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Am Fam Physician. 1998;58(4):843

Alcohol abuse in the elderly? According to the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment, 17 percent of adults older than 60 years of age are substance abusers. Psychiatric News reports that 15 percent of men who are alcoholics state that their alcoholism began between the ages of 60 and 69 years, and 14 percent report an onset between 70 and 79 years. In women, 24 percent report the beginnings of alcoholism between 60 and 69 years, and 28 percent between 70 and 79 years of age. What is the reason for late-in-life alcoholism? Problems include death of a spouse, retirement, divorce or other major life changes.

Are some people just born to be bad? A study by neuroscientists at the University of Southern California evaluated brain function in murderers to determine if some people are born with a tendency to be violent. The scientists used positron emission tomography to compare the brains of 26 murderers with those of nonviolent people. They discovered that the murderers had 5.7 percent less activity in the medial prefrontal cortex—the part of the brain that inhibits aggressive behavior. They also had 14.2 percent less activity in the orbitofrontal cortex—the area of the brain involved in fear conditioning, also known as the conscience, says The Brain in the News.

Braces for babies? According to the American Association of Orthodontists, parents are being urged to have their children screened for possible orthodontic problems around the age of seven, and many children as young as two or three years of age are undergoing “early treatment.” Dentists find that problems such as overbite are easier to correct in younger patients because the facial bones are malleable before puberty. In younger children, the jaw and palate can be molded and expanded to accommodate adult teeth before they even arrive, avoiding the need for extraction or jaw surgery that older children may need.

Protective hand cream can help prevent irritant contact dermatitis—but only when applied correctly. In a study published in Archives of Dermatology, 150 metalworkers, construction workers and hospital cleaners rubbed a protective cream containing 1 percent vitamin A acetate into their hands. When irradiated with a Wood's light, the cream was visible on the skin. Only 18 to 36 percent of the volunteers in each of the three study groups had covered the entire hand with the cream. Most people missed areas such as the dorsal area of the hands and wrists, finger webs and the fingertips.

Goodbye glasses, goodbye contacts, goodbye irreversible surgery. A new surgical option is about to become available for the visually impaired. Tiny plastic rings are put into the cornea to correct the curvature that causes vision loss. Tests showed that 97 percent of patients reached 20/40 vision or better, making this method superior to other surgeries. The operation is reversible since no corneal tissue is removed. According to Prevention, this operation could be available in less than two years.

Is the sound quality of a movie theater possible in a hearing aid? It may be soon. A newly innovated computer chip that fits in a nickel-sized hearing aid case will reproduce 3-D sound. The mechanism tricks the brain into thinking it is hearing in 3-D by simulating the time lapse of sound when a noise is closer to one ear than the other. Before this, hearing aids would not allow a person to tell which direction a sound was coming from. Tests have shown a 20 percent improvement in hearing with the new device compared to other hearing aids, says Business Week.

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Copyright © 1998 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.

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