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Irregular lifestyle can cause brain shrinkage, finds study


People who smoke, are overweight, and have other health problems in middle age may be at increased risk of developing signs of brain shrinkage and diminished planning and organization skills as they age, a study has found. High blood pressure and diabetes are other health problems linked to brain shrinkage and mental decline. The study is published in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

Brain shrinkage, or cerebral atrophy as called in medical terms, is the loss of cells in brain. It can lead to a decrease of the functions controlled by that area of the brain. If the cerebral hemispheres (the two lobes of the brain that form the cerebrum) are affected, conscious thought and voluntary processes may be impaired. Slowly the brain starts losing volume, to develop lesions secondary to presumed vascular injury. The condition is such that it affects its ability to plan and make decisions as quickly as 10 years later.

The study involved 1,352 people who did not have dementia and whose average age was 54. They took standard tests to determine if they were overweight, had high blood pressure, diabetes, and unhealthy cholesterol levels.

In addition, each underwent MRI brain scans over the period of a decade, with the first of such tests starting about seven years after the initial examinations to detect risk factors.

Study participants with high blood pressure developed a condition in the brain known as white matter change, or small areas of blood vessel damage, faster than people with normal blood pressure readings. As they aged, they also scored lower on tests of planning and decision-making than participants with normal blood pressure.

Participants with diabetes in middle age lost brain volume at a faster pace than people without the disease.

Smokers lost brain volume overall at a faster rate than nonsmokers. The smokers also were more likely to have a rapid increase in brain white matter changes, according to the researchers.

Obese people at middle age were more likely to be in the top 25% of those with the faster rate of decline in planning and decision-making skills. And participants with a high waist-to-hip ratio were more likely to be in the top 25% of those with faster decrease in their brain volume.

The researchers write that previous studies have suggested that exposure to risk factors such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and smoking during middle age seems associated with an increased risk of dementia.

Thus, studying the impact of these risk factors could help scientists better understand the mechanisms that increase the risk of dementia in some people.

Researchers say that modifying the risk factors during middle age may reduce the odds of people developing dementia as they get older.

The study is published in the Aug. 2, issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

Write to d-sector  |  Editor's Note

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Corruption Watch

The bad news is that corruption has not only sustained but has grown in size and stature in the country. With scams being a regular feature, seventy per cent respondents in a survey have rightfully opined that corruption has continued to increase in India. One in every two interviewed admit having paid a bribe for availing public services during last one year. Transparency International's latest survey reveals that the political parties top the chart for the most corrupt public institutions, followed by police force and legislatures. No wonder, India continues to make new records on the global corruption arena!

The shocking revelation is that the health and education sectors haven't remained untouched by this phenomenon. With 5th and 6th positions respectively for these sectors on the public perception chart on corruption, corruption has crept insidiously into these sectors of hope for the masses. With bureaucracy being fourth in the list of corrupt institutions in the country, corruption seems to have been non-formally institutionalized with little hope if public services would ever be effective in the country. With economic growth having literally institutionalized corruption, are we now expecting corrupt to be socially responsible - a different CSR.

Poor. Who?

Not giving 'aid' to India is one thing but calling it 'rich' is quite another. If one in three of the world's malnourished children live in India, what does average daily income of $3 indicate? It perhaps means that there is a relative decline in poverty - people are 'less poor' than what they used to be in the past. But having crossed the World Bank arbitrary threshold of $2 a day does not absolve the 'developed' countries of their obligation to part with 0.7 per cent of their Gross National Income in development aid. Should this three-decade old figure not be revised?  

An interesting debate in UK's House of Commons delved on future of development assistance by the British Government. While prioritizing limited resources has been a concern, there has been no denying the fact that development aid must be guided towards tangible gains over a short period of time to start with. There are difficult choices for elected governments to make - should they invest in long-term primary education or in short-term university scholarships? Which of these will bring gains and trigger long-term transformation in the society. As politicians continue to be divided on the matter, poverty persists!!   

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