Covid-19 Health Effects Will Keep Reducing Labor Force

(p. A1) As the United States emerges from the pandemic, employers have been desperate to hire. But while demand for goods and services has rebounded, the supply of labor has fallen short, holding back the economy.

. . .

(p. A20) Morning Consult found in August [2022] that prime-age adults who aren’t working cited a variety of often overlapping reasons for not wanting jobs. In a monthly poll of 2,200 people, 40 percent said they believed that they wouldn’t be able to find a job with enough flexibility, while 38 percent were limited by family situations and personal obligations. But the biggest category, at 43 percent, was medical conditions.

Other data suggest some of that is due to long-term complications from Covid-19, although estimates of how many people have been knocked out of the work force by Covid range tremendously.

Katie Bach, a Brookings Institution fellow, put the impact at two million to four million full-time workers, based on her interpretation of the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey and other research. (The total affected may be larger, with many who suffer from long Covid reducing their hours rather than stopping work.) A Federal Reserve economist didn’t specify a number, but observed that even as Covid-related hospitalizations and deaths receded, the share of people saying they were not able to work because of illness or disability had remained elevated in Labor Department data after spiking in early 2021.

Another analysis, in a paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, found that people who’d taken a week off for health-related reasons in 2020 and 2021 were 7 percent less likely to be in the labor force a year later — which equates to about 500,000 workers.

Whatever the magnitude, the effects are likely to be significant and long-lasting. Vaccines provide imperfect protection against getting long Covid, studies suggest, and other post-viral diseases have proven difficult to recover from. “I certainly don’t think the worst is behind us,” Ms. Bach said.

For the full story, see:

Lydia DePillis. “Pool of Labor In U.S. Stays Bafflingly Low.” The New York Times (Saturday, September 13, 2022): A1 & A20.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version has the date Sept. 12, 2022, and has the title “Who Are America’s Missing Workers?”)

The NBER paper mentioned above is:

Goda, Gopi Shah, and Evan J. Soltas. “The Impacts of Covid-19 Illnesses on Workers.” National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper No. 30435, Sept. 2022.

Stimulating Brain with Electrical Currents Can Improve Long-Term Memory for Older Adults

(p. A5) Zapping the brain with weak electrical currents that mimic normal neural activity can boost memory in healthy older adults, at least over the short term, researchers said in a study published Monday [Aug. 22, 2022] in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

. . .

The researchers found that repeated delivery of low-frequency currents to a brain region known as the parietal cortex—located in the upper back portion of the organ—improved recall of words toward the end of the 20-word lists. When the researchers targeted the prefrontal cortex at the front of the brain with high-frequency currents, the study participants saw improvements in their ability to remember words from the beginning of the lists.

. . .

The electrical stimulation improved both short- and longer-term memory lasting minutes by about 50 to 65 percent over four days of treatment, Dr. Reinhart said. The improvements persisted one month after the treatment sessions. Short-term, or working, memory involves storing information over a period of seconds like remembering a phone number someone just gave you. Long-term memory involves storing and then retrieving information over minutes, days, months or years.

. . .

Though the apparatus used in the experiments is lightweight and easy to use, Dr. Reinhart said, it hasn’t been cleared for clinical use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and for now is available only in research settings.

For the full story see:

Aylin Woodward and Daniela Hernandez. “Electrical Brain Stimulation Is Shown to Boost Memory.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2022): A5.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date August 22, 2022, and has the title “Improve Memory by Zapping Your Brain? Study Says It’s Possible.”)

The academic article summarized in the passages quoted above is:

Grover, Shrey, Wen Wen, Vighnesh Viswanathan, Christopher T. Gill, and Robert M. G. Reinhart. “Long-Lasting, Dissociable Improvements in Working Memory and Long-Term Memory in Older Adults with Repetitive Neuromodulation.” Nature Neuroscience 25, no. 9 (Sept. 2022): 1237-46.

Jellyfish Genome Suggests Multiple Pathways Can Synergize to Extend Healthy Lifespans

(p. A3) A team of scientists in Spain has succeeded in mapping the genome of a jellyfish known for its ability to cheat death by rebirthing itself.

. . .

In a study published Monday [Aug. 29, 2022] in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the authors said they hoped their genome mapping might lead to discoveries relevant to human aging and efforts to improve the human healthspan.

. . .

Three types can rejuvenate after adulthood and of those three, only one, the Turritopsis dohrnii, keeps its capacity at 100%, according to the study.

. . .

The scientists compared their genome mapping of T. dohrnii to that of a closely related species that isn’t known to have post-reproductive rejuvenation.

. . .

Dr. Jan Karlseder, a molecular biologist and director of the Glenn Center for Biology of Aging Research at the Salk Institute, said the study contained an important message about extending the healthspan, or healthy years, of an organism.

“The most interesting thing is that it’s not a single molecular pathway . . . It is a combination of many of them,” he said. “If we want to look for an extension of healthspan, we cannot just focus on one pathway. That will not be sufficient. We need to look at many of them and how they synergize.”

For the full story see:

Ginger Adams Otis and Alyssa Lukpat. “Scientists Map the Genome of an ‘Immortal Jellyfish’.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2022): A3.

(Note: ellipses between paragraphs, added; ellipsis within paragraph, in original. Bracketed date added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date August 29, 2022, and has the title “Scientists Move Closer to Unlocking the Secrets of the Immortal Jellyfish, and Possibly Human Aging.”)

Three Cups of Coffee a Day Lowers Risk of Death

(p. D6) That morning cup of coffee may be linked to a lower risk of dying, researchers from a study published Monday [June 6, 2022] in The Annals of Internal Medicine concluded. Those who drank 1.5 to 3.5 cups of coffee per day, even with a teaspoon of sugar, were up to 30 percent less likely to die during the study period than those who didn’t drink coffee. Those who drank unsweetened coffee were 16 to 21 percent less likely to die during the study period, with those drinking about three cups per day having the lowest risk of death when compared with noncoffee drinkers.

Researchers analyzed coffee consumption data collected from the U.K. Biobank, a large medical database with health information from people across Britain. They analyzed demographic, lifestyle and dietary information collected from more than 170,000 people between the ages of 37 and 73 over a median follow-up period of seven years. The mortality risk remained lower for people who drank both decaffeinated and caffeinated coffee. The data was inconclusive for those who drank coffee with artificial sweeteners.

“It’s huge. There are very few things that reduce your mortality by 30 percent,” said Dr. Christina Wee, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and a deputy editor of the scientific journal where the study was published. Dr. Wee edited the study and published a corresponding editorial in the same journal.

. . .

The study showed that the benefits of coffee tapered off for people who drank more than 4.5 cups of coffee each day.

For the full story see:

Dani Blum. “Have a Cup of Coffee. It Could Extend Your Life.” The New York Times (Tuesday, June 7, 2022): D6.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 1, 2022, and has the title “Coffee Drinking Linked to Lower Mortality Risk, New Study Finds.” Where there are minor differences in wording between the versions, the passages quoted above follow the online version.)

The academic article summarized in the passages quoted above is:

Liu, Dan, Zhi-Hao Li, Dong Shen, Pei-Dong Zhang, Wei-Qi Song, Wen-Ting Zhang, Qing-Mei Huang, Pei-Liang Chen, Xi-Ru Zhang, and Chen Mao. “Association of Sugar-Sweetened, Artificially Sweetened, and Unsweetened Coffee Consumption with All-Cause and Cause-Specific Mortality.” Annals of Internal Medicine 175, no. 7 (July 2022): 909-17.

Cerebrospinal Fluid From Young Mice Improves the Memories of Old Mice

(p. D3) Five years ago, Tal Iram, a young neuroscientist at Stanford University, approached her supervisor with a daring proposal: She wanted to extract fluid from the brain cavities of young mice and to infuse it into the brains of older mice, testing whether the transfers could rejuvenate the aging rodents.

. . .

Dr. Iram persevered, working for a year just to figure out how to collect the colorless liquid from mice. On Wednesday [May 11, 2022], she reported the tantalizing results in the journal Nature: A week of infusions of young cerebrospinal fluid improved the memories of older mice.

. . .

Cerebrospinal fluid made for a logical target for researchers interested in aging. It nourishes brain cells, and its composition changes with age. Unlike blood, the fluid sits close to the brain.

But for years, scientists saw the fluid largely as a way of recording changes associated with aging, rather than countering its effects. Tests of cerebrospinal fluid, for example, have helped to identify levels of abnormal proteins in patients with significant memory loss who went on to develop Alzheimer’s disease.

. . .

“This is a very cool study that looks scientifically solid to me,” said Matt Kaeberlein, a biologist who studies aging at the University of Washington and was not involved in the research. “This adds to the growing body of evidence that it’s possible, perhaps surprisingly easy, to restore function in aged tissues by targeting the mechanisms of biological aging.”

Dr. Iram tried to determine how the young cerebrospinal fluid was helping to preserve memory by analyzing the hippocampus, a portion of the brain dedicated to memory formation and storage. Treating the old mice with the fluid, she found, had a strong effect on cells that act as precursors to oligodendrocytes, which produce layers of fat known as myelin that insulate nerve fibers and ensure strong signal connections between neurons.

The authors of the study homed in on a particular protein in the young cerebrospinal fluid that appeared involved in setting off the chain of events that led to stronger nerve insulation. Known as fibroblast growth factor 17, or FGF17, the protein could be infused into older cerebrospinal fluid and could partially replicate the effects of young fluid, the study found.

Even more strikingly, blocking the protein in young mice appeared to impair their brain function, offering stronger evidence that FGF17 affects cognition and changes with age.

. . .

But Dr. Wyss-Coray said that the study filled a critical gap in the understanding of how the brain’s environment changes as people age.

“The question is, ‘How can you maintain cognitive health until you die? How can you make the brain resilient to this relentless degeneration of the body?’” he said, “and what a growing number of studies show is that as we learn more about the aging process itself, maybe we can slow down aspects of aging and maintain tissue integrity or even rejuvenate tissues.”

For the full story, see:

Benjamin Mueller. “A Step Toward Refreshing Memory.” The New York Times (Tuesday, May 17, 2022): D3.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 11, 2022, and has the title “Spinal Fluid From Young Mice Sharpened Memories of Older Rodents.”)

The academic article in Nature that reports the results discussed in the passages quoted above is:

Iram, Tal, Fabian Kern, Achint Kaur, Saket Myneni, Allison R. Morningstar, Heather Shin, Miguel A. Garcia, Lakshmi Yerra, Robert Palovics, Andrew C. Yang, Oliver Hahn, Nannan Lu, Steven R. Shuken, Michael S. Haney, Benoit Lehallier, Manasi Iyer, Jian Luo, Henrik Zetterberg, Andreas Keller, J. Bradley Zuchero, and Tony Wyss-Coray. “Young CSF Restores Oligodendrogenesis and Memory in Aged Mice Via Fgf17.” Nature 605, no. 7910 (May 19, 2022): 509-15.

“Don’t Give Up and Say There’s No Point”

(p. A18) TOKYO—The world’s oldest verified living person, Kane Tanaka of Japan, has died at age 119.

. . .

According to Japanese news accounts, Ms. Tanaka loved chocolate and carbonated drinks and hoped to live to 120. Her motto was “Don’t give up and say there’s no point. Live with all your heart.”

For the full story, see:

Chieko Tsuneoka. “World’s Oldest Person Dies at 119.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, April 26, 2022): A18.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated April 25, 2022, and has the title “World’s Oldest Person, Japan’s Kane Tanaka, Dies at 119.” The print version has a longer first sentence than the online version, which is quoted above.)

Art Diamond Discusses “Policy Hurdles in the Fight Against Aging” on Caleb Brown’s Cato Daily Podcast

Caleb Brown, of the Cato Institute, posted an interview with me yesterday (May 27, 2022) on his “Cato Daily Podcast.” The topic, “Policy Hurdles in the Fight against Aging,” is related to a chapter in my book-in-progress on medical entrepreneurship that is to be entitled Less Costs, More Cures: Unbinding Medical Entrepreneurs.

Stereotyping Older Adults May Shorten Their Lives

(p. D3) Dr. Robert N. Butler, a psychiatrist, gerontologist and founding director of the National Institute on Aging, coined the term “ageism” a half-century ago. It echoes “sexism” and “racism,” describing the stereotyping of and discrimination against older adults.

Among the mementos in Dr. Levy’s small office at Yale is a treasured photo of her and Dr. Butler, who died in 2010. One could argue that she is his heir.

A psychologist and epidemiologist, Dr. Levy has demonstrated — in more than 140 published articles over 30 years and in a new book, “Breaking the Age Code” — that ageism results in more than hurt feelings or even discriminatory behavior. It affects physical and cognitive health and well-being in measurable ways and can take years off one’s life.

. . .

Another memento in Dr. Levy’s office is a card on her bulletin board that reads, “Ask Me About 7.5.” The souvenir came from a Wisconsin anti-ageism campaign and refers to her 2002 longevity study, which for two decades followed hundreds of residents older than 50 in a small Ohio town. The study found that median survival was seven and a half years longer for those with the most positive beliefs about aging, compared with those having the most negative attitudes.

. . .

We absorb these stereotypes from an early age, through disparaging media portrayals and fairy tales about wicked old witches. But institutions — employers, health care organizations, housing policies — express a similar prejudice, enforcing what is called “structural ageism,” Dr. Levy said. Reversing that will require sweeping changes — an “age liberation movement,” she added.

But she has found reason for optimism: Damaging ideas about age can change. Using the same subliminal techniques that measure stereotypical attitudes, her team has been able to enhance a sense of competence and value among older people. Researchers in many other countries have replicated their results.

For the full commentary, see:

Paula Span. “How Ageism Can Take Years Off Seniors’ Lives.” The New York Times (Tuesday, April 26, 2022): D3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary was updated April 28, 2022, and has the title “Exploring the Health Effects of Ageism.” Where there is a slight difference in wording between versions, the passages quoted above are from the online version.)

Levy’s book mentioned in the commentary above is:

Levy, Becca. Breaking the Age Code: How Your Beliefs About Aging Determine How Long and Well You Live. New York: William Morrow, 2022.

Centenarians Can Be “Cognitive Super-Agers”

(p. D7) Fewer than 1 percent of Americans reach the age of 100, and new data from the Netherlands indicate that those who achieve that milestone with their mental faculties still intact are likely to remain so for their remaining years, even if their brains are riddled with the plaques and tangles that are the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease.

Findings from the Dutch study may eventually pave a path for many more of us to become “cognitive super-agers,” as researchers call people who approach the end of the human life span with brains that function as if they were 30 years younger.

One day everyone who is physically able to reach 100 may also be able to remain mentally healthy. By studying centenarians, researchers hope to identify reliable characteristics and develop treatments that would result in healthy cognitive aging for most of us. Meanwhile, there is much we can do now to keep our brains in tiptop condition, even if reaching 100 is neither a goal nor a possibility.

These hopeful prospects stem from the study of 340 Dutch centenarians living independently who were tested and shown to be cognitively healthy when they enrolled. The 79 participants who neither died nor dropped out of the study returned for repeated cognitive testing, over an average follow-up of 19 months.

The research team, directed by Henne Holstege at Vrije University in Amsterdam, reported in JAMA Network Open in January that these participants experienced no decline in major cognitive measures, except for a slight loss in memory function. Basically, the participants performed as if they were 30 years younger in overall cognition; ability to make decisions and plans and execute them; recreate by drawing a figure they had looked at; list animals or objects that began with a certain letter; and not becoming easily distracted when performing a task or getting lost when they left home.

Even those with genes linked to an elevated risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease were able to perform well on the tests.

Nearly a third of the participants agreed to donate their brains after death. Brain autopsies of 44 of the original centenarians revealed that many had substantial neuropathology common to people with Alzheimer’s disease although they had remained cognitively healthy for up to four years beyond 100.

For the full commentary, see:

Jane E. Brody. “Living to 100 and Staying Sharp.” The New York Times (Saturday, June 22, 2021): D7.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date June 21, 2021, and has the title “The Secrets of ‘Cognitive Super-Agers’.”)

Even in Old Age Miner George Hearst Retained His “Tenacity, Demon Energy and Genius”

(p. A15) George Hearst was famous for discovering metals—copper, silver, gold—but he liked any mineral he could pull out of the earth. New Year’s Eve 1889 found him far from his San Francisco home, in West Virginia’s coal country. “We found the coal veins all right,” said Hearst’s traveling companion, T.J. Clunie, a young California state senator. “The samples were fine, the price was low, and I expected to see Hearst snap at the offer.” But Hearst was hesitant. “I don’t like to buy a pig in a poke,” he said. “We had better crawl up and see that coal for ourselves before we discuss the price.” That meant scaling a 3,000-foot hill.

At the summit Hearst found a vein of coal, hacked out a chunk, and set it on fire. The flame sputtered and died in seconds. He tossed the lump aside and went looking for another. He found a different vein, hacked out another piece and ignited it. This one burned steadily for 10 minutes, Clunie recalled, while Hearst watched it “as a mother does her first-born.” Hearst scrambled back down the hill and bought the vein. He was 69 years old.

Stomach cancer would claim Hearst barely a year later, but as Matthew Bernstein demonstrates in “George Hearst: Silver King of the Gilded Age,” the old miner went about his work right to the end with the same tenacity, demon energy and genius for finding what he was after that had made him one of the richest men in the American West.

. . .

Hearst did occasionally interrupt his prospecting. On a visit home to Missouri, the 40-year-old prospector fell for an 18-year-old named Phoebe Apperson, and married her in 1862. It was a happy match—he certainly wasn’t around enough to get on her nerves—and they produced one child, William Randolph Hearst, who would embed himself in the national memory even more deeply than his father.

. . .

. . ., there is a warmth to the man that makes him good company throughout the book, and charm in his downright language, as when he said, “When I was young I had very strong religious views, and was brought up to a thoroughly orthodox way; but after leaving home my ideas got broader, and on studying these things for myself, without any influence from parents, or ministers, I came to the conclusion that I knew just about as much about it as anybody, and I knew nothing.”

For the full review, see:

Richard Snow. “BOOKSHELF; A Head For Metals.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, Dec. 13, 2021): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date December 12, 2021, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘George Hearst’ Review: A Head for Metals.”)

The book under review is:

Bernstein, Matthew. George Hearst: Silver King of the Gilded Age. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2021.

FDA Only Approves Drugs That Fight Diseases and FDA Does Not See Aging as a Disease

(p. R2) Will people eventually routinely live—and live healthily—longer? That’s the vision of the burgeoning field of aging research, where scientists are trying to extrapolate tantalizing life-prolonging findings from animal experiments into medicines that slow, prevent or even reverse the aging process for humans.

Leading candidates for stanching aging include two familiar drugs—metformin, a front-line diabetes treatment, and rapamycin, long used to prevent transplant patients from rejecting donated organs. Both have been shown to increase longevity in animal studies and both target molecular processes linked to the aging of cells.

Another approach is a new class of drugs called senolytics, which clear the body of so-called senescent cells, old cells that stop dividing but don’t die. They accumulate in tissues throughout the body and secrete factors that damage other cells. They are linked to such aging conditions as frailty, cognitive impairment and lack of physical resilience.

Also in the mix is a strategy called cellular reprogramming in which scientists are seeking to turn back the clock on aging cells, restoring functions characteristic of younger cells.

. . .

. . ., the Food and Drug Administration doesn’t recognize aging as a disease to be treated, meaning there isn’t a clear path to approval for a drug that targets the biology of aging. Researchers instead have to design trials that can quantify whether a drug improves health or extends survival in a specific age-related disease. A pill that a large and generally healthy population would take, perhaps for decades, would have to clear a high safety bar.

. . .

Researchers are working to develop biomarkers in blood or other bodily sources that can quantify the aging process and serve as drug targets or as proxies to indicate a drug is working or not. Without validated biomarkers, it could take 20 or 30 years in some cases to run a randomized trial to prove whether a drug safely extended life.

For the full story, see:

Ron Winslow. “A Pill to Turn Back the Clock.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022): R2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date January 11, 2022, and has the title “Can You Fight Aging? Scientists Are Testing Drugs to Help.”)