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Health Highlights: June 10, 2014

Health Highlights: June 10, 2014

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

'Integrity Issue' at VA, Top Official Says

The Veterans Affairs Department has "an integrity issue ... among some of our leaders," a top VA official told the House Veterans Affairs Committee at a Monday evening hearing into growing evidence that many VA health facilities tried to conceal long patient wait times.

"It is irresponsible," Philip Matkovsky, who helps oversee the VA's administrative operations, told the committee, the Associated Press reported. "It is indefensible, and it is unacceptable. I apologize to our veterans, their families and their loved ones."

He did not identify any VA officials who might lack integrity and said he was not aware of any officials at the agency's main office ordering falsification of patients' data in order to cover up long wait times.

Acting VA Inspector General Richard Griffins told lawmakers that agency investigators were now looking for wrong-doing at 69 VA health facilities, up from 42 two weeks ago, the AP reported.

The controversy erupted two months ago with reports that patients died while awaiting care at the Phoenix VA health center and that there were cover-ups at the facility.

Late Monday, both Democratic and Republican lawmakers said they had completed similar bipartisan bills. Both measures would enable veterans who face long waits for care or who live more than 40 miles from a VA health center to get VA-paid treatment from local, non-VA health care providers over the next two years, the AP reported.

The Senate and House bills would also make it easier for the VA to fire top officials. The House is expected to vote on its bill this week and the Senate will vote on its bill "as soon as it is ready," according to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

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Cheerleading Should be Considered a Sport: AMA

The rigors and risks of cheerleading mean that it should be considered a sport, according to a new policy adopted Monday by the American Medical Association at its annual meeting.

The group said that classifying cheerleading as a sport would lead to increased safety measures for cheerleaders and proper training for coaches, the Associated Press reported.

Cheerleading is a leading cause of major injuries among high school and college female athletes, one doctor told delegates at the meeting of the nation's largest doctors' group.

"These girls are flipping 10, 20 feet in the air," said Dr. Samantha Rosman, a Boston-area pediatrician, the AP reported. "We need to stand up for what is right for our patients and demand they get the same protection as their football colleagues."

The American Academy of Pediatrics adopted a similar policy two years ago.

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Scientists Recruit Healthy Seniors for Alzheimer's Drug Trial

Scientists have started recruiting seniors from the United States, Canada and Australia to participate in a $140 million study that will test the protective powers of an experimental drug for Alzheimer's disease.

Funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, Eli Lilly & Co. and others, it will give roughly 1,000 volunteers either solanezumab or a placebo, according to the Associated Press. They will then track any changes in memory or amyloid levels over the course of three years.

Lilly makes solanezumab, which is designed to help catch amyloid before it builds into the brain plaques that are a hallmark of Alzheimer's, the AP reported.

In earlier research, solanezumab seemed to help slow mental decline in patients with mild disease, but it was not able to stop or reverse full-blown Alzheimer's in its tracks. So, scientists wondered if it might work in people who showed silent signs that they were at risk for Alzheimer's but who hadn't yet shown any symptoms of the disease, the wire service reported.

"We have to get them at the stage when we can save their brains," lead researcher Dr. Reisa Sperling, of Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School, told the AP.

The scientists will scan the brains of thousands of older volunteers to find those with a sticky build-up of beta amyloid, which is believed to play a key role in development of Alzheimer's.

But before any brain scans take place, there will be tests to determine that a volunteer's thinking skills and memory are normal, the AP reported. The volunteers will also be given psychological tests to determine whether they can handle learning what their amyloid levels are.

The study will also offer scientists the opportunity to get a better handle on how amyloid works.

"Amyloid we know is a huge risk factor, but someone can have a head full of amyloid and not decline" mentally, Sperling said. "We need to understand more about why some brains are resilient and some are not."

About 5 million people in the United States have Alzheimer's, but that number is expected to rise rapidly as the baby boomers age. Alzheimer's affects one in nine people over age 65, according to the Alzheimer's Association.

 

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