Friday, July 25, 2014

No Pissing Joke

The 2003 Sleep in America Poll by the National Sleep Foundation—the latest data we have for older adults—reports that two out of three people (65%) ages of 55 and 84 reported having to wake up during the night to go to the bathroom to urinate at least a few nights per week. This condition is called nocturia and is often normal part of getting older. It can also be an indication of other medical conditions including infection, a tumor of the bladder or prostate, a condition called bladder prolapse, or disorders affecting sphincter control. It is also common in people with heart failure, liver failure, poorly controlled diabetes and some medications which are also associated with nocturia. But usually, as we get older, the chemical regulation in our body changes making us less able to retain fluid, and therefore producing more urine. That and the fact that our bladder shrinks as we age creates the need to empty during the night.

This is of course preferable to incontinence.

Urinary incontinence drastically reduces your quality of life and is likely to contribute to an earlier nursing home placement. Unfortunately, urinary incontinence—where urine escapes unexpectedly—is a common problem among older women and men.

Older women are twice more likely to experience urinary incontinence than older men and the reasons are different for men and women. Pregnancy and childbirth, menopause, and the anatomical structure urinary tract account for this difference. Whereas both women and men can become incontinent from injury to nerves, birth defects, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and other physical problems.

Although it is more common the older a person becomes, urine incontinence is not inevitable with age, it is a medical problem.  There are behavioral and physical exercises that can help including medications, biofeedback, stimulation of nerves to the bladder (neuromodulation) vaginal mechanic devices (pessary) and finally surgery (including catheters), are all options for specific type of incontinence.

For men other then the obvious differences—pregnancy and childbirth (including heavy triathlon exercise for some women), menopause, and anatomical differences—urinary incontinence can be caused by nerve damage and/or by prostate problems. The prostate gland, which sits behind the pipe (urethra) that releases urine, commonly becomes enlarged with age. As the prostate enlarges, it may squeeze the urethra restricting the flow. Up to 90 percent in men in their seventies and eighties have some restricting flow problems.

In addition, one of the causes of urinary incontinence is poorly prescribed medications. Four main types of medication can cause urine incontinence. These are medications prescribed for high blood pressure, depression and for sleeping problems. The complication is that these might be the same medications that are used to address urine incontinence in the first place. Unless you face up to it, urine incontinence only gets worse. There are multiple avenues to explore in treatment, but the only first step is to discuss this with your primary care provider. The solution might be found after exploring many avenues but keeping it a secret is not an option.

© USA Copyrighted 2014 Mario D. Garrett

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Is Dementia caused by Aluminum through Fluoridation?

 In gerontology there are many divisive issues. Surprisingly, fluoridation is one of them. When more than a quarter of older adults do not have their teeth—in some parts of the country like the fluoridated states of Kentucky and West Virginia four out of ten older adults do not have their own teeth—but when they are still made to drink water that has been fluoridated, there is a clear disregard for older adult health.
© USA Copyrighted 2014 Mario D. Garrett

There are many reasons for fluoridation. However, scientific studies are inconclusive, of poor quality, and in all cases disregard older adults—especially those without teeth. In addition, there is the evangelical fervor from both sides of the argument—public health versus personal choice—which muddy an already complex scientific issue.

The link between fluoridation and ill health is not a direct one but involves the uptake of a known nerve toxic aluminum. Correlational studies linking aluminum with Alzheimer’s disease have been published since 1965. Half a century ago injecting aluminum in rat brains, three independent studies produced the tangle-like structures that characterize Alzheimer’s disease. Subsequently numerous international studies have found more Alzheimer’s disease in areas with high aluminum levels in drinking water.

In 2011, the Japanese researchers Masahiro Kawahara and Midori Kato-Negishi made a forceful argument between aluminum and Alzheimer's disease. After decades of attempts to discredit this link, the authors point to strong evidence that aluminum as a culprit in forming the amyloid plaques in the brain. This and other studies continue to support the clinical studies done in rats that identify aluminum as toxic for the brain. The only problem was that aluminum does not naturally enter the brain.

There is a barrier between the body and the brain that stops metals reaching the brain. In 2013 Akinrinade ID and his colleagues from Bingham University in Nigeria, showed that the relationship between fluoride and aluminum is important in escaping this barrier.  Fluoride combines with aluminum to form aluminum fluoride, which is then absorbed by the body where it eventually combines with oxygen to form aluminum oxide or alumina. Alumina is the compound of aluminum that is found in the brains of Alzheimer's disease.

Fluorine attaches to aluminum and influences its absorption. Li Fucheng and his colleagues from Beijing, China, described high incidences of osteoporosis, osteomalacia, spontaneous bone fractures and dementia in villages in Guizhou Province, China where they were eating maize which had been baked in fires of coal mixed with kaoline. Kaoline contains aluminum and fluorides. These diseases are very similar to those occurring in European dialysis patients, unwittingly treated with water and gels containing aluminum.

The implications of this fluoride-aluminum relationship to Alzheimer’s disease are not linear. The solubility of aluminum and probably the ease with which it is absorbed varies markedly with the high acidity and alkalinity of water. In general, however, aluminum is most soluble in acidic water, especially if it contains fluorides.

The public health argument for fluoridation has never been made for older adults. Such institutional ageism is bad science and much worse this is bad public health. 

© USA Copyrighted 2014 Mario D. Garrett

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Fluoridation and Dementia

Since 1962, on the recommendation of the United States Public Health Service, fluoride is used in the public drinking water supplied to about 2 out of 3 Americans. The decision to add fluoride to drinking water is made locally. The types of fluoride include fluorosilicic acid, sodium fluorosilicate, and sodium fluoride.

Studies have consistently shown positive outcomes for fluoridation in the health of teeth of children, adults and older adults—although these studies have been contested. The bigger contention is whether we need to indiscriminately fluoridate our teeth by ingestion of fluoride through our water supply without being able to control the level of exposure, the varying sensitivity of the recipient, and its accumulation in the body.
Fluoride is also ingested from fruit juices, sodas, popular breakfast cereals, lettuce and raisins and anything grown with pesticides since fluoridation is an effective killer of pests.

However beneficial the fluoridation is to the health of teeth it does not tell us the whole story, especially on the overall health of older adults. Since 25 percent of adults 60 years old and older no longer have their natural teeth, the arguments for the benefit of fluoridation is somewhat toothless.

Sodium fluoride is a bone anabolic drug. Healthy adult kidneys excrete 50 to 60% of the fluoride ingested each day. The rest accumulates in the body, largely in bones and pineal gland. The fluoride concentration in bone steadily increases over a lifetime and we are more likely to see large concentrations in older adults.  But the growth in bone quantity might be detrimental.

Christa Danielson and her colleagues compared the incidence of hip fractures in patients 65 years of age or older in three communities where two were without water fluoridated--to 1 ppm. Surprisingly, they found a small but significant increase in the risk of hip fracture in both men and women exposed to fluoridation. Other studies have found similar results. Suggesting that low levels of fluoride may increase the risk of hip fracture in the elderly and there seems to be a dose relationship with the higher the concentration of fluoride the higher the risk of hip fractures. It seems that fluoride may increase bone quantity—osteofluorosis, osteosclerosis—but it might also decrease bone quality and bone strength.

Just as troubling for older adults, is the evidence that Patočka Strunecká and her colleagues from  Charles University in the Czech Republic exposed. They found that long-term action of aluminofluoride complexes may represent a serious and powerful risk factor for the development of Alzheimer’s disease. In another study, rats fed for one year with 1-5 ppm fluoride in their water—the same level used in fluoridation programs—using either sodium fluoride or aluminum fluoride, resulted in the formation of beta-amyloid deposits—associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

Since the  US Environmental Protection Agency lists fluoride as having “substantial evidence of developmental neurotoxicity”  we expect to see other negative outcomes of fluoridation. Fluoridation is one area that demand better clinical trials with older adults. Perhaps by eliminating fluoridation we can put some teeth into laws protecting the health of older adults.

 © USA Copyrighted 2014 Mario D. Garrett

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Traveling with Dementia

Most people have become accustomed to the rhythm of airport security checks— lap top out, jacket off, shoes off, belt and any metals onto the tray, and then waiting patiently for instructions. These routines become second nature, except when some cognitive impairment like dementia starts eroding this familiarity. Traveling alone is a necessity for most people but we need to rethink how viable this is with early stage dementia.

People with dementia might not feel comfortable taking their jacket off or their shoes. Such (familiar) behaviors in unfamiliar surroundings are likely to agitate the older adult. And a security checkpoint is not the most accommodating venue to address anxiety and agitation. These scenarios will become more frequent with an increasing prevalence of dementia and other cognitive disorders. And it is not just at the security gate.

On Friday, May 3rd 2013, an 83-year-old Victoria Kong walked past the assistance agent waiting to meet her at the gate as she deplaned from her flight from Barbados to Washington D.C. She was found the following Monday in wooded area about 200 yards from the airport perimeter. She died of hyperthermia. Victoria King suffered from dementia and wondered out of the airport oblivious to the pickup arrangements made for her by her relatives. Most airlines do not have an escort policy/program in place for adults, traveling alone with cognitive impairment. Airlines only have escort policies/programs in place for minor children traveling alone.

In addition, most airlines do not include dementia as needing medical clearance, and although there are some provisions offered by airports and some airlines—in most cases dictated by law—these provisions are insufficient given the type of problems likely to be experienced by persons suffering from dementia. The increasing prevalence of dementia in the population and the lack of training of security personnel and flight attendants make this a recipe for more common friction.

Although in the early stages of dementia older adults might behave normal, this sense of normalcy might evaporate in an unfamiliar environment, or confusing situations as air travel has increasingly become. New faces, new environments, a change in daily routine, not to mention a time zone change, can prove to be a challenge for the dementia traveller.

You might get escort passes to help the person on board and then someone at the other end to escort the person out of the airport, but the flight itself might prove disorientating. Flight attendants should not be dealing with—at best—agitated passengers.

If we are to address this growing friction, education needs to come from both ends. Caregivers and family members need to understand the limitations of their loved one and that unfamiliar and stressful situations compound cognitive unease. Air travel is a stressful event at the best of times. On the other side, security personnel and air flight attendants need to learn to identify and defuse agitation because  of dementia.  Although it might be difficult to distinguish anxiety and agitation because of dementia from other types of erratic behavior  (alcohol, drugs or stress), the only way to reduce these misunderstandings is by not putting the older adult with dementia in that position in the first place. 

 © USA Copyrighted 2014 Mario D. Garrett

Friday, May 23, 2014

Death by Numbers

What if we eliminated the top diseases of older adults? Goodbye Cancer, Diabetes, Cardiovascular Disease, Stroke, Influenza and Pneumonia, and chronic obstructive lung disease. Will we then live forever, as some have suggested?

The surprising answer is that curing all of these diseases will result in very little change in additional life. Of course, we can only do this statistically.

Kenneth Manton and his colleagues from Duke University eliminated one disease at a time in their statistical modeling. What they found is that if we eliminate all of these killer diseases overall we expect to see those over 87 years of age to live an addition 5.7 years for males (estimated for 1987) and 6.5 years for females. This is about the same improvement in life expectancy at 65 in the last 100 years in the USA (5.7 years.) If you are 65 years old today, you have a 50/50 chance of living an additional 5.7 years than if you were living in the 1900s. In the last hundred years, the great improvement in life expectancy is not amongst older adults, but among newborns and infants and have very little to do with clinical care at later ages.

However, this is not the end of the story.

Most older adults suffer from not just one, but multiple health conditions. So if we assume that we can cure one disease, say cancer, we will still be faced—sooner rather than later—with another disabling disease that might kill us slower. And this is what happens.

Douglas G. Manuel with the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences, Toronto, Canada, and his colleagues calculated what happens when they eliminated specific killer diseases from their data. They reported that by eliminating cancer they predicted that one fifth of the years of life gained would be spent in poor health—and increased cost. On the other hand, eliminating musculoskeletal conditions, would result in a year of good health for women and under half a year for men. And that is what we are finding across the world.

As life expectancy has increased, the number of healthy years lost to disability has also increased in most countries. Joshua Salomon from the Harvard School of Public Health and his colleagues found that although most countries have made substantial progress in reducing mortality over the past two decades, non-fatal disease and injury have not improved to the same degree.

Our progress in health outcomes is also slowing down in the US, especially diseases that we can control and especially for women. Nearly 20 years ago, the United States was closer to the middle of other industrialized countries, but countries like Ireland and South Korea improved sharply, leaving the United States behind.

In addition, across all industrialized countries, because we are living longer and living with diseases, the occurrence of chronic diseases has increased. Finding a cure should be matched with finding care. Our reliance on medical breakthroughs at the cost of statistical outcomes ignores the immediate need that we face. We need to think about finding care as much as finding a cure. 

 © USA Copyrighted 2014 Mario D. Garrett

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Dating in Older Age

When most people think of their parents and grandparents, they do not see them as sexual beings. It is the same way that we do not like thinking of our children and grandchildren as sexual beings either. Our mutual relationships are based on nurturing non-sexual behaviors. But with the worldwide discrepancy between male and female life expectancy, it is likely that one of us will become widowed or—in industrialized countries—divorced. We will become single again.

Single older adults are a unique phenomenon because there are so many. In the United States there are whole communities and cities built exclusively around older adults. And it is not surprising to learn that older adults are the fastest growing demographic of online daters.

Sheyna Sears-Roberts Alterovitz and her colleagues from the University of California, Berkley analyzed Internet personal ads. They found that across all ages, men sought physical attractiveness and offered status-related information more than women. On the other side, women were more selective than men and sought status more than men. With older age, men desired women increasingly younger than themselves, whereas women desired older men until ages 75 and over, when they sought men younger than themselves. Which is not surprising since at age 75 years and older, most male peers are dead.

Women are pickier than men in online dating. Their preferences for age and ethnicity are stricter than men’s, and they initiate contact and reply to fewer adverts. Most academic papers talk about evolutionary theory that predicts that men have a stronger preference for attractive mates and that women value good earning potential and education more than men do, as well as women's preference for taller men. But with older adults, there is no evolution to worry about. Post-menopausal women are not after a strong partner to secure the future of their offspring.

Women are likely to have experienced caregiving of their deceased partner. They are likely to have endured caregiving of their children, their parents, their spouse’s parents, family members, neighbors and friends. Their priorities are different from men’s. They want someone who is independent, solvent, healthy and mobile. They do not want to spend their time caretaking--again. This is not evolutionary theory, but pragmatism.

Men on the other hand ensure that they do not end up caregiving by wanting someone younger, someone who can liven up their sex life, drive, cook, and look after them. In online dating men and women construct different profiles. Women focus on their looks and sociability while men focus on their financial and occupational successes. With a changing environment, it is more important for older adults to meet someone that fits their needs. There is some urgency and older adults are willing to lie. Studies with younger online daters (under the age of 50) have reported that men are more likely to lie about their wealth while women are more likely to lie about their age. Men tended to overestimate their height and women tended to underestimate their weight. There is a collusion of lies. Giving women and men what they are both looking for.

 © USA Copyrighted 2014 Mario D. Garrett

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Our Subconscious Internal Reality

We live in automatic mode most of the time.

Our brain is the most complex structure. Throughout our lifespan--culminating in our mature years--our brain develops a working model of our reality. We live in our mind much more than in reality. The mind becomes so good at this that we live in an unconscious mode. Even if we think that we are making conscious decisions, they are not conscious in the way we understand it.

As we grow older we become more sophisticated at internalizing the world and learning to predict and anticipate changes. We get so good at this that we do this automatically all the time. It is not that we are not aware of what we are doing, it is that we become aware and respond after our unconscious mind has already determined it. John Bargh from Yale University has written extensively on the unconscious. He pushes for the concept of the unconscious determining decision-making. People often do not give much conscious thought to how they vote, what they buy, what they eat or the way they negotiate their daily life. Consciousness is an afterthought.

The world has always been very complex and we cannot deal with this complexity without shortcuts that our internal model of reality can create. We live in an subconscious world. Our brain is complex enough to allow an internal representation of the world, and we live vicariously through this model. Chun Siong Soon and other scientists from Germany and Belgium have studied this phenomenon and measured in minute details when consciousness is brought into play within our internal world. They reported that there is a network of high-level control areas in the brain that initiate an upcoming decision long before it enters awareness. Our awareness seems to be an illusion of control, an after thought.

Writing more than three decades ago, Felicia Pratto discussed how we are constantly engaged in evaluating our immediate environments without being aware of the process, the outcome of the process, nor even of the stimuli we are faced with. Furthermore, she perceptively argues that it may be that we cannot control automatic evaluations, but they can influence our conscious experiences, including judgments, emotions, and attitudes.


Older adults are experts of this unconscious reality. Our brain has been designing these simulations of our immediate environment for many decades and it has become so good at it that we interact in our life in automatic most of the time. Most psychologists put this reliance on our internal world as a result of some diminished or compromised cognitive or recall ability.  A reliance on “gist” memory is just older adults reliance on their very complex internal representation rather than the unique details of the immediate environment. This works well until we have a trauma. Then we wake up. We switch the automatic pilot off (or it is switched off) and we have to figure how to engage in our immediate environment consciously. That is when we face problems.

© USA Copyrighted 2014 Mario D. Garrett