There are constantly new studies suggesting different ways to slow both physical and mental aging. This month alone, the news has featured research suggesting the following:
- Aging with pets in place can increase life satisfaction overall, and research suggests that pets may be associated not only with less loneliness, stronger social support systems, and increased participation in the community, but also better cardiovascular health, lower cholesterol, and lower blood pressure.
- A study from the University of Leeds suggests that tickling may slow down aging. The study involved the use of electrodes on the participants’ ears to simulate a tickle-like tingling sensation. Two weeks of 15-minute daily tickling therapy were believed to improve the balance of the autonomic nervous system.
- People who are optimistic may live longer. For groups of both women and men, those who were optimistic long-term had a better chance of living to age 85 (and beyond). Optimism has been linked with goal-setting and healthier habits and, accordingly, fewer optimistic people are believe to die prematurely from stroke, heart disease, or cancer.
- Consistent with previous research, a new study by the University of Iowa has linked exercise to a healthy aging brain. Even a single bout of exercise was considered to improve cognitive function and working memory in older participants.
While there may be nothing to prevent aging altogether and/or to totally eliminate the risk of suffering from Alzheimer’s disease or other age-related cognitive decline (absent any major scientific breakthrough), in general, taking health and wellness more seriously from an earlier age may improve quality of life and independence down the road.
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Canada, as most people will know, has an aging population and the issue of dementia has become more and more prevalent over the years, as it affects the ability of those afflicted, to live and function independently.
A strategy to address this problem is important given the statistics, however, another interesting aspect of this live issue is the work being done to develop a means of preventing and minimizing the impact of this disease on people in the future.
Dr. Rosanna Olsen is the leader and director of the Olsen Lab and a scientist at the Rotman Research Institute (RRI) at Baycrest as well as an Assistant Professor at the University of Toronto.
Dr. Olsen noted that early detection of dementia is important for effective treatment of the disease. Given that no test can currently detect dementia before the onset of symptoms, Dr. Olsen has undertaken research that will help in the development of non-invasive and cost-effective eye-tracking tests that will identify those at risk of dementia before the onset of the symptoms.
Dr. Olsen will receive $546,975.00 over five years for her work in establishing a set of new eye-tracking and brain-imaging biomarkers that will assist in the earlier detection of Alzheimer’s disease.
I, for one, am very interested in seeing the results of this study and how they may impact the detection of Alzheimer’s disease in the future.
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The results of a recent study published in the American Medical Association Oncology Journal suggest that more patients with cancer are obtaining Continuing Powers of Attorney for Property than in the past. Approximately 74% of Americans facing cancer have a Power of Attorney for Property in place. However, while not considered statistically significant, the use of Powers of Attorney for Personal Care and frequency of discussion with respect to end-of-life preferences have actually become less prevalent in recent years, with rates of only 40% (down from 49% in 2000) and 60% (down from 68%), respectively.
Older studies have suggested that physicians should re-evaluate a patient’s mental capacity after significant changes in medication, infection, metabolic disturbances, or diagnosis with a new medical problem, including cancer diagnosis and treatment, which may contribute to changes to mental capacity. While mental capacity is time and task-specific and will require analysis on a case-by-case basis, memory and concentration problems are frequently linked to certain chemotherapy regimens. Some reports suggest that oncology patients may experience the same mental impairment that is often seen at increased rates within the aging population. Further, the cognitive difficulty that is often referred to as “chemo fog” is believed to become more debilitating with the intensity of the chemotherapy. Other cancer treatments, including radiation and surgery, are believed to be less likely to influence a patient’s mental capacity, but medications, such as narcotic painkillers, that may be used to address treatment side effects can nevertheless impact lucidity and the understanding of medical procedures to which the patient’s consent is required. Further, when cancer originates or metastasizes within the brain, neurological functioning may be more likely to become compromised, whether temporarily or for the long term.
The presence of powers of attorney within the cancer community according to the study conducted by Johns Hopkins School of Medicine does not differ greatly from the estimate of 71% of Canadians that have Powers of Attorney in place. Generally, it is a good idea to ensure that individuals of all ages take the time to consider an incapacity plan and to have Power of Attorney documents prepared. However, cancer patients may be more likely than others to have to make important decisions between different treatment options. In situations where diminished capacity may become a more likely scenario due to illness (or related treatment) or age, arrangements should be made to ensure that, if one becomes incapable of making important decisions him or herself, someone who can be trusted is authorized and prepared to do so on their behalf.
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Personal decision-making processes and consideration often evolve as an individual ages. Typically, old age is associated with a decline in cognitive ability and decision-making skills. Recent study results, however, raise the question of whether age-related cognitive decline really does impact our ability to make decisions relevant to management of affairs and estate planning.
A set of studies recently conducted by the University of Basel and the Max Planck Institute for Human Development suggests that older individuals are able to make simple decisions just as well as younger counterparts. Where the results of the study were differentiated was in respect of complex decision-making scenarios. The study credited the enhanced ability of the younger test subjects to make multifaceted decisions more easily than older participants to the association of aging with reduced “fluid” cognitive abilities.
Decline in fluid cognitive abilities has been linked to an inability to understand the consequences of making a particular decision when similar situations have not previously been experienced and determining the most likely results of a certain course of action requires research and learning.
The results of the study do not take into account the prevalence of age-related conditions that do contribute to compromised mental capacity and decision making with age. Approximately 15% of Canadians aged 65 or older live with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.
Although there is a presumption of mental capacity, in estate litigation, old age is often considered as a factor in determining whether a person was likely to have possessed mental capacity to execute certain documents or conduct certain transactions at a relevant time. It is important to remember that, just because a person is elderly, this does not in any way mean that he or she lacks the cognitive ability to make valid decisions, and may even be as capable of doing so as a younger person.
Have a great weekend.