Lexington Health Network

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Coffee: health benefits for seniors?

Here’s a news flash: Coffee just might be good for seniors. A growing body of research about the effects of java on the older crowd. This is good news for the two-thirds of seniors age 60 and older in the United States who drink at least one cup of coffee a day.

The most recent evidence of the positive aspects of coffee drinking among seniors is the Italian Longitudinal Study on Aging conducted at a university in Italy. Nearly 1,500 Italians, ages 65 to 84, from eight municipalities participated in the study for 3½ years. Researchers determined that moderate caffeine consumption (one or two cups per day) might help older adults’ brains by increasing sensitivity to insulin. That’s a good thing because higher insulin sensitivity lowers the chance for developing Type 2 diabetes, a condition long linked to an increase in declining memory.

The Italian study also noted that moderate and regular coffee consumption might protect against MCI (mild cognitive impairment, the precursor to dementia), “confirming previous studies on the long-term protective effects of coffee, tea or caffeine consumption and plasma levels of caffeine against cognitive decline and dementia.”

What is so great about coffee?

Scientists say coffee is loaded with antioxidants, substances that prohibit the oxidation of other molecules – often referred to as free radicals – in the body and that are part of a healthy diet.

The most recent reported link between coffee consumption and memory/motor-skill conditions such as dementia comes seven years after a Scandinavian study involving senior coffee drinkers. The 1,400 study participants, who each drank three or more cups of coffee a day, had a 65 percent lower chance of developing dementia than those who drank coffee occasionally or who abstained from consuming it. Participants were tracked for 20 years.

And that’s not the only good news about coffee. We know coffee (even the decaffeinated version) contains caffeine. What a lot of us don’t know is that caffeine has been shown to retard the effects of Parkinson’s disease, a progressive disorder of the central nervous system.

Proceed with caution

Many of us are probably more aware of coffee’s drawbacks than its benefits. One long-established medical fact is about the beverage’s effect on blood pressure. The drink is known to raise blood pressure levels among those who are hypertensive and even those who are not. In many cases, the heightened blood pressure level is temporary. Some doctors worry that repeated elevation of blood pressure due to coffee consumption could increase a person’s chance for cardiovascular disease. In addition, excess coffee consumed along with a meal is also linked to iron deficiencies.

Keep in mind that the caffeine in your favorite serving(s) of coffee can be addictive. For individuals with a coffee addiction who try to kick the habit, caffeine withdrawal can be a genuine malady that’s a challenge to contend with.

The latest findings about coffee’s healthy attributes are promising. Keep in mind, though, that seniors might be more vulnerable to coffee’s adverse effects. As always, it’s imperative to discuss these and other study findings with a trusted medical provider to determine what’s best for you.