What women can do to lead healthy lives as they age

When Vivien Brown got her start as a family physician in Toronto 35 decades back, medicine treated girls like small men. For drug prescriptions, the rule of thumb was to provide a girl two-thirds of a person’s dose, with little comprehension of how her metabolism and hormones might interact with drugs. For chronic illnesses like diabetes and hypertension, women received screening and treatment recommendations based on studies conducted on guys, though women frequently have different symptoms and risknbsp;factors.

Fortunately, medical science is catching up with the physiological differences which could influence a woman’s chances of developing a array of age-related diseases, Brown says. Women tend to outlive men, but they are at higher risk for dementia, breast cancer and osteoporosis. More men have heart attacks, but girls are more likely to die from them, in part because the symptoms may be more subtle innbsp;girls.

To protect themselves as they age, patients with two X chromosomes need health advice tailored to them, says Brown, writer of A Woman’s Guide to Healthy Aging: 7 Proven Ways to Keep You Vibrant, Happy and Strong (in book stores Sept.nbsp;23).

Do not expect the usual “look slim in your 60s” tips. Instead, Brown provides evidence-based tips that could change how women feel about osteoporosis treatments, hormone treatment and vaccinations after innbsp;life.

Lifestyle changes alone can’t prevent chronic diseases, because genetics and environmental factors also play a role, Brown told The Globe and Mail. But here are five of the seven ways, Brown says, that could help older women thrive (the other two are diet and exercise, but you understood thatnbsp;currently).

Mind your greynbsp;thing

Girls are more likely than men to suffer from depression, multiple sclerosis and brain diseases including Alzheimer’s, of which 70 percent of new cases are women — and not only because women live longer. Scientists don’t understand why women’s brains are more vulnerable, however neuro-imaging studies have revealed that men’s and women’s brains function differently if they are talking, viewing, listening or justnbsp;relaxing.

Women typically have stronger verbal skills, but this might increase their risk of falling through the cracks in screening tests for cognitive impairment, which are inclined to concentrate on verbal memory. Without early detection, women miss out on drugs which may slow the progression of cognitive decline if taken in the early stages. Brown urges women to speak with a doctor at the first indication of memory loss or confusion, because after they’ve progressed to Alzheimer’s, “it is too late — you have changes in yournbsp;mind.”

Long before that point, girls can protect brain health though aerobic exercise, connected to new brain-cell development, and mindfulness meditation, which might increase brain density in a place related to memory and learning in as few as eight weeks. The top “brain foods” include cruciferous veggies (cabbage, broccoli, dark leafy greens), antioxidants from fruits such as blueberries and omega-3 fatty acids from fish. Brown also advocates the new MIND diet, a brain-boosting program combining characteristics of this heart-healthy Mediterranean diet with the blood-pressure-lowering DASHnbsp;diet.

Smoking, on the other hand, impairs brain function by restricting blood circulation, while an excessive amount of alcohol — more than 1 drink a night, sometimes two — has been associated with neurologicalnbsp;damage.

Protect your heart

Breast cancer grabs headlines, but heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death in Canadian women. Too many die because physicians and patients have difficulty recognizing heart-attack symptoms in girls, Brown says. Instead of chest pain, women are more likely to experience discomfort in the neck, jaw, shoulder, upper back or stomach, shortness of breath, nausea, light-headedness and exhaustion. Brown urges women with these symptoms to be a “squeaky wheel” in the ER. Statistically, heart-attack results are better for men than women, “because guys become admitted earlier and they are treated more harshly” with angiograms and bypasses, shenbsp;states.

For avoidance, Brown recommends asking a doctor about the Framingham Risk Score, which computes cardiovascular risk based on factors like smoking, cholesterol levels and family history. Once a patient understands her risk factors, she is able to go about lowering them through healthy eating, stress reduction, better sleep habits and exercise. At the early stages of cardiovascular disease, Brown says, “lifestyle changes might actually trumpnbsp;drugs.”

Bone up

Osteoporosis, a dangerous deterioration of bone tissue, might not a hot topic, Brown says, but one in four women will develop the illness, compared with one in eight men. Following a hip fracture, more than 25 percent of women will die within the firstnbsp;year.

Women are able to keep their bones strong by consuming three servings per day of dairy products, or calcium from other sources like the bones in canned fish. Brown urges vitamin D supplements (800 to 2,000 IU for women over 50) to help the body absorb calcium, and exercise to maintain muscle tone andnbsp;equilibrium.

Women over 50 who fracture a wrist should request a bone-mineral density evaluation to rule out bone loss. If a physician prescribes osteoporosis drugs, “take them,” Brown says, “because the rationale for the drugs is to reduce your risk of fracture{}” Following one fracture, “we understand that is the maximum risk for another.” New medications for osteoporosis include Denosumab, delivered using one injection every sixnbsp;weeks.

Rethink hormone treatment

Hormone-replacement treatment got a bad name after a sizable 2002 study found that synthetic estrogen following menopause increased the risk of heart attacks. But, at least half of the girls in the study had inherent risk factors for heart disease, including obesity and smoking. Additionally, the study didn’t account for the timing of estrogen treatment: a lot of the girls started taking estrogen over a decade afternbsp;menopause.

Newer research indicates that adding estrogen around the time of menopause, between the ages of 50 and 55, doesn’t raise heart-attack danger — and may actually reduce it, because estrogen helps prevent plaque buildup in the arteries. Other studies indicate that women who take hormone treatment in menopause may be less likely to develop dementia and bone loss. Some researchers have found a slight increased risk for breast cancer in women taking hormone therapy, but others havenbsp;not.

Of note, hormone treatment no longer restores estrogen to replacement levels; it is equal to about a quarter-dose of a low-dose birth-control pill. For women in midlife, it is no longer a matter of “pro- or anti-hormone,” Brown says, but their age, health status and menopause symptoms: “It depends upon thenbsp;individual.”

Get vaxxed

Vaccinations are not just for kids; in older adults, they could stop debilitating illness and premature death. Take shingles, for example. One in two Canadians who live to 80 will find this infection of the nerves and skin, caused by the chickenpox virus. In individuals over 50, the shingles vaccine can cut the chance of long-term nerve damage and nervenbsp;pain.

Meanwhile, pneumonia and influenza vaccines may save your life. Pneumonia and influenza combined would be the sixth leading cause of death in Canada. But within the past 30 or 40 years, despite antibiotics, respirators and other hospital treatments, “we have not reduced mortality rates,” Brown says, noting that nearly all deaths are in patients over 65. Even if it doesn’t kill you, pneumonia may result in permanent lung damage, “so that you might not return to biking, hiking and all the things you like to do if you have had a terrible case ofnbsp;pneumonia{}”

Sexually active girls of any age should also think about that the HPV vaccine to prevent cervical, oral and anal cancers in the human papillomavirus (which causes genital warts). While cervical cancer levels in women in their 30s and 40s, scientists have documented a second summit in girls in theirnbsp;70s.

Courtesy: The Globe And Mail

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