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Mature Focus: March 6

Control factors

When it comes to feeling “in control” of their daily lives, three important factors often come into play among older adults: sleep, mood and stress, according to a recent study conducted at North Carolina State University. And the more in control they feel, the better their physical, mental and emotional health tends to be.

Researchers from NC State collected information from more than 200 people between the ages of 60 and 94, on a wide range of psychological variables. The researchers examined which variables had the most impact on seniors’ level of perceived competence – the sense that they could do the things they wanted to do – and locus of control, or feeling that they had control over the events of their day-to-day lives.

They found that feeling confident in one’s ability to get a good night’s sleep was key to feeling in charge. Being in a good mood also made people feel better about their competence and control, while being in a bad mood made them feel worse. Finally, stressful events had a negative impact on feelings of control that lasted well beyond the events themselves.   

These findings are important because if older adults lose their sense of autonomy, it can lead to changes in behavior that adversely affect their health and well-being, said Shevaun Neupert, a professor of psychology at NC State and co-author of the study. “When people think they have little or no control in their lives, they may stop doing some of the everyday things that are important for self-care – because they believe those things don’t matter,” he added. “By acting to improve mood and sleep, older adults may better retain their sense of control and their quality of life.”

Dancing toward independence

Dancing for exercise may help older women retain their independence longer, a recent study shows.

Compared with other types of exercise, dancing appears to be far superior when it comes to helping older women live without assistance for a longer period of time.

A new study of more than 1,000 senior women in Japan weighed the effects of 16 different exercise types on their ability to carry out critical activities of daily living [ADL] without help. These tasks include essential activities like walking, eating, bathing, dressing and toileting.

All of the women had no ADL disabilities at the start, and all were interviewed annually about which types of exercise they participated in.

After eight years of follow-up, researchers found that participation in dancing was associated with a 73 percent lower likelihood of having at least one ADL disability. There were no significant associations found between other exercise types and ADL disability.

Although they said it’s not clear exactly why dancing seems to give women such a large advantage in terms of maintaining independence, they theorized that dance combines many physical and mental skills. “Dancing requires not only balance, strength, and endurance ability, but also cognitive ability: adaptability and concentration to move according to the music and partner, artistry for graceful and fluid motion, and memory for choreography,” said lead author Dr. Yosuke Osuka.  “We think that these various elements may contribute to the superiority of dancing in maintaining a higher ADL capacity.”

Alzheimer’s blood test

In the future, it may be possible to detect Alzheimer’s and other neurological diseases more than a decade before symptoms occur, with a simple blood test.

A simple blood test may someday be able to reliably spot Alzheimer’s disease well over a decade before a person shows any symptoms, such as confusion or short-term memory loss.

A new joint study from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases found that the test, for a protein called neurofilament light chain [NfL], could quickly and inexpensively detect damage in the brains of people not only with Alzheimer’s, but also other neurological diseases and conditions such as multiple sclerosis, strokes and traumatic brain injuries. Their research focused on a rare inherited form of Alzheimer’s that strikes people in their 30s, 40s or 50s.

Washington University leads an international consortium called the Dominantly Inherited Alzheimer’s Network [DIAN], whose goal is to help pinpoint the causes of brain disease by studying its genetic origins. The joint study of NfL and its diagnostic potential included data on more than 400 people in the DIAN network.

By tracking NfL levels over time in people both with and without the genetically inherited form of Alzheimer’s, the research team was able to detect changes caused by the disease about 16 years before the anticipated onset of symptoms. They said they now need to do further study of NfL, such as deciding what baseline levels are significant and what rates of increase should trigger concerns, before doctors can start using the test.

“This is something that would be easy to incorporate into a screening test in a neurology clinic,” said study author Brian Gordon, Ph.D., an assistant professor of radiology at Washington University. Their findings were published in January in Nature Medicine.

On the calendar

St. Louis Oasis presents a free seven-week course, Living a Healthy Life with Chronic Conditions, on Fridays beginning March 8 through April 19 from 1:30-4 p.m. at Deer Run Branch Library, 1300 N. Main St. in O’Fallon, in Room A. Developed at Stanford University, this self-management course is for adults with any chronic condition. Light refreshments are included. To register, call (636) 928-9355.

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An AARP Smart Driver Course is offered on Friday, March 8 at the Adult and Community Education Center, 2400 Zumbehl Road in St. Charles. Tune up your driving skills, update your knowledge of the rules of the road, and learn about normal age-related physical changes and ways to adjust for them. The cost is $15 for AARP members and $20 for non-members. Register by calling (636) 443-4043.

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Free from Falls, offered through a partnership between BJC and St. Louis Oasis, is on Tuesday, March 12 from 2-4 p.m. at the Kisker Road Branch Library, 1000 Kisker Road in St. Charles. This class is for seniors who have fallen recently or just want to learn more about how to prevent falls. Attendance is free. To register, call (636) 928-9355.

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Barnes-Jewish St. Peters Hospital hosts a free program, Conversations About Advance Funeral Planning, on Wednesday, March 13 from 9-10 a.m. at the hospital, 10 Hospital Drive in St. Peters, in Suite 117 of Medical Office Building 1. Register online at bjcstcharlescounty.org/Events or by calling (636) 928- 9355.

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