News Briefs: Tip-of-the-Tongue Troubles; Toxic Protein in Brain; Hospital Delirium

Tip-of-the-Tongue Troubles Don’t Signal Memory Deterioration

Researchers have good news for people who find themselves stuck in mid-conversation completely at a loss for a particular word. It seems that the tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon isn’t caused by memory decline—even if it is more likely to affect older adults. In a study involving 718 adults aged 18 to 99, participants were given memory tests as well as a series of tasks designed to trigger tip-of-the-tongue experiences, such as naming well-known politicians shown in photo-graphs. Scores on the memory tests did not suggest that the older participants had memory problems. But while younger participants in their 20s had about two tip-of-the-tongue experiences during the photo task, the oldest participants had an average of eight. “Even though the tip-of-the -tongue experiences are common as you get older and they’re very frustrating…they don’t seem to be a sign that you’re having memory problems associated with impending dementia,” said the lead author of the study, which was published online on Oct. 8, 2013 in Psychological Science.

Hardening of the Arteries Linked to Buildup of Toxic Protein in Brain

Older individuals without dementia who have stiffening or hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis, caused by the buildup of hard deposits of cholesterol, fat, and other substances along arterial walls) have a higher risk for brain plaques associated with Alzheimer’s disease (AD). It is already known that hardening of the arteries increases the likelihood of cardiovascular diseases such as stroke and high blood pressure, which can damage the brain. Now a study involving 91 adults in their 80s and 90s has revealed that for every unit of in-crease in measures of arterial stiffness, the buildup of brain plaques composed of toxic beta-amyloid proteins, as well as lesions in the white matter of the brain, nearly doubled. Participants who had the highest levels of plaque and lesions were found to have the greatest hardening of the arteries, ac-cording to a paper published online Oct. 16, 2013 in Neurology. Both beta-amyloid plaques and lesions are associated with higher risk of dementia. To prevent hardening of the arteries, experts suggest eating a healthy diet with minimal fatty foods, exercising for 30 minutes a day, and avoiding smoking and excessive alcohol.

New Test Spots Vulnerability to Hospital Delirium

A brief, four-question test may help doctors spot patients who are at increased risk for delirium upon admission to a hospital. Hospital-acquired delirium affects up to one out of five patients. The test, called AWOL, is administered by hospital staff. It assesses age (A), the ability to spell the word “world” backwards (W), whether or not the patient is oriented (O) to his or her surroundings, and moderate to severe illness (L). In a study involving 374 participants aged 50 and older that was published online Aug. 7, 2013 in the Journal of Hospital Medicine, those who had higher AWOL scores were found to be more likely to develop delirium. It is hoped that the new test can help reduce or eliminate delirium by identifying vulnerable patients so that exposure to sedatives can be controlled and efforts can be made to help patients return to mobility and alertness prior to discharge.

Seniors Are Healthier When Active, Not Sedentary, During Leisure Time

Regardless of how vigorous their exercise routines are, older adults who spend their leisure time in sedentary pursuits are at greater risk of health problems than those who remain active in their daily lives, according to research published online Oct. 28, 2013, in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. A study involving 4,232 older adults over a period of about 13 years found that individuals with the highest levels of non-exercise physical activity had a 27 percent lower risk for cardiovascular events such as stroke or heart attack, and a 30 percent lower risk for all-cause mortality than the most sedentary participants, regardless of their regular exercise habits. Active participants also tended to have smaller waist circumferences, and healthier levels of insulin, “good” HDL cholesterol, and triglycerides. “For future health, promoting everyday non-exercise physical activity might be as important as recommending regular exercise for older adults,” the re-searchers concluded.

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