Health Buzz: Mental Activity Linked to Alzheimer's Decline

Michael Douglas's cancer diagnosis; children, sex, and the media—how parents can gain control.

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Study: Mental Activity Delays Dementia, Speeds Alzheimer's Decline

Exercising your brain by doing crossword puzzles, reading, or visiting a museum could delay the onset of cognitive decline. But once dementia symptoms appear and Alzheimer's disease is diagnosed, mentally active seniors may decline much faster than usual, according to a study published Wednesday in Neurology. Researchers followed more than 1,000 adults ages 65 and older for 12 years and found that dementia took twice as long to set in among those who challenged their brains the most, but once symptoms appeared, the disease progressed 75 to 85 percent faster for them than for those who weren't mentally active. The findings suggest that mental exercise may indeed be a powerful buffer against dementia-related brain changes, helping seniors stay sharper longer, The Washington Post reports. But because their brains are sharper, signs of Alzheimer's may not be evident until they're severe. From that point, once the disease is unmasked, its progress is rapid.

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  • Michael Douglas Cancer Diagnosis: What You Need to Know

    "I got cancer," Michael Douglas announced on the David Letterman show Tuesday night. He says he was diagnosed with throat cancer three weeks ago and has just finished his first week of radiation and chemotherapy. Although Douglas's cancer has spread to his lymph nodes, it remains confined to his neck region giving him an 80 percent chance of recovery, he told Letterman. "I had a pretty sore throat early this summer and I went through a litany of doctors and they didn't find anything," until August when another medical exam revealed a small tumor.

    Head and neck cancers, which form in the mouth, nose, sinuses, and throat, are more commonly seen in people over 50 who have a history of smoking, chewing tobacco, or heavy drinking. Yet, more and more of these cancers are cropping up due to infections with the sexually-transmitted human papillomavirus, U.S. News's Deborah Kotz writes. A 2008 study from the Journal of Clinical Oncology found that cases of HPV-related oral cancers, which develop in the tonsils and base of the tongue, had nearly doubled over the past three decades among folks in their 40s. [Read more: Michael Douglas Cancer Diagnosis: What You Need to Know.]

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    • Children, Sex, and the Media: 3 Ways for Parents to Gain Control

      Kids get more sex education from TV, music videos, and the Internet—let's make that Jersey Shore, 50 Cent, and XXX-rated websites—than they do from their parents and teachers, and that's not a good thing, according to the nation's pediatricians. They're calling on parents to step up and help children learn how to become responsible sexual human beings.

      Clearly we parents aren't doing a very good job of that now, writes U.S. News contributor Nancy Shute. The United States boasts the highest rate of teen pregnancies in the developed world, and 25 percent of American teenagers have a sexually transmitted disease (STD). But we parents could really use some help. Many moms and dads shy away from talking about sex with their children. So instead, teenagers learn about sex from TV, where 70 percent of teen shows contain sexual content, and less than 10 percent of those shows give examples of responsible sexual behavior, such as delaying sexual activity or reducing the risk of sexually transmitted diseases, according to a new report on teens, sex, and the media from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

      The AAP is encouraging pediatricians to ask two questions at every well-child visit in order to judge how a child's media use may be affecting his or her health: whether a child has a TV or computer in the bedroom and the amount of screen time a child takes in daily. [Read more: Children, Sex, and the Media: 3 Ways for Parents to Gain Control.]

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