By Lindsey Tanner, Associated Press
CHICAGO — Unemployment hurts more than your wallet — it may damage your heart. That's according to a study linking joblessness with heart attacks in older workers.
The increased odds weren't huge, although multiple job losses posed as big a threat as smoking, high blood pressure and other conditions that are bad for the heart.
The researchers analyzed data on more than 13,000 men and women aged 51 to 75 taking part in an ongoing health and retirement survey partly sponsored by the National Institute on Aging. Since 1992, participants have been interviewed every two years about their employment and health.
The new analysis has several limitations. The data show periods of unemployment but don't indicate whether people were fired, laid off, out of work while switching jobs, or had voluntarily left a job. The researchers considered all of these situations "job losses," but it's likely the greatest risks for heart attacks were from being fired or laid off, said researcher Matthew Dupre, an assistant professor at Duke University and the lead author. Retirement was not considered unemployment
Sarah Burgard, a University of Michigan researcher who has studied the relationship between job loss and health, called the research solid but said it would be important to know the reason for the unemployment.
"There probably are differences in consequences of job loss when it's voluntary or more or less expected" and when it comes as a sudden shock, said Burgard, who was not involved in the study.
The analysis appears in Monday's Archives of Internal Medicine. An editorial in the journal says the study adds to decades of research linking job loss with health effects and that research should now turn to examining how and why that happens.
Theories include that the stress of losing a job may trigger a heart attack in people with clogged arteries or heart disease; and that the unemployed lose health insurance and access to medical care that can help keep them healthy, Burgard said.
The analysis covers 1992-2010. Participants were mostly in their 50s at the study's beginning and were asked about their job history, and about employment status and recent heart attacks at subsequent interviews. People who'd had heart attacks before the study began were excluded.
Nearly 70 percent had at least one job loss, or period of unemployment after working at a job, and at least 10 percent had four or more before and/or during the study period.
There were 1,061 heart attacks during the study. Those with at least one job loss were 22 percent more likely to have a heart attack than those who never lost a job. Those with at least four job losses had a 60 percent higher risk than those with none. Men and women faced equal risks.
Even though the odds linked with job loss weren't huge, many participants already faced increased other risks for a heart attack because of obesity, high blood pressure or lack of exercise.
"Any significant additional risk is important," Dupre said.
By Marilynn Marchione, Associated Press
Scientists have identified a new gene variant that seems to strongly raise the risk for Alzheimer's disease, giving a fresh target for research into treatments for the mind-robbing disorder.
The problem gene is not common — less than 1 percent of people are thought to have it — but it roughly triples the chances of developing Alzheimer's compared to people with the normal version of the gene. It also seems to harm memory and thinking in older people without dementia.
The main reason scientists are excited by the discovery is what this gene does, and how that might reveal what causes Alzheimer's and ways to prevent it. The gene helps the immune system control inflammation in the brain and clear junk such as the sticky deposits that are the hallmark of the disease. Mutations in the gene may impair these tasks, so treatments to restore the gene's function and quell inflammation may help.
"It points us to potential therapeutics in a more precise way than we've seen in the past," said Dr. William Thies, chief medical and scientific officer of the Alzheimer's Association, which had no role in the research. Years down the road, this discovery will likely be seen as very important, he predicted.
It is described in a study by an international group published online Wednesday by the New England Journal of Medicine.
About 35 million people worldwide have dementia, and Alzheimer's is the most common type. In the U.S., about 5 million have Alzheimer's. Medicines such as Aricept and Namenda just temporarily ease symptoms. There is no known cure.
Until now, only one gene — ApoE — has been found to have a big impact on Alzheimer's risk. About 17 percent of the population has at least one copy of the problem version of this gene but nearly half of all people with Alzheimer's do. Other genes that have been tied to the disease raise risk only a little, or cause the less common type of Alzheimer's that develops earlier in life, before age 60.
The new gene, TREM2, already has been tied to a couple other forms of dementia. Researchers led by deCODE Genetics Inc. of Iceland honed in on a version of it they identified through mapping the entire genetic code of more than 2,200 Icelanders.
Further tests on 3,550 Alzheimer's patients and more than 110,000 people without dementia in several countries, including the United States, found that the gene variant was more common in Alzheimer's patients.
"It's a very strong effect," raising the risk of Alzheimer's by three to four times — about the same amount as the problem version of the ApoE gene does, said Dr. Allan Levey, director of an Alzheimer's program at Emory University, one of the academic centers participating in the research.
Researchers also tested more than 1,200 people over age 85 who did not have Alzheimer's disease and found that those with the variant TREM2 gene had lower mental function scores than those without it. This adds evidence the gene variant is important in cognition, even short of causing Alzheimer's.
"It's another piece in the puzzle. It suggests the immune system is important in Alzheimer's disease," said Andrew Singleton, a geneticist with the National Institute on Aging, which helped pay for the study.
One prominent scientist not involved in the study — Dr. Rudolph Tanzi, a Harvard Medical School geneticist and director of an Alzheimer's research program at Massachusetts General Hospital — called the work exciting, but added a caveat.
"I would like to see more evidence that this is Alzheimer's" rather than one of the other dementias already tied to the gene, Tanzi said. Autopsy or brain imaging tests can show whether the cases attributed to the gene variant are truly Alzheimer's or misdiagnosed, he said.
ROME (AP) — Italy's top court has ruled that a businessman developed a benign brain tumor because he held a cellphone to his ear for hours daily for his job and deserves worker's compensation.
Innocente Marcolini, whose face is partially paralyzed, argued that using cell and portable phones six hours a day for 12 years while dealing with clients in China and elsewhere overseas caused the tumor on the trigeminal nerve in his head.
His lawyers presented doctors who testified that excessive cell phone use increases risk of such tumors.
The impact of the ruling earlier this week is unclear. Numerous large scientific studies have failed to find a causal link between cellphones and brain tumors. The World Health Organization classifies cellphones as "possible" carcinogens, in the same category as pesticides and coffee.
JAMES ISLAND, S.C. (AP) — A South Carolina woman who did not know she was pregnant has given birth inside a grocery store.
James Island Fire Chief Chris Seabolt says firefighters responded to a Bi-Lo supermarket about lunchtime Thursday. The woman had already given birth inside the store's restroom.
Seabolt said the mother and child were taken to a hospital and both appear to be fine.
He didn't have any more details, although a store employee said the woman worked at the supermarket and did not know she was pregnant.
HALL, Austria (AP) — Forensic crews scraping away dirt from the remains of the Nazi-era psychiatric patients were puzzled: The skeletal fingers were entwined in rosary beads. Why, the experts wondered, would the Nazis — who considered these people less than human — respect them enough to let them take their religious symbols to their graves?
It turns out they didn't.
A year after the first of 221 sets of remains were exhumed at a former Austrian hospital cemetery, investigators now believe the beads were likely nothing more than a cynical smokescreen, placed to mislead relatives attending the burials into thinking that the last stage of their loved ones' lives was as dignified as their funerals.
But skeletons don't lie. Forensic work shows that more than half of the victims had broken ribs and other bone fractures from blows likely dealt by hospital personnel. Many died from illnesses such as pneumonia, apparently caused by a combination of physical injuries, a lack of food and being immobilized for weeks at a time.
Neither do medical records, which show that medical personnel cursed their patients as "imbeciles," ''idiots" and "useless eaters."
Indeed, there is now little doubt that for many of the dead — mentally and physically disabled people considered by the Nazis to be human garbage — their final months were hell on Earth.
Nazi extermination of the mentally and physically deficient has been documented since the end of World War II. But information gathered from the hospital cemetery in Hall, an ancient Tyrolean town of narrow, cobble-stoned alleys, cozy inns and graceful church spires east of Innsbruck, has filled out the picture in chilling new ways.
Historians, anthropologists, physicians and archaeologists say the Hall project represents the first time that investigators can match hospital records with remains, allowing them to identify, for example, cases in which patients had broken ribs, noses and collarbones that were not listed in their medical histories, suggesting that the patients had been beaten by those responsible for their care.
Faced with the horrors of the findings, those involved in the probe struggle to maintain the detached attitude of an investigator.
"At first, I sat here and worked through these documents in a relatively dry manner from the point of view of a scientist," psychiatrist Christian Haring said. "But as you read on at some point, you suddenly find yourself in a world where the goose-bumps appear."
Anthropologist George McGlynn said more than half of the sets of remains have broken bones, many of them unexplained in the patients' medical records.
"Why is a stubbed toe talked about in three different (documents), but six rib fractures that cause terrible pain isn't even mentioned?" he asked.
While such injuries did not kill directly, they may often have led to death. Many of the patients are listed as dying of pneumonia, and McGlynn said the "scary conclusion" is that rib injuries combined with sedation and forced immobility — patients are suspected to have been strapped to their beds for weeks at a time — may have generated fatal incidences of the disease.
"Nobody is being executed here, like you see in concentration camps," he said. "It was done in a more sinister, insidious way — people are loaded up with drugs until they get a lung infection."
Forensic examination of the bones shows infection that started at the skin level then "goes right into the muscle and all the way to the bone," McGlynn said.
Others apparently starved — if not to death, then to the point where they were susceptible to diseases that then killed them.
"We can assume that the patients suffered massively from hunger," said Haring, the psychiatrist, speaking of "enormous" losses in weight.
The Nazis called people deemed too sick, weak or disabled to fit Hitler's image of a master race "unworthy lives," in the terrible culmination of the cult of eugenics that gained international popularity in the early 1900s as a way to improve the "racial quality" of future generations.
"Patients, who on the basis of human judgment are considered incurable, can be granted mercy death after a discerning diagnosis," Hitler wrote in a 1939 decree that opened the flood gates to the mass killings.
More than 70,000 such people were killed, gassed to death or otherwise murdered between 1939 and 1941, when public protests stopped most wholesale massacres. From then until the end of the war in 1945, the killings continued at the hands of doctors and nurses. In all, at least 200,000 physically or mentally disabled people were killed by medication, starvation, neglect or in the gas chambers during the war.
After 1941, McGlynn said, "a lot of the smaller institutions were given carte blanche to take care of things themselves. No longer were people being transported to (killing) centers. They were being put to sleep right there."
Hundreds of psychiatric patients from Hall were among those shipped to killing centers before 1941, but what happened there after that was unknown until two years ago, when an archivist searching through old hospital files discovered the graveyard during a hospital expansion.
The records show that as the war progressed, and able-bodied men and women became scarce behind the front lines, the Nazis made a cynical adjustment in their measurement of patients' value.
"'Worthy of life' and 'unworthy of life' were the terms used back then," Haring said. "The difference was ability to work or not."
Excerpts of medical histories provided to The Associated Press described one of the patients as suffering from "imbecility," but most were objective, bereft of demeaning descriptions. McGlynn, however, said he had examined records that show emotional abuse in addition to the physical violence the remains attest to.
"People are being threatened: 'If you don't do this we are going to stuff this tube down your nose and pump you full of stuff,'" he said. "These people were at the mercy of their captors."
Other evidence backs up his findings.
Documents show that the cemetery was created in 1942, a year after the formal end of the mass-killing campaign meant that Hall patients could no longer be shipped to gas chambers. It was shut down and abandoned in 1945, when the war ended. During that time, deaths in the psychiatric ward rose from an average of 4 percent a month in early 1942 to as high as 20 percent in some months before the end of the war.
Haring, an affable, soft-spoken man, is visibly shaken as he speaks of the horrors perpetrated by the previous generation of psychiatrists. But he hesitates to assign individual guilt to anyone caught up in the inhuman machinery of the Third Reich.
"It is easy for us now to point the finger and say 'what have they done?'" he said. "But ... I am not sure that I would have acted differently. We were simply paralyzed."
By Jim Vertuno, Associated Press
AUSTIN, Texas — Lance Armstrong stepped down as chairman of his Livestrong cancer-fighting charity and Nike severed ties with him as fallout from the doping scandal swirling around the famed cyclist escalated Wednesday.
Armstrong announced his move at the charity in an early-morning statement. Within minutes, Nike said that it would end its relationship with him "due to the seemingly insurmountable evidence that Lance Armstrong participated in doping and misled Nike for more than a decade."
Nike said it will continue to support Livestrong.
The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency released a massive report last week detailing allegations of widespread doping by Armstrong and his teams when he won the Tour de France seven consecutive times from 1999 to 2005.
The document's purpose was to show why USADA has banned him from cycling for life and ordered 14 years of his career results erased — including those Tour titles. It contains sworn statements from 26 witnesses, including 11 former teammates.
Armstrong, who was not paid a salary as chairman of the Lance Armstrong Foundation, will remain on its 15-member board. His duties leading the board will be turned over to vice chairman Jeff Garvey, who was founding chairman in 1997.
"This organization, its mission and its supporters are incredibly dear to my heart," Armstrong said in a statement. "Today therefore, to spare the foundation any negative effects as a result of controversy surrounding my cycling career, I will conclude my chairmanship."
Foundation spokeswoman Katherine McLane said the decision turns over the foundation's big-picture strategic planning to Garvey. He will also assume some of the public appearances and meetings that Armstrong used to handle.
Kelley O'Keefe, professor of brand strategy at Virginia Commonwealth University, said the charity already may be permanently damaged and that Armstrong may never be able to fully resume his public role.
"From the brand perspective, Armstrong is done," O'Keefe said.
O'Keefe compared Armstrong to Tiger Woods and Michael Vick, who also were embroiled in controversy but were able to return to the playing fields to help redeem their image.
"Armstrong doesn't have that. He's just a retired athlete with a tarnished image," O'Keefe said.
Armstrong strongly denies doping, but did not fight USADA accusations through arbitration, saying he thinks the process is unfair. Once Armstrong gave up the fight in August and the report came out, crisis management experts predicted the future of the foundation, known mainly by its Livestrong brand name, would be threatened. They said Armstrong should consider stepping down.
Armstrong's inspiring story of not only recovering from testicular cancer that had spread to his lungs and brain but then winning the world's best-known bike race helped his foundation grow from a small operation in Texas into one of the most popular charities in the country.
Armstrong drew legions of fans — and donations — and insisted he was drug free at a time when doping was rampant in professional cycling. In 2004, the foundation introduced the yellow "Livestrong" bracelets, selling more than 80 million and creating a global symbol for cancer awareness and survivorship.
"As my cancer treatment was drawing to an end, I created a foundation to serve people affected by cancer. It has been a great privilege to help grow it from a dream into an organization that today has served 2.5 million people and helped spur a cultural shift in how the world views cancer survivors," Armstrong said.
As chairman, Armstrong did not run the foundation's day-to-day operations, which are handled by Livestrong president and chief executive Doug Ulman.
Ulman had said last week that Armstrong's leadership role would not change. Armstrong's statement said he will remain a visible advocate for cancer issues, and he is expected to speak at Friday night's 15th anniversary gala for Livestrong in Austin.
"My family and I have devoted our lives to the work of the foundation and that will not change. We plan to continue our service to the foundation and the cancer community. We will remain active advocates for cancer survivors and engaged supporters of the fight against cancer," Armstrong said.
CharityWatch, which analyzes the work of approximately 600 charities, lists the foundation among its top-rated organizations. That status normally goes to groups which "generally spend 75 percent or more of their budgets on programs, spend $25 or less to raise $100 in public support, do not hold excessive assets in reserve" and disclose basic financial information and documents.
Livestrong says it had functional expenses totaling nearly $35.8 million last year and 82 percent of every dollar raised went directly to programs, a total of more than $29.3 million.
The foundation reported a spike in contributions in late August in the days immediately after Armstrong announced he would no longer fight doping charges and officials moved to erase his Tour victories.
Daniel Borochoff, founder and president of Chicago-based CharityWatch, said last week it may take some time for donors to digest the allegations against Armstrong.
"Individuals that admire and support an individual who is later found out to be severely tarnished, don't want to admit it, don't want to admit that they've been duped," Borochoff said. "People, though, do need to trust a charity."
By Lauren Neergaard, Associated Press
WASHINGTON -- When a stroke hits at 52, like what happened to Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois, the reaction is an astonished, "But he's so young."
The reality is that strokes don't just happen to grandma. They can happen at any age, even to children — and they're on the rise among the young and middle-aged.
That makes it crucial to know the warning signs no matter how old you are.
"Nobody's invincible," warns Dr. Ralph Sacco, a University of Miami neurologist and past president of the American Heart Association.
Every year, about 795,000 people in the U.S. have a stroke. While some strokes are caused by bleeding in the brain, most are like a clogged pipe. Called ischemic strokes, a clot blocks blood flow, starving brain cells to death unless that circulation is restored fast.
Make no mistake, the vast majority of strokes do occur in older adults. But up to a quarter of them strike people younger than 65, Sacco says.
In the so-called stroke belt in the Southeast, that figure can be markedly worse. At Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in North Carolina, a stunning 45 percent of stroke patients are young or middle-aged, says stroke center director Dr. Cheryl Bushnell.
More ominous, recent government research found that nationwide, hospitalization rates for ischemic strokes have jumped by about a third among people ages 15 to 44 over the past decade.
Sometimes younger-age strokes are flukes with no warning signs, impossible to predict — like Kirk's appears to be. The Republican senator is a Navy Reserve commander and avid swimmer, but dizziness sent him to the hospital. It turns out he had a tear in the carotid artery in his neck which blocked blood flow to his brain, triggering a stroke. Trauma usually causes such tears, although doctors haven't been able to say what caused Kirk's. His doctor at a Chicago hospital said Monday that Kirk was continuing to improve from the stroke, which affected his left side.
Heart birth defects, such as a little hole in the heart known as a PFO, and blood-clotting disorders also tend to cause strokes more often in younger people than in seniors.
But just like strokes at older ages, a lot of younger strokes are preventable. The increase seems to be part of a troubling trend: As Americans get fatter, high blood pressure, diabetes and other artery-corroding consequences set in at an earlier age — meaning resulting strokes can hit earlier, too.
Indeed, research reported in Annals of Neurology last fall found nearly 1 in 3 of the 15- to 34-year-olds hospitalized for a stroke, and over half of those ages 35 to 44, already had high blood pressure.
More women are having strokes during or right after pregnancy, too, the government reported last summer. That's because more of them start out with unhealthy conditions like high blood pressure even before the hormonal changes kick in.
Whatever the cause or the age, anyone with stroke symptoms needs emergency care: Sudden numbness or weakness in the face, arm or leg, especially on one side; sudden difficulty speaking or understanding speech; trouble seeing or walking; a sudden super-severe headache.
Younger adults are less likely than seniors to know those symptoms, and tend to try to shrug them off, Bushnell says. She points to a recent 50-something patient who twice ignored temporary episodes of weakness on one side. Called TIAs, for transient ischemic attacks, such episodes are a big red flag that a full-fledged stroke may be imminent. A third TIA finally brought him to the emergency room. By then, aggressive treatment wasn't enough to avoid a stroke that left him with impaired speech.
"As people get older, they have more and more direct contact with people who had strokes," and learn what to watch for, Bushnell says. But at younger ages, "there's just a gap in awareness."
Who is at increased risk for a younger-than-usual stroke? African-Americans and Hispanics, more than whites. Someone whose parent had a stroke before age 65 is at extra risk.
But mostly, the same things that are bad for your heart are bad for your brain, making it crucial to control blood pressure, diabetes and cholesterol, to stop smoking and to keep active. At www.powertoendstroke.org the American Heart Association offers a seven-step online test called "My Life Check" that can help assess your risks.
Younger people do tend to survive strokes more than older people, and to recover better.
But Arnold Springs, 48, of Winston-Salem, N.C., knows it was his friends' fast 911 call that made the difference for him earlier this month.
"All of a sudden, my right arm went numb. The next thing I knew I was on the floor," Springs recalls.
The ambulance got him to Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in time for a clot-busting drug to stop his stroke. Springs left the hospital three days later with some loss of vision and trouble walking, problems that his sister says are expected to improve — plus orders to lower his blood pressure to stave off future strokes.
The federal government is setting forth a plan to help the estimated 5.4 million Americans who have Alzheimer's or similar dementias and their loved ones. I have been looking to feature a Douglas County family who has been affected by this disease because I think it would provide valuable insight for the community. If you would be willing to share your story, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here's today's Associated Press story by Lauran Neergaard about the plan:
The government is setting what it calls an ambitious goal for Alzheimer's disease: Development of effective ways to treat and prevent the mind-destroying illness by 2025.
The Obama administration is developing the first National Alzheimer's Plan to find better treatments for the disease and offer better day-to-day care for those afflicted.
A newly released draft of the overall goals for that plan sets the 2025 deadline, but doesn't provide details of how to fund the necessary research to meet that target date. Today's treatments only temporarily ease some dementia symptoms, and work to find better ones has been frustratingly slow.
A committee of Alzheimer's experts began a two-day meeting today to help advise the government on how the eventual plan, expected by spring, could meet those goals.
"Families have been "reminding us of the enormity of our task, perhaps most important the meaningfulness of it."
— Dr. Ron Petersen, an Alzheimer's specialist at the Mayo Clinic, who chairs the committee
But hanging over the meeting is the reality of a budget crunch. It's not clear how much money the federal government will be able to devote to Alzheimer's, and states have seen their Alzheimer's budgets cut.
"We're not going to fix this without substantial resources," said David Hoffman of the New York State Department of Health, who oversees that state's Alzheimer's programs. "In New York, we're hanging on by our nails."
An estimated 5.4 million Americans have Alzheimer's or similar dementias. It's the sixth-leading killer, and is steadily growing as the population rapidly ages. By 2050, 13 million to 16 million Americans are projected to have Alzheimer's, costing $1 trillion in medical and nursing home expenditures.
The national plan is supposed to tackle both the medical and social aspects of dementia, and advocacy groups had urged that it set a deadline for progress.
Among the draft's other goals:
• Improve timely diagnosis. A recent report found as many as half of today's Alzheimer's sufferers haven't been formally diagnosed, in part because of stigma and the belief that nothing can be done. Symptomatic treatment aside, a diagnosis lets families plan, and catching the disease earlier would be crucial if scientists ever found ways to slow the disease's progress.
To do that, the draft suggests starting with a national public awareness campaign so more people know the early warning signs of dementia — and to include memory assessment tools in the annual Medicare wellness visit.
• Improve support and training for families so they know what resources are available for patients and what to expect as dementia worsens.
A caregiver-training program in New York has shown that families taught how to handle common dementia problems, and given support, are able to keep their loved ones at home for longer. Hoffman said such training programs are far cheaper than nursing homes.
Alzheimer's sufferers gradually lose the ability to do the simplest activities of daily life and can survive that way for a decade or more. In meetings around the country last summer and fall, families urged federal health officials to make sure the national plan addresses how to help patients live their last years at home without ruining their caregivers' own health and finances.
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Officials at Wichita State University say a student has tested positive for tuberculosis, an infectious disease that usually attacks the lungs.
University officials released little information about the student Monday, but they say the person has been quarantined. KWCH-TV reports the university could not say if the student lives on or off the campus.
Wichita State has been on winter break since mid-December. Officials believe the exposure of other students to the ailing person has been limited.
Classes at the university resume Tuesday.
ALBANY, NY (AP) -- New York Health Commissioner Nirav Shah says 12 decorative metal tissue boxes contaminated with radioactive material have been removed from four Bed, Bath and Beyond stores in the state.
The retail chain says no other stores in New York had the item, called Double Ridge Boutique.
Shah says the products were not distributed to the public.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission notified the retailer on Jan. 10 that the shipment of metal boxes was found to contain Cobalt-60. The low-level radioactive material has numerous industrial and medical uses, including cancer radiation therapy.
The New York store locations are in Westbury, Port Chester, Elmsford, and Huntington Station.