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Matching Cognition to Job Demands Seen As Vital for Older Workers

Wed, 08/14/2019 - 7:30am

Experienced older workers whose reasoning skills can no longer meet the demands of their jobs may be more likely to develop chronic health conditions and retire early, which may not be ideal for the employee or employer, according to a new study published by the American Psychological Association.

Reasoning abilities decline with age, so organizations must be aware of how employee health can be negatively affected by the demands placed upon an employee, said Margaret Beier, Ph.D., of Rice University and lead author of the study.

Older workers can handle highly complex jobs as long as they have the mental resources to match the job demands.

“When their reasoning abilities matched the demands of their job, older adults experienced fewer health issues and worked longer than adults who did not have the necessary reasoning abilities to perform their job,” said Beier.

“Experienced workers offer much in terms of knowing the company culture and being able to mentor younger employees, so it is vital that we look into the best ways to extend their careers and improve their health outcomes.”

With a growing number of older adults in the workforce, the researchers wanted to learn about the factors involved in maintaining health and determining when people choose to retire.

The team analyzed a subset of data from the Cognition and Aging in the USA survey, gathered between 2007 and 2014 from 383 participants who remained in the study for the full seven years.

The survey looked at a variety of factors, but the authors used the data collected on participants’ abilities, health and retirement status over the course of the survey for this study. At the start of the survey, participants were all at least 51 years old (average age was 61).

The researchers gauged cognitive ability using a combination of 13 different measures, including verbal analogies (e.g., participants were given three words of an analogy and must name the fourth), number series (e.g., participants look at a number series and find the one missing) and calculations.

The team also measured demands from jobs using the O*NET database, which reports the knowledge, skills, abilities and other attributes needed for many jobs in the United States.

Participants were also asked to report if they had any of nine health conditions, including high blood pressure, arthritis, diabetes and lung disease.

“Mathematical reasoning may be important for both a middle school math teacher and a calculus professor, but the level of ability demanded for the calculus professor is higher than for the teacher,” said Beier.

“To measure health conditions, we summed up the number of chronic health conditions participants reported in the Cognition and Aging in the USA study. Retirement status was measured simply by asking the participants about their current employment situation.”

The researchers found that having reasoning abilities that matched the demands of the job was important to the positive experience of work in older age.

When reasoning abilities required by a job exceeded a worker’s abilities, workers reported more health conditions and were more likely to be retired, said Beier. When workers’ reasoning abilities met or exceeded a job’s demands, they also reported fewer chronic health conditions.

“We found that a poor fit between reasoning abilities and job demands might cause older workers to experience stress and strain that serves to push them out of the workforce,” said Beier.

The new findings could inform decisions on how jobs for older employees should be designed to reduce the potential for negative health outcomes and retain these veteran employees as long as possible before retirement, according to Beier.

“With the average age of retirement increasing across the country and the older population itself becoming a larger portion of the population, it is important that we study how the demands placed on older workers in the workforce should match their abilities,” said Beier.

“Older workers have such valuable experience that it is vital we look into the best ways to extend their careers and improve their health outcomes.”

The study is published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology.

Source: American Psychological Association



Older Adults Not Easily Swayed by Emotions, Negative Info

Tue, 08/13/2019 - 7:25am

New research suggests that compared to younger adults, older adults are less distracted by negative information or emotions, even in the earliest stages of attention. However, older adults do appear to be influenced by positive information.

Investigators looked at “emotion-induced blindness,” which refers to distractions caused by emotionally arousing stimuli. In four experiments using a quickly presented sequence of images, they examined how older adults prioritize emotional information.

They found both younger and older adults demonstrated emotion-induced blindness, but older adults were more distracted by positive information and less distracted by negative information.

Study results appear in the journal Emotion.

“What makes our new findings striking is that we found evidence of the positivity effect at such an early, attentional level,” said lead author Dr. Briana Kennedy. Kennedy is a postdoctoral scholar in the Emotion & Cognition Lab at the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology.

“Older and younger adults were distracted differently by the same negative images that appeared for only a fraction of a second,” Kennedy explained.

“Older adults seem to view their world with a filter that cares less about negative information than younger adults — to the point that, without even having time to think about and reflect on what they are seeing, they give less attention to it.”

Studies have shown that compared with younger adults, older adults tend to favor positive information more than negative information in their attention and memory. What has remained unclear about this long-observed “positivity effect” is at which stage it impacts cognitive processing and its influence on processing other stimuli appearing around the same time.

Participants in the USC study were shown a rapidly displayed series of landscape images and given the task to correctly identify the direction of one rotated picture. Those images were punctuated with irrelevant positive or negative images that appeared soon before the rotated picture.

The positive images included babies or happy couples while the negative images included disturbing or threatening situations like a man approaching a woman with a knife.

Both older and younger adults were less accurate in identifying the rotated landscape image after these “emotional distractors.” However, compared to younger adults, older adults were less distracted by negative and more distracted by positive images. This observation suggests that a selective bias toward positive information occurs early in older adults’ visual processing.

“The exciting thing about this effect is how quickly the images are presented — it’s only hundreds of milliseconds that these images are on the screen,” Kennedy said. “This allowed us to measure the early levels of cognition and see how something that’s emotional can disrupt our perception and awareness of things that come after it.”

In previous studies on emotion, which involved mostly slower-paced attention and memory tasks, older adults saw and remembered positive images better and negative images worse. The researchers wanted to see if that happens in early attention and found that even when images were presented quickly, older adults were more distracted by positive rather than negative images.

“These older adults don’t really have time to reflect and think too much about something being positive or negative when they’re seeing them flash so quickly on the screen,” Kennedy said.

“Older adults have a sort of active filter when they’re looking at things, prioritizing things that are positive and deprioritizing things that are negative compared to younger adults.”

Researchers said the most obvious implications of the research involve learning how to best communicate information to older adults. Kennedy noted that using positive imagery may lead to more successful advertising campaigns targeting an increasingly aging populace.

“Whereas younger adults may give special attention to information that has a negative spin, older adults may instead reserve their prioritized attention for something more positive,” she said.

“By understanding how older adults change their priority for emotion, we may better understand the way the brain — particularly our attention — changes with age.”

Source: USC

Food Insecurity Common Among US College Students

Tue, 08/13/2019 - 7:00am

Many university and college students across the U.S. experience food insecurity — lacking access to a reliable supply of nutritious food — which can affect their ability to learn, according to new findings presented at the annual convention of the American Psychological Association.

The study, conducted by the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice, surveyed nearly 86,000 students from 123 U.S. educational institutions and found that 41% of university and 48% of two-year college students reported food insecurity.

“Food insecure students were more likely to fail assignments and exams, withdraw from classes or the university, and had lower grade point averages than their counterparts,” said Yu-Wei Wang, PhD, of the University of Maryland-College Park, who presented at the meeting.

“Additionally, they reported missing out on professional development opportunities, such as internships, which may affect their future career ambitions.”

“With increasing wealth inequality and student loan debt in the United States, we need to address the food insecurity problem on college campuses and make sure it does not restrict a student’s ability to succeed,” she said.

Wang also presented data from a study in which she and her colleagues surveyed 4,901 students at the University of Maryland-College Park during the fall 2017 semester.

In this study, they found that nearly 20% of students said they were concerned about their ability to access nutritious food. For example, the students were asked questions such as “Do you worry whether food would run out before you got money to buy more?” and “In the last 12 months, did you lose weight because there was not enough money for food?”

Approximately 13% of students reported experiencing low food security (they could not afford to eat balanced meals or relied on a few kinds of low-cost food because they ran out of money to buy food), while 7% reported experiencing very low food security (they were hungry but did not eat, or cut the size of or skipped meals because there was not enough money for food).

Of those students, 23 were chosen for in-depth interviews to better understand the issue, and were asked additional questions, such as “Could you tell us about the last time you did not have enough money for food?” and “Which specific issues with food access do you feel that you face as a student with children?”

Another study presented at the meeting, involving 91 students from the University of California-Santa Cruz, also found access to nutritious food to be an issue, according to Heather Bullock, PhD, of the University of California-Santa Cruz.

Focus groups were organized with food insecure students to learn about their experiences of food insecurity on campus, barriers to food access, consequences for academic performance and recommendations for improving support services.

“Three core themes emerged from the focus groups,” said Bullock. “Students confront multiple barriers to food security, including difficulty accessing benefits and stigma, they engage in complex, time consuming strategies to secure food and they suffer negative academic consequences, including reduced focus on class work.”

Bullock also referenced findings from other studies showing that among almost 9,000 University of California system students surveyed across 10 campuses, 23% said they lacked reliable access to a quality, varied, nutritious diet and 19% had experienced reduced food intake due to limited resources at some point.

In both studies, food insecurity disproportionately affected certain groups of students: first-generation college students, racial/ethnic minority students, international students, those from immigrant backgrounds, those who identified as transgender/gender non-conforming and those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds.

To cope, students reported cutting down on portion sizes, finding lower cost or free food, skipping class to attend free food events, sharing food with other students in need and participating in other activities, such as smoking or napping, to distract them from feeling hungry, said Wang.

The stigma of food insecurity negatively affected students’ sense of self-worth and kept them from accessing programs and services, said Bullock.

“Students reported poorer general health and experienced higher levels of depression, anxiety, distress, anger and loneliness than their peers who were not food insecure,” said Wang. “Some students did not use resources they are eligible for because they felt embarrassed, ashamed or believed that other students were in greater need.”

In the follow-up interviews, Maryland students suggested increasing access to healthy food on campus, enhancing awareness of food insecurity to reduce stigma, and providing financial support for those lacking access to food, according to Wang.

“Programs such as Campus Pantry, which provides emergency food to university students, faculty and staff in need are crucial to help curb food insecurity,” said Wang. “It is critical to increase awareness of food insecurity on campus to let students know they are not alone.”

Source: American Psychological Association


Behavioral Approach Can Prevent Childhood Accidents

Tue, 08/13/2019 - 6:00am

Injuries are the leading cause of death for children worldwide, having recently overtaken infectious disease.

“Many different factors contribute to unintentional injuries, so if we are able to stop just one of these risk factors, the injury could be prevented,” said David C. Schwebel, Ph.D., of the University of Alabama Birmingham.

“By using novel behavioral strategies, we can possibly prevent injuries that have previously been seen as unavoidable accidents.”

Schwabel presented his research findings at the annual convention of the American Psychological Association.

Injuries were responsible for the deaths of over 11,000 and emergency room visits by more than 6.7 million American children in 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Global Burden of Disease project estimates that more than 2 million children under age 19 worldwide died as a result of injuries in 2017.

While these numbers represent all injuries, the presentation focused on only unintentional injuries (i.e., accidents) instead of intentional injuries such as suicide, homicide and abuse.

Schwebel outlined a model that psychologists could use to reduce accidental injuries in children.

The model groups risk factors in three categories: environment-based, caregiver-based and child-based factors. Each category contributes in some form to almost every incident, according to Schwebel, and preventing just one risk factor could stop an injury from occurring.

Environment-based factors can include many different aspects of the environment with which children interact. For example, children could choke on toys if they are not designed well or be harmed in a car accident due to an incorrectly installed car seat.

Schwebel described one case where he and his colleagues reduced an environmental risk by comparing the look and shape of bottles containing either juice or torch fuel.

Children were shown many bottles, some with torch fuel and others with juice, and were asked if they would drink them or not. Children tended to identify liquids in clear plastic bottles as drinks and those in opaque containers as not drinks.

After the findings were published, there were evident changes in the torch fuel industry as fuel began to be sold in dark opaque bottles.

Caregiver-based factors can involve anyone who is supervising a child, including parents, teachers, babysitters or even lifeguards.

According to Schwebel, preschool teachers can often be underpaid and fatigued from the intense work of supervising children all day and sometimes use outdoor playground time as a break for themselves, allowing children to run free, even though the majority of injuries at preschools occur on playgrounds.

“To solve this problem, we developed the Stamp in Safety Program where children wear a nametag, and teachers have stamps to reward the children on their nametags for engaging in safe behavior,” he said.

“While on the surface this seems to focus on rewarding children for safe behavior, its primary goal is to get teachers engaged and paying attention.”

Child-based factors include motor skills, how children perceive their environment and how they interact with others. These skills vary greatly by age, so different approaches are needed when confronting risks.

For example, 7-year-olds struggle more with the cognitive demands of crossing the street than 14-year-olds. Interventions for child-based factors can include reinforcing common parenting practices such as teaching children how to cross the street safely or showing them how to interact with stray dogs.

How the specific situations targeted for interventions are chosen can be a mixed bag, said Schwebel. An idea for a program on drowning prevention came after Schwebel observed lifeguards while his own kids were playing at a pool. Other intervention ideas are drawn from the personal experiences and ideas brought to him by his students, such as the Stamp in Safety program.

And while psychological researchers are essential, this work will require collaboration across a variety of disciplines, said Schwebel. Throughout his research, Schwebel has worked with a multidisciplinary team of experts including computer scientists, visual artists, electrical engineers, biostatisticians, physicians, epidemiologists and others.

Source: American Psychological Association

Is There An Upside to Stress and Anxiety?

Mon, 08/12/2019 - 9:54am

Can stress and anxiety ever be beneficial? In a new study, researchers say “yes;” mild to moderate anxiety is normal, unavoidable and can help teach us resilience.

People tend to think of stress and anxiety as negative emotions. Both feel uncomfortable, and if left unacknowledged, these emotions can certainly reach unhealthy levels.

But psychologists have long known that anxiety and stress are inevitable in this world — and that they often play a helpful, not harmful, role in our daily lives, according to a presentation at the annual convention of the American Psychological Association.

“Many Americans now feel stressed about being stressed and anxious about being anxious,” said Lisa Damour, Ph.D., a private-practice psychologist who presented at the meeting. “Unfortunately, by the time someone reaches out to a professional for help, stress and anxiety have already built to unhealthy levels.”

Stress tends to surface when people operate at the edge of their abilities, when they push themselves or are forced by circumstances to stretch beyond their familiar limits, according to Damour.

It’s also important to understand that stress can result from both bad and good events. For example, being fired is stressful but so is bringing home a newborn baby or starting a new job.

“It’s important for psychologists to share our knowledge about stress with broad audiences: that stress is a given in daily life, that working at the edge of our abilities often builds those capacities and that moderate levels of stress can have an inoculating function, which leads to higher than average resilience when we are faced with new difficulties,” she said.

Anxiety, too, gets an unnecessarily bad rap, according to Damour.

“As all psychologists know, anxiety is an internal alarm system, likely handed down by evolution, that alerts us to threats both external — such as a driver swerving in a nearby lane — and internal — such as when we’ve procrastinated too long and it’s time to get started on our work,” said Damour.

Perceiving anxiety as a helpful and protective mechanism allows people to make good use of it. For example, Damour said she often tells the teenagers she works with in her practice to pay attention if they start to feel anxious at a party because their nerves may be alerting them to a problem.

“Similarly, if a client shares that she’s worried about an upcoming test for which she has yet to study, I am quick to reassure her that she is having the right reaction and that she’ll feel better as soon as she hits the books, ” she said.

Of course, stress and anxiety can also reach harmful levels. Stress can become unhealthy if it is chronic (allowing for no possibility of recovery) or if it is traumatic (psychologically catastrophic).

“In other words, stress causes harm when it exceeds any level that a person can reasonably absorb or use to build psychological strength,” she said. “Likewise, anxiety becomes unhealthy when its alarm makes no sense. Sometimes, people feel routinely anxious for no reason at all. At other times, the alarm is totally out of proportion to the threat, such as when a student has a panic attack over a minor quiz.”

Untreated stress and anxiety can cause persistent misery but can also contribute to a host of additional psychological and medical symptoms, such as depression or an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, according to Damour.

“Anyone feeling overwhelmed by stress should, if possible, take measures to reduce his or her stress and/or seek help from a trained professional to learn stress management strategies,” said Damour.

“For the management of anxiety, some people find relief through workbooks that help them to evaluate and challenge their own irrational thoughts. If that approach isn’t successful, or preferred, a trained professional should be consulted.”

“In recent years, mindfulness techniques have also emerged as an effective approach to addressing both stress and anxiety.”

Damour also urges psychologists to take an active role in providing counter-messaging to what she calls “the happiness industry,” or those wellness companies that are selling the idea that people should feel calm and relaxed most of the time.

“If you are under the impression that you should always be joyful, your day-to-day experience may ultimately turn out to be pretty miserable.”

Damour also writes a regular column for The New York Times and is author of the book “Under Pressure: Confronting the Epidemic of Stress and Anxiety in Girls.”

Source: American Psychological Society

How Partisan News Can Impact Political Beliefs

Mon, 08/12/2019 - 7:00am

Does partisan news shape people’s political ideologies? Or do people decide to watch political media that is already aligned with their beliefs?

A new study has found an answer to that question: While partisan media does have “a strong persuasive impact” on political attitudes, news media exposure has a bigger impact on people without strong media preferences.

“Different populations are going to respond to partisan media in different ways,” said Dr. Adam Berinsky, the Mitsui Professor of Political Science and director of the Political Experiments Research Lab (PERL) at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and a co-author of the study.

“Political persuasion is hard,” he added. “If it were easy, the world would already look a lot different.”

Political scientists continue to debate the question of media influence. Some say that partisan media significantly shapes public opinion, but others argue that “selective exposure,” in which people watch what they already agree with, is predominant, the researcher points out.

“It’s a really tricky problem,” he said. “How do you disentangle these things?”

To do that, the researchers completed a series of experiments and surveys analyzing the responses of smaller subgroups, which were divided according to media consumption preferences, ideology, and more.

That allowed the researchers to look more specifically at the impact of media on people with different ideologies and different levels of willingness to view media. The researchers call this approach the Preference-Incorporating Choice and Assignment design (PICA).

One experiment gave participants the option of reading web posts from either the conservative Fox News channel; MSNBC, which has several shows leaning in a significantly more liberal direction; or the Food Network. Other participants were assigned to watch one of the three.

The researchers discovered that people who elected to read materials from partisan news channels were less influenced by the content. By contrast, participants who gravitated to the Food Network, but were assigned to watch cable news, were more influenced by the content, according to the study’s findings.

How big is the effect? The researchers found that a single exposure to partisan media can change the views of relatively nonpolitical citizens by an amount equal to one-third of the average ideological gap that exists between people on the right and left sides of the political spectrum.

The bottom line: The influence of cable news depends on who it is reaching.

“People do respond differently based on their preferences,” Berinsky said.

While the impact of partisan cable news on people who elect to watch it is smaller, it does exist, the researchers found.

For instance, in another of the study’s experiments, the researchers tested cable news’ effects on viewers’ beliefs about marijuana legislation. Even among regular cable-news viewers, partisan content influenced people’s views.

But what does this all mean?

To put the findings in the context of daily news viewership in the U.S., researchers point out that the recent congressional hearings in which special counsel Robert Mueller testified about his presidential investigation drew an average of 3 million viewers on Fox News during the day, while MSNBC had an average of 2.4 million viewers. Overall, 13 million people watched, the researchers noted.

Contrast that with the Super Bowl, which regularly pulls in around 100 million viewers.

“Most people just don’t want to be exposed to political news,” Berinsky said. “These are not bad people or bad citizens. In theory, a democracy is working well when you can ignore politics.”

One implication of the lack of interest in politics is that any audience gains that partisan media outlets experience can produce a relatively greater influence, since that growth would apply to formerly irregular consumers of news, who may be more easily influenced, the researchers said.

But those gains are likely to be limited, due to the reluctance of most Americans to consume partisan media, Berinsky said.

“We only learned those people are persuadable because we made them watch the news,” he concluded.

The study was published in American Political Science Review.

Source: Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Regular Exercise May Avert Physical Markers For Those at Risk for Alzehimer’s

Sun, 08/11/2019 - 9:33pm

Regular moderate exercise is not only good for memory as people age, it also appears to help prevent the development of physical signs of Alzheimer’s, known as biomarkers, in those who are at risk for the disease, according to new research.

“Our research shows that, in a late-middle-age population at risk for Alzheimer’s disease, physically active individuals experience fewer age-related alterations in biomarkers associated with the disease, as well as memory and cognitive functioning,” said Ozioma Okonkwo, Ph.D., an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. Okonkwo presented findings from multiple studies at the 2019 annual convention of the American Psychological Association.

For their research, Okonkwo and his colleagues examined 317 participants enrolled in the Wisconsin Registry for Alzheimer’s Prevention, an ongoing observational study of more than 1,500 people with a history of parents with probable Alzheimer’s dementia. The participants were between the ages of 40 and 65 years at the time of enrollment and cognitively healthy.

Participation in the registry included an initial assessment of biological, health, and lifestyle factors associated with the disease and follow-up assessments every two to four years, according to the researchers.

All participants completed a questionnaire about their physical activity and underwent neuropsychological testing and brain scans to measure several biomarkers associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

The researchers compared data from individuals younger than 60 years with older adults and found a decrease in cognitive abilities, as well as an increase in biomarkers associated with the disease, in the older individuals. However, the effects were significantly weaker in older adults who reported engaging in the equivalent of at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise five days a week.

“The most interesting part of our research is that we now show evidence that lifestyle habits — in this case regular, moderate exercise — can modify the effect of what is commonly considered a non-modifiable risk factor for Alzheimer’s, in this case aging,” said Okonkwo.

In another study, also presented by Okonkwo, researchers studied 95 people, also from the registry, who were given scores called polygenic risk scores, based on whether they possessed certain genes associated with Alzheimer’s.

Similar to the previous research, the researchers also looked at how biomarkers changed with genetic risk and what role, if any, aerobic fitness might play.

Not surprisingly, people with higher risk scores also showed increased biomarkers for the disease, the researchers reported.

Again, the researchers found that the effect was weaker in people with greater aerobic fitness, a score incorporating age, sex, body mass index, resting heart rate, and self-reported physical activity.

A third study examined MRIs from 107 individuals from the registry who were asked to run on a treadmill to determine their oxygen uptake efficiency slope, a measure of aerobic fitness. In line with the previous studies, the researchers again found an indicator of Alzheimer’s, known as white matter hyperintensities, significantly increased in the brain with age, but not so much in participants with high levels of aerobic fitness.

“Overall, these studies suggest that the negative effect of aging and genetic risk on Alzheimer’s’ disease biomarkers and cognition can be lessened in physically active, older adults at risk for the disease compared with their less active peers,” said Okonkwo.

“If these findings are supported by more prospective, controlled studies, it would provide compelling evidence for physical activity as an effective approach to prevention, particularly in at-risk populations.”

Source: The American Psychological Association

Depression Symptoms, Protein Buildup in Brain Tied to Later Cognitive Decline

Sun, 08/11/2019 - 7:00am

Depression symptoms in cognitively healthy older adults together with brain amyloid — protein deposits which are a biological marker of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) — could trigger changes in memory and thinking over time, according to a new study published in the journal JAMA Network Open.

“Our research found that even modest levels of brain amyloid deposition can impact the relationship between depression symptoms and cognitive abilities,” said Jennifer Gatchel, M.D., Ph.D., of the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Division of Geriatric Psychiatry, and lead author of the study.

“This raises the possibility that depression symptoms could be targets in clinical trials aimed at delaying the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. Further research is needed in this area”

Increasingly, Alzheimer’s research has focused on the preclinical stage, when people have biological evidence of AD but no or minimal obvious symptoms, and when interventions might have the potential to prevent future decline of older adults.

Although previous studies have shown a link between depression and cognitive deficits in older adults, the new study is among the first to reveal that this association is influenced by the presence of cortical amyloid in unimpaired older adults, even when depression symptoms are mild to moderate.

Data were collected by researchers over a seven-year period from 276 community-dwelling older adults, all participants in the landmark Harvard Aging Brain Study (HABS).

They discovered a significant link between worsening depression symptoms and declining cognition over two to seven years that was influenced by AD pathology, as measured by PET imaging of brain amyloid.

“Our findings offer evidence that in healthy older adults, depression symptoms together with brain amyloid may be associated with early changes in memory and in thinking,” Gatchel said.

“Depression symptoms themselves may be among the early changes in the preclinical stages of dementia syndromes. Just as importantly, these stages represent a clinical window of opportunity for closely monitoring at-risk individuals, and for potentially introducing interventions to prevent or slow cognitive decline.”

The team also learned from their extensive work that not all older adults with depression symptoms and cortical amyloid will experience cognitive decline. Other risk factors that could affect the link between depression and cognition include brain metabolism and volume of the hippocampus, the part of the brain associated with learning and the forming of new memories.

The authors also note that other mechanisms may be involved and need to be investigated.

“These findings underscore the fact that depression symptoms are multi-factorial and may actually work synergistically with amyloid and related processes to affect cognition over time in older adults,” Gatchel said. “This is an area we will continue to actively study.”

Source: Massachusetts General Hospital


Too Much Caffeine May Trigger Migraine in High-Risk People

Sat, 08/10/2019 - 10:29pm

Three or more servings of caffeinated beverages may be linked to a greater risk of migraine occurrence on that day or the following day among episodic migraine (EM) patients (those who have up to 14 headache days per month), according to a new study published in the American Journal of Medicine.

Among EM patients who rarely consumed caffeinated beverages, however, even one to two servings increased the odds of having a headache that day.

Migraine is the third most prevalent illness in the world, affecting more than one billion adults worldwide. In addition to severe headache, symptoms of migraine can include nausea, changes in mood, sensitivity to light and sound, as well as visual and auditory hallucinations.

Migraine patients report that weather patterns, sleep disturbances, hormonal changes, stress, medications and certain foods or beverages can bring on migraine attacks. However, few studies have looked at the immediate effects of these suspected triggers.

For the study, researchers from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health (HSPH) evaluated the role of caffeinated beverages as a potential trigger of migraine.

Their findings reveal that, among patients who experience episodic migraine, one to two servings of caffeinated beverages were not associated with headaches on that day, but three or more servings of caffeinated beverages may be associated with higher odds of migraine headache occurrence on that day or the following day.

“While some potential triggers such as lack of sleep may only increase migraine risk, the role of caffeine is particularly complex, because it may trigger an attack but also helps control symptoms,” said study leader Elizabeth Mostofsky, Sc.D., an investigator in BIDMC’s Cardiovascular Epidemiology Research Unit and a member of the Department of Epidemiology at HSPH.

“Caffeine’s impact depends both on dose and on frequency, but because there have been few prospective studies on the immediate risk of migraine headaches following caffeinated beverage intake, there is limited evidence to formulate dietary recommendations for people with migraines.”

For the study, 98 adults with frequent episodic migraine completed electronic diaries every morning and every evening for at least six weeks.

Every day, participants reported the total servings of caffeinated coffee, tea, soda and energy drinks they consumed. They also filled out twice daily headache reports detailing the onset, duration, intensity, and medications used for migraines since the previous diary entry.

Participants also provided detailed information about other common migraine triggers, including medication use, alcoholic beverage intake, activity levels, depressive symptoms, psychological stress, sleep patterns and menstrual cycles.

“One serving of caffeine is typically defined as eight ounces or one cup of caffeinated coffee, six ounces of tea, a 12-ounce can of soda and a 2-ounce can of an energy drink,” said Mostofsky.

“Those servings contain anywhere from 25 to 150 milligrams of caffeine, so we cannot quantify the amount of caffeine that is associated with heightened risk of migraine. However, in this self-matched analysis over only six weeks, each participant’s choice and preparation of caffeinated beverages should be fairly consistent.”

Overall, the researchers saw no link between one to two servings of caffeinated beverages and the odds of headaches on the same day, but they did see higher odds of same-day headaches on days with three or more servings of caffeinated beverages.

However, among people who rarely consumed caffeinated beverages, even one to two servings increased the odds of having a headache that day.

“Despite the high prevalence of migraine and often debilitating symptoms, effective migraine prevention remains elusive for many patients,” said principal investigator Suzanne M. Bertisch, M.D., M.P.H., of the Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, and Harvard Medical School.

“This study was a novel opportunity to examine the short-term effects of daily caffeinated beverage intake on the risk of migraine headaches. Interestingly, despite some patients with episodic migraine thinking they need to avoid caffeine, we found that drinking one to two servings/day was not associated with higher risk of headache. More work is needed to confirm these findings, but it is an important first step.”

Source: Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center



Abuse Study: 1 in 8 Teen Girls Pressured to Get Pregnant

Sat, 08/10/2019 - 7:00am

A new study looks at relationship abuse in the form of reproductive coercion in which a young woman is pressured to become pregnant against her wishes.

Michigan State University researchers found nearly one in eight females between ages 14 and 19 experienced reproductive coercion within the last three months. Forms of such abuse included tampering with condoms and a partner threatening to leave.

The study, which will appear in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology, is the largest adolescent study on the issue. It uses data from a previously conducted randomized trial at eight school-based health centers in California during the 2012-13 school year and assessed 550 sexually active female teens.

Dr. Heather McCauley, assistant professor in the School of Social Work, and co-researchers explain that most prior studies focused on young adult women. But because adolescent relationships differ so much from adult relationships, clinicians need to know how to spot reproductive coercion in their younger patients and tailor clinical assessment and intervention for this population, McCauley said.

“We looked at whether adolescents who experience reproductive coercion displayed the ‘red flags’ we typically teach clinicians to look for, like coming into the clinic multiple times for emergency contraception or pregnancy testing,” McCauley shares.

“We found no difference in care-seeking behaviors between girls who experienced reproductive coercion and girls who didn’t, so those red flags may not be present. Therefore, clinicians should have conversations with all their adolescent patients about how relationships can impact their health.”

Previous research has also identified disparities in reproductive coercion by race/ethnicity, with black women more likely than white women to experience such abuse, she said. But, again, that wasn’t the case in this study, highlighting the need for researchers and clinicians to understand how to talk about relationship abuse with female teens.

Other takeaways from the study:

• 17 percent of teens reported physical or sexual abuse;
• females who experienced reproductive coercion had four times the odds of also experiencing other forms of relationship abuse;
• females exposed to both relationship abuse and reproductive coercion were more likely to have a sexual partner who is five or more years older.

“These findings highlight how common reproductive coercion and other forms of abuse are in adolescent relationships, yet the signs of a teen’s unhealthy relationship may be tricky for clinicians, parents and other adults to spot,” McCauley said.

“So, parents could open the door for their teen to disclose abuse by having a conversation with them about healthy and unhealthy relationship behaviors, including those that interfere with their decision making about their own reproductive health.”

Source: Michigan State University

Can Gun Shops Help to Prevent Suicides?

Sat, 08/10/2019 - 6:00am

Firearms are the most commonly used and lethal means of suicide in the United states. In a new study, University of Washington (UW) researchers surveyed nearly 200 independent firearm retailers in Washington state and found that gun shop employees can potentially be key community members in helping prevent suicide.

The researchers found that many firearm retailers are willing to learn about suicide prevention and to train their employees in how to spot and act on suicide warning signs. However, factors that may inhibit progress include a lack of awareness of the role of firearms in suicide as well as a reluctance to talk to customers about personal issues.

“Suicide prevention hasn’t been an area of focus in the firearm community, and it shows,” said Thomas Walton, a UW doctoral candidate of social work at Forefront Suicide Prevention and lead author of the paper.

“But there’s a definite willingness to pass on firearm safety information, and they want to be able to see how to integrate suicide prevention into talking about firearm safety.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about half of all suicides in the United States from 1999 to 2017 (the most recent statistics available) involved a firearm. The percentage is even higher in veteran suicides.

In Washington, the data is similar: From 2013 to 2017, almost half of all suicides, and 67% of veteran suicides, involved a firearm, according to the state Department of Health.

Beginning in 2017, the state Legislature helped fund Forefront’s Safer Homes, Suicide Aware campaign, which offers training, outreach and locking devices for firearms and medications in communities with high rates of firearms ownership.

As part of its mission, the Safer Homes program has identified gun retailers as a key potential stakeholder in distributing information about suicide prevention. Other states, such as New Hampshire and Colorado have been working to engage firearm retailers in the issue; the UW study is the first aimed at understanding what influences such engagement.

The first step in the study was surveying firearm retailers about their knowledge of suicide prevention and willingness to participate. Using records from the state Department of Licensing and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Walton and Forefront director Jennifer Stuber, Ph.D., were able to find email or mailing addresses for nearly 800 independent retailers around the state. The team created a 42-question survey that was available in print or online.

Big-box stores that sell guns were not included because of corporate policies governing store-level training and outreach.

The research team also partnered with the Second Amendment Foundation and the owner of a Spokane gun shop, who together sent an introductory letter to the retailers explaining the survey.

In the end, 178 surveys were completed. Sixteen retailers contacted the researchers to refuse the survey, while 62 were minimally completed, and 33 were returned as undeliverable. The remaining 500 weren’t returned.

“There are barriers to working with this population because of distrust and incomplete contact information,” said Stuber, an associate professor in the UW School of Social Work.

“But if you get the right messengers to get people to the table, there is clearly a willingness among retailers to be involved in the solutions.”

The results can be divided into three distinct types of questions: knowledge of suicide and how to prevent it; support for learning more; and a willingness to intervene directly with customers.

About half of the retailers who responded said they were familiar with warning signs of suicide, while nearly two-thirds of respondents said they wanted to know more about how firearm retailers can help prevent suicide. About 72% said they would provide free training to employees.

At the other end of the spectrum were beliefs about suicide and the retailer’s role in talking with customers in crisis. Nearly three-quarters said asking customers about their mental health might offend them. About 45% said asking about personal issues is not their responsibility, and 66% agreed with the statement: “If a person wants to die by suicide, there is nothing I can do to stop them.”

“It is critical to work on changing this common misperception that suicide is inevitable,” Walton said. “For the vast majority of individuals, the desire to die by suicide is fleeting, so anything any of us can do to prevent or postpone a suicidal act is helping to save a life.”

Survey results also show that the more a retailer knows about suicide, and the longer they have been in business, the more comfortable they are with ideas about training employees and talking with customers.

For example, retailers for whom a majority of sales come from firearms and ammunition were more likely to support education and outreach around suicide prevention. Those with longer tenure in the industry, the authors wrote, were also more supportive of suicide prevention efforts and thus could be tapped as leaders in any future effort among retailers.

“Notably, most firearm retailers lack awareness that suicide is the most common type of firearm fatality. Education about this fact is an important first step to increasing engagement in prevention efforts,” Stuber said.

The findings are published in the journal Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior.

Source: University of Washington



Online Self-Management Helpful for Anxiety, Depression and Pain

Fri, 08/09/2019 - 7:30am

Emerging research suggests that for some individuals, online symptom self-management plus clinician telecare is the best strategy for treating anxiety, depression and pain.

As a background, it is well documented that pain is the most common physical symptom for which adults seek medical attention in the United States. Moreover, anxiety and depression are the most common mental health issues for which adults visit a doctor. We also now understand that medications, especially opioids for pain, may not be the only or best therapy.

In the new study, Regenstrief Institute research scientist Kurt Kroenke, M.D., a pioneer in the treatment of patient symptoms, discovered online symptom self-management or online symptom self-management plus clinician telecare can be effective solutions for individuals with anxiety, depression and pain.

“Pain, anxiety and depression can produce a vicious cycle in which the presence of one symptom, if untreated, may negatively affect the response to treatment of the other two symptoms,” said Dr. Kroenke.

“So treating not just pain, but pain and mood symptoms simultaneously is quite important, as is doing it how, when and where the patient is most receptive.”

In the study, published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, Dr. Kroenke and colleagues discovered that online symptom self-management works to decrease pain, anxiety and depression symptoms. They also found that online symptom self-management works even better when coupled with clinician telecare.

Prior studies have found a benefit to adding telecare to usual care in the doctor’s office. The researchers have now shown that the intermediate (and less costly) mechanism of online pain and mood self-management is effective and, for some, even more effective when coupled with live phone follow-up with a nurse.

“The magnitude of effect on pain, anxiety and depression we report is comparable to the effect of online and telecare interventions for chronic disorders like hypertension, diabetes and heart disease,” said Dr. Kroenke.

“The moderate improvement in symptoms we saw at a group level indicates that some individuals had great symptom improvement while others had little improvement.

Our results strongly suggest that web-based self-management might be enough for some patients while others may require a combination of online self-management and phone consultations with a nurse manager in order to experience symptom reduction.”

To test whether pain, anxiety and depression symptoms could be simultaneously addressed by patients in their homes or other location of their choice, Dr. Kroenke and colleagues conducted the CAMMPS (Comprehensive vs. Assisted Management of Mood and Pain Symptoms) trial.

This randomized comparative effectiveness study builds upon previous research, including the design of widely used depression and anxiety screening tools, and the conduct of several studies demonstrating the effectiveness of telecare.

For the study, a total of 294 individuals with arm, leg, back, neck or widespread pain which persisted (for 10 or more years in more than half of participants) despite medication, who also had at least moderately severe depression and anxiety, were divided into two groups.

One group received a web-based self-management program comprised of nine modules (coping with pain; pain medications; communicating with providers; depression; anxiety; sleep; anger management; cognitive strategies; and problem-solving).

The other group was given this program plus telecare by a nurse who made scheduled telephone calls as well as contacts prompted by patient responses to the online self-management program or e-mail requests.

A supplementary paper, published in the journal Telemedicine and Telecare, reports that participants in both arms of the study found it helpful and were satisfied. They also discovered higher satisfaction in the group that received both online self-management and telecare.

While those in the online self-management group indicated they wanted more human contact, participants in the group that received telecare from a nurse were divided — some wanted more contact, others desired less contact.

This finding led the paper’s authors, including first author Michael A. Bushey, M.D., of the Indiana School of Medicine and senior author Dr. Kroenke, to conclude that customizable solutions would best suit a range of patients.

Source: Regenstrief Institute

Language Skills in Young Kids Tied to Maternal Education, Not Race

Fri, 08/09/2019 - 7:00am

A new study published in the journal Child Development shows that a mother’s race plays no role in the amount and quality of the words she uses with her children or with the language skills her children later develop.

However, the researchers found that a mother’s education does play a significant role in both the quality of her language and in the child’s subsequent language development.

The findings are important because previous studies have shown that children of parents with lower socioeconomic backgrounds and education levels have lower language skills when entering school. However, those studies included parents with higher incomes who were primarily white and parents with lower incomes who were primarily black.

As a result, educators and other child professionals were not able to distinguish between race, income or education as the cause of the language gap until now.

“Over time, there were summaries of this early research that misrepresented the data. Many of these summaries suggested that black and African American mothers, especially those with lower-incomes, provided less and lower quality language to their children than white mothers,” said Lynne Vernon-Feagans, Ph.D., from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute.

“Our findings represent a big shift from previous thinking that race-based differences in maternal language play a significant role in children’s language outcomes,” said Mary Bratsch-Hines, Ph.D., of the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute.

The study, which is part of the Family Life Project, tracked 1,292 children from birth. The researchers evaluated the language use of similarly-educated black and white mothers to measure the amount and complexity of words they use with their infants and young children.

The team assessed the interactions between mothers and their children during four picture book sessions in the home between the ages of 6 and 36 months. They found that mothers with more education were more likely to use a greater quantity and complexity of language with their young children compared to those with less education.

Overall, maternal education was strongly associated with children’s later language at school age regardless of maternal race, and the mothers’ early language input quality and complexity were even more related to children’s later language at school age.

The new findings will help improve parent, teacher and school system efforts by shaping their understanding of the importance of maternal education for both black and white children and allowing experts to focus available efforts and resources in better ways to improve child outcomes.

Source: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Hearing Loss Linked to Mental, Physical and Social Complications

Fri, 08/09/2019 - 6:30am

A new study has found that hearing loss in older people is associated with anxiety, memory loss and a restriction of outdoor activities.

According to researchers at the University of Tsukuba in Japan, hearing loss may worsen an array of mental, physical and social complications. As more than 90 percent of hearing loss is age-related, its burden is most felt by aging populations.

Hearing ability is integrally linked with communication, and hearing loss leads to communication barriers. This, in turn, increases stress and restricts the ability to venture outdoors. It may also be tied with cognitive decline and dementia, the researchers noted.

For the new study, researchers used data from the 2016 Comprehensive Survey of Living Conditions of Japan, a nationwide, population-based cross-sectional questionnaire of more than 220,000 households. From this, they targeted 137,723 survey respondents aged 65 or older without dementia.

“Japan is the world’s most rapidly aging country, and this is a large and compelling data set of its citizens,” said lead author Masao Iwagami. “It was a solid foundation for examining correlations between hearing loss and three key problems: Outdoor activity limitations, psychological distress, and memory loss.”

About 9 percent of the 137,723 survey respondents examined reported hearing loss. Their responses also showed the condition increased with age, researchers said.

Of those reporting limitations in outdoor activities, such as shopping or travel, 28.9 percent of those with hearing loss were affected versus just 9.5 percent of those without, while 39.7 percent of those with hearing loss reported psychological distress versus 19.3 percent of those without hearing loss. For memory loss, the gap was the most profound: 37.7 percent of those with hearing impairment reported memory loss versus 5.2 percent of those without hearing impairment, the study discovered. These patterns were similar irrespective of age or sex, researchers added.

“Hearing loss takes an enormous toll on older people in so many ways, physically and mentally, while limiting activities of daily living,” study co-author Yoko Kobayashi says. “Greater awareness of the burden of hearing loss will help improve their quality of life. Measures such as hearing aids and social support by volunteers in the community can also provide them with assistance.”

The study was published in the journal, Geriatrics & Gerontology International.

Source:University of Tsukuba

Apathy: A Common but Understudied Symptom of Dementia

Fri, 08/09/2019 - 6:00am

In a new U.K. study of 4,320 people with Alzheimer’s disease, researchers found that 45% of study participants had apathy — the absence of emotion, interest, concern or passion — and that the condition was often distinct from depression.

Apathy is the most common neuropsychiatric symptom of dementia and is often associated with more severe cases and worse clinical symptoms. In fact, apathy tends to have an even bigger impact on function than does memory loss.

“Apathy is an under-researched and often ignored symptom of dementia,” said Miguel de Silva Vasconcelos, PhD student at the University of Exeter and King’s College London.

“It can be overlooked because people with apathy seem less disruptive and less engaging, but it has a huge impact on the quality of life for people living with dementia, and their families.”

“Where people withdraw from activities, it can accelerate cognitive decline, and we know that there are higher mortality rates in people with apathy. It’s now time this symptom was recognised and prioritised in research and understanding.”

In the study, a research team led by the University of Exeter analyzed 4,320 people with Alzheimer’s disease from 20 group studies, to look at the prevalence of apathy over time.

The researchers found that 45% of study participants presented with apathy at the beginning of the study and 20% had persistent apathy over time. In addition, a proportion of the subjects had apathy without depression, which suggests that the symptom might have its own unique clinical and biological profile when compared to apathy with depression and depression only.

“Apathy is the forgotten symptom of dementia, yet it can have devastating consequences,” said Professor Clive Ballard, of the University of Exeter Medical School. “Our research shows just how common apathy is in people with dementia, and we now need to understand it better so we can find effective new treatments.”

Ballard also noted that in his team’s previous study, they found that exercise helped improve apathy among care home residents. This suggests that action can be taken to minimize the condition. “This is a real opportunity for interventions that could significantly benefit thousands of people with dementia,” he said.

The presentation, entitled “The Course of Apathy in People with Dementia,” was delivered at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Los Angeles, California.

Source: University of Exeter

Uninsured Kids With Mental Health Emergencies Often Transferred to Another Hospital

Fri, 08/09/2019 - 5:30am

Children without health insurance who present to the emergency department (ED) for mental health issues are more likely to be transferred to another hospital compared to kids with private insurance, according to a new study by researchers at the University of California (UC) Davis Children’s Hospital and the UC Davis Department of Psychiatry.

Previous research has shown a significant increase in the number of children and teens presenting to the ED for mental health issues. Between 2012 and 2016, hospital EDs saw a 55 percent jump in kids with mental health problems, according to findings presented at a meeting of the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2018. The increase is highest among minorities.

Transferring a child from one hospital to another creates additional burdens for the patient, family and health care system as a whole. It can add to overcrowding in busy emergency departments, higher costs of care and higher out-of-pocket costs for the family.

For the study, the researchers analyzed a national sample of 9,081 acute mental health events among children in EDs. They looked at the patient’s insurance coverage and a hospital’s decision to admit or transfer patients with a mental health disorder.

“We found that children without insurance are 3.3 times more likely to be transferred than those with private insurance,” said Jamie Kissee Mouzoon, research manager for the Pediatric Telemedicine Program at UC Davis Children’s Hospital and first author on the study.

“The rate was even higher for patients presenting with bipolar disorder, attention-deficit and conduct disorders and schizophrenia.”

The findings, published in the journal Pediatric Emergency Care, reveal gaps in providing equitable and quality care to pediatric patients with mental health emergencies based on their insurance coverage.

According to James Marcin, senior author on the study, there are regulations in place to prevent EDs from making treatment decisions based on the patients’ insurance. Transferring a patient for any other reason than clinical necessity should be avoided.

“Unfortunately, the financial incentives are sometimes hard to ignore and can be even unconscious,” said Marcin, who also is director for the UC Davis Center for Health and Technology and leads the telemedicine program at UC Davis Health.

“What we have found in this study is consistent with other research that demonstrates that patients without health insurance are more likely to get transferred from clinic to clinic or hospital to hospital.”

Marcin is currently looking into how telemedicine — video visits delivered to the children who seek care in remote EDs — might be a solution to the tendency to transfer the patient to another hospital.

Source: University of California – Davis Health

Both Sides Agree: Takes Hard Work to Succeed

Thu, 08/08/2019 - 8:46pm

New research discovers an area that conservatives and liberals agree on is the importance of working hard in order to succeed. Although researchers found a divide among political parties on what could be considered a fair starting point, the idea that it takes hard work to succeed permeates American society.

Specifically, liberals and Democrats are far more inclined than conservatives and Republicans to believe in the importance of equity; the notion that some groups may need different opportunities to succeed based on their starting point, so that all groups have the same levels of success.

But when it comes to proportionality — the idea that effort determines success — the researchers found a much smaller political divide.

The paper appears in Social Psychological and Personality Sciences. The paper’s senior author, Dr. Jeff Niederdeppe, is an associate professor of communication at Cornell University.

“This speaks to why we see so much value in American society placed on picking yourself up by your bootstraps to overcome any obstacle,” said first author Dr. Christofer Skurka.

“Notions of meritocracy and what is sometimes called the ‘Protestant work ethic’ are really interwoven into the American fabric, almost regardless of a person’s political orientation.”

In the study, around 3,000 participants from the United States filled out a 42-item questionnaire.

The survey was designed to rate the extent to which a participant believed different circumstances impact moral judgments. For example, “Whether or not someone showed a lack of respect for authority.” The form also ranked how individuals responded to statements such as, “Respect for authority is something all children need to learn.”

Participants reported their political views and party affiliations, as well as their gender, age, education, race and ethnicity.

The investigators found that people on the political left care much more about equity than those on the right. This finding may explain why liberals are more likely to support policies such as affirmative action and public assistance, which aim to correct imbalances.

The study also found that while conservatives generally care more about proportionality than liberals do, liberals also value it highly.

Understanding what contributes to concepts of fairness can help policymakers frame conversations in terms that will resonate across different groups.

“There’s quite a bit of political polarization that we see around public policy, and we often see political partisans talking past each other,” Skurka said.

“So, by understanding the different moral foundations on which these partisans base their moral judgments, we can better understand why they support certain kinds of initiatives and not others, and how we might be able to rally support for different initiatives.”

Source: Cornell University

Optimists May Be Better Sleepers

Thu, 08/08/2019 - 8:19am

Optimistic people tend to be better sleepers, according to a new study published in the journal Behavioral Medicine. The findings show that optimists are more likely to get adequate sleep (6 to 9 hours per night) and less likely to struggle with insomnia and daytime sleepiness.

“Results from this study revealed significant associations between optimism and various characteristics of self-reported sleep after adjusting for a wide array of variables, including socio-demographic characteristics, health conditions and depressive symptoms,” said study leader Rosalba Hernandez, Ph.D., a professor of social work at the University of Illinois.

To measure optimism, 3,500 participants (ages 32 to 51) answered a 10-item survey, which asked them to rate on a five-point scale how much they agreed with positive statements such as “I’m always optimistic about my future” and with negatively worded sentences such as “I hardly expect things to go my way.”

Scores on the survey ranged from six (least optimistic) to 30 (most optimistic).

Participants reported on their sleep twice, five years apart, rating their overall sleep quality and duration during the previous month. The survey also assessed their symptoms of insomnia, difficulty falling asleep and the number of hours of actual sleep they obtained each night.

Some of the participants were participating in sleep study based in Chicago and wore activity monitors for three consecutive days, including two weeknights and one weekend night. Participants wore the monitors on two occasions a year apart.

The monitors collected data on their sleep duration, percent of time asleep and restlessness while sleeping.

The research team found that with each standard deviation increase — the typical distance across data points — in participants’ optimism score they had 78% higher odds of reporting very good sleep quality.

Likewise, participants with greater levels of optimism were more likely to report that they got adequate sleep of six to nine hours per night, and they were 74% more likely to have no symptoms of insomnia and reported less daytime sleepiness.

According to a 2016 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one in three U.S. adults fails to get adequate sleep, increasing their risk for many chronic diseases.

“The lack of healthy sleep is a public health concern, as poor sleep quality is associated with multiple health problems, including higher risks of obesity, hypertension and all-cause mortality,” Hernandez said.

“Dispositional optimism — the belief that positive things will occur in the future — has emerged as a psychological asset of particular salience for disease-free survival and superior health.”

However, while a significant and positive link was found between optimism and better-quality sleep, Hernandez suggested that the findings should be interpreted cautiously.

The researchers aren’t sure of the exact mechanism through which optimism influences sleep patterns, but they hypothesize that positivity may buffer the effects of stress by promoting adaptive coping, which enables optimists to rest peacefully.

“Optimists are more likely to engage in active problem-focused coping and to interpret stressful events in more positive ways, reducing worry and ruminative thoughts when they’re falling asleep and throughout their sleep cycle,” Hernandez said.

The findings bolster those of a previous study, in which Hernandez and her co-authors found that optimists ages 45-84 were twice as likely to have ideal heart health.

Source: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, News Bureau


Sweat-Triggered Brain Stimulation Proposed for PTSD, Other Disorders

Thu, 08/08/2019 - 7:00am

A new study in Frontiers in Neuroscience suggests that a closed-loop brain stimulator, based on sweat response, can be developed not only for PTSD patients, but also for those who suffer an array of neuropsychiatric disorders.

believes the new or additional approach presents great value. The study is published in Frontiers in Neuroscience.

“Sweat primarily helps maintain body temperature; however, tiny bursts of sweat are also released in response to psychologically arousing stimuli,” said researcher Dr. Rose T. Faghih, University of Houston assistant professor of electrical engineering.

“Tracking the associated changes in the conductivity of the skin, which can be seamlessly measured using wearables in real-world settings, thus provides a window into a person’s emotions,” she said.

The research builds on the success of prior ES interventions for people with movement disorders. Currently, people with Parkinson’s disease and essential tremor, who have not responded to medication, often received significant benefit from the application of high-frequency electric current to the brain, or deep brain stimulation.

Electrodes are placed in certain areas of the brain to regulate abnormal functions and a pacemaker-like device, placed in the upper chest, controls the amount of stimulation the brain receives.

Open-loop stimulators, the most widely-used, deliver continuous stimulation until manually re-adjusted by a physician.

The new intervention takes the concept a step farther with closed-loop stimulators. These devices provide stimulation in response to biomarkers of pathologic brain activity. The technique was developed for movement disorders, but have yet to be explored for the treatment of neuropsychiatric disorders.

Faghih explains that prior to the onset of a PTSD episode, the skin develops the tiniest sheen of perspiration. That symptom of the body’s fight or flight response signals a change in the skin’s electrical conductivity and provides a window into the brain’s state of emotional arousal. This warning sign can then activate the brain stimulator and mitigate the distress an individual may experience.

The concept of using skin conductance to create the framework for a deep brain stimulator seemed logical to Faghih after reviewing group studies of Vietnam combat veterans with PTSD.

Among the findings, PTSD subjects had the largest skin conductance responses when confronted with combat-related words. In a similar study comparing Vietnam combat veterans with and without PTSD and non-combat controls, PTSD veterans had the highest baseline skin conductance levels.

“Skin conductance additionally has the advantage of being easily measured with wearable devices that afford convenience, seamless integration into clothing and do not involve risk of surgically implanted sensors,” said Faghih.

The ultimate goal will be to develop closed-loop prototypes that can eventually be used for treating patients in a variety of neuropsychiatric disorders.

Faghih’s graduate researchers Dilranjan Wickramasuriya and Md. Rafiul Amin were first and second authors, respectively, of the article.

Source: University of Houston

Thyroid Screening May Not Be Needed in All Youth with Psychiatric Disorders

Wed, 08/07/2019 - 10:19pm

A new study suggests that, rather than giving thyroid screening to all youth with severe psychiatric issues, it may be best to focus on those with a family history of thyroid disease or other thyroid symptoms, such as recent weight gain.

The thyroid gland is closely linked to brain function and plays a role in the regulation of many systems in the body including metabolism.

An overactive thyroid, or hyperthyroidism, can produce anxiety, weight loss, decreased appetite and poor concentration. Hypothyroidism (too little hormone production) can cause fatigue, weight gain, an increase in appetite, slower motor skills and concentration and may look like depression.

For the study, researchers from the University of Cincinnati (UC) and Cincinnati Children’s examined the prevalence of abnormal thyroid function in youth with severe mood and anxiety disorders.

“The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry recommends that clinicians consider of hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism when assessing anxious or depressed youth, given that some thyroid conditions produce anxiety or depressive symptoms,” says corresponding author Jeffrey Strawn, MD, associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience at the UC College of Medicine and director of UC’s Anxiety Disorders Research Program, who mentored Luft.

“However, until this study, we had limited evidence as to whether routine screening with a laboratory test was the best approach to screen for thyroid disease in kids with anxiety and depression.”

“These results suggest that screening, with a blood test, may be most helpful when the other predictors of thyroid disease are present.”

The study involved 1,319 patients under the age of 19 who had been hospitalized for psychiatric disorders at Cincinnati Children’s and who had received routine thyroid screening tests.

The team looked at the prevalence of thyroid disease in these patients as well as other factors that may have predicted abnormal thyroid hormone levels.

Their analysis found that the thyroid-stimulating hormone concentrations were abnormal in just over 6 percent of the youth hospitalized for psychiatric issues at Cincinnati Children’s.

“This is the largest study to examine the utility of thyroid function screening in psychiatrically hospitalized youth with severe mood and anxiety disorders, and though it relies on existing medical history data, it does help us better understand the predictors of abnormal thyroid function tests,” says collaborator, Laura Ramsey, PhD, assistant professor of pediatrics and clinical pharmacology.

Lead author Marissa Luft, a third-year medical student at UC, notes that from this study and other literature, they determined predictors of elevated thyroid-stimulating hormone levels.

“When considering thyroid assessment in youth with anxiety and mood disorders, targeted screening should focus on patients with a family history of thyroid disease, recent weight gain, treatment with specific medications, and in girls, any history of abnormal uterine bleeding,” says Luft.

“The prevalence of thyroid disorders is poorly understood in pediatric populations, particularly in the area of psychiatric disorders,” adds Luft, and believes the data can help inform more targeted approaches to screening, and will be of clinical interest to pediatricians, child and adolescent psychiatrists, and other mental health providers.

The findings are published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.

Source: University of Cincinnati