Newsbriefs: Stroke Risk Factors; Hormone Replacement Therapy

Risk Factors Rising Among Stroke Patients Despite Public Education Efforts

An estimated 80 percent of strokes are caused by risk factors that can be managed. They include high blood pressure, smoking, diabetes, and high cholesterol. And yet, despite education efforts and a wealth of easily accessible information about stroke prevention, the percentage of people who have more than one risk factor when they have a stroke is climbing steadily. Researchers looked at the medical records of more than 920,000 people who had strokes between 2004 and 2014. Of those stroke patients, 93 percent of them had more than one risk factor. That figure was 88 percent in 2004. The prevalence of high cholesterol doubled during that period, from 29 percent to 59 percent. The prevalence of high blood pressure climbed from 73 percent to 84 percent. The percentages of people with diabetes and who used illicit drugs also increased during that decade. Researchers could not say why the numbers rose during that period, though they suggest that better screening for risk factors may be one explanation. For example, they believe that, as the effectiveness of statins to control high cholesterol became more widely known, more people were screened and identified as having elevated cholesterol levels. The researchers also noted that efforts to educate the public about manageable risk factors and the efforts of doctors and their patients to reduce stroke risks all need to improve. The research was published recently in the journal Neurology.

Hormone Replacement Therapy May Help Protect Women’s Memory

A type of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) may help protect the memory that is needed for short-term cognitive tasks from the effects of stress. Researchers, who published their findings in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, found that women taking estrogen-only therapy had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. They also performed better on tests of “working memory” following exposure to stress compared to women taking a placebo. Working memory allows the brain to make information readily available for processing. For example, if you keep a mental list of groceries to buy when you go to the store, you’re using working memory. HRT has been a controversial issue for several years. A combination therapy of both estrogen and progesterone has been linked to a higher risk of breast cancer, heart disease, stroke and blood clots. HRT may not be right for every woman, the researchers noted, so women should discuss the risks and potential benefits of HRT with their doctors.

Study Finds Older Adults More Likely to Overshare Than Younger People

The image of older adults going on at great length about their grandchildren, their ailments, their struggles growing up, or other personal matters has become something of a staple in movies and television. But it’s not a stereotype without some basis in fact. Researchers have actually determined that the risk of oversharing in conversation does indeed increase as we get older. Researchers from Scotland and the U.S. performed a series of tests of thinking skills on people ranging in age from 17 to 84. One of the main goals was to show that the thinking skills that influence how we respond to people’s points of view tend to deteriorate with age. The tests measured the participants’ ability to focus and ignore distracting information. The ability to concentrate on one thing and ignore another influenced their ability to consider a partner’s perspective in conversation. In one of the tests, a person was supposed to describe one of four objects to a partner who could see only three of the objects. Older participants were much more likely to mention details about the hidden object, revealing irrelevant information to their partners. Younger adults were better able to filter out distracting information and consider others’ perspectives more effectively. The researchers suggested that training older adults to filter out irrelevant information and be better able to consider another’s point of view could be helpful in reducing the amount of private information older adults may be more likely to reveal. By improving these skills, older adults may be better able to avoid embarrassing or potentially risky communication errors.

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