With unfortunate frequency, elderly patients go to the hospital for a surgery or other treatment and quickly become confused, bewildered, and sometimes agitated or totally disoriented. This is called delirium and while it apparently affects between 10 and 50 percent of patients over 65, it's only recently been studied in depth. Sharon K. Inouye, director of Harvard's Aging Brain Center, is leading the charge to understand delirium, its impact on patients' longterm cognitive faculties, and how to prevent it. From Scientific American:
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[Delirium] is the phenomenon, sadly familiar to many families, of Grandpa never being quite the same after an operation...
The consequences of delirium, if it lasts more than a few days and especially if it is followed by cognitive decline, are enormous. “It’s a house of cards,” Inouye says. “Patients start getting treated with medications for agitation or disruptive behavior, and those medications lead to complications. Or they are very sedated, and that leads to complications.” Delirious patients may choke on their food or pills and die of aspiration pneumonia. They may wind up in bed for long periods and suffer fatal blood clots. Once up, they are prone to falling. It’s a downward spiral and a costly one. Delirium adds more than $183 billion a year to U.S. health care costs, outstripping congestive heart failure.
Fortunately, basic steps can be taken to prevent delirium or shorten its course, such as making sure the patient is well hydrated, has access to eyeglasses and hearing aids if he or she uses them, gets out of bed and walks as soon as possible, has adequate sleep, and is socially engaged by hospital staff and loved ones.
Researchers discover a potential new way in which diet influences aging-related diseases.
Enjoy the funk of, er, 65+ years in this video of the annual Thriller dance at the Abbington Senior Living Mapleton center in Utah.
For me, this clip has a similar charm as David Greenberger's eternally amazing Duplex Planet interviews with elderly people. Read the rest
James Wallace Harris is a retired programmer who maintains an interesting blog called Auxiliary Memory. In his latest post, he wrote about how his spelling and grammar accuracy has declined over the past two years, as evidenced by the statistics of a grammar and spelling checker called Grammarly that he uses.
I want to document my own decline. Like the researchers in Flowers for Algernon, they tell Charlie to keep a journal. I’m going to be my own researcher and subject. I think it’s useful to be aware of my diminishing abilities. Aging is natural, and I accept it. I’m willing to work to squeeze all I can from my dwindling resources. What’s vital is being aware of what’s happening. The real problem to fear is becoming unconscious to who we are. Like Dirty Harry said, “A man’s got to know his limitations.”
The reason why Flowers for Algernon was such a magnificent story is that we’re all Charlie Gordon. We all start out dumb, get smart, and then get dumb again. Charlie just did it very fast, and that felt tragic. We do it slowly and try to ignore it’s happening. That’s also tragic.
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If you're an American 65 or older, there's a 20% chance that you're working or looking for work (the chance jumps to 53% if you attained an undergrad or more advanced degree): that's double the rate in 1985. The last time it was this high was 57 years ago, in 1962.
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A paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science reports on new analysis of the Survey of Health, Aging, and Retirement in Europe (SHARE), which tracks outcomes for 24,066 people aged 50-96 with a good balance of genders (56% female), and reports a strong correlation between "early affluence" and "faster cognitive drop" in "verbal fluency" (measured with an animal naming challenge). SHARE is the largest study of its kind, with more than double the subjects of similar projects.
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In a now-viral Facebook post, Terry Robinson of Spring Texas (jokingly?) explains why when he and his wife get "old and too feeble," they will check into a Holiday Inn instead of spending their remaining years in a nursing home.
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Lloyd Khan runs Shelter Publications and was the shelter editor for The Whole Earth Catalog. At 82, he is quite active, as a skateboarder, paddler, home remodeler, and hiker. In a recent blog post, he reflects on 84-year-old author Philip Roth's observation that "...in just a matter of months I’ll depart old age to enter deep old age — easing ever deeper daily into the redoubtable Valley of the Shadow...”
There was something about turnng 80 that I relished. It’s so o-l-d. I'm still upright.
Some things I’ve learned:
Old people get weak more from lack of activity than from ticking of the clock.
I’m so interested in my work these days, I don’t get out as much as I should. BUT each time I go for a hike, or paddle, or jump under a cold waterfall, I feel invigorated, alive, inspired.
Bob Anderson says, “You never hear anyone saying, ‘I’m sorry I just worked out.’”
What I learned in those years, from those guys, was the value of staying fit.
I work on posture every time I think of it. If I see as person with good or bad posture, it's a reminder. Shoulders back, down, relax.
If you don't use it, you are gonna lose it fer shure.
So this is a reminder to myself to get my ass away from the keyboard more often. Mind and body are not separate entities.
Here's Lloyd's home gym:
And here's Lloyd going through The Whole Earth Catalog:
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Scientists are coming closer than ever to stopping aging. The latest video from Kurzgesagt – In a Nutshell explores how we would change as individuals and a society if people could live as long as they wanted.
In 2011, Drew Magary wrote a book called The Postmortal, a fictional first-hand account of what happens to the world when a cure for aging is discovered. I reviewed it here. Read the rest
Johanna Quaas, 92, is the "world's oldest gymnast," according to Guinness World Records. Quaas literally wrote the book on gymnastics, a textbook titled Gerätturnen. She still competes regularly as evidenced by this incredible video.
Here's Quaas's fan page.
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People between the ages of 15-30 are more likely to die from external causes than any other reason. The 60s, 70s, and 80s are cancer years. If you've made it that far, your failing heart is most likely to kill you. Nathan Yau created this stacked area graph that "shows how cause of death varies across sex and race, based on mortality data from 2005 through 2014. Select a group to see the changes. Select causes to see them individually." Read the rest
Numerous research studies have correlated higher IQs with longer lifespans. Why? One reason could be that smarter people apparently don't do as many dumb things that could kill them early. In Scientific American, Michigan State University psychologist David Z. Hambrick looks at the latest research in cognitive epidemiology:
One possibility is that a higher IQ contributes to optimal health behaviors, such as exercising, wearing a seatbelt, and not smoking. Consistent with this hypothesis, in the Scottish data, there was no relationship between IQ and smoking behavior in the 1930s and 1940s, when the health risks of smoking were unknown, but after that, people with higher IQs were more likely to quit smoking. Alternatively, it could be that some of the same genetic factors contribute to variation in both IQ and in the propensity to engage in these sorts of behaviors.
Another possibility is that IQ is an index of bodily integrity, and particularly the efficiency of the nervous system.
"Research Confirms a Link between Intelligence and Life Expectancy" Read the rest
South Korea has a Confucionist tradition of children supporting their elderly parents in South Korea whose existence meant that the country never had to develop an advanced social safety net for caring for the aged. Read the rest
"After controlling for potential confounders, higher monthly ejaculation frequency was associated with a statistically significant decreased risk of total prostate cancer compared to the reference group at every time period." Read the rest
Charlie Stross lays out the state of aging: "cognitive functioning burdened by decades of memories to integrate, canalized by prior experiences, dominated by the complexity of long-term planning at the expense of real-time responsiveness...truck by intricate, esoteric cross-references to that which has gone before." Read the rest
Bloomberg Visual Data reports on the ways people die, and how they have changed over time. The most interesting part of the report is about dementia and Alzheimer's:
The downside to living so long is that it dramatically increases the odds of getting dementia or Alzheimer's. That's why total deaths in the 75+ category has stayed constant despite impressive reductions in the propensity to die of heart disease.
The rise of Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia has had a big impact on healthcare costs because these diseases kill the victim slowly.
About 40% of the total increase in Medicare spending since 2011 can be attributed to greater spending on Alzheimer's treatment.
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