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Quick Study

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

VISION PROBLEMS

For the infirm elderly, depression may be eased with glasses.

THE QUESTION Does correcting older people's blurry vision with eyeglasses affect more than their sight?

THIS STUDY involved 151 nursing home residents, most in their late 70s, who'd had eye exams that identified refractive error causing blurred vision but had not had the problem corrected. They were randomly assigned to be given eyeglasses immediately or after a follow-up exam two months later. At the time of that exam, those who had been given glasses right away reported better vision overall as well as less trouble with such daily activities as reading the newspaper, using the phone and playing cards, compared with those who had not yet received glasses. Based on standardized scales, those with glasses also reported less worry and frustration, more social interaction and fewer symptoms of depression than the others.

WHO MAY BE AFFECTED? Older people, especially those living in nursing homes. Vision generally declines with age, but studies have shown that nursing home residents are 15 times as likely to have uncorrected vision problems as are older people living at home.

CAVEATS Whether the short-term boost from corrected vision would continue long-term was not determined. The results may not apply to people who are severely depressed.

FIND THIS STUDY November issue of Ophthalmology.

LEARN MORE ABOUT vision problems associated with aging at http://nihseniorhealth.gov and http://www.mayoclinic.com (click on "slide shows").

COGNITION

Beta carotene supplements may have memory benefits.

THE QUESTION Might an antioxidant help men stay mentally sharp as they age?

THIS STUDY analyzed data on 5,956 men who had been randomly assigned to take 50 milligrams of beta carotene or a placebo every other day. Most took the supplements for an average of 18 years; just under a third took them for only one year. A battery of cognitive tests given at the end of the study, when the men were in their early 70s, revealed no benefits of short-term supplement use. However, men who had taken beta carotene for 15 years or more had better thinking, learning and memory skills than those who had taken the placebo -- an effect described as comparable to delaying aging by 1 to 1 1/2 years.

WHO MAY BE AFFECTED? Men. Most people's memory and mental functioning diminish some with age, but research has shown that keeping the brain active and stimulated and reducing cardiovascular problems can help prevent decline.

CAVEATS Cognitive data came from one testing, so no comparison of decline over the study period was possible. Studies have shown that beta carotene may increase the risk of lung cancer among smokers. The study was funded in part by BASF Corp., which provided the beta carotene, and Wyeth, which makes vitamin products that contain the antioxidant.

FIND THIS STUDY Nov. 12 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine.

LEARN MORE ABOUT memory loss with aging at http://www.familydoctor.org and http://www.nia.nih.gov (search for "forgetfulness").

PARKINSON'S DISEASE

Some common painkillers appear to offer a degree of protection.

THE QUESTION Though no one knows for sure what causes the nerve cell damage that leads to Parkinson's disease, one theory ties it to inflammation in the nervous system. Might anti-inflammatory drugs, then, help prevent the disorder?

THIS STUDY analyzed data on 579 people; Parkinson's had been diagnosed in about half of them in the previous three years. Data included their use of aspirin and non-aspirin painkillers (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen and naproxen). People who took non-aspirin NSAIDs regularly (two or more pills a week for at least a month) were about half as likely to have Parkinson's as those who took them less often or not at all, especially if the NSAIDs were taken for two years or longer. Women who took aspirin regularly for more than two years reduced their risk by about 40 percent; for men, however, aspirin showed no benefit related to Parkinson's.

WHO MAY BE AFFECTED? People at risk for Parkinson's disease, for which there is no cure. Although the cause is unknown, people who have relatives with the disease are more likely to develop it, as are people middle-aged or older and those with ongoing exposure to herbicides or pesticides. More men than women have the movement disorder.

CAVEATS The study did not determine whether different aspirin or non-aspirin products, or different dosages, produced different results. The authors theorized that women may have taken higher doses of aspirin than men, creating the difference in its effect between the sexes. Data on use of painkillers were based on the participants' recall. Because NSAIDs can cause bleeding and gastrointestinal problems, people should speak with a doctor before taking them regularly.

FIND THIS STUDY Nov. 6 issue of Neurology.

LEARN MORE ABOUT Parkinson's disease at http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders and http://www.parkinson.org.

-- Linda Searing

The research described in Quick Study comes from credible, peer-reviewed journals. Nonetheless, conclusive evidence about a treatment's effectiveness is rarely found in a single study. Anyone considering changing or beginning treatment of any kind should consult a physician.

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