weekly blog--one for the ages
While the nation was celebrating President’s Day earlier this week, I went on an archeological dig at Massachusetts General Hospital in search of the brain’s ancient immune system. We were cruising through research on molecules known as antimicrobial peptides that are found in all forms of life and play an important role in protecting the human brain.
After surfing through paper after paper, we realized that one of these molecules, known as LL-37, looked a lot like a molecule called amyloid-beta, which forms the sticky plaques that tend to build up in the brains of people with dementia. And then it hit us…What if those sticky plaques were actually an effort to protect the brain by encapsulating foreign invaders?
The idea was that the brain was producing amyloid for much the same reason an oyster forms a pearl — for self-defense. That was a pretty radical idea. For decades, most scientists thought amyloid-beta was no more than a toxic waste product. But the researchers on our team suspected amyloid-beta was usually good — unless the brain started making too much. Then it could kill brain cells and lead to dementia.
The question now became: what's causing the glitch in the brain's ancient immune system? One possibility...it was overreacting to viruses and bacteria that get into the brain. Another...the system could be getting confused and attacking healthy cells — a lot like what happens in diseases like lupus or multiple sclerosis.
If either idea holds up, it may be possible to interrupt the process before it causes Alzheimer's. Stay tuned because this approach may also pave the way for curing schizophrenea and other brain-related disorders.
The subject for many of my blogs begins with newspaper articles or research studies I receive during the week. This week’s blog had its start in a London Times article about a new book, The Origins of Happiness, which suggests that there is a best age to do everything.
Here’s a sampling of the findings:
Be happy: A study at the London School of Economics found that people aged 69 were at the peak of wellbeing, and there was also a smaller peak at 23. Those aged 45-54 were at the lowest point. The English Longitudinal Study of Ageing found the peak was even later, at 70-74.
Learn a language: You’ll have more success with a second language if you start at age seven or eight, and definitely before puberty, according to research.
Remember things: Your short-term memory is at its sharpest at 25 and starts deteriorating at 35, according to studies by researchers at MIT. You usually start to first notice the decline for hard-to-remember things, such as names, because it requires you to recall something with no prompts, as one’s name or profession rarely matches what they look like or do.
Concentrate well: Researchers found that 43 was the age when people had the perfect combination of decent accuracy rates, which increased from age 17 to 43, and reaction times, which slowed after age 44.
Run a marathon: A Spanish study of New York marathon times shows that there’s a U-shaped curve: 18-year-olds take as long to finish as 55-year-olds, while the best times for men were achieved at 27, and for women, 29.
Give up work: If you want to live longer, delaying retirement by just one year from 65 to 66 could be the answer, according to researchers from Oregon State University who looked at the working history of 3,000 people born between 1931 and 1941. Most retired at 65, but if they opted for 66 their mortality rates dropped by a surprising 11 per cent — even after taking into account wealth, education and marital status. Also, the unhealthy ones had a 9 per cent lower mortality risk.
Do your best work: Einstein claimed that if you hadn’t made a great contribution to science before age 30 you never would, but research shows that 40 is now the age at which most Nobel prize-winning work is conducted. That also holds true for lesser mortals with more mundane jobs, concluded the authors at the US National Bureau of Economic Research.
Get married: To give oneself the best chance of avoiding divorce, it makes sense to get married between ages 28 and 32, according to a recent study of divorce rates. Before 32, each additional year of age at marriage reduces the odds of divorce by 11 per cent. After that the odds of divorce increase by 5 per cent a year. When it comes to finding the right partner, 26 is your magic number, according to one cognitive scientist.
Build muscle: Muscle mass peaks at age 25 and then declines 5 per cent each decade, with a noticeable downturn from age 60. One study showed even those in their seventies, eighties and nineties could double muscle mass after ten weeks of resistance training.
Make friends: 25 is the age of peak friendship, according to the analysis of phone records for 3.2 million people by scientists at Oxford University and Aalto University in Finland in 2016. That’s especially true for men, who have more friends at 25 than women, but men’s and women’s social circles contract after 25, with men experiencing a steeper fall-off in friends through their twenties and thirties. At 45, our social circle stabilizes, and then decreases further from 55 as we become even less sociable.
Have an original idea: The sweet spot is now 29, according to researchers in the US who studied the ages of those granted patents for new inventions. They noted that the age was creeping up by 0.6 years every decade.
Go on a diet: You’re most likely to stick to a diet at 32 (31 for men), according to a survey of 1,000 dieters in 2014. Just after turning 30 is when you have the most motivation to look good — but by the forties and fifties dieters were happier to embrace middle age. However, whatever your age, the chances of keeping the weight off are slim: after five years 41 per cent of dieters gain back more weight than they lost, says a neuroscientist.
Do math in your head: You may expect younger brains with their superior processing speeds to be best at arithmetic, but a study of 48,000 people’s cognitive powers across the ages in 2015 revealed the peak for mental math was actually age 50.
Make financial decisions: If your salary peaks at age 49 (as it does for men), it makes sense that it’s also the time you should make the savviest financial choices. A study by researchers at Texas Tech University showed that people’s financial literacy on borrowing, investing and insurance increased every year up to the age of 50. After 60, it began to wane, and between 65 and 85 it fell by half — yet people were just as confident in their abilities.
Look your best: 36 is apparently the age most women in the US want to look when they arrive at dermatology clinics for anti-ageing treatments. In the UK women believe they feel most attractive and confident at 39.
Resolve conflicts: It’s not just a cliché that older adults really do possess the most wisdom. According to a study analyzing which age group was the most successful at resolving conflict, it was the oldest group, aged 60-90, who were most able to analyze the conflict, see different points of view and come up with solutions. Wisdom appeared to peak at 65.
Have great sex: A recent survey of 5,000 single men and women by the dating website Match.com found that women have their best sex at age 66, and men at age 64. The American survey asked participants how often they had an orgasm, and the highest percentage was recorded in the over-60s group.
Prospective Memory: Few would argue that older people are better than millennial’s at reading maps and making proper conversation. But even their memories can be better — specifically for things they need to do, such as appointments. This is known as prospective memory, and people over the age of 50 are better at it,” says a professor at the University of South Wales. He concludes that as you get older you acquire awareness of organizing your time better.
A number of years ago, a young woman walked into the lobby of the synagogue I was attending for Saturday morning services. I had never seen her before, and she had this distant, far-away look in her eyes. She asked me a few questions. I answered them as best I could, and then she turned and walked out of the building. I never saw her again, but for some reason I was overcome with the thought that I had just been communicating with my wife’s grandmother who had recently passed away.
Have you ever sensed the presence of someone who recently passed away? Heard their voice? Felt their touch? Visualized them in your sleep? Well, you are not alone. According to one research study I found, at least 60 million Americans, about 20% of the U.S. population, have had one or more After-Death Communication (ADC) experiences. And some polls indicate the actual number maybe twice as high.
As common as these events seem to be, people are reluctant to talk about them for fear that others will think they have lost their minds. Those who dismiss, minimize or trivialize the experience often do not realize how important they can be.
According to a number of grieving experts, an ADC experience serves to provide an ongoing connection to the deceased and suggests to those who are living that death is not final. The experience proves to be healing and affirming. It serves as a source of comfort, consolation, strength, and can also play a large role in reducing the pain of grief.
Further, it is not unusual for those who have had these experiences to develop an increased interest in spirituality, and to explore existential issues about God and the Universe.
Addressing a deeply divided Congress and nation earlier this week, President Trump called for bipartisan efforts on issues like infrastructure and immigration. Now it’s ConfrontingAging’s turn to address some of the challenges of aging in the years ahead, and to no surprise, many of the issues revolve around finance and health. But what is especially interesting is that white-collar workers…professionals such as doctors, counselors, and managers…often see things differently than blue-collar workers.
According to a National Council on Aging study, blue-collar workers tend to focus on maintaining their physical and mental health as they get older, and are particularly concerned about memory loss. White-collars are more worried about their finances and the accessibility of affordable housing.
Also, only 10 percent of white-collars think that seniors are "very prepared" to face old age, while more than 40 percent of blue-collars feel they are reasonably well prepared for what lies ahead.
Regardless of collar color, almost 60 percent have not changed residence in the last 20 years, and 75 percent say they "intend to live in their current home for the rest of their lives." However, the majority say they would like to see more services available to help them adapt their homes for their developing needs. Many respondents admitted that they will need help maintaining their homes, but most of them do not believe that their communities have the ability to help them out.
Both groups anticipate that they will have to give up driving as they get older, and so they want access to better public transportation. About a third of those surveyed said that providing better public transportation is the single most important thing their community could do to make it easier for them to get around.
Only about one in five blue-collars believe they will need support managing their finances as they get older. However, white-collars believe that they will need help figuring out their finances, especially when it comes to medical bills.
Both collars worry about the constantly increasing cost of living, as well as a sudden and unexpectedly large medical expense. When looking to save money, blue-collars turn to senior discounts and try to limit expenses involving travel and vacation. White-collars take a longer term perspective. They recommend that more people consider working beyond retirement age to shore up their finances, and then take some serious steps to reduce their biggest ongoing expense--the cost of housing.
Finally, everyone agrees it's important to exercise and eat healthy as we get older. It also helps to keep a positive attitude and stay active socially.
One of the Road
After years of lobbying, the U.S. Telehealth industry is hoping for a break in public funding that could save taxpayers billions of dollars. Four bills could be signed into law over the next year that have prevented Medicare from reimbursing doctors’ and medical visits, which often start over the phone.
One issue for public spending on Telehealth has been the inability to charge across state lines. Another is that Medicare does not recognize medical consultations that do not happen in person as the equivalent of a visit to the doctor.
Private insurers who cover the medical expenses of nearly 70 percent of U.S. adults aged 18-64 are attracted to Telehealth by costs that analysts say are at most a third of traditional face-to-face care. They estimate the average cost of a Telehealth call is between $40-$50 compared to around $150 for an urgent care visit, and nearly $1,500 for a trip to the emergency room.
The analysts also estimate that roughly $135 billion of Medicare’s annual $675 billion in spending could be done by Telehealth.