Nerve damage a common cause of disability in older adults

September 11, 2008

     A substantial amount of the disability many older adults with diabetes experience is related to poor function in the nerves controlling sensation and movement in the legs, new research shows and this type of nerve damage, also referred to as "peripheral neuropathy," can be responsible for disability in older people without diabetes as well, according to researcher Dr. Elsa S. Strotmeyer of the University of Pittsburgh.
     Dr Strotmeyer and her colleagues found a direct and independent relationship between function of the sensory (those that feel things) and motor nerves (those that allow muscle contraction) in the legs and feet of elderly people as well as a direct tie into walking speed, balance, and other measures of physical ability.
     More than one quarter of adults in their 70s have some loss of sensation in their feet, Strotmeyer and her team note in their study, published in the journal Diabetes Care. To investigate the relationship between nerve function in the extremities and physical function, they looked at 2,364 men and women between 73 and 82 years old, 20.4 percent of who had diabetes.
     Diabetic individuals had more disability than people without diabetes, the researchers found, and the subjects with more severe diabetes had even worse physical function. Statistical analyses determined that worse peripheral nerve function was largely responsible for poor physical performance, in the subjects with diabetes and also for those without the condition. People with diabetes can prevent peripheral nerve damage by keeping their blood glucose under control Dr. Strotmeyer noted. The study is published in the September 2008 issue of the journal Diabetes Care.

Exercise decreases the risk of many dangerous cancers

     Adults who are regularly active, whether through exercise or work, are less likely to develop a range of cancers, a new study suggests. The study, which followed nearly 80,000 Japanese adults for up to a decade, found that regularly active men and women had lower risks of developing any type of cancer. When the researchers looked at specific types of cancer, they found that exercise was linked to lower risks of colon, liver, pancreatic and stomach cancers.
     They also found that the protective effect was strongest among normal-weight men and women -- supporting the theory that physical activity helps lower cancer risk at least partly through better weight control according to the researchers from Japan's National Cancer Center, in Tokyo.
     Overall, according to the researchers, the risk of developing any cancer dipped slightly as participants' activity levels climbed. On average, the most-active men were 13 percent less likely than the least active men to develop cancer; the most-active women had a 16 percent lower cancer risk than their sedentary counterparts. The link held true when the researchers accounted for a range of other factors, including participants' age, weight, smoking habits, daily calorie intake.
     Physical activity was defined not only as leisure-time exercise, but also the amount of time participants typically spent walking, doing physical labor and housework. According to the researchers "Our results suggest that increased daily total physical activity -- not only exercise -- may be beneficial in preventing the development of cancer among Japanese men and women". The study is published in the August 15, 2008 issue of the
American Journal of Epidemiology.