Older Adults with Strong Grip, Good Memory/Decision-Making Skills May Avoid or Delay Disability

Journal of the American Geriatrics Society Research Summary

As we age, we may develop certain disabilities that make it difficult to walk, climb, balance, or maintain our fine motor skills. In turn, these changes can affect our ability to perform routine, daily tasks, which can lead to a loss of independence and reduced quality of life. However, experts say that it is often possible to treat these difficulties before they lead to disability.

For example, having good muscle strength helps us maintain the ability to function well. Research suggests that a minimum level of strength is needed for good physical function. The stronger older adults are, the better able they may be to prevent future disability.

To learn more about how and whether being strong can ward off disability, a team of researchers examined information from a study called SHARE. It involved a survey of people aged 50 and older across most European Union countries and Israel every two years. This survey collected information about health, social and economic status, and participants’ social and family networks. A total of 30,434 people participated in this survey. The research team who studied the information from SHARE published their findings in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. Continue reading

Does Open Heart Surgery Affect Cognitive Abilities?

Journal of the American Geriatrics Society Research Summary

Most people who need open heart surgery to repair damaged heart valves are aged 65 or older. The American Heart Association (AHA) estimates that nearly 8 million people have had heart surgeries. However, we don’t fully understand the effects of heart surgery on an older adult’s cognition (the ability to remember, think, and make decisions).

In 2014, an estimated 156,000 heart valve surgeries were performed in the US. The most common condition for valve surgery was aortic stenosis. The aorta is the heart valve that controls blood flow from your heart to the rest of your body. Aortic stenosis occurs when the aortic valve doesn’t allow blood to flow out of the heart properly. Adults 65 and older represent most of the people who need aortic valve surgery, and the number of older adults with aortic stenosis is expected to double by 2050.

Understanding how heart valve surgery may affect your cognition is important for older adults. To learn more, researchers reviewed studies to see how patients’ cognition changed before and after heart valve surgery. They also looked at whether surgeries on two types of heart valves, the mitral or the aortic, were associated with better or worse outcomes. Their study was published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. Continue reading

The Link Between Cognitive Function and Sexuality in Older Adults

Journal of the American Geriatrics Society Research Summary

The number of people who live at home with Alzheimer’s Disease (AD), a brain disease that causes abnormal changes that kill brain cells, is expected to grow from 3.2 million today to more than 8 million in 2050.

Experts agree that we know very little about sexuality among people living at home with AD or other cognitive problems. Older adults who have cognitive problems that impact the way they think and make decisions may ask physicians to help managing sexual problems. And caregivers may ask physicians about sexuality in the older adults for whom they provide care.

One frequently asked question is: Do older adults always have the capacity to consent to sexual activity?

Researchers have previously shown that the majority of people aged 57 to 85 have a spouse or other intimate partner and, among those with a partner, most are sexually active. Having an active sexual life is linked to better physical and mental health, higher quality of life, and lower rates of loneliness.

To learn more about the connection between sexuality and cognitive status, researchers designed a new study. They analyzed data from the National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project to learn more about the relationship between sexual behavior, function, and cognition (people’s ability to think and make decisions). Their study was published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. Continue reading

Personality Changes During Transition to Developing Mild Cognitive Impairment

Journal of the American Geriatrics Society Research Summary

A key feature of Alzheimer’s disease is memory loss and losing one’s ability to think and make decisions (also called “cognitive ability”). Those changes can begin slowly, during a phase called “mild cognitive impairment” (or MCI). A variety of diseases can cause MCI, but the most common is Alzheimer’s disease.

Not all people who have MCI develop Alzheimer’s disease—but if memory loss is a person’s key MCI symptom, and if that person’s genes (DNA) suggests they may be likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease, the risk for the condition can be as high as 90 percent.

Personality changes and behavior problems that come with Alzheimer’s disease are as troubling as memory loss and other mental difficulties for caregivers and those living with the condition. Mayo Clinic researchers wondered if personality changes that begin early, when MCI memory loss becomes noticeable, might help predict Alzheimer’s disease at its earliest stages. The researchers created a study to test their theory and published their findings in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. Continue reading

Can Special Training Improve Memory and Thinking Abilities in Older Adults with Mild Cognitive Impairment?

JAGS graphicJournal of the American Geriatrics Society Research Summary

Cognition is the ability to think and make decisions. Medication-free treatments that maintain cognitive health as we age are attracting the attention of medical experts. Maintaining the ability to think clearly and make decisions is crucial to older adults’ well-being and vitality.

Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is a condition that affects people who are in the early stages of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. People with MCI may have mild memory loss or other difficulties completing tasks that involve cognitive abilities. MCI may eventually develop into dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Depression and anxiety also can accompany MCI. Having these conditions can increase the risk of mental decline as people age.

A new, first-of-its-kind study was published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society by scientists from research centers in Montreal and Quebec City, Canada. They designed a study to learn whether cognitive training, a medication-free treatment, could improve MCI. Studies show that activities that stimulate your brain, such as cognitive training, can protect against a decline in your mental abilities. Even older adults who have MCI can still learn and use new mental skills.

For their study, researchers recruited 145 older adults around the age of 72 from Canadian memory clinics. The participants had been diagnosed with MCI, and were assigned to one of three groups. Each group included four or five participants, and met for eight weekly sessions for 120 minutes.

The three groups were:

  • Cognitive training group. Members of this group participated in the MEMO program (MEMO stands for a French phrase that translates to “training method for optimal memory”). They received special training to improve their memory and attention span.
  • Psycho-social group. Participants in this group were encouraged to improve their general well-being. They learned to focus on the positive aspects of their lives and find ways to increase positive situations.
  • Control group. Participants had no contact with researchers and didn’t follow a program.

During the time the training sessions took place, 128 of the participants completed the project. After six months, 104 completed all the sessions they were assigned.

People in the MEMO group increased their memory scores by 35 to 40 percent, said Sylvie Belleville, PhD, a senior author of the study. “Most importantly, they maintained their scores over a six-month period.”

What’s more, the improvement was the largest for older adults with “delayed recall.” This means memory for words measured just 10 minutes after people have studied them. Because delayed memory is one of the earliest signs of Alzheimer’s disease, this was a key finding.

Those who participated in the MEMO group said they used the training they learned in their daily lives. The training gave them different ways to remember things. For example, they learned to use visual images to remember names of new people, and to use associations to remember shopping lists. These lessons allowed them to continue maintaining their memory improvements after the study ended.

The people in the psycho-social group and the control group didn’t experience memory benefits or improvement in their mood.

This summary is from “MEMO+: efficacy, durability and impact of cognitive training and psychosocial intervention in MCI.” It appears online ahead of print in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. The study authors are Sylvie Belleville, PhD; Carol Hudon, PhD; Nathalie Bier, PhD; Catherine Brodeur, MD; Brigitte Gilbert, PhD; Sébastien Grenier, PhD; Marie-Christine Ouellet, PhD; Chantal Viscogliosi, PhD; and Serge Gauthier, MD.