Health experts are talking about…
… hepatitis C testing. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently issued recommendations that all baby boomers (born between 1945 and 1965) be tested for the hepatitis C virus—even if they’ve never had a blood transfusion or shared needles.
Seventy-five percent of cases occur among boomers, although it’s not clear why this group is affected more than others. Hepatitis C is mostly spread through contact with blood from an infected person. Experts think infections may have occurred during the 1960s, ′70s and ′80s, before widespread testing of blood was common. People who contract this chronic liver disease may not be aware they have it, since they often have no symptoms. But untreated, hepatitis C can lead to long-term health complications and is a leading cause of liver cancer.
… how long humans can live. A recent study from Albert Einstein College of Medicine proposes that there’s a limit on the human lifespan—about 115 years.
Improvements in nutrition, public health, sanitation and living conditions have extended the average age at death for people over the past century. More people now live to 100 years of age, but according to lead study author Jan Vijg, PhD, once they reach that milestone, they tend to rapidly decline. There are exceptions, of course: Jeanne Calment lived to 122, the maximum documented lifespan of any person in history.
The current average lifespan for Americans is 79. That’s a vast improvement over the average life expectancy of 47 for those born in 1900, but the likelihood of further extending human longevity is slim. Researchers suggest that staying healthy for a longer time, known as health span, should be a greater priority than simply living longer.
...whether better verbal skills are a disadvantage for women. Women have better verbal skills than men throughout their lives, but that could lead to delays in pinpointing early stages of dementias, including Alzheimer’s disease.
Verbal skills evaluations are one method of screening for mild cognitive impairment, which can be a precursor to Alzheimer’s. Since women generally perform better on this test, they may not be diagnosed until the disease is further along. Researchers gave memory tests to 1,316 people and also did memory scans looking for signs of disease. They found that women outperformed men on the memory tests whether they had mild cognitive impairment, Alzheimer’s or no problems at all, according to their scans. This suggests that women use their cognitive reserve to compensate for any changes in brain function until the disease reaches its later stages.
Modifying standard memory screening tests to account for these gender differences could help diagnose Alzheimer’s disease earlier in women, according to researchers. While everyone is forgetful sometimes, any significant memory lapses—like getting lost going to a familiar place—or those occurring consistently should be brought to the attention of a health provider.
...whether taking supplements can promote healthy aging. A well-balanced diet is essential to supporting a healthy lifestyle, but as we age, our bodies process vitamins and minerals differently. Many people turn to nutritional supplements, from vitamin A to botanicals to zinc, to make up for real or suspected deficiencies. However, that may not be a smart move.
Supplements are regulated as food, not as drugs by the Food and Drug Administration; only the manufacturers, not the FDA, are responsible for the safety of their products, which may contain hidden, harmful ingredients.
According to the National Institutes of Health, supplements are absolutely necessary for some people—particularly those with certain health conditions or restricted diets—but most of us don’t need them and are better off getting our nutrients from real food sources.
Anyone considering or currently taking vitamins regularly should discuss this with their doctor. In particular, ask about:
Vitamin B12. People over age 50 need more of this vitamin than younger adults; it can be easily obtained through fortified foods like breakfast cereals.
Vitamin D. Older adults, people with dark skin, and people who get insufficient exposure to sunlight, may be told to consume extra vitamin D from fortified foods and/or supplements.
Calcium. People who do not eat meat or consume milk or milk products may need to supplement their diets with this important bone-health mineral. Adult men age 50 to 71 need about 1,000 mg daily; adult women in this age group need about 1,200 mg/day. Food sources of calcium include kale, broccoli, Chinese cabbage and fish with soft bones (sardines, salmon).
Supplements can't take the place of the variety of foods that are important to a healthy diet. Remember too that supplements can cause serious side effects if taken with other medications or if certain health conditions are present. Common supplements that may cause serious interference with prescription drugs include vitamin K, St. John’s Wort and antioxidants like vitamins C and E. Even if you are generally healthy, the wrong dietary supplement, or the wrong amount, can cause long-term problems and make some medications less effective. Always check with your doctor before taking any supplements.
This fact sheet from the National Institutes of Health has important information and tips about dietary supplements.
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The Silver Century Foundation promotes a positive view of aging. The Foundation challenges entrenched and harmful stereotypes, encourages dialogue between generations, advocates planning for the second half of life, and raises awareness to educate and inspire everyone to live long, healthy, empowered lives.
"It is not by muscle, speed, or physical dexterity that great things are achieved, but by reflection, force of character, and judgment; in these qualities old age is usually not poorer, but is even richer."
Cicero (106-43 BC)