Millions of seniors battle the three S's in their later years: the stoop, the shakes, and the shuffle. And most docs will respond with their own S: the shrug as they tell you it's just part of getting older.
Just because you're getting older doesn't mean you have to sit back and tolerate a slow descent into feebleness -- and now, a new study finds that the three S's aren't signs of aging.
They're warning signs of something much more serious.
Researchers have been tracking some 1,100 aging priests and nuns since 1994, examining them for the "typical" signs of aging -- like the three S's -- while they're alive, and then studying their brains after death.
In autopsies of 418 of the volunteers who lived to an average age of 88, the researchers found a surprising number of microscopic brain lesions -- including lesions in 30 percent of the patients who had never suffered a stroke or brain disease.
Those who had the most trouble walking in their final years often had multiple lesions, and two-thirds of the patients overall had at least one blocked blood vessel in the brain -- leading researchers to conclude that these blockages may be the real cause of the three S's.
The only problem here is that they're so small they can't be spotted in a living brain with any current technology -- only under a microscope during an autopsy.
If it's a warning, it's a real quiet one -- and if you think spotting these lesions is hard, treating them can be downright devastating: In many cases, the choice comes down to doing nothing, or undergoing a risky brain surgery that no senior wants to face.
Fortunately, emerging research has found that fatty acids can work wonders when it comes to brain injuries, especially the omega-3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) found in fish oil.
That's no surprise, since more than half of your brain is fat, and one of the main fats in your brain is DHA.
Some studies have shown that this essential fatty acid can help improve patients who suffer from the types of brain lesions associated with cognitive decline, while other recent studies have found that DHA may help the brain to recover from traumatic injuries.
It's too early to say whether fatty acid supplements can prevent or heal the types of brain lesions uncovered by the new study -- but why wait? The omega-3s can help your brain, heart, eyes, and more -- and unless you've got a pretty steady fatty fish habit, you should be taking this stuff anyway.