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Mature Focus: News and Notes

man meditatingMeditation for sleep

A small study involving about 50 older adults suggested that mindfulness meditation could lead to a better night’s sleep.

Researchers at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, found that 24 adults who engaged in standardized mindful awareness practices fared better on a popular sleep quality measurement than 25 adults who instead participated in a more structured program focusing on changing poor sleep habits and establishing a bedtime routine. The average age of study participants was 66.

According to study authors, their findings showed that mindfulness meditation, which is readily available in many communities, appears to have a role in addressing the burden of sleep problems among older adults.

Roughly half of adults aged 55 and older have some sort of sleep problem that can result in increased fatigue, mood disturbances and a lesser quality of life.

The study was published online in JAMA Internal Medicine.


Boomer bliss

A 2015 survey revealed that overall, female baby boomers are enjoying life.

In the 2015 Del Web Baby Boomer Survey of 1,020 single, U.S. women aged 50-68:

• Seventy-six percent of respondents older than 55 reported feeling younger than their age.

• Almost three-fourths (74 percent) said they are as happy or happier than they were at age 35, and 76 percent said they are more empowered now than they were at age 35.

• Nearly half (45 percent) said they believe their best years are ahead of them.

• More than one in five (22 percent) said they feel more attractive than they did at age 35.

• More than half (54 percent) said they are at least as active as they were at age 35.

• The majority (68 percent) ranked a healthy lifestyle as their first priority, after family and friends.

• Nearly two-thirds (59 percent) reported exercising at least a few times a week. Popular activities included weight training (27 percent), hiking (19 percent), yoga (18 percent), biking (16 percent) and swimming (14 percent).

More data on single, female baby boomers will be released throughout the year and will include information on dating, home preferences, financial security and retirement.


Seven years bad luck?

Frequent hot flashes and night sweats are common among women during the menopausal transition, and according to a recent article in JAMA Internal Medicine, for many women, those unpleasant vasomotor symptoms (VMS) persist for more than seven years.

Researchers at Wake Forest School of Medicine examined data from the Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation (SWAN), a 1996-2013 study of women transitioning to menopause. Their analysis of about 1,450 women who experienced frequent VMS found that:

• The median duration of symptoms was 7.4 years.

• Women who first reported frequent symptoms when they were pre-menopausal or in early perimenopause experienced symptoms the longest – for a median of nearly 12 years.

• Among women who continued to experience frequent VMS after their final menstrual period, symptoms had a median duration of more than nine years.

• Women whose symptoms first started after menopause had the shortest duration of symptoms – a median of 3.4 years after a final menstrual period.

Frequent hot flashes and night sweats lasted for more than seven years for more than half of the women in the study.

According to the study authors, the findings can help health care professionals prepare women for what to expect.

“In addition, the median total VMS duration of 7.4 years highlights the limitations of guidance recommending short term HT (hormone therapy) use and emphasizes the need to identify safe long-term therapies for the treatment of VMS,” the authors concluded.


New varicose vein treatment

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved a new system for treating varicose veins.

Last month, the FDA announced its approval of the VenaSeal closure system, which is designed to permanently treat varicose veins in the legs by sealing affected superficial veins.

According to FDA spokesperson William Maisel, M.D., the system is the first to treat varicose veins by sealing them with an adhesive.

“Because the VenaSeal system does not incorporate heat application or cutting, the in-office procedure can allow patients to quickly return to their normal activities, with less bruising,” Maisel said in a news release.

Although varicose veins sometimes are asymptomatic, they can cause pain, blood clots, skin ulcers or other problems, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. When symptoms occur, health care professionals often recommend compressions stockings or medical procedures to close affected veins.

The VenaSeal system is for patients with varicose veins that cause symptoms. To utilize it, a trained health care professional inserts a catheter into the diseased vein to allow injection of a liquid adhesive that polymerizes into a solid material.

Additional information about the VenaSeal system can be found at

Music for the mind

Studies have shown that musical training boosts young people’s cognitive skills, and now, scientists have found that those brain benefits continue into old age.

A recent Canadian study showed that older people who had musical training in their youth were 20 percent faster in identifying speech sounds, compared to their peers who received no musical training. The ability to comprehend speech is one of the cognitive functions that can diminish with age.

“Musical activities are an engaging form of cognitive brain training, and we are now seeing robust evidence of brain plasticity from musical training not just in younger brains but in older brains, too,” said Gavin Bidelman, who led the study at the Rotman Research Institute in Toronto. “In our study … we saw brain-behavior response that was two to three times better in older musicians compared to non-musician peers. In other words, old musicians’ brains provide a much more detailed, clean and accurate depiction of the speech signal, which is likely why they are much more sensitive and better at understanding speech.”

Study results suggest that beginning formal lessons on a musical instrument before the age of 14 and continuing lessons for as long as 10 years enhances key areas of the brain that support speech recognition.

The study was published in the Jan. 21 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience.


Double whammy

When an elderly married person no longer is able to drive, the resulting loss of independence can result in negative consequences – even for the spouse who still has the ability to drive.

In a research study, Angela Curl, of the University of Missouri (MU), found that when that when one spouse ceased driving, both husband and wife were less likely to volunteer or work. That could be because the non-driver no longer had self-transportation, and the driver may not have had the time, perhaps because he or she spent more time transporting the non-driver.

According to Curl, people need to realize that losing the ability to drive is a major life change that involves more than safety. The take-away from the study, she said, is that seniors and their adult children should openly discuss and plan for the driving cessation transition.

“Any time you recommend that an individual stop driving, you should talk about alternative transportation options or, possibly, relocation,” said Curl, assistant professor in the School of Social Work at MU. “If the family wants to help, it’s best to come up with a concrete transportation plan ahead of time. These are complicated, difficult decisions, and mediation of the discussion can often be helpful through, for example, a social worker or counselor.”


Every little bit helps the heart

Older people with limited mobility might be able to reduce their risk of heart problems simply by becoming less sedentary.

According to new information from the Journal of the American Heart Association, every minute of physical activity may help the heart health of elderly individuals with mobility difficulties.

“Reducing time spent being sedentary even by engaging in low-intensity activities could have important cardiovascular benefits for older adults with mobility limitations,” said Thomas W. Buford, senior author of the Lifestyles Interventions and Independence of Elders Study, which measured movements of more than 1,100 people aged 74-84 with physical limitations but the ability to walk about 1,300 feet.

The study found that for every 25-30 minutes a participant was sedentary per day, his or her predicted risk of heart attack or coronary death increased 1 percent. Physical activity equivalent to slow walking or light housekeeping was linked to higher HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels in those with no history of heart disease.

Researchers noted that physical activity recommendations generally call for adults to engage in higher intensity activities to improve or maintain health, but that might not be realistic for older people who no longer can get around well.

According to Buford, it is becoming increasingly evident that simply reducing the amount of sedentary time may have important cardiovascular benefits.

“The idea is that, even if you exercise for an hour in the morning, if you go and sit for eight hours the rest of the day, you may have health risks that are independent of the fact that you exercised,” he said. “This stresses the need for regular intervals of low-level movement and to avoid sitting for excessive stretches of time.”

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