Despite the common fear that those annoying tip-of-the-tongue moments are signals of age-related memory decline, the two phenomena appear to be independent, according to findings published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.
Anecdotal evidence has suggested that tip-of-the-tongue experiences occur more frequently as people get older, but the relationship between these cognitive stumbles and actual memory problems remained unclear, according to psychological scientist and lead author Timothy Salthouse of the University of Virginia:
“We wondered whether these self-reports are valid and, if they are, do they truly indicate age-related failures of the type of memory used in the diagnosis of dementia?”
To find out, Salthouse and Arielle Mandell — an undergraduate researcher who was working on her senior thesis — were able to elicit tip-of-the-tongue moments in the laboratory by asking over 700 participants ranging in age from 18 to 99 to give the names of famous places, common nouns, or famous people based on brief descriptions or pictures.
Throughout the study, participants indicated which answers they knew, which they didn’t, and which made them have a tip-of-the-tongue experience.
Several descriptions were particularly likely to induce a tip-of-the-tongue moment, such as: “What is the name of the building where one can view images of celestial bodies on the inner surface of a dome?” and “What is the name of the large waterfall in Zambia that is one of the Seven Wonders of the World?” Of the pictures of the politicians and celebrities, Joe Lieberman and Ben Stiller were most likely to induce a tip-of-the-tongue moment.
Overall, older participants experienced more of these frustrating moments than did their younger counterparts, confirming previous self-report data. But, after the researchers accounted for various factors including participants’ general knowledge, they found no association between frequency of tip-of-the-tongue moments and participants’ performance on the types of memory tests often used in the detection of dementia.
“Even though increased age is associated with lower levels of episodic memory and with more frequent tip-of-the-tongue experiences…the two phenomena seem to be largely independent of one another,” write Salthouse and Mandell, indicating that these frustrating occurrences by themselves should not be considered a sign of impending dementia.
For more information about this study, please contact: Timothy A. Salthouse at email@example.com.
This research was supported by the National Institute on Aging and a Harrison Undergraduate Research Award from the University of Virginia.
The article abstract can be found online: http://pss.sagepub.com/content/early/2013/10/08/0956797613495881.abstract?patientinform-links=yes&legid=sppss;0956797613495881v1
The APS journal Psychological Science is the highest ranked empirical journal in psychology. For a copy of the article “Do Age-Related Increases in Tip-of-the-Tongue Experiences Signify Episodic Memory Impairments?” and access to other Psychological Science research findings, please contact Anna Mikulak at 202-293-9300 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Brief Memory Test ‘Ages’ Older Adults (psychologicalscience.org)
Guest blog by Matt Hawkins, Policy and Public Affairs Assistant at the International Longevity Centre-UK
Discussion at an International Longevity Centre-UK, (ILC-UK) event held on Monday, Longevity, health and public policy, revealed that only just short of a third of the UK population will reach retirement “healthy”. Gains in life expectancy have outstripped gains in healthy life expectancy, meaning that potentially over two thirds of people in the UK could find that they are living their retirement years in ill-health.
- Are You Prepared for the Challenges that Come with Longevity? (bargaineering.com)
The Paleo diet has become extremely popular in recent years. The official website describes it as follows:
“The Paleo diet is based upon eating wholesome, contemporary foods from the food groups our hunter-gatherer ancestors would have thrived on during the Paleolithic era, the time period from about 2.6 million years ago to the beginning of the agricultural revolution, about 10,000 years ago.
A new study finds that a drop in testosterone levels over time is more likely to result from a man’s behavioral and health changes than by aging. The study results will be presented Monday at The Endocrine Society’s 94th Annual Meeting in Houston.
“Declining testosterone levels are not an inevitable part of the aging process, as many people think,” said study co-author Gary Wittert, MD, professor of medicine at the University of Adelaide in Adelaide, Australia. “Testosterone changes are largely explained by smoking behavior and changes in health status, particularly obesityand depression.” …
- ‘Ageing not linked to drop in testosterone levels’ (news.bioscholar.com)
- Low testosterone not normal part of aging – UPI.com (drugstoresource.wordpress.com)
- Declining testosterone levels in men `not part of normal ageing` (news.bioscholar.com)
- Long-term testosterone treatment for men results in reduced weight and waist size (scienceblog.com)
- Long-term testosterone treatment for men results in reduced weight and waist size (eurekalert.org)
- Testosterone Replacement Causes Big Weight Loss (futurepundit.com)
People who restrict their caloric intake in an effort to live longer have hearts that function more like those in people who are 20 years younger.
Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have found that a key measure of the heart’s ability to adapt to physical activity, stress, sleep and other factors that influence the rate at which the heart pumps blood, doesn’t decline nearly as rapidly in people who have significantly restricted their caloric intake for an average of seven years.
The study is available online in the journal Aging Cell.
“This is really striking because in studying changes in heart rate variability, we are looking at a measurement that tells us a lot about the way the autonomic nervous system affects the heart,” says Luigi Fontana, MD, PhD, the study’s senior author. “And that system is involved not only in heart function, but in digestion, breathing rate and many other involuntary actions. We would hypothesize that better heart rate variability may be a sign that all these other functions are working better, too.”…
- You: Calorie-restricted diet keeps heart young (labspaces.net)
Fifty years after its inception, the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging will have a more important role than ever as America’s senior population continues to grow, according to the newest issue of the Public Policy and Aging Report (PPAR)…
…The PPAR starts with a piece by Hudson, who chronicles the committee’s history. John W. Rowe, MD, chair of the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on an Aging Society, then calls on policymakers to appreciate the positive aspects of life extension and to understand population changes in society-wide, rather than cohort-specific, terms – in order to avoid growing tensions between generations, between the haves and have-nots, and between the more- and the less-educated.
Writing from Germany’s University of Mannheim, Axel Boersch, PhD, Gabriel Heller, and Anette Reil-Held use data from Europe, where population aging is more pronounced than in the U.S., to explore how prevalent intergenerational concerns may be. Former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin and the Stanford Center on Longevity’s Jane Hickie draw attention to the quality and affordability of community life for tomorrow’s elders. They advocate for containing community-living costs, increasing and integrating housing, health, transportation, and support services, and making special efforst directed toward improving the purchasing capacity of elders with disabilities. A final analysis by the Urban Institute’s Richard Johnson, PhD, focuses on work, retirement, and labor market conditions for older workers. He writes that both employers and public policy can and should be modified to meet the needs and preferences of older workers. …
- A video by one of the article’s contributors, Dr. Laura Carstensen on the potential of an aging society and how elected officials must prepare for the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.
- A video from the Senate Special Committee on Aging Forum titled “Aging in America: Future Challenges, Promise and Potential on December 14th, 2011
- At Senate Aging Committee’s 50th anniversary, experts ponder future legislative concerns (scienceblog.com)
- At Senate Aging Committee’s 50th anniversary, experts ponder future legislative concerns (eurekalert.org)
- Unmet Challenges for an Aging America (money.usnews.com)
- LGBT Older Adults Spotlighted in New Report (egmnblog.wordpress.com)
- Aging authorities differ on tweaks to Social Security’s benefit structure (eurekalert.org)
- New report highlights LGBT older adults’ needs, identifies policy opportunities (eurekalert.org)
- Aging authorities differ on tweaks to Social Security’s benefit structure (physorg.com)
…….Here are DeSilva’s five tips on how to tell if a senior relative needs immediate medical attention:
The person is unkempt with poor personal hygiene.
The home is very messy, dirty and has a foul odor.
Minimal movement by the person appears to be painful.
Mentally, the person is agitated or confused.
The person has not seen a physician in several months and is visibly unwell.
“Try to contact the primary-care physician first and alert them to the situation,” DeSilva said. But if holiday schedules or lack of information prevent that, bring them to the closest Emergency Department.
In the Emergency Department, you can expect the following:….
New demographic analysis reveals that the CO2 emissions of the average American increase until around the age of 65, and then start to decrease. For the United States this means that, although the aging of the population will lead to a slight overall rise in CO2emissions over the next four decades, the long-term trends indicate that increasing life expectancy will result in a reduction in emissions.
Study by McGill geography professor finds that as people age, the differnce in the health-related quality of life between rich and poor remains constant
“We can’t buy our way out of ageing,” says Nancy Ross, a McGill geography professor. “As we get older we start to have vision problems, maybe some hearing loss, maybe lose some mobility – ageing is a kind of a social equalizer.”
Ross is the lead author of a new study about how socio-economic and educational status affects Canadians’ health-related quality of life over the course of a lifetime.
“My research looks at how poverty and social disadvantage affect your health status. Our work was about using social circumstances as a lens to look at how people’s quality of life changes as they age.”
The good news, according to Ross, is that there is no sign of an accelerated ageing process for those who are lower on the social ladder. “The trajectories for declining health as people age look fairly similar across the social spectrum. That surprised me. I thought that there would be a bit more of a difference across social groups.”
But the bad news is that Canadians who are less educated and have a lower income start out less healthy than their wealthier and better-educated compatriots, and remain so over the course of their lives. “What we found, basically, is that people who are more educated and with higher incomes have a better health-related quality of life over their whole lifespan, and that these health “tracks” stay pretty parallel over time.
“The message there is that if you start out with a health-related quality of life deficit through early life experience and a poor educational background, it’s never made up for later on,” says Ross. “Poorer Canadians are in poorer health and they have lower life expectancy than their more affluent counterparts, and by age 20 the pattern for health-related quality of life as people age is already fixed.”
“We might speculate that universal health insurance and other social policies directed to adults and seniors have played a role in preventing accelerated decline in health-related quality of life of the poorer and less educated Canadians. That said, we would need some comparative research in other countries to test this more fully,” she adds. “But this study suggests the need for policies aimed at making sure kids and teens are given the chances early in life to even out socio-economic inequalities that will affect their health as they age.”
From a 11 May 2011 Medical News Today article
People who leave education with fewer academic qualifications may grow old faster, according to a DNA study that compared groups of people who spent different lengths of time in education and found the ones who spent the least time had shorter telomeres or “caps” on the ends of their DNA, a sign of premature aging in cells….
…BHF’s Associate Medical Director, Professor Jeremy Pearson, said the study reinforces the need to tackle social inequalities to combat ill health:
“It’s not acceptable that where you live or how much you earn — or lesser academic attainment — should put you at greater risk of ill health,” he said in a statement.
Andrew Steptoe, BHF Professor of Psychology at UCL, and colleagues, wrote about their findings in a paper published recently in the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity.
They were concerned that while there is evidence that low socioeconomic status is linked to faster biological aging, attempts to tie it telomere length have yielded inconsistent results.
Telomeres are short repetitive sequences of DNA that “cap” the ends of chromosomes and stop them degrading and fusing with their neighbours: imagine the tips on the ends of shoelaces that stop them fraying. Telomeres get consumed in cell division, and are replenished by an enzyme called telomerase, but there is a limit to how many times this can happen, and they gradually get shorter, limiting the number of times cells can divide, and in turn, lifespan….
…After adjusting for possible confounding factors, such as age, gender, various health indicators such as smoking and cholesterol, and lifestyle indicators such as exercise, they found that lower educational attainment was linked to shorter telomere length, while household income was not, and neither was employment grade.
In fact, the link between “telomere length and education remained significant after adjusting for current socioeconomic circumstances,” they wrote.
They also found that in men, the highest telomerase activity (the enzyme that repairs the telomeres) was in the lowest education group.
The researchers concluded that low socioeconomic status defined in terms of education but not current socioeconomic circumstances is linked to shorter telomeres.
This supports the idea that faster aging is not just a result of current economic circumstances or social status in a person’s life, but of long-term effects that start early in life, such as education.
The researchers also suggest that people with higher levels of education are probably better equipped with life skills like problem-solving that help them deal with the stresses of life, and this reduces the biological stress on their bodies, the so-called “allostatic load.
“Educational attainment but not measures of current socioeconomic circumstances are associated with leukocyte telomere length in healthy older men and women.”
Andrew Steptoe, Mark Hamer, Lee Butcher, Jue Lin, Lena Brydon, Mika Kivimäki, Michael Marmot, Elizabeth Blackburn, Jorge D. Erusalimsky.
Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, In Press, Uncorrected Proof, Available online 23 April 2011.
- Telomere Nobelist: Selling a ‘biological age’ test (newscientist.com)
- Risk of accelerated aging seen in PTSD patients with childhood trauma (eurekalert.org)
- Study finds link between chronic depression and accelerated immune cell aging (eurekalert.org)
Lapses in memory occur more frequently with age, yet the reasons for this increasing forgetfulness have not always been clear. According to new research from Concordia University, older individuals have reduced learning and memory because their minds tend to be cluttered with irrelevant information when performing tasks. Published in The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, these findings offer new insights into why aging is associated with a decline in memory and may lead to practical solutions. …
…For those who are having trouble remembering, Blair suggests that focusing and reducing mental clutter may help. “Reduce clutter, if you don’t, you may not get anything done.”
Keeping a mind clutter-free can be more difficult as people age, especially during periods of stress when people focus on stressors, yet Blair says relaxation exercises can help de-clutter the brain. What’s more, the brain continues to function optimally into old age when it is mentally stimulated by learning a new language, playing an instrument, completing crossword puzzles, keeping an active social life and exercising. …
- Spring-cleaning the mind? Study shows a cluttered brain doesn’t remember (physorg.com)
- Don’t Blame Memory for Trouble Switching Tasks : Study points instead to slowdown in brain’s processing speed that comes with aging (April 2011)
- Psychologists Ask How Well-or Badly-We Remember Together (April 2011)” Several years ago, Suparna Rajaram noticed a strange sort of contagion in a couple she was close to. One partner acquired dementia-and the other lost the nourishing pleasures of joint reminiscence. “When the other person cannot validate shared memories,” said Rajaram, “they are both robbed of the past.” From this observation came a keen and enduring interest in the social nature of memory, an area of scholarship occupied mostly by philosophers, sociologists, and historians-and notably unattended to until recently by cognitive psychologists… “
ScienceDaily (Mar. 29, 2011) — Members of California’s aging lesbian, gay and bisexual population are more likely to suffer from certain chronic conditions, even as they wrestle with the challenges of living alone in far higher numbers than the heterosexual population, according to new policy brief from the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research.
Half of all gay and bisexual adult men in California between the ages of 50 and 70 are living alone, compared with 13.4 percent of heterosexual men in the same age group. And although older California lesbians and bisexual women are more likely to live with a partner or a family member than their male counterparts, more than one in four live alone, compared with one in five heterosexual women.
A lack of immediate family support may impact aging LGB adults’ ability to confront statistically higher rates of diabetes, hypertension, poor mental health, physical disability and self-assessed fair or poor health, compared with demographically similar aging heterosexual adults.
The study, which draws upon three cycles of data from the biennial California Health Interview Survey (CHIS), underscores the importance of considering these unique needs and chronic health conditions in providing health care and social services to the estimated 170,000 self-identified aging LGB adults in California — a population that will double in size over the next 20 years.
“Many aging LGB Californians do not have biological children or strong family support,” said Steven P. Wallace, the lead researcher on the project. “Organizations that serve these communities need to take this into account and consider outreach and support mechanisms that enable these individuals to maintain their independence and ability to age safely and in good health.”
The policy brief, “The Health of Aging Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Adults in California,” includes the first data published on aging LGB adults based on a large statewide population. And among a population whose health needs are too often associated only with HIV and AIDS, the study offers the first insights about broader health conditions and trends….
- Groundbreaking report released: ‘Bisexual Invisibility: Impacts and Recommendations’ (pinkbananaworld.com)
- Lesbians, gays, bisexuals at higher risk for severe mental health problems (news.bioscholar.com)
- San Francisco Human Rights Commission Approves Groundbreaking Report: Bisexual Invisibility: Impacts and Recommendations (pinkbananaworld.com)
- Day 27- Sexuality in the US (feministactivism.wordpress.com)
- Bullying, Harassment of Gay/Lesbian Teens: Expert Q&A (webmd.com)
- Strong link found between victimization, substance abuse (eurekalert.org)
- Physiological Impacts Of Homophobia (mccswu.wordpress.com)
- Americans Have Higher Rates of Most Chronic Diseases Than Same-Age Counterparts in England (jflahiff.wordpress.com)
- Doctors lack data on LGBT community: report
Enhancing Use of Clinical Preventive Services Among Older Adults
From the March 24 report:
This new report, Enhancing Use of Clinical Preventive Services Among Older Adults – Closing the Gap, calls attention to the use of potentially lifesaving preventive services by our nation’s growing population of adults aged 65 years and older. By presenting and interpreting available state and national self-reported survey data, the Report aims to raise awareness among public health and aging services professionals, policy makers, the media, and researchers of critical gaps and opportunities for increasing the use of clinical preventive services, particularly among those who are currently underserved.
Older Americans have long been recognized as having unique social, economic, and health needs. Since the passage of the landmark Medicare Act in 1965, numerous policies and programs have evolved to support and improve the health and quality of life for adults aged 65 and older. The most recent addition is the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act which addresses coverage for clinical preventive services with a U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) rating of an A or B, immunizations recommended by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, and numerous additional wellness benefits for older adults. Recently issued rules to implement the legislation call for Medicare to eliminate out-of-pocket costs for previously covered preventive services in January 2011.1 The new law also entitles Medicare beneficiaries to a free annual wellness visit that includes a schedule of recommended preventive services. Additionally, a few states have already eliminated co-pays for some cancer screenings and more are poised to do so.
The USPSTF recommends a range of clinical preventive services for older adults. In 2006, these services were ranked by the National Commission on Prevention Priorities (NCPP), a nonpartisan organization of business, nonprofit and government leaders convened by the Partnership for Prevention. Using innovative evidence-based methods, the NCPP identified 25 clinical preventive services that have the biggest impact on health and are most cost effective. The majority of these services are relevant to older adults aged 65 and older. Of the six top services, three are specific to this age group including colorectal cancer screening and influenza and pneumococcal vaccinations.
- Seniors Not Getting Important Preventive Health Services (nlm.nih.gov)
- Health care reform can help align preventive care recommendations with Medicare coverage (physorg.com)
- Reliable? Heart Studies Often Exclude the Elderly (nlm.nih.gov)
- Rising Reports of bad reactions to drugs (jmflahiff’s WordPress blog)
Flahiff, editor of this blog, strongly believes preventative health measures can reduce need for prescription drugs (and the side effects which may come from their use)
Excerpt from this previous posting
“Drugs are chemicals. And you’re putting something in your body. You need to know what it is.” [Editor Flahiff's emphasis]
If you keep adding drugs to your daily routine, talk to your doctor about whether you can cut back on others, so that you are only taking the minimum necessary amount, she said. Read all the material that comes with medicines, and tell someone immediately if you start to feel unwell. “If something doesn’t feel right, talk to your doctor, talk to your pharmacist.” [Flahiff's emphasis]
Parts of Brain Can Switch Functions: In People Born Blind, Brain Regions That Usually Process Vision Can Tackle Language
Parts of Brain Can Switch Functions: In People Born Blind, Brain Regions That Usually Process Vision Can Tackle Language
From a March 1, 2011 Science Daily item
ScienceDaily (Mar. 1, 2011) — When your brain encounters sensory stimuli, such as the scent of your morning coffee or the sound of a honking car, that input gets shuttled to the appropriate brain region for analysis. The coffee aroma goes to the olfactory cortex, while sounds are processed in the auditory cortex.
That division of labor suggests that the brain’s structure follows a predetermined, genetic blueprint. However, evidence is mounting that brain regions can take over functions they were not genetically destined to perform. In a landmark 1996 study of people blinded early in life, neuroscientists showed that the visual cortex could participate in a nonvisual function — reading Braille.
Now, a study from MIT neuroscientists shows that in individuals born blind, parts of the visual cortex are recruited for language processing. The finding suggests that the visual cortex can dramatically change its function — from visual processing to language — and it also appears to overturn the idea that language processing can only occur in highly specialized brain regions that are genetically programmed for language tasks.
“Your brain is not a prepackaged kind of thing. It doesn’t develop along a fixed trajectory, rather, it’s a self-building toolkit. The building process is profoundly influenced by the experiences you have during your development,” says Marina Bedny, an MIT postdoctoral associate in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences and lead author of the study, which appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences the week of Feb. 28…
- New insight into the brain’s ability to reorganize itself (Science Daily)
- How clear is our view of brain activity? (Science Daily)Imaging techniques have become an integral part of the neurosciences. Methods that enable us to look through the human skull and right into the active brain have become an important tool for research and medical diagnosis alike. However, the underlying data have to be processed in elaborate ways before a colorful image informs us about brain activity.
Caring for the elderly: Dealing with resistance
Caring for the elderly can be challenging — particularly if a loved one is resistant to care. Understand what’s causing your loved one’s resistance and how you can encourage cooperation.
Excerpts From the Mayo Clinic Tip Sheet
What’s the best way to approach a loved one about the need for care?
If you suspect that your loved one will be resistant to care — whether from family, other close contacts or a service — you may be hesitant to bring up the topic. To start communicating with your loved one about his or her need for care:
- Choose a time when you and your loved one are relaxed. This will make it easier for you and your loved one to listen to each other and speak your minds.
- Ask questions about your loved one’s preferences. This will help you provide the type of assistance your loved one wants. What type of care does your loved one want or need? Does your loved one have a preference about which family member or what type of service provides care? While you may not be able to meet all of your loved one’s wishes, it’s important to take them into consideration.
- Enlist the help of family members. Family and friends may be able to help you persuade your loved one to accept help.
- Don’t assume that your loved one is unable to discuss care preferences. While your loved one may be ill, he or she may still have care preferences and be able to make some decisions regarding care. If your loved one has trouble understanding you, be sure to simplify your explanations and the decisions you expect him or her to make.
- Don’t give up. If your loved one doesn’t want to discuss the topic the first time you bring it up, try again later.
What are the most effective strategies for managing resistance to care?
Getting an aging loved one to accept help can be difficult. To encourage cooperation, you might:
- Suggest a trial run. Don’t ask your loved one to make a final decision about the kind of care he or she receives right away. A trial run will give a hesitant loved one a chance to test the waters and experience the benefits of assistance.
- Enlist the help of a professional. Your loved one may be more willing to listen to the advice of a doctor, lawyer or care manager about the importance of receiving care.
- Explain your needs. Consider asking your loved one to accept care to make your life a little easier. Remind your loved one that sometimes you’ll both need to compromise on certain issues.
- Pick your battles. Focus on the big picture. Avoid fighting with your loved one about minor issues related to his or her care.
- Explain how care may prolong independence. Accepting some assistance may help your loved one remain in his or her home for as long as possible.
- Help your loved one cope with the loss of independence. Explain to your loved one that loss of independence isn’t a personal failing. Help your loved one to stay active, maintain relationships with caring friends and family and develop new physically appropriate interests.
Keep in mind that these strategies may not be appropriate when dealing with a loved one who has dementia.
Two related resources
- Caregivers (MedlinePlus) has links to overviews, coping materials, organizations, related issues, and much more
- National Association of Area Agencies on Aging provides information on how to locate a local area agency for personalized responses to questions, caregiver support and resource information , and additional resources and programs
December 13, 2010 15:33
The elder care study: Everyday realities and wishes for change (PDF)
Although there are many important studies of elder care conducted by a number of pioneers who have blazed the way, we see The Elder Care Study adding to this literature for two reasons.
First, this study is unique in its design. It is typical for research to have to make tradeoffs between breadth and depth. For example, if the study is a nationally representative study, it has breadth, but may lack depth because cost and time constraints limit the number of questions the researchers can ask or the number of times they can repeat the study. If the study is a qualitative study, it has depth, but may lack breadth because the people in the study may not be typical of caregivers.
This study has both breadth and depth. It is based on a nationally representative sample of employed caregivers, drawn from the Families and Work Institute’s ongoing National Study of the Changing Workforce (NSCW). The NSCW is a very comprehensive study with over 600 data points on employees’ lives on and off the job. Based on the 1977 Quality of Employment Survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Labor, the NSCW was first conducted by Families and Work Institute in 1992 and has been conducted every five to six years since then.
With its 54.6% response rate, it provides very rich quantitative information on working family caregivers of the elderly over the past 16 years.
Age and Aging
Children and families
Social and cultural issues
National Association of Area Agencies on Aging
Looking older than your age may not be a sign of poor health: Study
Common practice of linking health to how old a person looks not an accurate indicator
Toronto, Ontario, November 5, 2010 – Even though most adults want to avoid looking older than their actual age, research led by St. Michael’s Hospital shows that looking older does not necessarily point to poor health. The study found that a person needed to look at least 10 years older than their actual age before assumptions about their health could be made.
“Few people are aware that when physicians describe their patients to other physicians, they often include an assessment of whether the patient looks older than his or her actual age,” says Dr. Stephen Hwang, a research scientist at St. Michael’s Hospital and an associate professor at the University of Toronto. “This long standing medical practice assumes that people who look older than their actual age are likely to be in poor health, but our study shows this isn’t always true.”
For patients, it means looking a few years older than their age does not always indicate poor health status. The study found that when a physician rated an individual as looking up to five years older than their actual age, it had little value in predicting whether or not the person was in poor health. However, when a physician thought that a person looked 10 or more years older than their actual age, 99 per cent of these individuals had very poor physical or mental health.
“Physicians have simply assumed that their quick assessment of how old a person looks has diagnostic value,” explains Dr. Hwang. “We were really surprised to find that people have to look a decade older than their actual age before it’s a reliable sign that they’re in poor health. It was also very interesting to discover that many people who look their age are in poor health. Doctors need to remember that even if patients look their age, we shouldn’t assume that their health is fine.”
The researchers studied 126 people between the ages of 30 to 70 who were visiting a doctor’s office. Participants completed a survey that accurately determined whether they had poor physical or mental health. Each person was photographed, and the photographs were shown to 58 physicians who were told each person’s actual age and asked to rate how old the person looked.
The study, published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, provides new insights and questions into the value and limitations of a long standing medical practice of judging a person’s health by how old they appear.
About St. Michael’s Hospital
St. Michael’s Hospital provides compassionate care to all who walk through its doors. The Hospital also provides outstanding medical education to future health care professionals in more than 23 academic disciplines. Critical care and trauma, heart disease, neurosurgery, diabetes, cancer care, and care of the homeless are among the Hospital’s recognized areas of expertise. Through the Keenan Research Centre and the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, research at St. Michael’s Hospital is recognized and put into practice around the world. Founded in 1892, the Hospital is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto.