Having Trouble Hearing? Maybe It's Not Your Ears

Having Trouble Hearing? Maybe It's Not Your Ears

News Picture: Having Trouble Hearing? Maybe It's Not Your EarsBy Alan Mozes
HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, Nov. 29, 2016 (HealthDay News) — Seniors who struggle to make out what people are saying around the dinner table or on a noisy street may have perfectly “normal” hearing. The problem could actually be in the brain, a new study suggests.

Trouble processing conversations in a loud setting may indicate that the brain’s ability to quickly and easily process speech is diminished.

The findings demonstrate that “separately from any typical hearing loss that might occur as we age, our brains also get worse at processing the sound of talking when there are other sounds at the same time,” said study co-author Jonathan Simon. He’s an associate professor at the University of Maryland’s Institute for Systems Research.

“The background noise may not even be considered especially loud by younger listeners,” he noted.

But “the implication is that typical older adults need to exert more effort, and take more time, in order to understand what someone is saying to them when there’s also noise, even only moderate noise, around them,” Simon explained.

About one in three Americans aged 65 to 74 has some degree of hearing loss, according to the U.S. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. For those 75 or older, half have difficulty hearing.

The new study included 17 young adults (aged 18 to 27) and 15 older adults (aged 61 to 73). All had normal hearing and were dementia-free.

All had a series of hearing tests, some of which included background noise. All also underwent brain scans focused on two regions of the brain: the midbrain, which controls basic sound processing; and the cortex, which is critical to speech comprehension.

Younger adults performed significantly better than seniors in both quiet and noisy settings. But the researchers found that noisy settings were more challenging for seniors.

The scans suggested why.

Midbrain scans revealed that neurological signaling related to hearing was weaker among the older study participants. And cortex scans suggested that auditory information took longer to process among seniors than young adults.

Why? The study authors theorized that the problem could trace back to normal age-related nerve impairment that undermines signaling and communication between nerve cells in the brain.

Regardless, the bottom line was clear: seniors often have to expend more effort to hear, and often end up with worse results.

“Typical seniors who have difficulty understanding what someone is saying in a noisy room will have both kinds of degradation,” said Simon, referring to loss of actual hearing function as well as brain-processing problems.

And that means that while hearing aids “may be an important part of any solution to general problems with hearing,” they don’t solve the whole problem, Simon said.

The solution, he added, could be a kind of physical therapy for hearing and speech recognition.

“There is — in theory, not yet in practice — a real possibility of restoring enough of the youthful aspects of the brain to help with this problem,” Simon said.

Robert Frisina directs the University of South Florida’s Global Center for Hearing and Speech Research, in Tampa. Though he was not involved with the new research, he called “the Maryland study a good advance in this area.”

“Now, it is pretty well accepted that neurodegenerative changes in the parts of the brain used for hearing play a significant role in age-linked hearing loss and speech perception problems, particularly in background noise,” he said.

“As the aging brain is understood more and more at molecular levels, these molecular changes become the prospective targets for drug or medication interventions,” Frisina added.

Future interventions may ultimately involve a combination of both hearing therapy and cutting-edge medicine, Frisina said.

The study was published recently in the Journal of Neurophysiology.

Copyright © 2016 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

SOURCES: Jonathan Z. Simon, Ph.D., associate professor, department of electrical and computer engineering, department of biology, and Institute for Systems Research, University of Maryland, College Park, Md.; Robert D. Frisina Ph.D., professor of chemical and biomedical engineering and communication sciences and disorders, and director, Global Center for Hearing and Speech Research, University of South Florida, Tampa; Nov. 15, 2016, Journal of Neurophysiology

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3 Keys to Cutting Your Risk of Heart Failure

3 Keys to Cutting Your Risk of Heart Failure

News Picture: 3 Keys to Cutting Your Risk of Heart FailureBy Alan Mozes
HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, Nov. 28, 2016 (HealthDay News) — Middle-aged adults who’ve avoided obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes are far less likely than others to experience heart failure in their later years, new research reports.

Investigators found that a 45-year-old without those three key risk factors has as much as an 86 percent lower risk for heart failure compared with someone with poor control of weight, blood pressure and blood sugar.

“This paper provides more evidence to demonstrate the importance of a heart-healthy lifestyle,” said study co-author Dr. John Wilkins. He’s a cardiologist and assistant professor of medicine and preventive medicine at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.

Good lifestyle habits can help prevent obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes in many people, “which will substantially reduce their chances of developing cardiovascular disease later in life,” Wilkins said.

According to another heart specialist, Dr. Gregg Fonarow, “This means doing everything necessary to maintain a healthy body weight — including eating a heart-healthy diet and remaining physically active, and having regular monitoring to ensure healthy blood pressure and blood sugar levels.”

The new report indicates that “while there are therapies available once heart failure develops, the most effective strategy is to prevent heart failure in the first place,” said Fonarow. He is a professor of cardiology at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Heart failure affects an estimated 5.7 million adults in the United States. The disabling condition occurs when the heart can no longer pump enough blood and oxygen throughout the body.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that about half of those who develop heart failure will die within five years.

For this study, Wilkins and his associates analyzed data from four heart studies launched across the United States between 1948 and 1987.

Through 2007-2008, the researchers tracked outcomes for over 19,000 men and women whose heart health was assessed at age 45. The investigators followed another 24,000 whose heart status was determined at age 55.

Heart failure developed in nearly 1,700 participants tested at 45, and in almost 3,000 of those examined at 55, the findings showed.

But men who were free of high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity at 45 went on to live free of heart failure almost 11 years longer than men who had all three conditions. For women, the advantage was about 15 years, the study found.

On average, men and women without any of those three heart risks lived 35 years and 38 years longer, respectively, without developing heart failure.

Similar trends were seen among those assessed at 55, the researchers said.

Of the three heart-failure risk factors cited, diabetes appeared to have the greatest effect. Those without diabetes at 45 lived about nine to 11 years longer without heart failure, compared with those who did have the blood-sugar disease.

According to Fonarow, “this study quantifies the degree to which preventing the onset of high blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes can pay huge dividends in terms of lifelong health free from heart failure, cardiovascular disability, large health care expenditures, and premature cardiovascular death.”

Lona Sandon, an assistant professor of clinical nutrition at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, noted that to enjoy these benefits, many Americans may first need to adjust their behavior.

“We need to make some pretty intense changes to our eating habits and physical activity,” she said.

“The majority of us still come up short on key foods known to support health: fruits, vegetables, whole grains,” Sandon said. “Few come anywhere near the recommended amount.”

Physical activity is no different, Sandon added. “Many of us spend way too much time in sedentary environments. The 30 to 60 minutes you might squeeze in at the gym a few times a week barely scratches the surface to help support a healthy weight, blood pressure and reduce diabetes risk,” she said.

The findings were published online Nov. 28 in JACC: Heart Failure.

Copyright © 2016 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

SOURCES: John T. Wilkins, M.D., M.S., cardiologist, and assistant professor of medicine, department of preventive medicine, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago; Gregg Fonarow, M.D., professor, cardiology, University of California, Los Angeles; Lona Sandon, Ph.D., RDN, LD, assistant professor, department of clinical nutrition, school of health professions, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas; Nov. 12, 2016, JACC: Heart Failure

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U.S. Death Toll From Infectious Diseases Unchanged: Study

U.S. Death Toll From Infectious Diseases Unchanged: Study

News Picture: U.S. Death Toll From Infectious Diseases Unchanged: StudyBy Amy Norton
HealthDay Reporter

Latest Infectious Disease News

TUESDAY, Nov. 22, 2016 (HealthDay News) — The war against infectious diseases — medicine versus microbes — has been holding steady, with the U.S. death rate from these diseases about the same now as it was in 1980, new research says.

But some of the specific disease threats have changed over the years, the study authors noted.

Researchers found that the national death rate from infections stood at almost 46 deaths per 100,000 people in 2014. That compared with 42 per 100,000 in 1980.

There were some major shifts during that time, however.

The overall death rate went as high as 63 per 100,000 in 1995, owing to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, according to the study. AIDS deaths declined from then on, with the introduction of the “drug cocktails” that have turned HIV into a manageable chronic disease.

But while there was progress against HIV, deaths from pneumonia and flu complications held steady over the years.

What’s more, deaths from some infectious diseases rose — including the mosquito-borne West Nile virus and the gut infection C. difficile.

The researchers said that while infections may not be the scourge they were 100 years ago, they remain a threat.

“This shows us how challenging these diseases continue to be,” said senior researcher Heidi Brown, an assistant professor in epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of Arizona.

The changing face of HIV mortality is part of the “good news,” Brown noted. “We see what can happen when we really work on something,” she said.

But with deaths from some other infections either holding steady or rising, Brown added, “we still have to remain vigilant.”

An infectious disease specialist who reviewed the study agreed.

“The general trends in infectious disease have been encouraging as far as the impact on mortality,” said Dr. William Powderly, president of the Infectious Diseases Society of America.

But, he added, there are still major challenges — with the threat of antibiotic resistance being chief among them.

Take the recent rise in C. difficile — a bacterial infection that causes abdominal pain, diarrhea and, in some cases, severe inflammation of the colon, according to the American College of Gastroenterology.

One of the main reasons for it, Powderly said, is that doctors and hospitals have had to use more and more powerful antibiotics to battle stubborn infections. That wipes out the “good” bacteria in a patient’s gut and can allow C. difficile bugs — which are often resistant to the drugs used against other infections — to run rampant.

So far, deaths from pathogens with antibiotic-resistant strains haven’t risen, Brown’s team found.

But that stable death rate “doesn’t really capture the problem,” Powderly said.

“We’re concerned that the pace of new drug development is not keeping up with the development of drug resistance,” he noted.

What’s needed, according to Powderly, is more judicious use of antibiotics. “We need to do a better job of giving the right antibiotic to the right patient at the right time,” he said.

The new findings, published Nov. 22 in the Journal of the American Medical Association, are based on federal government statistics.

Overall, deaths from any infectious cause fell substantially between 1900 and 1950, with the exception of a spike during the 1918 flu pandemic, the study showed.

Much of that drop, Powderly said, can likely be attributed to childhood vaccinations.

Focusing on more recent years, the researchers found that deaths were somewhat higher in 2014, versus 1980. Pneumonia and influenza were the most common causes, accounting for almost 40 percent of infectious disease deaths during that time period.

The death rate from pneumonia and the flu held steady between 1980 and 2014, at about 17 per 100,000.

“As people grow older, pneumonia and influenza remain an important cause of death,” Powderly said. “This reminds us of the importance of adult vaccinations.”

That means the yearly flu shot and the pneumococcal vaccine, which can protect against certain causes of pneumonia.

Brown’s team also found that deaths from “vector-borne” infections inched up. That was related to the introduction of the mosquito-transmitted West Nile virus in 1999, the researchers said. Since 2002, the average yearly death rate from all vector-borne infections has stood at 0.05 deaths per 100,000 people, the research revealed.

Those numbers are small, Brown said. But, she added, West Nile is a reminder that new infectious threats can suddenly turn up.

Plus, she stressed, this study focused only on deaths from infections — which doesn’t capture the full “burden” infectious diseases place on individuals and society.

Powderly agreed. As for what the general public can do, he offered some advice: “If you don’t need an antibiotic, don’t take one,” he said. “Antibiotics are useless for the common cold, for example.”

Adults should also be aware of which vaccines are recommended for them, Powderly said. “If your doctor doesn’t bring it up,” he said, “you should bring it up.”

Copyright © 2016 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

SOURCES: Heidi Brown, Ph.D., M.P.H., assistant professor, epidemiology and biostatistics, University of Arizona, Tucson; William Powderly, M.D., president, Infectious Diseases Society of America; Nov. 22/29, 2016, Journal of the American Medical Association

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New Fetal Views in 3-D

New Fetal Views in 3-D

News Picture: New Fetal Views in 3-D

MONDAY, Nov. 21, 2016 (HealthDay News) — Expectant parents may soon be able to view a three-dimensional virtual reality version of the fetus, researchers say.

This is possible with new technology that combines MRI and ultrasound data into a 3-D that can be viewed with virtual reality devices.

In tests, Brazilian researchers found that virtual reality fetal 3-D models are similar to the appearance of the newborn after birth. The models recreate the entire internal structure of the fetus, which can help doctors detect abnormalities.

The research was to be presented Monday at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA), in Chicago.

“The 3-D fetal models combined with virtual reality immersive technologies may improve our understanding of fetal anatomical characteristics and can be used for educational purposes and as a method for parents to visualize their unborn baby,” said study co-author Dr. Heron Werner Jr. in a RSNA news release. He is from the Clinica de Diagnostico por Imagem in Rio de Janeiro.

The technology can also help doctors and parents when faced with fetal abnormalities and treatment decisions, the researchers said.

Werner and his colleagues have used this approach on patients at a clinic in Rio de Janeiro, including cases where the fetus had evidence of an abnormality that required surgery after birth. The researchers said they hope to expand their use of the technology over the next year.

— Robert Preidt

Copyright © 2016 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

SOURCE: Radiological Society of North America, news release, Nov. 22, 2016

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New Technique Keeps Donor Lungs Viable Longer: Study

New Technique Keeps Donor Lungs Viable Longer: Study

News Picture: New Technique Keeps Donor Lungs Viable Longer: Study

FRIDAY, Nov. 18, 2016 (HealthDay News) — A technique that allows lungs destined for transplants to be preserved longer works well, a new Canadian study finds.

The strategy, called ex-vivo lung perfusion (EVLP), allows preservation of lungs for up to 12 hours, instead of the standard six to eight hours.

“We have been using EVLP … to assess high-risk donor lungs [less healthy] for the last decade, and almost 300 patients have benefited from this technology at our centre to date,” said study author Dr. Marcelo Cypel, a thoracic surgeon at Toronto General Hospital.

With standard lung transplants, “donor lungs are transported cold to the hospital where they are warmed, evaluated and then cooled again until they are transplanted into the recipient,” Cypel explained.

The EVLP technique, which has now become more common, allows doctors to preserve lungs for longer periods by pumping them with a solution of oxygen, proteins and nutrients, the researchers said.

For the study, Cypel and his colleagues tracked 906 adults who received lung transplants at the Toronto hospital from 2006 to 2015.

Patients who received transplanted lungs that were preserved for more than 12 hours with EVLP fared about as well a year later as those who received lungs preserved for less time, the researchers said.

In the past, donor lungs typically became unusable after six to eight hours, meaning patients could miss out on opportunities for transplants because the lungs couldn’t be transported quickly enough, the study authors noted.

The findings were reported Nov. 17 in the journal The Lancet Respiratory Medicine.

“It is important to remember that the lungs preserved for more than 12 hours using EVLP started out as more injured lungs. In fact, many of them might have been turned down for transplantation in the past,” said study co-author Dr. Jonathan Yeung, also from Toronto General. “That they performed similar to conventional lungs with shorter preservation times suggests EVLP provides additional benefit over cold preservation.”

The study authors noted their research was limited because it only looked at one hospital and because it’s not clear how much longer lungs could actually be preserved.

“At a time when there is a critical shortage of lungs available for transplantation, combining cold preservation and EVLP will hopefully make a lot more donor lungs available for successful transplantation,” Cypel said in a journal news release.

“The safe extension of preservation time not only has the potential to give clinicians extra time to evaluate, but also to treat and recondition donated organs that would otherwise not be used,” he said.

More than 1,500 people await lung transplants in the United States, and roughly 25 percent will die before they get one, according to the researchers.

— Randy Dotinga

Copyright © 2016 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

SOURCES: The Lancet Respiratory Medicine, press release, Nov. 17, 2016; The Lancet Respiratory Medicine, Nov. 17, 2016

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