Some medical updates for the New Year

Medical Minutes

Making New Year’s resolutions work for you

The New Year provides a great opportunity to reflect on our lives, health and wellness. Making a New Year’s resolution can give a person the push they need to make a positive change in their health habits. Dr. Sunil Kripalani, who is with Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee, says it is important to set a reasonable goal that you feel confident you can accomplish.

“Your goal may be to increase your physical activity, for example, by going to the gym once or twice a week, going for a walk four days a week instead of two, or playing tennis. A resolution to eat more healthful could involve cutting down on sweets or sodas, or eating smaller portions,” said Dr. Kripalani.

He said don’t feel like you have to go it alone. Making a resolution with a partner can provide both of you with added support to be successful.

Dr. Sharon Reimold, a cardiologist at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, said it is often helpful for someone to select a defined time to make changes in their life and health.

“Traditionally, New Year’s has represented a new beginning and many choose to make changes at that time. In order for them to be effective, however, the changes have to be sustained,” said Dr. Reimold. “We all know someone who has started an exercise program on New Year’s Day, but are not using the gym membership by the end of January.”

She said if someone wants to improve their health and they have chosen New Year’s Day as the start date, they must be committed to the resolution and motivated to make it a sustained process.

“The best health goals for older adults are those that lead to long-term improvement in health outcomes,” said Dr. Reimold. “I would recommend improving one’s fitness since the benefits are many and include improving cardiovascular, bone, pulmonary and behavioral health outcomes.”

She also advocates making sure you are taking advantage of preventive health opportunities such as blood pressure and cholesterol checks, mammography screening, colonoscopy screening, immunizations and shedding bad habits such as smoking or excessive alcohol consumption.

Some older adults retain youthful memory abilities

Some loss of memory is often considered an inevitable part of aging. However, it turns out some lucky people escape this problem. A study by Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) investigators examined a remarkable group of older adults whose memory performance is equivalent to that of younger individuals. The researchers found that certain key areas of their brains resemble those of young people.

The study, published in The Journal of Neuroscience, is the first step in a research program aimed at understanding how some older adults retain youthful thinking abilities and the brain circuits that support those abilities. The researchers conducted a study with adults ages 60 to 80 and 17 of them performed as well as adults four to five decades younger on memory tests. The study also included 23 older adults with normal results for their age group and 41 young adults ages 18 to 35.

Imaging studies revealed that these super agers had brains with youthful characteristics. While the cortex (the outermost sheet of brain cells that is critical for many thinking abilities) and other parts of the brain typically shrink with aging, in the brains of super-agers a number of those regions were comparable in size to those of young adults.

The researchers showed not only that super-agers had no shrinkage in these brain networks but also that the size of these regions was correlated with memory ability. These new findings are important because understanding which factors protect against memory decline could lead to important advances in preventing and treating age-related memory loss and possibly even various forms of dementia.

Medicine diffusion capsule for combating cancer

A new device that could revolutionize the delivery of medicine to treat cancer as well as a host of other diseases and ailments may become a reality in the not too distant future.

“The problem with most drug-delivery systems is that you have a specific minimum dosage of medicine that you need to take for it to be effective,” said Lyle Hood who is an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at The University of Texas at San Antonio. “There’s also a limit to how much of the drug can be present in your system so that it doesn’t make you sick.”

Hood and his team have developed a tiny implantable drug delivery system. It’s a capsule filled with medicinal fluid that uses about 5,000 nanochannels to regulate the rate of release of the medicine. The capsule can deliver medicinal doses for several days or a few weeks. According to Hood, it can be used for any kind of ailment that needs a localized delivery over several days or a few weeks. This makes it especially tailored for treating cancer or HIV. Hood noted it can also be used to deliver cortisone to damaged joints to avoid painful, frequent injections.

The current prototype of the device is permanent and injected under the skin, but the researchers are working on a device using 3-D printing technology to make a new, fully biodegradable iteration of the device that could potentially be swallowed.

John Schieszer is an award-winning national journalist and radio and podcast broadcaster of The Medical Minute. He can be reached at

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John Schieszer is an award-winning national journalist and radio and podcast broadcaster of The Medical Minute.

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