in addition to lung cancer.
The good news? Quitting even as late as your mid-50s might help you escape as much as 90% of the excess mortality caused by a long-term habit.
What's more, you'll look younger, too.
Judging by research from Carnegie Mellon University, pedestrians should be more careful after tonight's shifting of the clock back one hour. According to a 2007 study of U.S. traffic statistics compiled between 1999 and 2005, there are on average 37 more pedestrians deaths around dinner-time in the month of November when compared with October.</p>
Professors Paul Fischbeck and David Gerard attribute the rise in fatalities to increased darkness, surmising that drivers accustomed to daylight require time to adjust.
"We see the opposite effect in the spring, when the clock is turned ahead," Fischbeck told me in an interview. "It's the morning traffic rush that's affected, though not as much." Pedestrian fatalities do not rise by the same degree in March -- when Daylight Saving Time begins -- as they appear to do in November, according to the team's research.
Though previous research also found a jump in the number of vehicle collisions, Fishbeck's database shows no such increase.
- Read the entire article
Sood, Neeraj and Ghosh, Arkadipta. "The Short and Long Run Effects of Daylight Saving Time on Fatal Automobile Crashes." The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy. Volume 7, Issue 1. DOI:10.2202/1935-1682.1618, February 2007.
You probably know some family members or friends who look particularly good for their age, but what objective measure is there to assess a person's actual rate of aging?
New research published out of the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) aims to answer that question. Geneticist and biostatistician Steve Horvath has developed a software program to track the rate of methylation of DNA within cells. DNA methylation is a natural process that occurs quite predictably with age, according to Horvath. After analyzing 8,000 cell and tissue samples for the degree of DNA methylation, he concluded that this chemical alteration offers a kind of time gauge or biological clock that can empirically measure how fast the cells are aging.
Horvath has offered his software to other researchers free of charge so they can further test and use this gauge of aging, to determine functional or biological age. Possible future applications include using methylation rates as a diagnostic tool, since previous research has suggested that tissues or organs which are aging more rapidly may be more vulnerable to cancer.
In fact, Horvath's team discovered that healthy breast tissue is on average 2 to 3 years older than the rest of a woman's body. More research in the future will be required to determine whether accelerated aging in tissues is a result - or a cause - of certain cancers.
Steve Horvath. "DNA methylation age of human tissues and cell types." Genome Biology 2013, 14:R115.
A study published this week in the Canadian Medical Association Journal reveals that head injuries commonly occur in falls among older people living in long-term care. Forward falls were particularly dangerous, and extending an arm seemed to do little to reduce head impact.
The research was conducted by a team from Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada, and involved closed-circuit camera recordings in two long-term care facilities. The cameras were installed in common areas with the residents' permission, and provide hard evidence of how falls unfold. I've written previously about lead author Steven Robinovitch's research, in my article on Why Older People Fall.
Among the 227 falls recorded, more than a third (37%) involved impact to the head, striking the ground, a wall, or furniture. Since the floors were typically hard surfaces covered by rigid vinyl or linoleum, the authors point to a need for softer flooring surfaces which have been shown in past research to reduce head and hip injuries.
Perhaps of greater significance is the fact that in three-quarters of the falls, hand impact was recorded, but was ineffective in reducing impact to the head. In other words, the older adults reached out unsuccessfully to break their fall. The researchers conclude that exercises aimed at improving upper-body and upper-limb strength, as well as speed of movement where possible, might reduce potentially severe head injuries from falls. More than half of deaths from falls in older adults occur as a result of traumatic brain injury, according to the study.
- Read more: How to Fall-Proof Your Home for Yourself or an Older Family Member
- How dangerous is a broken hip?
Rebecca Schonnop, Yijian Yang, Fabio Feldman, Erin Robinson, Marie Loughin, and
Stephen N. Robinovitch. "Prevalence of and factors associated with head impact
during falls in older adults in long-term care." CMAJ 2013. DOI:10.1503
Of all the health problems caused by stress, a new study from Sweden suggests Alzheimer's disease might be added to the list. Published in the journal BMJ Open, the longitudinal research tracked 800 women from 1968 to 2005, a period of 37 years. The women were all between their late 30s and mid-50s to begin with.
The subjects were asked about the day-to-day stressors in their lives, including difficult circumstances like having a family member with mental illness, or a substance abuse problem, divorce, work-related issues such as having lost a job, etc. The researchers write that past shorter-term investigations have shown that traumatic experiences (early parental death, death of a spouse) increase the risk of dementia and its most common form, Alzheimer's disease. The goal of this study was to determine whether ongoing stressful situations in middle age increase the incidence of dementia in later life.
The researchers found after 37 years of followup that reporting a higher number of stressful incidents or situations in middle age was associated with a higher risk of Alzheimer's disease many years later. This does not prove that having a difficult divorce or family illness while in your 40s will cause you to develop dementia, but it does suggest that ongoing stressful situations could harm your brain health for the future.
The established risk factors for Alzheimer's disease are age, family history, and genetics (that is, specific genes that may predispose you to the condition). While it's still not known exactly what causes Alzheimer's disease, lower rates of dementia and a later onset of the disease are linked to a healthy lifestyle, including eating a nutritious diet, regular exercise, staying socially connected and keeping your mind stimulated. Perhaps stress-reduction will eventually be added to this list; but in the meantime, practicing techniques like mindfulness meditation will make you feel good, keep longevity-threatening stress hormones like cortisol in check, and perhaps fend off age-related diseases as well.
- Read more: How to Save Your Memory
Johansson L, Guo X, Hallstrom T, et al. "Common Psychological Stressors in Middle-Aged Women Related to Longstanding Distress and Increased Risk of Alzheimer's Disease: A 38-Year Longitudinal Population Study." BMJ Open 2013;3:e003142.
What is Alzheimer's? Alzheimer's Association Public Information Sheet. Accessed October 7, 2013.
Running has been shown to boost longevity, and like other forms of vigorous exercise, keep disability at bay. This is a great advertisement for the sport, but even many experienced runners worry that they're doing their knees serious harm by continuing to hit the track or the trail. Is that true?
Fortunately for long-term and rookie runners alike, the evidence suggests that running will do no lasting damage to your joints; in fact, it may even boost bone density and keep cartilage within your knee joints young. This was the conclusion of a few different investigations into the effects of pounding the pavement on older runners. One such study found no greater number of knee replacements among the running group over almost two decades of examination. Even better, Stanford University medical school researchers have found that disability (in terms of day-to-day mobility, ease of performing daily tasks) set in more than a decade later among the runners when compared with subjects not doing regular vigorous exercise.
The conclusion? If running is your sport of choice, you can enjoy it without fear that you are harming your aging knees. As Jeff Galloway, running guru, former Olympian and author of books like Running Until You're 100 suggests, insert short walking breaks to help you avoid short-term injury, listen to your body, and enjoy getting outside for your longevity.
- Read my full article Running and Aging Knees here.
Eliza F. Chakravarty , Helen B. Hubert, Vijaya B. Lingala, Ernesto Zatarain, James F. Fries. "Long Distance Running and Knee Osteoarthritis: A Prospective Study." American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Volume 35, Issue 2, August 2008, Pages 133-138.
Look who I had a chance to talk to last week! Steven and Chris, the energetic and knowledgeable hosts of CBC-TV's extremely popular national daytime program of the same name, invited me to appear with advice on how to develop healthy habits that will help you age more slowly, dodge diseases that are more common as we age, and maintain vitality and enthusiasm throughout your life.
We talked about how resilient the human body is, even against longevity threats like smoking; for example, a person can dodge almost all (97%) of the excess mortality associated with a heavy tobacco habit if they quit by the age of 30. Even quitting by the age of 40 saves you from an estimated 90% of the longevity dangers of smoking.
- Read more: What does quitting smoking do for your longevity?
- Why will I look older if I keep smoking?
We also talked about why a plant-based diet is anti-aging, and which components really make up a longevity lifestyle. Chris demonstrated his prowess at skipping rope, a quick way to work in your daily vigorous exercise.
If you have a chance, why not watch the fun? It airs across Canada during their launch of Season 7, Wednesday, Sept.25th at 2pm local time on CBC Television, and the following week in the United States on ABC's LiveWell Network. Check your local CBC-TV schedule here, or look here for regional air times on LiveWell.
Behavior scientists say relying on willpower is like trying to tame a lion each and every day. They suggest building healthy habits instead, to create automatic actions that get the job done without too much conscious thought. The more habitual you can make each healthy behavior, the more likely you are to stick with it when life gets busy and distracting.
So where to start? Focusing on the big picture can be overwhelming, especially if you feel you're far from the nutrition goals, stress-management and exercise routine that make up a healthy lifestyle. Instead, why not tackle a small action every day -- whether it's adding one fruit or vegetable to each meal, replacing a single diet soda with green tea each day, or choosing an old (or new) friend to call each week?
I've got a number of articles looking at various aspects of healthy habits. Take a look and see if you can build some virtuous automation into your schedule. The less you have to debate with yourself about whether or not to get out of bed 15 minutes earlier to fix a balanced breakfast or boxed lunch, the better!