Magali Perquin, Ph.D. (photo by Doug Brunk)
Being multilingual may prove to be the “gold” in your golden years.
Results from a study presented during a poster session at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology in Honolulu found that elderly who were fluent in more than two languages were 3.94 less likely to develop cognitive impairment, compared with those who were fluent in two languages. Moreover, those who were fluent in more than four languages were 5.07 times less likely to develop cognitive impairment, compared with those who were fluent in two languages.
In a study led by Magali Perquin, Ph.D., 230 seniors from Luxembourg with a mean age of 73 years who practiced two to sevenlanguages were invited to participate in a longitudinal study exploring cognitive decline and associated risk factors. The researchers used the Language and Social Background Questionnaire to evaluate their multilingual ability and performed standard neuropsychological and neurogeriatric assessments to determine the strength of association between cognitive impairment and the number of practiced languages, adjusting for age and education.
In her poster, Dr. Perquin, of the department of epidemiology at the Public Research Center for Health, Strassen, Luxembourg, and her associates noted that the while the reasons behind the association remain unclear, “it is likely the benefits of practicing many languages might be related to the concept of cognitive reserve and brain plasticity, which results in higher resistance to aging-related neurological insults and subsequent cognitive impairment.”
Time to enroll in that refresher course in German I’ve been putting off.
— Doug Brunk (on Twitter@dougbrunk)
Telomere Staining courtesy of the U.S. Dept. of Energy
With all of the commotion over health care reform these days, today’s announcement that the 2009 Nobel prize for physiology or medicine has been awarded to Elizabeth H. Blackburn, Ph.D., Carol W. Greider, Ph.D., and Jack W. Szostak, Ph.D., for their discovery of telomeres and the related enzyme telomerase, serves as a timely reminder of the importance of basic research to medicine.
According to the official Nobel press release: “Elizabeth Blackburn and Jack Szostak discovered that a unique DNA sequence in the telomeres protects the chromosomes from degradation. Carol Greider and Elizabeth Blackburn identified telomerase, the enzyme that makes telomere DNA. These discoveries explained how the ends of the chromosomes are protected by the telomeres and that they are built by telomerase.”
The findings have important implications for aging and cancer but the origins are humble. Dr. Szostak and Dr. Blackburn conducted their research with single-celled organisms from pond water (Tetrahymena) and yeast. Notably, none of the three researchears are clinicians.
A look at the last 10 years’ worth of Nobel prizes in physiology and medicine shows that the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences seems to favor basic science research in medicine. Only the awards in 2008 and 2005 have obvious clinical ties—HIV/HPV and Helicobacter pylori. The other award recipients have opened up our ability to modify genes using embryonic stem cells, allowed us to see inside the body without picking up a scalpel, and better understand how the nervous system works.
So, ladies and gentlemen, can we have a round of applause please, for all of those unrecognized basic science researchers quietly slaving away over petri dishes, microscopes and chemical assays?
—Kerri Wachter, @knwachter on Twitter
From the annual meeting of the American Medical Directors Association, Charlotte, N.C.:
Dr. Jerald Winakur
This morning’s keynote was a very moving talk by Dr. Jerald Winakur, a geriatrician and certified medical director
. Dr. Winakur shared his perspectives on caring for the elderly from both a clinical and personal standpoint as he read from his book, “Memory Lessons: A Doctor’s Story,” which chronicles his father’s descent into dementia.
But Dr. Winakur also talked about how the numbers of medical students choosing geriatrics is decreasing, just as the numbers of adults in need of geriatric care are increasing. According to the American Geriatrics Society, the number of U.S. medical school graduates who entered geriatrics fellowship training dropped from 167 in 2003 to 91 in 2007. In other words, just just 0.5% of the medical school class of 2007 chose geriatrics.
That makes me a little more nervous about getting older, and I started thinking about how to encourage more medical students to pursue geriatrics. The attendees at AMDA obviously find this field rewarding, but it’s not what you would call sexy. As Dr. Winakur observed, it’s easy to get impatient with older patients who move slowly and have a hard time explaining their ailments. This is not the realm of exotic infections and people running in with paddles yelling, “Clear!” Perhaps we need a TV show to popularize geriatric medicine for medical students.
Networks, are you listening? I offer you “GR,” a show set at a skilled nursing facility somewhere like West Palm Beach, Fla., so the phenomenally attractive doctors and nurses can hang out on the beach when they are off duty.
Seriously, though, the crunch in long-term care will only get more severe. I’m not sure what it will take to encourage talented medical students to get involved in this field.