This Week in Elder News: 23 February 2008

Good News/Bad News of Elder Brains

category_bug_journal2.gif A new study published in the journal, Alzheimer’s & Dementia [pdf], reports a reduced incidence among elders of memory problems and other forms of cognitive impairment including dementia.

“…between 1993 and 2002, the prevalence of cognitive impairment among Americans aged 70 and over went down 3.5 percent (from 12.2 to 8.7 percent over the decade). This translates to a reduction of impairment in hundreds of thousands of U.S. seniors.”
Medical News Today (1), 21 February 2008

Some of the improvement, say the researchers, may be that elders were more likely during the decade of the study to receive improved care for high blood pressure, high cholesterol and smoking than people did prior to 1993.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that, although the researchers caution that a link is not clear, it appears that the more formal education in early years and greater personal wealth correlate with fewer cognitive difficulties, at least among the 11,000 in the study group.

Oops. I’m 0 for 2 with no college and certainly no wealth. Oh, well - too late now.

Lead researcher, Dr. Kenneth M. Langa of the University of Michigan, explains that “Mental stimulation affects how the brain is ‘wired’, and education in early life appears to help people build up cognitive reserve.”

“We also know cardiovascular health has a close link with brain health,” he said, “so what we may be seeing here is the accumulated effects of better education and better cardiovascular prevention among people who were over age 70 in 2002, compared with those who were over age 70 in 1993.”
Medical News Today (2), 21 February 2008

The researchers attribute about 40 percent of the decrease in cognitive impairment to increases in education and wealth.

Nevertheless, the researchers urge elders to pursue activities that keep their brains sharp and their cardiovascular risk low to prevent decline in years to come.

“More and more studies suggest that walking and other types of physical activity are important for preventing cognitive and memory declines,” says co-author Eric Larson, M.D., M.P.H., executive director of the Group Health Center for Health Studies in Seattle, where he has led many studies of the relationship between physical activity and brain health.

“’The evidence seems to be showing that staying mentally engaged with the world in any fashion – reading, talking with friends, going to church, going to movies – is also likely to help reduce your risk down the road,’ says Langa.”

Medical News Today (2), 21 February 2008

Elderbloggers have the mentally engaged part of the package covered. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I need to get out of this chair and movearound more often.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Mort Reichek gives us a memoir that is funny and warm and full of love in How I Met My Wife Sybil.]


That was an interesting study but like so many, there is no real indication why it would work that way. I would hazard a guess that early higher education often leads to people who learn how to do learn. Their minds being stimulated, they are constantly looking for new information, researching things, learning their whole life, which would mean someone self-educated, always interested in learning more, would have the same benefits.

I confess, I'm a lump. One hip has slowed me down, and I confess I need to bestir myself asap. Thanks for the reminder.

Somehow these studies of physical and mental health always seem to lead to prescriptions for why individuals should feel guilty about themselves. Or maybe it is not the studies, but us -- well accustomed to blame ourselves for infirmities. I distrust this reaction.

I think Rain might be on to something. Wealth also means that the person probably had better medical care and, therefore, had access to preventative medicine early in life.
I have known three people who developed Alzheimer's and only one was College educated. All three were comfortable, but not wealthy. The one with a college education had a father with Alzheimer's so heredity may also play a role.

Oh pshaw, Ronni! Since when did college equate with intelligence. Your energy & your spirit are more than enough to keep you sharp. And as for moving around more all I have to say is that the best yet after about age 70 (me)is walking especially in the sun & yoga. Yoga has opened up a whole new world to me & that's hard to do these days. Not only is it good for the body & mind, the social aspect of it is wonderful. In the class I attend we have men & women of all ages & we do more than yoga. Besides "chewing the fat" about everything we do a whole lot of laughing & even in the absence of close friendships there's a aura of support & concern among all. I suspect that tai chi would be the same. That's next on my to do list. Dee

"Elderbloggers have the mentally engaged part of the package covered. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I need to get out of this chair and move around more often."

The exercise part is my challenge too! Though I walk, I do keep thinking about yoga or tai chi classes, like Dee mentions. Must put thought into actions!

I have two very good friends who recently have had new/different/strange health episodes...that ending up sending them to the emergency room. Now they are being put a list of medical test....and have entered what I have come to call "The Fog of Ageing".....where no one know what went wrong, why, or what to do about it.(The term "fog of war" refers to the uncertainty that descends over a battlefield once fighting begins.)

In researching their problems I came across David Solie's wonderful blog entry this week called: "Brain Aging": at

In his blog entry he talks about a new book by Dr. Peter Whitehouse entitled The Myth of Alzheimer’s Disease: What You Aren’t Being Told About Today’s Most Dreaded Dreaded Diagnosis.

Appentently, he feels strongly about now “normal brain aging” is being abused:
1. It has once again made aging, the natural changes that are programmed into the human life span, a pathological event. The shame of aging has been intensified by the shame of anything less than perfect brain function. There is no middle ground. We are summoned to a war against poor brain behavior at almost any cost. It is a fear that might convince us to “pre-medicate” the normal drift of forgetting names or reduced multi-tasking as a containment strategy.

2. It has created a twenty-first century “leper syndrome” at a time when 125,000,000 adults are struggling to get through the second half of life. Once the first “mental lesion” a change in brain function is detected, the outcast process begins. A flurry of scans, exams, and lab test mark the official entry into the dementia colony.
There are several other good topic's on David Solie's blog: check it out.


I, too, have no college education, but I read everything I can get my hands on. If I don't have the morning newspaper in front of me at breakfast, I read the Riboflavin content of my Grape Nuts Flakes on the side of the box...

Then, I turn the pages of the paper to the "Funnies" and out of 20 comics at least 3 or 4 of them will give me a hearty laugh.Then, On to the crossword puzzle, the Jumble, and two cryptograms..

It's at this point that I should get my sneakers on and walk around the block a couple of times, but I'm afraid of dogs, so instead I go to my computer and read your blog and the Elder Storytelling.They get me started thinking and I usually comment to both ,then move on to several other sites that I like and comment to them.

I will be 80 years old this year and still have all my "Facilities" as a friend of mine says. I love to laugh and see the humor in almost anything.

You are partially responsible for my well being, Ronni, because it was you that started me on my storytelling and it has brought me great joy to remember all the old times that you have encouraged me to write about.

Ronni, I've met some college graduates who astounded me with their lack of intellectual curiosity. Some didn't seem to read anything after they graduated. It's not a mortarboard on top of the head that determines what's inside it.

Here's an interesting excerpt from the HRS study site: "Study Population:
The target population for Wave 1 of the HRS includes all adults in the contiguous United States, born during the years 1931 - 1941, who reside in households." If they're only looking at people who reside in households (for this group and subsequent groups), they're by definition not looking at people institutionalized for cognitive impairment.
It's an interesting Web site:

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