Over the past decade, dementia has jumped from the fourth to the second leading cause of death in Australia – and for Australian women it has overtaken heart disease to become the top cause of death.
“With more than 436,000 Australians living with dementia and an estimated 1.45 million people involved in the care of someone with dementia, it is clearly one of the biggest public health challenges facing Australia,” said Maree McCabe, CEO of Dementia Australia.
McCabe highlights the urgent need for more investment into dementia awareness, research, treatment and care to address this major public health problem.
While memory and cognition decline with age – along with other physical faculties – dementia is not a normal part of aging.
Most common after the age of 65, dementia is a constellation of symptoms that affect brain function. It is a progressive disease with debilitating effects on thinking, memory, emotions, behaviour and ability to carry out daily activities.
Alzheimer’s disease is its most common form. Other versions include vascular dementia, dementia with Lewy bodies, Huntington’s disease, and alcohol-related dementia (Korsakoff’s syndrome – caused by vitamin B deficiency).
These all have different causes, and an early diagnosis is essential to try and identify if symptoms are treatable.
More importantly, many cases of dementia can be prevented.
It is estimated that a staggering one third to half of dementia cases can be prevented by changes in lifestyle behaviours – unhealthy habits that can slowly develop into dementia over an extended period of time.
A recent study conducted brain scans on 135 people over a 20-year period. Results showed that people with higher cholesterol had more white matter damage to the brain, suggesting poorer cognitive function and greater risk of dementia – independently of age, education and genetic dementia risk.
Lead researcher, Cassandra Szoeke, director of the Healthy Ageing Program at the University of Melbourne, says the effects are substantial, and are reinforced by another study that found the number of brain cells at age 50 can predict cognitive ability 10 years later.
Other new research that followed older adults for 15 years has shown that hardening of the arteries is a strong predictor of dementia risk.
These findings are consistent with studies showing that a healthy Mediterranean diet, high in plant foods and low in processed food, can lower risk of both heart disease and dementia.
Compelling evidence tells us that regular physical activity is an important way to stay physically and mentally healthy – even incidental daily activities and walking all add up.
And for people with dementia and restricted mobility, personalised exercise can also lift some of the burden, so it’s never too late to get moving.
A new study has found that adults over 84 years who eat more protein are less likely to suffer disability, which is a significant problem in this growing age group.
Researchers took food diaries from 722 community-dwelling adults in the UK and measured disability according to difficulty performing daily activities like moving around the house, getting in and out of a chair, shopping, walking and climbing stairs.
Progression of disability, followed up 18 months, 3 and 5 years later, fell into four distinct categories, from very low to severe.
Results showed that adults who ate more protein were less likely to become disabled over the 5-year follow-up than those with lower protein intake, after factoring in gender, education, physical activity, cognition and chronic diseases.
Lead author of the study, Dr Nuno Mendonca, told Nutrition Insight, “We believe that the largest benefit of protein consumption is due to delaying muscle mass and strength loss.”
Protein is critical for maintaining lean muscle mass, needed for strength and mobility, and healthy bone density. Not only that, if protein stores are low, the liver will draw on the muscle’s protein stores to maintain energy levels between meals.
Dietary protein also has a multitude of other important bodily functions including formation of enzymes and hormones, transporting molecules through the bloodstream, manufacturing antibodies and regulating acid-alkaline levels.
Adults in the study who consumed 1g protein per kg of body weight each day were more likely to have lower disability, supporting calls to increase recommended protein intakes.
For a 58 kg person, that could easily be met by eating 2 eggs for breakfast, 100g yoghurt with lunch and a 100g serve of salmon for dinner – all soft foods for people with dentition or swallowing difficulties.
For adults with poor appetite, eating small meals with protein shakes for morning and afternoon tea will help boost protein intake.
It’s important to note that protein needs increase when the body is stressed by infection, burns, cancer or injury.
And to maximise muscle mass and strength, the benefits of regular physical activity in conjunction with protein intake cannot be underestimated.
Posted by ProPortion Foods Blog on Nov 8, 2018 in Aging
If you ask the average young person how old is ‘old’, they would say over 50. Ask an older person and they would say over 65.
To complicate things further, chronological age is not necessarily the same as biological, social or psychological age. Some 65-year-olds might look, feel and act younger than someone who is 50.
In any case, the discrepancy in perceptions of ageing fuels stereotypes, one of the issues at the heart of ‘ageism’ – prejudice against older people that causes discrimination.
Our “youth-obsessed culture” doesn’t help, worshipping glossy images of young people and pushing treatments and lotions to hide grey hair and iron out wrinkles.
According to gerontologist Robert Butler, ageism – like racism or sexism – sets people apart from other groups. It allows “the younger generations to see older people as different than themselves; thus they subtly cease to identify with their elders as human beings.”
Ageism pervades our culture and language, as Associate Professor Briony Dow observes, with attitudes like “stupid older drivers.” It creates all manner of discrimination including housing and services. In the workplace, ageism causes unfair hiring, training, retention, promotion and work assignments.
In the media, old people tend to be portrayed as forgetful, frail, slow, helpless and sick, according to a survey of over 2,000 older adults. These prevailing stereotypes would now be frowned on with different races or genders.
Unlike sexism or racism, ageism affects us all directly. Why? Because, if we’re not struck by lightning, a fatal accident or disease in the meantime, all of us will be old one day – whatever age that is.
And the number of people aged 65 and over is set to double between 2009 and 2020. In fact, this cohort is set to exceed the number of children under 5 for the first time in history by 2020, according to Dow.
This growing aging demographic is causing retirement ages to increase while pensions are threatened as society struggles to support older adults. But their recognition or protection is not yet explicitly reflected in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Even where workplaces have put equal opportunities policies into place, they don’t necessarily align with attitudes, behaviour and practice.
Honouring all people, young and old, is pivotal to a truly civilised society. It acknowledges not only everyone’s fundamental humanity, but older adults’ contribution, raising and nurturing of children, and years of hard work.
“Each time we see an older person, we need to imagine them as our future self, and rather than recoil from their wrinkles or infirmities, applaud their resilience. We need to re-humanise older people,” says British writer Anne Karpf.
Importantly, older adults bring a wealth of wisdom, resilience and maturity that can come with greater experience and lived years if we take the time to slow down and listen to them.
In the workplace, older adults can contribute their knowledge to help younger people handle complex or emotionally challenging situations that they are not yet equipped to deal with.
It’s time to revisit policies and attitudes to reflect that.
Meanwhile, some baby boomers are actively embracing retirement as they reinvent themselves in their “third age”, “encore stage” or “unretirement”.
Are you game to take stock of your attitude to ageing? You can explore it via the Attitudes to Ageing Questionnaire in the video or link below.
Chronic diseases, impaired mobility and diminished quality of life with aging seem inevitable to most. Although healthy lifestyle habits protect us, researchers say they may have found another way to reverse the aging process.
Aging cells stop working well for several reasons. Researchers have turned the spotlight to ‘senescent cells’ – cells that stop dividing. This process is thought to have several benefits like suppressing tumours, wound healing and more.
But in aging, these cells accumulate and may impact the function of surrounding cells. And animal research suggests that removing these deteriorating cells could thwart or delay age-related physical decline.
Researchers propose that DNA damage, inflammation and erosion of telomeres – protective tips at the end of chromosomes – could all explain why cells become senescent with age.
It now appears that gene regulation might also factor in.
Every cell in the body contains all the information that the body needs to function. But different genes are turned on or off according to that cell’s role – explaining for instance why the heart and brain work differently despite containing the same genes.
Genes are activated by environmental messages, facilitated by around 300 proteins called ‘splicing factors’. With aging, the number of splicing factors drops, so that aging cells are less able to respond to changes in the environment.
Researchers from the University of Exeter, UK, have been able to turn these splicing factors back on and revive old cells – in vitro at least – by treating cells with a chemical that produces small amounts of hydrogen sulphide.
Hydrogen sulphide – the gas that smells like rotten eggs – is found naturally in our bodies. But in high doses it can be toxic. The researchers found a way to send the molecule in small doses to the mitochondria – the cell’s energy powerhouse – where they think it acts.
They hope this procedure could eventually be used in living people and treat age-related diseases.
Can death itself be cured so that people can live forever?
Aubrey de Grey thinks so. He founded the organisation, Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS), focussed on finding ways to remove senescent cells and theoretically keep bodies alive forever.
Do people want immortality? A 2013 national survey of Americans found that 56% would not use technologies that would help them live to 120 or longer. Two-thirds of respondents were concerned about the strain on natural resources.
Jake Dunagan, director of the consulting firm Very Nice and researcher in cognitive bias, says the SENS longevity research is selfish. “’I want mine. I always want mine.’ Well what if everyone had this? What would be the long-term implications of that?”
There is a notable distinction between increasing our “health span” – the primary focus of most aging research – and increasing our life span, say other researchers like biochemist and professor of biogerontology, Judy Campisi.
Most people fear death and discussing it is taboo in many cultures. De Grey calls it “the terrible thing that awaits [us],” disparaging people who simply accept their fate.
But ‘The Art of Dying Well’ suggests that coming to terms with death can help us live more fully. “In fact,” they suggest, “consciousness of our mortality can enable us to cherish every moment of the life we have.”