Health Flash

health flash: 9.14.16

» before the fall
Researchers from the University of Missouri have found sensors that measure in-home gait speed and stride length can predict the likelihood of falls. Each year, millions of people—especially those age 65 and older—suffer from falls, which can result in broken bones, head injuries and even death. “We have developed a non-wearable sensor system that can measure walking patterns,” says Marjorie Skubic, director of the Center for Eldercare and Rehabilitation Technology. “Assessment of these functions is improving coordinated healthcare for older adults.” Results from an analysis of sensor system data found that a gait speed decline of 5 centimeters per second was associated with an 86.3 percent probability of falling within the following three weeks.

» diet, exercise or both?
In trying to determine the best route to heart health in overweight people, Saint Louis University researchers have found that modest weight loss provides powerful protection against cardiovascular disease regardless of how that loss is achieved, according to Edward Weiss, associate professor of nutrition and dietetics.

By dividing 52 overweight, middle-aged people into three groups (diet only, exercise only and both) and charging them with losing about 7 percent of their body weight over 12 to 14 weeks, they were able to analyze how the changes affected indicators of heart health (blood pressure, heart rate and cholesterol levels). While dieting and exercising (together) was no better than dieting or exercising alone, Weiss says the three strategies were equally effective in improving cardiovascular health and reducing the lifetime risk of developing heart disease by 10 percent. The findings were published in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

» grandmothers and autism
In search of genetic clues to autism spectrum disorder, researchers at Washington University School of Medicine are launching a study that looks at grandmothers. Because the disorder has a strong genetic basis, its incidence may be higher in the grandchildren of women who have had a child with autism than in the population as a whole. “We want to better understand how to support families and advance our knowledge about the risks of inheriting the disorder,” says Dr. Natasha Marrus, assistant professor of child psychiatry. “A key question will be whether girls carry a genetic susceptibility to autism even if they don’t have the symptoms themselves. That could mean they pass along risk to their children, male children in particular, at rates higher than would be expected in the general population.”

» mystery itching 
Researchers from the Center for the Study of Itch at Washington University School of Medicine have identified immune system irregularities that may prompt the need to scratch. To perform the study, researchers took blood and skin samples from four patients suffering from chronic itch and analyzed them for immune problems. “They found ‘an incredible amount of dysfunction,’” says Dr. Brian S. Kim, assistant professor of medicine in the Division of Dermatology. “As doctors, we throw antihistamines and ointments at patients with chronic itch, but if there’s something profoundly abnormal in the immune system, we can’t solve the itching until we address the underlying causes,” Kim says. Because most people with this type of chronic itching tend to be older, Kim suggests it could be caused by general wear and tear of the immune system. He adds it may be too soon to draw conclusions.

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