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Seniors Newsletter
October 1, 2012
In this Issue
• Researchers Tackle Age-Related Decline in Immune Response
• Aging Population Poses Long-Term Challenges to U.S. Economy
• Health Tip: Living With Rheumatoid Arthritis

Researchers Tackle Age-Related Decline in Immune Response

Blocking single harmful protein might work, early lab study suggests

SUNDAY, Sept. 30 (HealthDay News) -- Blocking a single protein might stop the age-related decline of the immune system that reduces people's ability to benefit from vaccinations and leaves them vulnerable to infectious diseases and cancer, a preliminary new study says.

Levels of the protein, called DUSP6, steadily rise as people age and interfere with the ability of an important class of immune cells to respond to invading germs or vaccines designed to protect against those harmful germs, researchers from the Stanford University School of Medicine found.

They also pinpointed a potential compound that may inhibit DUSP6 and turn back the clock on the immune system's decline and reinvigorate its response to vaccines.

The study was published online Sept. 30 in the journal Nature Medicine.

Although this research could possibly lead to a drug that counters age-related weakening of the immune system, it is still in the very early stages, the researchers emphasized.

"We are still far from application in the clinic. We need to keep tweaking the compound and testing it in mice to make absolutely sure it's safe enough to try in humans," study senior author Dr. Jorg Goronzy, professor of rheumatology and immunology, said in a Stanford news release. "But improving vaccine responses to overcome age-related immune defects represents a unique opportunity to attain healthy aging."

Goronzy explained that a person's immune system begins to decline at around age 40.

"While 90 percent of young adults respond to most vaccines, after age 60 that response rate is down to around 40 percent to 45 percent," Goronzy said. "With some vaccines, it's as low as 20 percent."

Vaccine failure among seniors is a serious health problem. About 90 percent of influenza deaths occur in people over age 65, according to the news release.

More information

The U.S. National Institute on Aging has more about seniors and vaccinations.

Aging Population Poses Long-Term Challenges to U.S. Economy

Report says significant changes needed to keep Medicare, Social Security healthy

TUESDAY, Sept. 25 (HealthDay News) -- The well-noted aging of the American population will continue long after the Baby Boomer generation crests, posing continuing economic challenges for the country for decades to come, a new congressionally mandated report states.

Not least of all, a consistently older population over the age of 65 will put a severe strain on federal programs such as Medicare and Social Security.

But the United States does have options that don't guarantee a grim future, according to the report by the National Research Council.

These options, however, will require considerable changes in American lifestyles and in how federal programs are structured, the report, Aging and the Macroeconomy: Long-Term Implications of an Older Population, stated.

"We strongly believe that our nation needs to act sooner rather than later. The problem is not going to go away and it only gets tougher the longer we delay. The longer we wait, the larger the adjustments we will need to make," Ronald Lee, a professor of demography and economics at the University of California, Berkeley, and one of the co-chairs of the committee that drafted the report, said at a Tuesday news conference.

Added co-chair Roger Ferguson, CEO of the Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association-College Retirement Equities Fund: "The population aging is, in fact, a good news story because people are healthier and living longer lives... However, there are a number of economic challenges. The most significant pressures are in social welfare programs designed to prevent poverty among the elderly."

According to the report, the ratio of adults aged 65 and over compared with people aged 20 to 64 will increase by 80 percent in the coming decades. This is partly because the average life expectancy has risen from 47 years in 1900 to 78 years today, and is projected to be 84.5 years by the year 2050.

Another reason for the growing rates of older Americans: Declining birth rates as couples choose to have smaller families. This not only means a smaller proportion of the population will be under 65, it also means there will be fewer workers contributing taxes to support seniors, who are less productive and consume more, the report said.

While some people have saved amply for retirement, the report estimates that between one-fifth and two-thirds of today's seniors haven't saved enough, leaving them to rely heavily on Medicare and Social Security -- programs that, along with Medicaid, now account for about 40 percent of all federal spending.

These public-health expenditures are likely to increase in coming years, the report stated.

Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security are on "unsustainable paths," according to the report, posing significant economic risks.

"Together, the cost of the three programs currently amounts to roughly 40 percent of all federal spending and 10 percent of the nation's gross domestic product," the authors of the report stated in a news release. "Because of overall longer life expectancy and lower birth rates, these programs will have more beneficiaries with relatively fewer workers contributing to support them in the coming decades. Combined with soaring health care costs, population aging will drive up public health care expenditures and demand an ever-larger fraction of national resources."

But the report outlines several strategies that could ease the burden on both younger and older adults as well as government in coming years.

One option would be to push the retirement age beyond the currently accepted age of 65 years. And given the example of other nations, this would be unlikely to steal jobs from younger people, as some fear.

Another strategy would be for workers to increase their savings while damping down their spending so they'd have more resources when they do retire. This would require an improvement in "financial literacy," meaning teaching and helping people to make better financial decisions earlier in life.

A third potential avenue would involve consuming less while still paying taxes so the federal government could set aside more money for federal assistance programs to help support people as they age.

The National Research Council describes itself as an independent group whose mission is to "improve government decision making and public policy, increase public education and understanding, and promote the acquisition and dissemination of knowledge in matters involving science, engineering, technology, and health."

The report was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Treasury with additional funding from the National Institute on Aging.

More information

To learn more about healthy aging visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Health Tip: Living With Rheumatoid Arthritis

Don't neglect exercise

(HealthDay News) -- Rheumatoid arthritis is triggered by an overactive immune system that attacks the body's own joints, causing flares of pain and stiffness.

The American College of Rheumatology says about 13 million Americans have the disease. The ACR recommends regular exercise, except during painful flares.

Here's more of its expert advice:

  • When joints are painful or you feel tired, stick to gentle range-of-motion exercises to help keep the joints flexible.
  • When you are feeling well, focus on muscle-strengthening and low-impact cardiovascular exercises.
  • Work with a physical or occupational therapist to determine which exercises and intensity are best for you.
  • Feelings of anxiety, depression or isolation are common. Your health care provider can help you work through these feelings, which tend to subside when you're feeling better.

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