Sam Bauman: Taking care of the brain



Never can tell where the latest health news will show up. I recently came across and article in The Week magazine that was headlined “Popular Medications Tied to Brain Damage.”

The article said that a new study says that drugs used to treat colds and other health problems, including allergies, dementia, and other cognitive problems in older people, may shrink the brain. The OTC and prescription medications include Tylenol PM, Benadryl, Claritin, Dimetapp, Paxil, Xanax, Zyrtec, and Coumadin.

They belong to a class of drugs called anticholinergics. They work by blocking acetylcholine, a chemical that works by blocking electric impulses between nerve cells.

Researchers examined the brain structure and metabolism of 451 people of average age of 73. Those who took anticholinergics had lower rates of glucose metabolism in the part of the brain involved in memory. People on the drug did less well in short-term memory and executive functions. Alzheimer’s patients did worse in verbal reasoning.

Upshot of it all, doctors using the drug should monitor patients and use lowest amounts possible.

PSA testing

A high prostate-specific antigen (PSA) level only tells patients that something is going on in your prostate, notes the Harvard Men’s Health Watch. But not what the something is — whether you had or you have an infection or that you have or likely most slow-growing cancer and can be treated more conservatively.

Happily, research is under way for new and better markers for prostate caner.

Back aches continue

The same publication warns of problems with back surgery. Spinal fusion is popular for those of us who live with back aches. I’ve lived with back problems for years, probably the result of too many face plants while skiing.

My doctors advised against back surgery, warning its low level of success. So I’ve winged it using a low-level electronic device to jar the back as a palliative. It works and all I have to is keep the battery fresh.

My latest device is so small, about the size of a small egg, and I can wear it unnoticed. A lot better than the surgeon’s knife. And cheaper as well.

Plenty of smoke around joints these days

I doubt that our population indulges in marijuana behind home doors or at youth baseball games. But since the recreational use of pot looms, here are some figures from the “no nudes” Playboy magazine:

The 10 most harmful drugs reportedly are alcohol at No. 1, followed by heroin at No. 2, crack cocaine at No. 3, meth at No. 4, cocaine at No. 5, tobacco at No. 6, amphetamine at No. 7, cannabis at No. 8, GHB at No. 9 and benzodiazepines at No. 10.

Interesting that Numbers 2 and 5 are common commercial products.

Can’t say business doesn’t know a good thing.

Here’s another Playboy factoid: In 1969 only 12 percent of Americans thought marijuana should be legal, 84 percent opposed it (Gallup poll). In 2015, 58 percent were for pot, 40 percent against.

A poll in 2014 found 50 percent of males use it over their lifetime, 17 percent last year, 11 percent last month. Females, 39 percent lifetime, 10 percent last year, 6 percent last month.

Ages 12-17 report 16,13, 11 percent. Ages 15 to 25, 53 percent, 26 and over, 46, 10 and 7 percent.

Where they get their last hit: bought 17 percent; 47 percent got it free or shared with a friend; 1 percent traded for it; 1 percent grew it; unspecified source is 2 percent.

Music to pot ears: The Jazz Age reeked of pot, calling it tea, reefer, mugs and gage, plus local names. Jazz songs tied to pot included “Man From Harlem” (Benny Goodman) and “When I Get Low, I Get High” (Ella Fitzgerald.) And drummer Gene Krupa was jailed in the ‘40s on pot charges. Apparently it didn’t inhibit his drumming, as the classic “Sing Sing Sing” shows.

Back in my Chicago days pot was common, often smoked in magazine offices with closed doors. It was used as much as booze at parties. I, of course, tried it but it never had any effect on me so I ditched it.

So seniors have a chance to vote recreational use in or out.

I suspect the “in” votes will win and a lot of hypocrites will come out.

Dealing with falls

Falls are common as we age. They can result in serious damage such as hip fractures. One easy test to see how your balance:

Stand along a wall and extend your arm with the hand in a fist. Lean forward as far as possible without taking a step. If the distance your hand moves forward is less than six inches, it may suggest you’re apt to take a fall when normally you would not.

Any amount of alcohol or pain medication may interfere with your balance and awareness of hazards. Remember the phrase, “staggering drunk.”

And having a cane can help avoid falls. Make sure you’re using it correctly and regularly. The VA suggested I use a cane, but it’s awkward when hiking. I prefer my old six-foot hiking stick, which helps, but is awkward in many situations.

A personal tip: always make sure the chair is behind you when you start to sit down. I’ve missed now and then.

Sam Bauman writes about senior affairs, among other things, for the Nevada Appeal.


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