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Health VIEW

Forget Adage About Loss of Memory

March 10, 1987|ALLAN PARACHINI | Times Staff Writer

The inability of 76-year-old President Reagan to remember the date of his approval of the ill-fated arms-for-hostages deal with Iran has focused renewed attention on the assumption that memory naturally deteriorates in advanced age.

But like many articles of faith in personal health, this one is beginning to disintegrate under the scrutiny of contemporary research. In fact--with a couple of important caveats--a new study from the National Institute on Aging concludes old people in excellent health have memories just as sharp as those in their 20s.

The research, which is to be presented in detail at a forthcoming meeting of the American Academy of Neurology, tested memory in 60 men aged 20 to 85--all in excellent health. The result: There is no age-associated difference in what's called verbal memory--of such things as stories, lists, appointments and what people said to you, according to Dr. Elisabeth Koss of the institute's laboratory of neurosciences.

"Contrary to what was thought before, there was a preservation of memory ability," Koss said in a telephone interview. "This is very good news." The finding coincides with what Edward Schneider, former deputy director of the institute and now head of USC's Andrus Gerontology Center, identifies as a consensus in contemporary aging research. "There is no evidence that aging causes any impairment of intelligence or ability to make decisions," Schneider said.

Koss was discreet in terms of what her finding may or may not say about the President. "I don't know him personally," she said, "and I have not tested him."

Keep Walking

The recent feverish interest in walking--one of the oldest methods for achieving aerobic fitness and now in a renaissance--has received still another boost from two new studies attesting to its health benefits.

It turns out, a research team at the University of Massachusetts reports, that fast walking, even if it is the sole exercise source, achieves an aerobic benefit--measured in terms of its ability to increase heart rate and enhance oxygen uptake rates in the respiratory system--sufficient to meet the needs of average people from 30 to 69. The findings were reported in the journal Physician and Sportsmedicine.

The researchers evaluated more than 350 subjects--divided about equally between men and women--who walked a mile as fast as possible without breaking into a jog or a run. The average walking speed required to achieve optimal aerobic benefit ranged from 4 m.p.h. for men 30 to 39 and 3.5 m.p.h. for women that age to 3.5 m.p.h. in men 60 to 69 and 3 m.p.h. in women in that category.

Cancer Weight Loss

A drug already used to treat breast cancer may be of great value in reversing one of cancer's most stubborn and dangerous side effects--uncontrollable, massive weight loss.

The discovery of this new use for megestrol acetate may prove to be an important step in dealing with persistent body wasting that is characteristic of many different cancers. Massive cancer-associated weight loss predisposes patients experiencing it to still other dangerous side effects that can worsen their health and endanger their lives.

The new finding was reported by researchers at the University of Maryland Cancer Center in last week's Journal of the American Medical Assn. Megestrol acetate produced weight gains averaging more than 11 pounds--and as high as more than 40 pounds--in 27 of 28 patients. The researchers couldn't say what specific property of megestrol acetate produces the increase.

Hazardous Waste

You probably think of the problem of disposition of hazardous waste as a question of what to do with rail cars and trucks brimming with industrial chemicals. You probably do not think of hazardous waste as your own discarded bug spray, paint, household cleaners and car-polishing compound.

Think again, say researchers from the University of Massachusetts Division of Public Health. The team assessed the attitudes of more than 500 Massachusetts residents who were interviewed by random telephone polling techniques. The findings were reported in the current issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

Respondents favored such concepts as separately disposing of household hazardous wastes at temporary community collection points that would be set up periodically and financing household waste disposal through either a $10 property tax increase or a 5% tax on hazardous goods.

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