Intercom Online......August 13, 1998


Bonnie J.F. Meyer, professor of education, has found that
succinct reading material is preferred by elderly readers.
Photo: Greg Grieco

Elderly readers zero in on facts

By Paul A. Blaum
Public Information

Older adults can compensate for declines in reading capacity and speed by focusing on key facts without having to sort through masses of data, said Penn State researchers.

"There is little question that reading ability declines with age, if we measure reading ability by quantity and speed," said Bonnie J.F. Meyer, professor of education. "With the elderly, details get in the way. But they can enjoy reading as much as younger people and derive as much benefit from it.

"Older people benefit most from reading when they are interested in the subject and the text relates to their areas of prior knowledge," Meyer said.

Research shows that, while good at sorting out the most important data, elderly readers get bogged with elaboration and detail, said co-researcher Andrew P. Talbot, doctoral student in educational psychology.

A better approach for institutions with elderly clients would be to provide them with reading material that is succinct and to the point. This would be particularly true if the material deals with issues like insurance coverage and medical treatment, the researchers said.

Facilities serving older adults such as nursing homes, retirement villages and rehabilitation centers should weigh carefully the pros and cons of computers aimed at encouraging reading.

"Computer technology is a wonderful thing, but it can be confusing and anxiety-provoking for older adults not familiar with it," said Meyer.

The current generation of elderly is not, for the most part, computer-literate; the next one will be, Meyer said. For the present, nursing homes, retirement villages and rehab centers might be better served by a well-stocked library of large-print books and frequent visits from a bookmobile.

"Nursing and retirement homes also would be well advised to hire professional facilitators who could encourage and stimulate older adults to continue a program of reading, especially in areas that have always interested them," she said.

Scientists find new
gene-activation players

A series of discoveries that dramatically alter the understanding of how cells turn genes on were announced in July issues of the international science journals Nature and Cell.

The research, which reviewers at Cell have described as "provocative and highly significant," reveals molecules previously unknown to be involved in gene expression plus unexpected dynamics among these molecules, which work together as a team to activate genes.

"Gene-activation is a factor in diseases involving cancers, viruses and hormones, and we now are starting to get a much more detailed understanding of how this important process works," said Jerry L. Workman, associate professor of molecular and cell biology and the leader of the research group that made the discoveries.

Workman's research reveals new players on the team of molecules that turn on a gene -- a precise section of DNA containing one of the cell's operating instructions -- by making a copy of its code, which the cell then uses as a template for making whatever protein the gene is designed to produce.

"Each cell turns on only the particular genes it needs for whatever function it needs to perform," Workman said.

He said that this research changes and complicates quite a bit our picture of how gene regulation at the level of transcription actually is orchestrated. It demonstrates that the process controlling gene expression is very dynamic, very interactive, and very complicated.

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More choices nearing on the horizon

Recent developments in telecommunications will make Pennsylvania more "electronic commerce friendly" and increase consumer choices, according to a study by the University's Institute for Information Policy.

The study, "Pennsylvania Telecommunications Services Competition: Outlook and Potential Entrants," analyzed 40 approved competitive local exchange carriers as well as potential entrants from other industries. It found a trend toward non-traditional entrants, selling bundled, digital, packet-switched and Internet-based voice services.

In the next few years, Pennsylvania businesses and residents can look forward to packages of interactive digital services, typically including telephone, wireless, paging, Internet, video and other services, bundled together.

Richard Taylor, co-director of the institute and Palmer Chair professor of telecommunications, said the new choices will put a greater burden on consumers to be more informed.

Obesity a cause of daytime sleepiness

Obese people in a Penn State study were much sleepier during the day than the participants in the study's control group, according to new research from the College of Medicine. The obese patients' nighttime sleep also was disturbed.

Dr. Alexandros Vgontzas, associate professor of psychiatry in the College of Medicine, said daytime sleepiness with obese patients appears to be related to a metabolic abnormality.

"We found these obese patients were hyperaroused at night and hypoaroused during the day," Vgontzas, the study's lead author, said. "Simply, when they should be sleeping, they were wide awake and vice versa."

This finding could explain the nighttime overeating observed in obese patients, Vgontzas said.

Vgontzas said the problem also is a public safety concern. He reported that more than 20 percent of all drivers report having fallen asleep behind the wheel at least once and that the most frequently cited probable cause of mass transportation crashes is fatigue.

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