Sunday, August 04, 2002

Federal research

Mice get all the best gigs

        My mother is puzzled by the latest government project. Researchers at the National Institute on Aging announced last week that they could keep mice alive longer by feeding them fewer calories.

        “Why would they want to do that?” she wondered.

        I don't know, mom, I told her. We seem to have ambivalent feelings about mice. Some of them are celebrated in gigantic amusement parks. We send others off to government labs to drink and smoke and engage in risky behavior. Some get experimental drugs. And some are put on diets.

Let them eat cheese

        Scientists say mice on a restricted diet live 40 percent longer. George Roth at the National Institute on Aging cautioned that “this is not practical for most people.” He is, however, hopeful this study may lead to drugs that could do the same thing for us humans. Because God forbid we should just eat less. Which brings me to my mother's kitchen, where I have never been known to choose a carrot when a cookie was available.

        You can eat off my mother's floors. In fact, I'll bet there are more germs in the labs in Washington, D.C. than at my mother's house. And — as we know — the labs are overrun by rodents, drinking and smoking and having unprotected sex.

        Mom had only one small mouse, which she dispatched in the time-honored way — with cheese and a trap. If she knew then what she knows now, she might have just put a slice of cheesecake under the sink and let him die of natural causes.

        “He was kind of cute,” she said, “scampering around.”

        Maybe he escaped from a federal study costing a gazillion dollars that proved it is healthier to exercise than to live a sedentary life under somebody's sink. Maybe he was jogging.

        In pursuit of information, the government must have poured millions of dollars of expensive drugs down the throats of rodents. Which makes a person wonder why they can't figure out how to pay for drugs for elderly humans.

        And, closer to home, the city of Cincinnati can't come up with $10,000 to fund senior services in North Fairmount on the grounds that traditional senior centers are not “innovative.”

        Innovative? Maybe they could play video games instead of Bingo. Or maybe they could get themselves some mice and a government grant.

        Wendy Hess, manager of TriHealth's Parish Nurse Ministry, which serves the elderly, admits that “in most cases the centers are not innovative. Basic needs such as food and health care seem to be much more important.”

        Plus, she says research already exists which proves Bingo “can actually contribute to overall wellness.” She directed me to a study proving the game helps the elderly minimize memory loss, preserve visual acuity and bolster coordination.

        “I wonder why we spend so much money finding ways to help people live longer, then we cheap out on them when they get old,” my mom said, puzzled again.

        I don't know, Mom. We seem to have ambivalent feelings about old people.

        E-mail Laura at or phone 768-8393.



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