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Research and technology support older drivers

The world is growing grayer. By 2050, the global population of those 80 years and older is expected to triple; one-third of the population will be older than 65 years of age. That brings a common challenge for all countries: how do we support the large number of older drivers who experience physical and mental changes as part of the aging process?

Glad you asked

Scientists in Germany believe they may have the answer. A study published on the Behavioral Neurology website poses an intriguing idea—training the brains of seniors will increase their skill in driving safely. That got our attention, which is why we’re sharing this with you!

Identifying impaired drivers

The researchers define driving as a complex task that requires visual, motor and cognitive skills—all factors that undergo change in older adults, including those in good health. But these changes will also vary from one individual to another. Because of this, the study’s authors stressed the importance of establishing a method for identifying older drivers, who have impairments that affect their driving ability, in order to implement training measures.

The authors also identified three areas of evaluation: functions needed in driving, driving ability in real traffic, and behavior in a driving simulator.

Supporting the older driver

According to the German researchers, the key to countering the “functional deficits” of older drivers lies in three areas: traffic environment, car environment and individual drivers.

They suggested complex locations, like intersections, should be structured as clearly as possible, with obvious signage and no distractions, such as advertisements. In-vehicle assistance, including GPS, aid older drivers by helping them focus on traffic by reducing their mental workload. They note that other driver assistive devices, currently in the works, may also prove useful.

According to an article, “The Future of Driving,” on the CNN website, automakers and the federal government are developing technology that will allow vehicles to communicate with each other about traffic, weather and road conditions. “More urgently, they can broadcast their speed and direction and warn each other about potential safety hazards, such as when a nearby vehicle is drifting into your lane,” Brandon Griggs wrote.

The director of Nissan’s research center, Marteen Sierhuis, is quoted in the same article. “If I can get information from the car next to me that they’re going to turn right, that would be great,” explained Sierhuis. He imagines a day when information about almost all vehicles is stored in the cloud and accessible by all.

A testing protocol

The study’s authors recommend a specific sequence for measuring an older person’s driving ability when it is questioned by a family member, doctor or the individual themselves.

  • Vision testing for accuracy, periphery, and night vision.
  • Testing of driving-related cognitive skills as they relate to situation awareness, visual search and multitasking.

And if an individual does not pass the first two tests, they recommend a third measurement:

  • Observing the driver in real traffic with complex situations.

If the driving test raises a red flag as to the driver’s abilities, driving training should be used. Researchers point out that the greatest challenges to older drivers are situations that are unexpected (the car in front brakes suddenly) or complex (navigating a roundabout). They advocate using simulator training of complex driving situations or computer-based training of traffic-relative cognitive functions. These tools have proven successful in improving driving skills and reducing traffic accidents in older adult drivers.

Driving simulators can be programmed so that complex driving situations can be repeated until the driver is trained to react skillfully. While the cognitive tests of drivers trained on a simulator and those trained using a computer program showed improvement across the board, that was not the case with a real driving test. In that situation, those trained on the simulator excelled, probably because of that tool’s ability to create a real-life traffic experience.

Extending the simulator’s reach

Unfortunately, as the authors point out, simulators are not commonly used in driver training due to their expense. Most simulators are used by researcher to study driver behavior. But companies like Carnetsoft, based in The Netherlands, are working to make the simulator more affordable in an effort to help integrate them into driver training courses.

Meantime, due to the rare accessibility of simulators, the researchers recommend future studies to compare short-term and long-term outcomes of older adults who are trained by simulator and computer. In other words, the fact that simulators are superior in immediate driver improvement does not necessarily mean they will win out in the long haul.

All of this is good news because it shows there is significant effort and study to help older adults improve their driving skills, one of many factors important to remaining independent longer.

Wisconsin researchers Americanize an Australian fall prevention program to increase its U.S. reach

Can a program that reduced falls among Australia’s older adults by 31 percent find widespread popularity in the U.S.? Although the Stepping On program was first introduced in North America in 2015, implementation of the evidence-based program has been limited in the U.S. A team of scientists set out to test implementation in three Wisconsin community settings with the purpose of modifying the program to make it more appealing to Americans.

The researchers share their discoveries and recommendations in an article published last month on the research-sharing website, frontiersin.org.

How Australia did it

The pilot program for Australia’s Stepping On fall prevention model was conducted with community-dwelling older adults who participated in a series of fall prevention classes led by an occupational therapist. This program included a three-month follow-up home visit to reinforce strategies taught in the class.

The program was simple and effective but it wasn’t gaining popularity in the U.S. Could a new Americanized method maintain the effectiveness of the program? The Wisconsin researchers planned to find out.

Mixing it up

The U.S. study used a mixture of methods to evaluate the Australian program’s model: rural and urban host sites; program leaders who were health professionals and those with no health background; and a combination of three-month follow-up phone calls and in-home visits. Fall prevention classes remained the hub of the program, with a mix of surveys and interviews completed by site managers, leaders, guest experts and participants.

The three community sites that hosted the U.S. classes were an independent living community, a parks and recreation center, and a rural site hosted by a parish nurse program.

Four questions were used to guide research:

  1. Who can serve as a Stepping On leader? Requiring the leadership of health professionals could encumber the program’s U.S. implementation.
  2. Are there differences in program implementation at different sites that would be barriers to the program’s adoption? The Australian program advocates using public venues that are easily accessible; the U.S. research team sought to challenge that approach.
  3. Are there differences in the success of implementation at urban versus rural sites? U.S. researchers needed to answer that question on their own, since participants in the Australian program were at one urban location.
  4. Can a phone call be substituted for a home visit in resource-strapped rural areas? The Australian program used home visits to reinforce fall prevention concepts and strategies, including exercise.

Fine-tuning the Australian model

At the conclusion of their study, the U.S. researchers were able to offer a number of evidence-based recommendations:

  • Prerequisite for leaders should be expanded to include non-health care professionals, especially social workers and others who have experience working with older adults. While both health care and non-health care Step On leaders scored well in most areas of their class presentation and supervision, the non-professionals failed to emphasis the connection between exercises and falls prevention. This can be addressed by emphasis the link during training sessions for leaders.
  • Both rural and urban venues attracted participants within a five-minute radius of their venue and saw more participants in their second series of classes, after news about the class spread.
  • A phone call can be used in lieu of a home visit. While a one-year follow-up showed comparable positive results for both methods, the home visit had better short-term results.

The take-away

The study’s findings have been included in the U.S. edition of the Stepping On training program and guide for sites in the U.S. Although the Wisconsin study showed that public venues are the best suited to successfully adopt the program, all of us who advocate for the safety of older adults can learn from its strategies. We at Meth-Wick are currently conducting our own fall prevention research. Keep an eye on the blog over the next few months to see what our findings revealed.

 

Sleeplessness spurs junk food eating

Poor sleep habits lead to poor food choices, which can result in weight gain or at the very least, daily fatigue. And let’s face it; there is nothing worse than being too tired to do the things we enjoy! To help you stay at the top of your game, we rounded up plenty of information on the connection between sleeping well and eating well. Hopefully this will put you to sleep!

Poor sleep = poor nutrition

According to an August 2013 article on the University of California Berkeley website, the brains of sleep deprived people undergo changes that may predispose them to eating junk food.

Berkeley researchers scanned the brains of 23 subjects after a good night’s sleep and after a sleepless night. The sleep-deprived brain showed less activity in the area related to complex decision making and more activity in areas that control response to rewards.

What they did

Researchers measured brain activity as participants were shown a series of food choices ranging from healthy (strawberries, apples and carrots) to unhealthy (donuts, burgers and pizza). Most participants chose unhealthy food after a sleepless night.

What they found

While earlier studies have linked sleep deprivation with appetite increase, the Berkeley research reveals specifics about the connection. “What we have discovered is that high-level brain regions required for complex judgments and decisions become blunted by a lack of sleep, while more primal brain structures that control motivation and desire are amplified,” said Matthew Walker, the study’s senior author and a Berkeley professor of psychology and neuroscience.

What you can do

The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) recommends that adults get between seven and nine hours of sleep to give the body enough time to recharge and feel rested. There are, however, “short sleepers” who need less than this. For those people, five or six hours may leave them refreshed and good to go. Others may need nine, ten or even twelve hours. These are known as “long sleepers” who need more hours in order to function at their best.

NSF emphasizes the importance of making a good night’s sleep a priority. Here are their tips on how to sleep well.

  • Stick to a sleep schedule, even on weekends.
  • Practice a relaxing bedtime ritual.
  • Turn off electronics (phone, tablet, TV) in the bedroom.
  • Exercise daily.
  • Evaluate your bedroom to ensure ideal temperature, sound and light.
  • Sleep on a comfortable mattress and pillows.
  • Beware of hidden sleep stealers, like alcohol and caffeine.

If your best efforts at restful sleep are failing, it’s time to make an appointment with your doctor. With growing evidence that shows good sleep equals good health, it’s important to make this a priority. Getting enough sleep is essential to living your best life.

Over-the-counter hearing aids are coming!

Hearing loss is getting a lot of attention from the federal government, researchers and manufacturers. As Americans are living longer, age-related health challenges like hearing loss can become barriers to independence and quality of life.

The cost of hearing

The Journal of the American Medical Association website reports that hearing loss affects 40 percent of people over the age of 60, more than 60 percent of those over 70, and nearly 80 percent of people over 80 years of age. That is a whopping 30 million people who are affected. No wonder hearing loss is being addressed by so many entities.

Hearing loss is associated with social isolation, depression, dementia, falls, and a decline in cognitive and physical functioning. Given this association, it is shocking to learn that only 20 percent of those with hearing loss use a hearing aid, according to an article on nextavenue.org.

The low treatment rate is understandable when you consider the fact that the average pair of hearing aids costs $4,700, has a life expectancy of three to five years, and isn’t covered by Medicare.

Health care for hearing loss

In October 2015, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology acknowledged the importance of developing low cost, over-the-counter hearing devices. In June 2016, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine released its report, Hearing Health Care for Adults: Priorities for Improving Access and Affordability. The report is the work of a committee of experts tasked by the National Academies with defining the obstacles to accessing treatment for hearing loss and making recommendations for improvement.

The report states, “…the committee recommends key institutional, technological and regulatory changes that would enable consumers to find and fully use the appropriate, affordable, and high-quality services, technologies, and supports they need.”

The report also strongly argues that hearing loss can no longer be viewed as an individual concern. “There is a growing recognition that hearing loss is a significant public health concern that can be addressed by actions at multiple levels.”

Proposed legislation

Nearly 98 percent of the U.S. hearing aid market is controlled by six companies, resulting in high prices. To combat this lopsided market, last March Senators Chuck Grassley and Elizabeth Warren introduced a bill supporting the sale of over-the-counter hearing devices. Senator Grassley is quoted in the nextavenue.org article as saying the goal is to “increase competition, lower costs and expand access to devices for people with mild to moderate hearing loss.”

Affordable and accessible treatment options: That is good to hear!

It’s the proportion of liquids you drink, not the volume, that’s important

Water was the hands-down winner when nutrition experts collaborated to determine which beverage provides the greatest health benefits. The six U.S. researchers of the Independent Beverage Guidance Panel ranked beverages into six levels based on calories, energy and nutrients, and evidence for positive and negative effects on health.

An overview of the results, published on Harvard’s School of Public Health website, names water’s major contenders for health benefits and highlights important nutritional tidbits, including the fact that not everyone needs to drink eight glasses of water a day.

Level 1: Water

This should be your primary go-to for rehydrating your body to restore fluids lost through burning calories, breathing, sweating, and removal of waste. A number of factors help define each individual’s hydration needs: quantity of food eaten, weather and activity level.

Most people will get 80 percent of their water by drinking it and the remainder by eating it. Water-rich fruits include watermelon, cucumber, grapefruit, cantaloupe, strawberry and peaches. Vegetables include radishes, zucchini, celery, lettuce and cauliflower.

Level 2: Tea and coffee

These two beverages, when consumed plain, are devoid of calories and include many healthy substances, including flavonoids, which have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antiviral properties.

Additives like cream, sugar and whipped cream turn these into unhealthy choices. Research indicates that daily intake of up to three or four cups of these caffeinated drinks is the sweet spot. According to eatright.org, studies show drinking black tea is associated with a decreased likelihood of heart attack while green tea is related to lower bad cholesterol and higher good cholesterol.

Level 3: Low-fat milk, skim milk and soy beverages

Milk is a good source of calcium and vitamin D, but the Panel stresses choosing low-fat or fat-free milk, which have less saturated fat than whole milk. Even low-fat milk has a lot of calories so it’s wise to drink no more than two glasses a day. Soy milk is a good option if you are lactose intolerant or don’t like milk.

Level 4: Calorie-free sweetened beverages

Diet drinks are sweetened with calorie-free artificial sweeteners. But because there is an ongoing debate over whether or not these sweeteners contribute to weight gain, it is best to limit your intake to an occasional treat.

Level 5: Beverages with calories and limited nutrients

This category includes fruit juice, vegetable juice, sports drinks, vitamin waters and alcoholic beverages. Due to a high caloric index, it’s best to limit fruit juice to a four-ounce serving per day. Since fruit smoothies are high in calories, they should only be an occasional treat. While most vegetable juice is a lower calorie option, it often has a large amount of salt. So read labels!

Sports drinks are only needed by athletes who exercise an hour or more straight and sweat a lot. Vitamin waters are redundant if you take a daily vitamin.

With regard to alcohol consumption, one study of 38,000 men over a 12-year period showed that moderate drinkers of wine, beer and spirits were 30-35 percent less likely to have a heart attack than non-drinkers. Those who drank daily were at less risk than those who drank once or twice a week.

Level 6: Sweetened beverages with calories

This is the least desirable category, according to the Panel. It includes beverages sweetened with sugar or high-fructose corn syrup, including soft drinks, fruit drinks, lemonade, fruit smoothies and many energy drinks. They are high in calories and have no nutritional value.

The take-away

The Panel concluded that we can get all of the fluid we need by simply drinking water and getting nutrients from food. But realizing we are human and not likely to follow a “water only” philosophy, they suggest the following guide for a healthy liquid consumption:

  • It is not the total volume (ounces) of liquid consumed daily, but the proportion of each liquid that helps support our optimum health.
  • Half of the fluid consumed each day should be water.
  • One-third of daily liquid intake can be unsweetened coffee or tea.
  • Low-fat milk can account for 20 percent, or two eight-ounce glasses, of liquid daily consumption. If you drink less than that, be sure to get your calcium from food or a supplement.
  • No more than four ounces of 100 percent fruit juice.
  • Limit daily alcohol consumption to two drinks if you’re a man, one drink if you’re a woman.
  • Ideally, no drinks with artificial sweetener or any form of added sugar.

With an Iowa summer upon us, it’s especially important to remember to drink plenty of liquids and be sensible when exercising outdoors. Be aware that thirst often declines in older adults and drink to your health on a daily basis.

10 tips for healthy grocery shopping

We’ve all entered the grocery store armed with a shopping list and an intention to buy only healthy foods. After all, how can we eat healthy and feel healthy if we buy unhealthy?

Although whole foods are the healthiest choice, we live in the real world. Packaged foods are convenient and cost less, which is why most of us include them on our grocery list. But buying processed foods is not synonymous with unhealthy food. It’s all about being an informed shopper. To that end, we want to share an article to help you navigate the food aisles.

Food labels tell the story

The Reader’s Digest website offers “10 Secrets for Healthier Grocery Shopping.”

  1. Look for short ingredient lists on packaged foods. Long lists include sugar and chemical additives. Put the long-list items back on the shelf.
  2. Think twice about “no cholesterol” claims. Cholesterol is found in animal products (milk, meat, etc.). Despite this fact, the packaging on many non-animal products, such as cereals, makes it sound as though the manufacturer made the product cholesterol free for the customer’s benefit.
  3. Know the meaning of “organic.” A company has to jump through a lot of hoops set up by the U.S. Department of Agriculture before it can use “organic” on its label. Certified organic means a food has been grown free of genetically modified seeds, chemicals made from chemicals or sewage sludge, chemical pesticides or herbicides, and irradiation.
  4. Be suspicious of “natural” labels. Unlike “organic” companies, those who sell foods under a “natural” label are not subject to inspections as a condition of using the label.
  5. Be wary of serving size. The “nutrition facts” listed on packaging is often misleading. You need to look at serving size and servings per container to have an accurate picture of calories. While you may think at first a candy bar has 100 calories, careful reading will show “2 servings,” which means the entire candy bar is 200 calories.
  6. Take a calculator on your shopping trip for an easy way to compare nutrition facts, price per unit, etc.
  7. ­Know the “whole” story. Companies want to take advantage of the fact that health-conscious consumers are looking for whole grain products. Read the label to be sure you are buying whole wheat or whole grain.
  8. When choosing a cereal, rely on your common sense, not the box hype. Look for a whole grain as the first ingredient and one without sugar, if possible. If you prefer a sweetened cereal, it is best if you add the sugar yourself to control the amount.
  9. Don’t get soaked by watered-down foods. With the exception of soup, you wouldn’t expect water to be the first ingredient on a product’s ingredient list. Yet it is found on many labels, followed by a long list of additives to give it flavor and texture.
  10. Crack the MSG code. Monosodium glutamate has been identified as causing headaches in some people. If you are concerned about MSG, be aware that it may appear later in an ingredient list, or it may be listed as hydrolyzed soy protein, autolyzed yeast or sodium caseinate.

Comparison shopping alternative

If you are the type who prefers to do your “leg work” sitting down, you can compare food items online at home or on one of the computers in Meth-Wick’s computer lab. Many product ingredient lists, nutrition facts or actual images of the product package can be found online.

From all of us at Meth-Wick, happy healthy shopping!

Virtual Reality technology is enhancing the lives of older adults

Virtual reality, or VR, is a three-dimensional realistic environment. It is controlled and experienced through the body movements of the user, who wears special headgear. While the technology seems out of this world, its applications for older adults are very down to earth.

A new world of possibilities

According to an article on nextavenue.org, VR is being used to ease anxiety and improve brain function of those with dementia and control pain in hospital patients. One person who adamantly believes VR can change lives is Dennis Lally, cofounder of Rendever, a company that specializes in creating VR for older adults. It offers subscription-based VR services to individuals and senior care facilities whose residents are unable to explore the outside world due to mental or physical limitations. With VR, Rendever brings the world to them.

“We’re aggregating tons of wonderful content, like beach scenes,” Lally told NextAvenue. “They can go to a Maui beach and watch the waves come in for 30 minutes or swim with a whale in the ocean. They could sit in the front row of a concert that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to attend. We also provide educational stuff, like historical tours or architectural exhibits.”

Bringing families closer

Rendever can also custom create a VR experience using photos of an event and creating a VR experience that can be enjoyed by family members who were not able to attend. Using the technology close to home, Lally plans to create a VR version of his wedding in Greece so his grandmother can experience the special event as though she had attended it in person.

The mission of Lally and his cofounder, Reed Hayes, is to use VR to reduce or eliminate the isolation and depression that is experienced by many older adults.

During Rendever’s initial launch last year, it partnered with a handful of elder care facilities, offering their residents a menu of VR experiences. Family members or staff used a tablet to help residents use the technology.

An article on BostonInno.co reported that Rendever launched simulation testing last year to help doctors diagnose medical conditions in elderly patients by having them perform tasks in a virtual world. The company is also developing a VR program for therapeutic use with patients suffering from anxiety.

VR as a pain relief alternative

Rendever is not alone in using VR to improve quality of life. The University of Wisconsin uses a VR game, SnowWorld, to reduce pain in burn patients of all ages. The game distracts patients from their pain by taking them through an ice canyon, where they throw snow balls at one another.

A study reported on the National Institute of Health website sought to test the theory that VR could reduce chronic pain in 30 patients between the ages of 35 and 79. Participants were asked to rate their pain prior to, during, and after a five-minute VR session. The findings were significant. Pain was reduced 33 percent from pre-VR to post-VR session and a whopping 60 percent from pre-VR to during VR session.

We live in a high-tech world that runs the risk of distancing people from one another. It is heartening to know that virtual reality is uniting families, easing pain, and helping older adults live their best life.

Mother Nature is a darn good therapist

The University of Washington’s College of the Environment (UWCE) is on a mission to prove that green space is a valuable currency for human health. On its website, “Green Cities: Good Health,” the college provides scientific evidence of a relationship between urban forestry and green spaces and the health of people who live in those areas.

We’ll give you an overview of the impressive findings discussed on the website, but also recommend that you pay it a visit when the next rainy day has you looking for an indoor activity.

Green cures the blues

In explaining the rationale behind its website, the college wrote, “Nearly 40 years of research shows that the experience of nature is profoundly important to human functioning, health, and well-being.” That is very good news for the 80 percent of U.S. citizens and 50 percent of the world population that live in urban areas.

Here are a few of the many compelling examples of how green is good for what ails you:

  • Dementia patients who have access to gardens are less likely to display aggression or experience injuries, sleep better, and are less agitated.
  • Attention Deficit Disorder (A.D.D) symptoms in children can be reduced through play activities in green settings. This “green time” can be an effective supplement to medicine and behavioral treatments.
  • Neuroscientists discovered that the constant stimuli of city life can cause the brain to suffer memory loss and reduced self-control. Even brief glimpses of nature can give the urban-dwelling brain a respite from complex thinking.
  • Viewing nature can ease pain and encourage healing.
  • Having plants within eyesight of workstations has been reported to improve employee morale, decrease absenteeism and increase work efficiency. 

A second green champion

Five states away, a research lab shares UWCE’s commitment to educating the public, businesses and governments on the importance of embracing nature. The Landscape and Human Health Laboratory at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign focuses on the relationship between human health and green space.

The website provides downloadable reports on many research studies. One seemed especially intriguing: “Ecological restoration volunteers: the benefits of participation.” While most studies by the laboratory evaluate the positive benefits of viewing plants, this study discusses what happened when volunteers worked to restore natural vegetation.

Mother Nature as therapist
The study evaluated the satisfaction reported by volunteers who restored prairie in the Chicago area. Almost all natural prairies in the central U.S. have been devoured by farming and urban development. Without the work of restoration volunteers, native habitats would be lost forever. Volunteers reported satisfaction in making a difference and accomplishing something important. There was also a feeling of community, because restoring natural habitat is an intense and coordinated group effort.

We encourage you to visit these two websites for inspiration and information, as both universities post research results on a continuing basis. For inspiration closer to home, just throw open the curtains and enjoy Meth-Wick’s beautiful view, or lace up the walking shoes and hit our campus trail.

How you live may be more influential than genes in determining lifespan and health

Telomeres, the part of chromosomes that affects aging, has been used by the media a lot recently. Its popularity will continue to grow thanks to a research study by the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) and the nonprofit Preventive Medicine Research Institute. An article on UCSF’s website reports that lifestyle changes may result in longer telomeres.

The findings are a life changer

According to the UCSF article, this was the first controlled study to indicate that intervention—in this case, changes in diet, exercise, stress management and social support—has the potential to lengthen telomeres over time.

Why is this important? The DNA and protein in telomeres protect the ends of chromosomes. As telomeres become shorter, the cells age and die faster. Shorter telomeres are associated with aging-related illnesses, including cancer, stroke, some forms of dementia, heart disease, obesity, osteoporosis and diabetes.

“So often people think ‘Oh, I have bad genes, there’s nothing I can do about it,’” the study’s lead author, Dean Ornish, UCSF clinical professor of medicine, said. “But these findings indicate that telomeres may lengthen to the degree that people change how they live. Research indicates that longer telomeres are associated with fewer illnesses and longer life.”

While additional studies are already being pursued, the early findings are enough to make our hearts flutter with excitement. After all, who among us wouldn’t like to extend our life and enhance our enjoyment of it?

Research methods and results

Researchers followed 35 men with early-stage prostate cancer over five years to determine if comprehensive lifestyle changes could affect telomeres. The patients were closely monitored through screenings and biopsies.

Ten of the patients underwent the following changes:

  • Plant-based diet high in fruits, vegetables and unrefined grains, and low in fat and refined carbohydrates
  • Moderate exercise (walking 30 minutes a day, six days a week)
  • Stress reduction (yoga-based stretching, breathing, meditation)
  • Weekly group support that included moderate exercise, stress management training, and counseling

The remaining 25 study participants did not make lifestyle changes. By the end of the study, the patients who made lifestyle changes showed a “significant” increase in telomere length of 10 percent. In comparison, telomeres of men in the control group had shortened by three percent at the end of the study.

Interpreting the findings

Researchers believe their study results can be applied beyond men with prostate cancer to the general population. That’s because they looked at telomeres in patients’ blood rather than their prostate tissue.

Peter R. Carroll, professor and chair of the UCSF Department of Urology and co-senior author of the study, said their findings, although groundbreaking, need to be confirmed with larger studies.

“Telomere shortening increases the risk of a wide variety of chronic diseases,” Carroll said. “We believe that increases in telomere length may help to prevent these conditions and perhaps even lengthen lifespan.”

Older adults have specific nutritional needs for health and a strong immune system

The food choices we make have a direct impact on our health. This is true for everyone, especially for older adults whose nutritional needs have changed with age.

Our goal with this blog is to provide health and safety topics to help older adults live their best life. To that end, we’ve compiled a guide to help you choose food that gives you energy, improves thinking and memory, and increases your enjoyment of life.

Focus on five nutritional groups

According to the National Institute on Aging (NIA) website, older adults need to consume food and liquids from five main nutrition groups on a daily basis in order to achieve and maintain health: proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals, and water.

First we’ll look at why each nutritional group is important and which foods contain specific nutrients. Later we’ll provide resources with ideas on how to identify and include the best choices from each nutrient group into daily eating habits.

Proteins help your body fight infection, build and repair tissues, and feel energized. Sources of protein include chicken, eggs, beans, peas, soy products, nut, seeds, and dairy products (low fat or no fat).

Carbohydrates, which provide most of the body’s energy, are either simple or complex. Healthy sources of simple carbohydrates include fruits, vegetables, milk products and sugar and honey.

Complex carbohydrates include bread, cereal, pasta, rice, beans, peas, potatoes, green peas and corn. Fiber, a complex carbohydrate in plants, provides the added benefit of preventing stomach and intestinal problems, and may also help in reducing cholesterol and blood sugar. Fiber sources include fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans and whole grains.

Fats are not all created equal. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are healthy choices and may lower your chance of heart disease. For cooking, choose canola, olive, peanut and safflower oils. You can also find these healthy fats in avocados, peanut butter, walnuts, sunflower seeds, tuna, salmon and sardines.

Vitamins and Minerals are essential building blocks for a healthy body. The best way to get most or all vitamins and minerals is through food, which provides additional health benefits, such as fiber. Some older adults need to increase their intake of specific vitamins or minerals, such as calcium, which is vital for older adults at risk for bone loss. Your doctor and a simple blood test will help determine whether or not you need to boost intake of a specific nutrient.

According to the NIA, many older adults don’t need a complete multivitamin. However, for those who are not consistently eating a balanced diet, the NIA suggests a balanced supplement with 100 percent of recommended vitamins and minerals.

Water and other liquids are important to maintaining health. Water assists in digesting food, absorbing nutrients and ridding the body of waste. Because many older adults experience a reduction in their sense of thirst, it’s important to incorporate liquids, especially water, into your daily routine. You can supplement your water intake with other good liquid choices like unsweetened tea and low fat or fat-free milk.

A guide to making good choices

Tufts University offers MyPlate for Older Adults, which provides examples of wise food choices to promote health and reduce the likelihood of illness. It is based on the federal government’s 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

The Tufts online program includes information on the best choices for fruits and vegetables, cooking oils, liquids, protein, grains and dairy. A downloadable MyPlate illustration can be printed and used as a placemat to support wise food choices at home and at the restaurant.

The website also offers tips on grocery shopping, recipes, physical activity and salt alternatives.