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The Takeaway: Genes And Education Play Large Part In How Brain Ages; Reasons To Delay Bone Density Retests

Brain News Bonanza: Quite a few interesting reports on brain health today. First, a study published in Psychology and Aging found that challenging older adults' brains can also lead to personality changes-in a good way. In a test of adults ages 60 to 94, those who took part in a 16-week program designed to improve cognitive skills also showed increases in openness and receptiveness to new experiences.

This is novel because "there's a lot of research that suggests as we get older ... people don't change radically in their personality," said lead researcher Elizabeth Stine-Morrow. "The fact that we could, with a small cognitive intervention, increase this openness to experience, which in the long run may affect cognition, it's exciting and a little bit different."

Meanwhile, British researchers have found that almost a quarter of the changes in a person's intelligence level over the course of a lifetime may be due to genes, which could partly explain why some people's brains stay sharper with age than others. The genetic component is greater than ever before estimated, the researchers say-though environmental factors, like diet, exercise, education, and stress, likely play a larger lifetime role in brain health.

Speaking of exercise and education: A  'cautiously encouraging' new study suggests that a daily walk or jog could decrease your risk of developing Alzheimer's disease, or change the course of the disease if it does start to develop.

And research from Margie E. Lachman, a psychologist who specializes in aging, shows  a college degree may slow the brain's aging process by up to a decade.

"Education seems to be an elixir that can bring us a healthy body and mind throughout adulthood and even a longer life," she said.

Osteoporosis Develops Slowly: A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine today recommends women whose bone density tests are normal at age 65 wait up to 15 years before having a second test, even though Medicare pays for a screening every two years.

In the study, which followed nearly 5,000 women for more than a decade, less than 1 percent with normal bone density at the start of the study developed osteoporosis in next 15 years, and less than 5 percent with mildly-low bone density did.

"Bone density testing has been oversold," lead researcher Steven Cummings said.

That first bone density test is still important, however-of the women with substantially low bone density at the first test, 10 percent went on to develop osteoporosis in about a year. Osteoporosis puts people at risk for broken bones, collapsing spines and fractures.

 See Also: Can Fosamax and Other Osteoporosis Drugs Contribute to Bone Fractures?

Thursday Quick Hits: 

  • TSA offered a partial apology for partially strip-searching two elderly women with medical devices at New York's JFK airport last November.
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