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Am I Getting Sufficient Protein as I Age?

Most people in the U.S. eat enough protein (including people who follow plant-based diets).  However, food insecurity could mean a lack of protein. Older adults might also be at risk for not getting enough protein because the need increases as people age.

VeryWell Health’s recent article entitled “How Much Protein Everyone Needs per Day” discusses some of the signs and symptoms of too little protein:

  • Increased appetite, which could lead to eating excess calories that are less nutritious.
  • Increased risk of infections from the ability of the immune system to fight off infections. People who don’t get enough protein may be more likely to get sick.
  • Increased risk of fractures: Vitamin D, calcium and protein are important in building healthy bones. People who don’t take in enough protein may be at risk of breaking a bone more easily.
  • Liver disease, where fat can accumulate in the liver and lead to scarring or poor function.
  • Loss of lean body mass: In adults, a low protein intake could cause a loss of muscle mass.
  • Problems with hair, skin and nails: Multiple issues with skin and nails can occur due to a lack of protein.
  • Swelling (edema): a chronic lack of protein could lead to fluid buildup, which starts in the feet and can extend to other body parts over time.

Sarcopenia is a condition that may occur in older people who lose too much muscle mass. Inactivity and a lack of nutrients can contribute to this problem.

The article says that examples of plant-based protein sources that contain about 7 g of protein include:

  • 2 ounces cooked beans, peas, or lentils (such as Bayo, black, brown, fava, garbanzo, kidney, lima, mung, navy, pigeon, pink, pinto, or soy, or white beans, or black-eyed peas or split peas, and red, brown, and green lentils)
  • 1 tablespoon of peanut butter
  • 4 ounces of nuts or seeds
  • 2 ounces of tofu
  • 1 ounce cooked tempeh
  • 1 falafel patty (2.5-inch, 4 ounces)
  • 6 tablespoons hummus

If you want to increase your daily protein, you can do so in many ways. The first step may be understanding which foods contain protein, especially plant-based sources. Then, eat fewer foods that are low in protein and focus on foods with a higher protein content. Here are some ideas to increase daily protein intake:

  • Focus on adding a protein source to every meal during the day.
  • Consider adding nut butter, which could be eaten with whole-grain bread, fruit, or a smoothie.
  • Add raw nuts to yogurt, salads, or oatmeal.
  • Add protein powder to a smoothie, yogurt, dairy or nondairy milk, or vegetable or fruit juice.
  • Lean jerked meat low in additives can make a high-protein snack.
  • Edamame (soybeans) are high in protein and can be eaten alone or with a salad or stir-fry dish.
  • Add tuna, salmon, sardines, or other canned fish to crackers, salads, or sandwiches.
  • Choose whole grains, such as quinoa, couscous, or wild rice.
  • Add more protein to breakfast with eggs, cheese, or non-dairy milk.
  • Try roasted chickpeas or dipping vegetables in hummus for a snack.

Reference: VeryWell Health (Sep. 21, 2023) “How Much Protein Everyone Needs per Day”

Can My Barber Help Me Live Longer?

Up to 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime, notes the American Academy of Dermatology.

What’s more, the rates of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, have increased in recent decades, reports Livestrong’s recent article, “Want to Age Well? Do This the Next Time You Get a Haircut.”

If skin cancer is detected at an early stage, when the cancer cells remain localized to the skin, it can often be cured with a simple procedure like a minor skin surgery or even a prescription cream.

That’s where your hairdresser comes in. In addition to cutting your locks, they can help spot growths on your scalp, ears, or neck.

Your scalp, neck, and ears get extensive exposure to the sun’s UV rays every day. That puts them at high risk for potential skin cancers. However, it’s hard to see these parts of your own body, so a new or unusual growth might go unnoticed for several months.

Hairdressers see our scalps most closely and regularly. They can be the first to spot something growing on these sites.

Since they spend so much time looking at scalps, ears, and necks each day, they often have a keen sense about whether a growth seems out of the ordinary. You can bring up the topic casually at your next haircut.

Before sitting down, let your hairdresser know you’re trying to be more proactive about your skin health. Ask them to let you know if they notice any unusual moles or spots while they wash and cut your hair.

Remember that your hairdresser isn’t a skin expert. However, think of them as an additional tool in your skin cancer prevention tactics arsenal.

They aren’t a substitute for good skin-care habits like wearing sunscreen (and sun-protective clothing) and seeing a dermatologist for an annual skin check.

Reference: Livestrong (June 25, 2023) “Want to Age Well? Do This the Next Time You Get a Haircut”

What Should I Know about Falls?

Over 25% of adults age 65 or older fall each year, and thousands of older adults break a bone, according to Very Well Health’s recent article, “Managing Pain as You Age.” Falls and fractures are common concerns for older adults, especially women with osteoarthritis. About a third of women over age 50 will break a bone related to osteoarthritis.

In addition to injury, this is a major issue for older adults, as people age 70+ have an increased risk of death after a fall. In one study, 4.5% of people 70 or older died after a ground-level fall compared to 1.5% of a younger population. Falls, if not deadly, also affect long-term mobility, overall health, and independence. In the same study, people 70 and older had longer hospital and intensive care unit (ICU) stays than their younger counterparts. Only 22% could function independently once released vs. 41% of the younger adults who had fallen.

However, there are ways to reduce the risks of serious, long-term effects from a fall. After a fall, staying calm and preventing further injury is essential. These include:

  • Relaxing by taking deep, calming breaths;
  • Staying still where you land and giving yourself time to recover from any shock the fall may have caused;
  • Assessing your condition and checking for possible injuries before moving; and
  • Calling 911 or ask someone nearby to help if there are any injuries.

If there are no injuries, you can roll to one side, rest, move to your hands and knees and transition to a chair. Even if you can get up on your own after a fall, seeing a healthcare provider is important. They can identify possible unnoticed injuries and determine health concerns that may have caused the fall.

If you have a fracture from a fall, treating it depends on the location of the break, the severity and other factors related to the individual and their injury. For example, a hip fracture is a common injury in older adults that may or may not require surgery. Traction is sometimes used to pull different parts of the body to help stretch the area around the broken bone for healing. With most fractures, it’s also important to use a splint or cast to keep the area from moving.

Reference: Very Well Health (Oct. 25, 2022) “Managing Pain as You Age”

Why Is Stretching So Important?

Stretching — especially before bed — is an excellent aid for longevity. It has many benefits, from easing stress and improving sleep to reducing inflammation and menopause symptoms (among many more), says Livestrong’s recent article entitled, “Want to Age Well? Do This Every Night Before Bed.” Here are the benefits of stretching before bed for older adults (and everyone else), plus which bedtime stretches are best.

  1. It Eases Stress. Stretching profoundly stimulates the body’s parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for resting, digesting, and healing the body. That’s why a mindful stretching practice before bed is an effective tool to help ground us and inhibit the sympathetic nervous system for better health.
  2. It Reduces Inflammation. Regular stretching can have a great effect on decreasing inflammatory markers in the body. Gentle stretching at a low intensity can help you relax and stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, which has an inflammatory regulating response.
  3. It Can Improve Your Sleep Quality. Age is linked to difficulty falling and staying asleep. Therefore, winding down before bedtime can be challenging for many people. Stretching can also positively affect your sleep.
  4. It Lowers Your Risk of Injuries (Including Falls). Stretching increases the force-length relationship of your muscles, so your muscles can both produce and manage a greater amount of force at various lengths. This can help decrease muscle and tendon-related injuries. Longer muscle lengths may allow the body to maintain balance and avoid falls, which is especially important as we age more effectively.
  5. It Increases Blood Flow. Stretching can stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, dilating the blood vessels to the muscle. Therefore, stretching would also theoretically increase blood flow to the muscles. That’s especially important because some older adults deal with blood flow-related health issues.
  6. It Decreases the Frequency and Severity of Leg Cramps. Leg cramps are more common in older people because the tendons (the connective tissues that attach muscles to bones) shorten as you age. The frequency and severity of leg cramps also relate to poor hydration levels and nutrition deficiencies. Since older people are more likely to be dehydrated and lack certain essential nutrients, this puts them at a greater risk. Stretching at night may alleviate leg cramps.
  7. It Helps With Menopause Symptoms. Light to moderate stretching can likely improve symptoms of menopause, such as hot flashes, sleep problems and mood fluctuations.

Reference: Livestrong (June 1, 2023) “Want to Age Well? Do This Every Night Before Bed”

Will Exercise Help My Memory?

The study, published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, looked at data from nearly 4,500 people in the UK who had activity monitors attached to their thighs for 24 hours a day over the course of a week. Researchers analyzed how their activity levels impacted their short-term memory, problem-solving skills and ability to process things.

Prevention’s recent article entitled, “These 5 Exercises Boost Brain Health and Improve Memory, Study Finds,” reports that the study found that doing moderate and vigorous exercise and activities—even those that were done in under 10 minutes—were associated with much higher cognition scores than people who spent most of their time sitting, sleeping, or doing gentle activities.

The researchers found that people who did these workouts had better working memory (the small amount of information that can be held in your mind and used in the execution of cognitive tasks) and that the biggest effect was on executive processes, like planning and organization.

However, those who spent more time sleeping, sitting, or only moved a little instead of doing moderate to vigorous exercise had a 1% to 2% drop in cognition.

“Efforts should be made to preserve moderate and vigorous physical activity time, or reinforce it in place of other behaviors,” the researchers wrote in the conclusion.

Working out regularly can also lower your risk of cognitive decline and dementia. Exercise activates skeletal muscles that are thought to release hormones that communicate with your brain to influence the health and function of your neurons, i.e., cells that act as information messengers, Malin says.

“This could, in turn, promote growth and regeneration of brain cells that assist with memory and cognition,” he says.

The CDC recommends that most adults get at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity exercise. You can walk your dog if you have one, as a study found that dog owners walk, on average, 22 minutes more every day than people who don’t own dogs.

However, the latest study suggests that more vigorous activities are best for your brain. Getting your heart rate up is key. That can include doing exercises like jogging, swimming, biking on an incline and dancing.

Reference: Prevention (Jan. 28, 2023) “These 5 Exercises Boost Brain Health and Improve Memory, Study Finds”

How are Strokes Diagnosed?

The CDC says that a stroke happens when something blocks the blood supply to part of the brain or when a blood vessel in the brain bursts. In either case, parts of the brain become damaged or die. A stroke can cause lasting brain damage, long-term disability, or even death.

Verywell Health’s recent article entitled “Everything You Should Know About Stroke” explains that diagnostic tests for stroke include the following:

  • Brain imaging: A brain computed tomography (CT) scan frequently will spot the blood of a hemorrhagic stroke within the first hours of bleeding. Brain magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can identify an ischemic stroke’s early, subtle changes.
  • Angiogram: This angiogram test looks at the blood vessels. Angiograms of the cerebral vessels can include computed tomography angiogram (CTA) or magnetic resonance angiogram (MRA). These tests can pinpoint structural irregularities or blood clots in the brain’s blood vessels.
  • Blood tests: while a stroke isn’t diagnosed with a blood test, it can identify stroke risk factors, like high cholesterol or diabetes.
  • Electrocardiogram (EKG/ECG): This is a fast, noninvasive test that examines heart rhythm. It can identify abnormalities associated with an irregular heart rhythm, heart attack, or heart failure.
  • Echocardiogram: This test is noninvasive and looks at the structure and movement of the heart. It can detect heart problems that increase the risk of stroke.
  • Carotid ultrasound: This noninvasive test examines the neck arteries leading to the brain. Narrowing or disease of these arteries can cause a stroke.

Sometimes brain imaging tests also detect previous asymptomatic (without symptoms) strokes.

Effective stroke care begins with a prompt assessment to determine the type of stroke, followed by rapid treatment.

Medical stabilization is needed for all types of strokes and includes maintaining optimal blood pressure, blood sugar and fluids.

Verywell Health (Feb. 27, 2023) “Everything You Should Know About Stroke”

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