Health Buzz: Falls and Brain Injuries and Other Health News

Sunlight’s power, rapid HIV testing, and hypnosis for smoking cessation.

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Brain Injuries Due to Falls a Risk for Older Adults

Traumatic brain injuries because of falls resulted in nearly 56,000 hospitalizations and 8,000 deaths among adults ages 65 and older in 2005, according to a study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This type of injury was responsible for 8 percent of nonfatal fall-related hospitalizations and 50 percent of all unintentional fall deaths among older adults. Traumatic brain injuries—because of a blow or bump to the head—may be missed or misdiagnosed in older adults, but as people grow older, the risk of falling increases because of mobility problems, loss of sensation in feet, vision changes or loss, chronic health conditions, drug interactions or side effects of medications, and hazards like poor lighting and clutter, the study reports.

In January, U.S. News's Katherine Hobson described how exercise can help prevent falls in older adults. And Matthew Shulman reported on why pilates and tai chi might help more than yoga in achieving better balance.

Sunlight and Your Heart

Coinciding with the first week of summer, a study published yesterday underscores the importance of getting adequate amounts of sunlight for its vitamin D-boosting benefits, Deborah Kotz reports. The research, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine , shows that those with the lowest vitamin D levels have more than double the risk of dying from heart disease and other causes over an eight-year period compared with those with the highest vitamin D levels. The researchers cite "decreased outdoor activity" as one reason that people may become deficient in vitamin D.

Another recent study found an increased risk of heart attacks in those with low vitamin D levels. Last year, Kotz explained that Vitamin D can protect against a host of diseases.

A Caution About Rapid HIV Testing

In New York, some people were told they were HIV positive, only to find out later that they actually don't have the virus. One rapid test that examines oral fluid samples—the OraQuick Advance Rapid HIV-1/2 Antibody Test—has produced a higher than expected number of false positives, leading the city's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to suspend use of the test in its STD clinics; the OraQuick finger prick test is still in use. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is investigating clusters of false positives associated with the oral fluid test in other jurisdictions as well. The uptick in false positives was the subject of the CDC's June 18 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

U.S. News lists options for getting tested for HIV. Previously, U.S. News discussed why you should get tested for sexually transmitted diseases.

Can Hypnosis Snuff Out a Smoker's Cigarette Habit?

Smokers trying to quit sometimes use nicotine patches to fight their tobacco dependence, Lindsay Chura reports. But patches don't work for everyone. New research suggests that patches might be made more effective if used in combination with hypnosis, just as they tend to work better when used in conjunction with professional counseling. A recently published study showed hypnotherapy to be as effective as standard behavioral counseling when combined with nicotine patches in helping smokers to quit and stay off cigarettes for one year.

Earlier, U.S. News reported that hypnotherapy is one of many alternative therapies gaining wider acceptance at some of the nation's best hospitals and medical research institutes.

—January W. Payne