TIME Aging

‘Senior Moments’ Could Be Early Signs of Dementia: Study

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Scientists hope that early identification of warning signs may help prevent memory problems from becoming so severe

So-called senior moments, like failing to recall your missing sunglasses are perched on your head, might not be just benign mishaps, but early harbingers of Alzheimer’s disease, reports a new paper.

The study, published in the journal of the American Academy of Neurology, suggests that self-reported worries about memory lapses are strong predictors of a later diagnosis of dementia. The research indicates that it takes about 12 years from initial signs of forgetfulness for the problem to become severe enough to be called dementia.

Of course, forgetfulness is a natural part of aging, and a spotty memory by no means guarantees that bigger problems are in the works, the researchers say. However, that does not mean concerns about errant sunglasses should necessarily be brushed off.

That’s because “there may be a significant window of opportunity for intervention before a diagnosable problem shows up,” Richard Kryscio, the study’s lead author and associate director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Center at the University of Kentucky, said in a statement. “Certainly, someone with memory issues should report it to their doctor so they can be followed.”

Right now, there are no definitive ways of preventing dementia, though early research suggests that a healthy lifestyle — including exercise, good eating habits and abstention from smoking — might help ward off the disease, the National Institutes of Health says. Antianxiety drugs have also recently been fingered as possibly increasing a user’s risk of developing memory problems later in life.

In the study, scientists at the University of Kentucky asked 531 people, average age 73 and without dementia, if they had noticed any changes in their memory in the past year.

People who reported such changes were about three times more likely to develop dementia than those who reported no such symptoms. In fact, of the 1 in 6 participants who developed dementia, 80% of those first reported memory changes.

Meanwhile, separate research published in Cognitive and Behavioral Neurology suggests that people with dementia may not remember specific events, like a visit from a relative, but do remember how those forgotten events made them feel.

“This confirms that the emotional life of an Alzheimer’s patient is alive and well,” Edmarie Guzman-Velez, lead author and a doctoral student in clinical psychology at the University of Iowa, said in a statement. “Our findings should empower caregivers by showing them that their actions toward patients really do matter.”

In the study, 17 people with Alzheimer’s disease and 17 healthy participants were asked to view 20 minutes of sad and happy movies. About five minutes after each movie clip finished, participants took a test on what they’d watched: though participants with dementia remembered much less about films than did the nondementia participants — one didn’t remember watching any movies — they still reported heightened levels of either sadness or happiness for up to 30 minutes after watching the films, according to the research.

In general, the researchers said, sadness lasted longer than happiness.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: September 24

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Because of America’s unique relationship with Liberia, we have an obligation to help fight the Ebola outbreak there.

By James Ciment in Slate

2. Medical research often doesn’t account for different ethnicities, and underrepresented groups suffer.

By Estaban G. Burchard in Nature

3. One way to head off sexual violence in professional sports: start with high school coaches.

By Libby Nelson in Vox

4. Beyond the sharing economy: Is “reputation” the next important currency?

By Heather Schlegel on CNN

5. Powerful protests over climate change target corporations – and new leadership is needed to restore faith in capitalism.

By Judith Samuelson in the Huffington Post

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME singles

Why 25% of Millennials Will Never Get Married

A new report from Pew Research predicts that more folks under 35 will be single forever. Here's why

The number of Americans who have always been single and will never marry is at a historic high, says a new Pew Research report, partly because they don’t have jobs and partly because marriage is becoming less highly-regarded. Most people think it’s important for couples who intend to stay together to be married, but the number of single Americans who want to get married has dropped significantly even in the last four years.

The report, based on census data and Pew’s surveys, is the latest in a series of indicators that marriage’s stock is on a sharp downward trajectory. Fewer young people are getting married and many are getting married later. About 20% of Americans older than 25 had always been single in 2012, up from 9% in 1960. In the black community, the numbers are even starker: 36% of black Americans older than 25 have never been married, a fourfold increase from 50 years ago.

The one number that hasn’t really budged is the percentage of 64 year olds who have never been married. In 1960, it was 8% and in 2012, it was 7%. But the report’s authors Wendy Wang and Kim Parker say this might be changing. Each decade, the percentage of people of marriageable age who are single has grown. “When today’s young adults reach their mid-40s to mid-50s, a record high share (roughly 25%) is likely to have never been married,” they write. “This is not to say that adults in their mid-40s to mid-50s who still haven’t married will never marry, but our analysis suggests that the chance of getting married for the first time after age 54 is relatively small,” adds Parker.

Why aren’t people getting married anymore? The three main reasons people give for their singleness are that they haven’t found the right person (30%), aren’t financially stable enough (27%) and are not ready to settle down (22%). Many more young people are eschewing tying the knot, at least for a while, for shacking up. The researchers don’t see that as the new normal yet. “Cohabitation is much less common than marriage and cohabiting relationships are much less stable than marriages,” says Parker.”It’s hard to imagine marriage being replaced any time soon.”

But the Pew researchers teased out a bunch of other reasons by asking what people wanted in a partner.

The quality most women want in a husband, somewhat unromantically, is a secure job, followed very closely by similar ideas on raising kids, which was the quality most men wanted in a spouse. The problem is, the report points out, that young men are increasingly less likely to be employed. “In 1960, 93% of men ages 25 to 34 were in the labor force; by 2012 that share had fallen to 82%.” Those young men who are employed are not bringing home as much bacon as they once did. In fact, if you adjust for inflation, the median hourly wages of men aged 25 to 34 are a fifth less than they were in 1980.

Compounding that issue is that women have entered the labor force in much higher numbers. So while there are more men than women who are single and available, there are far fewer employed men who are single than employed women. Fifty years ago there were 139 single young men with jobs for every 100 single young women; that ratio has now dropped to 91:100. “If all never-married young women in 2012 wanted to find a young employed man who had also never been married, 9% of them would fail,” says the report, “simply because there are not enough men in the target group.”

But lest that bum all the single ladies out too much, the report points out that single young women don’t have to marry single young men: they can marry guys who are divorced, widowed or much older. Should they bother? Now that comedian Sarah Silverman has declared marriage barbaric, is it done? The Pew researchers don’t think so.

“Marriage hasn’t fallen out of favor,” says Parker, “but financial constraints and imbalances in the marriage market may be holding people back from taking the plunge.”

TIME Obesity

Are Diabetes Rates Really “Leveling Off”?

For the first time in several decades, we’re starting to see a slowing of new diabetes diagnoses, suggests new data published in JAMA.

The study authors examined data collected from more than 600,000 adults between ages 20-79 from 1980 to 2012—part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s National Health Interview Survey. A broad view paints a grim picture: From 1990 to 2008, the prevalence of diabetes as well as new cases of the disease both doubled. But from 2008-2012, those rates of change leveled off. So while people are still being diagnosed with diabetes, the rate of growth is decelerating.

“It’s encouraging that we may be seeing this slowing and plateauing,” says Ann Albright, PhD, RD, director of the division of diabetes translation at the CDC and one of the study’s authors. The study cites a slowing of rates of obesity—one of the biggest contributors to type 2 diabetes, found one study—as a partial explanation for the results. Black and Hispanic adults, however, have continued to see a rise in new diabetes cases, and prevalence also grew among people with a high school education or less. These disparities, Albright says, could get worse.

“This data is telling us that we are doing some things right,” Albright says, which is especially important given that the population is aging, and baby boomers are hitting peak years for diabetes. Driving down diabetes prevalence is great, but the best way to get there is to curb new cases—not to have people in the diabetes pool die off early, she adds.

“[This study] is important to note, but it doesn’t mean we have this licked and we’re all done,” she says. “We still have a lot of work to do.”

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

70% of People Suffer After Violent Crime, But Few Get Help

Victims who knew the perpetrator were more likely to report it

Nearly 70% of people endure severe social or emotional problems after being the victim of a violent crime, but only about 12% of those who had problems received help from victim services, according to a new report from the Department of Justice. Just over half of victims who suffered from socio-emotional problems reported the crime to the police.

“A victim with socio-emotional problems may experience a range of emotional and physical symptoms,” the report reads, citing anxiety, trouble sleeping and depression.

Trends varied across demographic groups, particularly gender. Women were much more likely than men to experience socio-emotional problems. Nearly 80% of women who suffered from a serious violent crime said they had such problems, while only 58% percent of their male counterparts said the same.

Whether the victim knew the crime’s perpetrator also affected whether they experienced social or emotional problems. Victims harmed in acts of intimate partner violence were more likely to experience issues, regardless of the type of crime. Nearly three in four victims of intimate partner violence suffered from physical problems, with 61 percent saying they had trouble sleeping.

The report, which looked at data from more than 160,000 people across the U.S., also found low rates of reporting violent crime. Only about a third of victims who experienced severe distress reported the crime to the police. About half of victims who knew the perpetrator reported the crime, while 41% of those who didn’t know the offender did so.

TIME Research

Gun Fatality Rates Vary Wildly By State, Study Finds

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg with Rep. Peter T. King, R-N.Y. at a photo op in the Cannon House Office Building with mayors from around the country participating in the 2007 National Summit of Mayors Against Illegal Guns.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg with Rep. Peter T. King, R-N.Y. at a photo op in the Cannon House Office Building with mayors from around the country participating in the 2007 National Summit of Mayors Against Illegal Guns. Scott J. Ferrell—CQ-Roll Call,Inc./Getty Images

While the national mortality rate stayed level between 2000 and 2010, death rates rose in Massachusetts and Florida and declined in states like California

The rate of death by firearm remained constant in the United States over the 2000s, according to a new study in health journal BMJ — but the situation varied dramatically between states.

Research found that the rates of gun fatalities rose in Massachusetts and Florida between 2000 and 2010 and declined in states like California, North Carolina and Arizona.

“We showed no change in national firearm mortality rates during 2000–2010, but showed distinct state-specific patterns with racial and ethnic variation and by intent,” the study reads.

State gun restrictions appeared to have a varying effect on gun fatality rates, according to the study. California, for instance, has some of the most stringent laws regarding gun ownership and saw a decline in violence. But Massachusetts enacted tough gun laws in 1998, just before the beginning of the study, and still saw an increase in the rate of gun deaths. The study suggests that the increase can be attributed to an influx in firearms from surrounding states.

Looking at the overall numbers over the 11-year period, the chance of dying from a firearm varied dramatically between states, from a death rate of 3 per 100,000 in Hawaii to more than 18 per 100,000 in Louisiana.

The study also found that racial disparities persist across the country. African Americans are twice as likely to die of a gun death than their white counterparts.

TIME psychology

Brains Get a Performance Boost From Believing Effort Trumps Genetics

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David Disalvo is the author of Brain Changer: How Harnessing Your Brain's Power to Adapt Can Change Your Life.

It's all about your state of mind

How much of our intelligence is a genetic gift or the product of hard work is difficult, perhaps impossible, to know for sure. But for our brains to perform their best, new research suggests, it’s better to believe that effort trumps heredity.

Researchers publishing in the journal Biological Psychology wanted to know what happens in the brain when people receive the message that their performance is the result of native intelligence versus the fruits of hard work. Previous studies have found that the latter seems to prompt people to work even harder the next time, while the former has a dampening effect on performance. But it’s unclear what either message triggers in the brain to cause those outcomes.

This time around, two groups of study participants were outfitted with electroencephalogram (EEG) headgear and asked to read two different articles about intelligence. One article conveyed the message that intelligence is solidly genetic; the other that brilliance is born of a challenging environment with very little genetic influence.

The study participants were then told to complete a computer task while their brain activity was recorded.

The EEG results revealed that the group given the article supporting a genetic basis for intelligence showed the highest levels of attention paid to their responses on the task, indicating an especially high concern for performance. But members of this group didn’t recover well from errors, indicating that their elevated attention upfront didn’t translate into consistently applied attention when the going got rough.

In contrast, the group given the article arguing that genetics play a minor role in intelligence showed the highest levels of attention after each error, and their recovery from mistakes became increasingly more efficient as the task went on.

The researchers think that by coloring the participants’ mindsets about intelligence, they changed how their brains responded to challenges. Believing that intelligence is hardwired seemed to elevate a concern for performance, but did nothing to boost actual performance when the task became harder. Believing that intelligence is forged through difficulty, on the other hand, seemed to increase attention paid to mistakes, with the result of improving performance.

The takeaway: How we’re predisposed to think about problems changes the way our brains handle them. Beyond the abilities we’ve inherited, the most important factor in achievement may be believing that it’s within reach.

David Disalvo is the author of Brain Changer: How Harnessing Your Brain’s Power to Adapt Can Change Your Life and the best-selling What Makes Your Brain Happy and Why You Should Do the Opposite, which has been published in 10 languages. His work has appeared in Scientific American Mind, Forbes, Psychology Today, The Wall Street Journal, Slate, Salon, Esquire, Mental Floss and other publications.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Infectious Disease

Health Experts Urge Flu Vaccination

Pregnant women and children are particularly vulnerable

“We can’t predict what this year’s flu season will be like,” said Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Tom Frieden at a National Foundation for Infectious Diseases press conference Thursday. “But we can predict that the best way to protect yourself against the flu is to get a flu vaccination.”

More than 90 percent of doctors and nurses receive a flu vaccination, experts said. They stressed that pregnant women and children are particularly vulnerable and should prioritize taking the vaccine. Flu-related complications can lead to early labor in pregnant women, said Laura Riley, director of labor and delivery at Massachusetts General Hospital.

A lack of understanding of the risks of the and a belief in “scientifically unfounded views” were the most common reasons people decided against taking the vaccine, according to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia infectious disease expert Paul A. Offit.

“The riskiest thing about vaccines is driving to the office to get them,” he said.

Last year 10 million people in the United States caught the flu, causing thousands of deaths. More than 100 children died, 90 percent of whom didn’t take a flu shot.

TIME Research

Quiz: Can You Answer 5th-Grade Science Questions?

Most Americans lack a basic understanding of science

A new survey on scientific literacy from the Center for Accountability in Science found that most respondents failed to correctly answer questions designed for a fifth-grade science class.

“Most Americans are not armed with the basic facts about science,” said Dr. Joseph Perrone, chief science officer at the Center for Accountability in Science, in a statement. “This alarming lack of scientific literacy makes it easier for the public to be duped by the scary headlines and junk science.” You can get the results of the survey here.

Take our quiz to see if you can answer fifth-grade-level science questions.

TIME Research

This Could Be the Most Secure Password Ever

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Gen Nishino—Getty Images

Scientists are using your heart as a security authenticator

In the wake of serious security breaches in the last year, from the pilfering of Target customers’ credit card information to the celebrity iCloud selfie-hack, it’s easy to feel digitally naked. Your current best options—like making your password something along the lines of “**_^XBE47>>” or using two-step verification—also have their shortcomings, which has inspired a crop of enterprising scientists to come up with what must be the oddest, and possibly most secure, password yet: the rhythm of your heart.

A team of Toronto scientists has developed a wristband that can use your own heart rhythm, as measured by electrocardiograms (ECG), as an authenticator for everything from accessing email to unlocking cell phones and other gadgets. In a recent talk at the TEDMED conference in Washington and San Francisco, biometric security engineer Foteini Agrafioti told audiences that because our hearts are so unique—from their size to their orientation in the chest to how they pump our blood—they may be the perfect security “password.” The ECG-authenticating wristband, Nymi, is available for preorder on the company’s website for $79.

“We want to make authentication easy and for it to melt into the background,” says Karl Martin, CEO and founder of Nymi’s parent company Bionym. That’s what sets it apart from, say, Apple’s Touch ID fingerprint authenticator, which requires a person to prove themselves with every transaction, instead of being constantly read.

The company is now working on partnerships with password platforms, payment systems and travel companies with the hopes that this kind of ECG reading might soon be seamlessly adopted.

Biometrics are still not perfect, but the possibilities are vast. In her TEDMED speech, Agrafioti said she believes the future of security lies in the parts of our bodies that are difficult to steal and biologically exclusive. Think lip prints, tongue prints, nose pores, and even the acoustic emissions our ears make. “Don’t be surprised if we have managed to embed tiny microphones into earphones so your music player only unlocks in your own ears,” said Agrafioti.

“You look at the way we prove our identities and it’s archaic. Technology has advanced so much and still if we want to prove who we are, it’s usually with a password or a pin,” says Martin. “A lot of what we are focusing on for the future is not even directly security-related. It’s about hyper-personalization. How can you have a different experience if devices or smart things around you knew who you were and knew your preferences? In smart environments, like a smart home, you shouldn’t have to put in your password on a wall—it should just know it’s you.”

Agrafioti said we need to be willing to think outside the box to keep our information safe: “Passwords are broken because hackers are sophisticated but also because we as humans are just not up to taking ridiculous precautions to maintain our security.”

If their predictions are correct, one day it won’t be “ridiculous” to use your heart rhythms as a password—it will be ridiculous not to.

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