The Edmond Sun

February 8, 2013

Science brings forth great aging news

Mike Hinkle
Special to The Sun

EDMOND — Three of my favorite things are reading, riding motorcycles and getting older (considering the alternatives). Science news has something to say about them all this week. Let’s take these in reverse order and begin with aging.

To be honest, I have my eye on that century mark. I plan to exceed 100 years. Current scientific progress regarding health and fitness makes this a reasonably achievable goal. This incorporates some reasonably prudent lifestyle practices relative to diet, exercise and cognitive skills, but we can be certain that science will help by working overtime to crack the negative mysteries of growing old.

But, like any forward-thinking traveler on a long road, we must be mindful of highway hazards.

In the latest issue of Neurology scientists report by 2050 there may be 13.8 million U.S. residents battling Alzheimer’s. This cruel illness currently affects an estimated five million Americans. Presently, there is no cure and no reliably effective treatment for moderate to severe cases. Obviously, any ambition to achieve advanced old age is empty if the process deprives us of our ability to understand and appreciate the gift.

Now here’s the good news. Practically every week science makes some incremental step in discovering how Alzheimer’s begins, how it can be avoided and how it might be combated. Here’s one example. This week, Dr. Milan Fiala of David Geffen School of Medicine, UCLA, announced that researchers have discovered how vitamin D3 and omega-3 fatty acids (DHA) may be useful in combating the disease. This means we may be able to take dietary steps to equip our bodies to win the war against Alzheimer’s — or at least battle it to a stalemate. Happily, we might be able to make changes now that will increase our chances of heading off this terrible obstacle on our road to achieving happy old age.

So what’s the news about motorcycling? According to the latest issue of the journal Injury Prevention motorcyclists older than 60 are three times more likely to be hospitalized after a crash than younger riders. Newsflash here: We don’t need science to tell us this. Our common sense tells us that once we pass that “threescore” mark, every one of us that continues to mount up needs to be aware that our bones and muscles “ain’t what they used to be.”

Furthermore, our reaction time may be getting a little “iffy.” We must take this into account just like we take account of weather, road conditions and bike readiness. The most alarming thing about the BBC article reporting this research is the suggestion that one possible factor in these statistics is “senior stupidity.” Some older riders may be jumping on machines that are just “too much bike for them.” Some unwise retirees are rekindling long neglected romances with motorcycling and moving straight to the big machines without any reorientation. Bottom line here is this: Motorcycling is a tremendously rewarding endeavor. But seniors who ride must be aware that potential consequences for missteps — even minor ones — are much more severe than they used to be. We must internalize this fact and act accordingly.

Lastly, let’s talk about books. If I’m the victim of any shortcoming that might be called an addiction, it’s my boundless love of books. Though I try not to be overly attached to any possessions, I adore owning books. When e-readers appeared, I resolved to have no contact with the diabolical devices. I’ve changed. Now, through the miracle of digital storage, I can carry a complete library with me in my briefcase; Classics, reference works, the latest bestsellers, daily newspapers and magazines — it’s amazing. This week, research from the Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz, Germany, released a report suggesting that older readers cover material faster and easier on e-readers with no reduction in understanding. Despite the understandable preference for books, seniors who are coaxed into trying these new devices will find their reading experience enhanced. In addition, they will have greater access to a wider variety of material wherever they go. OK, I still have my library but I can now cram it all into an e-device and take it with me on my far flung travels.

What can we conclude from this week’s science news? We can take heart from the fact that we don’t necessarily have to fall victim to Alzheimer’s. Here’s a “no-brainer.” Senior motorcyclists — you need to be careful. Finally, older readers should give these e-devices a try. You might be happy you did. I’m Hink and I’ll see ya.

MIKE HINKLE is an Edmond resident and retired attorney.