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Mature Focus: Social media and the elderly

In a study, older people trained to use social media on computers engaged in more social activities and experienced improved feelings of self-competence and better cognitive capacity.

In a study, older people trained to use social media on computers engaged in more social activities and experienced improved feelings of self-competence and better cognitive capacity.

Social media and the elderly

Older folks who resist using social media may be depriving themselves of some life-changing benefits, a two-year study in the U.K. demonstrated.

Seventy-six older adults took part in a study in which half were trained on computers and the use of social media and half were not. Those who were trained enjoyed connecting with friends and relatives with email and Skype, experienced improved feelings of self-competence, engaged in more social activity and showed improved cognitive capacity.

According to Emma Green, one of those who provided computer training, study participants expressed enthusiasm when family members replied to their emails, chatted with them via Skype or “liked” one of their Facebook comments. One of the best experiences, she said, involved a Skype session with one of the adults who used to enjoy camping.

“We were around the campfire, and he was able to be a part of our group from the laptop, looking at the fire and joining in,” she said.

Study leader Dr. Thomas Morton said it is not surprising that people have a better sense of well-being when they have the capacity to connect with others.

“People who are socially isolated or who experience loneliness are more vulnerable to disease and decline,” he said. “This study shows how technology can be a useful tool for enabling social connections, and that supporting older people in our community to use technology effectively can have important benefits for their health and well-being.”


‘The Boomer List’ on PBS

It’s official: The youngest baby boomers have reached the age of 50.

That milestone was marked with the recent release of American Masters’ “The Boomer List,” a documentary film that tells the story of the influential baby boom generation through interviews with 19 of its notable members – one born each year from 1946-1964. New Age guru Deepak Chopra, author Amy Tan, singer-songwriter Billy Joel, actor Samuel L. Jackson, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger, journalist Maria Shriver, environmentalist Erin Brockovich and athlete Ronnie Lott are among those selected to share their voices.

“The Boomer List” premiered nationwide on PBS in September, but those who missed it can now view the full film online at pbs.org.


No filter on learning

Brown University researchers believe they may have discovered why older people sometimes seem to have a harder time learning than their younger counterparts. Ironically, learning may be more difficult as people age simply because older people tend to learn more than they need to learn.

In a series of visual tests administered over nine days to a group of people aged 67-79 and another group aged 19-30, researchers showed participants a sequence of numbers set against a background of moving dots. Participants were instructed to focus on the numbers and ignore the dots entirely. All participants were able to report what numbers they were shown, but only the elderly people improved on the irrelevant task of identifying the direction in which the dots moved.

Researchers said the study indicated that older learners are not as good as younger people at filtering out irrelevant information, which makes learning more difficult.

The study was published in Current Biology.


Beehive hairdos?

Scientists might be onto something that could give the term “beehive hairdo” a whole new meaning. According to a study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, a substance contained in the hives of honeybees seems to promote hair growth.

Propolis, a material bees use to seal small gaps in their hives, has been shown to spur the growth of some types of cells involved in hair growth. To find out if the substance could actually encourage hair to grow, researchers tested it on mice that had either been shaved or waxed. Compared to the fur of mice that did not receive the propolis treatment, the fur of treated mice grew back more quickly.

Because propolis has anti-inflammatory properties, researchers said, it could be helpful in treating human hair loss conditions, which often result from inflammation. Additional testing will determine how the substance affects human hair follicles.


Menopause app

Women who have bothersome menopause symptoms might want to download a new application from the North American Menopause Society (NAMS).

The app, MenoPro, was designed to help women work with their health care providers to personalize treatment decisions for managing the symptoms of menopause. It covers behavioral, nutritional and lifestyle changes that may help reduce symptoms such as hot flashes and night sweats, and it also features information on hormonal and non-hormonal medications and help with assessing personal risk of heart disease, stroke, osteoporosis and fractures.

MenoPro is free and currently is available for iPhones and iPads.


Baby boomers on the move

The National Association of Realtors (NAR) has identified the U.S. metro areas that most likely will see an increase in the number of  “leading edge baby boomers” – those aged 60-69 – moving to town and buying a home.

Listed in alphabetical order, the cities are: Albuquerque, N.M.; Boise, Idaho; Denver, Colo.; Fort Myers, Fla.; Greenville, S.C.; Orlando, Fla.; Phoenix, Ariz.; Raleigh, N.C.; Sarasota, Fla.; and Tucson, Ariz.

“These metro areas are attractive to baby boomers because of their housing affordability, lower tax rates and welcoming business environment,” said Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist. “With baby boomers working later in life, these factors will likely play as much of a deciding role of where boomers eventually retire as will areas with a warm climate or variety of outdoor activities.”

According to another NAR study released last year, baby boomers represented 30 percent of all homebuyers (June 2012-June 2013) and in 2012 had a median household income of $92,400.


Feeling younger, living longer

People who feel younger than they are at age 65 have a lower death rate than their peers who feel their actual age or older, according to research published by JAMA Internal Medicine.

Nearly 6,500 people whose average age was 65.8 were asked how old they felt. Nearly 70 percent said they felt three or more years younger than they were, about 25 percent felt their actual age, and the remainder said they felt more than a year older than they were.

About eight years later, researchers found participant mortality rates were 14.3 percent among those who had previously said they felt younger, 18.5 percent among those who felt their age, and 24.6 percent among those who felt older. The link between self-perceived age and death from a cardiovascular event was strong, but there was no association between self-perceived age and death from cancer.

The good news, researchers said, is that self-perceived age has a potential to change. People who feel older than they are can be encouraged to adopt healthier behaviors and better attitudes about aging.


Dementia, depression and living arrangements

People who have severe dementia and live in a nursing home are less likely to show signs of depression than those who live at home, a recent study suggested.

Researchers who studied more than 400 people with severe dementia living in eight European countries found that 37 percent of those living at home exhibited depressive symptoms, compared to 23 percent of those who lived in nursing homes.

According to Professor David Challis, who led the study, those caring for a relative with severe dementia often are more distressed by symptoms of depression than professional care workers.

“What we need is more support for (caregivers) to help them cope with their relatives’ depressive symptoms and to recognize the problem before it gets to severe levels,” Challis said.


Millions for Alzheimer’s research

The National Institutes on Aging has granted $30 million to Washington University School of Medicine over the next five years for two major Alzheimer’s disease studies.

Some questions researchers plan to investigate, university officials said, are:

• Does sleep disruption accelerate the development of Alzheimer’s symptoms and help predict when dementia will begin?

• Can genetic variations reduce the rate at which symptoms progress in Alzheimer’s disease?

• Do these protective variations explain why some people have extensive Alzheimer’s changes in their brains without developing memory loss or other cognitive problems?


Mild memory problems

As many as one in five Americans older than 65 experience memory and thinking problems and worry that those problems will worsen. When older adults’ memory and thinking problems do not interfere significantly with daily living, doctors refer to them as symptoms of mild cognitive impairment, or MCI.

Two doctors recently conducted a thorough review of what is known about MCI and published an article about it in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Among their findings is a list of suggestions for older adults who are bothered by MCI symptoms:

• Speak to a doctor about memory and thinking problems. Tests can reveal things like vitamin deficiencies and give clues to other factors that might be causing symptoms.

• Keep the body and brain active, as studies have suggested aerobic exercise and mental activities can have a small but beneficial effect on thinking ability for those with MCI.

• Keep a stroke at bay by controlling blood pressure, not smoking, lowering cholesterol and taking doctor-approved drugs for preventing blood clots.

• If taking multiple medications and supplements, review them with a doctor, as some drugs can interact and fog memory and thinking.

• Avoid overtreatment of high blood pressure and diabetes, because low blood pressure and low blood sugar may increase the risk of cognitive decline.

According to article co-author Dr. Debra Levine, progression from MCI to dementia is far from a sure thing.

“The majority of people with MCI will not progress to dementia and loss of independence, even after 10 years,” she said. “Some patients with MCI will actually have improved cognition after a year or two, if their cognitive test scores were brought down by an acute illness that gets addressed.”

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