SciWorks Radio is a production of 88.5 WFDD and SciWorks, the Science Center and Environmental Park of Forsyth County, located in Winston-Salem.

The process of aging affects everyone, whether it be ourselves or the people we love. Some of us age in good health, while others can succumb to a variety of health problems, the most frightening of which can be the loss of brain function. This week, we speak with Dr. Stephen Kritchevsky, the Director of the Sticht Center on Aging at the Wake Forest School of Medicine, here in Winston Salem, where research is being done to understand and counter the effects of the aging process.

People talk about adding years to life; we're trying to add life to years. We don't really have the resources in our healthcare system to provide all the kinds of care to all the people who are becoming older, if the same health conditions that affect us now in the same proportions, if that's true in the future. We have a fairly good understanding who's at risk for dementia. Understanding how to slow the progression of the disease is really in a fairly rudimentary state. If there were important interventions that we can offer people, I think these kinds of tests would be an important part of clinical practice. But we're not quite there yet.

While we can't predict with accuracy who will develop brain diseases like Alzheimer's, we can all take an active role in prevention.

We know that people who stay physically active throughout their whole life age better. They have lower levels of disability, many, many health benefits accrue to that. People who stay involved in their community and actively engaged with others have a higher quality of life and more life satisfaction. One thing that is important in healthy aging is maintaining your brain's health. Common chronic diseases such as diabetes and hypertension seem to take their toll on the brain over time. Interestingly the same risk factors for vascular disease and heart disease are also risk factors for Alzheimer's disease and dementia. It's very important to control those conditions.

If the risks for heart disease also translate into risks for brain conditions, then one major epidemic here in the United States can cause problems for people well into their golden years.

Obesity is related to bad blood cholesterol, it's also related to hypertension. These are related to both brain health and heart health. The same kinds of things you would do to watch your weight, to be physically active appear to be good for both your heart and your brain.

But regardless of your state of physical health, there are also risks associated with your individual genetics.

There is one particular gene that is a very strong risk factor, should you happen to have it, for dementia - especially the Alzheimer's type. It's called the apo E gene, and if people have the wrong version of that they're at higher risk for developing Alzheimer's disease.

At the Sticht Center, research is done on all aspects of aging, including the effects of nutrition on an aging body. Current research is focusing on Vitamin D and Protein deficiencies.

We found that low vitamin D levels in older adults are associated with poor walking ability, lower strength, and others have found it to be related to increased falls. After the age of about 35 all of us start losing skeletal muscle a little each year. Work has shown that older adults who eat relatively more protein in their diet have a 40 to 60% slower loss of lean mass over time.

While we may never be fully in control of the health of our aging bodies, there are a few things we can do to limit our risks.

As you become older we suggest people keep up with physical activity habits, try to maintain a weight. Our data shows that people, as they age, if they're little bit overweight actually age best. Very thin people and very heavy people don't age well. Stay active. My father died at 86 and worked until the very end and he said you need a reason put your pants on in the morning. I think when people lose meaning and purpose in their life then other things can start to come apart and that's often a sign of bad things going to happen for a person.

This Time Round, the theme music for SciWorks Radio, appears as a generous contribution by the band Storyman and courtesy of 

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