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Psychology, psychiatry and mental health news and research findings, every weekday.
Updated: 17 min 33 sec ago

Current Thinking Can Distort Memories of Love

Mon, 05/20/2019 - 6:30am

New research suggests as our memories fade, we rely on our current assessment of a person to remember how we felt about them in the past.

This extends to some of the most central figures in our lives — our parents.

“Memories of the love we felt in childhood towards our parents are among the most precious aspects of autobiographical memory we could think of,” said lead author Dr. Lawrence Patihis, researcher at the University of Southern Mississippi. “Yet our findings suggest that these memories of love are malleable, which is not something we would want to be true.”

“If you change your evaluation of someone, you will likely also change your memory of your emotions towards them and this is true of memory of love towards mothers in childhood,” he continued.

For the study’s first experiment, Patihis and coauthors Cristobal S. Cruz and Mario E. Herrera recruited 301 online participants. Some wrote about recent examples of their mother’s positive attributes, such as showing warmth, generosity, competence and giving good guidance. Others wrote about recent examples of their mother’s lack of these attributes. Participants in one comparison group wrote about a teacher and participants in another comparison group received no writing prompt at all.

The participants then completed a survey assessing how they currently thought about their mother’s attributes, including her warmth and generosity.

They then completed the Memory of Love Towards Parents Questionnaire (MLPQ), which contained 10 items designed to measure the love participants remembered feeling for their mother at different ages, the researchers reported. Questions included “During the whole year when you were in first grade, how often on average did you feel love toward your mother?” and “During the whole year when you were in first grade, how strong on average was your love toward your mother?”

The MLPQ also measured participants’ current feelings of love for their mothers, according to the researchers.

The participants completed the questionnaires again two weeks and four weeks after the initial session.

The results showed that the writing prompts influenced participants’ current feelings and their memories of love. Specifically, participants who were prompted to write about their mother’s positive attributes tended to recall stronger feelings of love for their mother in first, sixth, and ninth grade compared with participants who wrote about their mother’s lack of positive attributes.

These effects endured at the four-week follow-up for first grade memories, but not for memories of sixth grade or ninth grade, the study discovered.

Additional findings showed the effects of the writing prompts were not simply the result of changes in participants’ mood, according to the researchers.

A second experiment, with another 302 online participants, replicated these findings. Importantly, the participants did not differ in their current assessments of their mother before receiving the writing prompt, indicating that the effects of the writing prompts were not due to preexisting differences among participants, the researchers explained.

The findings also revealed that participants’ current feelings of love for their mothers, as measured at the start of the experiment, were misremembered eight weeks later following the experimental manipulation. The writing prompt effects had begun to fade by the time the researchers conducted an eight-week follow-up after the experiment.

The researchers plan to expand this research to explore whether the same effects emerge for other emotions and target individuals. They’re also exploring whether successes in life might similarly alter childhood memories of emotion. In addition, the researchers hope to discover whether these effects might influence later behavior.

“The significance of this research lies in the new knowledge that our current evaluations of people can be lowered if we choose to focus on the negative, and this can have a side effect: The diminishing of positive aspects of childhood memories,” Patihis said. “We wonder if wide-ranging reappraisals of parents, perhaps in life or in therapy, could lead to intergenerational heartache and estrangement. Understanding this subtle type of memory distortion is necessary if we want to prevent it.”

The study was published in Clinical Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

Source: Association for Psychological Science

Link Established Between Insomnia and Memory Problems

Sun, 05/19/2019 - 7:00am

Chronic insomnia disorder, which affects approximately 10 percent of adults, has a direct negative impact on the cognitive function of people 45 and over, according to a new study.

Chronic insomnia, one of the most common sleep disorders, is characterized by trouble falling asleep or staying asleep at least three nights a week for over three months with an impact on daytime functioning, such as mood, attention and daytime concentration.

“A number of studies have shown links between insomnia and cognitive problems,” said  Dr. Thanh Dang-Vu, an associate professor at Concordia University and the university’s research chair in sleep, neuroimaging and cognitive health and a clinical associate professor in the Department of Neuroscience at Université de Montréal.

“However, many of these studies were conducted on a limited number of individuals suffering from insomnia, and the results are not always consistent from study to study.”

“Other studies do not distinguish between chronic insomnia disorder and the simple presence of symptoms,” he continued. “Chronic insomnia is often associated with other health issues, such as anxiety or chronic pain, that can also affect cognitive function, which makes it difficult to determine the direct contribution of insomnia to these cognitive problems.”

According to Dang-Vu, the purpose of the study was to determine the precise link between chronic insomnia and cognitive function, while also accounting for the possible effect of other health issues.

The analysis examined data from 28,485 participants aged 45 from Canada. Each participant belonged to one of three groups:

  1. people with chronic insomnia disorder;
  2. people with symptoms of insomnia who did not complain of any impact on their daytime functioning, and;
  3. people with normal sleep quality.

They all filled out questionnaires and underwent physical exams and a battery of neuropsychological tests to evaluate different cognitive functions and the quality of their sleep, the researcher explained.

“The individuals in the chronic insomnia group performed significantly worse on the tests compared to those from the other two groups,” he reported. “The main type of memory affected was declarative memory — the memory of items and events. This was the case even after accounting for other factors, be they clinical, demographic or lifestyle characteristics, which may influence cognitive performance.”

Further research will aim to better characterize this relationship between poor sleep and cognitive problems, he noted.

“Does chronic insomnia predispose people to cognitive decline? Can these cognitive deficits be reversed with sleep disorder treatment? There are many important questions that remain to be explored and that will have a major impact on the prevention and treatment of age-related cognitive disorders,” he concluded.

Source: Concordia University

Photo: Researcher Thanh Dang-Vu, Ph.D., of Concordia University and Université de Montréal. Credit: Concordia University.

Schizophrenia, Epilepsy May Hike Risk of Early Death

Sun, 05/19/2019 - 7:00am

Patients with both schizophrenia and epilepsy are particularly vulnerable to early death, according to a new Danish study from Aarhus University. The findings reveal that more than 25 percent of people with both conditions die between the ages of 25 and 50.

Previous research has shown a clear link between epilepsy and mental disorders, including depression, anxiety, schizophrenia and psychosis. For example, one study revealed that people with epilepsy are more than two-and-a-half times more likely to develop schizophrenia.

For the new study, published in the journal Epilepsia, researchers followed more than 1.5 million people born in Denmark between 1960-1987 and classified them according to whether they were diagnosed with epilepsy, schizophrenia or a combination of epilepsy and schizophrenia on their 25th birthday.

Among the study subjects, 18,943 were diagnosed with epilepsy, 10,208 were diagnosed with schizophrenia, and 471 were diagnosed with both epilepsy and schizophrenia before they turned twenty-five.

The mortality rate for these subjects at age fifty was 3.1 percent for people who did not suffer from epilepsy and schizophrenia; 10.7 percent for people with epilepsy; 17.4 percent for people with schizophrenia; and 27.2 percent for people with both epilepsy and schizophrenia.

“There was an exceedingly high mortality rate among people with these disorders, particularly those who suffer from the combination of epilepsy and schizophrenia. More than 25 percent of them die between the ages of 25-50,” said researcher Dr. Jakob Christensen, a clinical associate professor and DMSc at the Department of Clinical Medicine at Aarhus University and consultant at the Department of Neurology at Aarhus University Hospital.

The researchers hope to see the new findings raise awareness about the difficulties of living with both epilepsy and schizophrenia.

“The results are really intended to help healthcare professionals develop new working processes so that this group of patients can get the right treatment. We already know from previous studies that this group of patients die from a wide range of lifestyle diseases, and that some of these are preventable,” said Christensen.

“With the way things are now, this patient group can easily fall between two chairs and end up being sent back and forth between different medical specialists or between hospitals and their general practitioner.”

“It appears that people with epilepsy and schizophrenia are particularly vulnerable — and there is certainly room for improvement in the way the health care system deals with them and their treatment.”

Christensen is also a member of the national psychiatric project iPSYCH and the epilepsy project EpiPsych which carries out research into the correlation between epilepsy and mental disorders.

Source: Aarhus University


Cyberbullying Linked to Poor Sleep, Depression in Teens

Sat, 05/18/2019 - 9:46am

Teens who experience cyberbullying are more likely to suffer from poor sleep, which in turn raises levels of depression, according to a new study.

For the study, researchers at the University at Buffalo surveyed more than 800 adolescents for sleep quality, cyber aggression, and depression.

“Cyber-victimization on the Internet and social media is a unique form of peer victimization and an emerging mental health concern among teens who are digital natives,” said Misol Kwon, a doctoral student in the university’s School of Nursing.

“Understanding these associations supports the need to provide sleep hygiene education and risk prevention and interventions to mistreated kids who show signs and symptoms of depression.”

Nearly one-third of teens have experienced symptoms of depression, which, in addition to changes in sleep pattern, include persistent irritability, anger, and social withdrawal, according to the U.S. Office of Adolescent Health.

And nearly 15 percent of U.S. high school students report being bullied electronically, according to Kwon. At severe levels, depression may lead to disrupted school performance, harmed relationships, or suicide.

The risks of allowing depression to worsen highlight the need for researchers and clinicians to understand and target sleep quality and other risk factors that have the potential to exacerbate the disorder, Kwon concluded.

Kwon will present the research at SLEEP 2019, the 33rd annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies in San Antonio, Texas, from June 8-12.

Source: University at Buffalo

Mindfulness App Helps to Stop Smoking by Changing Brain Activity

Sat, 05/18/2019 - 7:00am

Emerging research suggests a smartphone app that helps people stop smoking reduces activity in a brain region typically stimulated when a person experiences a craving to smoke. The app uses a mindfulness-based approach and was effective at reducing study participants’ self-reported daily cigarette consumption.

Researchers found that those who reduced their cigarette consumption the most also showed decreased brain reactivity to smoking-related images.

In the study, Dr. Jud Brewer, an associate professor of behavioral and social sciences and psychiatry at Brown University, and his team conducted a randomized controlled trial that compared smoking-cessation apps.

For four weeks, one group of 33 participants used a mindfulness-based app, while another group of 34 participants used a free smoking-cessation app from the National Cancer Institute (NCI).

“This is the first study to show that mindfulness training could specifically affect a mechanism in the brain and to show that changes in this brain mechanism were connected to improved clinical outcomes,” said Brewer.

“We’re moving in the direction of being able to screen someone before treatment and offer them the behavior-change interventions that will be most likely to help them. This will save everybody time and money.”

The findings appear in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology.

The mindfulness app includes daily videos and activities to help users identify their smoking triggers, become more aware of cravings and learn mindfulness methods to ride out the cravings. In contrast, the NCI app helps users track smoking triggers, provides inspirational messages and delivers distractions to help users deal with cravings.

The research team found that participants who used the mindfulness app for a month reduced their self-reported daily cigarette consumption by a wide range, with an average drop of 11 cigarettes per day.

The NCI app users also reduced cigarette consumption by a wide range, with an average decrease of nine per day. Some participants in both groups reported smoking no cigarettes by the end of the month.

Participants in both groups completed an average of 16 out of 22 stand-alone modules of the app. Participants in the mindfulness group who completed more modules were likely to have a greater reduction in their cigarette consumption; this correlation was not found for the NCI group.

Participants in the mindfulness group were also significantly more likely to say that they would recommend the app to a friend than participants in the NCI group.

As a part of the study, the researchers conducted functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) brain scans of the participants as they looked at smoking-associated images or other images not associated with smoking. These scans were conducted before and after participants used one of the two apps. This procedure helped researchers determine how the mindfulness app worked in the brain.

Specifically, the researchers looked at the changes in brain activity in the posterior cingulate cortex, a ping-pong-ball-sized brain region known to be activated when someone gets caught up in craving cigarettes, cocaine or even chocolate, Brewer said.

The posterior cingulate cortex has also been shown to be deactivated by meditation, so Brewer hypothesized that this region would play a critical role in how mindfulness-based interventions — app-based or otherwise — affect the brain and change behaviors.

When the researchers directly compared the changes in brain reactivity in the target region between the two groups before and after they used the apps, they found no statistical differences.

However, when they looked at the individual level and compared the reduction in cigarettes smoked to the changes in brain reactivity, they found that the participants in the mindfulness group who had the greatest reduction in number of cigarettes per day also showed a significant reduction in brain reactivity to smoking images.

They saw no correlation between number of cigarettes smoked and brain reactivity for the participants who used the NCI app. They also noted that the correlation between number of cigarettes smoked and brain reactivity was particularly significant for women in the mindfulness group.

Therefore, investigators concluded that for some participants — those for whom the app was most effective — the training helped decrease brain reactivity to smoking urges.

Surprisingly, 13 percent of participants were non-reactive to smoking images before they used either app, a phenomenon not encountered in previous scientific literature, Brewer said.

Other participants became more reactive to smoking images after they used either app; this has been seen before in people who craved cigarettes more while trying to quit, he added.

Source: Brown University

Teens’ Sleep Problems Can Be Corrected by Limiting Screen Use for 1 Week

Sat, 05/18/2019 - 6:30am

Sleep problems in teenagers can be improved in just one week by limiting their evening exposure to blue light-emitting screens on phones, tablets, and computers, according to new research.

Recent studies have indicated that exposure to too much evening light, particularly the blue light emitted from screens on smartphones, tablets, and computers, can affect the brain’s circadian clock and the production of the sleep hormone melatonin, resulting in disrupted sleep time and quality.

The lack of sleep doesn’t just cause immediate symptoms of tiredness and poor concentration, but can also increase the risk of more serious long-term health issues such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

Other studies have suggested that sleep deprivation related to screen time may affect children and adolescents more than adults. But no studies have fully investigated how real-life exposure is affecting sleep in adolescents at home and whether it can be reversed, according to researchers at the Netherlands Institute of Neuroscience, the Amsterdam UMC and the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment.

For their study, the researchers investigated the effects of blue light exposure on adolescents at home.

They found that those who had more than four hours a day of screen time had, on average, 30 minutes later sleep onset and wake up times than those who recorded less than one hour a day of screen time.

The researchers then conducted a randomized controlled trial to assess the effects of blocking blue light with glasses and no screen time during the evening on the sleep pattern of 25 frequent screen users.

Both blocking blue light with glasses and screen abstinence resulted in sleep onset and wake up times occurring 20 minutes earlier, and a reduction in reported symptoms of sleep loss in participants, after just one week, the researchers reported.

“Adolescents increasingly spend more time on devices with screens and sleep complaints are frequent in this age group,” said Dr. Dirk Jan Stenvers from the department of Endocrinology and Metabolism of the Amsterdam UMC.

“Here we show very simply that these sleep complaints can be easily reversed by minimizing evening screen use or exposure to blue light. Based on our data, it is likely that adolescent sleep complaints and delayed sleep onset are at least partly mediated by blue light from screens.”

Stenvers said that the researchers are now interested in whether the relationship between reduced screen time and improved sleep has longer lasting effects, and whether the same effects can be detected in adults.

“Sleep disturbances start with minor symptoms of tiredness and poor concentration, but in the long-term we know that sleep loss is associated with increased risk of obesity, diabetes and heart disease,” he said.

“If we can introduce simple measures now to tackle this issue, we can avoid greater health problems in years to come.”

Source: European Society of Endocrinology

Genes May Play Role in Whether You Have A Dog

Sat, 05/18/2019 - 6:00am

An individual’s genetic makeup may significantly influence his or her choice to own a dog, according to a team of Swedish and British researchers who studied the data of 35,035 twin pairs from the Swedish Twin Registry.

The findings are published in the journal Scientific Reports.

“We were surprised to see that a person’s genetic makeup appears to be a significant influence in whether they own a dog,” said Dr. Tove Fall, lead author of the study, and professor in molecular epidemiology at the Department of Medical Sciences and the Science for Life Laboratory, Uppsala University in Sweden.

“As such, these findings have major implications in several different fields related to understanding dog-human interaction throughout history and in modern times. Although dogs and other pets are common household members across the globe, little is known how they impact our daily life and health. Perhaps some people have a higher innate propensity to care for a pet than others.”

Studying twins is a well-known method for unraveling the influences of environment and genes on our biology and behavior. Since identical twins share their entire genome, and non-identical twins on average share only half of the genetic variation, comparisons of dog ownership between groups can reveal whether genetics play a role in owning a dog.

The researchers found dog ownership rates to be much larger in identical twins than in non-identical ones; supporting the view that genetics indeed plays a major role in the choice of owning a dog.

“These kind of twin studies cannot tell us exactly which genes are involved, but at least demonstrate for the first time that genetics and environment play about equal roles in determining dog ownership,” said Dr. Patrik Magnusson, senior author of the study and associate professor in epidemiology at the Department of Medical Epidemiology and Biostatistics at Karolinska Insitutet in Sweden. He is also head of the Swedish Twin Registry.

“The next obvious step is to try to identify which genetic variants affect this choice and how they relate to personality traits and other factors such as allergy.”

Dogs were the first domesticated animal and have had a close relationship with humans for at least 15,000 years. Today, dogs are extremely popular pets in our society and are considered to increase the well-being and health of their owners.

“These findings are important as they suggest that supposed health benefits of owning a dog reported in some studies may be partly explained by different genetics of the people studied,” said co-author Dr. Carri Westgarth, lecturer in Human-Animal interaction at the University of Liverpool in England.

Source: Uppsala University

Optimism, Self-Compassion, Income Tied to Better Mental Health in Older Adults

Fri, 05/17/2019 - 7:30am

Getting older is widely linked to declining cognitive, physical and psychological health. In a new study, researchers looked at how distinct factors such as wisdom, loneliness, income and sleep quality impact — for good or bad — the physical and mental functioning of older adults.

The research team from the University of California (UC) San Diego School of Medicine evaluated older adults living independently in a senior continuing care facility and found that physical health correlated with both cognitive function and mental health.

Specifically, cognitive function was significantly tied to physical mobility, wisdom and satisfaction with life. Physical health was linked to mental well-being, resilience and younger age. Mental health was linked to optimism, self-compassion, income and lower levels of loneliness and sleep disturbances.

The findings are published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.

“Continuing care senior housing communities are important sites for studying and promoting health in older adults,” said Dilip Jeste, MD, principal investigator of the study, Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry and Neurosciences at UC San Diego School of Medicine and director of the UC San Diego Center for Healthy Aging,

“Most people focus on diseases and risk factors, like old age, unhealthy diet and lack of activity. These are important, of course, but we also need to focus on areas that make up the whole person.”

“Psychological traits like optimism, resilience, wisdom and self-compassion were found to be protective, while loneliness seemed to be a risk factor. An 85-year-old can be functioning better than a 65-year-old due to protective and risk factors.”

In modern society, said co-author Danielle Glorioso, LCSW, executive director of the UC San Diego Center for Healthy Aging, older people do not necessarily receive the support of younger family members who can serve as caregivers.

“Younger family members have jobs and children to take care of,” said Glorioso, “so older adults often have to choose between staying at home and feeling lonely versus moving to a more supportive and socially engaging senior housing system. This becomes an important but complex decision impacted by a large number of factors, including financial cost of the senior housing.”

A popular model of supported senior housing provides a continuum of care, from independent living to assisted living to full-time care for significant physical and cognitive impairment. For the majority of continuing care senior housing facilities, costs increase as residents transition to greater levels of assisted-living.

“Delaying these transitions through facilitating longer independent living should be an important health care goal,” said Jeste. “Our findings shed light on areas that need to be a focus for seniors to live full, enriched lives.”

The study involved 112 residents, with a mean age of 84. In total, 68 percent were female; 69 percent possessed a college education; 41 percent were married; and 72 percent reported total annual incomes exceeding $50,000.

Jeste said more research involving diverse samples of older adults is necessary to determine if psychosocial and other variables are potential risks or protective factors related to cognitive, physical and mental health and diseases.

“The eventual goal would be to develop new health-focused interventions based on such research. Senior centers in the community should incorporate activities that address physical, social and mental aspects. We can all do something to improve and strengthen the quality of life of our aging population.”

Source: University of California- San Diego

Genetic Hotspot May Drive Psychosis in Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder

Fri, 05/17/2019 - 6:29am

Scientists have identified an epigenetic hotspot which they believe is linked to the dopamine-induced psychosis found in schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

The findings, published in the journal Nature Communications, may give researchers a fresh path forward for developing more effective treatments and biomarker-based screening strategies.

More than 100 million people worldwide have either schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, which are characterized by periods of hallucinations, delusions and irregular thought processes. They are both linked to an overproduction of the neurotransmitter dopamine, a key regulator of reward-seeking behavior, emotional responses, learning and movement, among other functions.

“We’ve known since the 1970s that the effectiveness of antipsychotic medications is directly related to their ability to block dopamine signaling. However, the exact mechanism that sparks excessive dopamine in the brain and that leads to psychotic symptoms has been unclear,” said Viviane Labrie, PhD, assistant professor at Van Andel Research Institute (VARI) and corresponding author of the study.

“We now have a biological explanation that could help make a real difference for people with these disorders.”

The research team discovered a cluster of epigenetic marks that pumps up dopamine production while simultaneously scrambling the brain’s synapses, the information hubs that transmit rapid-fire neural messages responsible for healthy function. The result is a catastrophic shake-up of the brain’s organization and chemical balance that fuels symptoms of psychosis.

“What we’re seeing is a one-two punch — the brain is being flooded with too much dopamine and at the same time it is losing these critical neural connections,” Labrie said.

“Like many other neurological disorders, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder often have early, or prodromal, phases that begin years before obvious symptoms. It is our hope that our findings may lead to new biomarkers to screen for risk, which would then allow for earlier intervention.”

For the study, the researchers analyzed DNA derived from brain cells of individuals with either schizophrenia or bipolar disorder and compared them to healthy controls. Their analyses revealed a cluster of epigenetic marks in an enhancer at a gene called IGF2, a critical regulator of synaptic development.

Enhancers are stretches of DNA that help activate genes and can be major players in the development of diseases in the brain and other tissues.

This enhancer also controls the activity of a nearby gene called tyrosine hydroxylase, which produces an enzyme that keeps dopamine in check. When the enhancer is epigenetically switched on, production of dopamine becomes dysregulated, resulting in too much of the chemical in the brain.

Any molecular changes at this site may explain why psychosis brought on by dopamine frequently is accompanied by a disruption of brain synapses, a devastating double-hit that promotes symptoms.

The study controlled for genetic factors, sex, ethnicity, treatment history and lifestyle influences such as smoking, and the results were validated in experimental models of the disease.

“We used cutting-edge computational strategies to understand the events occurring in brain cells that underlie psychiatric disorders,” said Shraddha Pai, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow at University of Toronto and the study’s first author. “Our results were strengthened by additional studies in disease models. This comprehensive approach lends weight to our findings, which we believe will propel additional groundbreaking investigations into this enhancer at the IGF2 gene.”

Source: Van Andel Research Institute

Mental Well-Being in Early Midlife May Predict Activity Levels a Decade Later

Fri, 05/17/2019 - 6:00am

A new Finnish study finds that 42-year-olds who scored high in tests of mental well-being were more physically active at age 50 compared to those with lower well-being scores.

For the study, the researchers divided mental well-being into three dimensions: emotional well-being (overall satisfaction with life and a tendency to have positive feelings); psychological well-being (experiences of personal growth and the purpose of life); and social well-being (relationships with other people and the community).

The researchers were surprised that leisure time physical activity (LTPA) did not predict later mental well-being or subjective health, but that mental well-being did predict physical activity.

It seems that mental well-being is an important resource for maintaining a physically active lifestyle in midlife, says Dr. Tiia Kekäläinen from the Gerontology Research Center and Faculty of Sport and Health Sciences at the University of Jyväskylä in Finland.

In addition, the researchers found that different leisure time physical activities were linked to different dimensions of well-being in 50-year-olds. Walking was related to emotional well-being, rambling in nature to social well-being and endurance training to subjective health.

“Although exercise did not predict later mental well-being or subjective health in this study, exercise is important for current mental well-being and health,” Kekäläinen says.

These associations were found among both men and women, but additionally, rambling in nature was associated with both emotional well-being and subjective health, but only among men.

“It is possible that rambling in nature means different things for men and women. For example, it correlated with the frequency of vigorous exercise only among men,” Kekäläinen says.

In today’s world, where most jobs are sedentary, leisure time physical activity — as opposed to sedentary leisure time — plays a key role in the recuperation of both body and mind, say the authors. Leisure time physical activities may include anything from walking and rambling in nature to bike riding, swimming and skiing.

The findings are published in the journal Applied Research in Quality of Life.

Source: University of Jyväskylä

British Study: Male Postnatal Depression Under-recognized, Under-appreciated

Fri, 05/17/2019 - 5:30am

A new study from the UK shows that signs of postnatal depression in men is frequently not recognized. Researchers found that observers generally believed males were suffering from stress or tiredness.

Moreover, even when depression was recognized, most believed a male’s condition would be easier to treat. Observers expressed less sympathy for the male and were less likely to suggest that the male seek help.

The research, led by Professor Viren Swami of Anglia Ruskin University, appears in the Journal of Mental Health. Swami studied 406 British adults between 18 and 70 years old.

The participants were presented with case studies of a man and a woman both displaying symptoms of postnatal depression, a mental health issue which affects as many as 13 percent of new parents.

This new study found that participants of both sexes were less likely to say there was something wrong with the male (76 percent) compared to the female (97 percent).

Of the participants who did identify a problem, they were significantly more likely to diagnose postnatal depression in the female case study than the male case study.

Researchers found that 90 percent of participants correctly described the female case study as suffering from postnatal depression but only 46 percent said the male had postnatal depression.

The participants commonly believed that the man was suffering from stress or tiredness. In fact, stress was chosen 21 percent of the time for the man compared to only 0.5 percent for the woman, despite identical symptoms.

Investigators discovered that attitudes were significantly more negative towards the male case study compared to the female. They found that participants reported lower perceived distress towards the male case study’s condition and believed that the male’s condition would be easier to treat. Furthermore, participants expressed less sympathy for the male and were less likely to suggest that the male seek help.

Swami, a Professor of Social Psychology, said: “Our findings suggest that the British public are significantly more likely to believe that something is ‘wrong’ when seeing a woman displaying the symptoms of postnatal depression, and they are also far more likely to correctly label the condition as postnatal depression.

“There may be a number of reasons for this gender difference. It is possible that general awareness of paternal postnatal depression still remains relatively low and there might be a perception among the British public that postnatal depression is a ‘women’s issue’ due to gender-specific factors such as pregnancy-induced hormonal changes and delivery complications.

“What is clear is that much more can be done to promote better understanding of paternal postnatal depression, so people don’t brush it off as simply tiredness or stress.

This is particularly important as many men who experience symptoms of depression following the birth of their child may not be confident about asking for help and may be missed by healthcare professionals in the routine assessments of new parents.”

Source: Anglia Ruskin University

Sense of Purpose Influences Health Behaviors

Thu, 05/16/2019 - 7:06pm

Researchers may have uncovered the reason health messages are effective for some people, but not for others. More broadly, ever wonder how some people seem to meet their fitness goals with ease and love eating healthy foods while others constantly struggle to do either?

A new study, found in the journal Health Psychology, suggests people with stronger life purpose are more likely to accept messages promoting healthy behaviors than those with weaker sense of purpose.

And, according to researchers from the Annenberg School at the University of Pennsylvania, this might be because they experience less decisional conflict while considering health advice.

“Purpose in life has been robustly associated with health in previous studies,” said postdoctoral fellow Dr. Yoona Kang, lead author of the study, “but the mechanism through which life purpose may promote healthy living has been unclear.”

In the study, Kang and her co-authors chose to test out a theory: that making health decisions might take less effort for those with higher sense of purpose in life.

According to Kang, health decisions, even those as simple and mundane as choosing between the elevator and the stairs, involve some amount of decisional conflict.

But, what if some people experience less conflict than others when considering these options? Perhaps the individuals experiencing less conflict have a stronger guiding purpose that helps resolve their internal stress.

To test this idea, the researchers recruited sedentary people who needed to exercise more. (To be selected for the study, participants had to be overweight or obese and had to have engaged in fewer than 200 minutes of physical activity in the seven days prior to the screening.)

Participants completed a survey about their life purpose by indicating the degree to which they agreed or disagreed with statements like “I have a sense of direction and purpose in my life” or “I don’t have a good sense of what it is I’m trying to accomplish in life.”

Next, they were shown health messages promoting physical activity. Their responses to the messages were monitored by an fMRI scanner, focusing on brain regions that tend to be active when people aren’t sure what to choose or when they feel conflicted.

Those participants who reported a stronger sense of life purpose were more likely to agree with the health messages and to have less activity in brain regions associated with conflict-processing.

In fact, the researchers were able to predict how likely it was that a person would agree with health messages based on the degree of brain activity in these regions.

“We conduct studies both to understand how different kinds of health messaging can help transform people’s behaviors and why some people might be more susceptible than others,” said Dr. Emily Falk, director of the Annenberg Communication Neuroscience Lab.

“This study does a nice job starting to unpack reasons why people who have a higher sense of purpose in life might be more able to take advantage of this messaging when they encounter it.”

Source: University of Pennsylvania

Inflammation Tied to Anhedonia in Women but Not Men

Thu, 05/16/2019 - 7:00am

Inflammation appears to increase anhedonia — a loss of enjoyment in things or activities — in women, but not in men, according to a new study published in the journal Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging.

Reduced activity in the brain’s reward center is the signature of anhedonia, a core feature of depression. Women are two-to-three times more likely to be diagnosed with depression, and the new findings highlight a key difference in men and women that could contribute to the uneven rates of the disorder.

“Our study is the first to show that there are sex differences in neural sensitivity to reward in response to inflammation, which has important implications,” said senior author Naomi Eisenberger, Ph.D., University of California, Los Angeles.

“This may suggest one reason women experience depression at a far greater rate than men, particularly for the kinds of depression that may be inflammatory in nature.”

In the study, healthy men and women received a substance to increase inflammation. The research team measured activity in the reward region of the brain, the ventral striatum, as the participants played a game where they could win a monetary reward.

The findings show that women with greater inflammatory responses exhibited less brain response in anticipation of potential rewards, but the association was not present in men.

“This suggests that women with chronic inflammatory disorders may be particularly vulnerable to developing depression through decreases in sensitivity to reward,” said first author Mona Moieni, Ph.D., a postdoctoral researcher in the laboratory of Eisenberger.

“Clinicians who treat female patients with inflammatory disorders may want to pay close attention to these patients for possible onset of depressive symptoms.”

Cameron Carter, M.D., editor of Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging said “This study highlights the important gender differences that exist in the human brain and suggests a mechanism that might help explain the greater prevalence of depression in women compared to men.”

Researchers suggest since the increased inflammation had no effect on how men’s brains responded to reward, inflammation-induced anhedonia may be an important contributor to the higher rates of depression in women.

Source: Elsevier

Watching TV Cuts Into Preschoolers’ Sleep Time

Thu, 05/16/2019 - 6:30am

A new study finds that preschoolers who watch TV sleep significantly less than those who do not have daily screen exposure. University of Massachusetts investigators believe the insight is important as the research proves that watching television does not help a child fall asleep.

Neuroscientist Dr. Rebecca Spencer and developmental science graduate student Abigail Helm studied a “very diverse” group of 470 preschoolers from Western Massachusetts. They used a novel study method by equipping each child with an actigraphic device that the kids wore like a watch on their wrist. The device enabled researchers to precisely determine when a child fell asleep. The study builds on earlier research on the role of naps in children’s memory and learning.

Investigators discovered 36 percent of 3- to 5-year-olds had TVs in their bedroom, and a third of those kids fell asleep with the TV on, often watching stimulating or violent adult programming.

The study which appears in Sleep Health, suggests that TV use by young children affects the quality and duration of sleep. Moreover, while daytime napping was found to increase among the kids who watched the most TV, it did not fully compensate for the lost sleep at night.

“The good news is, this is addressable,” says Spencer, referring to the opportunity to educate parents about the new, myth-shattering evidence that TV does not help young children fall asleep.

“Parents assumed that TV was helping their kids wind down. But it didn’t work. Those kids weren’t getting good sleep, and it wasn’t helping them fall asleep better. It’s good to have this data.”

The findings of Spencer and Helm come on the heels of new guidelines from the World Health Organization (WHO), which say children between age 2 and 4 years should have no more than one hour of “sedentary screen time” daily – and less or no screen time is even better.

Similarly, the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that daily screen time for 2- to 5-year-olds be limited to one hour of “high-quality programs,” and that parents should watch the programs with their children. The WHO also emphasized the importance of young children getting “better quality” sleep for their long-term health.

Some 54 percent of kids in the UMass Amherst study are not meeting the WHO’s TV-viewing guidelines on weekdays, and the figure jumps to 87 percent on weekends, Spencer says.

In addition to a dearth of data on TV viewing and sleep among this age group, previous research that does exist has relied on parent-reported measures of sleep, and “parents tend to overestimate sleep duration,” according to the study.

“One of the biggest advantages we have in our approach is the use of these actigraphs,” which have been found to provide a reliable measure of sleep, Spencer says.

The new research piggybacked on Spencer’s larger study about young children’s sleep and cognition, supported by a National Institutes of Health grant.

“Given that we already have some data about why sleep and naps are important for young kids, we decided to look into what are the factors that determine when they sleep, how they sleep and why they sleep,” Spencer says.

A “very diverse” group of 470 preschoolers from Western Massachusetts participated in the study, wearing actigraphs for up to 16 days. Their parents and caregivers answered questionnaires about demographics and the children’s health and behavior, including detailed questions on TV use. Among the findings:

  • Preschoolers who watch less than one hour of TV per day get 22 more minutes of sleep at night — or nearly 2.5 hours per week — than those who watch more than an hour of TV daily.
  • On average, young children without TVs in their bedrooms slept 30 minutes more at night than those with a TV in their bedroom.
  • Although kids with TVs in their bedroom slept on average 12 minutes longer during naps, they still slept 17 minutes less during a 24-hour period than kids without TVs in their bedroom.

Spencer says she plans to expand future child sleep studies to examine the impact of hand-held digital devices, such as iPads and smartphones. She also points out that TV use by kids as reported by their parents is likely to be underestimated.

Source: University of Massachusetts

Eating Disorder May Boost Long-Term Risk for Depressive Symptoms in Moms

Thu, 05/16/2019 - 6:00am

Moms with a history of eating disorders and body image concerns before or during pregnancy are more likely to experience depressive symptoms, according to a new study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry.

“We found that women who have had an eating disorder at any point before childbirth, even if it was years earlier in adolescence, were more likely to experience depressive symptoms during pregnancy and up to 18 years after the birth of their child,” said lead author Dr. Francesca Solmi from the University College London (UCL).

“This finding suggests that many people with eating disorders might not fully recover since we know that eating disorders and depression often happen at the same time.”

The study involved data from the “Children of the 90s” cohort study, including 9,276 women.

Previous research has suggested that depressive symptoms among moms with eating disorders might improve after the perinatal period, but those studies didn’t have a long follow-up period to confirm that the increased risk of depressive symptoms does in fact persist for women who have had an eating disorder.

The new findings show that women who had ever had anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa experienced more depressive symptoms over an 18-year follow-up than those who had never had an eating disorder.

“Depressive symptoms in mothers have been shown to be associated with a number of negative outcomes for their children, such as emotional and behavioural problems. It is therefore important, to identify and treat eating disorders early, as these could be one potential cause of the depressive symptoms,” said Solmi.

“We should also identify pregnant women with an eating disorder, so that they can be provided with mental health support. This could benefit both mother and child in the long run.”

Dr. Abigail Easter, one of the authors of the paper who has developed training materials to help identify eating disorders in pregnancy, added, “There is a need for more training for practitioners and midwives on how to recognise eating disorders in pregnancy, which could help to reduce the long-term impact of mental ill-health.”

Current guidelines from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommend that healthcare professionals use a questionnaire to identify depressive symptoms in pregnant women. The new findings support the value of this, as well as for identifying eating disorders.

“There’s a lot of stigma around both depression and eating disorders, so many people might not feel comfortable talking about it or seeking help. Assessment of mental illness in pregnancy, as standard practice, could help health professionals pick up on signs of depression and/or eating disorders at this crucial stage of life,” said first author Dr. Yu Wei Chua, who began the study at UCL before moving over to the University of Strathclyde.

Source: University College London


Brain Study Hunts ‘Fingerprints’ of Severe Mental Disorders

Wed, 05/15/2019 - 6:30am

In a new study, researchers took a “birds-eye view” into the brain to examine how its large-scale systems interact with one another, in order to gain a better understanding of the causes and symptoms of severe mental disorders including bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and depression.

The findings, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shed new light on the similarities and differences in these three mental illnesses.

Lead researcher Justin T. Baker, M.D., Ph.D., scientific director of the McLean Institute for Technology in Psychiatry explains that the work is based on connectomics, the concept of “measuring all connections in the brain at the same time.”

“For most studies, illnesses are studied in isolation, but evidence strongly suggests that distinct psychiatric diagnoses are not separated by clear neurobiological boundaries,” said Baker.

“The approach we’ve taken is to look at the whole brain so you can see not only how individual systems like the visual system and motor system are functioning, but how higher order systems like cognitive systems are functioning in the brain to see if there are correlations.”

For the study, researchers from McLean Hospital in Massachusetts and Yale University looked at functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) data from more than 1,000 individuals, including patients who had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and depression.

Information was collected through rest scans, in which participants were asked to simply lie in a scanner with their eyes open, allowing researchers to capture data about spontaneous fluctuations in the brain.

This approach allowed for “brain fingerprinting” to address “what changes in the brain are shared across illnesses and what aspects might be specific to different illnesses,” said Baker. “This work points to evidence at a high level that there are very pronounced changes in the brain that could start to serve as an objective biomarker.”

The findings are significant, said Baker, as there are no objective measures of psychiatric illnesses that can verify a patient’s reports regarding their symptoms.

Previous research suggests there is a significant genetic risk for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder and that these conditions affect certain parts of the brain. But this study highlights how one system is affected or disrupted as a function of how severe the illness is, irrespective of whether it is psychosis or depression.

The researchers plan to build on this work through studies into the functioning of large-scale brain systems related to OCD and trauma and longer-term investigations.

“We want to see if there is a fingerprint for different conditions and then use that information and apply it to the individual,” said Baker. “We are conducting studies that follow individuals over time to look at the brain to see how symptoms are changing.

“We’re trying to go from the snapshot view of these biomarkers to something that is much more dynamic and captures changes and nuances.”

Source: McLean Hospital

Death of Close Friend May Hit Harder Than Once Thought

Tue, 05/14/2019 - 6:00am

The trauma and grief resulting from the death of a close friend lasts four times longer than previously believed, according to a new study from The Australian National University (ANU).

The findings reveal that a close friend’s passing will significantly affect a person’s physical, psychological and social well-being up to at least four years. Previous research has suggested the grieving period lasts for around 12 months.

The researchers say that a lack of knowledge about the time it takes people to mourn a close friend may lead to inadequate support during the grieving process.

For the study, the researchers analyzed the health data of 26,515 Australians from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia Survey covering a period of 14 years (2002 to 2015). Of these participants, 9,586 had experienced the death of at least one close friend.

Lead author Dr. Wai-Man (Raymond) Liu said the study found that people who were grieving a close friend suffered a significant decline in physical health, mental health, emotional stability and social life.

“These findings raise serious concerns with the way we manage the recovery for people dealing with the loss of a close friend,” said Lui. “We found there are serious declines in the health and wellbeing of people who had experienced the death of a close friend any time in the last four years.

“We all know that when someone loses a partner, parent or child, that person is likely to suffer through a significant grieving period. Yet the death of a close friend, which most of us will experience, is not afforded the same level of seriousness by employers, doctors, and the community.”

“The death of a friend is a form of disenfranchised grief, one not taken so seriously or afforded such significance. This is leaving people without the support and services they need during a very traumatic period of their lives,” said Liu.

Liu has called on medical practitioners and policy makers to rethink the way they approach dealing with people’s grief after they have lost a close friend.

“We need to recognize the death of a close friend takes a serious toll, and to offer health and psychological services to assist these people over an adequate period of time.”

The paper is published in the journal PLOS One.

Source: Australian National University


Age, Sleep and Mood May Independently Affect Working Memory

Mon, 05/13/2019 - 6:30am

A new study shows how three health-related factors — sleep, age, and depressed mood — may each contribute to a different aspect of working memory.

Working memory is the part of short-term memory that temporarily stores and manages information necessary for cognitive tasks such as learning, reasoning, and comprehension. It is critically involved in many higher cognitive functions, including intelligence, creative problem-solving, language, and action-planning and plays a major role in how we process, use, and remember information.

As we get older, our working memory tends to weaken and lose precision. In addition, poor sleep quality and depressed mood are linked to a reduced likelihood of remembering a previously experienced event — the “quantitative” aspect of working memory.

“Other researchers have already linked each of these factors separately to overall working memory function, but our work looked at how these factors are associated with memory quality and quantity — the first time this has been done,”  said researcher Dr. Weiwei Zhang, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside.

“All three factors are interrelated. For example, seniors are more likely to experience negative mood than younger adults. Poor sleep quality is also often associated with depressed mood. The piecemeal approach used in previous investigations on these relationships — examining the relationship between one of these health-related factors and working memory — could open up the possibility that an observed effect may be influenced by other factors.”

The study is the first to statistically isolate the effects of the three factors on working memory quantity and quality. Although all three factors contribute to a common complaint about foggy memory, they seem to behave in different ways and may result from potentially independent mechanisms in the brain.

These findings could lead to future interventions and treatments to counteract the negative impacts of these factors on working memory.

The team conducted two experiments. In the first, they sampled 110 college students for self-reported measures of sleep quality and depressed mood and investigated how these factors independently affected their working memory.

In the second experiment, the researchers sampled 31 members of a community ranging in age from 21 to 77 years. In this instance, the researchers investigated age and its relationship to working memory.

“We are more confident now about how each one of these factors impacts working memory,” Zhang said. “This could give us a better understanding of the underlying mechanism in age-related dementia. For the mind to work at its best, it is important that senior citizens ensure they have good sleep quality and be in a good mood.”

The findings are published in the Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society.

Source: University of California- Riverside


What Links Appendix Removal to Greater Risk for Parkinson’s?

Mon, 05/13/2019 - 6:00am

Patients who have their appendix removed are at greater risk of developing Parkinson’s disease than those who still have their appendix, according to a new study involving more than 62 million patient records from 26 health systems.

The study is the largest to date investigating the link between appendix removal and Parkinson’s disease.

“Recent research into the cause of Parkinson’s has centered around alpha synuclein, a protein found in the gastrointestinal tract early in the onset of Parkinson’s,” said Mohammed Z. Sheriff, M.D., lead author of the study and a physician at Case Western Reserve University and University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center, Ohio.

“This is why scientists around the world have been looking into the gastrointestinal tract, including the appendix, for evidence about the development of Parkinson’s.”

Previous studies on appendectomies and Parkinson’s have shown contradicting evidence, with some studies showing no link and a recent study from Europe showing patients who still had their appendix as more likely to develop Parkinson’s.

This contradiction prompted Sheriff and colleagues to seek answers to the question using U.S. data from an Ohio-based electronic health records company that draws data from 26 major integrated health systems.

Researchers analyzed the electronic health records of more than 62.2 million patients and identified those who had appendectomies and were diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease at least six months later.

They discovered that among 488,190 patients who had undergone appendectomies, 4,470, or .92 percent, went on to develop Parkinson’s. Of the remaining 61.7 million patients without appendectomies, they identified only 177,230, or .29 percent, who developed the disease.

According to this analysis, patients who’d had their appendix removed were more than three times more likely to develop Parkinson’s than those who had not.

The researchers could not tell from the de-identified records exactly how much time passed after the appendectomy until Parkinson’s was diagnosed. However, they found similar risk levels across all age groups, regardless of gender or race.

“This research shows a clear relationship between the appendix, or appendix removal, and Parkinson’s disease, but it is only an association,” Sheriff said. “Additional research is needed to confirm this connection and to better understand the mechanisms involved.”

Sheriff will present data from the study at Digestive Disease Week (DDW) 2019 in San Diego, Calif.

Source: Digestive Disease Week

Researchers Define Non-Alzheimer’s Type of Dementia That Affects the Oldest-Old

Sun, 05/12/2019 - 8:43pm

In a new report published in the journal Brain, a group of international researchers define the diagnostic criteria and research guidelines for a newly-named type of dementia called LATE.

LATE, which tends to appear in very old people, may seem like Alzheimer’s to the layperson, but inside the brain, the disease looks quite different. The incidence of LATE is almost as prevalent among the oldest-old as Alzheimer’s.

In the past, using the terms “Alzheimer’s disease” and “dementia” interchangeably was common. Then scientists began noticing that a large number of people who died in very old age had symptoms of dementia without the telltale signs of amyloid or another common culprit, tau, in their brains at autopsy.

Now there is rising appreciation that a variety of diseases and disease processes contribute to dementia.

“More than 200 different viruses can cause the common cold,” said Dr. Peter Nelson of the Sanders-Brown Center on Aging at the University of Kentucky, “So why would we think there is just one cause of dementia?”

In fact, it is very likely that many of the people who enrolled in earlier clinical trials for Alzheimer’s drugs did not have amyloid, the sticky substance that gums up neurons and interferes with thinking.

“Recent research and clinical trials in Alzheimer’s disease have taught us two things: First, not all of the people we thought had Alzheimer’s have it; second, it is very important to understand the other contributors to dementia,” said Nina Silverberg, Ph.D., director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Centers Program at National Institute on Aging (NIA), part of NIH.

The group’s work establishes that like Alzheimer’s disease, LATE affects multiple areas of cognition, ultimately impairing activities of daily life, but it appears that LATE progresses more gradually than Alzheimer’s. However, LATE combined with Alzheimer’s — which is a common combination — appears to cause a more rapid decline than either would alone.

Nelson likens the team’s work to Benjamin Franklin’s “discovery” of electricity.

“People had seen lightning before of course, but Franklin helped formalize a concept that augmented our ability to study electricity,” he said. “By developing a sense of scientific focus around these data, we hope to jump-start a broad field of work to advance our understanding of this form of dementia and, ultimately, to open new opportunities for treatment.

Most importantly, Nelson added, it’s time to stop thinking of dementia as a “one-size-fits-all” disease.

“LATE probably responds to different treatments than AD, which might help explain why so many past Alzheimer’s drugs have failed in clinical trials,” he said. “Now that the scientific community is on the same page about LATE, further research into the ‘how’ and ‘why’ can help us develop disease-specific drugs that target the right patients.”

Source: University of Kentucky