If you're a 20-something who wants to stay sharp, listen up: A new study suggests poor health habits now may increase your risk of mental decline later in life. Its authors say young adulthood may be the most critical time for adopting a healthy lifestyle in order to keep your brain sharp when you're older. That's the upshot of an analysis of data from about 15,000 adults who were part of four long-term research projects. The participants ranged in age from 18 to 30 and 45 to 95 when the research began. The study linked poor diet, smoking and inactivity in early adulthood to greater mental decline later in life. The related risk factors include high blood sugar, high blood pressure and a high body mass index (BMI). BMI is an estimate of body fat based on height and weight. Having these risk factors in young adulthood was tied to a doubling of the average rate of mental decline later on, according to findings published in the journal Neurology. Obesity alone during young adulthood was associated with double the average rate of mental decline, and a similar impact was found for high blood sugar and high systolic blood pressure. (Systolic blood pressure is a measure of the force on blood vessels as your heart pushes blood through your body; it's the top number in a blood pressure reading.) Researchers found no link between high cholesterol in young adulthood and greater mental decline later on. While previous research has shown a link between these heart risk factors in midlife and worse mental decline, little has been known about their impact in early adulthood, according to the journal. "Cardiovascular risk factors are among the most promising modifiable risk factors for prevention of cognitive aging and dementia," reported in a university news release. "Our findings suggest that attention should be broadened to consider early adult cardiovascular health, since increasing trends in diabetes and obesity in this age group, coupled with a higher level of underdiagnosed risk factors could have significant public health implications for cognitive health," the report continued. The study shows a link but does not prove cause and effect. But, the trends in obesity, diabetes and sedentary behavior are concerning. "We should consider that despite improvements in treatment, cardiovascular risk factors go undiagnosed and untreated, especially in younger adults," the report said. In 2017-2018, 40 percent of Americans in their 20s and 30s were obese, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That compares with an overall adult obesity rate of 10 percent in the 1950s.
Diagnosing babies and toddlers with asthma is challenging, because it's difficult to measure lung function in this young group. What makes diagnosis easier is knowing your child's symptoms. A leading pediatrics group offers some tips for parents who suspect their infants or toddlers may have asthma or are having symptoms that could suggest another health condition. Your pediatrician will ask if your baby tends to wheeze, cough or breathe fast when he or she has a cold, is near animals, is in a dusty place or if there is smoke in the air, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). You should tell your child's doctor about any excessive cough, particularly a nighttime cough or a prolonged cough after a cold even if there is no wheezing. Coughing can be the only asthma symptom in some people. Share whether you have family members who have asthma, hay fever, eczema, recurrent bronchitis or sinus problems, the AAP advised. An unexplained frequent cough or daily cough in infants means you should have your child evaluated by a pediatrician or pediatric pulmonologist because it could be a sign of a serious disease. When trying to diagnose what's causing the problem, your pediatrician will listen carefully to make sure that the sounds your baby is making are coming from the airways of the lungs, the AAP said. Sometimes babies breathe noisily as a result of laryngotracheomalacia, a temporary weakness in the cartilage near the vocal cords. They grow out of this as the tissues become firmer. Unusual conditions related to airway development or prematurity can also cause wheezing in infants. Your child's pediatrician isn't likely to recommend allergy testing unless the wheezing always happens after exposure to an animal or certain food. Food allergy is rarely a cause of asthma in infants and toddlers. It may be a trigger for eczema, the AAP noted. Your doctor may order a chest radiography during the baby's first wheezing bout. If it's determined that your child has asthma, that won't likely be repeated because the bronchial tubes are not seen well in a radiograph. If your baby is failing to grow or thrive, the doctor may test for other conditions, the AAP said. Certain tests, including a sweat test to rule out cystic fibrosis, may be necessary when your doctor wants to be sure your baby's wheezing and chest symptoms are not caused by a condition with symptoms that are similar to asthma. Sometimes the easiest and best way to diagnose asthma in a young child is to treat with asthma therapy and see if the child improves. Medications for asthma usually only help asthma and not other conditions, the AAP said. You can help the pediatrician by monitoring your child's symptoms carefully and providing feedback on whether the medications are helping.
Caring for a loved one with Alzheimer's disease can be mentally and physically exhausting, so you should take steps to manage and reduce stress, according to the Alzheimer's Foundation of America. "Finding ways to manage and reduce stress is of paramount importance for every Alzheimer's caregiver. Untreated stress can lead to physical, mental and emotional caregiver burnout," Jennifer Reeder, director of educational and social services, said in a foundation news release. The foundation offers the following six tips to help caregivers enhance their stress-coping skills: Be adaptable and positive. Your attitude influences stress levels for both you and your loved one. Being able to "go with the flow" will help both of you stay relaxed. If you get aggravated or agitated, odds are that your loved one will, too. Try to adjust to situations in constructive ways. Deal with what you can control. Remember that some things are out of your control, such as the coronavirus pandemic. What you can control is how you respond and react to these outside factors. Set realistic goals and take it slow. Everything can't be resolved immediately and it doesn't need to be, so don't have unrealistic expectations. Set priorities and practical goals, do your best to achieve them, and take things one day at a time. Take care of your health. Too little rest, poor diet and lack of exercise can worsen stress and cause other health problems. Try to get enough sleep, eat right, drink plenty of water and be active. You can't provide good care if you don't look after yourself. Clear your mind. Exercise, yoga, meditation, listening to music and deep breathing can help relax your mind and reduce stress. Identify what works for you and do it on a regular basis. Share your feelings. Talking with family members, trusted friends or a professional can also help relieve stress.
If you're one of the many people who've switched to working at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, you need to take care of your eyes, the American Academy of Ophthalmology says. Staring at a screen too long can lead to digital eye strain. Symptoms include blurry vision, headaches and tired, dry eyes. It happens because we blink less often when using screens. Blinking keeps the surface of the eye moisturized. Extended reading, writing or other intensive near-work can also cause eye strain. "The good news is that looking at a computer, tablet or smartphone for long periods of time will not cause permanent damage," said a clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO). "As we've all experienced, staring at a screen for too long can cause some uncomfortable symptoms. But there are some simple changes you can make to ease the discomfort," an academy news release said. Take regular eye breaks by following the 20-20-20 rule. Set a timer on your phone or watch to remind you to look 20-feet away every 20 minutes for 20 seconds. Or you can close your eyes for 20 seconds. You should sit 18 to 25 inches away from your computer screen, about arm's length. Adjust screen brightness and contrast so that it feels comfortable. Position the screen so your eyes gaze slightly downward, not straight ahead or up, the report advised. Eye drops ("artificial tears") will help keep your eyes moist and relieve the discomfort of dry eye. Alternatively, a humidifier will add moisture to the air and minimize dry eye. This is especially good for people in cold regions who use heaters often, the report noted. If you have trouble seeing your screen, ask your doctor about computer glasses that have progressive lenses specifically designed for focusing on computer screens. Don't bother with blue light-blocking glasses because there is no scientific evidence that blue light coming from a computer screen causes digital eye strain or damages the eye, according to the AAO.
Climate change has made North America's pollen season longer and more severe, but there are ways to reduce your allergy misery, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI). The best way to deal with worsening pollen seasons is to get ahead of them. Pollen levels tend to be higher from trees in the spring, grasses in the summer and weeds in the fall, but may vary depending on weather conditions and where you live. Along with starting to take your allergy medications early, the ACAAI recommends other ways to control your symptoms: Keep windows closed during pollen season, especially during the day, and use air conditioning whenever possible. Know which pollens you are sensitive to and then check pollen counts. In spring and summer -- tree and grass pollen season -- levels are highest in the evening. In late summer and early fall -- ragweed pollen season -- levels are highest in the morning. Take a shower, wash your hair and change clothing after working or playing outdoors. Wear sunglasses and a hat outside to keep pollen out of eyes and hair. Also, along with protecting you against COVID-19, wearing a face mask could provide a barrier against pollen. If you feel like your fall and spring allergies are getting worse each year, you are probably right. If staying indoors during these times of year and over-the-counter allergy medications are not helping control your symptoms, consult an allergist, the ACAAI recommended.