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Saturday, January 14, 2017

Women lose out to men in extra healthy years

Salma Khalik Senior Health Correspondent

Men added 5.5 healthy years to their lives, while it was 4.9 years more for women

Women here are living longer but lagging behind men when it comes to adding extra healthy years to their lives.

In the decade between 2003 and 2013, men added 5.5 healthy years to their lives. Women, on the other hand, are living only 4.9 healthy years more.

According to the Global Burden of Disease 2015 published in The Lancet last year, women spend the last nine years of their lives in ill health, and men 7.5 years.

Some of the factors that create the years of ill health towards the end of life can be prevented, said Dr Amy Khor, Senior Minister of State for Health. In an interview with The Straits Times, she said it is good that Singaporeans are living longer, but not if those added years are lived in pain and suffering.

In 2015, life expectancy for women here was 84.9 years and for men, 80.4 years, making people here among the longest-living in the world. But women spend 10.7 per cent of their lives in ill health, and men 9.4 per cent. In fact, men here top the world in terms of the number of healthy years they live, according to The Lancet report.

Dr Khor said: "It is really important to tell women, 'Yes, you have got longer lives, but we want you to change your lifestyle to increase your years in good health'."

She chairs the Women's Health Committee, set up in 2012 to focus on problems faced by women to help them reduce the burden of ill health. Under its current three- year road map, which started in 2015, the committee is focusing on three big culprits: osteoporosis, diabetes and cancer.

Osteoporosis, a disease in which bones become so brittle that they break easily, is a major cause of poor quality of life for some women, said Dr Khor. Women experience a rapid loss of bone mass in the years following menopause, unless they work at retaining bone density.

She said: "I see women in their 50s in the community with knee guards, complaining about pain. It (osteoporosis) is part of ageing, but we can delay it."

For diabetes, the focus of the committee is on gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) - which affects one in five pregnant women here - since it puts both the mother and baby at risk of diabetes in future.

The committee wants such pregnant women to control the GDM and change their lifestyle after giving birth to prevent the diabetes from recurring. For women with obesity, a major risk factor for diabetes, it is getting them to eat better and exercise more.

With cancer, the aim is to encourage women to have screening for breast, cervical and colorectal cancers, which are preventable or very treatable. The committee is working with the Breast Cancer Foundation (BCF) to provide funding for lower-income women to get mammograms. BCF agreed to fund screening of 40,000 women over five years from end-2014.

Dr Khor said getting women to be healthier has spillover effects, because they have influence over three generations - their parents, spouses and children.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Memory screening for those who keep forgetting things

10 January 2017 | Research
Source: Dr Kinjal Doshi

Being forgetful can simply be a reflection of ageing - but it can also spell something more sinister.

It may, for instance, point to a heightened risk of getting dementia down the line.

People who have memory- related or cognitive problems - such as in making decisions or judging the steps needed to carry out a complex task - may benefit from a memory screening test.

Memory screening is like a health check-up for the brain.

It can help uncover the possible reasons behind difficulties associated with remembering things and other cognitive functions, said Dr Kinjal Doshi, principal clinical psychologist at the neurology department of the Singapore General Hospital (SGH).

Memory screening is usually done in hospitals.

It may be carried out by specialists or trained nurses, and its cost will be part of the consultation fee, Dr Kinjal added.

The screening comprises a few tests, each lasting 20 to 30 minutes, that evaluate a person's ability to learn new information, and follow simple commands and language, among other things.

Anyone aged 18 and above can be screened. "Early detection can help to slow the progression of dementia," said Dr Kinjal.

In some cases, the doctor may need a more comprehensive assessment of the patient's cognitive abilities to establish the extent and cause of his memory difficulties, she added.

The patient will be referred to a psychologist for cognitive testing. A session may take at least two hours. It costs $300 for subsidised patients at SGH.


Dementia is expected to be a growing problem as Singapore's population ages.

According to a study published in 2015, about 28,000 people in Singapore aged 60 and above - or one in 10 - had dementia. The number is set to soar to 80,000 by 2030.

People who are afflicted with dementia tend to display difficulties at concentrating on tasks, finding words to articulate themselves and recalling recent events.

They may also have problems navigating around in the way they used to, said Dr Simon Ting, a senior consultant in the neurology department at the National Neuroscience Institute (SGH campus).

Some people may exhibit personality or mood changes.

Medical help should be sought if the symptoms start to affect one's daily life, said Dr Ting.

An example would be when the person has trouble keeping track of finances, medications or appointments.

To keep dementia at bay, it is important to set aside time every day to stimulate your brain, said Dr Kinjal.

This can include learning something new and practising different memory strategies.

A good night's sleep may be yet another shield against dementia.

Poor sleep has been linked in studies to dementia, said Assistant Professor Julian Lim of the signature research programme in neuroscience and behavioural disorders at Duke-NUS Medical School.

Studies carried out on animals have shown that a peptide associated with Alzheimer's disease, called beta-amyloid, is flushed out of the brain during sleep.

"Although research is still ongoing, it appears that the clearance of these toxins from the brain during sleep might be an important protective factor against memory loss and dementia," said Prof Lim.

To get better sleep, avoid using computers or electronic devices a few hours before going to bed. Also, try not to take caffeine or alcohol too close to bedtime, he added.

Lengthy daytime naps are also a no-no, as they may make it harder for one to get a good night's rest.

Some types of medication can also affect sleep, so patients may want to check with the doctor for alternative options, said Prof Lim.

They should spend time with friends and family members, and also exercise regularly.

"These activities can reduce the level of hormones associated with chronic stress and increase metabolism, both of which may improve sleep quality at night," he added.


Give your brain a workout

Learn something completely new: You can pick up a new language or musical instrument. Or read a book on a topic you are not familiar with. If you are a technical person, try reading history.

Take up a new hobby. The more challenging this is, the more it will benefit your brain.

Pay heed to your daily life: Keep a close eye on what you do or encounter daily. Take note of the environment and your interactions with people. This helps to keep your brain cells working.

S​pice up your routine: Carry out mundane daily tasks in a refreshing way. If you are right-handed. try brushing your teeth with your left hand.

Shuffle the apps on your mobile phone every now and then, so you have to think a little harder to remember where you had placed a particular app.

Varying routines that you tend to perform without much thought can help create new brain pathways.

Try different ways to remember things: Start by memorising small amounts of information - a shopping list, for example - and slowly move on to something more complex. Learn to recognise patterns and create methods that will help you to recall information. Some people create rhymes or think of an image for certain words.

Have fun with mind-bending games: Play games or take part in activities that require you to solve problems or devise a strategy. Ideas include crossword puzzles, cards, mahjong and sudoku. Such activities will train your brain to recall things better.

Source: Dr Kinjal Doshi, principal clinical psychologist, department of neurology, Singapore General Hospital

Monday, January 9, 2017

A new year of investment resolutions

David Kuo For The Straits Times
PUBLISHED JAN 9, 2017, 5:00 AM SGT

Set some clear goals, plan how to get there, enjoy the successes and lessons that follow
Have you made your new year's resolutions yet? It's OK if you haven't, or if you have already broken any of them. Resolutions are merely a statement of intent.

I gave up making new year's resolutions a long time ago. I now make resolutions all year round, instead. I find that I have a greater chance of succeeding when the added pressures of the new year are lifted from my shoulders. If truth be told, the new year is a terrible time to set about doing something important. It is much better to set out our stall when we are more relaxed, more in control. Investing can be like that too.

In the same way that we should not make too many resolutions, we should not try to take on too many different styles of investing, either. We stand a greater chance of success if we channel our energies into just one type of investing. For some, it could be income investing. For others, it could be growth or maybe value investing. Whatever style you choose, aim to be as expert as you can with the discipline. If it is income investing, then focus on shares that can deliver a sustainable and growing income for your portfolio.

Don't get distracted by what others may do. Instead, ask whether a share is capable of generating sufficient cash, while retaining enough money to continue paying you a rising dividend.

Don't join the crowd and simply go with the usual resolutions. Investing can be a bit like that also. Too many people run with the crowd because it seems like the safest thing to do. But it is better to think about what you really want to achieve from your investments.

Work out where your finances are now and set some clear objectives for where you would like to be in 10 or 20 years' time. Calculate how much you would need to invest regularly to achieve those goals. With the three parameters, you should have everything you need to get from where you are now to where you would like to be.

Share your goals with your friends and family. You might even want to share them with like-minded people.

Join an investment club where you can chat with fellow investors who share your passion for investing. Warren Buffett once said: "I learnt that it pays to hang around with people better than you are, because you will float upward a little bit."?

It's quite uncanny how that seems to work. By sharing your fears and concerns with other investors, you may find that you could achieve your goals sooner.

To stay motivated, make a checklist to see how you are doing.

If one of your resolutions is to walk a little farther every day, then you would probably buy a device that counts the number of steps you take. When you invest, you should try to follow the companies in your portfolio to see how they are performing. Watching the share price may not tell you much. But watching the financial performance of a company could.

In the short term, there is no correlation between the performance of the company and its share price. But in the long term there is. So monitor the progress of the company. If the opportunity presents itself to buy more shares at a better price, then don't hesitate to do so.

Give yourself a reward whenever you achieve a goal or an important milestone. That can apply to both resolutions and investing. Incentives can be empowering. They can be motivating. They can give you a sense of progress. If your portfolio has outperformed your objectives, give yourself a little treat from the proceeds.

You might want to buy yourself a small present from some of the dividends that you receive. We invest for a purpose. It is not always about giving up the best things in life but to enjoy the proceeds.

Don't be discouraged if things don't always go swimmingly. Treat any failure as a temporary setback rather than a reason to give up altogether. When we invest, we should expect to run into impediments. Peter Lynch once said that we should consider ourselves good investors if we are right six times out of 10. We are never going to be right nine times out of 10. So, enjoy your successes. Enjoy learning from your failures. Enjoy 2017.

• This is a regular column on stocks and investing by David Kuo, chief executive officer of The Motley Fool Singapore.