Social and medical sciences say a lot about how families can stay healthy, connected and live well. This week’s study highlights include news for preventing obesity, a simple way to strengthen the brain’s ability to remember things and why an unhappy childhood experience could impact you even decades later.

Aromatic memory boost

Older adults looking for a simple memory boost might want to consider essential oils and a diffuser.

The release of fragrance for two hours nightly for six months boosts memory, according to a new study published in Frontiers in Neuroscience.

Researchers from the University of California Irvine Center for the Neurobiology of Learning & Memory provided older adults who didn’t have memory impairment but were ages 60 to 85 with diffusers and aromatic natural oils. Some of the cartridges had very little oil (the control group), while others received full-strength cartridges. Study participants put the cartridge in the diffuser before they went to bed and it emitted scent for two hours while they slept.

Folks who slept as the fragrance wafted through their bedroom got a 226% boost in cognitive performance compared to those who plugged in what amounted to a placebo cartridge.

Those who had the full fragrance also said they slept better.

The researchers used a word list to measure memory. A news release on ScienceDaily says that imaging also showed “better integrity” in a brain pathway that connects the medial temporal lobe to the prefrontal cortex. That pathway wears down with age, a process associated with loss of smell. These researchers and others say loss of smell can weaken cognition.

“The olfactory sense has the special privilege of being directly connected to the brain’s memory circuits,” Michael Yassa, professor and chairman of the center, who was an investigator on the study, said in the release. “All the other senses are routed first through the thalamus. Everyone has experienced how powerful aromas are in evoking recollections, even from very long ago.”

He noted that when other senses fade, glasses or hearing aids can help. But there’s no intervention for the loss of smell.

The researchers say the finding could provide a noninvasive way to strengthen memory and possibly even prevent dementia.

Unhappy family = unhealthy old age

Childhood trauma or adversity can carry impacts that reach far into the future, according to new research from the University of California San Francisco. The study ties adverse early-life experiences to lifelong health challenges, including both physical and cognitive impairments.

On the list of adverse events in the study are exposure to violence or abuse, severe illness, family financial struggles and being separated from parents, among others.

The study, just published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, said experiencing violence in childhood made a person 40% more apt to have a mobility impairment and 80% more likely to have a hard time performing daily activities. The news release on the study said those from unhappy families were 40% more likely to have at least mild cognitive impairment.

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“This can mean a higher likelihood of difficulty walking, or carrying out activities of daily living, or problems with memory when people are in their 60s, 70s, 80s or older,” said study senior author Dr. Alison J. Juang, professor of medicine and director of research in General Internal Medicine at UCSF Health.

The study looked at 3,400 participants ages 50 to 97 living in community settings. They were questioned about adverse childhood experiences and were tested on balance, walking, cognition and memory. How hard it was to perform necessary daily activities was also assessed.

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More than 4 in 10 reported having at least one adverse childhood experience between ages 6 and 16. Among them, 14% experienced violence, 16% saw violence against someone else, 13% experienced financial stress, 16% were separated from a parent and 6% had poor health in childhood. Twenty percent had more than one adverse event.

Can pecans prevent obesity?

Folks who eat pecans every day could be on a health kick they didn’t even know about. A study by Texas A&M AgriLife scientists released this week says the practice can “prevent obesity and a host of related health issues like fatty liver disease and diabetes,” according to a news release on News Wise.

The study was published in the journal MDPI. The principal investigator, Luis Cisneros-Zevallos, professor of horticulture and food science at Texas A&M, called pecans a “healthy tool consumers have in their hands.”

Using mouse models, the researchers at Texas A&M and at the National Institute of Medical Sciences and Nutrition in Mexico found that pecans increased energy expenditure and improved both inflammation and a gut microbe imbalance that can lead to diverse symptoms like chronic fatigue, bloating and acne. The researchers said the pecans help maintain healthy body weight and prevent diabetes even when someone eats a high-fat diet.

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