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December 2008 Mayo Clinic Women's HealthSource Highlights Happiness, Dementia and Smoking

ROCHESTER, Minn., Dec. 9 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Here are highlights from the December issue of Mayo Clinic Women's HealthSource. You may cite this publication as often as you wish. Mayo Clinic Women's HealthSource attribution is required. Reprinting is allowed for a fee. Include the following subscription information as your editorial policies permit: Visit or call toll-free for subscription information, 800-876-8633, extension 9751.

Who's Happy and Why

ROCHESTER, Minn. -- Happiness can be measured -- but not bought, according to the December issue of Mayo Clinic Women's HealthSource. Those are two observations made by researchers as they studied well-being from the scientific perspective -- sociological, biological, genetic and psychological.

Age, genetics and a sense of purpose are significant factors in happiness. Money? Not so much. Poverty is not conducive to happiness, but once basic needs are met, income levels don't change life satisfaction much.

Among other highlights of the happiness research:

Midlife crisis: This plunge is real, no matter where you live or what your circumstances. According to a study of about 2 million people in nearly 80 countries, mental distress peaks at midlife. In the United States, this typically happens for women at around age 40 and for men at around age 50.

Golden years glow: Contentment swings up later in life. People in their 60s and 70s tend to be as satisfied as younger people. No one knows for sure what causes the upswing. It could be acceptance of weakness, more maturity or more appreciation for life as friends and loved ones die. And, happier people may live longer, affecting the data.

Genetics: Numerous studies have shown that genetics accounts for up to half of individual differences in both well-being and positive personality traits, which are closely linked. And women tend to be slightly happier than men.

Life circumstances: Regardless of genetics, people respond to life events, and long-term levels of happiness may change after major life events such as marriage, divorce or the death of a loved one. Higher levels of education boost happiness. Social connectedness also increases happiness. This factor may explain why women are happier (and commit suicide less) than men, who are more likely to be socially isolated, especially after they retire.

Health: People in excellent health are almost twice as likely to be happier than those in merely good health. Poor health makes 70 percent less likely to be happy, compared with those in good health. And, a sense of well-being is linked to greater longevity and less risk of disease.

A happiness boost: Some researchers suggest focusing on intentional activities, the ones you choose to engage in mindfully and actively, as a good way to boost long-term happiness.

A Preventable Form of Dementia

ROCHESTER, Minn. -- All dementia isn't Alzheimer's -- where plaques and tangles form in brain cells for unknown reasons, eventually causing irreparable damage. A less common form of dementia, vascular cognitive impairment (VCI), can be mistaken for Alzheimer's.

There's one major difference between the two: VCI is preventable.

The December issue of Mayo Clinic Women's HealthSource provides an overview of vascular cognitive impairment, the second most common cause of dementia, and how to prevent it. VCI accounts for an estimated 10 percent to 20 percent of all dementias in older adults and occurs in 1 percent to 4 percent of all Americans over age 65.

The disorder is most often caused by brain damage resulting from multiple small strokes, which can occur when one or more arteries in the brain narrow or become completely blocked. The risk of VCI can be significantly reduced by managing controllable risk factors, such as blood pressure, cigarette smoking, diabetes and cholesterol levels.

While not all strokes cause dementia, in some cases a stroke can result in the sudden onset of VCI. Other forms of this condition develop gradually and can easily be confused with Alzheimer's. Common symptoms include confusion and agitation, problems with language and memory, unsteady gait and frequent falls, loss of bowel or bladder control, and personality changes.

Typically, a declining ability to organize thoughts or actions is the first symptom of VCI. This sets the disorder apart from Alzheimer's, where problems with memory usually occur first

Once vascular cognitive impairment occurs, damage can't be reversed. Treatment focuses on preventing further damage.

These steps can reduce the risk of developing VCI:

Stop smoking: This reduces the risk of stroke dramatically. Within a few years of becoming smoke free, ex-smokers lower their risk of stroke to the same level as a nonsmoker.

Control diabetes: Careful control of blood sugar may reduce the brain damage a stroke can cause.

Control high blood pressure: Hypertension puts extra pressure on blood vessels throughout the body. Exercising, managing stress, maintaining a healthy weight and limiting sodium and alcohol consumption are ways to manage blood pressure. Medications may be needed, too.

Lower cholesterol and saturated fat intake: A low-fat, low-cholesterol diet may help reduce the buildup of fatty deposits in the arteries. Cholesterol-lowering medications may be helpful, too.

Effort to Stop Smoking is More Intense for Women

ROCHESTER, Minn. -- No evidence can confirm if men or women have more success in efforts to stop smoking.

But, according to the December issue of Mayo Clinic Women's HealthSource, women tend to report more intense withdrawal symptoms, including depression, irritability, anxiety, lethargy, a reduced ability to concentrate, and weight changes. The average weight gain for women after quitting is 5 to 10 pounds. When pounds start adding up, some women get nervous and tense and start smoking again.

For women and men, stopping is difficult and usually takes four to six tries to successfully quit. "People need to realize that if they have a relapse, they can learn from it," says Patrick Draper, a tobacco treatment specialist at Mayo Clinic's Nicotine Dependence Center. "The only way to stop smoking is to keep trying."

Draper proposes four important steps for breaking the addiction:

  • Set a quit date or a quit time frame: Set a date and stick to it; or a time frame such as in the next 30 to 60 days.
  • Choose some form of pharmacotherapy: People who use pharmacotherapy can at least double their chances of quitting. Options include a nicotine patch, gum lozenge, inhaler or nasal spray, which can reduce nicotine cravings. Antidepressants, such as bupropion (Wellbutrin, Zyban), or varenicline (Chantix), a medication that acts on the brain's nicotine receptors, can decrease nicotine withdrawal symptoms.
  • See a tobacco treatment specialist or counselor: No cookie-cutter approach helps people quit smoking. A specialist can help develop an individualized treatment plan.
  • Get support: Find a least one person for support, for example, a friend, family member or a connection made through an online support group. Stopping alone is hard.

Mayo Clinic Women's HealthSource is published monthly to help women enjoy healthier, more productive lives. Revenue from subscriptions is used to support medical research at Mayo Clinic. To subscribe, please call 800-876-8633, extension 9751, or visit

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