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Problem Drinking In Midlife Linked To Memory Trouble Later

by Nicholas St. Fleur
Jul 30, 2014

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To ward off big memory problems in your 70s and beyond you may want to cork the bottle more often now.

In a study of 6,500 people published this week, adults with a midlife history of drinking problems were more than twice as likely as those without alcohol problems to suffer severe memory impairment decades later.

Researchers from the University of Exeter Medical School, in Exeter, England, analyzed the records of more than 6,542 American adults who had been tracked for 19 years as a part of the Health and Retirement Study.

The drinking assessment was based on a questionnaire mailed in 1992 to the study participants, who were then between the ages of 51 and 61. Instead of directly asking the volunteers how much they typically drank each day, the questions fished for other, subtler indicators of an alcohol problem. It asked if participants ever felt that they should cut down on drinking; if they had ever been annoyed by someone criticizing their drinking; and if they ever had a drink first thing in the morning.

"If you're saying yes to these questions you may be at risk," Iain Lang, a public health specialist and author of the study, tells Shots. "Current recommendations about drinking are about the numbers: 'Do not drink this amount of [alcohol] per day,' " he says. "We wanted to draw attention to people's own feelings on their drinking and to the responses of others."

After submitting the questionnaire, each participant took a series of tests of memory and thinking. They underwent follow-up tests in 1996 and every two years thereafter.

In one test participants were asked to recall a list of 10 words, such as "mountain," "forest," and "light," immediately after it was read to them. Then they were given an activity to perform, and asked to repeat the words again. Other tests had the participants count back from 20 or recall the names of the current American president and vice president.

All participants did worse on the memory tests as the years went on. But those with histories of alcohol problems had a sharper decline. The findings appear in the current issue of American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.

"If you're having problems with a test like that, I'm sure it carries through to your daily life," says Clare Walton, a neuroscientist from the Alzheimer's Society in the United Kingdom, who was not involved in the study.

Research shows nobody likes to own up to how much they drink, so any study like this that's based on self-reported answers has limits, Walton says.

She points out that although answers to those three subjective questions can effectively point out an alcohol abuser about 70 percent of the time, they are still misidentifying people 30 percent of the time. Exactly how much alcohol it takes to do such damage, and over what time period is still unknown.

Still, she says the work reinforces what other research has been showing: Drinking too much can increase a person's chances of developing serious memory problems and even dementia, which affects 13.9 percent of people over age 70.

"Taking this paper with previous evidence," she says, "people who are concerned with dementia should consider their drinking habits in midlife."

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Before the Ebola outbreak, Dr. Sheik Umar Khan focused on helping patients with other types of hemorrhagic fevers. (Reuters /Landov)

Sierra Leone Doctor Who Led The Fight Against Ebola Dies

by Nicholas St. Fleur
Jul 30, 2014

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For the past several months, Dr. Sheik Umar Khan had been one of the top doctors battling the deadliest and largest Ebola outbreak in history.

Khan had treated over a 100 Ebola patients in Sierra Leone and was hailed by the government as a "national hero."

Then last week Khan caught the virus himself. He died Tuesday, Reuters reports, while receiving treatment at a clinic in Kailahun, Sierra Leone.

"He fought like an animal. He fought for people's lives," Assata Khan, the doctor's sister, told the Toronto Star. "And now his own time has come."

Khan had worked for years helping people with another viral disease, called Lassa fever, which causes symptoms similar to Ebola.

When Ebola emerged in Sierra Leone this past March, Khan immediately turned his attention to the outbreak and started treating patients at a hospital in Kenema.

Several nurses at that hospital have also caught the virus. Three of them died last week.

Health workers and family members caring for sick people are especially vulnerable to catching Ebola. The virus spreads through bodily fluids, such as sweat, saliva and vomit.

Two Americans have also caught the virus while working with patients. Dr. Kent Brantly from Forth Worth, Texas, and Nancy Writebol, of Charlotte, N.C., are both being treated in Monrovia, Liberia.

There's no vaccine or cure for Ebola. About 60 percent of people infected die, many within a week or two of contracting the virus. So far, more then 1,200 Ebola cases have been reported in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. About 670 people have died.

One Liberian man, reportedly infected with Ebola, flew to Nigeria and collapsed at the Lagos airport. He died last week at a hopsital there, Reuters reported Friday.

A major regional airline in West Africa suspended flights Tuesday to and from the capital cities of Liberia and Sierra Leone, Agence France-Presse reported.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged travelers to take "enhanced precautions" in the region and to avoid contact with anyone who appears infected.

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Tell Me More host Michel Martin (NPR)

Making Space For People Who Are Out Of the Spotlight

Jul 30, 2014 (Tell Me More)

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A very smart person I know, a long time civil rights activist, told me once that "gratitude is overrated."

Now, I know that sounds harsh, but what I think she meant was that some people, especially, in her view, women, are too often too quick to settle for less than they deserve. She was talking about people who are so conditioned to have nothing, that they are just too happy when they get even a little.

I understand what she was talking about. Really, I think what she was saying was, we need to keep our eye on the ball. Crumbs have their place, even delicious crumbs, but do not forget there is a whole pie out there somewhere.

Well, that brings us to where we are: this is our last week on the air. A number of us are sticking around with the hope of bringing our sensibilities and our experiences and perspectives to other "platforms" as they say.

As I said before when the decision to cancel Tell Me More was first announced: we do not love this decision. But we plan to make the best of it.

That is what we have been trying to do in these last few weeks by bringing you conversations — some of them encores, most of them new — with some of the people who made an impact on us, and on you.

Can I just tell you? One of the things that has made a big impact on me, especially these last few weeks, is you.

Now, we have always gotten a lot of mail, but in recent weeks, we've been hearing from all kinds of people who wanted to tell us more about what they have appreciated about the program.

Typical was this letter from a woman named Katie Ishibashi in Brooklyn, New York and she said "your show was never about predictable commentators or stories which lead to predictable conclusions. It seemed to me your stories were uncommonly tolerant of ambiguity if that allowed you to more closely pursue the truth."

I got another letter from a man named Stephen Deerhake. The letter came from New Jersey, but he says he's lived all over, including France, North Carolina and California. He described himself as a 50-year-old white guy and said "what your show taught me me about race relations at this point in time was simply invaluable."

I got a phone message from another man, who described himself as an African-American Superior Court judge in Connecticut, who said he had finally found a program that he felt was put together with him in mind. Yes, your honor, it was.

And then there was this post from Chris Vandenburg, one of the hundreds of postings to the NPR Ombudsman's column about the cancellation of the show, who said, "I only realized Tell Me More was part of NPR's failed affirmative action plan after it was cancelled, which means it was a pretty good show. Isn't that what we are supposed to be judged upon? The content of our radio programs and not the color of our skins."

I took that as a compliment, so thank you Chris.

Anyway, the work will go on. But picking up on that last point, it seems the challenge is to keep the honesty going.

The truth is, race and ethnicity and gender are front and center —the first thing we see — but at any given time we are all parts of majorities and we are all parts of minorities.

If you have a bachelor's degree or higher, if your annual household income is $60,000 or more, or if you have a passport, guess what? You are a minority, because most people don't have those things.

Yet, those are minority groups that seem to get a lot of space in the media today. We've been trying to make some space for other people and ideas that do not always find the spotlight, and yet, they matter.

That's the job. And yes, we've been grateful for the chance to tell their stories. But we are not confused.

We know that job is not finished and we do not plan to settle for crumbs. There's still a pie out there, many stories yet to tell. We are going to keep looking for those.

On a related note, I am told there is an African proverb that if you lift up a person's name, she or he will never die.

On behalf of my colleagues, we would like lift up the names of two treasured NPR colleagues who have been lost to us — one a year ago and one just recently.

We lift up the name of Teshima Walker Izrael, our former executive producer and sister friend. And we lift up the name of Margot Adler — story teller, mentor.

We'd like to dedicate these last few shows to them.

Tell Me More ends production on August 1. You can follow Michel Martin in her next project via Twitter and Facebook at NPRMichel.

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Nuala Kennedy is featured on this week's show. (Courtesy of the artist)

The Thistle & Shamrock: Mythography

Jul 30, 2014

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Explore myth, legend and mystery this week, in ballads and tunes of Celtic origin and inspiration. This episode features Nuala Kennedy, Sinead O'Connor, June Tabor and more.

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Foursquare is about to unveil its new Yelp-like app, which meant moving the users who liked it for checking in onto a new app, Swarm. (Courtesy of Foursquare)

Some Loyal Foursquare Users Are Checking Out After Swarm Spinoff

Jul 30, 2014

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Foursquare's new Swarm app isn't going over well.

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As tech companies know well, users can be an unruly lot. And with their voices amplified on social media, they can be downright nasty when they're displeased. Such is the case for Foursquare, the location-based check-in app that boasted of its 50 million users worldwide. Last week, Foursquare formally spun off its core app into two — Foursquare, and a new idea called Swarm.

If Swarm's app store ratings (two out of five stars), the video send-ups and the Twitter hashtags #hateswarm and #killswarm are any indication, users don't like it.

Swarm is now supposed to be the app for check-ins. I'm not quite sure what the revamped Foursquare is supposed to be for, but it sounds like it will give me personalized recommendations of bars, restaurants and other places to go, a la Yelp. Foursquare-the-company put it this way:

"This is the beginning of the 'personalized local search' future we've been talking about since we started Foursquare ... If you've been waiting for real local search, not just the yellow pages on your phone, stay tuned. The all new Foursquare will be here really soon."

Clearing the way for the all-new Foursquare meant pushing check-ins off to Swarm. But here's a problem: Swarm doesn't resemble Foursquare in any recognizable way, and it's missing a lot of the core features that were the very reasons dedicated users logged in. Earning mayorships for numerous check-ins? Gone. Collecting badges for various activities? Gone. Making lists of places to keep-in-mind for later? Gone or impossible to find.

And there's the matter of battery life. The Foursquare and Swarm users who are publicly announcing they're abandoning the apps say the apps are a real drain — literally.

Facebook is famously (or perhaps infamously) iterative; it just spun-off messaging into a new app, Facebook Messenger. It's also rankled users almost every time it changed its news feed or profiles. But algorithmic or design changes never outright abandoned what users believed was the core purpose for the service.

Foursquare, on the other hand, gutted the very reason people used it (check-ins and competing with friends) and moved it onto something else (Swarm), leaving behind a completely different experience on the main Foursquare app. In an amusing twist, Mashable points out that a Facebook product manager who worked on unbundling Messenger from Facebook wrote a Medium post called "Dear Foursquare: A Breakup Letter."

You know who made a move more akin to Foursquare? Netflix. It once tried to split itself into two, Netflix for streaming videos and something called Qwikster for the DVD-by-mail service. After being called the worst product launch since New Coke, the company rolled that back faster than Garth Brooks canceled the world tour for Chris Gaines, the pop-star alter ego he tried to spin off as its own thing.

We reached out to Foursquare to get a better idea of where it's going with this and have yet to hear back. Money is a motivator, most likely.

"In the first two quarters of this year, we'll make more money than we did all of last year," Foursquare CEO Dennis Crowley predicted at a ReadWriteWeb event in San Francisco last month. And Foursquare Chief Operating Officer Jeff Glueck, who has insight into actual user data, told The Verge that current users are checking in more than ever. "People are using Foursquare and Swarm better," he says. "They check in more often on Swarm according to our data, and are using Foursquare more often to explore. We're seeing more Explore queries once people migrated."

The company did admit to some missteps with this rollout, and as we wait for the revamped Foursquare, more and more users like Meredith Gould are quitting both apps. Gould, a Baltimore-based digital strategist whose more than 80,000 tweets indicate she's a social media lover, not hater, gave up on Swarm about a week ago.

"It's such an ugly, dysfunctional, cumbersome, irrelevant, unnecessary app that sucks battery life," Gould says of Swarm. "Why bother? Why do I need two apps when I had one that provided both services?"

But she misses Foursquare for what it was, especially because it served a real function in her daily life.

"Checking into Foursquare was a way to keep track of my day, connect with people in my network and stay connected with them. Getting rid of Foursquare means I've lost something that was helping organize my day, and organize the way I was thinking about and sharing my day," Gould says. "What I'm interested in is, at what point are they going to recognize that the public is right and go back to what used to be normal?"

She isn't alone.

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