Facebook may improve seniors’ cognitive function, Mature Focus
Lifelong Learning Institute comes to Chesterfield
Imagine going back to school, taking classes you find intriguing, and never having to take a test or worry about grades. That is what senior adults experience as members of Washington University’s Lifelong Learning Institute (LLI), which next month will begin offering classes in Chesterfield.
The LLI is open to adults aged 55-plus and offers courses at its Clayton campus in many disciplines, such as art and architecture, contemporary issues, creative writing, economics, film studies, history, literature, math/science/technology/, music, and philosophy. Knowledgeable peer members teach the classes and plan course work, field trips and other events. Courses emphasize peer learning and active class member participation. When an adult registers for a class, he or she becomes a member of the LLI.
In response recommendations from its Older Adult Task Force, the city of Chesterfield formed an alliance with the LLI to bring classes to West County.
“The Dead Sea Scrolls” will be the first course taught in Chesterfield. It will be facilitated by Sheldon Enger and will focus on the collection of ancient documents discovered in caves near the Dead Sea. The eight-week course will meet from 10 a.m.-12 p.m. on Wednesday mornings at Chesterfield City Hall, beginning on April 3. The course fee is $145.
To learn more or register, visit lli.wustl.edu, or call (314) 935-4237.
Facebook may improve seniors’ cognitive function
Adults who find themselves in need of a brain boost might want to join Facebook.
Janelle Wohltmann, a graduate student studying psychology at the University of Arizona, conducted a study to see if Facebook could help improve older adults’ cognitive performance and make them feel more socially connected. Her preliminary findings from a study involving adults ages 68-91(average age 79) show that after learning to use Facebook, participants did about 25 percent better on tasks designed to measure their ability to continuously monitor and quickly add to or delete from the contents of their working memory – a function psychologists call “updating.”
“The idea evolved from two bodies of research,” Wohltmann said. “One, there is evidence to suggest that staying more cognitively engaged – learning new skills, not just becoming a couch potato when you retire but staying active – leads to better cognitive performing. It’s kind of this ‘use it or lose it’ hypothesis. There’s also a large body of literature showing that people who are more socially engaged, are less lonely, have more social support and are more socially integrated are also doing better cognitively in older age.”
But Wohltmann offered a word of caution, noting that before joining the social networking site, older adults – like everyone else – should be taught to use it safely.
Mammograms after 65
A national study of more than 140,000 women ages 66-89 found that for older women, getting a mammogram every two years was as beneficial as an annual mammogram and led to fewer false positive results.
Researchers at University of California-San Francisco (UCSF) gathered data from 1999-2006 on nearly 3,000 women with breast cancer and about 138,000 without it and found no difference in late-stage breast cancer rates between those who were screened annually and those screened every two years. Among women ages 66-74, nearly half (48 percent) who were screened annually had false positive results, compared to 29 percent of women who were screened every other year.
“Screening every other year, as opposed to every year, does not increase the probability of late-stage breast cancer in older women,” lead author Dejana Braithwaite, UCSF assistant professor of epidemiology and biostatistics, said.
Lead study author Karla Kerlikowske, M.D., agreed, saying women ages 66-74 who choose to get mammograms “get no added benefit from annual screening and face almost twice the false positives and biopsy recommendations, which may cause anxiety and inconvenience.”
The study appeared online last month in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
When pessimism pays
Older adults who tend to view the future through rose-colored glasses may be less likely to reach a ripe, old age than their pessimistic peers, according to new research published by the American Psychological Association.
According to a study appearing in the online journal Psychology and Aging, older folks with low expectations for the future may be setting themselves up for longer, healthier lives. The 10-year study involved about 40,000 adults who were asked how satisfied they were with their lives and to predict their future level of satisfaction.
“Our findings revealed that being overly optimistic in predicting a better future was associated with a greater risk of disability and death within the following decade,” lead author Frieder R. Lang, of the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg in Germany, said. “Pessimism about the future may encourage people to live more carefully, taking health and safety precautions.”
Lean on a 50-something female
Next time you’re looking for a shoulder to cry on, you might want to seek out a middle-aged woman.
In a study of more than 75,000 adults, women in their 50s were found to be more empathetic than men their age and more empathetic than younger and older adults of both sexes.
Sara Konrath, an assistant research professor at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research, and her colleagues analyzed data on empathy from three separate, large samples of adult Americans. They found consistent evidence of a pattern of empathy throughout adulthood, with middle-aged adults reporting the most empathy.
“They (middle-aged adults) reported that they were more likely to react emotionally to the experiences of others, and they were also more likely to try to understand how things looked from the perspective of others,” Konrath said.
Speculating on the reasons for their findings, the study authors wrote: “Americans born in the 1950s and ‘60s – the middle-aged people in our samples – were raised during historic social movements, from civil rights to various antiwar countercultures. It may be that today’s middle-aged adults report higher empathy than other cohorts because they grew up during periods of important societal changes that emphasized the feelings and perspectives of other groups.”
Five things to question
The American Geriatrics Society (AGS) recently released its list of “Five Things Physicians and Patients Should Question,” its contribution to the American Board of Internal Medicine’s “Choosing Wisely” campaign. The purpose of the campaign is to spark conversations between patients and doctors about procedures and treatments that may provide no benefit or may cause harm.
In preparing its recommendations, the AGS utilized a work group whose members reviewed medical research and surveyed more than 6,000 of its members and other experts. The group’s goal was to determine the potentially unnecessary or harmful treatments most often recommended for older patients.
Ultimately, the AGS issued the following five recommendations:
• Don’t recommend percutaneous feeding tubes in patients with advanced dementia; instead, offer assisted oral feeding.
• Don’t use antipsychotics as the first choice to treat behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia.
• Avoid using medication to achieve hemoglobin A1c <7.5% in most adults 65 and older; moderate control is generally better.
• Don’t use benzodiazepines or other sedative-hypnotics in older adults as the first choice for insomnia, agitation, or delirium.
• Don’t use antimicrobials to treat bacteriuria in older adults unless specific urinary tract symptoms are present.
“Due to age-related physical changes, many older adults respond differently to medications and other interventions than younger people,” said Paul Mulhausen, M.D., vice-chair of the AGS Clinical Practice and Models of Care Committee and chair of AGS’ “Choosing Wisely” work group.
The AGS and the AGS Foundation for Health in Aging have published a compendium of resources about the society’s “Five Things” at healthinaging.org.