How to reduce the risk of cognitive decline with age

File 20170825 28531 1jzrcc9
Jne Valokuvaus/Shutterstock

by Hayley Wright, Coventry University
Originally published in The Conversation, August 25, 2017

Research into how we can keep our brains healthy as we age has gained momentum in recent years. There is now an increased focus on the changes that we can makes to our health and lifestyle, which may prevent dementia. Here are some things that research has shown reduce a person’s risk of cognitive decline with age.

Sex

Our latest study shows that having more sex is associated with better cognitive function.

We recruited 28 men and 45 women, aged between 50 and 83, to take part in our study. We found that those who had sex weekly scored on average 2% higher on some cognitive tests than those who had sex monthly, and 4% higher than those who never had sex. These results were shown on tests of verbal fluency (such as naming as many animals as possible in one minute) and visuo-spatial abilities (drawing familiar objects from memory or copying complex pictures).

The association could be the result of the heightened levels of intimacy and companionship inherent in sexual relationships (that is, an increase in social contact), or there could be a purely biological explanation – where regular surges in arousal and release of sex-related hormones (such as oxytocin and dopamine) could be affecting brain function. Of course, as with the age-old nature/nurture debate, our answer could lie in a combination of the social and biological impact of sexual activity.

Could it be sex hormones that keep our brains young?
nd3000/Shutterstock

Sleep

Many studies show that getting enough sleep is important for preventing cognitive decline. A study of cognitively healthy people aged 65 and over showed that daytime napping is associated with a lower risk of cognitive decline at two-year and ten-year follow-ups. Conversely, excessive daytime sleepiness and getting less than six-and-a-half hours of sleep at night are associated with an increased risk of cognitive decline at ten-year follow-up.

A more recent study showed that longer sleep duration and poorer sleep quality are both associated with poorer memory in men and women aged 65 and older. These studies all support the advice that we should be getting around eight hours of sleep a night. Sleep disturbance in early adulthood is associated with poorer cognitive function in later life, which just goes to shows how sleep can affect our brain health across the lifespan.

Active leisure

New studies show that increased participation in social, mental and physical activities is linked to a slower rate of cognitive decline in older adults. This research shows a “dose-response” relationship, where the more activities we do, the slower the rate of decline becomes.

The following activities are good examples of the types of mental, social and physical leisure activities that are good for your brain:

● Mental: puzzles, games and quizzes, reading or even adding up your shopping bill in your head as you go around the supermarket.

● Social: visiting friends and family, regular phone or email conversations with people, going to the cinema or doing some volunteer work.

● Physical: gardening, housework, walking for around 30 minutes a day, or doing chair-based or sitting exercises.

The more you do, the slower the decline.
ABO PHOTOGRAPHY/Shutterstock

Gender equality

Studies have found that women may be at reduced risk of cognitive decline, simply because of the activities they choose. There is little that we can do to change our gender, without drastic surgery of course – but we can be aware of the gender stereotypes and expectations that are all around us, which can affect the activities we engage in.

In a study of Australian older adults, there were notable gender differences in the leisure activities that people took part in. For example, women were more likely to engage in social activities, reading and volunteer work, all of which are known to slow cognitive decline. The way that cultures or societies perceive gender roles can affect people’s expectations of themselves and others. If this changes the lifestyle and leisure activities that men and women engage in, then it could well have an effect on cognitive abilities in later life.

Get an early (in life) start

When it comes to doing things to prevent cognitive decline, it’s never too early to start. Some studies show that interventions in older adults have little effect – but that could be because the participants are already suffering from cognitive decline. Studies mapping the rate of cognitive decline in older participants who do not yet have dementia or cognitive impairment, however, show promising results.

The ConversationWe all experience cognitive decline as we age. This is a natural process and occurs at different rates for everybody, much like declines in physical abilities with age. But it’s time we started addressing this much earlier in life, rather than waiting till middle age or older. It’s time for us to take a lifelong approach to keeping our brains healthy as we age.

Hayley Wright, Research Fellow, Coventry University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

A Strong Opinion: Stop Counter-Protesting

Even if the protesters are the KKK, white supremacists and neo-Nazis.

By Rick Gell
Reprinted from Alternet, August 21, 2017

First, My Definition

Counter-protest: an organized response, on the same day, at the same time and in the same place as a previously planned protest.

Now, My Argument

Counter-protests, by their very nature, escalate the risk of violence, and are therefore a less desirable tactic where the ends do not justify the means.

The Issue Is Irrelevant

This has nothing to do with which side one is on, the moral superiority of one view or the vile nature of another. If Planned Parenthood plans a march to support a woman’s right to choose, right-to-lifers should not counter-protest. And if right-to-lifers plan a march to condemn abortion, pro-choice supporters should not counter-protest. Resentment toward crashing an event is human nature and with 365 days, each side has ample time to march and make their counter-argument.

Yes, even if the protesters are the KKK, white supremacists and neo-Nazis.

Deflate an Opponent, Don’t Inflate Them

The Women’s March attracted 4 million people.

How many extremists with torches were marching Friday night?

How many Nazis, white nationalists and KKK members marched on Saturday?

In a New York Times op-ed piece on August 19, Michael Signer, mayor of Charlottesville, suggested “several thousand alt-right activists and white supremacists came to my city.” He is off by a factor of 4. According to Joe Ruiz of NPR and Sandy Hausman of member station WVTF, 500 protesters were on-site with more than double the number of counter-protesters. Vox reported “hundreds of marchers” and AP “at least 500” for Saturday.

The consensus seems to come in at 500 on Saturday and less than 250 people on Friday night.

The mayor’s error is easy to understand, and I’d bet if Nate Silver or another pollster were to do a random survey and ask Americans whether 100,000, 10,000 or 1,000 right-wing extremists were in attendance in Charlottesville, many would exaggerate attendance due to the blanket TV coverage and violent nature of the event.

The Charlottesville police, according to Doug Stanglin of USA Today, estimated 2,000 to 6,000 marchers would attend before the event, billed by organizers as the biggest gathering of alt-right, white nationalists, KKK and neo-Nazis in decades.

In 1926, 50,000 KKK marched down Pennsylvania Avenue. Adjusted for current population, that would be close to 150,000 people today. A march before commercial air travel that did not include other groups. Today, Unite the Right has the benefit of a well-oiled, online ecosystem and convenient transit to bring supporters together.

And all they could muster were 500 people.

Without counter-protesters, without violence, there would be no blanket cable news coverage. And probably no innocent deaths. Might the headline have read “Unite the Right march fizzles”? What if the Democratic response was “70 years ago, 50,000 KKK marched down Pennsylvania Avenue, and today white nationalists, neo-Nazis and other alt-right groups combined, could barely muster 500 people. And while one Nazi is one too many, these are troubled, fringe people with an ideology America abhors.”

Violence Is More Likely, and Violence Rarely Benefits the Forces of Good

I am not a pacifist, believe revolution can be justified, but the bar is exceedingly high for actions that can cost innocent lives. Counter-protesting is confrontational, counter-productive and a troubling trend, if every protest in America is now going to be a head-to-head stand-off. A near impossible scenario for law enforcement and first responders.

The odds of violent encounters ratchet up, and violence is out of sync with the core ideologies of the clear majority of liberals and the left. Organizers of Unite the Right believe violence is a viable way to solve problems, came armed to the teeth, wanted violence to occur, and got what they wanted.

The Mob Effect

Any psychology student can cite studies about how people act in a mob and it ain’t pretty. People are pumped-up, taunting each other, and more prone to take actions they might not take in less heated circumstances. Counter-protests put two groups, who may hate each other, together face-to-face at a moment of heightened emotions.

It is simply a prescription for violence.

Never Elevate a Lesser Opponent

A counter-protest by its very existence is going to make an event bigger. In Charlottesville, the number of counter-protesters was double the size of the original protesters, greatly increasing the magnitude of the event. Yes, in Boston the counter-protest was so large the nationalist event didn’t even occur, but in Charlottesville opponents met and violence did happen. Incumbent candidates avoid direct engagement with challengers for a reason. Why legitimize a lesser, fringe candidate? Sharing the stage always places the lesser opponent on a more equal plain.

David Duke on TV, again?

Let’s Minimize Antifa

Michael Bray, author of “Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook” appeared on “Meet the Press” with Richard Cohen of the Southern Poverty Law Center to discuss the Antifa group that supports violence as a legitimate response to fascism. Bray was clear: “Fascism cannot be defeated by speech,” arguing speech alone has failed historically.

Richard Cohen, who as legal counsel for the SPLC has won many landmark legal cases against white supremacists, strongly disagreed. Heidi Beirich, director of the SPLC Intelligence Project, speaking to the New York Times, said, “We’re against violence, just straight up. If you want to protest racists and anti-Semites, it needs to be peacefully and hopefully somewhere away from where those guys are rallying.”

An Antifa supporter in the New York Times said, “You need violence in order to protect non-violence.” Another Antifa supporter punched white supremacist Richard B. Spencer at the inauguration, claiming it was justified to punch a neo-Nazi.

Do we want to see people punching a socialist, transsexual or atheist because it is now okay to punch people at public events because you believe they have extreme views?

If you are with the SPLC, and concerned about the rise of Antifa, then you will recognize that a counter-protest, even if the vast majority of counter-protesters are peaceful, runs the risk of an Antifa action painting the entire group with a violent brush, while providing unnecessary talking points to the real extremists.

The Lizard People

It is estimated over 10 million Americans believe there are lizard people who live underground, eat babies and run the country. In 2017, to believe in the KKK, white nationalism and the Third Reich is comparable. James Alex Fields, who allegedly drove the car into the crowd in Charlottesville, killing Heather Heyer, had a history of violent behavior. Much like the petty criminal who claims a last-minute allegiance to Islam, to ensure blanket media coverage as a “terrorist” when committing a horrific crime, are we feeding extremists’ sense of isolation and core mental illness with direct confrontation and counter-protesting? Should we be sending 1,000 psychiatrists, therapists and spiritual leaders to an alt-right protest instead, to deliver a stronger message about the participants and their state of mind?

When Mathew Heimbach, founder of the Nationalist Front, calls Charlottesville, “The largest nationalist rally in over two decades,” the reality is he can only attract 250 to 500 people in a nation of 325 million, even with free tiki torches. When Heimbach suggests they “achieved all their objectives” and “We asserted ourselves as the voice of white America. We had zero vehicles damaged,” is it ideology, or mental illness?

Fighting Smartly

My opposition to counter-protesting is not meant to ignore or diminish the threat. The extreme alt-right online-world is real. According to the SPLC, there are 276 militias operating in the United States today. And according to U.S. government reports of 85 violent extremist incidents resulting in death since 911, far right-wing extremists were responsible for 62 and radical Islamist extremists 23.

And reporting from the likes of Vice News, once again eating the lunch of mainstream news, with powerful embedded coverage by Elle Reeve of Vice News Tonight, is essential. But even Josh Tyrangiel, executive producer of Vice News Tonight, twice in one interview with Charlie Rose, cautioned against glamorization saying, “I am very aware of the double-edged sword there. We do not want to glamorize them, we do not want to draw more attention to them, but obviously we are in an urgent moment.”

I hear the counter-arguments. We must fight them at every turn. Donald Trump’s true nature has now been revealed. Corporations are fleeing the administration. Confederate statues are being torn down across America. Racists are losing their jobs. A secretive, online movement is exposed and a national conversation continues.

But Heather Heyer and two police officers are dead, bad actors feel emboldened and there is a better way. An event advertised as the Woodstock of the alt-right could barely attract 500 people. Those people are on the fringe, are deeply troubled and are in need of mental health services. Let members speak at their rally. Then organize a Unite the Country march a week later, with 100,000 peaceful attendees.

Let’s recognize how far we’ve come, be tactical, avoid violence and an arms race of counter-protesting, while acknowledging how far we still must go.

A legal snarl in Idaho portends future conflicts over water

As the climate changes, dams face new challenges for water rights and releases.

By Emily Benson, High Country News

On a sunny day in late April, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released hundreds of millions of gallons of water from Idaho’s Lucky Peak Dam, a dozen miles upstream of Boise. The dam operators call it a “rooster tail” display; thousands of observers took in the spectacle. The water, roaring out of a dam gate, arced high above the Boise River, rainbows shimmering in its spray.

Rooster tails are one way the Corps releases excess water to reduce the risk of flooding — a partially empty reservoir can capture spring runoff before it can race downstream and inundate Boise. Releases are necessary about seven years out of every 10, including this year, when basin flows were among the highest recorded. Lucky Peak and two associated reservoirs also store water for irrigation. In snow-heavy years, that means dam operators must strike a balance between letting enough water go early in the spring and retaining sufficient water for the hot, dry days to come.

Getting releases right is crucial for the farmers who depend on the Boise River to irrigate crops like sugar beets and seed corn. The river also waters lawns and parks, and supplies about 30 percent of Boise’s drinking water. As in other Western states, water users with older rights get first dibs. But since 2013, several irrigation companies and the Idaho Department of Water Resources have been fighting over administrative details that determine which water Lucky Peak irrigators are entitled to use during a wet year: flood-control releases, or the “refill” water that collects after releases are done. The case is now before the Idaho Supreme Court. Its outcome will determine how the water in the Boise River system is doled out — no small consequence for the people and fish that depend on it. The fight itself, however, highlights a larger challenge water managers across the West are confronting: How do you operate dams effectively as climate change alters the historical patterns used to predict runoff timing and volume?

Water being released from Lucky Peak Dam creates a rooster tail flowing into the Boise River.
David R. Frazier Photolibrary, Inc. / Alamy Stock

The Department of Water Resources contends that water counts toward storage rights upon entering the reservoir. That means flood-control releases could include already-allotted water. But irrigators say those releases arrive too early in the season to be useful, sometimes while snow still covers their fields. They claim they are entitled to the water that subsequently refills the reservoir, which is distributed later in the summer when they need it most.

While the department does dole out refill water, it considers it to be excess and unappropriated water that doesn’t fulfill any reservoir storage rights. In September 2016, District Court Judge Eric Wildman ruled partially in favor of the department, writing that water entering the reservoir satisfies users’ rights. However, he also pronounced the department’s practice of allocating refill unlawful, leaving the refill water distribution in limbo. The Supreme Court is expected to make a decision by year’s end. “For anybody to say that (releases) should be counted against our storage rights, as water that we’re actually using — it’s ridiculous,” says Roger Batt, executive director of the Treasure Valley Water Users Association, the irrigation companies’ lobbying group.

Regardless of its legality, the department’s method has largely kept water flowing to the irrigators. Since its implementation in 1986, there’s only been a single year in which there were flood-control releases but users didn’t get their full amount.

But the problem isn’t purely theoretical, says Mathew Weaver, Idaho Department of Water Resources deputy director. With no rights attached to the refill, future demands could take water that current users have come to rely upon. Extremely wet years could, paradoxically, leave fields and lawns parched if big flood-control releases happen and the refill water has been claimed for other uses. A similar case occurred in Idaho’s Upper Snake River Basin, where large diversions for groundwater recharge spurred a 2015 settlement in which irrigators gained legal rights to refill water. Those rights, however, date to 2014, meaning they have lower priority than older water rights.

Adding to the complexity of the situation, refilling reservoirs may be getting more difficult, thanks in part to shifting precipitation patterns caused by climate change. Greater extremes — wetter wet years and drier dry years — and earlier spring thaws could make it harder to manage dams, says Doug Kenney, the director of the Western Water Policy Program at the University of Colorado. “All these operating guidelines that you built up based on data from the last century just don’t work very well anymore,” he says.

Whether next year is wet enough to warrant a rooster tail display at Lucky Peak depends on nature; exactly how flood-control releases will be accounted for, however, is up to the Idaho Supreme Court. Whatever the decision, climate change will continue to impact water in the West. “We really need to use our reservoirs more skillfully than we have in the past,” Kenney says. “And it’s a challenge.”


Emily Benson is an HCN editorial fellow.

This story was originally published at High Country News (hcn.org) on August 4, 2017.

 

Centrist Democrats Riled as Warren Says Days of ‘Lukewarm’ Policies Are Over

“The Democratic Party isn’t going back to the days of welfare reform and the crime bill.”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) addresses a rally against Trump Administration budget cuts to education funding outside the U.S. Capitol July 19, 2017 in Washington, D.C.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) addresses a rally against Trump administration budget cuts to education funding outside the U.S. Capitol July 19, 2017 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

In a wide-ranging and fiery keynote speech last weekend at the 12th annual Netroots Nation conference in Atlanta, Georgia, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) relentlessly derided moderate Democratic pundits calling for the party to move “back to the center” and declared that Democrats must unequivocally “fight for progressive solutions to our nation’s challenges.”

“We’re not going back to the days when universal healthcare was something Democrats talked about on the campaign trail but were too chicken to fight for after they got elected.”
—Sen. Elizabeth Warren

As The Hill‘s Amie Parnes reported on Friday, Warren’s assertion during the weekend gathering that progressives are “the heart and soul of today’s Democratic Party”—and not merely a “wing”—raised the ire of so-called “moderate” Democrats, who have insisted that progressive policies won’t sell in swing states.

But recent survey results have consistently shown that policies like single-payer healthcare, progressive taxation, a higher minimum wage, and tuition-free public college are extremely popularamong the broader electorate. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)—the most prominent advocate of an ambitious, far-reaching progressive agenda—has consistently polled as the most popular politician in the country.

For Warren, these are all indicators that those pining for a rightward shift “back to the center” are deeply mistaken.

Specifically, Warren took aim at a recent New York Times op-ed by Democratic commentators Mark Penn and Andrew Stein, who argued that Democrats must moderate their positions in order to take back Congress and, ultimately, the presidency.

Warren ridiculed this argument as a call for a return to Bill Clinton-era policies that “lock[ed] up non-violent drug offenders and ripp[ed] more holes in our economic safety net.”

A free and independent press is essential to the health of a functioning democracy

“The Democratic Party isn’t going back to the days of welfare reform and the crime bill,” Warren said. “We’re not going back to the days of being lukewarm on choice. We’re not going back to the days when universal healthcare was something Democrats talked about on the campaign trail but were too chicken to fight for after they got elected.”

“And,” Warren concluded, “we’re not going back to the days when a Democrat who wanted to run for a seat in Washington first had to grovel on Wall Street.”

For months media outlets have speculated that Warren is gearing up for a 2020 presidential run, but she has denied the rumors.

Warren’s remarks came as a large coalition of progressive groups is mobilizing during the congressional recess to pressure Democrats to formally endorse the “People’s Platform,” a slate of ambitious legislation that includes Rep. John Conyers’ (D-Mich.) Medicare for All bill.

Watch Warren’s full speech at Netroots Nation:

Show Up at NID Today at 1 pm & Oppose CA Taxpayer Dollars for Centennial Dam

From South Yuba River Citizen’s League:

Show  Up at NID Today & Oppose CA Taxpayer Dollars for Centennial Dam

 

KNOW & GO: 
Who: Dam Watchdogs
What: Show up for NID’s Special Board Meeting; Tell them to vote “NO” on Resolution No. 2017-24
When: Today, Wednesday, August 9, beginning at 1pm
Where: 1036 W Main St, Grass Valley
Why: NID Board will be voting on a resolution to apply for CA taxpayer money to fund Centennial Dam

Today, the NID Board will hold a special meeting and vote on a resolution to approve an application that would put NID in line for California state taxpayer money to build Centennial Dam. Help fill the room tomorrow and encourage the Board to vote “NO” on Resolution No. 2017-24.

A successful application to the California Water Commission (CWC) burdens NID with numerous requirements including supplying water outside the County of Origin in direct contradiction to the project’s statement of purpose to benefit NID customers. The Centennial Dam project, which began as a $160 million project is now estimated to cost over a billion dollars.

It is alarming that NID appears to be changing the direction for the Centennial Dam project without providing any information or time for the public to consider it – especially since the application is due to the CWC in two business days.

This is another unfortunate example of NID taking actions important to the community without adequate public notice and participation.

The deadline for this application was known six months ago. Given this project is controversial, financially risky, and will provide an uncertain benefit, the NID Board and staff should be operating with full transparency and inviting public participation. Rather, staff is attempting to pass this item through on the consent agenda, two days before it’s due, with no copy of the application nor supporting materials, at a “special” board meeting scheduled at the very last minute.

Come to the meeting so that we can question NID about this application:

  • What are the implications for NID if this funding application is successful? The public has a right to know.
  • What will NID ratepayers, taxpayers, and customers be obligated to do if this application goes through?
  • How much money does the application request from the California Water Commission (CWC) and what is the money for?
  • How much water is NID committing to send out of the district?
  • Does NID have a qualified consultant working on the application, and if so, who are they and when were they hired? How much has and will the application cost to submit and follow up on?
  • Why is the funding application action being revealed to the Board and public two business days before the due date, when the deadline has been known for six months?

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