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Updated: 45 min 37 sec ago

New Study Finds Sexual Orientation Develops Well into Adulthood

Sun, 05/05/2019 - 8:00pm

A new study has found that whether a person is attracted to the same or opposite sex can change over time.

The study, which analyzed surveys from around 12,000 students, found that substantial changes in attractions, partners and sexual identity are common from late adolescence to the early 20s, as well as from the early 20s to the late 20s. This indicates that the development of sexual orientation continues long past adolescence into adulthood, researchers noted.

The results also show distinct development pathways for men and women, with female sexuality being more fluid over time, they added.

“Sexual orientation involves many aspects of life, such as who we feel attracted to, who we have sex with, and how we self-identify,” said Dr. Christine Kaestle, a professor of developmental health at Virginia Tech. “Until recently, researchers have tended to focus on just one of these aspects, or dimensions, to measure and categorize people. However, that may oversimplify the situation. For example, someone may self-identify as heterosexual while also reporting relationships with same-sex partners.”

In order to take all of the dimensions of sexuality into account over time, Kaestle used data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health, which tracked American students from the ages of 16 to 18 into their late 20s and early 30s. At regular points in time, participants were questioned about what gender they were attracted to, the gender of their partners, and whether they identified as straight, gay, or bisexual.

The study’s findings showed that some people’s sexual orientation experiences vary over time, and the traditional three categories of straight, bisexual, and gay are insufficient to describe the diverse patterns of attraction, partners, and identity over time.

According to the researchers, the findings indicated that such developmental patterns are better described in nine categories, differing for both men and women.

For young men, these patterns have been categorized as:

  • Straight (87 percent);
  • Mostly straight or bi (3.8 percent);
  • Emerging gay (2.4 percent);
  • Minimal sexual expression (6.5 percent).

Young women were better described by five categories:

  • Straight (73.8 percent);
  • Mostly straight discontinuous (10.1 percent);
  • Emerging bi (7.5 percent);
  • Emerging lesbian (1.5 percent);
  • Minimal sexual expression (7 percent).

According to the study’s findings, straight people made up the largest group and showed the least change in sexual preferences over time. Men were more likely than women to be straight — almost nine out of 10 men, compared to less than three-quarters of women, the researchers reported.

Men and women in the middle of the sexuality spectrum, as well as those in the emerging gay and lesbian groups, showed the most changes over time, according to the study’s findings.

For example, 67 percent of women in the mostly straight discontinuous group were attracted to both sexes in their early 20s. However, this number dropped to almost zero by their late 20s, by which time the women reported only being attracted to the opposite sex.

Overall, women showed greater fluidity in sexual preference over time. One in six  were more likely to be located in the middle of the sexuality continuum and to be bisexual.

Fewer than one in 25 men fell in the middle of the spectrum, the researchers said. Men were more likely to be at either end of the spectrum, as either straight or emerging gay. Relatively few women were classed as emerging lesbian, they noted.

“In the emerging groups, those who have sex in their teens mostly start with other-sex partners and many report other-sex attractions during their teens,” Kaestle said.

“Then they gradually develop and progress through adjacent categories on the continuum through the early 20s to ultimately reach the point in the late 20s when almost all Emerging Bi females report both-sex attractions, almost all Emerging Gay males report male-only attractions, and almost all Emerging Lesbian females report female-only attractions.”

The study demonstrates young adulthood is still a very dynamic time for sexual orientation development, she continued.

“The early 20s are a time of increased independence and often include greater access to more liberal environments that can make the exploration, questioning, or acknowledging of same-sex attractions more acceptable and comfortable at that age,” she said. “At the same time — as more people pair up in longer term committed relationships as young adulthood progresses — this could lead to fewer identities and attractions being expressed that do not match the sex of the long-term partner, leading to a kind of bi-invisibility.”

“We will always struggle with imposing categories onto sexual orientation,” Kaestle added. “Because sexual orientation involves a set of various life experiences over time, categories will always feel artificial and static.”

The study was published in the Journal of Sex Research.

Source: Taylor & Francis Group

New Tool Gives Voice to Family Caregivers of Brain Injury Patients

Sun, 05/05/2019 - 8:00am

A new tool seeks to give a voice to the family caregivers of patients with traumatic brain injury (TBI). These caregivers often spend countless hours tending to the daily needs of family members whose moods, thinking and abilities seemed to change overnight.

Developed by researchers from across the country who worked with hundreds of TBI caregivers, the tool provides a new standard way to measure the physical, mental and emotional effects of caring for survivors of TBI.

“Caregivers of persons with TBI are underserved and overlooked,” said Noelle Carlozzi, Ph.D., the University of Michigan Medical School psychologist who led the effort.

“The medical system treats the patient and sends them home, but behind many of our severely injured patients are family caregivers who we don’t do enough to train, support or study in a scientific way.”

The researchers hope the tool, called TBI-CareQOL Measurement System, can form the basis for a new wave of research that could lead to better support for both patients and their caregivers, as well as result in caregiver training and support programs, and even caregiver reimbursement policies.

The new tool measures a caregiver’s current mental and health states, as well as how these states change over time. How well a caregiver is faring can also affect how well the patient does, for instance with therapy, medications and behavioral health issues.

The tool includes measures of:

  • how much of a sense of loss the caregiver feels for themselves or the loved one they’re caring for;
  • how much anxiety they feel about their ability to tend to their loved one’s needs;
  • how trapped they feel in their role as caregiver, and;
  • how much strain the daily demands of their loved one’s care places on them, including feelings of being stressed, overwhelmed or even downtrodden by caregiver responsibilities.

Many TBI patients sustained their injury in the prime of life, and many during service to the nation. TBI is the most common injury among service members who returned from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, with nearly 384,000 service members and veterans affected. One-third of them, and another 90,000 civilians who sustain TBIs each year, are left with moderate to severe disability from their injury.

To develop the tool, the research team worked with 560 caregivers who took care of 344 civilians and 216 military service members or veterans who had suffered a TBI more than a year earlier.

The researchers also got permission to look at the medical records of the patients the caregivers were taking care of, so they could know the severity of the injury and other information.

“We hope that in addition to the TBI-CareQOL being used for research, clinicians will adopt these measures to screen caregivers during office visits by patients with TBI, and figure out who needs additional services,” said  Carlozzi. She noted caregivers usually attend their loved ones’ appointments because patients with TBI can have trouble remembering or accurately reporting what their clinicians said or recommended.

In upcoming papers, the research team will report their findings from measures related to disruption of family life — a topic that has special importance to military and veteran caregivers, who often have young children to care for at the same time they’re caring for a TBI-survivor spouse. They also hope to do more to measure sleep and activity levels in caregivers.

The results of a rigorous evaluation of the tool are now published in a special supplement to the journal Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.

Source: Michigan Medicine- University of Michigan

Exercise Boosts Memory in Patients With Heart Failure

Sun, 05/05/2019 - 6:00am

Two-thirds of patients with heart failure have cognitive problems, according to research presented at EuroHeartCare 2019, a scientific congress of the European Society of Cardiology.

But those patients who walked further in a six-minute test, which shows better fitness, as well as those who were younger and more highly educated, were significantly less likely to have cognitive impairment. The results suggest that fitter patients have healthier brain function, according to researchers.

“The message for patients with heart failure is to exercise,” said Professor Ercole Vellone of the University of Rome Tor Vergata in Italy. “We don’t have direct evidence yet that physical activity improves cognition in heart failure patients, but we know it improves their quality and length of life.

“In addition, studies in older adults have shown that exercise is associated with improved cognition — we hope to show the same for heart failure patients in future studies.”

The cognitive abilities that are particularly damaged in heart failure patients are memory, processing speed (the time it takes to understand and react to information), and executive functions (paying attention, planning, setting goals, making decisions, starting tasks).

“These areas are important for memorizing health care information and having the correct understanding and response to the disease process,” said Vellone. “For example, heart failure patients with mild cognitive impairment may forget to take medicines and may not comprehend that weight gain is an alarming situation that requires prompt intervention.”

The study found that cognitive dysfunction is a common problem in patients with heart failure as 67 percent had at least mild impairment.

“Clinicians might need to adapt their educational approach with heart failure patients,  for example involving a family caregiver to oversee patient adherence to the prescribed treatment,” said Vellone.

The study used data from the HF-Wii study, which enrolled 605 patients with heart failure from six countries. The average age was 67 and 71 percent were male. The Montreal Cognitive Assessment test was used to measure cognitive function and exercise capacity was measured with the six-minute walk test.

“There is a misconception that patients with heart failure should not exercise,” Vellone said. “That is clearly not the case. Find an activity you enjoy that you can do regularly. It could be walking, swimming, or any number of activities. There is good evidence that it will improve your health and your memory, and make you feel better.”

Source: The European Society of Cardiology

Happy Spouse = Longer Life

Sun, 05/05/2019 - 6:00am

Good news for many people as emerging research suggests that having a happy spouse leads to a longer marriage and a longer life. Notably, investigators discovered a spouses’ life satisfaction was an even better predictor of participants’ mortality than participants’ own life satisfaction.

Specifically, participants who had a happy partner at the beginning of the study were less likely to pass away over the next 8 years compared with participants who had less happy partners.

“The data show that spousal life satisfaction was associated with mortality, regardless of individuals’ socioeconomic and demographic characteristics, or their physical health status,” says study author Olga Stavrova, a researcher at Tilburg University in the Netherlands.

The study appears in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

“The findings underscore the role of individuals’ immediate social environment in their health outcomes. Most importantly, it has the potential to extend our understanding of what makes up individuals’ ‘social environment’ by including the personality and well-being of individuals’ close ones,” says Stavrova.

Life satisfaction is known to be associated with behaviors that can affect health, including diet and exercise, and people who have a happy, active spouse, for example, are likely to have an active lifestyle themselves. The opposite is also likely to be true, says Stavrova:

“If your partner is depressed and wants to spend the evening eating chips in front of the TV — that’s how your evening will probably end up looking, as well.”

Researchers used United States data as Stavrova reviewed a nationally representative survey of about 4,400 couples who were over the age of 50. The survey, funded by the National Institute on Aging, collected data on participants who had spouses or live-in partners; 99 percent of the sampled couples were heterosexual.

For up to 8 years, participants and their spouses reported on life satisfaction and various factors hypothesized to be related to mortality, including perceived partner support and frequency of physical activity. They also completed a self-rated health measure and provided information related to their morbidity.

The information included the number of doctor-diagnosed chronic conditions, gender, age at the beginning of the study, ethnicity, education, household income, and partner mortality. Participant deaths over the course of the study were tracked using the National Death Index from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or spouses’ reports.

At the end of 8 years, about 16 percent of participants had died. Those who died tended to be older, male, less educated, less wealthy, less physically active, and in poorer health than those who were still alive; those who died also tended to report lower relationship satisfaction, lower life satisfaction, and having a partner who also reported lower life satisfaction.

The spouses of participants who died were also more likely to pass away within the 8-year observation period than were spouses of participants who were still living.

The findings suggest that greater partner life satisfaction at the beginning of the study was associated with lower participant mortality risk. Specifically, the risk of mortality for participants with a happy spouse increased more slowly than mortality risk for participants with an unhappy spouse.

The association between partner life satisfaction and mortality risk held even after accounting for major sociodemographic variables, self-rated health and morbidity, and partner mortality.

Exploring plausible explanations for these findings, Stavrova found that perceived partner support was not related to lower participant mortality. However, higher partner life satisfaction was related to more partner physical activity, which corresponded to higher participant physical activity, and lower participant mortality.

This research demonstrates that partner life satisfaction may have important consequences for health and longevity. Although the participants in this study were American, Stavrova believes the results are likely to apply to couples outside of the United States, as well.

“This research might have implications for questions such as what attributes we should pay attention to when selecting our spouse or partner and whether healthy lifestyle recommendations should target couples (or households) rather than individuals,” says Stavrova.

Future research could also investigate larger social networks to see if the same pattern of results emerges in the context of other relationships.

Source: Association for Psychological Science

Middle Age Depression and Substance Abuse on the Rise

Sun, 05/05/2019 - 5:30am

New research does not paint a pretty picture for some Generation X-ers as they enter middle age. Vanderbilt University investigators discovered that indicators of despair — depression, suicidal ideation, drug use and alcohol abuse — are increasing among Americans in their late 30s and early 40s across most demographic groups.

In her research, Lauren Gaydosh, assistant professor of Medicine, Health and Society and Public Policy Studies, discovered an ominous trend. That is, the increase in “deaths of despair” observed among low-educated, middle-aged white Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964) in recent studies may begin to impact the youngest members of Generation X (born 1974-1983) more broadly in the years to come.

The study, “The Depths of Despair Among U.S. Adults Entering Midlife,” appears in the American Journal of Public Health. Gaydosh’s co-authors are Kathleen Mullan Harris, Robert A. Hummer, Taylor W. Hargrove, Carolyn T. Halpern, Jon M. Hussey, Eric A. Whitsel, and Nancy Dole, all at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

In 2016, U.S. life expectancy began to decline for the first time in nearly a quarter-century. Researchers theorized that the marked increase in deaths due to drug overdose, alcoholic cirrhosis and suicide was highest among middle-aged whites with low education or in rural areas.

At the time, this was explained by a unique triple-punch of worsening employment prospects accompanied by a declining perception of socioeconomic status and an erosion of social supports for this group. But studies to better understand those mortality trends did not definitively show that low-income rural whites were actually experiencing more despair than other groups.

“What we wanted to do in this paper was to examine whether the factors that may be predictive of those causes of death — substance use, suicidal ideation and depression — are isolated to that particular population subgroup, or whether it’s a more generalized phenomenon,” Gaydosh said.

To do so, they turned to the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health, or Add Health, directed by Harris at the University of North Carolina. The survey tracked the physical and mental health of thousands of Americans born between 1974-1983 from adolescence through their late 30s and early 40s in 2016-18.

“We found that despair has increased in this cohort, but that increases are not restricted to non-Hispanic whites with low education,” Gaydosh said. “Instead, the increase in despair that occurs across the 30s is generalized to the entire cohort, regardless of race, ethnicity, education, and geography.”

Patterns of drinking, drug use and mental health symptoms varied across races and education levels — whites were more likely to binge-drink in adolescence, while Hispanics and African Americans of all ages were more likely to report depressive symptoms. Overall, the trends were broadly the same for people entering middle age.

Adolescence was, perhaps unsurprisingly, a rocky time for everyone, followed by a period of improvement in their twenties. By the time the teens were in their late 30s, however, indicators of despair were trending back up across the board, and in some cases were higher for minority populations than they were for low-educated whites or rural adults.

Gaydosh and her colleagues say these findings should be cause for concern, as they suggest midlife mortality may begin to increase across a wide range of demographic groups.

“Public health efforts to reduce these indicators of despair should not be targeted toward just rural whites, for example,” she said, “because we’re finding that these patterns are generalized across the population.”

Source: Vanderbilt University

Brain Stimulation Improves Memory of Older Adults

Sat, 05/04/2019 - 5:52pm

A new study finds that stimulating the brain’s memory center with electromagnetic pulses improves the memory of older adults to the level of young adults. Specifically, Northwestern medical school researchers discovered precise stimulation to the hippocampus dramatically improved the memory of older adults with age-related memory loss.

“Older people’s memory got better up to the level that we could no longer tell them apart from younger people,” said lead investigator Joel Voss, associate professor at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “They got substantially better.”

The study used Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) to target the hippocampus — the brain region that atrophies as people grow older, which is responsible for memory decline.

“It’s the part of the brain that links two unrelated things together into a memory, like the place you left your keys or your new neighbor’s name,” Voss said. “Older adults often complain about having trouble with this.”

Researchers explain that this type of memory worsens as we age. Nearly all people experience a decline in their memory ability as they age.

The new study of 16 people, aged 64 to 80 years old with normal age-related memory problems, shows it’s possible to alter memory ability in older adults using this type of brain stimulation, Voss said.

“There is no previous evidence that the specific memory impairments and brain dysfunction seen in older adults can be rescued using brain stimulation or any other method.”

Study finds appear in the journal Neurology.

In the study, the hippocampus — which is smaller in older adults — was identified in each individual with an fMRI. This imaging tool (functional MRI) measures how active a part of the brain is at a given time.

Researchers then located an area of the parietal lobe that communicates with the hippocampus for stimulation delivery. This spot was behind and slightly above a person’s left ear, but everyone had a slightly different spot.

It isn’t possible to directly stimulate the hippocampus with TMS, which is noninvasive, because it’s too deep in the brain for the magnetic fields to penetrate. As an alternative, Voss and colleagues identified a superficial brain region close to the surface of the skull with high connectivity to the hippocampus.

“We stimulated where brain activity is synchronized to the hippocampus, suggesting that these regions talk to each other,” said first author Aneesha Nilakantan.

At baseline, younger and older adults were given memory tasks in which they learned arbitrary relations between paired things, such as this object goes on this spot on the computer screen. Younger adults scored about 55 percent correct and older adults less than 40 percent correct.

The research team then applied high-frequency repetitive magnetic stimulation to the spot for five consecutive days for 20 minutes a day. Stimulating this area improved the function of regions important for memory that are disrupted by aging, evident by more neural activity visible on an fMRI.

Then, 24 hours after the final stimulation, the subjects were given a new memory test in which they had to learn new arbitrary relations between paired things. After the brain stimulation, older adults scored at the level of young adults on the memory tasks.

The amazing results were also validated by the use of a fake placebo stimulation condition, which did not improve memory.

Voss and colleagues will next test this approach on participants with mild cognitive impairment, the early stage of Alzheimer’s disease. They will be stimulating the brain for longer periods of time.

Voss isn’t certain how long the effects could last. He suggests the enhanced memory effects could last longer with more stimulation. For instance, when depression is treated with TMS for five weeks, those patients get an antidepressant effect that lasts for many months, he noted.

In a future study, Voss will be stimulating the brain in persons with age-related memory loss for a longer period to test this hypothesis.

Source: Northwestern University

Sleep Myths Hinder Good Sleep Habits, May Harm Health

Sat, 05/04/2019 - 5:14pm

New research suggests that many people have poor sleep health because of misinformation about sleep. Errant information is pervasive and the myths not only shape poor habits, but may also pose a significant public health threat. Misinformation includes the common assertions that people can get by on five or fewer hours of sleep, that snoring is harmless, and that having a drink helps you to fall asleep.

In the study, scientists from New York University School of Medicine sought to debunk these widely held beliefs. Their findings appear online in Sleep Health.

Investigators reviewed more than 8,000 websites to identify the 20 most common assumptions about sleep. With a team of sleep medicine experts, they ranked them based on whether each could be dispelled as a myth or supported by scientific evidence, and on the harm that the myth could cause.

“Sleep is a vital part of life that affects our productivity, mood, and general health and well-being,” says study’s lead investigator, Rebecca Robbins, PhD, a postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of Population Health at NYU Langone Health.

“Dispelling myths about sleep promotes healthier sleep habits which, in turn, promote overall better health.”

The claim by some people that they can get by on five hours of sleep was among the top myths researchers were able to dispel based on scientific evidence. They say this myth also poses the most serious risk to health from long-term sleep deficits.

To avoid the effects of this falsehood and others identified in this study, such as the value of taking naps when you routinely have difficulty sleeping overnight, Robbins and her colleagues suggest creating a consistent sleep schedule and spending more time, at least seven hours, asleep.

Another common myth relates to snoring. And while Robbins says snoring can be harmless, it can also be a sign of sleep apnea, a potentially serious sleep disorder in which breathing starts and stops over the course of the night.

The authors encourage patients not to dismiss loud snoring, but rather to see a doctor since this sleep behavior may lead to heart stoppages or other illnesses.

The study authors also found sufficient evidence in published studies that, despite beliefs to the contrary, drinking alcoholic beverages before bed is indeed unhealthy for sleep. According to experts, alcohol reduces the body’s ability to achieve deep sleep, which people need to function properly.

“Sleep is important to health, and there needs to be greater effort to inform the public regarding this important public health issue,” says study senior investigator Girardin Jean Louis, PhD, a professor in the departments of Population Health and Psychiatry at NYU Langone.

“For example, by discussing sleep habits with their patients, doctors can help prevent sleep myths from increasing risks for heart disease, obesity, and diabetes.”

The researchers acknowledge that some myths still cause disagreement among sleep experts. For instance, although sleeping in on weekends does disrupt the natural circadian rhythm, for people in certain professions, such as shift workers, it may be better for them to sleep in than to get fewer hours of sleep overall. These discrepancies, they say, suggest that further research needs to be done.

Source: NYU Langone Health/NYU School of Medicine

Hospitalized Kids Who Are Depressed May Face Greater Mortality Risk

Sat, 05/04/2019 - 7:00am

A new study finds that children with depression who are admitted to the hospital for other illnesses like pneumonia, appendicitis or seizure disorders tend to stay longer, pay more and are at greater risk of death.

The findings are published in the Journal of Affective Disorders.

“Depression is one of the leading causes of morbidity and mortality in the United States, with one in five children reporting episodes of major depression before the age of 18,” said Dr. Mayowa Olusunmade, lead author and a psychiatry resident at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School.

“While many studies have recognized the impact of mental health conditions, little is known about the impact of depression, specifically, on hospital utilization and cost. Even more, we discovered there is little research on how much it actually costs to implement prevention strategies.”

The study may be the first to look specifically at children diagnosed with depression and another illness, how the care is being provided and coordinated, and the number of children who die while in the hospital.

The findings reveal that depressed children underwent fewer procedures while in the hospital for non-mental health reasons. Researchers are not sure exactly why this occurs, but it may be because depressed patients are less willing to undergo procedures or that the providers attributed the health-related symptoms to the depression and were less likely to perform diagnostic procedures they deemed unnecessary, said Olusunmade.

The children in the study were 6 to 20 years old. A disproportionate number of the children were older teens, with the average age being about 17 years old. This is likely because depression is more difficult to diagnose/detect in younger children, Olusunmade said.

The researchers suggest that routine screening, better mental health programs, early diagnosis and prompt referral or treatment of depression in hospitalized children could be beneficial. These could also reduce the burden on hospital resources.

“From a practical point of view, health care providers should expect better outcomes if they screen more aggressively for depression, detect depression earlier in their patients and manage it appropriately in affected children,” said Olusunmade.

The study used data from the Kids’ Inpatient Database (KID) for 2012, a nationally representative database of all inpatient admissions in the United States for patients younger than 21. The database used a nationwide sample of all pediatric admissions, using about 670,000 discharges from the database.

Source: Rutgers University



Living Alone Linked to Common Mental Disorders

Sat, 05/04/2019 - 6:30am

A new study has found that living alone is positively associated with common mental disorders, regardless of age and sex.

The proportion of people living alone has increased in recent years due to population aging, decreasing marriage rates, and lowering fertility. Previous studies have investigated the link between living alone and mental disorders, but have generally been conducted only in elderly populations, noted Dr. Louis Jacob from the University of Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines in France, who led the research.

In the new study, researchers used data on 20,500 individuals between the ages of 16 and 64 living in England who participated in the 1993, 2000, or 2007 National Psychiatric Morbidity Surveys.

Whether a person had a common mental disorder (CMD) was assessed using the Clinical Interview Schedule-Revised (CIS-R), a questionnaire focusing on neurotic symptoms during the previous week.

In addition to the number of people living in a household, data was available on factors including weight and height, alcohol dependence, drug use, social support, and loneliness, the researchers noted.

The prevalence of people living alone in 1993, 2000, and 2007 was 8.8 percent, 9.8 percent, and 10.7 percent. In those years, the rates of CMD was 14.1 percent, 16.3 percent and 16.4 percent.

In all years, for all ages, and for both men and women, there was a positive association between living alone and CMD. In 1993 the odds ratio was 1.69; in 2000 it was 1.63; and in 2007 it was 1.88.

In different subgroups of people, living alone increased a person’s risk for CMD by 1.39 to 2.43 times, according to the study’s findings.

Overall, loneliness explained 84 percent of the association between living alone and CMD, the researchers reported.

They suggest that interventions that tackle loneliness might also aid the mental wellbeing of individuals living alone.

The study was published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE.

Source: PLOS

Photo: Prevalence of common mental disorders by living arrangement. Credit: Jacob et al., 2019.

Smart Glasses May Help Kids with Autism Recognize Emotions

Sat, 05/04/2019 - 6:00am

A team at Stanford Medical School has combined facial recognition software with smart glasses to help children with autism identify emotions and facial expressions.

Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) who used the smart glasses while receiving conventional behavioral therapy experienced greater gains in social skills compared with those who received only behavioral therapy, according to a study published in JAMA Pediatrics.

“My lab has been interested in digital solutions for autism for years. When Google Glass hit the market, it seemed like a perfect tool to address common struggles facing these children, such as making eye contact and recognizing faces,” said Dennis Wall, Ph.D., an associate professor of pediatrics, psychiatry, and biomedical data sciences and the lead investigator for this study.

Helping children with ASD recognize emotions is a central part of behavioral therapy. This is typically done by using flash cards of varying facial expressions. But static images capture only a fragment of the ways in which someone can smile or frown and sometimes lead to unwanted associations (such as a child associating facial hair with a certain emotion if a bearded person is the model on a card), according to Wall.

Smart glasses, such as Google Glass, can capture emotions in real time to better guide kids about what they are seeing, he said. Best of all, this training can be done outside of office visits.

The glasses contain a small prism next to the camera that can display emojis within the child’s peripheral vision. The emojis depict one of eight emotions — happy, sad, angry, scared, surprised, disgust, “meh,” and neutral — recognized by the facial recognition software.

To make the glasses more engaging, Wall’s team added two social games into the app: a “guess the emotion” game in which children try to correctly identify their caregiver’s facial expression and a “capture the smile” activity in which children are given an emotion and try to elicit that facial expression in their caregiver (like telling a joke to make a happy face).

After some promising pilot studies, the team conducted a trial with 71 children with ASD ages 6 to 12 years; 41 of the children were given the wearable intervention (dubbed Superpower Glass by a focus group of children), and 30 were in the control group.

Both groups received in-person behavioral therapy at home for six weeks. The children using Superpower Glass were instructed to use the device at home for 20 minutes, four times a week: three times with family members and once with their behavioral therapist.

After six weeks, the children using Superpower Glass showed significant improvements in their social behavior compared with children in the control group. Wall said he also received positive feedback from parents on the progress their children had made while using Superpower Glass.

“This justifies further work with these devices in larger and younger groups of children,” Wall said. He added that, ideally, future studies would be with kids who are waiting to start behavioral therapy to see how well they improve with the glasses alone.

If the children can use these glasses while waiting for therapy, they might be better prepared and perhaps need therapy for a shorter time. This would be more cost-effective for parents and also free up time for therapists to see more children, which would start to alleviate the long waiting list.

Source: American Psychiatric Association

Many See Empathy as Requiring Too Much Mental Effort

Fri, 05/03/2019 - 7:00am

Empathy, the ability to understand the feelings of others, has long been hailed as a virtue that encourages helping behaviors. But a new study finds that many people don’t want to feel empathy, primarily because they believe it requires too much mental effort.

The findings remain true even when feeling empathy would elicit good feelings or would require no actual effort, such as offering help or money.

“There is a common assumption that people stifle feelings of empathy because they could be depressing or costly, such as making donations to charity,” said lead researcher C. Daryl Cameron, PhD, an assistant psychology professor from Penn State University.

“But we found that people primarily just don’t want to make the mental effort to feel empathy toward others, even when it involves feeling positive emotions.”

The research team from Penn State and the University of Toronto designed an “Empathy Selection Task” to test whether cognitive costs, or mental effort, could deter empathy. The study involved 11 experiments with more than 1,200 participants.

Over a series of trials, the researchers used two decks of cards that each featured grim photos of child refugees. For one deck, participants were asked to simply describe the physical characteristics of the person on the card. For the other deck, they were told to try to feel empathy for the person in the photo and think about what that person was feeling. Participants were told to choose freely from either deck in each trial.

Importantly, no one was asked to donate time or money to support child refugees or anyone else featured in the photos, so there were no financial costs for feeling empathy in the study.

In some additional experiments, the research team used decks that featured images of either sad or smiling people. When given the choice of choosing between decks, participants consistently chose the decks that didn’t require feeling empathy, even for the photos of happy people.

“We saw a strong preference to avoid empathy even when someone else was expressing joy,” Cameron said.

Across all of the trials, the volunteers on average chose the empathy deck only 35 percent of the time, showing a strong preference for the deck that didn’t require empathy.

In survey questions after each experiment, most volunteers reported that empathy felt more cognitively challenging, saying it required more effort and that they felt less good at it than they did at describing the physical characteristics of other people.

In addition, participants who said that feeling empathy was mentally demanding or made them feel insecure, irritated or distressed were more likely to avoid the empathy deck during the experiments.

In two more experiments, the researchers investigated whether people could be encouraged to feel empathy if they think they are good at it. Half of the participants were told that they were better than 95 percent of others on the empathy deck and 50 percent better for the objective physical characteristics deck, while the other group was told the opposite. Participants who were told they were good at feeling empathy were more likely to select cards from the empathy deck and even say that empathy required less mental effort.

So although the cognitive costs of empathy could cause people to avoid it, it may be possible to increase empathy by encouraging people that they can do it well, Cameron said.

“If we can shift people’s motivations toward engaging in empathy, then that could be good news for society as a whole,” Cameron said. “It could encourage people to reach out to groups who need help, such as immigrants, refugees and the victims of natural disasters.”

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

Source: American Psychological Association


Imbalance in Brain Wiring May Influence Development of PTSD

Fri, 05/03/2019 - 6:30am

New research suggests an imbalance in a key neural pathway may explain how some people reactivate negative emotional memories upon exposure to trauma while others do not. Investigators believe the finding could help scientists develop new approaches to treat psychiatric disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The topic of emotional memory has traditionally represented a dilemma for scientists because the entire emotional event may be highly memorable, but details of the event are often fuzzy. Researchers now believe this lack of detailed recollection may lead to faulty reactivation of negative memories.

For example, if someone is bitten by a dog, he or she may become anxious around dogs of all breeds and sizes. Understanding the nature of emotional memory could have implications for the treatment of PTSD and other mental disorders.

“Emotion exerts a powerful influence on how vividly we can remember experiences,” said co-senior author Michael Yassa, professor of neurobiology and behavior, University of California Irvine (UCI).

“However, studies in humans have shown that the impact of emotion on memory is not always positive. In many cases, emotional arousal can impair a person’s ability to differentiate among similar experiences.”

This neural computation is critical for episodic memory and is vulnerable in neuropsychiatric disorders, Yassa said.

According to this new study, which appears in the journal Neuro, an imbalanced communication between the brain’s emotional center, the amygdala, and its memory hub, the hippocampus, may lead to the failure to differentiate negative experiences that have overlapping features.

On the other hand, a balanced dialogue between the amygdala and the hippocampus allows one to separate overlapping emotional experiences and make distinct memories.

Further, two types of brain rhythms — a faster (8 cycles per second) alpha oscillation and a slower (4 cycles per second) theta rhythm — diametrically regulate communications between the amygdala and the hippocampus.

Overamplified alpha rhythms from the amygdala to the hippocampus lead to faulty extrapolation of memories among similar experiences while balanced theta rhythms between the two brain regions promote correct discrimination and accurate recall.

“The teamwork between the amygdala and hippocampus is like a yin and yang and may be the key to disentangle overlapping emotional experiences and to overcome overreactions in a similar situation,” said Jie Zheng, a UCI alumnus and the study’s first author.

“Our findings provide a neural mechanism underlying this phenomenon and propose a circuit-level framework for possible neuropsychiatric therapy, such as deep brain stimulation, transcranial alternating current stimulation, and transcranial magnetic stimulation,” said Dr. Jack J. Lin, co-senior author and professor of neurology, UCI School of Medicine, and professor of biomedical engineering, UCI Henry Samueli School of Engineering.

Source: University of California Irvine

Light Physical Activity Linked to Healthy Brain Aging

Fri, 05/03/2019 - 6:00am

Physical activity, even at a light intensity, is associated with larger brain volume and healthy brain aging, according to a new study.

Considerable evidence has shown that engaging in regular physical activity may prevent cognitive decline and dementia. However, the specific activity levels to prevent dementia have remained unclear, researchers at the Boston University School of Medicine noted.

The 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans shows that some physical activity is better than none, but at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity each week is recommended for substantial health benefits.

Using data from the Framingham Heart Study, researchers found that each additional hour spent in light-intensity physical activity was equivalent to approximately 1.1 years less brain aging.

“Every additional hour of light intensity physical activity was associated with higher brain volumes, even among individuals not meeting current Physical Activity-Guidelines. These data are consistent with the notion that potential benefits of physical activity on brain aging may accrue at a lower, more achievable level of intensity or volume,” said Nicole Spartano, PhD, a research assistant professor of medicine at Boston University School of Medicine. “We have really only just begun to uncover the relationship between physical activity and brain health.”

Spartano noted there’s a need to explore the impact of physical inactivity on brain aging in different race, ethnic and socio-economic groups. She is leading a team effort to investigate these patterns at multiple sites all over the country.

“We couldn’t do this research without the commitment of the Framingham Heart Study participants who have given so much to the medical community over the years,” she added.

The study was published in JAMA Network Open.

Source: Boston University School of Medicine

Proof that Spousal Relationships are Important for Composure and Perseverance

Fri, 05/03/2019 - 5:30am

New research suggests that relationships are the secret to keeping calm and carrying on. Although it is widely accepted that relationships help people live longer, it has been difficult to measure the physiological benefit of having a partner. A new study now provides physical evidence that relationships provide immediate stress protection.

Brigham Young University professors sought to obtain proof of the protective effects of marriage in relieving stress by using an infrared camera to assess eye pupil diameter with an infrared camera. Psychology researcher Wendy Birmingham’s lab assessed 40 participating couples as they tried to complete an intentionally challenging task on a computer.

Some of the couples were randomly assigned to work alone. The others were allowed to sit near their spouse and hold their hand. While they worked, an infrared camera continuously measured pupil diameter, which is a direct signal of the body’s physiological stress response –a close-up view of a human eye.

“The neat thing is that the pupils respond within 200 milliseconds to the onset of a stressor,” said Steven Luke, a study co-author and psychology professor at BYU.

“It can immediately measure how someone responds to stress and whether having social support can change that. It’s not just a different technique, it’s a different time scale.”

The experiment initially stressed out participants in both groups. But the spouse support group calmed down significantly sooner, allowing them to work on the task at reduced stress levels.

Experts note that measuring health benefits from social connection in real-time is quite rare.

The study, which builds upon landmark research at BYU showing that relationships help people live longer, appears in the scientific journal PLOS One.

“When we have a spouse next to us and with us, it really helps us navigate and get through the stress we have to deal with in life,” Birmingham said.

For instance, graduate school can be pretty tough. But Tyler Graff, the lead study author, points to the high level of support he is receiving right now as a PhD candidate.

“It was a ton of work, and I learned so much throughout the process,” said Graff. “It’s amazing to be here and have fantastic mentors to guide me.”

Source: Brigham Young University

Sleep & Exercise May Affect New Moms & Dads Differently

Thu, 05/02/2019 - 6:24am

Sleep and exercise are vital to the well-being of new parents, but these essentials affect new moms differently than new dads, according to researchers.

Penn State researchers discovered that in general, getting more physical activity and more sleep day to day was linked to more personal well-being, a better couple relationship and more closeness with their baby.

However, fathers who slept more on average than other fathers reported lower overall well-being and less closeness with their partner and child. In contrast, mothers who slept more on average than other mothers reported greater well-being.

Investigators also found that on days when fathers exercised more than usual, there was a lower likelihood of an argument between the couple. But, on days when mothers exercised more than usual, there was a higher chance of an argument.

Study leader Dr. Mark Feinberg believes these differences may be due to mothers often being seen as the primary caretaker.

“Fathers may resist or feel resentful when mothers spend more time than usual on their own needs such as exercise, leaving fathers to pick up more responsibility for child care — leading to arguments,” Feinberg said.

“But, it’s also possible that the extra time spent with the child is stressful for fathers, leading fathers to be more irritable on such days and leading to more arguments with the partner.”

The findings were part of a study that examined how factors like exercise, sleep and different daily stressors affected the day-to-day lives and family relationships of new parents. The study appears in the Monographs of the Society for Research In Child Development.

Feinberg said that while early parenthood is stressful for parents both as individuals and as a couple, it is also a vital period of rapid development for the newborn child, making it especially important to understand and support parents’ well-being during this time.

“In general, new parents report higher levels of stress, depression and couple conflict, as well as less sleep, companionship and romance with their partner,” Feinberg said. “Ironically, it’s also the period when children are most vulnerable, when their brains and regulatory systems are rapidly developing to set the stage for their functioning for the rest of their lives, and when they are most dependent on parents for consistent affection and support.”

According to Feinberg, the current study is one of the first to explore these stress and resilience factors among new parents on a daily level.

He said that looking at how changes in one stressful or replenishing factor are linked to changes in parents’ well-being and relationships from day to day — instead of annually, for example — can give researchers a better understanding on how to help parents achieve better functioning and well-being on more days.

“In past research, we might find that on average, one father sleeps more, is less depressed, and more affectionate with his child than another father,” Feinberg said. “But that doesn’t tell us if enhancing sleep for that father would affect his level of depression or parenting warmth.”

For the study, the researchers used data from 143 mothers and 140 fathers collected ten months after their child’s birth. The researchers interviewed the mothers and fathers separately by phone every night for eight days to gather data about the previous 24 hours.

They gathered data about time spent sleeping, at work, doing chores and physical activity. They also asked the participants about stress, well-being, and their relationships with their spouse and child.

Feinberg said the results may be used to help parents find and reinforce their strengths and have more good days than bad.

“Some parents are happier or sleep better overall than others, but most parents experience some difficult days and some good days,” Feinberg said.

“Most parents already have a good place to start from at least on some days, so it’s a matter of figuring out what works on those days and then doing more of that. This would be an easier and maybe more effective approach than thinking that we have to help someone completely change their routines and emotional patterns.”

Source: Penn State/EurekAlert

Stressful Events Before Age 3 May Have Greatest Effect on Mental Health

Thu, 05/02/2019 - 6:00am

Children under age 3 may be particularly vulnerable to the impacts of adversity such as poverty, family and financial instability and abuse, on their epigenetic profiles, the chemical tags that alter gene expression and can affect future mental health, according to a new study by researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH).

The findings, published online in the journal Biological Psychiatry, show that the timing of adverse experiences may have a more powerful effect than the number of such experiences or whether they took place recently.

“One of the major unanswered questions in child psychiatry has been ‘How do the stressors children experience in the world make them more vulnerable to mental health problems in the future?'” said Erin Dunn, Sc.D., M.P.H., of the Psychiatric and Neurodevelopmental Genetics Unit in the MGH Center for Genomic Medicine, corresponding author of the report.

“These findings suggest that the first three years of life may be an especially important period for shaping biological processes that ultimately give rise to mental health conditions. If these results are replicated, they imply that prioritizing policies and interventions to children who experienced adversity during those years may help reduce the long-term risk for problems like depression.”

Research has shown that adverse experiences in early childhood can have lasting effects on epigenetics, the process by which chemical tags added to a DNA sequence control whether or not a gene is expressed. This is seen in both humans and animals.

These types of studies have shown differences in DNA methylation, which can either silence or enhance gene expression, between individuals who were and were not exposed to early-life stressors.

In the new study, the researchers wanted to test a hypothesis which suggests that there are sensitive periods during which adversity is linked to even greater changes in DNA methylation.

The research team also compared that model to an accumulation hypothesis, in which the effects of adversity increase with the number of events, and a recency hypothesis, that the effects of adversity are stronger when events happened more recently.

They looked at data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, a U.K.-based study that has been following a group of families since the early 1990s. Participating parents report regularly on many aspects of the health and life experiences of their children, who were enrolled in the study before birth.

The researchers analyzed data from a subgroup of more than 1,000 randomly selected mother/child pairs from which DNA methylation profiles had been run for the children at birth and at age 7.

The children’s exposure to adversity before age 7 was based on whether parents reported their child’s repeated experience of seven stressors:

  • abuse by a parent or other caregiver;
  • abuse by anyone;
  • a mother’s mental illness;
  • living in a single-adult household;
  • family instability;
  • family financial stress;
  • neighborhood disadvantage or poverty.

The researchers recorded the number of exposures to each adversity, whether or not they were experienced at specific developmental stages and how close they occurred to the age at which blood samples were taken for the second methylation profile.

The analysis identified 38 DNA methylation sites in which adverse experiences were tied to changes in methylation, most of which were associated with when the stressful experience had taken place.

The findings show that adversity before the age of 3 had a significantly greater impact on methylation than did adversity at ages 3 to 5 or 5 to 7.

Exposure to adversity was typically associated with increased methylation, which would reduce the expression of specific genes; and neighborhood disadvantage appeared to have the strongest impact, followed by family financial stress, sexual or physical abuse, and single-adult households.

Although early-childhood experiences had the greatest effects, adversity at older ages was not without an impact. And while the findings provide the strongest evidence for the sensitive or “vulnerable” period model, they do not totally rule out any effect related to the accumulation or recency hypotheses.

In fact, two of the sites at which methylation appeared to be changed by adversity were tied to either the number of adverse experiences or how recent they had been.

“These additive effects may work together with the timing of exposure, so it would be interesting to examine more complex mechanisms in future studies with larger groups of participants,” said Dunn, an assistant professor of psychology in the Harvard Medical School Department of Psychiatry.

“Our results need to be replicated by other investigators, and we also need to determine whether these changes in DNA methylation patterns are associated with subsequent mental health problems. Only then will we be able to really understand the links between childhood adversity, DNA methylation and the risk of mental health problems; and that understanding could guide us to better ways of preventing those problems from developing.”

Source: Massachusetts General Hospital


Autism Diagnoses Shown to Be Highly Stable as Early as 14 Months

Wed, 05/01/2019 - 7:00am

A new study supports the idea of early screening and treatment for autism spectrum disorder (ASD), as clinical diagnoses in children as young as 14 months have proven remarkably stable.

The findings are published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

Growing evidence suggests ASD may begin in the womb — most likely during the first or second trimester of pregnancy — and children often begin to show symptoms by their first birthdays, such as failing to respond to their names or positively engage with others.

Early diagnosis of ASD means earlier intervention. “The sooner you can address issues of ASD, the better the outcome for the child,” said the study’s first author, Karen Pierce, Ph.D., professor of neurosciences and co-director of the University of California (UC) San Diego Autism Center of Excellence. She led the study with senior author Eric Courchesne, Ph.D., also a professor of neurosciences.

Several studies, including those conducted by Pierce, have found that simple parent checklists performed at the child’s first birthday can identify symptoms of ASD. And yet the mean age of ASD diagnoses in the United States, write the researchers, is “often years later, generally between ages three and four.”

The lag between the first signs of ASD and diagnosis represents a missed opportunity, Pierce said, particularly given the accelerated pace of brain development in the first years of life.

“Synaptic density or connections between neurons in the prefrontal and temporal cortex, brain regions centrally involved in higher order social behavior, doubles between birth and one to two years in age,” said Pierce. “It’s conceivable that outcomes for children with autism could be improved if treatment occurred during this period of rapid brain growth, rather than after, which is more commonly the case.”

The study involved 1,269 toddlers (441 ASD, 828 non-ASD) who received their first diagnostic evaluation between 12 and 36 months and at least one subsequent evaluation, all by licensed psychologists. Diagnoses ranged from ASD and features of ASD to language and developmental delay or other developmental issues.

The overall stability for ASD diagnoses was higher than for any other diagnostic group: only 1.8 percent of toddlers initially considered to have ASD transitioned to later diagnoses of typical development. Within the group diagnosed with ASD, the most common transition was from ASD to ASD features at 9 percent.

Twenty-four percent of toddlers were not designated as ASD at their first evaluations, but later identified. The most common transition in this group was an initial designation of developmental delay (25 percent) or language delay (16 percent), transitioning to later-onset ASD.

“Our findings suggest that an ASD diagnosis becomes stable starting at 14 months, and overall is more stable than other diagnoses, such as language or developmental delay,” said Pierce. “Once a toddler is identified as ASD, there is an extremely low chance that he or she will test within typical levels at age three or four, so it’s imperative that we use every effective tool as early as we can to begin treating diagnosed children to the benefit of them and their families over the long-term.”

Source: University of California- San Diego


Combat-Related Brain Injury with PTSD Tied to Larger Amygdala

Wed, 05/01/2019 - 6:30am

A new study finds that veterans and active-duty service members with combat-related post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) have larger amygdalas than those with combat-related mTBI only.

The amygdala, an almond-shaped section of tissue in the temporal region of the brain, is involved in processing emotions such as fear, anxiety and aggression. It is also believed to play a major role in triggering PTSD symptoms.

The findings are published online in the Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation.

For the study, 89 veterans and active-duty military personnel underwent magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). About a third of the participants had both PTSD and mTBI (concussion), and the rest formed the mild-TBI-only control group.

The study’s lead author, Dr. Mingxiong Huang, is a neuroimaging scientist at the Veterans Affairs (VA) San Diego Health Care System. He says the finding of a larger amygdala in veterans with combat-related PTSD and mTBI was a bit of a surprise.

“Some previous PTSD research showed declines in amygdala volume based on the assumption of a loss of size due to injuries,” said Huang, also a professor in the department of radiology at the University of California San Diego (UCSD).

“Our finding of increased amygdala volume seems to point to different mechanisms, such as an exposure to repetitive fear and stress.”

Such exposure, he adds, may lead to an abnormal growth of the neural networks within the amygdala, a development that has been reported in animal studies but hasn’t been fully investigated in human PTSD studies. More research involving people with non-combat PTSD are needed to generalize this finding to other types of PTSD, he notes.

“The amygdala is involved with processing threat perception and arousal and with linking emotion to experience in complex ways,” said coauthor Dr. Douglas Chang, physician and researcher at VA San Diego and professor of orthopedic surgery at UCSD.

“A larger amygdala volume may be a sign of hyperactivity with an enlarged neural network. But we don’t know whether this is an attempt by the brain to cope with PTSD or whether the growth and enlargement is causing symptoms, like an electrical storm.”

“The situation may also resemble scar tissue formation on skin. Is this an organized response by the body to heal itself, or is the scar tissue going haywire and forming a grossly disfigured area? Another possibility is that this study simply identified at-risk people for PTSD with a pre-existing condition: an enlarged amygdala.”

Combat-related PTSD and mTBI are significant health care concerns in veterans and service members. It’s not unusual for both conditions to occur in the same person, based on evidence from a cross section of studies. Some of the symptoms are similar, such as depression, anxiety, insomnia, fatigue, and changes in memory and concentration.

However, the effect of PTSD and mTBI on neural pathways in the brain, as well as the impact of the co-existence of the two, is still unclear.

The researchers warn that the findings were based on an observational study and therefore can’t prove a cause-and-effect relationship, only a correlation. They say the findings have several implications for research and treatment.

“To be able to see a structural difference between these two cohorts and in this stage of PTSD really points to something going on with the amygdala,” Chang said.

“Can we use this as a screening tool to identify people at risk? Maybe this is an adaptive response that we can monitor and use to track different kinds of mental health treatment approaches.”

Source: Veterans Affairs Research Communications



Morning Exercise Can Boost Brain Health, Decision-Making in Older Adults

Wed, 05/01/2019 - 6:00am

A new Australian study suggests a simple change to a daily routine can improve decision-making among older individuals. Researchers discovered a morning moderate-intensity workout improves cognitive performance across the day for individuals aged 55 to 80 as compared to prolonged sitting without exercise.

Furthermore, the study showed that a morning bout of exercise combined with brief light-intensity walking breaks to frequently disrupt sitting throughout an 8-hour day can boost short-term memory when compared to uninterrupted sitting.

The “Brain Breaks” study, led by the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute and The University of Western Australia, appears in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

Study results suggest distinct responses in cognitive performance to exercise versus exercise and sitting breaks. Scientists believe this may mean that different patterns of physical activity can enhance distinct aspects of cognition.

Methodologically, the study of more than 65 males and females aged 55 – 80 years examined the effects of acute morning exercise on a treadmill with and without brief 3-minute walking breaks during an 8-hour day of prolonged sitting. The cognitive effects of exercise versus no exercise and prolonged sitting were also compared.

Investigators assessed aspects of cognition and concentration including psychomotor function; attention; executive function such as decision-making; visual learning and working memory.

As background, scientists believe a specific brain-derived protein is important for the survival and growth of information transmitting nerve cells (neurons) in the brain. This protein is called a neurotropic growth factor. Exercise is believed to stimulate the brain to create more of the information transmitting cells and as a result improve cognitive performance such as decision-making.

In the study, researchers discovered that the protein was elevated for 8 hours during both exercise conditions, relative to prolonged sitting.

Physical activity researcher and doctoral student Michael Wheeler said the study highlights that uninterrupted sitting should be avoided to maintain optimal cognition across the day, and that moderate-intensity exercise such as a brisk walk should be encouraged for the daily maintenance of brain health.

He said the study also reveals that not all aspects of cognition respond in the same way to a given dose of exercise and that it may be possible to manipulate the pattern of activity across the day to optimize specific cognitive outcomes.

“With an aging population which is looking to live healthier for longer, these studies are critical to people enjoying a productive and satisfying quality of life,” Wheeler said.

“This study highlights how relatively simple changes to your daily routine could have a significant benefit to your cognitive health. It also reveals that one day we may be able to do specific types of exercise to enhance specific cognitive skills such as memory or learning.”

Source: Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute

Continuity of Future Self Tied to Being Happier in Later Life

Tue, 04/30/2019 - 6:30am

New research finds that while some people believe they will change in the future, expecting ourselves to remain mostly the same over the next 10 years is strongly related to being happier later in life.

Researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) discovered that when thinking about the future, some people think they will change, and others expect they might remain the same.

In the new study, investigators found that expecting ourselves to remain mostly the same over the next ten years is strongly related to being happier later in life. The research appears in Social Psychological and Personality Science.

Researchers have consistently found that people who are connected to their future selves are better able to save for the future, delay gratification, and take care of their health, compared to people who feel less connected to their future selves.

Therefore, one would assume that if people make optimistic predictions about the future, such as “thinking they will become more compassionate and intelligent in the future,” as Dr. Joseph Reiff (UCLA) suggests, “they would end up becoming happier in the years that follow.”

Surprisingly, this is not what Reiff and colleagues discovered.

“The more people initially predicted that they would remain the same — whether predicting less decline or less improvement across a number of core traits — the more satisfied they typically were with their lives 10 years later,” says Reiff.

Reiff, Drs. Hal Hershfield (Anderson School of Management, UCLA) and Jordi Quoidbach (ESADE) analyzed a ten-year longitudinal dataset (N = 4,963) to estimate how thoughts about one’s future self in an initial survey predicted life satisfaction 10 years later.

They found that people who expected to be better off in 10 years and those who expected to be worse off both reported less satisfaction 10 years later. However, people who expected to remain the same typically were the most satisfied 10 years later.

Their research builds on a growing body of psychological literature suggesting that perceiving similarity to the future self is generally beneficial for long-term decisions and outcomes.

When it comes to future research, “We are now interested in understanding why some people think they will remain the same and why others think they will change,” says Hershfield.

“What life events, for example, cause people to shift the way they think about their future selves?”

Source: Society for Personality and Social Psychology