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Mental disorders more prevalent as we age 

People too often don’t recognize that an underlying mental health problem is why they feel unwell as they age. According to a recent study published in The Lancet Psychiatry, half of us can expect to develop at least one mental disorder by age 75. The analysis of data collected over 20-plus years came from more than 150,000 adults across 29 countries.  

The study’s co-leader, Dr. Ronald Kessler, a professor of health care policy at Harvard Medical School, says, “Older adults are vulnerable to mental disorders because they are exposed to many life-changing and traumatic events like health issues, the death of loved ones and physical limitations.” 

Worse, he says, many people don’t recognize the signs of a mental disorder and thus don’t seek medical help at the time on onset. These disorders typically first emerge in childhood, adolescence, or young adulthood. 

Among men, the most common disorders were depression and alcohol use disorder. For women, it’s depression and specific phobia. The study notes that information on the frequency and timing of mental disorder onsets across the lifespan is of fundamental importance for public health planning.  

High temperatures can create stroke vulnerability 

According to a study in the February 2024 issue of JAMA Network Open, as temperatures rose, so did the risk of stroke. The study included data from more than 82,000 people across China who were hospitalized for an ischemic stroke during the warm seasons from 2019 to 2021. The risk was nearly twice as high when temperatures were around 92F compared to 54F. High temperatures may trigger dehydration, which can make the blood more viscous and more likely to clot. The study authors recommend people at increased risk of stroke exercise with caution, reduce outdoor activities and use air conditioning to protect themselves.  

How to avoid middle-age weight gain 

Steer clear of low-quality carbohydrates and starchy vegetables such as peas, corn and potatoes, suggests a new Harvard-led study published by The BMJ. Although participants gained an average of more than three pounds every four years, the quality of carbohydrates they ate appeared to play a role in weight control. While consuming too much sugar is unhealthy, refined carbohydrates such as white pasta, white bread, white rice and chips appeared more problematic, study authors said.  

Resistance training good for your heart 

Aerobic exercise is not the only exercise that can help your heart health; combining it with resistance training is especially beneficial for older adults and people with an elevated risk for heart problems, according to the American Heart Association. Resistance training can improve blood pressure, blood sugar, blood lipids and body composition. It enhances blood vessel function, lowers levels of inflammation, and supports weight loss. When people lose weight, they usually lose muscle mass along with fat. Weight training preserves muscle mass and it’s especially important for people who are taking one of the new weight loss medications such as Wegovy.  

Hand recovery after stroke 

Most stroke patients never fully regain hand dexterity despite recovering hand strength. With the help of UGA researchers, a stroke study is underway in the Cognition and Dexterity (CoDex) Laboratory to investigate behavioral and neural mechanisms of hand dexterity.  

“Fine finger control is important in everyday life, whether it’s using a computer, a phone, writing, or cooking,” explains Dr. Aisha Bushra, clinical professional. With impaired hand function, many stroke survivors lose the ability to perform these movements effectively.  

The CoDex Lab study focuses on investigating power grip, precision grip and individuated finger movements with the goal of informing effective therapies for the hand rehabilitation process and overall functionality.  

Bob Betz, 62, suffered a stroke last summer, which affected his right side and has resulted in numbness in his bicep, foot and hand. “I’m about 80 percent recovered but my fine motor skills aren’t where they were – I can write but it’s slow.” He has done one session of the two-part dexterity study. “It’s been a great experience.  The staff is very friendly and professional. I am hoping by the end of my participation in this study I can better understand what has happened and how much I will be able to recover.” 

Led by Jing Xu, assistant professor, department of kinesiology, the multi-year study funded by the National Institute of Health employs a variety of methodologies such as non-invasive transcranial magnetic stimulation, advanced neuroimaging techniques, and fine-grained behavioral assessments to investigate the different components of finger dexterity in healthy controls and stroke survivors.  

Tony DiPietro, 78, had a stroke in 2022 that affected his speech and his right hand, “my thumb doesn’t work.” He says he’s participating so that the research will help somebody someday. “The specialists were informative, caring, and helpful. They made me feel important to the study.” 

Ultimately, Xu says, “We want to know the critical components of hand dexterity and what brain pathways support these components.” 

For more information, contact Dr. Aisha Bushra at 706-542-4132 or 

Fatty liver disease on the rise

Officially called nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), it now affects one in four adults globally. It has a different trigger than fatty liver disease, which is caused by alcohol, certain medications and viral hepatitis. NAFLD is most common in people who have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, insulin resistance or type 2 diabetes. It’s also common among people who are overweight or obese.

Diet plays a huge role and there are several that have been found to help, such as the Mediterranean diet or the DASH diet. Other dietary changes include avoiding fast food, soft drinks, added sugars, and alcohol. Researchers say they don’t know what amount of alcohol is safe for those with NAFLD – even social drinking may be too much. Finally, eat mostly whole foods.

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