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Senior Health Studies Are Confusing
Jan L. Warner & Jan Collins

Question: I am a 72 and in relatively good health except for some arthritis and the usual aches and pains of aging. My wife, age 70, suffers from diabetes and high cholesterol. Since each of us had a parent who had some form of dementia in their later years, we are naturally concerned and read a lot to try and stay informed.

But when we read about all of these studies and counter-studies from various medical schools here and around the world, it’s enough to make you confused. For example, several weeks ago I read about a U.S. study concluding that drinking multiple cups of coffee each day did not increase the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis – a totally opposite conclusion from a European study I had just read. Then recently, a friend told us he heard that a new study concluded that cancer can cause Alzheimer’s disease. How do we know what studies to believe, and where can we get the best information on health issues that affect seniors like us?

Answer: We agree that “facts and figures” used in press releases touting studies that deal with dementia – and, for that matter, other illnesses – are confusing and sometimes contradictory because of a number of factors, including the length of the study and the number of people who participated.

For nearly 80 years after Dr. Alzheimer discovered the disease in 1906 in a 47-year-old woman, it was thought that this disease occurred only in younger people. Yet today, despite the fact that the vast majority of Alzheimer’s patients in the United States seem to develop the disease after age 60, most of the research focuses on the less common, early-onset form of Alzheimer's that strikes middle-aged individuals.

One thing for sure: There appears to be no truth to your friend’s rumor that cancer can cause Alzheimer’s disease. In fact, a thorough Internet search using MEDLINE, an excellent service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), turned up nary a hint of any such study, which, if it existed, would have been broadcast around the world in a big way.

We found that MEDLINE (visit and click on “useful links”) contains a wealth of information about thousands of health issues in the National Library of Medicine’s database of references to more than 11 million articles published in 4,600 biomedical journals. Here, you can find answers to most of your health questions with references to articles about specific health topics, information about clinical research studies, a directory of health organizations, and links to databases on toxicology, environmental health and hazardous chemicals

This site links to “NIHSeniorHealth” -- a talking Website designed to make aging-related health information easily accessible to senior citizens, their families, and friends. NIH claims it “extensively tested NIHSeniorHealth with adults age 60 to 88 to ensure that it is easy for them to see, understand and navigate.”

This is obvious from its senior-friendly features including large print, short and easy-to-read segments of information, and simple navigation. A “talking” function reads the text aloud, and special buttons to enlarge the text or turn on high contrast make the text more readable. Some of the topics covered on this site include Alzheimer’s disease, Arthritis, Balance Problems, Breast Cancer, Caring for Someone with Alzheimer’s, Colorectal Cancer, Exercise for Older Adults, Hearing Loss, Lung Cancer, Prostate Cancer, and more.

The MEDLINE site also links to MEDLINEplus that gives visitors news from the past 30 days about health issues from the New York Times Syndicate, Reuters Health Information, and others. While a scan of MEDLINKplus was negative regarding a cancer/Alzheimer’s link, there were articles about studies (1) linking a risk of developing Alzheimer’s to those who have had a previous stroke; (2) postulating that a midlife breakdown of brain circuitry is a possible cause of Alzheimer’s; (3) showing that a substance in red wine may protect the brain from Alzheimer’s (and, of course, seems to have protective qualities for the heart); (4) concluding that Vioxx, a popular arthritis drug, does not prevent Alzheimer’s and, in fact, might actually increase the risk of developing the mind-robbing disease.

Seniors (and people of all ages) who want to stay current on the latest health studies should become friendly with MEDLINE. If you don’t have a computer at home, your local library has terminals that you can use.

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