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Updated: 5 weeks 1 day ago

Many Seniors with Depression Faring Well During Pandemic

Tue, 09/01/2020 - 9:24pm

A new study finds that one very vulnerable population group appears to be holding its own during the COVID-19 pandemic. An assessment of seniors with a pre-existing major depressive disorder and living in Los Angeles, New York, Pittsburgh, or St. Louis finds that they are not becoming more depressed or anxious.

Research scientists from five institutions, including the University of California Los Angeles, participated in the study. They found that the older adults, who were already enrolled in ongoing studies of treatment resistant depression, also exhibited resilience to the stress of physical distancing and isolation.

The findings appear in peer-reviewed journal, The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.

“We thought they would be more vulnerable to the stress of COVID because they are, by CDC definition, the most vulnerable population,” said Helen Lavretsky, M.D., a professor-in-residence of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at UCLA.

Interestingly, seniors with depression appear to have better resiliency than many others because they have learned to live with their disorder.

Lavretsky said, “what we learned is that older adults with depression can be resilient. They told us that coping with chronic depression taught them to be resilient.”

For the study, researchers conducted interviews with the participants, all of whom were over the age of 60, with an average age of 69, during the first two months of the pandemic.

Using two screening assessments of depression and anxiety, PHQ-9 and PROMIS, researchers found no changes in the participants’ depression, anxiety or suicidality scores before and during the pandemic.

Researchers further determined that:

• participants were more concerned about the risk of contracting the virus than the risks of isolation;
• while all maintained physical distance, most did not feel socially isolated and were using virtual technology to connect with friends and family;
• while they were coping, many participants said their quality of life was lower, and they worry their mental health will suffer with continued physical distancing;
• participants were upset by the inadequate governmental response to the pandemic.

Based on the findings, the study authors wrote that policies and interventions to provide access to medical services and opportunities for social interaction are needed to help older adults maintain mental health and quality of life as the pandemic continues.

Lavretsky said many participants reported their quality of life to be lower, and they worried that their mental health will suffer with continued physical distancing. She said further research is needed to determine the impact of the pandemic over time.

She added that the findings offer takeaways for others while weathering the pandemic. “These older persons living with depression have been under stress for a longer time than many of the rest of us. We could draw upon their resilience and learn from it.”

The study identified several self-care and coping strategies used by the participants, which included maintaining regular schedules; distracting themselves from negative emotions with hobbies, chores, work or exercise; and using mindfulness to focus on immediate surroundings and needs without thinking beyond the present.

The authors further emphasized that access to mental health care and support groups, and continued social interaction are needed to help older adults whether the pandemic.

Source: UCLA

The post Many Seniors with Depression Faring Well During Pandemic first appeared on Psych Central News.

Virtual Body Swapping With Friend Can Alter Your Sense of Self

Mon, 08/31/2020 - 10:32pm

A new study shows that, when pairs of friends swapped bodies in a perceptual illusion, their beliefs about their own personalities became more similar to their beliefs about their friends’ personalities.

The findings, published in the journal iScience, suggest that this close tie between our psychological and physical sense of self is also involved in functions like memory. In fact, when our mental self-concept doesn’t match our physical self, our memory can become impaired.

“As a child, I liked to imagine what it would be like to one day wake up in someone else’s body,” said first author Dr. Pawel Tacikowski, a postdoctoral researcher at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden. “Many kids probably have those fantasies, and I guess I’ve never grown out of it —I just turned it into my job.”

Researchers from the Brain, Body, and Self Laboratory led by Henrik Ehrsson outfitted pairs of friends with goggles showing live feeds of the other person’s body from a first-person perspective.

To expand the illusion, they applied simultaneous touches to both participants on corresponding body parts so they could also feel what they saw in the goggles. After just a few moments, the illusion generally worked; to show that it did, the researchers threatened the friend’s body with a prop knife and found that the participant broke out into a sweat as if they were the one being threatened.

“Body swapping is not a domain reserved for science fiction movies anymore,” Tacikowski said.

Participants only swapped bodies for a brief period of time, but that was long enough to significantly alter their self-perception. Before the body swap, participants rated their friends on traits like talkativeness, cheerfulness, independence, and confidence. Compared to this baseline, during the swap, they tended to rate themselves as more similar to the friend whose body they were in.

The illusion also impacted memory. “There is a well-established finding that people are better at remembering things that are related to themselves. So, we thought if we interfered with one’s self-representation during the illusion, that should generally decrease their memory performance,” said Tacikowski.

In fact, participants in the illusion generally performed worse on memory tests. Interestingly though, those who more fully embraced their friend’s body as their own and significantly adjusted their personality ratings to match how they rated their friend performed better on the tests than those who said they felt disconnected from their body.

The team says this could be because they had less “self-incoherence,” meaning that their mental and physical self-representations still aligned.

The findings may have implications for studying depersonalization disorder, where people feel an incoherence between their mental state and their bodies, and other psychiatric disorders like depression.

“We show that the self-concept has the potential to change really quickly, which brings us to some potentially interesting practical implications,” Tacikowski said.

“People who suffer from depression often have very rigid and negative beliefs about themselves that can be devastating to their everyday functioning. If you change this illusion slightly, it could potentially make those beliefs less rigid and less negative.”

For now, Tacikowski wants to develop a more general framework for how the sense of self is constructed across the body and brain. “Now, my mind is occupied with the question of how this behavioral effect works, what the brain mechanism is,” said Tacikowski. “Then we can use this model for more specific clinical applications to possibly develop better treatments.”

Source: Cell Press


The post Virtual Body Swapping With Friend Can Alter Your Sense of Self first appeared on Psych Central News.

Genetic Study on Bipolar Disorder and Psychosis May Lead to Earlier Diagnosis

Mon, 08/31/2020 - 10:28pm

A new Danish study identifies genetic risk factors for developing bipolar disorder and psychosis among people with depression.

Bipolar disorder and thought disorders such as schizophrenia are serious mental disorders, which often have a great impact on a person’s life and well-being. In a number of cases, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia are first diagnosed several years after the onset of the disorder. The delay in diagnosis is often associated with unfavorable prognosis for the course of the disorders.

The sooner the patient gets the correct diagnosis and begins targeted treatment, the better the prognosis. For this reason, researchers are aiming at identifying risk factors that will aid psychiatrists in reaching the correct diagnosis as early as possible.

Many people who develop bipolar disorder or psychosis initially come into contact with the mental health services due to depression. A research team from the Danish psychiatry project iPSYCH, examined a dataset consisting of 16,949 people aged 10-35 who had been treated for depression at a psychiatric hospital in Denmark.

“Our goal with the study was to investigate whether genetic factors are associated with an increased risk of developing bipolar disorder or psychosis among patients with depression. This knowledge can potentially be used in clinical practice to identify patients who should be monitored even more closely,” said lead author Dr. Katherine Musliner from the National Centre for Register-based Research.

Study results are published in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

Among the factors the researchers looked into in the study was whether the genetic risk scores for bipolar disorder and schizophrenia could possibly help psychiatrists determine which of their patients with depression was at greatest risk of subsequently developing bipolar disorder or a psychosis. The genetic risk scores represent a person’s individual genetic risk of developing the disorders.

“One thing we discovered was that the genetic risk score for bipolar disorder is associated with an increased risk of developing bipolar disorder, and that the genetic risk score for schizophrenia is associated with an increased risk of developing a psychosis among patients who have been diagnosed with depression,” says Musliner.

Musliner clarifies that although there was a correlation, the effect of the genetic risk scores were relatively small. Another member of the research group behind the study, Professor Søren Dinesen Østergaard from the Department of Clinical Medicine and Aarhus University Hospital – Psychiatry, said caution is needed when interpreting the results.

“At present, the genetic risk scores cannot contribute to early diagnosis of bipolar disorder and psychoses in clinical practice, but it cannot be ruled out that this could be the future scenario. On the other hand, our study confirms that having a parent with bipolar disorder or a psychosis is a strong predictor for the development of these particular disorders after depression.

“This underlines the importance of getting information about mental disorders in the family as part of the assessment of people suffering from depression,” he said.

Source: Aarhus University

The post Genetic Study on Bipolar Disorder and Psychosis May Lead to Earlier Diagnosis first appeared on Psych Central News.

Alzheimer’s Treatment With Antibodies Shows Promise in Clearing Plaques, Aiding Cognition

Mon, 08/31/2020 - 10:17pm

New research suggests a different therapeutic approach may be helpful in reducing the effects of Alzheimer’s disease. In the study, University of Kentucky investigators discovered an antibody that targets neuro-inflammation may reduce the development of amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles and improve cognition.

Alzheimer’s disease affects more than 3 million Americans each year. Most people with Alzheimer’s develop what is called the late-onset variety in which symptoms first appear in their mid-60s. However, early-onset Alzheimer’s can begin with symptoms between a person’s 30s and mid-60s.

The first symptoms of Alzheimer’s vary from person to person. Dementia is the term applied to a group of symptoms that negatively impact memory, but Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease of the brain that slowly causes impairment in memory and cognitive function.

The new findings and approach result from an explosion of genetic data suggesting the risk for sporadic Alzheimer’s disease is driven by a variety of factors including neuroinflammation, membrane turnover and storage, and lipid metabolism.

Investigators said current therapeutic approaches for Alzheimer’s focus on the major pathological hallmarks of the disease, the plaques and tangles. Indeed, these factors are the pathological requirements for a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s.

In this study, published in the Journal of Neuroinflammation, scientists focused on triggering a receptor expressed on myeloid cell-2 (TREM2) to reduce or prevent the development of the amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles. They believe creating an antibody could activate the cell receptor an opposite action that occurs when a mutation suppress the cell resulting in Alzheimer’s.

“TREM2 was identified several years ago as a gene that, when there’s a mutation, significantly increases risk of Alzheimer’s disease. The field thinks that this mutation reduces the function of the receptor, so we hypothesized that targeting TREM2 to increase its function might be a valid treatment for Alzheimer’s,” explained Dr. Donna Wilcock, associate director of the University of Kentucky’s Sanders-Brown Center on Aging (SBCoA).

Researchers found that the therapeutic targeting of TREM2 using a TREM2-activating antibody leads to the activation of microglia, recruitment of microglia to amyloid plaques, reduced amyloid deposition, and ultimately improved cognition.

“The big takeaway is that this is the first approach that targets TREM2 to promote microglia to clear the amyloid deposits in the brain that are thought to be the cause of Alzheimer’s,” said Wilcock.

The biopharmaceutical company Alector developed the antibody for this study which was conducted on mice. Due to the study’s success, SBCoA is set to be a site for an upcoming clinical trial using this new approach.

Source: University of Kentucky/EurekAlert

The post Alzheimer's Treatment With Antibodies Shows Promise in Clearing Plaques, Aiding Cognition first appeared on Psych Central News.

Pandemic Taking A Toll on Those With Eating Disorders

Mon, 08/31/2020 - 10:05pm

The COVID-19 pandemic is having a profound, negative impact on nine out of 10 people with eating disorders, according to a new study from the U.K.

While it is well known that COVID-19 is having a significant effect on the global population, research carried out by researchers from Northumbria University shows that the pandemic raises additional, unique challenges for individuals with eating disorders.

The study comes after calls from the scientific community to investigate the mental health consequences of the pandemic for vulnerable groups, such as the elderly and those with serious mental health conditions, including people with eating disorders, according to researchers.

During the early stages of the UK pandemic lockdown, Dr. Dawn Branley-Bell and Dr. Catherine Talbot surveyed individuals across the country who are currently experiencing, or in recovery from, an eating disorder.

The results suggest that disruptions to daily life as a result of lockdown and social distancing may have a detrimental impact on an individual’s well-being, with almost nine out of 10 (87 percent) of participants reporting that their symptoms had worsened as a result of the pandemic.

More than 30 percent reported their symptoms were much worse, according to the researchers.

Detrimental impacts on psychological well-being include decreased feelings of control, increased feelings of social isolation, increased rumination about disordered eating, and low feelings of social support, the survey discovered.

Through an analysis of participants’ responses, researchers found that the negative effects may be due to changes in a number of factors, including regular routines, living situations, time spent with friends and family, access to treatment, engagement in physical activity, relationship with food, and the use of technology.

One of the major challenges faced by those surveyed was reduced access to health care, the researchers said.

Some people reported being prematurely discharged from inpatient units, having treatment suspended, continuing to stay on a waiting list for treatment, and receiving limited post-diagnostic support, the survey discovered.

Participants said this made them feel like a “burden,”an “inconvenience,” and “forgotten” by the government and the National Health Service (NHS), the researchers said.

The research team warns that the consequences of not being able to access professional eating disorder treatment during the pandemic could be severe, causing some peoples’ conditions to become much worse and — in some cases — could prove fatal.

Media coverage and social media posts were also cited as a source of anxiety by those surveyed due to the general population’s preoccupation with food, weight gain, and exercise, according to the researchers.

Although some positive aspects of technology use were identified, those surveyed repeatedly highlighted the emphasis upon eating and exercise that has become a dominant theme across social media during the pandemic and the associated lockdown.

The researchers stressed that while positive messages about diet and exercise can be beneficial for the majority of the population, it is important for health care and government to acknowledge that these can also be triggering or upsetting for vulnerable populations.

“Our findings highlight that we must not underestimate the longevity of the impact of the pandemic,” Branley-Bell said. “Individuals with experience of eating disorders will likely experience a long-term effect on their symptoms and recovery. It is important that this is recognized by health care services, and beyond, in order to offer the necessary resources to support this vulnerable population now and on an ongoing basis.”

Beat, a UK charity for people with eating disorders, reports it has seen an 81 percent increase in contact across all Helpline channels. This includes a 125 percent rise in social media contact and a 115 percent surge in online group attendance, Beat officials report.

The study was published in the Journal of Eating Disorders.

Source: Northumbria University

The post Pandemic Taking A Toll on Those With Eating Disorders first appeared on Psych Central News.

Depressed, Anxious Young Men May Be at Greater Risk for Mid-Life Heart Attack

Mon, 08/31/2020 - 11:41am

Depression or anxiety in young adult males, ages 18 or 19, is linked to a 20 percent greater risk of having a heart attack in middle age, according to a new Swedish study from the European Society of Cardiology (ESC) Congress 2020.

The link can be partly explained by poorer stress resilience and lower physical fitness among teens with mental disorders.

“Be vigilant and look for signs of stress, depression or anxiety that is beyond the normal teenage angst: seek help if there seems to be a persistent problem — telephone helplines may be particularly helpful during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said study author Dr. Cecilia Bergh of Örebro University in Sweden.

“If a healthy lifestyle is encouraged as early as possible in childhood and adolescence it is more likely to persist into adulthood and improve long-term health.”

There are signs that mental health has been declining in young people. This study looked at whether conditions like depression in young adults (age 18 or 19) are linked to a higher risk of cardiovascular disease in adulthood. The research team also investigated the possible role of stress resilience (ability to cope with stress in everyday life) in helping to explain any links.

The research involved 238,013 men born between 1952 and 1956 who were given extensive examinations in late adolescence (as part of their assessment for compulsory military service) and were then followed into middle age (up to the age of 58 years).

The exams at the age of 18 or 19 years included medical, psychiatric, and physical examinations by physicians and psychologists. Stress resilience was measured by an interview with a psychologist and a questionnaire, and based on familial, medical, social, behavioral and personality traits.

A total of 34,503 men were diagnosed with a non-psychotic mental disorder (such as depression or anxiety) at enlistment. Follow-up for cardiovascular disease was through hospital medical records.

The study found that a mental disorder in young adulthood was linked to a higher risk of having a myocardial infarction (heart attack) by middle age. Compared to men without a mental illness in young adulthood, the risk of myocardial infarction was 20 percent higher among men with a diagnosis — even after taking into account other characteristics in young adulthood such as blood pressure, body mass index, general health, and parental socioeconomic status.

The link between mental illness and heart attack was partly — but not completely — explained by poorer stress resilience and lower physical fitness in teenagers with a mental illness.

“We already knew that men who were physically fit in adolescence seem less likely to maintain fitness in later years if they have low stress resilience,” said Bergh. “Our previous research has also shown that low stress resilience is also coupled with a greater tendency towards addictive behaviour, signalled by higher risks of smoking, alcohol consumption and other drug use.”

“Better fitness in adolescence is likely to help protect against later heart disease, particularly if people stay fit as they age. Physical activity may also alleviate some of the negative consequences of stress. This is relevant to all adolescents, but those with poorer wellbeing could benefit from additional support to encourage exercise and to develop strategies to deal with stress,” said Bergh.

Source: European Society of Cardiology


The post Depressed, Anxious Young Men May Be at Greater Risk for Mid-Life Heart Attack first appeared on Psych Central News.

Study Aims to ID Which Young Adults with Depression May Benefit from Exercise

Mon, 08/31/2020 - 7:00am

Aerobic exercise has clearly been shown to help young adults with major depression, and a new study from Rutgers University researchers suggests it may be possible to predict who would benefit from  exercise as a behavioral therapy.

“Our study needs to be replicated, but the precision medicine approach of predicting who may or may not benefit from exercise as an antidepressant is provocative,” said senior author Dr. Brandon L. Alderman, an associate professor in Rutgers’ Department of Kinesiology and Health.

“We also need to know whether exercise has a similar antidepressant effect in younger adolescents and in adults with more treatment-resistant forms of depression who have not responded well to traditional treatments, including antidepressants and cognitive behavioral therapy.”

Unique to this precision medicine study, published in the journal Psychological Medicine, is an assessment of cognitive control and reward-related brain activity, two facets of brain function that are impaired in people with depression.

Like previous studies, this one showed that aerobic exercise helps young adults with major depression. Moreover, reward-related brain activity predicted successful treatment response among young adults with major depression who completed eight weeks of aerobic exercise.

Cognitive control means processes that allow adjustments in behavior to help achieve goals and resist distractions. Reward processing (or reward-related brain activity) reflects the response to rewarding stimuli or outcomes and the ability to process and then modulate your response to positive and negative outcomes, such as loss.

Deficits in reward processing have been linked to multiple psychiatric conditions, including major depression, and may reflect anhedonia – the loss of interest in or inability to experience pleasure in cases of depression.

Many people with major depression, a complex disease, do not respond favorably to evidence-based treatments.

Depression symptoms include feelings of hopelessness, irritability, fatigue, difficulty concentrating and thoughts of suicide, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

People suffering from depression often look for treatment via trial and error; moving in and out of various treatments, including antidepressants and cognitive behavioral therapies, according to Alderman.

The Rutgers-led team studied 66 young adults with major depression, focusing on aerobic exercise and its impact on depressive symptoms.

Three times a week for eight weeks, some participants did moderate-intensity aerobic exercise and others did light-intensity stretching. Depression symptoms were reduced by 55 percent in the aerobic exercise group versus 31 percent in the light-intensity stretching group.

While aerobic exercise did not influence reward processing or cognitive control, people with better reward processing when the study began were more likely to successfully respond to exercise treatment.

Source: Rutgers University

The post Study Aims to ID Which Young Adults with Depression May Benefit from Exercise first appeared on Psych Central News.

Germ Aversion Tied to More Preventative Behavior During Pandemic

Mon, 08/31/2020 - 6:00am

People with germ and disease aversion are much more likely to engage in COVID-19 preventative behaviors, compared to older adults or those with a perceived higher risk, according to a new study from the University of Connecticut School of Nursing.

“When we feel disgust toward something, our behavioral response is to avoid it and get away from it, but people vary in their experience of disgust,” said Dr. Natalie J. Shook, a social psychologist, associate professor, and principal investigator for the study.

“In thinking about these psychological processes, what we’re interested in is whether people who are already more sensitive to potential disease threats are then more inclined to follow prescribed preventative health behaviors.”

The findings, published in the journal PLOS ONE, are part of a year-long study looking into how behavior and social attitudes change, and what factors influence those changes, when Americans are faced with the threat of widespread disease.

Supported by a National Science Foundation grant, the study is tracking the well-being, feelings, and behavioral practices of about 1,000 individuals across the country, and more than 18 surveys of the participants have already been conducted since the research began in March.

Study participants reported their overall concerns about COVID-19 and how often they engaged in preventative health behaviors like physical distancing, frequent hand washing, avoiding touching their face, wearing a facemask, and cleaning and disinfecting.

Participants also answered a series of demographic and social questions, including their age, political and religious values, and socioeconomic status, as well as questions designed to gauge risk factors for the disease, such as whether they had an underlying health condition that might predispose them to severe illness, whether a family member might be at greater perceived risk, or whether they recently had or believed that they had been ill with COVID-19.

“What we found in our data set was that the most consistent predictors of concern about COVID and then engagement in preventative health behaviors are actually those psychological disease avoidance factors,” said Shook.

More than factors like age, perceived risk, or political stance, individuals who indicated strong feelings of germ aversion and pathogen disgust also reported greater concern for COVID-19 and increased participation in preventative behaviors.

The team also found that people most likely to be impacted by the virus are not necessarily those most likely to be engaging in preventative behaviors.

“Older participants reported more concern about COVID, which makes sense — they’re at higher risk,” Shook said. “But when we looked at preventative health behaviors, we weren’t necessarily seeing that older adults were engaging more in preventative health behaviors. So, where there was the concern, that wasn’t necessarily translating into the behaviors that could protect them?”

People with higher incomes were associated with more engagement in physical distancing and cleaning behaviors, but they would also have greater access to resources, such as cleaning supplies, and the potential to work from home because of their socioeconomic status, Shook said.

Recent illness and general perceived health were also associated with many preventative health behaviors, though the individual reasons could vary, from motivations to prevent others from becoming ill to greater awareness due to recent illness.

The researchers say their findings identify a variety of characteristics that may place individuals at risk for contracting and spreading disease during a pandemic.

“We took a really broad approach to looking at the different factors that are related to different preventative health behaviors,” said Shook.

“The fact we are seeing psychological disease avoidance variables as coming out more consistently — which conceptually was not surprising, that’s what they should be doing, but that we’re seeing those above and beyond traditional personality traits and demographics — I think might speak to something we could potentially tap into.”

Source: University of Connecticut



The post Germ Aversion Tied to More Preventative Behavior During Pandemic first appeared on Psych Central News.

Feeling Panicked Without Phone Tied to Worse OCD, Poor Sleep Quality

Mon, 08/31/2020 - 5:00am

A new study finds a link between feelings of panic when a person is away from their smartphone and increased anxiety and obsessive-compulsive behavior. A related study found that these feelings are rampant among college students and lead to poor sleep quality.

In the first study, researchers at Ohio State University noted this panic is connected to feelings of inadequacy and inferiority.

“It is that fear, that panicky feeling, of ‘oh, no, I left my phone at home,'” said Dr. Ana-Paula Correia, an associate professor in the department of educational studies at OSU, director of Ohio State’s Center on Education and Training for Employment, and one of the authors of the study.

There is a difference between normal smartphone use that benefits a person’s life — such as video chatting with friends when you can’t be together in person or using it for work — and smartphone use that interferes with a person’s life, she continued. If smartphone use is interfering with a person’s life, that is behavior that is more likely to cause anxiety when we are away from our phones, she explained.

Published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior Reports, the study was based on Correia’s previous work, which created a questionnaire to evaluate people’s reliance on their smartphones. The study also explored the term “nomophobia,” defined as the fear of being away from your smartphone. Researchers are quick to note that nomophobia is not recognized as a diagnosis by the American Psychiatric Association.

For the study, researchers gave the nomophobia questionnaire to 495 adults between the ages of 18 to 24 in Portugal. The study participants reported using their phones for between four and seven hours a day, primarily for social networking applications.

The researchers also gave the participants another questionnaire that evaluated psychopathological symptoms, such as anxiety, obsession-compulsion, and feelings of inadequacy

The researchers discovered that the more participants used their smartphone each day, the more stress they reported feeling without their phone.

The researchers also found that the higher participants scored on obsession-compulsion, the more they feared being without their phone. Obsession-compulsion was measured by asking participants to rate how much they felt they had to “check and double-check what you do” and similar questions, the researchers explained.

The researchers also discovered that gender doesn’t affect feelings of nomophobia. They reported that a little more than half of the study participants were female.

According to the researchers, the study’s results suggest that people experiencing tension might see their phones as a stress-management tool.

“This concept is about more than just the phone,” Correia said. “People use it for other tasks, including social media, connecting, knowing what’s going on with their social media influencers. So being away from the phone or the phone having a low battery can sort of sever that connection and leave some people with feelings of agitation.”

Nomophobia Can Lead to Poor Sleep

In a similar study, researchers found that nomophobia is extremely common among college students and is associated with poor sleep health.

Preliminary results of this study found that 89 percent of college students surveyed had moderate or severe nomophobia. And greater nomophobia was “significantly” related to greater daytime sleepiness and more behaviors associated with poor sleep quality, according to researchers at Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas.

This study was published in an online supplement of the journal Sleep and was presented as a poster during Virtual SLEEP 2020, an annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies, a joint venture of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society.

“We found that college students who experience more nomophobia were also more likely to experience sleepiness and poorer sleep hygiene, such as long naps and inconsistent bed and wake times,” said lead author Jennifer Peszka, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Hendrix College.

While Peszka said she anticipated that nomophobia would be common among the students participating in the study, she was surprised by its high prevalence.

“Because our study suggests a connection between nomophobia and poorer sleep, it is interesting to consider what the implications will be if nomophobia severity continues to increase,” she said.

The study involved 327 university students with a mean age of 20 years. Participants completed several questionnaires, including the Nomophobia Questionnaire, the Epworth Sleepiness Scale, and the Sleep Hygiene Index.

And while a common recommendation for improving sleep habits is to limit phone use before and during bedtime, Peszka said that doesn’t work for people with nomophobia. Following this  recommendation could exacerbate bedtime anxiety and disrupt sleep, rather than improve it, she said.

“The recommendation to curtail bedtime phone use, which is meant to improve sleep and seems rather straightforward, might need adjustment or consideration for these individuals,” she said.

Source: The Ohio State University, American Academy of Sleep Medicine

The post Feeling Panicked Without Phone Tied to Worse OCD, Poor Sleep Quality first appeared on Psych Central News.

Effectiveness of Virtual Communities Hinge on Trust

Sun, 08/30/2020 - 10:55pm

In a new study, researchers based in Italy propose that development of trust among all participants is a key objective metric when assessing the effectiveness of virtual groups.

Virtual communities are now more important than ever before expanding from a social connection framework to formal business and educational practices. In the study, researchers investigated how do we know, without bias, that our online groups are actually successful in helping us with our goals?

“Group formation is a key issue in social communities due to the importance of establishing an effective organization in which users perform actions that could benefit from collaboration and mutual social interactions,” said the author Giancarlo Fortino, professor of computer engineering in the DIMES Department of the University of Calabria.

“Is it possible to form effective groups in virtual communities by exploiting trust information without significant overhead, similarly to real user communities?”

Facebook, for example, reached 2.4 billion active users in 2019, and, in the last five years, more than one billion groups have formed on the platform. In each group, individuals must trust that the group will provide some value to them, whether it is in the form of humor or parenting tips or product reviews.

The group, in turn, must determine the value the individual will add to their group, as well as how important that value is, when admitting members.

“In general, the ability of the members of the same groups to have positive interactions will improve the social capital — or, simply, the effectiveness — of the community which represents the group itself,” Fortino said.

The study appears in IEEE/CAA, The Journal of Automatica Sinica.

In the team’s previous research, they proposed that individual members who trust each other and their contributions to a group enforces the cohesiveness of a group even as more members who are not directly connected join, such as friends of friends.

“In this work, we address the general problem of forming effective groups.”

The researchers examined interaction data from 34,541 individuals on two Italian-based social networks, EPINIONS and CIAO.

“EPINIONS and CIAO users review items and assign them numeric ratings,” Fortino said. “Users can also build their own trust network by adding the people whose reviews they think are valuable.”

Fortino and the researchers analyzed three classes of users, from most valued to least valued in their reviews. They found that when one user had limited or inadequate interactions with another user, they would turn to their network of friends to determine trustworthiness.

“It’s similar to real communities,” Fortino said. “We have implemented this strategy in our algorithm to form groups in virtual communities based on a weighted voting mechanism, whereby each vote is represented by a trust value obtained by a suitable combination of reliability and local reputation.”

The strategy, when applied to the social network data, significantly improved the overall trust value of groups. The researchers are now studying the trust value metric in more complex configurations of the groups.

Source: Chinese Association of Automation/EurekAlert

The post Effectiveness of Virtual Communities Hinge on Trust first appeared on Psych Central News.

New AI Tool Promises Faster, More Accurate Alzheimer’s Diagnosis

Sun, 08/30/2020 - 7:00am

Researchers have developed a new artificial intelligence algorithm that can accurately diagnose Alzheimer’s by detecting subtle differences in language.

According to researchers at Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey, the algorithm promises to accurately diagnose Alzheimer’s without the need for expensive scans or in-person testing.

In fact, they say the software not only can diagnose Alzheimer’s, at negligible cost, with more than 95 percent accuracy, it is also capable of explaining its conclusions, allowing physicians to double check the accuracy of its diagnosis.

“This is a real breakthrough,” said the tool’s creator, K.P. Subbalakshmi, founding director of the Stevens Institute of Artificial Intelligence and a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the Charles V. Schaeffer School of Engineering. “We’re opening an exciting new field of research, and making it far easier to explain to patients why the A.I. came to the conclusion that it did, while diagnosing patients. This addresses the important question of trustability of A.I .systems in the medical field”

It has long been known that Alzheimer’s can affect a person’s use of language, according to the researchers. People with Alzheimer’s typically replace nouns with pronouns, such as saying “He sat on it” rather than “The boy sat on the chair.” Patients might also use awkward circumlocutions, saying “My stomach feels bad because I haven’t eaten” instead of simply saying “I’m hungry.”

By designing an explainable A.I. engine that uses attention mechanisms and convolutional neural network — a form of A.I. that learns over time — Subbalakshmi said she and her students were able to develop software that could not only accurately identify well-known telltale signs of Alzheimer’s, but also detect subtle linguistic patterns previously overlooked.

The research team trained the algorithm using texts produced by both healthy subjects and Alzheimer’s sufferers as they described a drawing of children stealing cookies from a jar. Using tools developed by Google, Subbalakshmi and her team converted each individual sentence into a unique numerical sequence, or vector, representing a specific point in a 512-dimensional space.

Such an approach allows even complex sentences to be assigned a concrete numerical value, making it easier to analyze structural and thematic relationships between sentences, Subbalakshmi explained.

By using those vectors, along with handcrafted features that experts identified, the A.I. system gradually learned to spot similarities and differences between sentences spoken by healthy people or those with Alzheimer’s. That led it to determine with “remarkable accuracy” how likely any given text was to have been produced by an Alzheimer’s sufferer, Subbalakshmi said.

The system also can easily incorporate new criteria that may be identified by other research teams in the future, so it will only get more accurate over time, she noted.

“We designed our system to be both modular and transparent,” Subbalakshmi explained. “If other researchers identify new markers of Alzheimer’s, we can simply plug those into our architecture to generate even better results.”

In theory, A.I. systems could one day diagnose Alzheimer’s based on any text, from a personal email to a social media post, she said.

First, though, an algorithm would need to be trained using many different kinds of texts produced by known Alzheimer’s sufferers, rather than just picture descriptions, and that kind of data isn’t yet available, she added.

“The algorithm itself is incredibly powerful,” Subbalakshmi said. “We’re only constrained by the data available to us.”

In coming months, Subbalakshmi hopes to gather new data that will allow her software to be used to diagnose patients based on speech in languages other than English. Her team is also exploring the ways that other neurological conditions, such as aphasia, stroke, traumatic brain injuries, and depression, can affect language use.

“This method is definitely generalizable to other diseases,” said Subbalakshmi. “As we acquire more and better data, we’ll be able to create streamlined, accurate diagnostic tools for many other illnesses too.”

Subbalakshmi and her doctorate students Mingxuan Chen and Ning Wang presented her work at the 19th International Workshop on Data Mining in Bioinformatics at BioKDD 2020.

Source: Stevens Institute of Technology

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New Brain Scan Study Could Help Find Best Therapy for OCD

Sun, 08/30/2020 - 6:30am

New research has found key differences in the brains of patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder who respond to one form of therapy over another.

The findings could improve the odds that people with OCD will receive a therapy that really works for them, something that eludes more than a third of those who currently get OCD treatment, according to researchers at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

The study suggests the possibility of predicting which of two types of therapy will help teens and adults with OCD: one that exposes them to the specific subject of their obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors, or one that focuses on general stress reduction and a problem-solving approach.

While the researchers caution that it’s too early for their work to be used by patients and mental health therapists, they note they are conducting further studies that will test the framework and see if it also applies to children with OCD or obsessive tendencies.

Published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, the new study examines advanced brain scans of 87 teens and adults with moderate to severe OCD who were randomly assigned to one of the two types of therapy for 12 weeks.

The researchers found that, in general, both types of therapy reduced the patients’ symptoms.

They also found that the approach known as exposure therapy, a form of cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT, was more effective and reduced symptoms more as time went on, compared with stress-management therapy or SMT.

But when the researchers looked back at the brain scans taken before the patients began therapy, and linked them to individual treatment response, they said they found striking patterns.

The brain scans were taken while patients performed a simple cognitive task and responded to a small monetary reward if they did the task correctly.

Those who started out with more activation in brain circuits for processing cognitive demands and reward during the tests were more likely to respond to CBT. But those who started out with less activation in those same areas during the same tests were more likely to respond well to SMT, the findings suggest.

“We found that the more OCD-specific form of therapy, the one based on exposure to the focus of obsession and compulsion, was better for relieving symptoms, which in itself is a valuable finding from this head-to-head randomized comparison of two treatment options,” said Stephan Taylor, M.D., the study’s senior author and a professor of psychiatry at Michigan Medicine, U-M’s academic medical center.

“But when we looked at the brain to see what was behind that response, we found that the more strength patients had in certain brain areas were linked to a greater chance of responding to exposure-based CBT.”

The brain regions and circuits that had the strongest links to treatment have already been identified as important to OCD and have even been targets for treatment with an emerging therapy called transcranial magnetic stimulation, the researchers noted.

Specifically, stronger activity in the circuit called the cingulo-opercular network during the cognitive task, and stronger activity in the orbitostriato-thalamic network when the reward was at stake, was associated with better response to exposure-based CBT.

Lower activity in both regions was associated with better response to the stress-reduction SMT.

The effects didn’t vary across age groups, the researchers added.

“These findings speak to a mechanism for therapy’s effects, because the brain regions associated with those effects overlap substantially with those implicated previously in this disorder,” said Luke Norman, Ph.D., who led the work as a U-M neuroscience postdoctoral fellow. “This suggests we need to draw upon the most-affected networks during therapy itself, but further research is needed to confirm.”

The brain scans were done while patients underwent a test that required them to pick the correct letter out of a display, and offered a potential monetary reward if they performed the task correctly. This measured both their ability to exert control over their cognitive processes in picking out the right letter, and the extent to which the promise of a reward motivated them, the researchers explained.

One of the areas most linked to CBT treatment response was the rostral anterior cingulate cortex (rACC). Past research has already linked it to OCD and treatment response, and it’s thought to play a key role in self-regulation of response to OCD triggers, the researchers said. Previously, the University of Michigan team had shown that people with OCD tend to have reduced activation in the rACC when asked to perform tasks that involve cognitive control.

Among those who responded best to CBT, the researchers saw stronger pre-treatment activation in areas of the brain associated with learning how to extinguish fear-based responses to something that has caused fear in the past.

Because exposure therapy for OCD involves facing the thing or situation that provokes obsessive and fearful responses, having a stronger ability to be motivated by rewards might help someone stick with therapy despite having to face their triggers, the researchers suggested.

The findings suggest a path to personalizing the choice of therapy not by doing brain scans on everyone with OCD — which would be impractical, according to the researchers— but by using everyday tests that measure the kinds of characteristics that might predict better success with one therapy or the other.

Easily administered behavioral tests could be developed to help therapists recommend CBT to those who have the most cognitive control and reward responsiveness. Likewise, they could suggest SMT to those who would benefit most from being taught to relax and use problem-solving techniques to improve their response to stressors, said Kate Fitzgerald, M.D., a pediatric OCD specialist at Michigan Medicine. Fitzgerald is co-senior author of the paper and leads multiple studies of OCD therapy for children and adolescents.

Computer-based brain-training exercises that can strengthen these tendencies, and rewards for exposing yourself to the thing or action that triggers OCD symptoms, may hold the potential to improve therapy response, she said.

“This kind of research may help inform efforts to do cognitive control training and ramp up the circuits that help patients overcome conflict between obsessive fears and insight that these fears don’t make sense so that patients can dismiss the fear as improbable, rather than trying to make it go away with compulsive behaviors,” she said.

“Our research shows that different brains respond to different treatments, and if we can build on this knowledge we could move toward a more precision-medicine approach for OCD.”

In children and teens, whose brains are still maturing, there’s an especially good chance of helping them improve their brains’ control functions, she said.

Fitzgerald and her research team are recruiting young people with diagnosed OCD, and OCD-like tendencies, for a clinical trial that provides CBT and includes brain scanning before and after therapy.

Since OCD symptoms typically start in the tween years, though diagnosis may not occur until the teen or young adult years, it’s important to study children with sub-clinical symptoms, she noted.

Though the study involves in-person interactions for the brain scans, the CBT exposure therapy is done through video chat. In fact, Fitzgerald says, this can make it easier for children and teens to confront the item or situation that triggers their OCD-like impulses, because these are often found in the home.

“We need families and patients to engage with researchers in studies like these,” she said. “Only through research can we understand what works best for different groups of patients. And perhaps by doing so we can expand the availability of the most evidence-based OCD therapies, including by engaging psychologists and clinical social workers in leading treatment programs, in addition to psychiatrists at specialized centers.”

Source: Michigan Medicine — University of Michigan

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Kids Notice Racial Differences Long Before Adults Want to Talk About It

Sun, 08/30/2020 - 6:00am

A new study reveals that very young children, even infants, are aware of racial differences, but many adults believe children should be almost 5 years old before talking to them about race.

The findings are published online in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.

Delays in these important conversations could make it more difficult to change children’s misperceptions or racist beliefs, said study co-author Jessica Sullivan, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology at Skidmore College.

“Children are capable of thinking about all sorts of complex topics at a very young age,” she said. “Even if adults don’t talk to kids about race, children will work to make sense of their world and will come up with their own ideas, which may be inaccurate or detrimental.”

In an online study with a nationally representative sample, more than 600 participants were asked the earliest age at which they would talk with children about race. They were also asked when they thought children first develop behaviors and cognitive abilities relating to race and other social factors. More than half of the participants were parents and 40% were people of color.

The respondents believed conversations about race should begin near a child’s fifth birthday even though children begin to be aware of race when they are infants. Prior research has shown that 3-month-old babies prefer faces of their own race if they live in a mostly homogeneous racial environment; 9-month-olds use race to categorize faces; and 3-year-old children in the U.S. associate some racial groups with negative traits. By age 4, American children associate whites with wealth and higher status, and race-based discrimination is already widespread when children start elementary school.

Respondents who thought children’s abilities to process race developed later also believed conversations about race should occur later. The team was surprised that the participants’ race did not affect the age at which they were willing to talk with children about race. The participants’ parental status, gender, education level, or experience with children also didn’t have any bearing on the findings.

In a second experiment, the researchers found that when participants learned about children’s developmental abilities regarding race, they said adults should start talking about it when children are 4 years old. This was approximately a year earlier than in the previous experiment.

Many white parents often use well-meaning but ineffective strategies that ignore the realities of racism in the United States, said study co-author Leigh Wilton, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychology at Skidmore College.

Some harmful approaches include a colorblind strategy (e.g., telling children “Skin color doesn’t matter,” or “We’re all the same on the inside”) or refusing to discuss it (e.g., “It’s not polite to talk about that”).

The study didn’t address exactly when or how adults should talk with children about race, but Wilton said this can begin early.

“Even if it’s a difficult topic, it’s important to talk with children about race, because it can be difficult to undo racial bias once it takes root,” she said. “Toddlers can’t do calculus, but that doesn’t mean we don’t teach them to count. You can have a conversation with a toddler about race that is meaningful to them on their level.”

Parents, especially white parents, need to become comfortable talking about race or it will only get more difficult as their children get older, Wilton said.

“If we wait until a child is old enough to ask a tough question about the history of racial violence, then it will be that much harder to talk about if there haven’t been any meaningful discussions about race earlier in their lives.”

Source: American Psychological Association

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Boosting Ability to Be Playful May Enhance Satisfaction With Life

Sat, 08/29/2020 - 7:30am

A new study finds that simple exercises can help make people more playful, which helps them feel more satisfied with their lives.

The new study from psychologists at Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg (MLU) in Germany found that just a week of exercises can boost a person’s playfulness, which then improves their mood.

Playfulness is a personality trait that is expressed differently in people, the researchers noted.

“Particularly playful people have a hard time dealing with boredom. They manage to turn almost any everyday situation into an entertaining or personally engaging experience,” said Professor René Proyer, a psychologist at MLU.

For example, they enjoy word games and mental games, are curious, or just like playing around, he elaborated.

But this does not mean these people are particularly silly or frivolous, according to Proyer. On the contrary, earlier studies by the MLU researchers found that adults can put this inclination to playfulness to positive use in many situations. They have an eye for detail, can easily adopt new perspectives, and can make even a monotonous task interesting for them, they explained.

Until now it had been unclear whether playfulness could be trained and what effect this might have on people, the researchers said.

That led them to conduct a study on 533 people, teaming up with researchers from the University of Zurich in Switzerland and Pennsylvania State University in the United States.

Participants were randomly divided into one of three experimental groups or a placebo or control group.

The people in the experimental groups completed one of three daily exercises for seven days. The exercises were intended to boost their playfulness.

For instance, one group was asked to write down three situations from that day in which they had behaved particularly playful before going to bed.

Another group was asked to use their inclination to be playful in an unfamiliar situation, for example in their professional life, and write down that experience.

The third group was asked to reflect more broadly on the playful behavior they had observed in themselves that day.

In contrast, the placebo group received a task that had no influence on the experiment, according to the researchers.

“All of these methods are based on established interventions of positive psychology,” said Kay Brauer, a researcher in Proyer’s group.

Participants in all the groups filled out a questionnaire before and immediately after weeks one, two, four, and 12 after the intervention, which helped the researchers measure various personality traits.

“Our assumption was that the exercises would lead people to consciously focus their attention on playfulness and use it more often. This could result in positive emotions, which in turn would affect the person’s well-being,” Brauer said.

And the tasks did lead to an increase in playfulness, the researchers reported.

They also observed a temporary, moderate improvement in the participants’ well-being.

“Our study is the first intervention study on adults to show that playfulness can be induced and that this has positive effects for them,” Proyer said.

The results of the study serve as a starting point for new research questions and practical applications, according to the researchers.

“I believe that we can use this knowledge in everyday life to improve various aspects,” Proyer said.

For example, special interventions in the workplace could lead to more fun or a potential to be more innovative at work. Or romantic partners could do similar exercises that might increase their satisfaction in their relationship.

“This does not mean that every company needs table tennis tables or a playground slide. However, one idea would be to allow employees to consciously integrate playfulness into their everyday work and, as a supervisor, to set an example for this kind of behavior,” Proyer concluded.

The study was published in the journal Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being.

Source: Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg

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Many Pediatric Heart Nurses Struggle With Emotional Exhaustion

Sat, 08/29/2020 - 7:00am

A survey of nurses caring for children with heart issues reveals that more than half are emotionally exhausted. The findings, recently presented at The European Society of Cardiology (ESC) Congress 2020, also show that good working environments are associated with significantly less burnout.

“Nurses’ well-being is central to ensuring the best outcomes for patients,” said study author Dr. Annamaria Bagnasco of the University of Genoa, Italy. “When wards have poor leadership and fragmented teams with no development prospects for nurses this should raise an alarm that there is a risk of burnout.”

Previous studies have shown that burnout rates are higher in pediatrics than in other specialties, and that burnout is connected to patient safety. Strategies to reduce burnout and its impact on patient safety are needed.

In the new study, the researchers evaluated emotional exhaustion in nurses who were providing routine care on pediatric cardiology wards and also looked at whether their exhaustion was related to the working environment.

Data were obtained from the RN4CAST@ITPed study. A web survey was distributed to 2,769 nurses working in children’s hospitals throughout Italy between September 2017 and January 2018.

A total of 2,205 (80%) nurses responded, of whom 85 worked in cardiology wards and intensive care units (ICUs). Additional data were collected from hospital administrations.

The study looked at workload (how many patients each nurse was caring for, or nurse-patient ratio); skill mix (the education level of nurses working in one unit and the number of nursing assistants providing support during each shift); work environment and emotional exhaustion.

Work environment was measured with the Practice Environment Scale of the Nursing Work Index (PES-NWI), which covers issues such as: having a nurse manager or immediate supervisor who is a good manager and leader; opportunities for advancement; opportunities to participate in policy decisions; and collaboration between nurses and doctors.

Emotional exhaustion was evaluated using the Maslach Burnout Inventory, which measures feelings about work. For instance, feeling emotionally drained, used up, fatigued in the morning, burned out, frustrated, working too hard, stressed, or “at the end of my rope.”

The study focused on responses from the 85 nurses working in cardiology wards and ICUs at five hospitals. Interviews were also conducted with these nurses. The findings show that more than half (58%) of the respondents were emotionally exhausted. The main causes were related to working conditions, including being responsible for high numbers of patients and the complexity of caring for sick children.

“The most important consequence was that 30% of the nurses we interviewed wanted to either go and work in another hospital or even change their career,” said Bagnasco.

The research team then evaluated the link between emotional exhaustion and the working environment. Improving the workplace environment was tied to an 81% drop in emotional exhaustion, even with the same skill mix and nurse-patient ratio.

“Our study shows that nurses value good leadership, being involved in decision-making, having chances to develop their career, and team working,” said Bagnasco. “The lack of these conditions is connected to burnout, which we know from prior research could compromise patient safety.”

Bagnasco noted that pediatric cardiac nurses must work with children and their families, who often feel concerned and afraid.

“Establishing a trusting relationship is essential but burned out nurses may find it ‘too heavy’ to bear emotionally. If the working environment is positive for the nurses who work in it, children and their families will receive better and safer care,” she said.

Source: European Society of Cardiology


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Youngest and Oldest Drivers Most Likely to Be in Unsafe Vehicles

Sat, 08/29/2020 - 6:30am

Teen drivers and drivers 65 years and older — two age groups at high risk of being involved in an automobile accident — are more likely to be driving unsafe vehicles, which can increase their risk of injury even further, according to a new study from the Center for Injury Research and Prevention (CIRP) at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP).

Newly licensed drivers have the highest crash risk of any age group, while older drivers have the highest crash fatality rate of any age group, with many of these crashes being linked to physical changes in health.

In addition, drivers of all age groups living in lower-income neighborhoods are disproportionately represented in fatal crashes, and both younger and older residents in those neighborhoods are more likely to face financial challenges in securing a vehicle with key safety characteristics than their peers in wealthier neighborhoods.

One promising approach to reduce injuries related to crashes is to ensure drivers are behind the wheel of the safest vehicles they can afford. To better assess the risk faced by these high-risk driver groups, the study adds important empirical data describing the extent to which they are driving vehicles with fewer critical safety characteristics.

“Survey studies had previously found that younger drivers were more likely to drive vehicles that were older, smaller and lacked certain safety features, but there had yet to be a population-based study that really explored this question for different ages and income levels,” says Kristi Metzger, Ph.D., M.P.H., a statistical scientist at CIRP and first author of the study.

“To that end, we conducted the first large-scale study to estimate the prevalence of important vehicle safety criteria among a statewide driver population.”

The research team looked at data from the NJ Safety and Health Outcomes data warehouse, which includes all crash and licensing data for the state of New Jersey from 2010 to 2017. They then used National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Product Information Catalog and Vehicle Listing platform to decode the VIN of each crash-involved vehicle to obtain model year, presence of electronic stability control (ESC), vehicle type, engine horsepower, and presence of front, side, and curtain airbags.

ESC is a key safety feature that helps a driver maintain vehicle control on curves and slippery roads and reduces crash fatality risk on a level comparable to seat belts.

The findings reveal that teens and older drivers were more likely than middle-aged adults to drive older cars that did not have ESC or side and curtain airbags. Furthermore, drivers of all ages from lower-income neighborhoods were less likely to drive newer, safer cars.

On average, young drivers from lower-income neighborhoods drove vehicles that were almost twice as old as their peers from higher-income neighborhoods, while young drivers from high-income neighborhoods were 53% more likely to drive cars with side airbags. Older drivers from high-income neighborhoods were 35% more likely to have vehicles with side airbags than older drivers from low-income neighborhoods.

“All drivers should strive to be in the safest vehicle they can afford, regardless of age or income level,” said Metzger. “There are many vehicles available with key safety features that won’t break the bank, some for less than $7,000.”

The study findings are published in the journal Traffic Injury Prevention.

Source: Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia


Older Adults More Vulnerable to Depression in Pandemic But Strong Social Ties Can Help

Sat, 08/29/2020 - 6:00am

Older adults have been more vulnerable to depression and loneliness during the COVID-19 pandemic, but having strong relationships can help protect against mental health issues, according to a new study published in The Journal of Gerontology: Series B.

“What we found is the pandemic was associated with worse mental health outcomes for many older adults,” said study author Dr. Anne Krendl, associate professor in the College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Indiana University (IU).

“However, for some, having close social networks seemed to serve as a protector against negative mental health outcomes.”

For the study, Krendl and Dr. Brea Perry, professor in the Department to Sociology at IU Bloomington, looked at whether social isolation due to the COVID-19 shelter-in-place orders was linked to greater feelings of loneliness and depression among older adults, and, if so, whether declines in social engagement or relationship strength moderated that relationship.

The research team compared personal social networks, subjective loneliness and depression of 93 older adults in the Bloomington community, six to nine months prior to the pandemic and from late April to late May when most people were under stay-at-home orders.

They found that around two in three (68 percent) older adults reported spending less time than before with people they loved, and 79 percent felt like their social life decreased or was negatively affected by COVID-19.

However, 60 percent reported spending somewhat or much more time reconnecting or catching up with people they cared about and 78 percent were using some form of internet technology to keep in touch during the pandemic. On average, older adults reported spending about 76 minutes socializing virtually or over the phone each day.

“Although prior research has shown that people in this age group are not avid users of social media, the pandemic seems to have moved the needle, with more older people relying on social media to try to stay connected,” Krendl said.

The findings also show that loneliness is linked to a number of negative outcomes for older adults, including higher rates of depression and higher mortality, while closeness to individuals in their networks can result in greater emotional well-being .

“Although older adults were relatively adaptable in staying connected during the pandemic, we found that adults who felt less close to their social network during the pandemic experienced increased depression,” said Krendl.

“However, for older adults who felt closer to their social networks during the pandemic, depression only increased markedly for those who also had experienced a large increase in loneliness.”

It is important, Krendl said, to fully understand the short-term impact the pandemic has had on older adults’ mental health well-being so resources and services can be available to those who need it. Krendl will continue to follow up with those who participated in the survey, to see if changes in their mental health remain short-term or lead to permanent changes.

“One period of increased mental health problems does not necessarily mean a permanent change,” she said. “But certainly, periods of mental health distress can have longer term implications for health and well-being. Characterizing those shifts will be important for understanding the full impact of the pandemic on older adults’ mental and social well-being.”

Source: Indiana University


How Catastrophizing Pain Can Drive Avoiding Exercise

Fri, 08/28/2020 - 8:53pm

A new study suggests that how people think about their pain can have a major impact on whether they get enough physical activity — or if they spend more time being sedentary.

Chronic or persistent pain affects between 60 and 75 percent of older adults in the United States, and getting enough exercise plays a key role in pain management.

For the study, a research team led by Penn State found that when people with knee osteoarthritis “catastrophized” — feeling an exaggerated helplessness or hopelessness — about their pain more than usual, they were less likely to be physically active later in the day. This contributed to a domino effect of sedentary behavior followed by even more pain catastrophizing.

“Staying physically active is one of the most important self-management strategies for chronic pain patients,” said Dr. Lynn Martire, professor of human development and family studies. “However, many chronic pain patients avoid physical activities that they are actually capable of doing. Our study focused on one critical psychological factor that may explain why patients avoid physical activity despite its importance for pain management: their catastrophic thinking about their pain.”

According to the researchers, the findings have potential implications for pain management and wellness in older adults, and suggest that pain catastrophizing could be an important therapeutic target for interventions and pain treatment.

“Reducing daily pain catastrophizing may help older patients to be more active and less sedentary on a daily basis,” said Dr. Ruixue Zhaoyang, assistant research professor. “This could help improve their chronic pain condition, physical function, and overall health, and reduce the possibility of hospitalization, institutionalization, and healthcare costs in the long term.”

Zhaoyang said that catastrophizing about pain — thought patterns like “the pain is terrible and is never going to get any better” or “I can’t stand the pain anymore” — may lead some older adults to avoid exercise in an effort to also avoid pain. But if exercise is put off for too long, it can lead to spirals of depression and even worse pain.

For the study, the researchers looked at data from 143 older adults with knee osteoarthritis. The participants kept daily diaries and wore accelerometers — a wearable device for measuring physical activity — for 22 days.

Each morning, the participants reported how they felt about their pain that day and the accelerometer would gather information on physical activity and sedentary behavior.

After analyzing the data, the researchers found that on mornings when participants catastrophized their pain more than usual, they ended up engaging in less moderate to vigorous physical activity later that day.

In addition, the findings show that catastrophizing about pain in the morning led to more time in sedentary behavior the same and the following day, as well. In turn, more time spent being sedentary led to increased pain catastrophizing on the following day.

“One particularly interesting finding is that the detrimental influence of catastrophizing thinking about pain is independent of the pain experience itself,” Zhaoyang said. “In other words, how patients think about their pain, rather than the level of experienced pain, had a more powerful impact on their daily physical activity.”

Martire said the findings suggest that pain catastrophizing can kick-start a potentially harmful cycle. Greater pain catastrophizing in the morning leads to avoidance of physical activity, which in turn worsens catastrophizing about pain on the following day.

The team added that these findings suggest that pain catastrophizing could be a good target for interventions aimed at managing chronic pain and increasing physical activity.

“Our study demonstrated that patients’ catastrophizing thinking can change from day to day and can be modified by their everyday activity behavior,” Martire said. “Future interventions may get better results from using mobile technology to monitor patients’ activity levels in everyday life and provide just-in-time adaptive interventions targeting patients’ pain catastrophizing to reduce their sedentary behavior.”

The researchers added that while their study looked specifically at people with knee osteoarthritis, that people can catastrophize with any type of pain. They said the study implications could potentially apply to pain management in patients with other types of chronic pain.

The findings are published in the journal PAIN.

Source: Penn State

Your In-Laws’ Drinking History Could Lead to Your Own Drinking Issues

Fri, 08/28/2020 - 6:30am

A new study reveals a surprising family connection to alcohol use disorder (AUD): the drinking habits of a person’s in-laws.

The findings, published in the journal Psychological Science, suggest that marriage to a spouse who was exposed to parental alcohol misuse as a child increases that person’s likelihood of developing AUD, even if the spouse does not have a drinking disorder.

“Our goal here was to examine whether a spouse’s genetic makeup influences risk for AUD,” said Dr. Jessica Salvatore, an assistant professor of psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University, and lead author on the paper.

“In a somewhat surprising twist, we found that it wasn’t the spouse’s genetic makeup that influenced AUD risk. Rather, it was whether the spouse was raised by an AUD-affected parent.”

The research team analyzed marital data on more than 300,000 couples in Swedish national population registries and found that marriage to a spouse with a predisposition toward alcohol use disorder increased risk for developing AUD.

This higher risk was not explained by socioeconomic status, the spouse’s AUD status, nor contact with the spouse’s parents. Instead, the researchers discovered that, rather than genetics, this increased risk reflected the psychological consequences of the spouse having grown up with an AUD-affected parent.

“Growing up with an AUD-affected parent might teach people to act in ways that reinforce a spouse’s drinking problem,” said Salvatore. “For example, taking care of a spouse when they have a hangover.”

The results highlight the damaging and long-lasting impact of growing up with a parent with AUD, extending even to the spouses of their adult children.

“It demonstrates the long reach that parental alcohol problems have on the next generation,” Salvatore said. “It’s not just the offspring of affected parents who are at risk, it’s the people those offspring end up marrying, too.”

The findings are consistent with evidence from other studies, she said, which suggest that those who grow up with a parent with an alcohol use disorder may be at particularly high risk of using alcohol as a “tool” to improve their marital interactions.

“These kinds of processes may inadvertently lead a spouse down the path of alcohol misuse,” she said. “To be clear, my guess is that these processes are out of people’s conscious control. No one wants to ‘give’ their spouse an alcohol problem.”

The findings are an important contribution to a growing area of research on social genetic effects, or the effects of a social partner’s genetic makeup, Salvatore said. Conclusions from previous studies of social genetic effects were limited by the fact that people’s genotypes were linked to their childhood environments. In other words, in previous studies it was difficult to say whether effects were attributable to the partner’s genes versus how they were raised because their parents provided both their genes and their home lives.

“What we were able to do in our study was tease apart the effects of the social partner (spouse’s) genes and the rearing environment,” she said. “And when we did that, what we found surprised us: It’s something about the spouse being raised by a parent with a drinking problem, rather than the spouse’s genetic makeup, that influences a person’s risk for developing an alcohol problem.”

The study could prove valuable when it comes to treating couples struggling with alcohol. The findings reinforce the idea that interventions for substance-use disorders should be administered at the level of a couple or the family (for those who have a partner) rather than at the individual level, Salvatore said.

“In the best-case scenario, spouses can be one of our first defenses against poor health — they bug us to schedule our annual exams, and they’re among the first to notice if we’re feeling blue or tipping too many drinks back. But spouses can also be a liability for poor health,” she said. “The results from this study underscore how a spouse’s experiences in his/her family of origin can be a risk factor for the development of alcohol problems.”

Source: Association for Psychological Science

Many Parents Butt Heads With Grandparents Over Parenting Rules

Fri, 08/28/2020 - 6:00am

A new poll suggests that disagreements over parenting choices and rules can cause significant contention between a child’s parents and grandparents.

Nearly half of the parents in the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health at Michigan Medicine describe disagreements with at least one grandparent about their parenting.  One in seven even say they limit the amount of time their child sees certain grandparents.

Disputes most commonly involve discipline (57%), meals (44%), and TV/screen time (36%.) Other thorny subjects include manners, safety and health, bedtime, treating some grandchildren differently than others and sharing photos or information on social media.

“Grandparents play a special role in children’s lives and can be an important resource for parents through support, advice and babysitting. But they may have different ideas about the best way to raise the child and that can cause tension,” says Mott Poll co-director Sarah Clark.

“If grandparents contradict or interfere with parenting choices, it can have a serious strain on the relationship.”

The nationally representative survey is based on 2,016 responses from parents of children ages 18 and under.

Discipline was the biggest source of contention. Among parents who report major or minor disagreements, 40% say grandparents are too soft on the child, and 14% say grandparents are too tough.

Nearly half of parents say disagreements arise from grandparents being both too lenient and overly harsh.

“Parents may feel that their parental authority is undermined when grandparents are too lenient in allowing children to do things that are against family rules, or when grandparents are too strict in forbidding children to do things that parents have okayed,” Clark says.

Some disagreements may stem from intergenerational differences, Clark says. For example, grandparents may insist that “the way we used to do things” is the correct way to parent.

New research and recommendations on child health and safety may also lead to disagreements if grandparents fail to put babies to sleep on their back or do not use a booster seat when driving grandchildren to preschool.

Many parents say they have tried to get grandparents to be more respectful of their parenting choices and household rules. These requests have mixed results: while about half of grandparents made a noticeable change in their behavior to be more consistent with how parents do things, 17% outright objected.

“Whether grandparents cooperated with a request or not was strongly linked to parents’ description of disagreements as major or minor,” Clark says. “The bigger the conflict, the less likely grandparents were to budge.”

Parents who said that grandparents refused such a request were also more likely to put limits on the amount of time their child spent with them.

“Parents who reported major disagreements with grandparents were also likely to feel that the conflicts had a negative impact on the relationship between the child and the grandparent,” Clark says.

“These findings indicate that grandparents should strive to understand and comply with parent requests to be more consistent with parenting choices — not only to support parents in the difficult job of raising children, but to avoid escalating the conflict to the point that they risk losing special time with grandchildren.”

Source: Michigan Medicine- University of Michigan