- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 15, 2002

Researchers, doctors and public health specialists from around the world are meeting in Washington this weekend to tackle questions such as how the immune system changes with age and the role it plays in disorders common in the elderly such as Alzheimer's, atherosclerosis and anemia.
"So much goes wrong when you get old," said Dr. William Ershler, executive director of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Aging and Geriatric Medicine. The institute is sponsoring the International Conference on Immunology and Aging, which continues through tomorrow at the Omni-Shoreham Hotel. About 200 are expected, half from the United States.
Dr. Ershler said the goal of the institute, a nonprofit biomedical research organization founded in 1985, is to "bridge research with applied medicine to ensure that the aging can quickly realize the benefits of scientific developments in geriatric medicine" and get the best care.
But patients aren't always aware of these improvements in medicine and treatment, said Dr. Simin Nikbin Meydani, a professor of immunology at Tufts University who will be presenting a paper on the role of vitamin E and other nutrients in improving immune function. She said her animal research showed that vitamin E helped older mice fight infection of influenza.
"In the last 10 years, there has been more attention on health issues related to the elderly, just because of their increasing numbers but the level of knowledge is still not where it should be. We need to have more education on the part of physicians because that's an important determinant" in the health and survival of the aged, Dr. Meydani said.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are nearly 46 million Americans age 60 or above, representing 16.3 percent of the total population. By 2010, the numbers will swell to nearly 56 million; by 2020, they will exceed 74.4 million. By then, seniors will represent 23 percent of the U.S. population.
By 2040 the number will surpass 95.7 million; by then, people 60 and older will have accounted for a quarter of the population for at least a decade. By 2050 their numbers will reach 103.2 million and they will represent nearly 27 percent of the total population.
Dr. Meydani said she plans to begin a clinical trial of 640 elderly humans to determine whether vitamin E reduces the incidence of infectious disease in people as it did in the older mice. "Vitamin E has been recommended for the elderly, as have supplements of vitamin B-12," which may benefit both cognitive and vascular function, Dr. Meydani said.
But she also identified other nutrients known to benefit old people: vitamin B-6, folic acid, vitamin C and zinc. "Nutrients are important for the regulation of immune function," Dr. Meydani said.
She noted that "it is possible to change age-related changes in immune function" through nutrients.
Among new studies to be presented at the conference, said Dr. Ershler, will be one on HIV and aging and another that pinpoints a primary cause of anemia in older people.
He said there is rapid growth of AIDS among the elderly: "Are we seeing newly infected patients" in this age group, Dr. Ershler asked, or are these individuals who have been infected for many years but have lived longer because of the more-effective-but-costly treatments available today.


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