Marriage may reduce dementia risk, researchers find

Universal Images Group via Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Combining data from 15 studies — which looked at more than 812,000 people from around the world — researchers in the U.K. compared people who were divorced, widowed or never married with people who were married.

Their results showed that, compared with married people, widowed people had a 20 percent higher risk of developing dementia, and those who never married had a 42 percent increased risk, after adjusting for age- and sex-related risk factors.

Being married likely reduces the risk of developing dementia in a number of ways, researchers said. Marriage may lead to a different level of social engagement and interpersonal interaction on a day-to-day basis, which may improve an individual’s “cognitive reserve.”

“Cognitive reserve is a person's resilience against the damage that is caused to their brain by dementia,” said lead study author Andrew Sommerlad, a geriatric psychiatrist and Wellcome Trust Research fellow. “This means that their brain has strategies that allow them to withstand the damage without showing symptoms of dementia.”

Past research has also demonstrated that being married tends to result in healthier decision-making — things like increasing exercise and healthier eating, while smoking less and drinking less alcohol — all of which are believed to reduce the risk of dementia.

As for the increased risk of dementia in widowed people compared with divorced people, the researchers hypothesize that this may be due to the fact that bereavement brings greater stress than divorce and that stress may take a harder toll on memory-forming and cognitive areas of the brain.

However, the authors said, preventing dementia is more complicated than simply walking down the aisle. This study shows a correlation between marriage and dementia risk, but understanding how specific factors related to marital status affect dementia risk remains largely unknown.

Further complicating the question, developing dementia could be associated with cognitive or personality traits that make a person less likely to get married. “It may be that their dementia risk plays a part in whether they find a partner many years earlier,” said Sommerlad.

More research is also needed to understand what the unwed and widowed can do to reduce their risk of dementia.

“In a society where isolation of older people is becoming more common, steps might need to be taken to connect older people back together — to reduce social isolation,” said Sommerlad.

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Santas needed nationwide to visit medically fragile, homebound kids

Secret Sleigh Project(NEW YORK) -- An organization that brings Santa to homebound kids is in need of more jolly St. Nicks to spread Christmas cheer around the nation this year.

The Secret Sleigh project, started by Sarah Portillo and covered by ABC News last year, brings surprise Santa visits to medically fragile and homebound kids who cannot have the traditional Santa experience. Since last year, demand has nearly tripled, and as a result, there's a serious Santa shortage.

"We have 148 new children [in addition to the dozens visited last year] to visit in various cities throughout the U.S, including requests from Costa Rica and Africa," Portillo told ABC News of this year's efforts. "We've had 85 Santas apply this year, but we need more."

The Secret Sleigh project has already begun this year's visits, with the first one taking place earlier this month. Terry Leahy, who volunteered as Santa that day, told ABC News this he's been Santa for more than a decade and this is his second year with Secret Sleigh.

One of his most memorable visits with the organization, he said, was a girl who was both blind and partially deaf. "When we arrived, she was in mom’s arms and moving around, a little agitated. I started to talk to her in a low, deep voice and she calmed down a little. We sat on the couch when I put my key in her hand to let her feel it. Many of the kids are very tactual. The next thing I know is she has laid her head on my leg. "

He has a photo of that moment and calls it "his favorite."

Portillo said the Santas are desperately needed in order to provide the magic of Christmas to a child who would not otherwise experience it. For some, this may be their only chance at ever meeting Santa.

"Many of our families' children are on hospice this year, so we are prepared to visit with them and provide a day they wouldn't otherwise have," she said.

For one family, the wait was too long.

"We have also had a family who reached out to us for a Santa visit one day and three days later write to us to say that the child had passed away," Portillo said. "Though it was not my child, it pushed me into sobs. I cannot imagine losing my child when planning a beautiful Christmas with a first-time Santa visit. It means so much to many of these families to have a chance at their child meeting Santa."

The cut-off date for applications is Nov. 30. Santas are needed in:

*Richmond IN * Danfield IN * Ossian IN * Sepncer IN * Maineville OH * Brooklyn OH * Bowling Green OH * Brunswick OH * Jackson OH * Loudonville OH * Bloomfield NJ * El Paso TX * Conroe TX * Amarillo TX * Helotes TX * Humble TX * Alvarado TX * Fresno TX * Weaverville NC * Waynesville NC * Hubert NC * Wilkesboro NC * Raleigh NC * Cameron NC * Mocksville NC * Cornelius NC * Kingman AZ * Phoenix AZ * Surprise AZ * Peoria AZ * Eu Clair WI * Osh Kosh WI * Richland Center WI * Eagle River WI * Lehi UT * Chebanse IL * Pontiac IL * Cedar Rapids, IA * Merrimack NH * Denver CO * Fort Collins CO * Loveland CO * Colorado Springs CO * Pueblo CO * Peyton CO * Hudson CO * Talbott TN * Franklin TN * Winder GA * Las Vegas, NV * Laramie WY * Parker PA * Gettysburg PA * Media PA * Wellsville NY * Versailles MO * Louisiana * St. Pierrepart LA * Sioux City IA * Springfield MA * Fall River MA * Billings MT * Towanda KS * Bentonville AR

Interested parties should email for a short application.

"We are hoping to provide books this year for every family as we can," Portillo said. "Some Santas are also giving out gifts. We are also taking help from music therapists, individuals to be Mrs. Claus and photographers who are willing to give of their time and talent for the families and our cause."

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VA took years to review complaints against doctors in some cases, watchdog says

Salwan Georges/The Washington Post via Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Veterans Affairs medical centers failed to report disciplinary action taken against doctors, which could have increased the risk that America’s veterans received “unsafe care,” according to a report released Monday by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

The report found that complaints against doctors were not reviewed in a timely fashion, paperwork was not properly filed and doctors who had resigned to avoid disciplinary action were allowed to go work elsewhere without facing any consequences.

The government watchdog looked into five of the 170 VA medical centers across the country where concerns had been raised about 148 independent healthcare professionals. The report looked at complaints that had been made over a period of about three and a half years.

In the case of 16 doctors, the medical centers took months, even years, to start the review process, well after concerns about them were first raised.

The report also found that medical centers fell short of documenting their reviews of complaints, and five medical centers couldn’t provide the GAO with paperwork for nearly half of the 148 complaints they investigated.

If VA medical centers take disciplinary action against a doctor, it is the center’s responsibility to report the complaint to both state licensing boards (SLB) and the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB), a database that prevents medical offices from unknowingly hiring a doctor with a history of poor performance.

The GAO report detailed what had happened in the cases of nine doctors who had either resigned to avoid disciplinary action or had actions taken against them for misconduct or work incompetence. Only one had been reported to the NPDB, and none of the doctors had been reported to state licensing boards, which could have suspended or revoked their license to practice.

In another case described in the GAO report, a medical center failed to report a doctor who had resigned to avoid disciplinary action. As a result, a non-VA hospital in the same city hired the doctor and ultimately was forced to take the same disciplinary action two years later because of the same issue.

But the GAO also noted that the medical centers “misinterpreted or were not aware” of the correct procedures for reporting a health care professional to the NPDB or SLB.

The report included the Department of Veterans Affairs’ response, which agreed with the findings.

In her response, Deputy Chief of Staff Gina Farrisee said that the VA would update its policies to meet the GAO’s recommendations by 2018.

The VA said it also plans to implement deadlines for reviews once a concern has been raised about a doctor, and provide more oversight of the review process in general.

The VA did not immediately respond to ABC News' request for comment.

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Almost half of the world's busiest airports have no-smoking policies

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Air travellers might have trouble lighting up before taking off. That's because a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds 46% of the world's busiest airports - from Seoul to San Francisco - now ban smoking indoors.

The report surveyed the 50 most trafficked airports in the world, 23 of which prohibit smoking indoors. The remaining 27 airports allow smoking in designated areas within the building, such as restaurants, bars, or airline clubs.

78% of the North American airports included in the report ban smoking, while 44% of European airports and only 18% of Asian airports had a similar rule.

More than 2.7 billion travellers pass through the airports mentioned in the report every year.

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Woman with Down syndrome is first to compete in Miss USA state pageant

Future Productions, LLC (MINNEAPOLIS) -- Mikayla Holmgren made history on Sunday as the first young woman with Down syndrome to compete in a Miss USA state pageant.

The 22-year-old didn't need to win the crown in order to be recognized with special awards as she brought home the spirit of Miss USA award and the director’s award.

"It's really fun," she said. "As I do more pageants and I'm really proud of myself ... this is my dream," Holmgren told ABC Saint Paul, Minnesota, affiliate KSTP-TV.

The spirit of Miss USA award is determined by the judges based on letters that have been submitted by contestants' family and friends.

One of Holmgren's friends from her dance classes wrote a letter that was read aloud during the ceremony, said Denise Wallace, the co-director of the pageant.

"[Her friend] wrote about how Mikayla lights up a room and has no expectation for people to treat her differently. She's an incredible spirit," Wallace told ABC News, saying the letter captured everything that they felt encompasses the Miss USA spirit.

The director's award recognizes a young woman that is a standout in the pageant.

"Everyone loved her, every contestant, every family," said Wallace of Holmgren, adding that she feels as though Holmgren is "magnetic."

The audience gave Holmgren a standing ovation when she accepted the awards.

Doing pageants is one of her passions, Holmgren told KSTP-TV.

Her previous pageant experience included her competing in the 2015 Miss Amazing pageant, a pageant for women with disabilities, said Wallace.

This is the second consecutive year that the Miss Minnesota USA pageant is making history.

Last year’s competition featured the first Somali-American woman wearing a hijab in the Miss Minnesota USA competition, Halima Aden.

She made it to the semifinals in the top 15 but didn’t make it to the top five.

Aden has since gone signed with a modeling agency and has been on numerous magazine covers, including Vogue, and her success has inspired others to follow in her footsteps, said Wallace.

This year's Miss Minnesota USA and Miss Minnesota Teen USA pageant included nine Muslim women, seven of which chose to wear their hijab during the competition, and Wallace said that Aden's success reminded women that the door is open for them to compete.

One of the Muslim women competing this year was among the top five finalists, winning fourth runner-up.

The competition is held annually and consists of three segments: evening gown, swimwear/activewear, and an interview.

Kalie Wright was crowned Miss Minnesota USA on Sunday while Peyton Schroeder was crowned Miss Minnesota Teen USA. Both will now advance to compete in next year's national pageants.

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Bullied kids are more likely to bring weapons to school, study says

Niedring/Drentwett via Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Victims of bullying appear to be much more likely to bring a weapon to school, according to a new study published on Monday in the journal Pediatrics.

Authors of the study used Centers for Disease Control data from more than 15,000 students and found that 20 percent of high schoolers surveyed had been targets of bullying within the past year. Researchers also found that 4 percent of all students admitted bringing a weapon to school in the past month. CDC data on bullying in schools nationwide suggests that it is likely that more than 200,000 victims of bullying have carried a gun or knife to school in the last 30 days.

It was not bullying alone that drove students to violence, the authors said, but rather three factors that directly linked victims to a higher likelihood of bringing a weapon to school: involvement in physical fights at school, skipping school due to feeling unsafe, or previous physical threats or injuries by a classmate. If a victim of bullying suffered all three of these additional risk factors, the prevalence of weapon carrying skyrocketed from 5 percent to 46 percent.

“We wanted to look at those who are bringing weapons into what is supposed to be a safe space,” said study co-author Dr. Andrew Adesman, a professor of pediatrics at the Hofstra Northwell School of Medicine. He also serves as the chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at the Steven and Alexandra Cohen Children’s Medical Center of New York.

Adesman added that while past research has shown that kids who are bullied are more likely to carry weapons to school, this study went further, identifying what he called “a striking cascade of risk that is proportional to those three simple questions.”

Through this analysis, researchers have identified a group that may be at the highest risk of pursuing physical violence. Almost half of this group are carrying weapons to school -- a number that is 35 times higher than that of high school students in general.

Amidst this high-risk group, there is a gender discrepancy as well. Though girls were more likely to report being victims of bullying, bullied boys were almost three times more likely to be the ones carrying weapons to class.

As for what can be done to address this problem, experts not involved with the research said a multi-pronged approach is needed.

“Schools are still much safer than the streets, and putting metal detectors in every hallway won’t solve the problem,” said Dr. Gene Beresin, professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and founder of the Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds at Massachusetts General Hospital. “If we really want to help our youth be safer, we need to think of a comprehensive plan of combating bullying through electronic media, informing law enforcement and teachers about establishing universal consequences for bullying, and talking about the dangers of weapons on the streets.”

Beresin added that parents can do their part by talking about bullying at home with their kids. But he also said that this is a discussion that must be carried further into the community.

“Once we can open up about who is bullying, who is the victim, and how the bullying is being done, in a sense, it can start to change the culture. But it takes a village,” he said.

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Daughter receives flowers on her birthday every year from dad who died from cancer 4 years ago

Bailey Sellers(KNOXVILLE, Tenn.) -- A father of four, who died in 2013 from pancreatic cancer, thought ahead when it came to his youngest daughter.

Bailey Sellers wrote in a now-viral post on Twitter that her father, Michael, had been sending her flowers every year on her birthday since she was 17, and promised to send them every year until she turned 21. And indeed her last set of flowers, a purple bouquet, arrived this year two days before her actual 21st birthday on Nov. 26.

A heartwarming note included with the flowers read in part, "Bailey, This is my last love letter to you until we meet again. I do not want you to shed another tear for me, my baby girl for I am in a better place."

The East Tennessee State University student said of the final letter, "I was so happy reading that message."

Michael Sellers died August 25, 2013, at the age of 56. His wife of 18 years, Kristy Sellers, told ABC News that he died six months to the day from when he was diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer.

Bailey Sellers, who's originally from Knoxville, Tennessee, was a sophomore in high school then and opted to drop out of school to help her mother take care of her late father.

"I became home-schooled so that I could help my mom out ... because he couldn't work anymore," she added.

It was during those times that the bond between father and daughter grew even tighter.

Bailey Sellers got her first set of flowers three months after his death. The card read, "I loved you first...happy 17th! Love, Dad." Another letter would detail that she'd be receiving flowers on her birthday until she turned 21.

Kristy Sellers said she knew of her husband's plan.

"We were sitting on the couch -- and it was about a month before he passed away -- and he said he had already done it. That this was what his plans were," Kristy Sellers recalled. "He said, 'I'm going to do it until her 21st birthday. And if she's married, ask her significant other to send her flowers in remembrance of me.'"

And the late Michael Sellers didn't just remember his youngest child. He had special surprises for each of his kids, according to Bailey Sellers.

Each of his children, according to his widow, who range in age from 21 to 33, received an embroidered handkerchief that Michael Sellers prayed over before his death. He wants his two oldest daughters, Morgan and Abigail, both 25, to use the handkerchief in their bouquets when they eventually walk down the aisle.

Bailey Sellers, who still treasures the notes her father left her, including a journal, knows she'll still be close to her father despite not getting another bouquet.

"He was my best friend. I looked up to him so much," she said. "He was just an overall great person."

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Man bitten by shark off California coast

Monterey County Sheriff's Office(SAN FRANCISCO) -- A man who had been spearfishing in the waters off the California coast was bitten by a shark, officials said.

Hearing the call for help from emergency dispatchers Friday afternoon, two off-duty Monterey County deputies, who were fishing at Stillwater Cove, south of San Francisco, sprang into action.

One of the deputies applied a tourniquet to the injured man's leg in an effort to stanch the bleeding, the sheriff's office said.

The victim's condition was not immediately known.

According to the sheriff's office, the man had been spearfishing under the surface of the water when he was attacked.

During a search, a sheriff's office plane spotted a "large aquatic animal off Pescadero Point, which may have been a shark."

Further information was not immediately available.

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Ill woman's wish to visit beach granted by Australian ambulance crew

iStock/Thinkstock(HERVEY BAY, Australia) -- A seriously ill Australian woman's wish to see the ocean came true when the ambulance transporting her to the hospital took a detour to allow her to look out upon the water at least one more time.

The moment was captured in a photograph and shared on Facebook by the Queensland Ambulance Service. The picture shows a paramedic standing next to a stretcher parked under a tree, facing the ocean.

"A crew were transporting a patient to the palliative care unit of the local hospital and the patient expressed that she just wished she could be at the beach again," reads the caption of the post. "Above and beyond, the crew took a small diversion to the awesome beach at Hervey Bay to give the patient this opportunity -- tears were shed and the patient felt very happy."

"Sometimes it is not the drugs/training/skills -- sometimes all you need is empathy to make a difference!" it concludes, noting that the story was relayed by Helen Donaldson, the officer-in-charge of the ambulance service in the city of Hervey Bay, on Australia's east coast.

As of Thursday afternoon, the Facebook post had been shared over 15,000 times and generated over 3,500 comments.

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Indiana deputy saves choking woman after pulling her over for speeding

iStock/Thinkstock(MICHIGAN CITY, Ind.) -- A routine traffic stop turned into the opportunity to save a life for an Indiana sheriff's deputy Tuesday morning.

La Porte County Deputy Austin Wells pulled a driver over near Michigan City Tuesday morning for speeding when he realized the woman was choking, ABC station WLS reported.

"I was kind of in shock, to be honest with you. I have made hundreds of traffic stops," Wells told reporters during a press conference Wednesday, WLS reported.

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Wells said he was traveling southbound when he clocked a vehicle traveling in the other direction at 70 miles per hour in a 45 mile-per-hour zone.

After pulling over the woman for speeding, Wells said he noticed she was struggling to breathe.

"The driver had a very deep reddish, almost purple look in her face and her lips were a little blue tint," Wells said. "She kept making a couple of gestures towards me that she was unable to breathe."

Wells said he pulled the woman, 65, from her car and performed the Heimlich maneuver and dislodged "what ended up being a honey mustard nut from her airway."

"She was very thankful. She just kept repeating, 'Thank you, thank you.' She was very scared and I would have been too if I was in that situation," he added.

When paramedics arrived, Wells said the woman refused medical treatment and continued on her way.

When asked if he felt like a hero, Wells said: "I feel like I was just doing my job and I was happy I was in the right place at the right time. It felt a lot better than issuing a citation or a warning, that's for sure."

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