Beijing Restrictions Offer Case Study In Emissions Of Key Atmospheric Gases

The Chinese government’s restrictions on Beijing motorists during a three-day conference last November — widely viewed as a dress rehearsal for efforts to slash smog and airborne pollutants during the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing — succeeded in cutting the city’s emissions of one important class of atmospheric gases by an impressive 40 percent.

That’s the conclusion of Harvard University researchers Michael B. McElroy, Yuxuan Wang, and K. Folkert Boersma, who used data from the Dutch-Finnish Ozone Monitoring Instrument (OMI) to assess the drop in emissions. The scientists detail their work this week in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

“I don’t think a proper analysis has ever been made before of such a remarkable shift of environmental policy in such a short period of time,” says McElroy, the Gilbert Butler Professor of Environmental Studies in Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences and School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

China’s restrictions on Beijing drivers coincided with the Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation from Nov. 4-6, 2006, during which an estimated 800,000 of Beijing’s 2.82 million vehicles were taken off the road. The OMI — aboard NASA’s Aura satellite, launched in 2004 — documented a 40 percent reduction in NOx, a class of nitrogen oxides formed during combustion, while the restrictions were in place. These greenhouse gas emissions are thought to contribute, in part, to global warming.

“Traffic restrictions implemented during the Sino-African Summit were remarkably successful in reducing emissions of NOx,” says Wang, a postdoctoral fellow in Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. “We expected a drop in nitrogen emissions, but not to this extent, and after only a short period of time.”

The measured reduction may also imply a more effective regulatory strategy than has been presented by the Chinese media. Recent estimates say that during non-heating seasons, nearly 70 percent of all NOx emissions in the Beijing area are from vehicular emissions. Using this as a standard, McElroy, Wang, and Boersma calculated that there would need to be a 50 percent reduction in vehicular use in Beijing to account for the observed 40 percent reduction in NOx. This stands in contrast to the 30 percent reduction reported by China.

Wang is quick to downplay this inconsistency. “We’re not sure what this means, and there will definitely need to be more detailed data on vehicle energy usage, like gasoline sales data, to develop a more precise value,” she says.

Last November’s driving restrictions ranged from regulating access to specific roads to restricting use of both private and government vehicles. China, the world’s second largest producer of greenhouse gases behind the United States and a major source of atmospheric NOx, is expected to duplicate these traffic restrictions during the 2008 Summer Olympic Games.

“I think the real value here is that these kinds of restrictions can really bring about significant change,” says McElroy. While he and his team are hesitant to leap to conclusions, they maintain that similar events in the future, such as the 2008 Olympic Games themselves and traffic reductions expected to be implemented this summer as a rehearsal for the Olympics, will offer valuable opportunities for further study of the processes determining the quality of air over Beijing.

“Coordinated observations on such occasions can provide precious opportunities to test and refine our understanding of atmospheric chemistry not only for Beijing but also for the large region of East Asia,” McElroy says.


McElroy, Wang, and Boersma worked in collaboration with NASA and Henk J. Estes and J. Pepijn Veefkind of the Royal Dutch Meteorological Institute. Boersma worked on the OMI satellite instrument in the Netherlands before joining Professor Daniel Jacob’s atmospheric research group at Harvard. The research was supported by the National Science Foundation.

Contact: Steve Bradt

Harvard University

Minimally Invasive Surgery Cures Pain Caused By Hip Impingement

The pain due to injury caused by an impingement within the hip joint can be alleviated by means of two surgical techniques in a minimally invasive manner. Arthroscopy is the technique preferred for those cases where the injury is less serious, while the femoroacetabular osteoplastica, after a small incision, is for more serious injuries, according to doctors Juan RamГіn ValentГ­ and Pablo DГ­az de Rada, director and consultant, respectively, at the Department Of Orthopaedic and Bone Surgery at the University Hospital of Navarra.

“The generally accepted notion that hip pathologies only affect elederly people is not correct” – advises Doctor DГ­az de Rada -. “About 7- 10 years ago we showed that hip joint injury is predominant amongst young adults who carry out normal sporting activity”. Such hip conditions are accompanied by pain usually assumed to be tendonitis. Nevertheless, it has been shown that the pain arises from a problem with the hip articulation.

The pathology occurs when the head and/or neck of the femur (the acetabular edge) collides or impacts with the pelvic cavity (acetabulum) where this femoral head articulates.

High rate amongst young adults

Recent studies calculate that the collision or impingement of the hip affects15% of the population, although the majority of cases do not lead to symptomatology. Two thirds of patients affected by injuries are young adults who carry out regular sporting activity. To date the origin of the problem was unknown. However, it is presumed that, with symptoms that are left untreated, it could degenerate into early arthrosis of the hip joint.
The symptoms that indicate the injury known as femoroacetabular impingement are pain in the gluteal region on flexing the leg at the hip with movements such as leg crossing, jumping over hurdles, throwing a ball, martial arts or a very low sitting posture (squatting), amongst others.

The syndrome is produced when excess bone forms around the neck of the femur, and which, on flexing the leg, impinges on the acetabulum edge (ladrum), thus putting pressure on the cartilage. There are also cases where there is no excess bone protuberance at this point but the acetebulum is longer than normal and so, on flexing the joint, the femur neck impacts against the excess bone on the wall of the pelvis and pushes the femoral head outwards, causing pain and obstructing flexion. In most case, both phenomena occur together.

According to the specialist, the symptoms of those suffering from this syndrome are pain in the groin, in the gluteal region, in the thigh or around one side of the hip, on making flexing or rotational movements.

Surgical treatment

According to Doctor DГ­az de Rada, the surgical treatment basically consisted of milling down the femoral head and the acetabulum “in order to provide the spherical shape that the femoral head should have to avoid rubbing”. To date it was usual for this procedure to be undertaken using arthroscopy in those cases where the excess bone was slight. In cases of greater bone protuberance, open surgery involving larger incisions was carried out and this could give rise to temporary muscle injury and longer recovery time.

The current, most effective, alternative for those cases where arthroscopy is not suitable is osteoplastica after a small incision. This involves minimally-invasive surgery effected with an 8 cm incision in the front part of the thigh. “Access is gained between flat muscles and so the effect is much less. The patient can start walking within a fortnight of the operation and, after a period of intense rehabilitation, he or she can continue the high-level sport competition activity within 6 months”, the consultant at the University Hospital of Navarra pointed out.

The operation is carried out with sedation, either with epidural or general anaesthesia, as it is surgery that can last for more than two hours. The patient to be operated on requires hospitalisation of between 3 and 5 days when he or she can walk with crutches. Once over this, the process of rehabilitation can start and, within three weeks, the patient can begin to walk without crutches. Six weeks after the operation, some sports such as swimming can be carried out and, after 6 months, high-level, competition-standard contact sports can be taken on.


Source: Irati Kortabitarte

Elhuyar Fundazioa

Tamiflu Metabolite Measured In Japanese Sewage Discharge, River Water

In a study published September 24th ahead of print in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Health Perspectives (EHP), researchers measured oseltamivir carboxylate (OC), the active metabolite of the popular anti-influenza drug Tamiflu (oseltamivir phosphate), in samples of sewage discharge and river water collected near Kyoto City during Japan’s 2008-2009 flu season.

Scientists already knew that OC withstands the activated sludge treatment process used by many sewage treatment plants (STPs) and that the metabolite is released in STP wastewater, but the amount of OC reaching waterways as a result of this had not been measured. Therefore, the goal of the current study was to assess differences in the occurrence of OC in these waters over the course of a seasonal flu outbreak.

OC concentrations were highest in all samples during the peak of the seasonal flu outbreak, with the highest concentration, 293.3 nanograms per liter (ng/L), measured in discharge water from a conventional activated sludge-based STP. However, OC levels in discharge samples varied significantly depending on the type of sewage treatment method used, with a substantially lower peak concentration (37.9 ng/L) measured in discharge from an STP that used ozonation as an additional (tertiary) treatment.

The points where treated effluent is discharged into waterways tend to be warmer and resist freezing in winter, making them attractive spots for wild waterfowl. When influenza A virus in the birds’ droppings encounters active Tamiflu metabolite in the water, the scene is set for resistance to develop. Previous studies have reported that the concentrations of OC required to disable 50% of influenza virus-a measure of the drug’s effectiveness-ranged from 80 to 230 ng/L. Thus, the peak drug concentrations observed in this study may be high enough to promote the emergence of drug-resistant influenza strains in waterfowl exposed to OC-contaminated waterways.

Seasonal flu epidemics cause tens of millions of respiratory illnesses and 250,000 to 500,000 deaths worldwide each year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The WHO recommends Tamiflu for both treatment and prevention of flu, and the drug is considered an important first-line defense in the event of a flu pandemic, including the current pandemic of H1N1 flu. However, there are widespread reports of resistance to Tamiflu among seasonal influenza. A growing number of similar reports in regards to novel H1N1 influenza highlight the need for measures to control the emergence and spread of drug-resistant viral strains.

“Ozonation as tertiary treatment will substantially reduce the OC load in STP effluent during an influenza epidemic or pandemic,” wrote first author Gopal C. Ghosh and colleagues. “Further research is needed to investigate the fate of antiviral drugs at every unit process in the STPs.”

Other authors of the paper include Norihide Nakada, Naoyuki Yamashita and Hiroaki Tanaka. This study was partially supported by The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism of Japan and the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science.

The article is available free of charge here.

EHP is published by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. EHP is an Open Access journal. More information is available online at ehponline. Brogan & Partners Convergence Marketing handles marketing and public relations for the publication and is responsible for creation and distribution of this press release.

Environmental Health Perspectives (NIEHS)

View drug information on Tamiflu capsule.

Updated ‘Patient Care In Vascular And Interventional Radiology’ And Related ‘Study Guide’ Now Available

“Patient Care in Vascular and Interventional Radiology” – an essential resource and the first offering from Society of Interventional Radiology Press, the society’s publishing arm – is now available. Also available is the companion “Patient Care in Vascular and Interventional Radiology Study Guide.”

top experts in their areas of specialty, this resource is ideal for physicians in their fellowship or in training, for certification or recertification or for those who want to brush up on crucial areas of patient care. The newly updated 448-page edition of SIR’s popular syllabus covers major aspects such as vascular, neurologic, hepatobiliary, cardiac, pulmonary and genitourinary evaluation; management of hypertension, renal insufficiency, hematologic disorders, antiobiotics, analgesia and sedation, cardiopulmonary emergencies, vascular complications, liver and renal failure, postprocedural pain and nutrition; and postprocedural wound management. The spiral-bound book includes detailed tables and charts for handy reference, figures for illustration and bibliographies for further reading. Its compact size and spiral binding make it easy to carry for on-the-go learning. Book editors are Peter N. Waybill, M.D., FSIR, professor of radiology, medicine and surgery and chief of cardiovascular and interventional radiology at Pennsylvania State College of Medicine and Penn State Hershey Medical Center in Hershey, Pa., and Daniel B. Brown, M.D., professor of radiology and chief of interventional radiology and interventional oncology at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia, Pa.

Also available is the first-ever “Study Guide” published by SIR Press; it is designed to complement “Patient Care in Vascular and Interventional Radiology,” presenting both questions for each of the 28 chapters covered in the syllabus and detailed answers with explanations.

Reading “Patient Care in Vascular and Interventional Radiology” constitutes a planned activity of continuing medical education with an estimated completion time of 21 hours. To receive CME credit for this activity, physicians must read the chapters in this book and take the corresponding chapter examination. The chapter exams will be available online in mid-March on the SIR Web site; all buyers will be notified as soon as the chapter exams are available. Each chapter is approved for .75 AMA PRA Category 1 Credits. Physicians do not have to complete all of the chapters to claim a CME certificate for this educational activity.

Maryann Verrillo
Society of Interventional Radiology

Cutting-Edge Stem Cell Procedure Helps Sufferers Of Myasthenia Gravis To Breathe Easier

Patients living with Myasthenia Gravis (MG) may breathe easier thanks to a rare bone marrow transplant procedure performed at The Bone Marrow Transplant Program at University of California, San Diego Medical Center, the only program in the western United States that has attempted this procedure.

Myasthenia Gravis (MG) is a rare neuromuscular autoimmune disease where the body’s immune system, which normally protects the body, mistakenly attacks itself. The transmission of nerve impulses to muscles is interrupted, which ultimately prevents the muscles from contracting. Without the proper nerve impulses, muscles that control breathing can’t function.

“It’s like dying in your own body,” said Ewa Carrier, M.D., associate professor of medicine and pediatrics in the UCSD Blood and Marrow Transplant Division at UCSD’s School of Medicine. “Eventually, MG patients can’t walk, can’t breathe, can’t swallow. The signal just doesn’t go to the muscles.”

This new procedure reprograms the patient’s stem cells, destroying them with chemotherapy, before re-introducing purified blood-forming stem cells. After the transplant, the modified stem cells build new bone marrow, renewing the immune system with correct signaling, renewing the immune system with cells that don’t attack the body.

The Patient

The Myasthenia Gravis Foundation of America estimates only 20 out of 100,000 individuals in the country have been diagnosed with MG. However, MG is considered under-diagnosed and many more are likely affected but do not know it.

Martin Glasser, M.D., is one of the confirmed cases. Every other day for the past three years, he has visited the plasmapheresis clinic at UCSD Medical Center. Plasmapheresis is a procedure much like dialysis which is used to help MG patients feel better for short periods of time. Glasser’s disease was progressing, causing weakness in the legs, arms and diaphragm. Plasmapheresis made breathing easier “but it’s a very crude way of keeping you alive,” said Glasser.

The Procedure

The procedure was conducted by a team consisting of Ewa Carrier, M.D., Arnold Gass, M.D., professor of medicine at Veterans Affairs San Diego Healthcare System, Geoffrey Sheehan, M.D., UCSD professor of neurosciences and myasthenia gravis specialist and David Ward, M.D., UCSD professor of medicine and Apheresis program founder.

According to the International Bone Marrow Transplant Registry (IBMTR) this rare procedure has previously been performed only three times, all at Northwestern University Hospital in Chicago.

In preparing for the transplant, Glasser’s native bone marrow was literally obliterated. Most of the T cells in the body were destroyed.

“The theory is that if the T cells are destroyed before introducing new stem cells, the new stem cells will not receive the old message to attack. After the transplant, the modified stem cells build new bone marrow, renewing the immune system,” said Carrier.

Glasser’s transplant involved harvesting 16 million of his stem cells. These cells were cleaned with a special device resulting in 8 million pure stem cells. Stem cells at this early stage of development have the greatest chance of producing a healthy line of blood cells.

After the transplant, patients must take antibiotics to protect them from infection. They cannot go to crowded places and must follow special diet requirements until the immune system is fully recovered, which takes about three months.

“There’s a possibility that there’s also some form of tissue repair going on,” said Carrier. “For example, Dr. Glasser did not have feeling in his feet before the transplant and now he has feeling in his feet again, possibly indicating that his peripheral polyneuropathy is improving as well.”



The Rebecca and John Moores UCSD Cancer Center is one of only 40 facilities in the country, and the only one in San Diego County, to receive the Comprehensive Cancer Center designation from The National Cancer Institute (NCI).

UCSD Medical Center offers the only Blood and Marrow Transplantation program in the San Diego region that is affiliated with a renowned School of Medicine and accredited by the Foundation for the Accreditation of Hematopoietic Cell Therapy (FACT). This accreditation is the patient’s assurance that a BMT program has passed rigorous standards regarding the qualifications and experience of staff, quality management and patient volume.

The UCSD Apheresis Program, founded by David Ward, M.D., F.R.C.P., in 1982, is the only program in North America to receive full accreditation. Now with units at both the Hillcrest hospital and the Moores UCSD Cancer Center, the program treats many different diseases with several different procedures.

Source: Kim Edwards

University of California – San Diego

Federal Court Issues Permanent Injunction Against Puerto Rico Dairies For Drug Residues Found In Cows

The United States District Court for the District of Puerto Rico issued an Order of Permanent Injunction against J.M. Dairy Inc. and Las Martas Inc., and Juan Manuel Barreto Ginorio, the owner of the dairies, after illegal drug residues were found in cows.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is concerned about the sale of animals for human food that may contain illegal levels of animal drugs because of the potential for adverse effects on human health. FDA approves new animal drugs with requirements, including a specified time period to withdraw an animal from treatment prior to slaughter, to assure that a drug has been depleted from edible tissue to a level safe for humans. The order also prohibits the sale of milk until compliance is met.

The court order follows a civil complaint filed against the defendants on Sept. 19, 2006, based upon FDA’s investigations into the dairies and their practices. The dairies produce milk for human consumption and sell dairy cows for slaughter for human consumption.

The injunction is based, in part, on five illegal residues in the edible tissue of three dairy cows sampled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) between August 2003 and September 2005. The drug residues found by FSIS included antibiotics such as sulfamethazine, sulfathiazole, sulfadimethoxine, and penicillin at levels not permitted by FDA. More recent FDA inspections confirmed that the dairies continued to use animal drugs in a manner contrary to the label directions, without the benefit of a veterinarian’s oversight, and failed to maintain record-keeping systems to ensure that they did not sell milk or animals for slaughter for human food with illegal new drug residues.

Under the terms of the Aug. 8, 2007 order, the defendants must implement record-keeping systems to ensure that their use of drugs conforms to FDA regulations and that no milk or animals for slaughter for human food enters into interstate commerce with illegal new drug residues.

The defendants may only resume selling or delivering food-milk or animals for slaughter for human food-in interstate commerce after they are notified by FDA that they are in compliance with the terms of the order.


Total Smoking Ban Makes More People Want To Quit

The public has made significantly more enquiries to a national Quitline for smokers, and demand for nicotine replacement treatment vouchers has increased, following a total ban on smoking in indoor public places in New Zealand, according to a letter in this week’s BMJ.

Nick Wilson, a senior lecturer in public health in New Zealand, writes that the complete ban in his country since December 2004 has been well accepted by the public, and smoking cessation services became busier when the ban was introduced.

Speaking of the UK’s approach on this issue, he writes: ‘Having only a partial ban on smoking in public places is seriously inadequate in terms of protecting the public health from second-hand smoke.’

Total smoking ban is accepted in New Zealand, BMJ Volume 331, p1145

Teresa Hagan
BMJ-British Medical Journal

Management Of Superficial Bladder Tumors

UroToday – This presentation addressed the issue that recurrence at first follow-up cystoscopy (RR-FFC) after TURBT has been attributed to incomplete resection of the tumor. Furthermore, an EORTC analysis of multicenter trials suggested the inter-institutional variability of RR-FFC was a result of variable TURBT ‘quality’. Dr. Mariappan and members of the Edinburgh Uro-Oncology Group aimed to determine if (a) detrusor muscle can be a surrogate marker of this ‘quality’ and (b) the presence of detrusor is dependant on surgeon’s experience.

The researchers reviewed their prospectively maintained database of patients with newly diagnosed bladder tumors in 2005-2006, to determine surgeon status, tumor characteristics and RR-FFC. Only patients with complete resections as determined by the surgeon were included. For analysis, surgeons were stratified into (a) seniors (consultant and Year 5 or 6 trainees) and (b) juniors (trainees < year 5). One investigator, blinded to the above characteristics, interrogated our pathology database to confirm histological tumor grade, stage and detrusor muscle status. Logistic regression analysis was carried out.

A total of 356 patients were suitable for analysis. The majority of tumors in this cohort were small (73.3%), single (84.6%) and high grade (48.3%). Seniors performed 66.1% of the resections. Overall, detrusor muscle was present in 241 (67.7%) of resections. Logistic regression multivariate analysis revealed large tumors, high grade tumors and surgery carried out by senior surgeons were associated with presence of detrusor (Table 1). The overall RR-FFC was 26.8%. The risk of early recurrence following TURBT was 35.9% and 21.5% when detrusor muscle was absent and present, respectively (OR=2.1, 95%CI=1.1-4, p=0.02). Dr. Mariappan concluded that the presence of detrusor muscle in the TURBT specimen was more likely when surgery was performed by senior surgeons and this predicted a lower RR-FFC. This parameter appears to be a surrogate marker of the quality of TURBT.

Presented by: P. Mariappan, MD, et al, at the European Association of Urology – 23rd Annual EAU Congress – March 26 – 29, 2008 – Milan, Italy

Reported by UroToday Contributing Editor, Christopher P. Evans, MD

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Young Smokers Have Quitting On Their Minds

Quitting is on the minds of young smokers well before full-blown addiction sets in, according to a new study from Canada.

“Kids begin to think about quitting very soon after their first puffs,” said lead author Jennifer O’Loughlin, a researcher with the department of social and preventive medicine at the University of Montreal.

The study, which appears in the September issue of the American Journal of Public Health, identified a paradox: Novice smokers, who seem to begin experimenting at the age of 12, continue to escalate their tobacco use while at the same time making several unsuccessful attempts to stop.

During the five-year study, 319 Montreal teenagers filled out questionnaires on their smoking habits every three months. The researchers found that the first serious attempt to quit smoking came just two and a half months after the first puff.

The smoking habit progressed rapidly, with teens taking about nine months to develop a monthly smoking habit, and almost two years to need daily nicotine hits.

As cravings, withdrawal symptoms and tolerance grew, novice smokers began to lose confidence in their ability to quit. After two years, many had discovered that breaking the habit was not so easy. In the course of the study, more than 70 percent of the teens wanted to quit, but only 19 percent actually managed to stop smoking for at least a year.

“There was evidence to suggest that kids who smoke do want to quit, but the fact that there were so many serious quit attempts two months after initiation is eye opening,” said Geri Dino, director of the Prevention Research Center in the Department of Community Medicine at West Virginia University. Another interesting finding, she said, was that four years after taking up smoking, 32 percent were still unaware of how hard it is to quit: “It’s taking these kids a while to realize this is a tough thing.” Dino had no affiliation with the study.

O’Loughlin said the study shows that there are milestones in the process of becoming addicted to tobacco. Understanding the steps that lead to addiction could uncover critical periods when kids might be most open to education and support.

“I think there’s a narrow window of opportunity in there before full-blown addiction that we’re not taking into account in our prevention and cessation interventions aimed at kids,” O’Loughlin said.

The Canadian Cancer Society funded the study.

The American Journal of Public Health is the monthly journal of the American Public Health Association. Visit apha for more information. Complimentary online access to the journal is available to credentialed members of the media.

O’Loughlin J, et al. Milestones in the process of cessation among novice adolescent smokers. Am J Public Health 98(9), 2008.

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Washington, DC 20009
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Stanford Study Shows Getting Older Leads To Emotional Stability, Happiness

It’s a prediction often met with worry: In 20 years, there will be more Americans over 60 than under 15. Some fear that will mean an aging society with an increasing number of decrepit, impaired people and fewer youngsters to care for them while also keeping the country’s productivity going.

The concerns are valid, but a new Stanford study shows there’s a silver lining to the graying of our nation. As we grow older, we tend to become more emotionally stable. And that translates into longer, more productive lives that offer more benefits than problems, said Laura Carstensen, the study’s lead author.

“As people age, they’re more emotionally balanced and better able to solve highly emotional problems,” said Carstensen, a psychology professor and director of the Stanford Center on Longevity. “We may be seeing a larger group of people who can get along with a greater number of people. They care more and are more compassionate about problems, and that may lead to a more stable world.”

Between 1993 and 2005, Carstensen and her colleagues tracked about 180 Americans between the ages of 18 and 94. Over the years, some participants died and others aged out of the younger groups, so additional participants were included.

For one week every five years, the study participants carried pagers and were required to immediately respond to a series of questions whenever the devices buzzed. The periodic quizzes were intended to chart how happy, satisfied and comfortable they were at any given time.
Photo of smiling older people

“As people get older, they’re more aware of mortality,” researcher Laura Carstensen said. “So when they see or experience moments of wonderful things, that often comes with the realization that life is fragile and will come to an end. But that’s a good thing. It’s a signal of strong emotional health and balance.”

Carstensen’s study – which was published online Monday in the journal Psychology and Aging – was coauthored by postdoctoral fellows Bulent Turan and Susanne Scheibe as well as Stanford doctoral students and researchers at Pennsylvania State, Northwestern, the University of Virginia and the University of California’s campuses in San Francisco and Los Angeles.

While previous research has established a correlation between aging and happiness, Carstensen’s study is the first to track the same people over a long period of time to examine how they changed.

The undertaking was an effort to answer questions asked over and over again by social scientists: Are seniors today who say they’re happy simply part of a socioeconomic era that predisposed them to good cheer? Or do most people – whether born and reared in boom times or busts – have it within themselves to reach their golden years with a smile? The answer has important implications for future aging societies.

“Our findings suggest that it doesn’t matter when you were born,” Carstensen said. “In general, people get happier as they get older.”

Over the years, the older subjects reported having fewer negative emotions and more positive ones compared with their younger days. But even with the good outweighing the bad, older people were inclined to report a mix of positive and negative emotions more often than younger test subjects.

“As people get older, they’re more aware of mortality,” Carstensen said. “So when they see or experience moments of wonderful things, that often comes with the realization that life is fragile and will come to an end. But that’s a good thing. It’s a signal of strong emotional health and balance.”

Carstensen (who is 56 and says she’s happier now than she was a few decades ago) attributes the change in older people to her theory of “socio-emotional selectivity” – a scientific way of saying that people invest in what’s most important to them when time is limited.

While teenagers and young adults experience more frustration, anxiety and disappointment over things like test scores, career goals and finding a soul mate, older people typically have made their peace with life’s accomplishments and failures. In other words, they have less ambiguity to stress about.

“This all suggests that as our society is aging, we will have a greater resource,” Carstensen said. “If people become more even-keeled as they age, older societies could be wiser and kinder societies.”

So what, then, do we make of the “grumpy old man” stereotype?

“Most of the grumpy old men out there are grumpy young men who grew old,” Carstensen said. “Aging isn’t going to turn someone grumpy into someone who’s happy-go-lucky. But most people will gradually feel better as they grow older.”

Adam Gorlick
Stanford University