Newsbriefs: Chronic Knee Pain & Depression Risk; Menopause & Memory Skills; Serious Life Events & Aging

Chronic Knee Pain Associated with Higher Depression Risk

Knee pain that accompanies osteoarthritis (OA) affects about 13 percent of women and 10 percent of men over the age of 60 in the U.S. This type of chronic knee pain can limit your mobility and your ability to take care of yourself. You may be less likely to or simply unable to exercise regularly. Losing some of your independence and missing out on activities you once enjoyed can have significant effects on your quality of life. This, in turn, can lead to depression. A Japanese study, published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, focused on 563 men and women age 65 or older. None of the study participants had depression at the start of the study. Within two years, about 12 percent of the participants reported depressive symptoms. They were people who reported knee pain at night in bed, or doing activities such as putting on socks or getting out of a car. Researchers suggest that chronic knee pain should be considered a risk factor for depression. If you experience chronic pain anywhere, especially if it interferes with your independence and quality of life, you should explore treatment alternatives. Aches and pains in your joints as you get older are common, but most of them aren’t treatable. A regimen of physical therapy may be enough to avoid surgery. Weight loss, if you’re overweight or obese, may help relieve some of the pressure and pain around your knee. But if surgery is necessary, consider how much better you’ll feel once your knee is healed.

Age of Menopause May Affect Memory Skills Later in Life

Entering menopause at a later age is associated with a small benefit to your memory years later. In a study published in Neurology, researchers studied more than 1,300 women, whose health has been studied since birth in 1946. Tests of their verbal memory skills and their cognitive processing speed were taken at ages 43, 53, between 60 and 64, and again at age 69. The researchers also collected information about menopause, either natural or due to removal of their ovaries, whether they took hormone replacement therapy, and other factors that could affect thinking and memory skills. These factors included childhood cognitive ability, amount of education, smoking and type of occupation. Menopause started, on average for the women with natural menopause, at age 51 1/2. The women who had menopause later had slightly better scores on tests of memory (recalling a 15-item list three times) each year the tests were administered. Researchers suggest that this evidence of a stronger memory could be associated with a lower risk of dementia later in life. On tests of information processing speed, there was no relationship between the age of menopause and test scores. Researchers could not fully explain why later menopause was associated with stronger memory in the women studied, though they suggested that it may have something to do with maintaining the same hormonal status they had during their childbearing years.

Sad, Serious Life Events May Speed Up Aging of the Body and Brain

A major health crisis, financial woes, divorce, a death in the family, and other fateful life events (FLEs) appear to accelerate physical aging and aging in the brain. A study, published in the journal Neurobiology of Aging, found that FLEs can measurably accelerate aging in the brains of older men, even when controlling for such factors as cardiovascular risk, alcohol consumption, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status—all of which are also associated with aging risk. The study, which used MRI to assess brain volume and cortical thickness, found that only a single FLE caused the brain to appear one-third of a year older than the person’s chronological age. Future studies will need to include women and a broader ethnic mix to better understand the impact of FLEs on brain aging. Researchers say that their study further underscores previous studies that have shown the serious impacts of stress on aging and health. While there was no suggestion of how to counteract the effects of FLEs on brain age, one lesson may be that living through stressful times means it’s even more important to live a healthier lifestyle and strengthen one’s coping skills during and after the stressful event. MMM

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