55 Ways to Stay Young: Brain, hair, eyes and ears

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by JEAN ENERSEN / KING 5 News

NWCN.com

Posted on August 6, 2009 at 10:06 AM

Updated Tuesday, Sep 29 at 10:22 AM

Video: 55 Ways to Stay Young: Brain, hair, eyes and ears

Maintain an active brain

Do you misplace the keys once in awhile? Can't remember someone's name? Sometimes that's just the result of normal age-related changes in the brain. On average, individuals begin forgetting at age 35.

"There's nobody who doesn't decline as they age," said Dr. Eric Larson of Group Health Cooperative. "The question is how steep is that slope of decline and what affects it?"

Larson has been studying brains and aging since 1978.

"Some of the things we're beginning to discover are that exercise may play a role in reducing the risk of dementia, or once a person becomes demented, prolonging the ability that a person can survive longer," he said.

Research shows physical activity makes us sharper, helps prevent Alzheimer's disease, and keeps the heart healthy.

It looks like mid-life cardiovascular risk factors -- smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and obesity -- appear to be likely risk factors for your brain to be deteriorating rapidly later and eventually getting Alzheimer's disease.

A keen mind needs good food. Dr. Joseph Pizzorno, a naturopath at Bastyr University, recommends antioxidants.

"We use Vitamin C, plus alpha lipoic acid, bilberry extract and pltotycan," he said.

Those antioxidants work for Pizzorno, who is 57 years old and has a very intense lifestyle.

"I play full court basketball for two hours four times a week and I work 70-hour weeks and I function at a very high level," he said. "So I think it's working for me."

A good breakfast improves memory, especially if you include blueberries. A doctor studying rats found that feeding them blueberries helped them navigate a maze 10 percent faster than before.

Blueberries are an antioxidant for the brain. Not only do they protect the brain, they actually improve brain function, said Pizzorno, who eats eight ounces of blueberries a day. He figures if it works for rats, it's going to work for him, too.

Play mind games, such as crossword puzzles. The brain needs stimulation to stay sharp.

Every morning, Monday through Friday, four men in their 70's meet at Town and Country Market on Bainbridge Island to do a stack of crossword puzzles together.

Exercising the mind can stimulate brain growth at any age.

Stop hair loss

At about age 50, 50 percent of men and women start losing their hair.

Genetics is usually the cause of male baldness.

"It's the luck of the draw, you know, some people have it, some people don't," said Dr. Claire Haycox of the University of Washington Medical Center.

For women, too much hair on the bathroom floor might be the result of vitamin deficiency.

"In my practice, I often find it's because they are very depleted in iron stores," Haycox said.

Consult a doctor to determine if iron levels are low. A supplement can get hair to grow again.

"It will come back, so the iron can be amazing," Haycox said.

The ointment Minoxidil, known as Rogaine, is another way both sexes can restore hair growth.

Men have more options.

"They have Rogaine topically and there's also a pill called Propesha they can take orally once a day that can make a huge difference in preventing progressive thinning in genetically susceptible people," said Haycox. "But that drug is not available for the use in women."

Beyond medication there's hair transplantation, a specialty of Dr. Dan Berg from the University of Washington.

"Critically what happens, you need to have a donor site, you need a place where the hair is going to be staying permanently, a fringe usually in the back," Berg said.

Hair harvested from the back is transplanted to the top. Years ago, this used to be done with clumps of hair called plugs.

"Now we move the same amount of hair but we do it in much smaller grafts and things are much natural nowadays," Berg said.

Preserve vision

As for the eyes, sight does get blurrier with age. It starts as early as age 13 and in our late 30s and 40s we notice it most, especially while reading fine print.

Eventually it gets to the point where you can't focus no matter what you do up close.

Corrective lenses and Lasik surgery can help you see clearly, but annual eye exams are necessary to prevent diseases that cause blindness.

"Most eye disease don't have symptoms to them, you don't know you have a problem, you don't know you have glaucoma until your vision is gone," said Dr. Christopher Clark of Belltown Vision.

New technology lets specialists like Clark get a complete view of the eye and immediately share the results.

"I don't have to just describe it and say to the patient 'here's kind of a freckle back there we want to watch,'" he said. "I can show it to them and say: 'Hey look at this -- everything looks healthy, and no problems.'"

Many people know that carrots are good for the eyes, but the same goes for broccoli, Brussels sprouts, spinach and kale. These vegetables are rich in lutein, which can decrease the risk of cataracts and macular degeneration.

What about crow's feet or laugh lines around your eyes? Many women and men are turning to Botox.

Dermatologist Ulrike Ochs at Virginia Mason Hospital says the tiny injections of toxin can take 5 to 15 years off your appearance.

Botox injections take four to 14 days to kick in and the results last from three to six months.

"At that point, when the muscles become paralyzed, the skin sort of magically smoothes out," Ochs said.

Acupuncture is another alternative, in which lines are locally needled.

Acupuncturist Brigitte Ardea gave facial rejuvenation acupuncture to Cate, to eliminate puffiness and fine lines around eyes. It took five sessions were spread over five weeks to experience the final result.

"I'd be very interested to see the 'before' and 'after' pictures myself, because when I look now I don't see any lines..." Cate said. "I just don't get that tired look."

Protect your hearing

Hearing problems have shot up dramatically since the 1970s for those between the ages of 46 to 64. Blame rock concerts. The human ear was not built to withstand loud noises, such as leaf blowers, screaming crowds, even a Walkman.

The general rule of thumb is if someone next to you can hear the music, it's too loud," said audiologist Lisa Illich at Virginia Mason. "You may think you're not damaging your hearing because you're not noticing anything right away, but its years down the road that you'll notice it."

Her suggestion is to turn down the volume and muffle loud noises with ear plugs.

"That's the biggest thing -- try to keep your hearing protected because once you lose it, you're not getting it back," she cautioned.

School teacher Sheila Ward noticed a sudden drop in her hearing almost a year ago.

"That was a critical point when I realized I can't really cope any more," she said.

A hearing test confirmed Ward was not adequately hearing the world around her. She opted for hearing aids.

"It's actually tremendous," she said. "I never realized how difficult it was to hear, I hear things that I didn't expect to hearbirds in my yard."

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