Report: Cognitive-Simulating Activities Good for Your Brain’s Health

Published in Woonsocket Call on August 6, 2017

Don’t expect playing “brain games” to have the long-term brain health benefits oftentimes reported in newspapers. According to a statement released last month by the Global Council on Brain Health (GCBH), the scientific evidence supporting the benefits of “brain games” is at best “weak to non-existent.” But, the researchers say you can engage in many stimulating activities to help sharpen your brain as you age.

GCBH’s latest statement on “Cognitive Stimulating Activities” follows earlier reports issued by this independent organization created by AARP, advocating on behalf of its 38 million members with the support of Age UK, one the United Kingdom largest charities advocating for seniors. Previous areas included: “The Brain Body Connection;” The Brain Sleep Connection;” and “The Brain and Social Connectedness.”

The 25-page GCBH report, released on July 25, says that while many find “brain games” to be fun and engaging activities, oftentimes the claims made by companies touting the game’s cognitive benefits are exaggerated. The researchers noted that there are many ways to support and maintain your memory, reasoning skills, and ability to focus, such as engaging in formal or informal educational activities, learning a new language, engaging in work or leisure activities that are mentally challenging, and connecting socially with others.

Keeping Mentally Sharp

The report debunks “brain health” myths, too. Contrary to the many stories told about the brain as we age, the GCBH finds that a person can learn new things, no matter their age. Getting dementia is not an inevitable consequence of growing older. Older persons can learn a second language. And, people should not expect to forget things as they age.

“The GCBH recommends people incorporate cognitively stimulating activities into their lifestyles to help maintain their brain health as they age,” said Marilyn Albert, Ph.D., GCBH Chair, and Professor of Neurology and Director of the Division of Cognitive Neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. “The sooner you start the better, because what you do now may make you less susceptible to disease-related brain changes later in life.”

“We know that the desire to stay mentally sharp is the number one concern for older adults,” said Sarah Lock, AARP Senior Vice President for Policy, and GCBH Executive Director. “Seeking out brain-stimulating activities is a powerful way for a person to positively influence their brain health as they age.”

GCBH pulled 13 independent health care professionals and experts together, who work in the area of brain health-related to cognitive functioning, to examine “Cognitively Stimulating Activities.” This group crafted the report’s consensus statement and recommendations after a close examination of well-designed randomized scientific studies published in peer review journals and studies replicated by other scientists.

Taking Control of Your Brain Health

The report concluded that people have control and influence over their brain changes throughout their lifespan. People can maintain their memory, cognitive thinking, attention and reasoning skills as they age by doing brain-stimulating activities. There is sufficient evidence that brain-stimulating activities are beneficial to staying mentally sharp over your lifespan

The researchers found through their literature review that training on a specific cognitive ability such as memory may improve that specific ability, but scientific evidence suggests you need to continue to apply that training to maintain or improve the ability over time.

The researchers also found that there is insufficient evidence that getting better at “brain games” will improve a person’s overall functioning in everyday life. Maintaining or improving your brain health is tied to the activity being “novel, highly engaging, mentally changing and enjoyable.”

The GCBH report suggested that just by learning a new skill, practicing tai-chi, learning photography, even investigating their family history, you can stimulate their brain and challenge the way they think, improving “brain health.” Also, social engagement and having a purpose in life, like “volunteering as a companion and mentoring others in your community,” can be mentally stimulating and improve your “brain health.”

But, the researchers say don’t forget physical activity, such as “dancing and tennis.” because the mental engagement and physical exercise can mentally benefit you, too.

The GCBH, founded in 2015, is an independent international group of scientists, health professionals, scholars and policy experts working on brain health issues. Convened by AARP with support from Age UK, the goal of the GCBH is to review the current scientific evidence and provide recommendations for people so that they can maintain and improve their brain health.

The full GCBH recommendations can be found here: http://www.globalcouncilonbrainhealth.org.

Yes, routinely challenging your brain can lead to improved “brain health. As the old adage says, “Use it or lose it.”

Report Links Improved Brain Health to Sleep

Published in Pawtucket Times on January 16, 2017

Seven to eight hours of sleep per day may be key to maintaining your brain health as you age, says a newly released consensus report issued the Global Council on Brain Health (GCBH). The report’s recommendations, hammered out by scientists, health professionals, scholars and policy experts working on brain health issues at meeting convened by AARP with support of Age UK, in Toronto, Canada in late July 2016 Toronto, translates the scientific research evidence compiled on sleep and brain health into actionable recommendations for the public.

An AARP consumer survey released this month [in conjunction with GCBH’s report] found that 99 percent of age 50-plus respondents believe that their sleep is crucial to brain health, but over four in 10 (43 percent) say they don’t get enough sleep during the night. More than half (about 54 percent) say they tend to wake up too early in the morning and just can’t get back to sleep.

As to sleep habits, the adult respondents say that the most frequently cited activity that they engage in within an hour of bedtime are watching television and browsing the web. One-third keep a phone or electronic device by their bed. Nearly 88 percent of the adults think a cool bedroom temperature is effective in helping people sleep. Yet only two in five (41 percent) keep their room between 60 and 67 degrees. Finally, the most common reason people walk up during the night is to use the bathroom.

“Although sleep problems are a huge issue with older adults, it’s unfortunate the importance of sleep is often not taken seriously by health care professionals,” said Sarah Lock, AARP Senior Vice President for Policy, and GCBH Executive Director. “It’s normal for sleep to change as we age, but poor quality sleep is not normal. Our experts share [in GCBH’s report] the steps people can take to help maintain their brain health through better sleep habits,” said Lock, in a statement released with the report.

Sleep Vital to Brain Health

The new GCBH recommendations cover a wide range of sleep-related issues, including common factors that can disrupt sleep, symptoms of potential sleep disorders, and prescription medications and over-the-counter (OTC) sleep aids. The consensus report is jam-packed with tips from experts, from detailing ways to help a person fall asleep or even stay asleep, when to seek professional help for a possible sleep disorder, and the pros and cons of taking a quick nap.

Based on the scientific evidence, the GCBH report says that sleep is vital to brain health, including cognitive function, and sleeping on average 7-8 hours each day is related to better brain and physical health in older people.

The 16-page GCBH consensus report notes that the sleep-wake cycle is influenced by many different factors. A regular sleep-wake schedule is tied to better sleep and better brain health. Regular exposure to light and physical activity supports good sleep, says the report.

According to the GCBH report, people, at any age, can change their behavior to improve their sleep. Persistent, excessive daytime sleepiness is not a normal part of aging. Sleep disorders become more common with age, but can often be successfully treated. People with chronic inadequate sleep are at higher risk for and experience more severe health problems, including dementia, depression, heart disease, obesity and cancer.

“A 2015 consensus statement of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society mirrors the recently released GCBH report recommending that a person sleep at least 7 hours per night, notes Dr. Katherine M. Sharkey, MD, PhD, FAASM, Associate Professor of Medicine and Psychiatry and Human Behavior who also serves as Assistant Dean for Women in Medicine and Science. “Seven to eight hours seems to be a ‘sweet spot’ for sleep duration,” she says, noting that several studies indicate that sleeping too little or too much can increase risk of mortality.

More Sleep Not Always Better

Sharkey says that individuals with insomnia sometimes use a strategy of spending more time in bed, with the idea that if they give themselves more opportunity to sleep, they will get more sleep and feel better, but this can actually make sleep worse. “One of the most commonly used behavioral treatments for insomnia is sleep restriction, where patients work with their sleep clinician to decrease their time in bed to a time very close to the actual amount of sleep they are getting,” she says, noting that this deepens their sleep.

Sleep apnea, a medical disorder where the throat closes off during sleep, resulting in decreased oxygen levels, can reduce the quality of sleep and is often associated with stroke and other cardiovascular diseases, says Sharkey. While sleep apnea is often associated with men (24 percent), it also affects nine percent of woman and this gender gap narrows in older age, she notes.

Many older adults who were diagnosed with sleep apnea many years ago often times did not pursue medical treatment because the older CPAP devices were bulky and uncomfortable, says Sharkey, who acknowledges that this technology is much better today.

“We know how many questions adults have about how much sleep is enough, and the role that sleep plays in brain health and cognitive function,” said Marilyn Albert, Ph.D., GCBH Chair, Professor of Neurology and Director of the Division of Cognitive Neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. “This [GCBH] report answers a lot of these questions and we hope it will be a valuable source of information for people,” she says.

Simple Tips to Better Sleep

Getting a goodnights sleep may be as easy as following these tips detailed in the 16-page GCBH report.

Consider getting up at the same time every day, seven days a week. Restrict fluids and food three hours before going to bed to help avoid disrupting your sleep to use the bathroom. Avoid using OTC medications for sleep because they can have negative side-effects, including disrupted sleep quality and impaired cognitive functioning.
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The GCBH report notes that dietary supplements such as melatonin may have benefits for some people, but scientific evidence on their effectiveness is inconclusive. Be particularly cautious of melatonin use with dementia patients.

Naps are not always a cure to enhancing your sleep. Avoid long naps; if you must nap, limit to 30 minutes in the early afternoon.

“There has been such a steady stream of revealing brain-health reports that it would seem people would change their habits accordingly,” said AARP Rhode Island State Director Kathleen Connell. “Taking active steps is what’s important – and the earlier the better,” she added.

“The personal benefits are obvious, but we should be aware of the cost savings that better brain health can produce. If people in their
50s get on board, the impact on healthcare costs and a reduced burden of caregiving 20 years down the road could be significant,” Connell added. “At the very least, those savings could help cover other rising costs. We owe it to ourselves and to each other to assess and improve aspects of diet and exercise. And we should not overlook the importance of sleep.”

The full GCBH recommendations can be found here: http://www.globalcouncilonbrainhealth.org. The 2016 AARP Sleep and Brain Health Survey can be found here: http://www.aarp.org/sleepandbrainhealth.

How the Election Impacts Social Security

Published in Woonsocket Call on July 24, 2016

On the final night of the Republican National Convention (RNC) an average of 32 million Americans tuned in to watch Donald J. Trump, a New York Real Estate Developer, author, television personality and now politician, formally accepted the GOP nomination for President of the United States.

After he delivered his July 21 speech, reporters, political commentators, and even postings trending on twitter called Trump’s hour and 15 minute speech (4,400 words) “dark” because of its stark tone and content. This GOP presidential candidate’s speech was even referred to as being the longest acceptance speech in history since 1972.

Before more than 2,400 delegates Trump, 70, pledged to be the nation’s law and order president who would crack down on crime and violence. America first would be Trump’s mantra during the negotiation of international trade deals and the existing NAFTA trade accord would be renegotiated.

Trump also called for defending the nation’s borders against illegal immigrants and giving parents more choice in choosing schools for their children. And to the forgotten men and woman across the country who were laid-off because of President Obama’s mishandling of the economy Trump promised to be their voice. Syrian refugees would be vetted and only those individuals who “will support our values and love our people” will be admitted, he said.

Trump Ignores Social Security in Speech

Aging advocates say that Trump’s acceptance speech was short on details when it can to domestic policy, specifically Social Security and Medicare. But, you won’t need tea leaves to read how a future Trump Administration will change the way the nation supports its retirees. .

According to Max Richtman, President and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM), the choice of Governor Mike Pence as Trump’s running mate should send “a very clear message to America’s seniors that their priorities will hold little weight in a Trump administration.” While Trump has promised on the campaign trail that he won’t cut Social Security and Medicare.

During his 12 years serving as a U.S. Congressman, Pence consistently voted in favor of GOP legislative efforts to cut benefits in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, says Richtman, charging that Trump’s vice presidential running mate is one of a few Congressional lawmakers that has a strong “anti-seniors voting record.”

Richtman says that “Mike Pence was one of Congress’ biggest proponents of privatization. He supports cutting Social Security benefits by raising the retirement age, reducing the COLA, means-testing and turning Medicare into “CouponCare.” As he told CNN, ‘I’m an all of the above guy. I think we need to look at everything that’s on the menu,’ and the record shows he has done just that by supporting every form of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefit cut proposed in the past decade.”

While Trump has promised not to cut Social Security benefits on his year-long campaign trail, he continues to surround himself with advisors who are “polar opposite” of his positions says Richtman. “They say actions speak louder than words — Donald Trump’s choice of Mike Pence as his Vice-Presidential running mate will speak volumes to American seniors,” he adds.

Political Experts Weigh in

Darrell M. West, Ph.D., Vice President and Director of Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution, says that “Trump is on record as saying he does not want to cut Social Security so that is considerably different from most Republican leaders, who support benefit reductions as a way to balance its books. This probably is the reason the [GOP] platform is vague on Social Security. The party could not reconcile Trump’s view on not cutting benefits with the party’s general view that cuts are needed. That left them with a reference to market solutions without explaining what that meant.”

“Party leaders have said they want to raise the retirement age for people under age 50. That issue certainly would be on the issue in a Trump presidency although it is not clear how he views that issue. But there would be significant support in a GOP-run Congress for doing that and cutting the benefits of future retirees,” adds West.

West believes that “Democrats have a very good chance of recapturing control of the Senate. If that happens, that will allow them to block benefit reductions or raising the retirement age, he says.

Wendy Schiller, professor and chair, Department of Political Science at Brown University, warns that talking about changing Social Security can be risky and this “involves a depth of knowledge about entitlement financing that eludes most political candidates especially those without any political experience.”

The Brown professor of politics does not see Trump tackling this issue in any meaningful way in the campaign and she does not believe it will be a priority for him or the GOP if he wins. “Recall George W. Bush tried to reform Social Security immediately after he won reelection in 2004 – by late January 2005 it was dead on arrival in Congress,” she says.

“Overall I am not sure the GOP leadership in the Congress has fully processed what a Trump presidency would look like in terms of policy or what his priorities might be. It is unclear to me that they will align closely and getting anything through Congress these days is nearly impossible, no matter who sits in the Oval Office,” she adds.

Stark Differences in Platforms to Fix Social Security

On Friday, the released Democratic Platform released reveal a stark difference as how to the Democratic and Republican parties will fix the ailing Social Security program. The GOP platform. Although current retirees and those close to retirement will receive their benefits, changes are looming with a Trump administration and a Republican-controlled Congress. For younger generations all benefit cut options to be put on the table, opposing the lifting of the payroll tax cap and sees privatization of Social Security as a way for older American’s to create wealth for use in retirement. On the other hand, the Democratic Party platform calls for a strengthening and expansion of the existing Social Security program. The Democrats oppose any attempts to “cut, privatize or weaken” Social Security, and calls for lifting the payroll tax and exploring a new COLA formula.

NCPSSM’s Richtman notes “ It’s also very telling that while the GOP buried their cuts and privatization plans for Social Security under the Platform’s Government Reform heading, the Democrats addressed Social Security, as they should, as part of their plan to restore economic security for average Americans. That’s been Social Security’s fundamental role for more than 80 years — providing an economic lifeline impacting the lives of virtually every American family.”

As AARP’s John Hishta noted in his July 22 blog, even though the “political spotlight was not on Social Security” at the RNC in Cleveland, delegates, rank-and-file politicians and even political operatives that he talked with clearly understand the programs importance to retirees and younger generations.

“If political leaders fail to act, future retirees could lose up to $10,000 a year. All beneficiaries could face a nearly 25 percent cut in their benefit,” warns Hishta. .

Hishta tells his blog readers that “AARP’s Take a Stand campaign left the RNC with renewed determination to make updating Social Security a bigger part of the presidential debate.” He pledges to continue pushing for strengthening and expanding the nation’s Social Security program at next week’s Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia and until the November presidential elections.

To keep informed about Social Security discussion during this presidential campaign go to http://takeastand.aarp.org/,

Candidates Mum on Social Security

Published in Pawtucket Times on February 8, 2016

Just a week before the New Hampshire primary, scheduled for Tuesday, February 9, AARP releases a new survey, of likely primary voters, that finds Social Security is “one issue that transcends the partisan divide and unites people of all ages.” Both surveyed Democrats and Republicans alike agreed that all presidential candidates should give details as to how they will strengthen or expand Social Security.

In recent presidential debates, moderators focus on the economy, abortion, gun control, immigration and defense, hardly touching on aging issues. The January 29 AARP survey found that voters want more specifics about Social Security. More than nine in 10 New Hampshire primary voters across party lines and age groups say it is important for presidential candidates to lay out their specific plans to make Social Security financially sound for future generations.

Presidential Candidates Dodging Social Security Issue

“New Hampshire primary voters are sending a clear message to the presidential candidates that having a plan to keep Social Security strong is a test of leadership,” said AARP New Hampshire State Director Todd Fahey. “Yet, some presidential candidates are dodging the issue. Our survey confirms New Hampshire primary voters agree if a candidate thinks they’re ready to be president, they should at least be able to tell voters where they stand on Social Security’s future.”

According to AARP, the recent survey of 1,004 likely New Hampshire primary voters, was conducted by telephone from January 12 through January 16, 2016. By design, half of the respondents consist of likely Democratic primary voters (501) and half consist of likely Republican primary voters (503).

The AARP survey is part of nonprofit’s 2016 presidential election issue campaign, “Take A Stand.” In November, the nonprofit launched its its 2016 election accountability campaign initiative which demands on behalf of America’s voters that presidential candidates detail their specific positions on making Social Security financially sound.
The survey findings indicate that nine in 10 New Hampshire primary voters (93 percent Democrat and 92 percent Republican) across party lines and age groups say its important for presidential candidates to lay out a detailed plan to make Social Security financially sound for future generations. Regardless of age, nearly half or more of likely primary voters in each party think this is “very important.”

Also, more than three in four New Hampshire primary voters, across party lines and across age groups, agree that having a plan for Social Security is a basic threshold for presidential leadership. This includes 89 percent of likely Democratic primary voters and 80 percent of likely Republican primary voters.

Moreover, nearly nine in ten or more voters across both parties and age groups believe it is important that the next president and congress take action to make Social Security financially sound. This includes 96 percent of Democratic primary voters as well as 92 percent of Republican primary voters.

“If our leaders don’t act, future generations could see their Social Security benefits cut by 25 percent. That’s a $4,000 to $10,000 per year benefit cut! This survey confirms how critical it is for the next president to have a plan to update Social Security and a commitment to act on that plan,” said Fahey.

On the question of which presidential candidate they expect to vote for on February 9, the AARP survey found that among likely Republican primary voters, Donald Trump is the leading choice for president (preferred by 32 percent) with Marco Rubio preferred by 14 percent and John Kasich preferred by 13 percent However, more than one in four (26 percent) are less certain who will get their vote.

Among likely Democratic primary voters, Bernie Sanders is the leading choice for president (preferred by 59 percent), with Hillary Clinton coming in second (preferred by 33 percent. But one in five (21 percent are less certain who will get their vote.

“AARP said early on in the election cycle that Social Security is too critical a matter – and one affecting far too many people – to allow it to be skimmed over, breezed by, or paid only lip service,” said AARP Rhode Island State Director Kathleen Connell. “The presidential candidates need to take a stand on how they would update Social Security to keep it financially strong and adequate for future generations,” she says.

“Unfortunately, Social Security does not seem to be top-of-mind for candidates nor a discussion that finds its way into the debates,” says Connell, observing that some candidates, including some frontrunners, remain silent on the Social Security issue.
(You can get the very latest news and read what candidates with plans did say at http://www.2016takeastand.org.)

Connell says, “The challenge itself – keeping Social Security strong for the future – gets talked about a lot. You can be sure that when a candidate or elected federal official visits a senior center there will be a pledge (one I happen to believe has been sincere in Rhode Island) to protect Social Security.”

“You don’t hear so much about how. The devil is in the details. And, as the saying goes, ‘It’s complicated,’” adds Connell.

Older Voters Have Political Clout

From inside the Beltway, Darrell M. West, Ph.D., Vice President and Director of Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution, considers voters age 50 and over are one of the most important voting blocs in the nation. “It is a numerous group and these people vote in higher percentages than those who are younger. They often are decisive in elections and candidates have to take their views seriously,” says West.

Connell agrees about the clout of older voters. “The average age for a Rhode Island voter in the 2012 presidential election was 48.6, and that was up from 48.5 in 2010. We know that older Rhode Islanders vote in high percentages and we know that the 50+ population is grown as people live longer. But I have to say that when it comes to Social Security, voters 50 and older are united on the issue; they expect some form of accountability from the candidates on how they would lead on this issue, she says.

Anyone who thinks they’re ready to be President of the United States should be able to tell voters how they’ll keep Social Security strong,” adds Connell. “If our leaders don’t act, future retirees could lose up to $10,000 a year. Every year our leaders wait and do nothing, finding a solution grows more difficult,” she says.

Aging issues impact everyone, says Connell. “When I am asked about ‘aging issues it seems to me to indicate how people often default to a narrow view of ageing. Access to and the cost of healthcare is an issue for all ages. Taxation is an issue for all ages. Affordable housing is an issue for all ages. Protecting pensions is an issue for all ages, even for voters working in their 30s or 40s – as is the issue of Social Security. Our aging population presents a challenge to all Americans and I think you will see 50+ voters becoming increasingly liked-minded making more and more of an effort to be heard.”

Putting the Brakes on Testosterone Prescriptions

Published in Pawtucket Times on March 30, 2015

Sophisticated mass marketing pitching testosterone to combat age-related complaints combined with lax medical guidelines for testosterone prescribing can be hazardous to your physical health, even leading to strokes and death, warns an editorial in this month’s Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.
The March 2015 editorial coauthored by Dr. Thomas Perls, MD, MPH, Geriatrics Section, Department of Medicine, Boston Medical Center in Boston, and Dr. David Handelsman, MBBS, Ph.D., ANZAC Research Institute, in New South Wales, Australia, expressed concern over commercial-driven sales of testosterone, effectively increasing from “$324 million in 2002 to a whopping $2 billion in 2012, and the number of testosterone doses prescribed climbing from “100 million in 2007 to half a billion in 2012.”

Pitting Patients Against Patients

The editorial authors see the “40 fold” increase of testosterone sales as the result of “disease mongering,” the practice of widening the diagnostic boundaries of an illness and aggressively promoting the disease and its treatment in order to expand the markets for the drug. Glitzy medical terms, like “low T” and “andropause,” showcased in direct-to-consumer product advertising pit aging baby boomers against their physicians, who demand the prescriptions, say the authors.

“Clearly, previous attempts to warn doctors and the public of this disease mongering that is potentially medically harmful and costly have not been effective, says co-author Dr. Perls.

The epidemic of testosterone prescribing over the last decade has been primarily the proposing of testosterone as a tonic for sexual dysfunction and/or reduced energy in middle-aged men, neither of which are genuine testosterone deficiency states,” observes Dr. Handelsman.

According to the National Institutes on Aging (NIA), the nation’s media has increasingly reported about “male menopause,” a condition supposedly caused by diminishing testosterone levels in aging men. “There is very little scientific evidence that this condition, also called andropause or viropause, exists. The likelihood that an aging man will experience a major shutdown of testosterone production similar to a woman’s menopause is very remote.”

The authors agree with the NIA’s assessment, but go further. They point out in their editorial that for many men, testosterone does not decline with age among men retaining excellent general health, and if it does, the decline is often due to common underlying problems such as obesity and poor fitness. Those who hawk testosterone have developed advertising that focus on common complaints among older men such as decreased energy, feeling sad, sleep problems, decreased physical performance or increased fat.

But, many times a testosterone level won’t even be obtained and the patient is told that, simply based on these common symptoms alone or with minor reductions in serum testosterone, they have “late onset hypogonadism” or that their erectile dysfunction may be improved with testosterone treatment, say the authors. But the authors also point out the true hypogonadism is the cause in fewer than 10% of men with erectile dysfunction.

FDA Enters Debate

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) recent dual commission findings concluded that testosterone treatment (marketed as ‘low T’) is not indicated for age-associated decline. The benefits of this “deceptive practice” remain unproven with the risks far outweighing the perceived benefits,” says the agency. Pharmaceutical companies are now required to include warning information about the possibility of an increased risk of heart attacks and stroke on all testosterone product labels.

Health Canada, Canada’s FDA, recently echoed the FDA’s committee findings that age-related hypogonadism has not been proven to be a disease-justifying treatment with testosterone. Both agencies warn of an increased risk of blood clots in the legs and lungs and the possibility of increased risk for heart attack associated with testosterone use.

In a statement, James McDonald, the chief administration officer for the Board of Medical Licensure and Discipline, says: “There is a concern in healthcare regarding direct-to-consumer prescribing of medication. At times, the prescription is not evidence-based, and can lead to misuse. There is concern with Testosterone, a schedule 3 controlled substance,that can be used as a performance-enhancing drug. The Rhode Island Board of Medical Licensure (BMLD) investigates complaints regarding all types of misuse of prescription medications as well as complaints regarding over-prescribing.”

Drs. Handelsman and Perls also warn about another drug commonly hawked for anti-aging, growth hormone. The FDA requires that doctors perform a test to demonstrate that the body does not produce enough growth hormone. “Those who market and sell HGH for these common symptoms nearly never perform the test because if they did a properly performed test, it would almost never be positive because the diseases that cause growth hormone deficiency in adults, such as pituitary gland tumors, are very rare,” said Perls. Growth hormone is well known for its side effects, including joint swelling and pain and diabetes. Ironically, opposite of anti-aging claims, growth hormone accelerates aging, increases cancer risk and shortens life span in animal studies.

In the editorial, Perls and Handelsman call upon professional medical societies and governmental agencies to take definitive steps to stop disease mongering of growth hormone and testosterone for conjured-up deficiencies.
“These steps include the banning of ‘educational’ and product advertising of testosterone for these contrived indications,” said Perls. “Furthermore, the FDA and Health Canada should require a physician’s demonstration of a disease process proven to benefit from testosterone administration in order to fill a lawful prescription for testosterone.”

Tightening Up Prescription Guidelines

The issue of prescribing testosterone is firmly on the medical profession’s radar screen with the FDA’s recent committee’s findings and Perls and Handelsman’s pointed editorial calling for the medical profession to seriously tighten up the lax consensus guidelines in order to stop the medically inappropriate prescribing of testosterone.
Rather than pushing testosterone, wouldn’t it be a “mitzvah – a good deed- if the nation’s pharmaceutical companies ran public service commercials stressing the importance of losing weight, exercising and eating nutritious meals as a way to effectively combat age-related problems, like low libido. But, this won’t happen because it is not a revenue generator or good for the company’s bottom line.

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12 is a Pawtucket-based writer covering aging, health care and medical issues. He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.

You Are Never Too Old for Romance

Published in Pawtucket Times, February 13, 2015

             Packing your bags can simply become the first step you take toward rekindling your relationship. Last week, with Valentine’s Day fast approaching, Love and Relationships Ambassador Dr. Pepper Schwartz weighed in on a recently released AARP Travel study that reveals that 85 percent of Americans 45-plus have not taken a romantic vacation in the past two years.

For Dr. Schwartz, Ph.D., a sociologist and sexologist teaching at the University of Washington Seattle Washington, an author or co-author of 19 books, magazines, website columns and a television personality on the subject of sexuality, the findings reveal a need for couples to plan romantic getaways as a way to spend quality time with their partner and bolster their relationship.

Make Time for Love

In a release, Dr. Schwartz, co-author of the newly released book Places for Passion, says “There is every indication that romantic travel really does refresh a couple’s relationship, makes them feel more in love, and makes them crave each other’s company,” “And there is also research, which indicates that trying something new is the best bonding mechanism of all.”

“I wish we could be as romantic at home as we can on a trip- but there is something about getting away that lets us forget about our daily stuff and instead, fully concentrate on each other,” says Dr. Schwartz. “When we stay at home, it’s hard not to answer the phone or try and answer one more email- but in fact, we seem to need to get away- to have a new stage setting’ for romance  to bring out the best in us,” she adds.

“That of course goes double if you have children at home; even a short getaway without them is a great romantic boost,” notes Schwartz. .

But, if a vacation can be healthy for your relationship, why are the numbers of those who have taken romantic vacations so low? According to AARP Travel research, people most often cite busy schedules and tight budgets as the primary reasons to not pack their bags, forgoing a needed vacation. However, Dr. Schwartz says that with smart and easy-to-use tools and resources, the perfect romantic vacation can be just as relaxing to plan as it is to enjoy and affordable.

Creating New Memories, Igniting Passions

Dr. Schwartz’s book, Places for Passion, co-written with Dr. Janet Lever, Ph.D., a sociology professor  at California State University in Lost Angeles, who lead teams of researchers who designed three of the largest sex surveys ever tabulated (also coauthoring  Glamour’s Sex and Health column), outlines 75 destinations across the world for couples to explore and create new memories.  Because people have such different preferences Dr. Schwartz and Lever’s 416 page book, published in December 2014, identifies romantic destinations in urban areas, around beaches, in places that offer national wonders, or those places for the adventurous.

“However, whether we are recommending, Santa Fe, Bali, Zion or Capetown, there are certain romantic ‘must haves’ that are specified in the book, says Dr. Schwartz. She also urges aging travelers to avoid “convention hotels” which can ruin a romantic mood. “We don’t like Bed and Breakfast Inns unless they are built for privacy and still provide private, luxurious bathrooms,” adds Dr. Schwartz, noting she and Lever provide the reader with a full listing of hotels, restaurants and attractions– all geared for romance.

Creating the Mood

Get expert advice to create the romantic mood, says Lever, suggesting that the hotel concierge or manager be approached for interesting ideas or help in creating dinners in unexpected places.  “We’ve heard of people placed at the side of waterfalls, alone in front of the fireplace, or even loaned the balcony in an unused suite,” she says, stressing, “You won’t know what your options might be if you don’t ask.”

Lever says, “If you are already on vacation, splurge on a room service dinner.  If you’re not, look to the future and create an ‘I Owe You’ for a future travel getaway.  Set your date, so it really happens, then enjoy a nice dinner and ponder the choices for your promised vacation.”

Book reviewers are raving about Places for Passion, too.  Dr. Helen Fisher, Ph.D., Anthropologist at Rutgers University, says, “Travel is the liquor of romance. Novelty triggers the brain’s dopamine system to sustain romantic passion. This surge soon fires up testosterone to tickle your sex drive.  And as you hug and kiss, you feel the oxytocia system – ushering in feelings of deep attachment.  So Peper Schwartz and Janet Lever have it right with t his charming book.  It’s full of great ideas on how to keep love alive.

“As for spice, we are the same authors who wrote The Getaway Guide for a Great Sex Weekend! It’s a much different type of book with a lot of tips for providing more eroticism and sexual playfulness, adds Dr. Schwartz. “But for starters people who could make sure they brought sexier clothes to sleep in (or even take off), and maybe rent an erotic movie or read a sexy book. Giving each other a shampoo and head rub in the shower a foot or hand massage afterwards also helps heat up the evening, “she says.

AARP Travel (www.aarp.org/romantictravel) includes information about most of those destinations on the website alongside other planning guides, which can be valuable tools for couples looking to enhance their relationship this Valentine’s Day weekend.

To watch Dr. Pepper Schwartz talk about AARP Travel’s research on the importance of Romantic Travel, please visit: origin-qps.onstreammedia.com/origin/multivu_archive/MNR/66070_Pepper_Schwartz_Valentines_Day_0202.mp4.

(Note: This is the unedited version submitted to the newspapers.