Workplace flexibility still a myth for most

Workplace flexibility — it’s a phrase that might be appealing to job seekers or make a company look good, but a new study by the Sloan Center on Aging and Work at Boston College shows flexible work options are out of reach for most employees and that when they are offered, arrangements are limited in size and scope.”While large percentages of employers report that they have at least some workplace flexibility, the number of options is usually limited and they are typically not available to the entire workforce,” says Marcie Pitt-Catsouphes, Ph.D., Director of the Sloan Center on Aging and Work at Boston College and one of the researchers of the study. “We’re trying to help employers understand that flexible work initiatives work best if their organizations offer a comprehensive set of options. Employers who implement limited programs might become frustrated if they don’t see the outcomes they had hoped for saying, ‘Gosh, this didn’t help us at all’ or, ‘it didn’t help us with recruitment’ or ‘it didn’t help us with retention.’ In fact, it may not be that the flexible work options didn’t work. Rather, that the companies didn’t offer a sufficient range of options to the employees.”The study, published in the journal, Community, Work, and Family, examined the flexible work arrangements of 545 U.S. employers and found most arrangements center around allowing employees to move where they work and when they report in, but didn’t include reduction of work or temporary leaves from jobs. Additionally, any flexibility options that are available aren’t being made to the majority of a company’s employees.”We should probably set our standards and expectations a little higher,” says Dr. Pitt-Catsouphes. “Business leaders as well as academics have been trying to promote the adoption of quality flexible work initiatives for the past three decades. We have come to realize how important it is for employers to offer different types of flexibilities so that employees and their supervisors have some choice and control over when, where and how much they work. Employers and employees are better able to reap the benefits of workplace flexibility when the initiatives are comprehensive and well aligned with business priorities.”The study, co-authored by Stephen Sweet of Ithaca College, Elyssa Besen of the Center for Disability Research, Lonnie Golden of Penn State Abington along with Boston College’s Pitt-Catsouphes, found only one in five companies offered more than one approach to workplace flexibility, despite the fact that different employees need different options.”What we’re saying is flexibility can work if you make a commitment to making it work,” says Pitt-Catsouphes. …

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Education boosts brain function long after school, study shows

European populations are growing older on average, a trend that could pose serious challenges to health care, budgets, and economic growth. As a greater proportion of a country’s population grows into old age, average cognition levels and national productivity tend to decline, and the incidence of dementia increases.”Finding ways to improve the cognition of seniors is of central importance to the economic well-being of aging countries,” says IIASA researcher Vegard Skirbekk, who worked on the study with researchers Nicole Schneeweis and Rudolf Winter Ebmer at Linz UniversityThe study examined variation in years of schooling arising from compulsory educational reforms implemented in six European countries during the 1950s and 1960s, measuring mental functioning in seniors with various levels of schooling. It shows that the burden of demographic change is likely to depend more on how healthy and mentally fit people are at different ages than on the exact age structure of people in a population. The study also shows that education tends to significantly boost brain function, and that this effect persists as a person ages.The study shows that people who attended school for longer periods because of new regulations performed better in terms of cognitive functioning than those who did not. Using data from individuals aged around 60 from the Survey of Health, Aging and Retirement in Europe, the researchers found a positive impact of schooling on memory scores. The fact that young people or their parents did not choose whether to go longer to school strongly suggests that schooling is the cause rather than personal characteristics that would affect this choice and could also explain the differences in cognitive function.”Examining the variation in compulsory schooling was key.” It allowed us to find out that education was the cause of better cognitive function, and not a simple correlation,”,” says Winter-Ebmer.Furthermore, the study finds evidence for a protective effect of schooling for the brain: more education slows cognitive decline. The researchers say that education can be an important measure for maintaining cognitive functioning and protecting against cognitive decline, thereby alleviating the challenges that population aging would otherwise present.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Reasons for becoming self-employed in later life vary by gender, culture

Self-employment can allow older workers to stay in the labor market longer and earn additional income, yet little research has addressed if reasons for self-employment vary across gender and culture. Now, University of Missouri researchers have studied factors that contribute to self-employment and found these factors differ for men and women in the United States and New Zealand.”Gender is one of the most enduring social factors in the U.S. and New Zealand, a fact that is particularly evident in differing economic opportunities for men and women and their decisions to be self-employed,” said Angela Curl, an assistant professor in the MU School of Social Work and the study’s lead author.Curl analyzed survey data from the 2010 Health and Retirement Study of U.S. adults and the New Zealand Longitudinal Study of Aging and found that men in each country were more likely than women to be self-employed. Curl said this result could reflect a greater willingness of men to take on risks associated with self-employment, a larger savings to buffer business losses or failures, or more opportunities for men to engage in entrepreneurial ventures.In both countries, female workers who were self-employed appeared to have fewer economic resources, were less likely to receive pensions and were less likely to have employed spouses. These findings may suggest that older male workers may choose self-employment whereas women may be forced into self-employment because of financial necessity, Curl said.”The results seem to suggest a complex interplay between cultural norms and retirement policies in the two countries,”Curl said. “Self-employment may help older adults remain productively engaged in society and should be encouraged.”Curl said legislators and business leaders could create policies that promote flexible work situations, such as those offered by self-employment, that encourage and enable older adults to continue working later in life.”American policymakers could reduce barriers to self-employment by offering and promoting small business loans for start-up costs,” Curl said. “If older adults delay claiming Social Security benefits, remain in the labor force and continue paying taxes, some of the pressure on the Social Security retirement system would be reduced.”Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by University of Missouri-Columbia. The original article was written by Diamond Dixon. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Hormone released after exercise can ‘predict’ biological age

Scientists from Aston University (UK) have discovered a potential molecular link between Irisin, a recently identified hormone released from muscle after bouts of exercise, and the aging process.Irisin, which is naturally present in humans, is capable of reprograming the body’s fat cells to burn energy instead of storing it. This increases the metabolic rate and is thought to have potential anti-obesity effects.The research team led by Dr James Brown have proven a significant link exists between Irisin levels in the blood and a biological marker of aging called telomere length. Telomeres are small regions found at the end of chromosomes that shorten as cells within the body replicate. Short telomere length has been linked to many age-related diseases including cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease.Using a population of healthy, non-obese individuals, the team has shown those individuals who had higher levels of Irisin were found to have longer telomeres. The finding provides a potential molecular link between keeping active and healthy aging with those having higher Irisin levels more ‘biological young’ than those with lower levels of the hormone.Dr James Brown from Aston’s Research Centre for Healthy Ageing, said: “Exercise is known to have wide ranging benefits, from cardiovascular protection to weight loss. Recent research has suggested that exercise can protect people from both physical and mental decline with aging. Our latest findings now provide a potential molecular link between keeping active and a healthy aging process.”Irisin itself is secreted from muscle in response to exercise and is capable of reprograming the body’s fat cells to burn energy instead of storing it. This increases the metabolic rate and is thought to have potential weight loss effects, which in turn could help with conditions such as type-2 diabetes.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by Aston University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Breakthrough discerns normal memory loss from disease

Sep. 11, 2013 — Cornell University researchers have developed a reliable method to distinguish memory declines associated with healthy aging from the more-serious memory disorders years before obvious symptoms emerge. The method also allows research to accurately predict who is more likely to develop cognitive impairment without expensive tests or invasive procedures.Their results hold promise for detecting cognitive impairment early and monitoring treatment, but also have implications for healthy adults, said Charles Brainerd, professor of human development and the study’s lead co-author with Valerie Reyna, director of the Institute for Human Neuroscience and professor of human development, both in Cornell’s College of Human Ecology.Their research, “Dual-retrieval models and neurocognitive impairment,” appears online in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition.The memory abilities affected by cognitive impairment differ from those affected by healthy aging, the authors say, resulting in unique error patterns on neuropsychological tests of memory. Their theory-driven mathematical model detects these patterns by analyzing performance on such tests and measuring the separate memory processes used.”With 10 or 15 minute recall tests already in common use worldwide, we can distinguish individuals who have or are at risk for developing cognitive impairment from healthy adults, and we can do so with better accuracy than any existing tools,” said Brainerd.The notion that memory declines continuously throughout adulthood appears to be incorrect, they say. “When we separated out the cognitively impaired individuals, we found no evidence of further memory declines after the age of 69 in samples of nationally representative older adults and highly educated older adults,” said Reyna.To develop their models, the team used data from two longitudinal studies of older adults — a nationally representative sample of older adults, the Aging, Demographics and Memory Study, and the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative — that include brain and behavioral measures as well as diagnoses for cognitive impairment and dementia.Specifically, the researchers found that declines in reconstructive memory (recalling a word or event by piecing it together from clues about its meaning, for example, recalling that “dog” was presented in a word list by first remembering that household pets were presented in the list) were associated with mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s dementia, but not with healthy aging. Declines in recollective memory — recalling a word or event exactly — were a feature of normal aging.Over a period of between one and a half to six years, declines in reconstructive memory processes were reliable predictors of future progression from healthy aging to mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s dementia, and better predictors than the best genetic marker of such diseases.”Reconstructive memory is very stable in healthy individuals, so declines in this type of memory are a hallmark of neurocognitive impairment,” Reyna said.Younger adults rely heavily on recollection, Brainerd said, but this method becomes increasingly inefficient throughout mid-adulthood. “Training people how to make better use of reconstructive recall as they age should assist healthy adult memory function,” he said. “Our analytical models are readily available for research and clinical use and could easily be incorporated into existing neuropsychological tests.”

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Knockout mouse grows larger, but weaker, muscles

Aug. 15, 2013 — Although muscle cells did not reduce in size or number in mice lacking a protective antioxidant protein, they were weaker than normal muscle cells, researchers from the Barshop Institute for Longevity and Aging Studies at The University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio found.The scientists, who are faculty in the university’s School of Medicine, are studying how oxidative stress in cells impacts sarcopenia — a loss of muscle mass and strength that occurs in all humans as they age.The antioxidant protein is called SOD1. The researchers developed mice that did not have SOD1 in their muscles, though it was still present in other types of cells. Then they asked the question: Is lack of SOD1 at the muscle enough to cause atrophy?Surprisingly, the total muscle mass in this mouse was larger. “We think that lack of SOD1 could be priming the muscle to use all of its survival skills,” said Holly Van Remmen, Ph.D., professor of cellular and structural biology in the School of Medicine and associate director for basic research at the Barshop Institute. “The muscle knows things aren’t quite right. Its rescue mechanisms are pulled into play.”But even though the muscles were not atrophied, they were still weak.Sarcopenia in people has two components: loss of muscle mass and loss of function (weakness). This study supports the idea that oxidative stress has a role in these detrimental effects. If a way can be found to curb the effects, then healthier, more productive aging could result, Dr. Van Remmen said.The oxidative stress theory of aging holds that oxidation from molecules called “free radicals” causes damage to cells over time, resulting in sarcopenia and other decline.The study is described in The FASEB Journal. …

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Glucose intolerance, diabetes or insulin resistance not linked with pathological features of Alzheimer’s disease

July 29, 2013 — Glucose intolerance or insulin resistance do not appear to be associated with pathological features of Alzheimer disease (AD) or detection of the accumulation of the brain protein β-amyloid (Αβ), according to a report published by JAMA Neurology, a JAMA Network publication.Glucose intolerance and diabetes mellitus have been proposed as risk factors for the development of AD, but evidence of this has not been consistent, the study background notes.Madhav Thambisetty, M.D., Ph.D., of the National Institute on Aging, Baltimore, and colleagues investigated the association between glucose intolerance and insulin resistance and brain Αβ burden with autopsies and imaging with carbon 11-labeled Pittsburgh Compound B positron emission tomography.”The relationship among diabetes mellitus, insulin and AD is an important area of investigation. However, whether cognitive impairment seen in those with diabetes is mediated by excess pathological features of AD or other related abnormalities, such as vascular disease, remains unclear,” the authors comment.Two groups of participants were involved in the study. One group consisted of 197 participants enrolled in the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging who had two or more oral glucose tolerance tests (OGTT) while they were alive and then underwent a brain autopsy when they died. The second group included 53 living study participants who had two or more OGTTs and underwent imaging.”In this prospective cohort with multiple assessments of glucose intolerance and insulin resistance, measures of glucose and insulin homeostasis are not associated with AD pathology and likely play little role in AD pathogenesis,” the study concludes. “Long-term therapeutic trials are important to elucidate this issue.”

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Not so blue? Study suggests many Americans less depressed

July 10, 2013 — Fewer Americans may be feeling the blues, with rates of depression in people over 50 on the decline, according to a new University of Michigan Health System study.Between 1998 and 2008, rates of severe depression fell among the majority of older adults, especially the elderly, who have historically been a higher risk group for depression, new findings show. Meanwhile, late middle agers between ages 55-59 appeared to experience increased depression over the 10 year period.The nationally representative study appears in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.”Over that decade, we saw a significant decrease in depression among older adults, and we need further studies to explore whether this is the result of improved treatment,” says lead author Kara Zivin, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychiatry in the U-M Medical School and research investigator at the VA Center for Clinical Management Research. “Even with signs of progress, however, a significant percent of our population is still experiencing severe symptoms of depression, and we need to do more to ensure all of these groups have proper access to treatment.”Late-life depression has been a major area of concern among health providers, with studies showing increased depression at a time when many face death of loved ones, isolation, medical problems or changes in economic status. The new study, however, suggests improvements in this trend, with the most pronounced drop in depressive symptoms in people in the 80-84 age group.Increases in depression rates were concentrated among people in late middle age between ages 55-59 — a group that hasn’t traditionally been focused on as an at-risk group.”It’s unclear whether this shift is an indication of a sicker population not being treated adequately, a burden on people of that age at that particular time or something else, which is why we need to do more research to better understand these patterns,” Zivin says.Researchers used data from the Health and Retirement Study, a nationally-representative sample of older Americans that is conducted by the U-M Institute for Social Research on behalf of the National Institute of Aging.”We were pleased to see that there appears to be an overall improvement in depressive symptoms in the US, which is most likely related to better recognition and treatment. We are hopeful that our findings highlight the importance of depression diagnosis and treatment, and that we continue to make progress in developing better ways to systematically improve the outcomes of patients with depression,” says senior author Sandeep Vijan, M.D., M.S., associate professor of internal medicine at the U-M Medical School and a research scientist at the VA Ann Arbor Health Care System.Zivin is a member of the U-M Depression Center and the U-M Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation. Vijan is a member of the latter as well.Additional authors: Paul A. Pirraglia, M.D.; Ryan J. McCammon, A.B.; Kenneth M. Langa, M.D., Ph.D.Funding: National Institute on Aging (P01 AG031098 and U01 AG09740) and the Department of Veteran Affairs, Health Services and Development (CD2 07-206-1 and VA IIR 10-176-3).

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Age-related smelling loss significantly worse in African-Americans

June 12, 2013 — The ability to distinguish between odors declines steadily with age, but a new study shows that African-Americans have a much greater decrease in their sense of smell than Caucasians. This can have serious consequences. Olfactory loss often leads to impaired nutrition. It also may be an early warning sign of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s, and can predict death.The study, published early online in the Journal of Gerontology: Medical Sciences, found that as they aged, African-Americans and Hispanics had comparable deficits. For Hispanics, many of whom are recent immigrants, social and cultural factors, such as disparities in education and household assets and health-related cognitive problems, accounted for the sensory loss. For African-Americans, however, premature presbyosmia — age-related declines in the ability to smell — could not be explained by social, environmental or medical factors.”We have long known that men begin to lose their sense of smell some years sooner than women, but this is the first study to point to racial or ethnic differences,” said study author Jayant Pinto, MD, associate professor of surgery at the University of Chicago. “What surprised us was the magnitude of the difference. The racial disparity was almost twice as large as the well-documented difference between men and women.”Although many people live long lives with only minor age-related declines in the ability to smell, about 24 percent of Americans 55 years or older have a measurable problem with their sense of smell, according to data from the National Institute on Aging. That rises to about 30 percent for those ages 70 to 80, and to more than 60 percent for those over age 80.This study was one component of the University of Chicago-based National Social Life, Health and Aging Project (NSHAP), the first in-home study of social relationships and health in a large, nationally representative sample of older adults, ages 57 to 85.For this project, conducted from 2005 to 2006, survey teams from the National Opinion Research Center used a standard, well-validated test to assess the ability of 3,005 older participants to identify five common odors. The scents were presented one at a time. …

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New anti-aging treatments make it easier to turn back the clock

Feb. 7, 2012 — As we age, our skin undergoes a number of changes affecting its texture, volume and appearance. Fortunately, dermatologists can use fillers or lasers to correct the most notable signs of aging and can recommend skin care products with added ingredients that can further repair damaged skin.

“Many fillers for the aging face are now designed to create a fuller, more youthful appearance, instead of targeting only wrinkles or fine lines. In addition, facial rejuvenation with lasers is now more targeted, resulting in quicker results and less downtime,” said dermatologist Jenny Kim, MD, PhD, FAAD, associate professor of medicine, division of dermatology, University of California, Los Angeles. “Couple these treatments with the wide range of inexpensive skin care products with high-quality ingredients that are now available and patients can see dramatic results for many problem areas.”

New Fillers Pump up the Volume

While skin fillers and botulinum toxin are the most widely used procedures to rejuvenate the skin, Dr. Kim explained that the newest fillers being introduced will work as volumizers to replace the plumpness of the face that is lost with aging. Similar to how a balloon deflates over time, the face loses its roundness or fullness — the sign of a youthful appearance — with age.

“As much as lines and wrinkles make us look older, we’re learning that volume loss is just as critical,” said Dr. Kim. “Because of that, we’re looking at the aging process a little differently now and understanding the importance of replacing volume loss in the face to restore the fullness of a more youthful appearance.”

Most facial volume loss occurs after age 40, although some people start noticing this change in their late 30s. When this happens, areas of the face that were once full get depressed and are made more prominent by shadowing or darkening — making the face look older.

The newest filler introduced and approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for facial rejuvenation is calcium hydroxylapatite. This filler restores facial volume and promotes collagen production, lasting for up to a year in most cases. This calcium hydroxylapatite filler is thicker than the hyaluronic acid fillers currently available, requiring less product to be used. However, Dr. Kim noted that the thickness of calcium hydroxylapatite also is associated with slightly higher adverse effects than hyaluronic acid fillers.

“I expect that we’ll see more advances in volumizing fillers in the near future, which should offer patients better results and fewer side effects,” said Dr. Kim. “Since each filler has unique advantages and disadvantages, it is important that patients discuss their expectations with their dermatologist to determine which procedure is best for them.”

Lasers Focus in on Skin Repair

New laser technologies offer another alternative to rejuvenate the skin with fewer side effects than earlier lasers. For example, fractional photothermolysis is a newer technology that works by targeting a very small percentage of the skin during each treatment, improving the damaged area and resulting in less adverse effects and downtime for the patient. Even pulsed-dye lasers, which have been around for a long time, have evolved so a dermatologist can treat visible broken blood vessels without bruising the skin by adjusting the laser to the patient’s skin.

“Laser technology continues to evolve and provide dermatologists with more options to target not only specific signs of aging, but specific cells responsible for age-related changes in our appearance,” said Dr. Kim. “In the future, lasers could even produce significant skin tightening or effectively target oil glands to improve acne, decrease oily skin and reduce large pores.”

Skin Care Products Offer Daily Dose of Vitamins and Antioxidants

Patients looking to supplement their treatments or those not yet ready for anti-aging treatments in a dermatologist’s office, but who would still like to see some improvement in their skin, can look for over-the-counter skin care products. Once sold exclusively at high-end department stores, a vast assortment of anti-aging products is now available at drug stores.

Dr. Kim recommends that patients look for ingredients such as retinoids (chemical compounds derived from vitamin A), peptides (smaller proteins that stimulate collagen production), and growth factors (compounds that act as chemical messengers between cells and play a role in collagen production). Added into inexpensive skin care products, these have the ability to repair skin damage from sun exposure or other toxic chemicals and, in some cases, stimulate collagen production.

Future Technologies to Watch

Another area of research for its potential anti-aging properties is stem cell technology. Since fat cells contain adult stem cells, their use for facial rejuvenation is being explored. The idea is that if stem cells from fat can be signaled to turn into skin structure, they could potentially make a person look younger by adding volume to depressed facial areas. Dr. Kim explained that while this is an exciting area of research, the efficacy and safety of this technology has not been tested in large clinical studies.

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