Opinion | Simple interventions can significantly improve health

Over the past year, I have reported on how artificial intelligence can improve patient safety, enhance diagnosis, and expand access to treatment. Technological innovation holds great promise for healthcare, but we must not forget the low-tech solutions that have been proven time and time again to improve health and extend people’s lives.

Here are three of the most notable.

As many as 40 million Americans suffer from some degree of hearing loss. Hearing loss not only complicates work interactions and relationships, but also poses a number of physical and mental health problems. Her landmark 2011 study published in JAMA Neurology found that people with mild hearing loss were nearly twice as likely to develop dementia. This increased threefold for patients with moderate hearing loss and nearly fivefold for patients with severe hearing loss. Other studies have linked hearing loss to depression, falls, and even early death.

Recent research has demonstrated that hearing aids can reverse some of these negative effects. A study published this year in The Lancet found that older adults at high risk for dementia who used hearing aids had an almost 50% decline in subsequent cognitive function compared to the same group who did not use hearing aids. It was found that the percentage decreased. Another paper reported that people who wear hearing aids are half as likely to fall than those who don’t. Those who continued to use it had a fall risk that was reduced by more than one-third compared to non-users.

Electronic devices to assist with hearing loss are by no means new. In fact, the concept predates him by more than a century. However, it is estimated that only 16 percent of adults with hearing loss under the age of 70 have ever worn a hearing aid, and only 30 percent of adults with hearing loss over the age of 70 have ever worn a hearing aid.

The situation may improve now that the Food and Drug Administration has allowed some standard hearing aids to be sold over the counter. Requiring Medicare coverage of hearing aids could also increase access to hearing aids.

Another major barrier may be a lack of awareness that such seemingly small interventions can significantly improve quality of life as well as overall health.

We all know that exercise is good for you, but it may be surprising how important small amounts of physical activity can be.

A recent review published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that people who did 150 minutes of moderate- or vigorous-intensity exercise per week, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, had a 27 percent reduced risk of heart disease and stroke. I understand that. Also, the risk of cancer was reduced by 12% and the risk of early death by 31%.

Importantly, those who achieved half the recommended amount also saw significant benefits. Just 75 minutes a week, or about 11 minutes per day, reduces cardiovascular disease by about 17%, cancer risk by 7%, and chance of early death by 23%. did.

Many other studies on exercise have found many other health benefits, including lower dementia risk and improved mental health. There is a dose-response relationship, meaning that increasing your physical activity will improve your health. However, the most noticeable increase is going from no activity to some activity. This is important for people who don’t exercise. Incorporating just 11 minutes of brisk walking into your day can make a noticeable difference to your health.

A 2021 Harvard University study concluded that more than one in three Americans experience “severe loneliness.” Loneliness is not only correlated with depression, anxiety, and substance abuse, but also with diabetes, stroke, and early death.

The magnitude of its impact is surprising. According to research cited by the CDC, social isolation increases the risk of heart disease by 29 percent and dementia by 50 percent. Isolation increases the risk of premature death as much as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

Given how much social connections influence health, some experts believe that doctors should ask every patient questions such as how many close friends they have and how much time they spend socializing. They advocate screening for loneliness. This is a good start, as are global efforts to encourage community involvement, such as the Friendly Benches program, which provides outdoor seating areas that connect strangers with nature.

People should also take matters into their own hands. U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy spoke with me earlier this year and shared eight practical steps people can take to rebuild social connections. Many of the steps are small, like setting aside a few minutes a day for him to catch up with loved ones and putting electronic devices aside during conversations.

This is the important point. Much of our attention and resources are devoted to pharmaceutical and technological advances that represent remarkable medical advances. But there are also simple interventions that are within our power and can make as much of a difference to the length and quality of our lives as high-tech innovations.

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