News, views and insights on maintaining a healthy edge.

Happy Days

A recent study out of University College in London has shed some light on why everyday physical activities are more difficult for some seniors than it is for others. Happiness may make the difference. People over 60 who considered themselves to be unhappy or dissatisfied with life were 80 percent more likely to have problems preparing food, bathing and dressing. The study followed more than 3,000 people over an eight-year period. Only about 4 percent of the people who said they enjoy life had problems with basic tasks.

Patient, Heal Thyself

The goal of employing stem cells to grow new organs for transplant has hit a number of snags, most notably that it requires either harvesting of cells from embryos, or manipulating DNA. Scientists in Japan may be on to a clever shortcut that does not involve either of these methods. Researchers at RIKEN, the nation’s largest research institution, found that soaking normal blood cells in a mild acid bath caused them to “revert” back to pluripotent stem cells. These new cells were injected into mice brains, hearts and other organs and proved adept at transforming themselves into regular cells. This surprising “shortcut” suggests that patients could one day produce their own stem cells on an as-needed basis.

Crisp Reminder

Americans consume a billion-and-a-half pounds of bacon each year. “You may be surprised to learn that in the healthcare setting, bacon is a favorite menu item,” reports

Michelle Ali, RD
Director, Food and Nutrition, Trinitas Regional Medical Center 908.994.5396

Michelle Ali, RD, Director of Food and Nutrition at Trinitas. “Bacon is not just a favorite of our patients, but also of our staff—so much so that bacon is in the Top 10 foods purchased on a regular basis for Trinitas.” That probably wouldn’t come as a surprise to those who were part of Bacon Week, a festival held at the Tropicana Casino in Atlantic City this past February, just one of about two dozen similar events scheduled to be held around the country in 2014. Among the highlights (aka lowlights) were bacon beer, bacon vodka, bacon milkshakes, bacon cupcakes, bacon cologne, bacon toothpaste, and bacon floss. Ali explains that bacon enjoys high marks for two reasons: fat and salt. “Fat is integral to the flavor and texture of bacon. The role of salt is as a preservative added during the brining process, otherwise known as curing.” When you combine these factors—high saturated fat and high sodium content—Ali recommends that it’s best to eat bacon in moderation. In other words, remember to eat healthy and don’t pig out.

Where There’s Smoke…

If you “use” cigarettes but don’t consider yourself a “smoker,” guess what? A) You’re not alone and, B) you’re not doing yourself any favors. A recent article in Tobacco Control cited a recent study in California that looked at two groups of “non-identifying” smokers—people who smoke at least once a month, but don’t think of themselves as smokers. One group consisted of older adults who quit smoking in the past, but still indulge in the occasional cigarette. The other group was made up primarily of people in their 20s and 30s who smoke “socially” but do not believe they are addicted to nicotine. Incredibly, 22 percent of non-identifying smokers actually admitted they smoke at least once a day. Researchers are drawing some troubling conclusions. For example, the number of people who do not identify themselves as smokers in health-related surveys may throw off the data. Also, smokers who don’t think of themselves as such are unlikely to avail themselves of quitting strategies, and thus run the risk of getting hooked on cigarettes. Why is the number of non-identifying smokers so much greater than previous estimates? As smokers become more marginalized, they don’t want to admit they are part of a socially unacceptable group. The Surgeon General recently added diabetes, colorectal cancer, liver cancer, and erectile dysfunction to the long list of smoking’s list of diseases and health problems.

The Wrong Kind of Tweeting

Late last year, an Illinois man was arrested for keeping nearly 500 birds—both alive and dead—in his suburban Chicago townhouse. Besides being arrested for animal cruelty, the man was also ordered to undergo therapy for hoarding. He admitted that he had become obsessed with acquiring birds after rescuing a parakeet in 2006. Between new bird purchases and their geometric breeding practices, the situation got out of hand within a few years and he felt powerless to address it. The creepy thing was that there were more than 100 dead birds that he couldn’t bring himself to throw away. Hoarding is a debilitating mental health condition that does not always respond to psychological treatments that are effective on other obsessive-compulsive disorders—and it’s a lot more common than you’d think. According to psychologist David Tolin, author of Buried Treasures, between 2%and 5% of Americans may meet the criteria for hoarding, and rarely do their homes show outward signs of the occupant’s disorder.

Patricia Neary-Ludmer, PhD
Director, Trinitas Family Resource Center

Patricia Neary-Ludmer, PhD, Director of the Trinitas Family Resource Center in Cranford, concurs. “While the outside of their homes may appear normal, the inside, in many cases, has been reduced to mere pathways,” she explains. “The individuals are paying high rents or mortgages but their living space has been reduced by upwards of 80-90% in some cases.” These circumstances are compounded by their inability to address the issue, Dr. Neary-Ludmer notes. “Making decisions on what should stay or go is very painful; when meaningful or frustrated relatives clear the possessions of hoarders, the possessions are often replenished.”

Going Deep

Deep brain stimulation has been utilized with great effectiveness to treat the motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. Now this type of treatment is showing promise for individuals suffering from severe depression, who have not responded to antidepressant drugs or psychotherapy. According to neurologist Helen Mayberg of the Emory University School of Medicine, this treatment involves inserting electrodes to targeted areas of the brain, which are connected to a device that sends high-frequency electrical stimulation at regular intervals. The device is implanted in a patient’s chest. Ninety percent of the participants in an ongoing experiment have had positive results two years after the implantation surgery. “What we have found with patients is their psychic pain is gone with the treatment,” says Dr. Mayberg. “The constant brain stimulation takes away the profound mental suffering which allows the patient to re-train to do things they haven’t done in years.” This is far from a simple solution, she cautions, requiring a skilled team of brain-imaging specialists, neurologists, neurosurgeons, psychiatrists and psychotherapists.