Newsbriefs: AD Death Rate; Alcohol Abuse & Weight Loss Surgery; Chocolate for Irregular Heartbeat

ALZHEIMER’S DEATH RATE INCREASING DRAMATICALLY

The toll of deaths caused by Alzheimer’s disease (AD) has risen significantly over the past 16 years, increasing the burden on the American health care system. The Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report published May 26, 2017 by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that AD deaths soared by 55 percent between 1999 and 2014. AD is now the fifth most common cause of death among Americans 65 and older, and the sixth leading cause of death in the population overall. The neurodegenerative condition already accounts for $2 of every $5 in Medicare expenditures. However, the program does not pay for nursing home care, which can cost up to $90,000 annually. That means that loved ones must assume the caretaking burdens in a large number of cases—a huge drain on families. The study blames the increase in the percentage of Americans over 65 for the dramatic rise in AD deaths.

ALCOHOL ABUSE: A HIDDEN COST OF WEIGHT-LOSS SURGERY?

As many as 21 percent of people who undergo a common type of weight-loss surgery may eventually develop problems with alcohol abuse, a new study suggests. Researchers followed more than 2,000 people who underwent weight-loss surgery in 10 major U. S. hospitals. They found that one out of five participants treated with the Roux-en-Y gastric bypass procedure developed alcoholism or alcohol abuse within seven years. In contrast, just one out of 11 developed drinking problems following another procedure, gastric banding. The common Roux-en-Y procedure involves surgically reducing stomach size and rerouting several connections in the small intestine, while gastric banding involves surgically fitting the stomach with an adjustable band to reduce the amount of food it can hold. The authors of the study, which was published online May 16, 2017 in Surgery for Obesity and Related Disease, believe that gastric bypass surgery may increase alcohol sensitivity in brain regions associated with reward.

CHOCOLATE MAY BE GOOD MEDICINE FOR IRREGULAR HEARTBEAT

People who regularly indulge their sweet tooth with a few bites of chocolate may be reducing their risk for atrial fibrillation (A-fib), a form of irregular heartbeat that often triggers stroke. Research published online May 23, 2017 in the journal Heart tracked 55,000 people for more than 13 years, looking at a range of factors, including diet and medical conditions. More than 3,300 participants developed A-fib in the course of the study. Data showed that, compared to participants who ate a single one-ounce serving of chocolate less than once per month, those who consumed one to three servings per month had a 10 percent lower risk of A-fib, those who ate one serving per week had a 17 percent lower risk, and those who ate two to six servings of chocolate per week had a 20 percent lower risk. More than two to six servings per week was not found to lower risk any further, the study authors said, and they cautioned against consuming more than moderate intakes of chocolate.

RX FOR ANXIETY: MEDITATION

Spending as little as 10 minutes a day practicing mindfulness meditation can help people battling anxiety shift their focus away from disturbing thoughts and improve their concentration, research suggests. Researchers recruited 82 participants with anxiety and measured how they responded when they were interrupted while working on a computer task. Participants were then divided into two groups. One group received training in mindfulness meditation—in which participants were asked to pay attention to their sensations, acknowledge interrupting thoughts without judgment, and return to focusing on the present moment; the other group listened to an audio story. Results showed that participants who had practiced meditation experienced fewer episodes of distraction, repetitive thoughts, and loss of focus than those who had not practiced meditation. An author of the study, which was published May 2017 in the journal Consciousness and Cognition, said the findings are important because, for people with anxiety, “…repetitive off-task thoughts can negatively affect their ability to learn, to complete tasks, or even to function safely.”

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