Could getting older be the key to happiness?

It doesn’t seem likely, does it? “Old age” is supposed to equate with bad stuff — failing health, failing brain power, increased isolation and dependency…you know the list. So how come the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago found that almost 40% of Americans aged 65-plus considered themselves to be “very happy” compared to only 33% of those in the 35-49 age bracket?

Researchers appear to have identified a “happiness U-curve” — satisfaction with life actually drops for the first few decades of adulthood, bottoming out in the late 40s or early 50s, and then reversing and increasing with age.

And it isn’t just an American thing. In one survey, this U-curve was found in 55 countries out of 80; in another survey, in 80 countries out of 149.

Robert J. Samuelson has an excellent and thought-provoking article about this in the Washington Post. He quotes the late write Donald Richie: “Midlife crisis begins sometime in your 40s, when you look at your life and think, Is this all? And it ends about 10 years later, when you look at your life again and think, Actually, this is pretty good.”

You can read the article here. It’s well worth it.

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‘Vampire therapy’ could reverse aging, scientists find

 

There’s a long tradition of craving blood  for its restorative powers. It’s everywhere in our history and mythology: high priests sacrificing children, victors in battle drinking the blood of brave enemies and, of course, vampires. But what if there’s some actual science behind it?

Apparently scientists have discovered that young blood could reverse the aging process and maybe even cure Alzheimer’s Disease.

 

You can read all about it in this article from The Telegraph.

The article reports on two separate studies, both done with mice:

  • One study found that young blood can “recharge” the brain, forming new blood vessels and bolstering memory and learning
  • The second study identified a “youth protein” that keeps the brain and muscles young and strong. This protein, known as GDF11, is present in the bloodstream in large amounts when we’re young, but diminishes with age

Researchers hope to begin human trials within two to three years. “This should give us all hope for a healthier future,” says one of  the researches, Prof. Doug Melton, of Harvard University’s Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology. “We all wonder why we were stronger and mentally more agile when young, and these two unusually exciting papers actually point to a possible  answer. There seems to be little question that GDF11 has an amazing capacity to restore aging muscle and brain function.”

Needless to say, I’ll be watching this and updating you regularly.

Memory loss associated with Alzheimer’s reversed for the first time

 

We’ve read a lot about research in ways to delay the onset, or diminish the full impact of, Alzheimer’s disease. But now comes news of a trial at UCLA and Buck Institute that is reported to be the first  time that memory loss associated with Alzheimer’s has actually been reversed.

It was a small trial, involving 10 participants who were suffering from Alzheimer’s-related memory loss. They were put through a complex, 36-point program that involved comprehensive changes in diet, brain stimulation, exercise, sleep optimization, specific pharmaceuticals and vitamins, and other steps affecting brain chemistry. The results: 9 out of the 10 displayed improvements in their memory within 3 to 6 months after the program started.

Six of the 10 patients had had to discontinue working, or were struggling with their jobs, when the program began. All were able to return to work or continue working.

 

The findings, published in the current online edition of the journal Aging, “are very encouraging. However, at the current time the results are anecdotal, and therefore a more extensive, controlled clinical trial is warranted,” said Dale Bredesen, the Augustus Rose Professor of Neurology and Director of the Easton Center at UCLA, a professor at the Buck Institute, and the author of the paper…

 

In the case of Alzheimer’s disease, Bredesen notes, there is not one drug that has been developed that stops or even slows the disease’s progression, and drugs have only had modest effects on symptoms. “In the past decade alone, hundreds of clinical trials have been conducted for Alzheimer’s at an aggregate cost of over a billion dollars, without success,” he said.

 

Other chronic illnesses such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, and HIV, have been improved through the use of combination therapies, he noted. Yet in the case of Alzheimer’s and other memory disorders, comprehensive combination therapies have not been explored. Yet over the past few decades, genetic and biochemical research has revealed an extensive network of molecular interactions involved in AD pathogenesis. “That suggested that a broader-based therapeutics approach, rather than a single drug that aims at a single target, may be feasible and potentially more effective for the treatment of cognitive decline due to Alzheimer’s,” said Bredesen.

What goes into a personalized, “systems” approach? Here are some of the main elements in the therapeutic program that was put in place for a female patient who was forgetting her way home:

 

(1) Eliminating all simple carbohydrates, leading to a weight loss of 20 pounds

(2) Eliminating gluten and processed food from her diet, with increased vegetables, fruits, and non-farmed fish

(3) To reduce stress, she began yoga

(4) As a second measure to reduce the stress of her job, she began to meditate for 20 minutes twice per day

(5) She took melatonin each night

(6) She increased her sleep from 4-5 hours per night to 7-8 hours per night

(7) She took methylcobalamin each day

(8) She took vitamin D3 each day

(9) Fish oil each day

(10) CoQ10 each day

(11) She optimized her oral hygiene using an electric flosser and electric toothbrush

(12) Following discussion with her primary care provider, she reinstated hormone replacement therapy that had been discontinued

(13) She fasted for a minimum of 12 hours between dinner and breakfast, and for a minimum of three hours between dinner and bedtime

(14) She exercised for a minimum of 30 minutes, 4-6 days per week.

 

Can anyone do all this?

 

The downside to this program is its complexity. It is not easy to follow, with the burden falling on the patients and caregivers, and none of the patients were able to stick to the entire protocol. The significant diet and lifestyle changes, and multiple pills required each day, were the two most common complaints. The good news, though, said Bredesen, are the side effects: “It is noteworthy that the major side effect of this therapeutic system is improved health and an optimal body mass index, a stark contrast to the side effects of many drugs.”

 

Of course I’m not qualified to evaluate this new program. But it’s encouraging that researchers are looking beyond the One Single Wonder Drug solution — and if further, broader clinical trials validate this “systems” approach, the implications are obviously staggering. I strongly recommend you read the entire article, which you’ll find here.

The crisis of too many old people: demographer says Europe is literally dying

We all know that our society is aging, due to the combo of longevity and falling birth rates. But can it reach a stage where the society can be said to be…literally…committing suicide? Yes, says Emmanuel Todd, one of Europe’s leading demographers. The growing imbalance between young and old — fewer younger workers supporting ever more retirees — throttles economic growth and virtually insures a disastrous future.

According to The Economist, even with the arrival of a million immigrants every year, the ratio of pensioners to workers will increase from 28% now to 58% by 2060. In demographic terms, it’s a “perfect storm” that guarantees no economic growth. Can anything be done? According to demographer Emmanuel Todd, there is some hope, but only on a regional basis. The UK and Scandinavia are relatively better off, and if the UK became a more format part of an “Anglosphere” — including the USA, Canada, and Australia — it would be hitching its wagon to a community that will become larger, and much more prosperous, than the EU.

Read this article by Daniel Hannon, and watch the accompanying video in which Todd lays out his theory. You can  expect to see many more commentaries like this one; it’s a reminder that the “reinvention of aging” is not uniformly dynamic and exciting, but also carries with it considerable upheaval and many challenges.

 

Israeli discovery could reverse Alzheimer’s damage

A Tel Aviv University research team may have discovered a way to protect cells from the damage of Alzheimer’s disease, and may even open up the possibility of reversing that damage. The method involves a protein similar to one which protects the brain from damage, but which is lacking in Alzheimer’s patients.

You  can read all about it in this article from The Times of Israel. There seems to be a lot of hopeful news on this front.

Why are so many elderly Asians killing themselves?

According to this disturbing report on NBCNews.com, “the past decade has seen an astonishing spike in the rate of Asians over 65 choosing to end their lives early, particularly in the region’s economically successful countries.”

The stats are frightening:

  • In South Korea, for example, suicides in that age group have risen more than fivefold, from 14 per 100,000 in 1990 to 77 per 100,000 in 2009, according to Hallym University’s Institute of Aging.
  • In Taiwan, seniors took their lives more than twice as often as any other age group, at a rate of 35.8 per 100,000 in 2010, versus 17.6 for the national average.
  • Suicides among city dwellers in China aged 70 to 74 surged to 33.76 per 100,000 in the mid-2000s, up from 13.39 in the 1990s.

      And these numbers are expected to rise.

Even more scary, experts note that government data on elderly suicides is considered to be of poor quality because of many unreported cases. So the numbers could actually be higher.

Why is this happening?

In Asia, experts blame the rapid social and economic changes across the region and scarce mental health services. In some Asian countries a disproportionate number of suicides among elderly has followed financial or health crises, but experts are now looking at the social pressures being placed on the elderly by industrialization and population growth.

And if it’s bad now, the twin forces of greater life expectancy and fewer caregivers will make things worse.

“Now we are enjoying the best moments of this era. We have three to four young adults to support a family with one or two elderly persons,” says Frances Law, a former project director at the Hong Kong Jockey Club Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention, one of the region’s leading institutions in suicide prevention.

“The potential risk is that as life expectancy is getting longer and longer, the dependency ratio is getting much larger. That is, there will be fewer people to support the elderly population in the coming 10 to 20 years.”

You can read the entire report here.

Watch me on The Zoomer, with Conrad Black and Denise Donlon, tonight at 9 on Vision TV

I’m pleased to be back on the panel again, and the topic is: the workplace. We had a lively discussion, and you’ll recognize many of the issues, from following this blog. Watch The Zoomer tonight (Monday, January 20) on Vision TV, at 9.00 p.m.

If you want more information on the program, visit the web site here. You can also watch my two previous appearances on the show, on October 15 when we discussed “age rage” and the apparent “war of the generations,” and on November 18 when we talked about the state of Zoomers – pensions, aging, and a whole lot more.

I hope you’ll be watching tonight — and let me know your reaction!