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Updated: 1 hour 27 min ago

Some Thrive on Very-Early-to-Bed and Very-Early-to-Rise Routine

Wed, 08/07/2019 - 6:00am

New research suggests many extreme early birds share a genetic trait with family members that appears to help them prosper in the early routine. The UC San Francisco study finds that the behavior – called an advanced sleep phase — is more common than previously believed and may affect at least one in 300 adults.

Investigators believe a genetic link helps to lure some people to sleep at 8 p.m., and enables them to greet the new day as early as 4 a.m. The study appears in the journal SLEEP.

Advanced sleep phase means that the body’s clock, or circadian rhythm, operates on a schedule hours earlier than most people’s, with a premature release of the sleep hormone melatonin and shift in body temperature.

The condition is distinct from the early rising that develops with normal aging, as well as the waking in the wee hours experienced by people with depression.

“While most people struggle with getting out of bed at 4 or 5 a.m., people with advanced sleep phase wake up naturally at this time, rested and ready to take on the day,” said the study’s senior author, Louis Ptacek, MD, at the UCSF School of Medicine.

“These extreme early birds tend to function well in the daytime but may have trouble staying awake for social commitments in the evening.”

Additionally, “advanced sleepers” rouse more easily than others, he said, and are satisfied with an average of an extra five-to-10 minutes of sleep on non-work days, versus the 30-to-38 minutes’ more sleep of their non-advanced sleeper family members.

Ptacek and his colleagues at the University of Utah and the University of Wisconsin calculated the estimated prevalence of advanced sleepers by evaluating data from patients at a sleep disorder clinic over a nine-year period.

In total, 2,422 patients were followed, of which 1,748 presented with symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea, a condition that the authors found was not related to sleep-cycle hours.

Among this group, 12 people met initial screening criteria for advanced sleep phase. Four of the 12 declined enrollment in the study and the remaining eight comprised the 0.03 percent of the total number of patients — or one out of 300 — that was extrapolated for the general population.

Researchers note that this is a conservative figure since it excluded the four patients who did not want to participate in the study and may have met the criteria for advanced sleep phase, as well as those advanced sleepers who had no need to visit a sleep clinic.

“Generally, we find that it’s the people with delayed sleep phase — those night owls that can’t sleep until as late as 7 a.m. — who are more likely to visit a sleep clinic. They have trouble getting up for work and frequently deal with chronic sleep deprivation,” said Ptacek.

Criteria for advanced sleep phase include the ability to fall asleep before 8:30 p.m. and wake before 5:30 a.m. regardless of any occupational or social obligations, and having only one sleep period per day.

Other criteria include the establishment of this sleep-wake pattern by the age of 30, no use of stimulants or sedatives, no bright lights to aid early rising and no medical conditions that may impact sleep.

All study participants were asked about their medical histories and both past and present sleep habits on work days and work-free days. Researchers also looked at sleep logs and level of melatonin in the participants’ saliva, as well as sleep studies, or polysomnography, that record brainwaves, oxygen levels in the blood, heart rate and breathing.

Of note, all eight of the advanced sleepers claimed that they had at least one first-degree relative with the same sleep-wake schedule, indicating so-called familial advanced sleep phase.

Of the eight relatives tested, three did not meet the full criteria for advanced sleep phase and the authors calculated that the remaining five represented 0.21 percent of the general population.

The authors believe that the percentage of advanced sleepers who have the familial variant may approach 100 percent. However, some participants may have de novo mutations that may be found in their children, but not in parents or siblings, and some may have family members with “nonpenetrant” carrier mutations.

Two of the remaining five were found to have genetic mutations that have been identified with familial advanced sleep phase. Conditions associated with these genes include migraine and seasonal affective disorder.

“We hope the results of this study will not only raise awareness of advanced sleep phase and familial advanced sleep phase,” said Ptacek, “but also help identify the circadian clock genes and any medical conditions that they may influence.”

Source: University of California – San Francisco

Restful Sleep May Be Vital for Entrepreneurs

Tue, 08/06/2019 - 6:00am

The secret ingredient for coming up with great business ideas may be something we can all tap into — a good night’s sleep.

In a new study, researchers from the University of Central Florida discovered that sleep plays an especially important role in not only producing a good business idea, but in evaluating it and believing it is viable.

The findings are published in the Journal of Business Venturing.

“Entrepreneurs who consistently choose hustle over sleep, thinking that sleep comes after success, may be subverting their efforts to succeed,” said lead author Dr. Jeff Gish, an assistant business professor at the University of Central Florida.

“Everyone needs a good night of sleep, but it is especially important for entrepreneurs.”

While several studies have shown an association between sleep and job performance, the new study went further by identifying a link between sleep and the cognitive skills needed to identify and evaluate an idea.

The team surveyed more than 700 entrepreneurs from around the world. The surveys asked about sleep patterns, hours of sleep and types of sleep.

Business pitches were drafted and an independent panel of business experts reviewed and ranked the pitches as having the most potential, medium potential and least potential for success. Then the participants in the study reviewed the three pitches in the same day. Those leaders who had less sleep did not consistently pick the best pitches.

In the second part of the study, a smaller group of participants evaluated the pitches over several weeks while charting their sleep patterns. Those participants who had at least seven hours of sleep each night consistently selected the best pitches identified by the expert panel. Those who had less sleep or restless sleep did not consistently pick the best pitches.

“The evidence suggests that less sleep leads to less accurate beliefs about the commercial potential of a new venture idea,” Gish said.

“Since we compared individual performance over multiple days, we can say that these results are consistent even for entrepreneurs who don’t sleep as much on average as the general population.”

The study was completed at the University of Oregon, where Gish earned a doctorate in philosophy of management. Gish also holds a master’s degree in engineering and technology management. Other collaborators on the study include: David T. Wagner from the University of Oregon, Denis A. Grégoire from HEC Montreal business school in Canada, and Christopher M. Barnes from the University of Washington.

Source: University of Central Florida


How Impact to Head Can Damage Brain – And Lead to Concussion

Mon, 08/05/2019 - 7:00am

Growing awareness of the severe and enduring impacts of strong hits to the head, such as concussions, traumatic brain injury (TBI) and neurological disorders, have led researchers to focus on what exactly happens inside a skull during a big hit.

Mehmet Kurt, Ph.D., a mechanical engineer at Stevens Institute of Technology who studies the biomechanics of the brain and the skull at rest and during rapid head movements, has now bioengineered simulations that track how the brain behaves upon impact, reconstructing the inertial stresses and strains that prevail inside a brain that’s just been hit hard from the side.

“The brain not only rings, but it has a distinct pattern of ringing when the head is hit from the side and experiences rotational acceleration,” said Kurt.

The new findings may not only have implications for brain injury assessment, but for sports helmet makers in search of measurements that can simply distinguish ‘concussion’ from ‘no concussion’ to help the industry set safety standards.

For the study, the research team analyzed both simulated and human data of brain movements that have led to concussions.

The team found that side impacts to the head lead to rotational accelerations that cause mechanical vibrations to concentrate in two brain regions: the corpus callosum, the bridge that links the hemispheres, and the periventricular region, white matter lobes at the brain’s root that help speed muscle activation.

The researchers discovered that the skull’s internal geometry and the gelatinous nature of the brain cause these two regions to resonate at certain frequencies and receive more energy in the form of shearing forces, or opposing motions, than the rest of the brain.

More shear strain seems to yield more tissue and cell damage, particularly since shear tends to deform brain tissue more readily than other biological tissues.

“A hit to the head creates non-linear movement in the brain,” said Stevens graduate student Javid Abderezaei. “That means that small increases in amplitude can lead to unexpectedly big deformations in certain structures.”

These non-linear vibrations are not surprising in a complex organ featuring a range of tissue densities. Add in the restraining effects of the tough protective membranes that hold the brain in place from both above and below, and certain regions are bound to come off worse in side hits.

Identifying the parts of the brain that are most vulnerable in side impacts makes them prime targets for further investigation.

The findings, published in the journal Physical Review Applied, have strong implications as more than 300,000 American children and teenagers suffer sports-related concussions every year.

Source: Stevens Institute of Technology


Dark Chocolate Tied to Better Mood, Fewer Depressive Symptoms

Mon, 08/05/2019 - 6:00am

Eating dark chocolate may ease depressive symptoms and have a positive effect on mood, according to a new study led by University College London (UCL).

The study, published in the journal Depression and Anxiety, looked at whether different types of chocolate might be linked to reduced depressive symptoms.

UCL researchers worked with scientists from the University of Calgary and Alberta Health Services Canada to evaluate data from 13,626 adults from the US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Participants’ chocolate consumption was compared to their scores on the Patient Health Questionnaire, which assesses depressive symptoms.

The team took into account a range of other factors including height, weight, marital status, ethnicity, education, household income, physical activity, smoking and chronic health problems to ensure the study only measured chocolate’s effect on depressive symptoms.

After adjusting for these factors, the researchers found that participants who reported eating any dark chocolate in two 24-hour periods had 70 percent lower odds of reporting clinically relevant depressive symptoms than those who reported not eating chocolate at all.

The 25 percent of chocolate consumers who ate the most chocolate (of any kind, not just dark) were also less likely to report depressive symptoms than those who didn’t eat chocolate at all. However researchers found no significant link between any non‐dark chocolate consumption and clinically relevant depressive symptoms.

“This study provides some evidence that consumption of chocolate, particularly dark chocolate, may be associated with reduced odds of clinically relevant depressive symptoms,” said lead author Dr. Sarah Jackson from UCL Institute of Epidemiology & Health Care.

“However further research is required to clarify the direction of causation — it could be the case that depression causes people to lose their interest in eating chocolate, or there could be other factors that make people both less likely to eat dark chocolate and to be depressed.

“Should a causal relationship demonstrating a protective effect of chocolate consumption on depressive symptoms be established, the biological mechanism needs to be understood to determine the type and amount of chocolate consumption for optimal depression prevention and management.”

Chocolate is widely reported to have mood‐enhancing properties and several mechanisms for this link have been proposed.

First, chocolate contains a number of psychoactive ingredients which produce a feeling of euphoria similar to that of cannabinoids, found in cannabis. It also contains phenylethylamine, a neuromodulator believed to be important for regulating moods.

Some evidence also suggests that mood improvements only take place if the chocolate is palatable and pleasant to eat, which suggests that the experience of enjoying chocolate is an important factor in itself, and not just the ingredients present.

While the above is true of all types of chocolate, dark chocolate has a higher concentration of flavonoids, antioxidant chemicals which can help improve inflammatory profiles, which have been shown to play a role in depression.

Source: University College London



Study Finds Link Between Liver Dysfunction and Alzheimer’s

Sun, 08/04/2019 - 9:58pm

A new study has discovered novel connections between liver dysfunction and Alzheimer’s disease (AD).

The findings, published in the journal JAMA Network Open, may lead to earlier detection of Alzheimer’s disease and ultimately better prevention.

With increasing evidence linking Alzheimer’s disease to diabetes or high cholesterol and other systemic illnesses, the research team uncovered a link between liver function and Alzheimer’s, which adds to the understanding of metabolic dysfunction in the disease.

“This is a new paradigm for Alzheimer’s research,” said study leader Kwangsik Nho, Ph.D., radiology professor at Indiana University (IU) School of Medicine.

“Until now, we only focused on the brain. Our research shows that by using blood biomarkers, we can still focus on the brain but also find evidence of Alzheimer’s and improve our understanding of the body’s internal signaling.”

The researchers evaluated more than 1,500 participants from the National Institute of Aging (NIA)-sponsored Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI) for more than two years. They looked at five serum-based liver function assessments, which measure enzymes predominantly found in the liver.

By using biochemical markers, the team was able to uncover evidence of metabolic disturbance and gain a new perspective on altered liver enzymes in association with both cognitive impairment and AD pathophysiology.

The study’s focus outside the brain aligns with known risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease, including metabolic disorders. According to Nho, looking elsewhere in the body for signals correlated with the disease can provide important clues toward detection and ultimately prevention.

“While we have focused for too long on studying the brain in isolation, we now have to study the brain as an organ that is communicating with and connected to other organs that support its function and that can contribute to its dysfunction,” said Rima Kaddurah-Daouk, Ph.D., of Duke University.

“The concept emerges that Alzheimer’s disease might be a systemic disease that affects several organs including the liver.”

The study was a combined effort of the ADNI, a 60-site study, and the Alzheimer’s Disease Metabolomics Consortium (ADMC). Overall, the findings shed new light on the link between the liver and brain. This line of research is expected to ultimately enable physicians to provide more personalized patient care.

“No stone can be left unturned in our attempt to understand the disease and to identify viable therapeutic targets,” said Andrew J. Saykin, Psy.D., director of the Indiana Alzheimer Disease Center at IU School of Medicine and site principal investigator for the Alzheimer’s Disease Metabolomics Consortium.

Source: Indiana University School of Medicine

Being Socially Active Linked to Lower Risk of Dementia

Sun, 08/04/2019 - 9:49pm

Being more socially active in your 50s and 60s predicts a lower risk of developing dementia later on, according to a new study.

“Dementia is a major global health challenge, with 1 million people expected to have dementia in the UK by 2021, but we also know that one in three cases are potentially preventable,” said the study’s lead author, Dr. Andrew Sommerlad of University College London.

“Here we’ve found that social contact, in middle age and late life, appears to lower the risk of dementia,” he continued. “This finding could feed into strategies to reduce everyone’s risk of developing dementia, adding yet another reason to promote connected communities and find ways to reduce isolation and loneliness.”

For the study, researchers used data from the Whitehall II study, tracking 10,228 participants who had been asked on six occasions between 1985 and 2013 about their frequency of social contact with friends and relatives. The same participants also completed cognitive testing from 1997 onwards. Researchers referred to the participants’ electronic health records up until 2017 to see if they were ever diagnosed with dementia.

The researchers report they focused on the relationships between social contact at age 50, 60, and 70, and the subsequent incidence of dementia. They noted they also looked at whether social contact was linked to cognitive decline, after accounting for other factors, such as education, employment, marital status, and socioeconomic status.

The researchers found that increased social contact at age 60 is associated with a significantly lower risk of developing dementia later in life. The analysis showed that someone who saw friends almost daily at age 60 was 12 percent  less likely to develop dementia than someone who only saw one or two friends every few months.

They also found similarly strong associations between social contact at ages 50 and 70 and subsequent dementia. Those associations did not reach statistical significance, but the researchers say that social contact at any age may well have a similar impact on reducing dementia risk.

According to the researchers, there are a few explanations for how social contact could reduce dementia risk.

“People who are socially engaged are exercising cognitive skills, such as memory and language, which may help them to develop cognitive reserve. While it may not stop their brains from changing, cognitive reserve could help people cope better with the effects of age and delay any symptoms of dementia,” said senior author Professor Gill Livingston.

“Spending more time with friends could also be good for mental wellbeing, and may correlate with being physically active, both of which can also reduce the risk of developing dementia,” he added.

The study was published in PLOS Medicine.

Source: University College London

Study: Walkability is Key to More Greenspace Use

Sun, 08/04/2019 - 6:30am

If city planners want more people to visit community green spaces, they should focus on “putting humans in the equation,” according to University of Arizona researchers in a new paper appearing in the journal Landscape and Urban Planning.

The concept is simple: the easier and safer it is to get to a park, the more frequently people will visit the park, said lead researcher Dr. Adriana Zuniga-Teran, assistant research scientist at the College of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture and the Udall Center for Studies in Public Policy.

Zuniga-Teran researches green space in cities. She says walkability — how easy and safe it is for someone to walk from home to a green space — is a deciding factor in how often people visit parks.

It’s important to gather and use this kind of information for the sake of human and environmental health, Zuniga-Teran says. Green spaces clean the air and water, which benefits every resident of a community, she said. And when people use parks, that green space is more likely to be preserved.

The study was conducted in Tucson, Arizona. This was an ideal location because Tucson is “almost surrounded by protected land” and features hundreds of parks scattered throughout the city, she said.

The research team gathered data from people in parks as well as from people in their homes, which Zuniga-Teran said is significant, as most similar previous efforts she could find focused exclusively on one group or the other.

The information gleaned from participants surveyed from their homes shows that several factors that play into a neighborhood’s walkability can significantly increase how often people visit green spaces. For example, higher levels of perceived traffic safety and surveillance — or how well people inside nearby buildings can see pedestrians outside — corresponded with more frequent visits.

The research also suggests that people who travel to green spaces by walking or biking are three-and-a-half times more likely to visit daily than those who get there by other means. Residents who have to drive are more likely to go only monthly.

Interestingly, proximity to a park played no significant role in how often people visited a park, Zuniga-Teran said.

“This was surprising because oftentimes we assume that people living close to a park are more likely to visit the park and benefit from this use.”

Different levels of walkability may explain this finding.

“Let’s say you live in front of a huge park, but there’s this huge freeway in the middle,” Zuniga-Teran explained. “You’re very close, but just crossing the major street, you might need to take the car and spend a long time in that intersection.”

In situations like that, she said, a person probably won’t visit that park frequently despite living close to it.

The team of researchers gathered data from more than 100 people visiting Rillito River Park and found only one walkability factor was significantly linked to more frequent visits: traffic safety.

People in the park who said their neighborhoods have fewer traffic-related safety concerns were one-and-a-half times more likely to visit greenspaces daily than those who said they had concerns about traffic-related safety.

Unlike the people surveyed in their homes, those surveyed at green spaces indicated that proximity is a major factor in how often they visit, with those who live close to green spaces being six times more likely to go daily.

Overall, it’s up to community planners to use the research to shape policy, so that neighborhoods are developed in ways that connect residents more easily and safely with public green spaces.

For example, the continuing emergence of gated communities as well as cul-de-sac-heavy neighborhoods can interrupt the flow to green spaces. Developers of those types of neighborhoods, Zuniga-Teran says, could work with city planners to “open a door to the park” by creating pathways that enhance connectivity.

Developers also could use the findings as a springboard into looking into whether their perceptions of walkability match those of the residents living in their communities, she says.

“We might think we are designing walkable neighborhoods,” Zuniga-Teran says, “but people might not feel like that.”

The next step, she hopes, is that researchers will take a deeper dive into what amenities or design features can draw new people into parks. Those could range from additional lighting and separate bike lanes to more accessibility for people with disabilities. Her team is continuing the effort with more detailed surveys in Tucson this summer.

Dr. Philip Stoker, co-author and assistant professor of planning and landscape architecture, says he hopes other research teams follow suit.

“I would like to see researchers across the country replicate this study to add external validity to our case study of Tucson. It is an interesting line of research that connects how people see their world with their own behaviors,” he said.

“In our context, we hope to see further evidence to support which perceptions influence the probability of visiting urban parks.”

Source: University of Arizona


Smartphone Games May Ease Work Stress Better Than Mindfulness Apps

Sat, 08/03/2019 - 8:30am

A new U.K. study finds that digital games, typical of those used on smartphones, may outperform mindfulness apps when it comes to relieving work-related stress.

Researchers from University College London (UCL) and the University of Bath gave a 15-minute math test to 45 student participants, ages 19 to 36, to induce a sense of work strain.

Next, the participants played either a shape-fitting game called “Block! Hexa Puzzle” or used the Headspace mindfulness app for 10 minutes. Participants in the control group were given a fidget-spinner toy.

In a survey before and after using the game, app or toy, the volunteers rated on a four-point scale how tired and energetic they felt.

According to the findings, published in the journal JMIR Mental Health, participants who played the shape-fitting game reported feeling more energized and less tired afterwards, while those in the mindfulness and fidget-spinner groups reported the opposite: Their level of “energetic arousal” appeared to decline.

In a second part of the study, a different group of 20 participants played either the shape-fitting game or used the Headspace mindfulness app after arriving home from work for five days straight. After finishing the activities, the participants completed an online survey.

While no differences were found between the two groups in terms of how energized participants felt, the shape-fitting game appeared to offer increasing benefits throughout the week in terms of “recovery experience” — that is, to what degree participants felt relaxed, detached, in control and able to improve their skills.

This was measured by asking participants to what extent they agreed with statements such as “During the activity, I forgot about work.” Surprisingly, participants who followed a beginners’ course on the Headspace mindfulness app scored progressively less well on this measure throughout the five days.

“Far from feeling guilty about being absorbed by their phone, people who play such games after a stressful day at work should know they are likely to be gaining a real benefit,” said study co-author Professor Anna Cox from UCL Interaction Centre.

The authors noted that digital games appear to fulfill four criteria necessary for post-work recovery: they tend to be relaxing, they provide opportunities for mastering a new skill, they are highly immersive and distracting, and they allow people to feel in control.

The researchers also noted that the level of enjoyment of the digital game was tied to the amount of benefit it offered in terms of post-work recovery.

“To protect our long-term health and well-being, we need to be able to unwind and recuperate after work,” said lead author Dr. Emily Collins from the University of Bath, who started the research while at UCL. “Our study suggests playing digital games can be an effective way to do this.”

Source: University of Bath



Cheating in Marriage May Mean Cheating at Work

Sat, 08/03/2019 - 8:08am

A new study has found that people who cheat on their spouses are significantly more likely to engage in misconduct in the workplace.

For the study, researchers at the McCombs School of Business at The University of Texas at Austin looked at the records of police officers, financial advisers, white collar criminals, and senior executives who used the Ashley Madison marital infidelity website. Operating under the slogan “Life is short. Have an affair,” Ashley Madison advertises itself as a dating service for married people to have “discreet encounters.”

Despite promises of discreetness, the data were put in the public domain through a hack in 2015 that included 36 million user accounts, including 1 million paid users in the United States.

Researchers discovered that Ashley Madison users were more than twice as likely to engage in corporate misconduct.

“This is the first study that’s been able to look at whether there is a correlation between personal infidelity and professional conduct,” said Dr. Samuel Kruger, a finance faculty member who conducted the study with another finance faculty member, Dr. John Griffin, and Dr. Gonzalo Maturana of Emory University. “We find a strong correlation, which tells us that infidelity is informative about expected professional conduct.”

The researchers investigated four study groups totaling 11,235 individuals using data on police officers from the Citizens Police Data Project, data on financial advisers from the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority BrokerCheck database, data on defendants in SEC cases from the Securities and Exchange Commission’s litigation release archives, and data on CEOs and CFOs from Execucomp.

Even after matching professionals who engaged in corporate misconduct to professionals of similar ages, genders and experiences who did not engage in corporate misconduct, the researchers found that people with histories of misconduct were significantly more likely to use the Ashley Madison website.

The findings suggest a strong connection between people’s actions in their personal and professional lives and provide support for the idea that eliminating workplace sexual misconduct may also reduce fraudulent activity, the researchers report.

“Our results show that personal sexual conduct is correlated with professional conduct,” Kruger said. “Eliminating sexual misconduct in the workplace could have the extra benefit of contributing to more ethical corporate cultures in general.”

The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

Source: The University of Texas at Austin

Kids of Older Parents May Have Fewer Behavioral Problems

Sat, 08/03/2019 - 6:30am

The evidence is clear that couples are waiting to have children at a later age. While some studies suggest a link between a father’s age and a mental health diagnosis among offspring, a new Dutch study considered the behavior problems of children born to older parents among a general population.

Specifically, researchers looked at externalizing behaviors (e.g., aggression) and internalizing behaviors (e.g., anxiety, depression) of children born to older parents when the youth were 10 to 12 years old.

Investigators discovered that children of older parents tend to have fewer externalizing behavior problems than children of younger parents. The researchers also found that parents’ age was unrelated to children’s internalizing behaviors.

The study was done by researchers at Utrecht University, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Erasmus Medical Center, and University Medical Center Groningen. The study appears in Child Development, a journal of the Society for Research in Child Development.

“Evidence points to an association between fathers’ age and autism spectrum disorders and schizophrenia, so we wanted to know if there is an association in the general population between parents’ age and common behavior problems in children, beyond the clinical diagnoses,” said study leader Dr. Marielle Zondervan-Zwijnenburg, a postdoctoral researcher at Utrecht University.

“With respect to common behavior problems, we found no reason for future parents to worry about a harmful effect of having a child at an older age.”

Researchers analyzed the problem behavior of 32,892 Dutch children when they were 10 to 12 years old. Problem behavior was rated by fathers, mothers, teachers, and the children themselves through a series of standardized instruments.

The children, all of whom were born after 1980, were part of four studies: Generation R, the Netherlands Twin Register, the Research on Adolescent Development and Relationships-Young Cohort (RADAR-Y), and the Tracking Adolescents’ Individual Lives Survey.

The children represented the entire Dutch geographic region across all strata of society and a range of socioeconomic statuses.

In the Generation R study, mothers’ age at child’s birth ranged from 16 to 46 and fathers’ age at child’s birth ranged from 17 to 68. In the Netherlands Twin Register, mothers’ age at child’s birth ranged from 17 to 47 and fathers’ from 18 to 63.

In the RADAR-Y study, mothers’ age at child’s birth ranged from 17 to 48 and fathers’ from 20 to 52. And in the Tracking Adolescents’ Individual Lives Survey, mothers’ age at child’s birth ranged from 16 to 44 and fathers’ from 18 to 52.

Investigators discovered that the children of older parents had fewer externalizing behavior problems, as reported by the parents.

The findings of fewer externalizing behavior problems persisted —as reported by parents and teachers — even after considering the families’ socioeconomic status. Therefore, researchers believe the favorable effect of parents’ age on children’s behavior was not solely due to their income level.

The study also found that parents’ age appeared unrelated to children’s internalizing behavior problems.

Investigators note that they focused only on children’s externalizing and internalizing behavior problems, so the findings cannot be generalized to other behaviors. However, they are extending their research to cognition and attention problems.

In addition, the researchers assessed children’s behavior problems during early adolescence; they plan to extend their work to other points in development.

“It’s possible that some of the reason why older parents have children with fewer problems like aggression is that older parents have more resources and higher levels of education,” said Dr.  Dorret Boomsma, a professor at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and a study coauthor.

“But it is important to note that the higher average educational level of older parents does not completely explain the decreased levels of externalizing problems in their children.”

Source: Society for Research in Child Development

Study: One in 10 Seniors Binge Drinks

Sat, 08/03/2019 - 6:00am

More than a tenth of U.S. adults 65 and older binge drink, putting them at risk for a range of health problems, according to a new study.

The study, published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, also finds certain factors, including using cannabis and being male, are associated with an increase in binge drinking.

Binge drinking is a risky behavior, particularly for older adults, due to aging-related physical changes, such as the increased risk of falling, and the likelihood of chronic health issues, said researchers at the New York University School of Medicine and the Center for Drug Use and HIV/HCV Research (CDUHR) at NYU College of Global Public Health.

“Binge drinking, even episodically or infrequently, may negatively affect other health conditions by exacerbating disease, interacting with prescribed medications, and complicating disease management,” said Benjamin Han, M.D., M.P.H., the study’s lead author and an assistant professor in the Department of Medicine’s Division of Geriatric Medicine and Palliative Care, and the Department of Population Health at NYU Langone Health.

For the study, the researchers examined data from 10,927 U.S. adults age 65 and older who participated in the National Survey on Drug Use and Health between 2015 and 2017.

They looked at the prevalence of binge drinking in the past month, defined by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) as five drinks or more on the same occasion for men and four drinks or more for women.

Researchers also compared demographic and health factors of past-month binge drinkers with people who drank within the past month, but below the binge drinking threshold.

The researchers estimate that 10.6 percent of older adults binge drank in the past month. In the decade leading up to the data used in this study (2005-2014), binge drinking among adults 65 and older was between 7.7 percent and 9 percent, they reported.

Binge drinkers were more likely to be male, current tobacco and/or cannabis users, African American, and have less than a high school education, the researchers discovered. They were also more likely to visit the emergency room in the past year.

Similar to previous studies, this study did not find a link between binge drinking and other mental health disorders.

“The association of binge drinking with cannabis use has important health implications,” said CDUHR researcher Joseph Palamar, Ph.D., M.P.H., the study’s senior author. “Using both may lead to higher impairment effects. This is particularly important as cannabis use is becoming more prevalent among older adults, and older adults may not be aware of the possible dangers of using cannabis with alcohol.” Palamar is an associate professor in the Department of Population Health at NYU Langone Health.

The researchers also examined the chronic disease profiles of older binge drinkers.

“Binge drinkers were less likely to have most chronic diseases compared to alcohol users who did not binge drink. This may be because some people stop or decrease their drinking when they have an illness or alcohol-related disease,” said Han.

“Clinicians must be aware that some older adults with chronic disease still engage in binge drinking behaviors, which can worsen their health issues. This may explain why binge drinkers were more likely to report visits to the emergency room.”

The most common chronic diseases among binge drinkers was hypertension (41.4 percent), followed by cardiovascular disease (23.1 percent) and diabetes (17.7 percent).

The researchers note that while the study uses the NIAAA’s recommended threshold for binge drinking, the same organization also suggests lower drinking limits for adults over 65 — no more than three drinks a day. Since the current analysis used the higher cutoff for binge drinking, the study may underestimate the prevalence of binge drinking among older adults, the researchers said.

“Our results underscore the importance of educating, screening, and intervening to prevent alcohol-related harms in older adults, who may not be aware of their heightened risk for injuries and how alcohol can exacerbate chronic diseases,” said Han.

Source: New York University

Genetic and Behavioral Factors Increase Risk of Anorexia

Fri, 08/02/2019 - 7:30am

New international research suggests factors that increase the risk of anorexia are likely to be metabolic as well as psychological. The new findings give hope to patients and their families as discovery of the linkage will provide new direction to clinicians and scientists looking for better treatments for the disease.

University of Otago, Christchurch researchers in New Zealand discovered some people are born with a biological predisposition to developing anorexia and that the disease affects the function of the brain as well as the metabolic system.

Investigators believe considering both genetic and biological factors will help clinicians and scientists develop better treatments for the disease with the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder.

The findings, which appear in Nature Genetics, suggest people are born with a biological predisposition to developing the disease that affects function of the brain as well as the metabolic system.

Anorexia Nervosa Genetics Initiative (ANGI) researchers sampled the DNA of almost 17,000 patients and compared this with over 55,000 control cases (without anorexia nervosa) recruited from 17 countries across North America, Europe and Australia.

The lead researcher was Professor Cynthia Bulik, from the University of North Carolina and the Karolinska Institute (Sweden), who worked with more than 100 other scientists. Lead researchers from New Zealand included Dr. Jenny Jordan and genetics Professor Martin Kennedy.

The ANGI team found eight genetic variants significantly associated with anorexia nervosa, showing the origins of this serious disorder appear to be both metabolic and psychological. The researchers also found:

    • The genetic basis of anorexia nervosa overlaps with traits associated with people’s ability to metabolize fats and sugars, and body mass index.
    • Genetic factors associated with anorexia nervosa influence physical activity, which could explain the tendency for people with anorexia nervosa to be highly active despite their low-calorie intake.
    • The genetic basis of anorexia nervosa overlaps with other psychiatric disorders such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia.

Dr. Jordan says current treatments for anorexia nervosa are primarily psychological therapies that help patients with the critical but difficult task of regaining weight and re-establishing normal eating. There are no specific medications for anorexia nervosa.

“The ANGI findings give us a new way of looking at this disease. For example, many people diet but only a few develop anorexia nervosa with very low levels of weight and sometimes extreme levels of exercise.

The findings that there are genetic differences relating to metabolism in people with anorexia in our study helps make sense of that. It may also help explain in part why recovery is such a struggle. These findings, that it is not just a psychiatric condition, will be hugely validating for many with anorexia nervosa and their families” explains Jordan.

University of Otago, Christchurch’s Professor Martin Kennedy says the findings indicate that people are born with a genetic predisposition for developing the disease. What this means is that they are more prone to developing the disorder, although not everyone with those patterns of DNA will do so.

“Our hope is these fundamental genetic insights will point to better ways of preventing the disorder, and better medications that target the underlying biology. Nobody chooses to succumb to this awful disease, and we need these kinds of new insights to help people survive and move on with their lives.”

Source: University of Otago

Fatigue, Poor Sleep Plague Many Women With Premature Ovarian Insufficiency

Fri, 08/02/2019 - 6:30am

A new Brazilian study finds that women with premature ovarian insufficiency (POI) who are receiving hormone therapy have poorer sleep quality and greater fatigue than women of the same age with preserved ovarian function.

POI is the loss of ovarian function before the age of 40. The condition differs from premature menopause in that women with POI can still have irregular or occasional periods for years and might even become pregnant.

Sleep problems are a frequent complaint of women who are transitioning through menopause and postmenopause: It is estimated that 40% to 50% of menopausal and postmenopausal women struggle with sleep issues. Sleep problems include difficulty falling asleep and/or staying asleep, as well as waking up too early.

Complicating matters is the fact that women with insomnia also report more body pain, headaches, daytime dysfunction, mood disorders, fatigue, and decreased work productivity. Although some of the problems are related to other common symptoms of menopause such as hot flashes, not all sleep issues can be traced back to these root causes.

Although numerous studies have been conducted about the sleep patterns of menopausal and postmenopausal women in general, this newest study from Brazil is believed to be the first to specifically evaluate the sleep quality in women with POI.

The findings show that women with POI who are receiving hormone therapy have poorer sleep quality, largely as a result of taking longer to fall asleep. These women were also found to have a higher fatigue index and were more likely to use sleep-inducing medications compared with comparably aged women who still had full ovarian function.

“This study shows that women with POI have poor sleep quality despite the use of hormone therapy,” says Dr. Stephanie Faubion, Medical Director of The North American Menopause Society (NAMS).

“Another interesting finding from the study is that total sleep quality in women with POI was directly related to the number of children they had and overall was similar to sleep quality in women without POI.”

“This speaks to the scope of the problem when it comes to sleep disturbances and the important and often under-recognized factors that contribute to sleep complaints being more common in women than in men.”

Source: The North American Menopause Society

UK Study: More Support Needed for Young Caregivers of Mentally Ill Parents

Fri, 08/02/2019 - 6:00am

In a new U.K. study, published in the journal Advances in Mental Health, researchers from the University of East Anglia (UEA) assert that young caregivers of parents with mental illness should be given more support as they move into adulthood.

The authors argue that services need to be flexible, combining both practical support — such as additional support to the parent as the child caregiver transitions out of the home — as well as emotional support for the young person and the parent to help renegotiate boundaries within their relationship.

The study explored the experiences of young caregivers who grew up with a parent with severe and long-term mental illness, and their understanding of their parent’s illness from childhood to the present day.

The findings reveal five key challenges for young adult carers: education and employment, relationships with partners, becoming a parent, making choices within their lives and maintaining boundaries with parents.

“The term young carer implies that the role stops once the child reaches maturity, but care for parents often continues into adulthood,” said study leader Dr. Kate Blake-Holmes, a lecturer in social work. “However, as young carers reach the age of 18 the acknowledgement and support for their needs falls away in many areas.”

“This study extends our knowledge of young carers’ experiences and support needs during the transition to adulthood and suggests the need for services to support parents so that young adult carers are able to make choices about their own lives.”

“Providing care for a parent is not in itself detrimental to a child; indeed it can be a positive experience, an expression of love and a thing to be proud of. However, it can become damaging if the level of care provided and the role and responsibilities attributed to the child fall far beyond what could reasonably be expected. If the child takes on an adult role beyond their developmental years it can negatively impact their own needs, coping skills and resilience.”

“While some individuals drew strength from their adversity, this study suggests that emerging adulthood may be more complex for young adult carers and they may have ‘grown up fast’ in certain areas while their emotional and psychological growth could have been delayed in others.”

For the study, the researchers interviewed 20 individuals, ages 19 to 54, from across the U.K. who had cared for and/or continue to care for their parents. For all of the participants, the complexities of the parent-child relationship and a sense of responsibility to provide care continued into their adult lives.

One participant had to leave university to care for her mother. Others were not able to follow their desired career due to their caring commitments. Several participants had difficulties forming and maintaining relationships with partners.

For one participant, the fear of becoming ill like her mother was so great that she asked her fiancé to sign a document giving him instructions and permission to leave her and have custody of any children should she show any symptoms.

Some of the participants made an active decision not to have children based on their experiences of parental mental illness, others planned to or had gone on to have children, but worried about the difficulty of balancing their children’s needs with those of their parents.

There are procedures already in place that could help young caregivers, such as the transition assessment, which the Care Act 2014 requires local authorities to conduct for those approaching 18. However, Blake-Holmes said these are rarely carried out.

“We need to push for these assessments to be done and to be having conversations with young people,” said Blake-Holmes.

“Everything points towards the patient, which is understandable, but we also need to include young carers in decision-making and meetings about their parents. They are the ones living with them and responding to crises, yet there is a fear of discussing issues with young carers because services feel it is inappropriate.”

“A lot of these people had really traumatic childhoods, but they still love their parents and their parents love them. Not everyone will have these experiences and this isn’t about saying the children or their parents should have been looked after elsewhere, but things could have been easier for these young carers and as adults it’s still impacting them now.”

“It’s about supporting these children, who are doing an amazing job, giving them the confidence to talk about their needs and ask for help, but also to support them in achieving their own goals.”

While all of the participants in the study spoke of negative experiences, several also spoke of gaining specific skills and strengths as a result. One participant felt her childhood experiences had enabled her to develop a “swiss army knife” of extraordinary skills and abilities that she could use to help others within her career.

Caregivers who felt they were most able to manage their parent’s ill health were those who believed that their relationship with their parent could be fluid, suggesting a level of resilience. They were able to draw close to their parent in times of need without fearing that they would become enmeshed and unable to go back to their own emotional needs, external commitments and aspirations.

This gave them a particular mindset which allowed them to adapt, not only within their relationship with their parent but also when faced with other stresses in their adult life.

In contrast, those who described themselves as fixed in the role of either “rejecting” or “rescuing” appeared most consumed by their parent’s illness and unable to manage the relationships necessary for successful transitions into adulthood.

Source: University of East Anglia

Coping Intervention for Dementia Caregivers Shows Long-Term Benefits for Mental Health

Fri, 08/02/2019 - 5:30am

A therapy program designed to teach coping strategies to people who care for family members with dementia has been shown to effectively improve caregivers’ mental health for at least a six-year follow-up, according to a new study at the University College London (UCL).

Caregivers who participated in the program were five times less likely to have clinically significant depression than those who did not have the therapy. The intervention was also shown to be cost-effective in a prior study.

“Taking care of a family member with dementia can be immensely difficult, particularly as their condition deteriorates and they may not appreciate their carer, so close to four in 10 family carers experience depression or anxiety,” said Professor Gill Livingston (UCL Psychiatry), the trial’s principal investigator.

“We now can offer an evidence-based approach to support their mental health in the short- and long-term, which benefits both the carer and the person they’re caring for.”

The START (STrAtegies for RelaTives) program is delivered by psychology graduates, trained and supervised by the research team, instead of qualified clinicians, making it easy to implement in many settings.

Those delivering the therapy worked with caregivers to develop coping strategies, helping them manage their own wellbeing in the long run without needing further therapy sessions. Caregivers received eight sessions, during which there was an emphasis on planning for the future and accessing further support if needed.

A total of 260 family caregivers participated in the trial, most of whom were caring for a family member who had only recently been diagnosed with dementia. Of these, 173 were enrolled in the START program for a two-year period and the other 87 were randomly assigned to a control group that did not receive the intervention.

Six years after receiving START therapy, caregivers had significantly fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety, and the researchers say the therapy program appeared to be both preventative and improve existing mental health.

In addition, patient-related costs were close to three times lower among the families in the START program, which the researchers say is likely due to the caregivers being more able to cope and provide care for their loved one.

The difference of patient-related costs did not reach statistical significance, but the researchers say this is due to the fact that medical costs can be very large and variable. However, their results do strongly suggest the program is not only cost-effective, but could save money for healthcare services.

“We’ve designed our programme to keep costs low, and our results suggest it could actually result in cost savings in the longer term as dementia patients will have fewer costly medical problems if their family carer is healthy and supported,” said Livingston.

The START team has developed manuals to make it easier for any healthcare provider to deliver the intervention, and plans to provide accredited training at UCL in the near future. Alzheimer’s Society are supporting the team to explore different options for getting the intervention further implemented into practice, and provided funding to make cultural adaptations to widen access to minority ethnic groups. The training manuals are also available in Japanese and Spanish, and are currently being translated into Urdu.

“Being a carer can be a grueling job; physically and emotionally demanding, 24 hours a day and often done purely out of love,” said James Pickett, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Society.

“Unfortunately, depression and anxiety can be an inevitable side effect — with 90% of carers telling us they experience stress and anxiety several times a week. Yet, for the 700,000 carers across the UK, many receive little or no support, despite NICE guidelines recommending that they do.

“This is a major breakthrough. We are absolutely thrilled to see this monumental evidence that START is clinically effective at reducing depression and anxiety in carers, and that the effects can still be seen six years later. This could turn the tide for carers and we would love for it to be available to all people who care for someone with dementia. Alzheimer’s Society is delighted to be supporting the further development and implementation of the START programme so as many people can benefit as possible.”

The findings are published in the British Journal of Psychiatry.

Source: University College London


Strengthening Bond with Autistic Child Can Ease Mom’s Stress, Depression

Thu, 08/01/2019 - 8:21am

New research finds mothers of young children with autism can reduce parenting stress and depression by improving their relationship with the child. Investigators from Case Western Reserve University examined the effects of this technique in a small experimental research study involving 28 preschool-aged children with autism and their parents in Saudi Arabia.

Gerald Mahoney, Ph.D., a co-author of the study, said one focus of the investigation was to examine whether mothers’ high stress and depression levels might improve based on their level of responsiveness in daily interactions with their children.

“Saudi Arabia is a country where there are not a lot of services for young children with disabilities,” Mahoney said.

“We wanted to examine the effects of this low-cost intervention strategy that focused on improving the quality of parents’ involvement with their children and evaluate the effects of this intervention on both children and their parents.”

Mahoney was joined in this study by a team of researchers from King Saud University and King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Centre in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Autism is a disability not only affecting child development, but also interfering with children’s ability to engage in social interaction with their parents and others.

Parents of children with autism commonly report extremely high levels of parenting stress and depression not only when their children are young but continuing throughout childhood.

Mahoney said that “parents of autistic children in Saudi Arabia are generally not involved with intervention services there, while parent involvement is a major focus of early intervention services in the United States and elsewhere.”

So, focusing on improving mother/child relationships made sense, he said. Mahoney said the strategy worked.

At the beginning of this four-month study, all parents reported clinical levels of stress, and 70 percent reported clinical levels of depression. By the end of the research, the percentage of parents who received responsive teaching experiencing clinical levels of stress dropped to 30 percent.

Moreover, parents experiencing clinical levels of depression dropped to 15 percent. In comparison, there were no improvements reported for parents in the control group receiving no treatment.

In addition, children of parents receiving responsive teaching made significant developmental improvements as well: 44 percent attained better social skills; 37 percent improved language development; and 24 percent enhanced fine motor skills compared to children in the control group.

These findings appear in the International Journal of Disability, Development and Education.

“Although this was a small sample, we can say that this research was quite successful,” said Mahoney, who has spent decades researching interventions for children with disabilities.

“By changing the intervention to a relationship-focused approach, we found that mothers’ depression and stress dropped dramatically.”

Source: Case Western University

Loneliness, Social Anxiety May Bode Ill for Dating App Outcomes

Thu, 08/01/2019 - 6:20am

A new study discovers loneliness and social anxiety can be a bad combination for single people who use dating apps on their phones. Ohio State University researchers discovered that people who fit that profile were more likely than others to say they’ve experienced negative outcomes because of their dating app use.

“It’s not just that they’re using their phone a lot,” said Kathryn Coduto, lead author of the study and doctoral student in communication at The Ohio State University.

“We had participants who said they were missing school or work, or getting in trouble in classes or at work because they kept checking the dating apps on their phones.”

Coduto said it is a problem she has seen firsthand.

“I’ve seen people who use dating apps compulsively. They take their phones out when they’re at dinner with friends or when they’re in groups. They really can’t stop swiping,” she said.

The study appears online in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships with a print edition forthcoming.

For the investigation, participants were 269 undergraduate students with experience using one or more dating apps. All answered questions designed to measure their loneliness and social anxiety (for example, they were asked if they were constantly nervous around other people).

Compulsive use was measured by asking participants how much they agreed with statements like “I am unable to reduce the amount of time I spend on dating apps.”

Participants also reported negative outcomes from using dating apps, such as missing class or work or getting in trouble because they were on their phones.

Results showed, not surprisingly, that socially anxious participants preferred to meet and talk to potential dating partners online rather than in person. They tended to agree with statements like “I am more confident socializing on dating apps than offline.”

But that alone didn’t lead them to compulsively use dating apps, Coduto said.

“If they were also lonely, that’s what made the problem significant,” she said. “That combination led to compulsive use and then negative outcomes.”

Coduto said people need to consider whether they may have a problem with such apps. If they have trouble setting limits for themselves, they can use apps that restrict dating app use to certain times of day or to a set amount of time each day.

“Especially if you’re lonely, be careful in your choices. Regulate and be selective in your use,” she said.

Source: Ohio State University

Study Touts Psychotherapy As First-Line Treatment for Youth With Depression

Thu, 08/01/2019 - 6:00am

Young people seeking help for depression should be offered psychotherapy as the first line of treatment, and medication should be a secondary option, according to a clinical trial by researchers at Orygen, the National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health in Australia.

The findings, published in The Lancet Psychiatry journal, show that patients (ages 15 to 25) who received psychotherapy alone did just as well as those who received both psychotherapy and an antidepressant medication. However, the researchers found some evidence suggesting that if antidepressants do play a role, it would be in those at the older end of that age range.

“The results suggest that we should really be focusing on providing good quality psychotherapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, to young people and keeping medication as the second line of treatment,” said Associate Professor Christopher Davey, head of mood disorder research at Orygen.

Psychotherapy refers to a range of psychological therapies given by a counselor, psychologist or psychiatrist. Cognitive behavioral therapy is often recommended for treating depression in young people.

The randomized, double blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial involved 153 young people, ages 15 to 25, who had been diagnosed with depression and were being treated at youth mental health services in north-west Melbourne, Australia.

All trial participants received cognitive behavioral therapy for 12 weeks coupled with either the common antidepressant fluoxetine (Prozac) or a placebo medication.

According to the findings, there were no significant differences in symptom improvement between the two groups, suggesting that the addition of fluoxetine did not affect the participants’ mental health outcomes.

However, this does not suggest that antidepressants should not be used in treating depression.

“Antidepressants can be very useful for some people,” Davey said. “Anyone considering the role of antidepressants in their treatment should discuss this with their doctor or clinician.”

“Our study found some evidence to suggest that if antidepressants have a role, they have more of a role in people at the older end of our age range.”

Depression affects around 20 percent of teens by the time they become adults. Symptoms of depression in young people may include withdrawing from school and activities, feelings of sadness or hopelessness, anger, overreaction to criticism, poor self-esteem, guilt, and many others.

Overall, the research highlights the importance of a multi-faceted approach to treating depression in young people.

“The take-home message from the study is that the first-line treatment for young people with depression should be psychotherapy,” said Davey.

Source: Orygen, The National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health



Easing Fears About Shift to Middle School Can Pay Off in Behavior, Grades

Thu, 08/01/2019 - 5:00am

New sixth grade students who participate in a social intervention designed to relieve their transition-related fears are more likely to have better grades and attendance and fewer behavioral problems throughout middle school, according to a new study from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The interventions, taught in the form of reading and writing exercises, are targeted to ease sixth graders’ fears about “fitting in” at their new schools with a message that the angst they’re feeling is “both temporary and normal,” and that help is available from school staff.

The findings, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, show that students experienced a boost in attitude and well-being after only two brief classroom interventions.

“It’s saying, ‘There’s not something unusual or different about you, but this is just an issue that is difficult for a lot of kids when they make the transition to middle school,'” said lead author Dr. Geoffrey D. Borman.

“And that there’s support available, both academically and socially. You’ll make new friends, you’ll discover that you fit in, and teachers and other adults in the building are there to help you.”

Previous research has shown that the transition to middle school is a high stakes one, Borman notes. When new middle schoolers get a rocky start it can lead to a marked and lasting decline in their academic performance.

The study involved 1,304 sixth graders at 11 middle schools in the Madison Metropolitan School District, a diverse, K-12 system in Wisconsin.

The overall findings show that, compared to a control group of sixth graders that received a neutral reading and writing activity, students in the treatment group experienced post-intervention effects that:

  • reduced disciplinary incidents by 34 percent;
  • increased attendance by 12 percent;
  • reduced the number of failing grades by 18 percent.

“The kids internalized this message, they worried about tests less, they trusted their teachers more and sought help from adults,” Borman says.

“They also felt like they belonged in the school more, and because they felt more comfortable, they didn’t act out as often and they showed up more. All of those things explain how this intervention (finally) affects kids’ grades.”

Borman and his team developed the intervention based on previous work by social psychologists. They brainstormed how sixth graders feel about fitting in socially and succeeding academically in middle school. The team then tested the wording and presentation of their proposed messaging with student focus groups.

Educators know that the upheavals of moving to a new school don’t mix well with the high self-awareness, greater sensitivity to social acceptance and other physical and psychological changes that young teens already are experiencing.

Surprisingly, though, few interventions have been developed to address it, Borman says.

“This is a near-universal experience of young adolescents,” he notes. “They’re forced to make this transition from the more comfortable and familiar neighborhood elementary school, where they were under the care of mainly one teacher, to this much larger school with a larger number of teachers with whom they have to interact and new classmates from around the city.”

Furthermore, the intervention is cost-effective and can be easily replicated throughout the district.

“Rather than wholesale changes, or closing down all the middle schools, this intervention is a productive, targeted way to help kids more effectively and productively negotiate this transition, and for only a couple of dollars per kid,” said Borman, who is currently working on replication studies in two other districts. “Schools could easily replicate this kind of intervention across the country.”

Source: University of Wisconsin-Madison

Pairing Mindfulness & Art Therapy in School Can Ease Stress for Teen Girls

Wed, 07/31/2019 - 7:00am

According to the American Psychological Association’s annual report, adolescents report higher stress levels than adults with school listed as the biggest contributor.

A pilot study investigated the use of mindfulness-based programs as a way to alleviate stress among their students. University of Washington researchers explored art-based mindfulness activities that schools could use to reduce headaches, a common side effect of stress in adolescent girls.

In the study, a test group of eight teenage girls gave feedback on which activities they preferred. The findings suggest a significant benefit from the mindfulness initiatives.

After three weeks of twice-weekly mindfulness and art therapy sessions, the girls reported experiencing significantly fewer headaches. At the beginning of the study, the girls reported 7.38 headaches, on average, within the previous two-week period.

At the end of the study, that number had dropped to 4.63  almost a 40 percent decrease! This drop remained even seven weeks after the study had ended. The research findings appear in the journal Art Therapy.

“This study highlights one of my main research missions: We should be making interventions in cooperation with teenagers if we want these strategies to work,” said corresponding author Dr. Elin Björling, a senior research scientist in the UW’s human centered design and engineering department.

“There’s something powerful about saying ‘I’m inviting you to start thinking about how you could get better. Come have a conversation with me about how we could do this,'” she said. “I think that’s why we saw such a strong response even in this tiny study.”

The team recruited eight girls between the ages of 14 to 17 from a high school in Seattle. All of the participants reported experiencing three or more headaches not related to an injury within a two-week period, and five of the eight mentioned tension or stress as the main reason for headaches.

During the program, the students met twice a week for a 50-minute session with the research team. Each session began with an activity in which students would map where they were feeling stressed on a drawing of a body. Then the teens would participate in mindfulness and art activities before closing the session with another body map.

“After the study, we looked at all the before and after body maps side by side. It was so clear that something significant was going on,” Björling said. “In the beginning everything was in pieces, and in the end everything was flowing through the whole body.”

During the investigation, teens tried different mindfulness techniques in each session so they could find which ones worked the best for them. The findings were interesting.

What teens liked: square breathing, a technique that encourages people to take slow breaths by concentrating and counting.

“I thought: ‘No teen ever wants to do counted breathing, and they’re never going to do it,'” Björling said. “But a few of them said ‘That’s my favorite. I do it all the time now.'”

What teens didn’t like: mindful eating, a technique that asks people to focus on what and how they’re eating.

“They hated it,” Björling said. “This was a technique straight out of a lot of mindfulness programs for teens, but it didn’t connect with them. It just annoyed them. It goes to show I need them to be experts in their own lives.”

The researchers also asked the students to participate in different mindful art activities. During each session, the students tried a new art medium — they particularly liked using oil pastels. They were also given different types of art therapy projects, including one where they worked together to create mandalas before and after a meditation exercise.

While the teens experienced fewer headaches after the study ended, their overall stress levels didn’t change much. But the students reported feeling better in the moment, saying that they felt like they could handle whatever happened for the rest of the day.

The team was surprised to see any differences, given the small size of the group.

“It’s not just about this study,” Björling said.

“This problem of teen mental health and headaches is so big that I’m worried about what happens if we don’t take it on. Some teens will want nothing to do with art mindfulness. So we need to come at this in lots of different ways. We’re going to need an army of people and a cornucopia of options.”

Christine Stevens, a nursing professor at UW Tacoma, and Narayan Singh, a psychology doctoral student at Seattle Pacific University, are also co-authors on this paper.

Source: University of Washington