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Mature Focus: News and Notes

Seniors have reported the greatest change in Internet usage since 2000, with 58 percent of those aged 65 and older now going online, a Pew Research Center analysis found.

Seniors have reported the greatest change in Internet usage since 2000, with 58 percent of those aged 65 and older now going online, a Pew Research Center analysis found.

Adopting the Internet

The Pew Research Center has been monitoring American’s adoption of the Internet since 2000, conducting nearly 100 national surveys and documenting how the Internet has become part of everyday life across various segments of society.

Recently, Pew Research analyzed its 15 years of data and found some key demographic trends, including the following trends relevant to older adults:

• While for some groups – particularly young adults, those with high levels of education and those in more affluent households – Internet use is at “full saturation levels,” adoption among older adults historically has been lower but has been rising steadily, especially in recent years.

• The percentage of 18-29-year-olds using the Internet always has been higher than the percentage of older users, but compared to other age groups, adults aged 65 and older have reported the greatest rate of change in Internet use since 2000.

• In 2000, 14 percent of adults aged 65 or older reported using the Internet. By 2012, more than half of seniors (54 percent) were using the Internet, and today, a clear majority (58 percent) of senior citizens accesses the Internet.

For more on the Pew Research Center’s findings, visit pewresearch.org.

Fitness for brain function

Older adults can better their brain function by bettering their level of fitness, a University of Kansas (KU) study suggested.

Jeffrey Burns, M.D., led a randomized trial involving healthy adults aged 65 and older to determine the effects on the brain of various amounts of exercise. Study participants, all of whom showed no signs of cognitive decline, were placed in one of several groups and assigned six-month exercise regimens that ranged from zero minutes-225 minutes of monitored weekly exercise.

All of those who exercised experienced cognitive benefits such as improved attention level and ability to focus, and those who exercised more reaped even more benefits.

“Basically, the more exercise you did, the more benefit to the brain you saw,” said Burns, who serves as co-director of the KU Alzheimer’s Disease Center. “Any aerobic exercise was good, and more is better.”

The intensity of exercise seemed to be more important than time spent exercising, however.

“For improved brain function, the results suggest that it’s not enough just to exercise more. You have to do it in a way that bumps your overall fitness level,” said Eric Vidoni, associate neurology professor at KU Medical Center and lead author of a report on the study, one of several that researchers at the KU Alzheimer’s Center are conducting to find out how exercise might prevent or postpone Alzheimer’s disease.

Living the dream

Climbing the social ladder leads to greater satisfaction in later life for English people than for Americans, according to a recent study.

Noting that about half of people growing up in working class families in England retire as members of the working class, compared to about one-third of Americans, researchers at the University of Manchester wanted to find out if achieving a higher social status made people happier later in life.

“We’ve discovered that English people who do manage to upgrade their social status substantially end up with a greater sense of autonomy and control,” researcher Bram Vanhoutte said. “In America on the other hand, people who have risen in society’s ranks are less satisfied than those who haven’t, raising serious questions on the practical merits of living the American dream.”

Clinical trials, cancer and older adults

The world’s leading organization representing doctors who treat cancer patients has issued a strong recommendation to cancer researchers: Broaden clinical trials to include older adults.

“More than 60 percent of cancers in the U.S. occur in people age 65 and older, a population that will grow exponentially over the coming years. Yet, the evidence base for treating older adults is sparse because they are underrepresented in clinical trials and trials designed specifically for them are rare,” the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) said in a statement issued late last month.

According to ASCO President Julie Vose, M.D., elderly cancer patients often have experiences and treatment outcomes that differ from those of younger patients.

“As we age, for example, the risk of adverse reactions from treatment significantly increases,” Vose said. “Older adults must be involved in clinical trials so we can learn the best way to treat older cancer patients resulting in improved outcomes and manageable toxicity.”

Heart of menopause

It’s not unusual for a woman to put on a few extra pounds around menopause, but new research has found that menopausal women also gain a significant amount of fat around the heart, increasing their risk of heart disease.

In a study funded by the National Institutes of Health and the American Heart Association, University of Pittsburgh researchers looked at blood samples and heart CT scans of hundreds of women who averaged about 51 years of age and were not on hormone replacement therapy. They found that as concentrations of a form of estrogen in the women declined, their cardiovascular fat increased in volume.

“Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in women, and it increases after age 50 – the average age when a woman is going through menopause,’ lead study author Samar R. El Khoudary said. “By showing that menopause appears to be associated with a shift in fat deposits that leads to more fat around the heart, we’ve uncovered a new potential contributor to increased risk of cardiovascular disease in women.”

Researchers noted that increased fat around the heart can be more dangerous than abdominal fat in terms of heart disease risk. Doubling certain types of cardiovascular fat can lead to a greater than 50 percent increase in heart-related events, they said.

Although previous studies have suggested it is possible to reduce heart fat through weight loss and weight management, El Khoudary said larger studies are needed to find the best way to help post-menopausal women reduce fat around the heart.

Another reason to quit

Female smokers who want to avoid hot flashes at midlife may want to kick the nicotine habit as soon as possible.

A study at the University of Illinois followed about 750 middle-aged women for one to seven years, examining the effect of smoking cessation on hot flashes.

Compared to women who continued to smoke, those who quit smoking were less likely to experience hot flashes, less likely to have severe hot flashes and less likely to have frequent hot flashes.

On the other hand, a comparison of those who quit smoking to women who never had smoked found that the former smokers were more likely to have any hot flashes, more severe hot flashes and more frequent hot flashes.

Looking at the data on former smokers even more closely, researchers discovered that the women who had quit smoking for longer than five years were most likely to experience a reduction in the severity and frequency of hot flashes.

Researchers concluded that the effect of smoking cessation has the strongest effect on wellbeing during menopause for women who give up cigarettes at least five years prior to the onset of menopause.

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