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Updated: 56 min 6 sec ago

New Study Busts Myths About Gossip

Tue, 05/07/2019 - 5:56am

A new  study has found that women don’t engage in “tear-down” gossip any more than men, and lower-income people don’t gossip more than their more well-to-do counterparts.

It also finds that younger people are more likely to gossip negatively than older people.

According to researchers at the University of California-Riverside, this is the first study to dig deep into who gossips the most, what topics they gossip about, and how often people gossip which, they discovered, was 52 minutes a day on average.

“There is a surprising dearth of information about who gossips and how, given public interest and opinion on the subject,” said Dr. Megan Robbins, an assistant psychology professor, who led the study along with Alexander Karan, a graduate student in her lab.

Robbins notes that if you’re going to look at gossip like an academic, you have to remove the value judgment we assign to the word. Gossip, in the academic’s view, is not bad. It’s simply talking about someone who isn’t present. That talk could be positive, neutral, or negative.

“With that definition, it would be hard to think of a person who never gossips because that would mean the only time they mention someone is in their presence,” Robbins said.

“They could never talk about a celebrity unless the celebrity was present for the conversation. They would only mention any detail about anyone else if they are present. Not only would this be difficult, but it would probably seem strange to people they interact with.”

For the study, Robbins and Karan looked at data from 467 people — 269 women and 198 men — who participated in one of five studies. Participants were between 18 and 58 years old.

Participants wore a portable listening device called the Electronically Activated Recorder or EAR. The EAR samples what people say throughout the day. About 10 percent of their conversation is recorded, then analyzed by research assistants.

The research assistants counted conversation as gossip if it was about someone not present. In all, there were 4,003 instances of gossip. They then filtered the gossip into three categories: Positive, negative, or neutral.

The assistants further coded the gossip depending on whether it was about a celebrity or acquaintance, the topic, and the gender of the conversation partner.

The study found:

  • younger people engage in more negative gossip than older adults;
  • about 14 percent of participants’ conversations were gossip, or just under an hour in 16 waking hours;
  • almost three-fourths of gossip was neutral. Negative gossip (604 instances) was twice as prevalent as positive (376);
  • gossip overwhelmingly was about an acquaintance and not a celebrity, with a comparison of 3,292 samples vs. 369;
  • extraverts gossip far more frequently than introverts, across all three types of gossip;
  • women gossip more than men, but only in neutral, information-sharing, gossip;
  • poorer, less educated people don’t gossip more than wealthier, better-educated people.

This runs contrary to assertions found in popular “best habits of the rich” books, the researchers note.

A final result? Everyone gossips.

“Gossip is ubiquitous,” the researchers concluded.

The study was published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.

Source: University of California – Riverside

Physical Benefits From Social Support Influenced by Self-Esteem

Mon, 05/06/2019 - 7:30am

New research suggests the health benefits associated with the support of friends and family occur more frequently among people with higher self-esteem and not so much to individuals with low self-esteem.

The Ohio State University investigators discovered that while perceived social support reduced signs of chronic inflammation in people with a more positive attitude, the biological advantage was not apparent among those with low self-esteem.

“People with high self-esteem already have advantages compared to those with low self-esteem, and social support only helps them more,” said David Lee, lead author of the study and a postdoctoral fellow in psychology at The Ohio State University.

“It’s a case of the rich getting richer.”

Lee conducted the study with Baldwin Way, professor of psychology at Ohio State. Their research appears online in the journal Health Psychology and will be published in a future print edition.

Previous research has shown that chronic inflammation is a potent driver of diseases, including cancer and heart disease.

The new research examined one marker of inflammation — a protein in the blood called C-Reactive Protein (CRP) — to determine how it was related to levels of self-esteem and perceived social support. Higher levels of CRP indicate higher levels of dangerous inflammation.

Data from the study came from the Survey of Midlife Development in the United States and included 1,054 healthy adults.

Participants rated how much support they felt from those closest to them, including family, friends and spouse. They also completed a 7-item questionnaire that measured their levels of self-esteem.

About two years after the survey, the same participants gave a blood sample in which they were measured for levels of CRP, the marker of inflammation.

Results showed that increased levels of perceived social support were linked to lower levels of CRP, an indicator of harmful inflammation — but only in people with higher self-esteem.

People with low self-esteem did not get the expected health boost from more perceived social support.

Way said that social support may not work in the same positive way for people with low self-esteem as it does in those with a healthy view of themselves.

“People with a negative self-view may actually feel more stress when people try to help them,” Way said.

“They may feel they don’t deserve the help or they worry that they’re asking for too much from their friends and family. The result is that they may not get the benefits of social support.”

Researchers believe the findings could stimulate the development of more effective intervention strategies to reduce stress-related inflammation in those who have low self-esteem.

Source: The Ohio State University

Talkative Parents May Boost Child’s IQ

Mon, 05/06/2019 - 7:00am

Interesting new research suggests exposure to large amounts of adult speech may enhance a child’s cognitive skills. The major new study, led by scientists at the University of York, identified a link between kids who heard high amounts of adult speech and their nonverbal abilities such as reasoning, numeracy and shape awareness.

Investigators used a novel research methodology that included fitting tiny audio recorders into the clothing of pre-schoolers aged two to four. Subsequently, they recorded the experience of 107 children and their interactions with parents and other caregivers in the home environment over three days for up to 16 hours per day.

Parents were also asked to complete activities with their children involving drawing, copying and matching tasks designed to test their child’s cognitive skills.

Lead author of the study, Katrina d’Apice, a PhD student from the University of York’s Department of Education, explains, “Using the audio recorders allowed us to study real-life interactions between young children and their families in an unobtrusive way within the home environment rather than a lab setting.”

The study, “A Naturalistic Home Observational Approach to Children’s Language, Cognition, and Behavior,” appears in the journal, Developmental Psychology.

“We found that the quantity of adult spoken words that children hear is positively associated with their cognitive ability. However, further research is needed to explore the reasons behind this link — it could be that greater exposure to language provides more learning opportunities for children, but it could also be the case that more intelligent children evoke more words from adults in their environment.”

The researchers also found that high-quality adult speech may have benefits for children’s linguistic development, as children in the study who interacted with adults who used a diverse vocabulary knew a greater variety of words themselves.

Researchers also analyzed the recordings to look at the impact different parenting styles might have on the children’s behavior.

d’Apice and her colleagues found that positive parenting — where parents are responsive and encouraging of exploration and self-expression — was associated with children showing fewer signs of restless, aggressive and disobedient behaviors.

“This study is the largest naturalistic observation of early life home environments to date,” elucidates Professor Sophie von Stum, the study’s senior author.

“We found that the quantity of adult spoken words that children were exposed to varied greatly within families. Some kids heard twice as many words on one day as they did on the next.

“The study highlights the importance of treating early life experiences as dynamic and changeable rather than static entities — approaching research in this way will help us to understand the interplay between environmental experiences and children’s differences in development.”

Source: University of York

Two-Step Test May Detect Early Alzheimer’s

Mon, 05/06/2019 - 6:00am

German researchers from Ruhr-Universität Bochum (RUB) have developed a two-tier test which can help detect Alzheimer’s disease long before any plaques begin forming in the brain. Their report is published in the journal Alzheimer’s and Dementia: Diagnosis, Assessment and Disease Monitoring.

“This has paved the way for early-stage therapy approaches, where the as yet inefficient drugs on which we had pinned our hopes may prove effective,” said Professor Klaus Gerwert from the Department of Biophysics at RUB.

In Alzheimer’s disease, the amyloid beta protein folds incorrectly due to pathological changes long before the first symptoms occur. In the new study, a research team headed by Gerwert successfully diagnosed this misfolding with a simple blood test; as a result, the disease can be detected approximately eight years before the first clinical symptoms occur.

The test wasn’t suitable for clinical applications, however: While it did detect 71 percent of Alzheimer’s cases in symptomless stages, it also provided false positive diagnoses for nine percent of the study participants.

In order to increase the number of correctly identified Alzheimer’s cases and to reduce the number of false positive diagnoses, the team poured a lot of time and effort into optimizing the test.

As a result, they developed a two-tier diagnostic method. This involves the original blood test to identify high-risk individuals and a second biomarker test (to detect tau protein) for those who are deemed high-risk. If both biomarkers show a positive result, there is a high likelihood of Alzheimer’s disease.

“Through the combination of both analyses, 87 of 100 Alzheimer’s patients were correctly identified in our study,” Gerwert said. “And we reduced the number of false positive diagnoses in healthy subjects to 3 of 100. The second analysis is carried out in cerebrospinal fluid that is extracted from the spinal cord.”

“Now, new clinical studies with test participants in very early stages of the disease can be launched,” he said. Gerwert is hoping that existing therapeutic antibodies will still have an effect.

He added that the team is now conducting in-depth research to detect tau protein in the blood, so they can use a solely blood-based test in future.

“Once amyloid plaques have formed, it seems that the disease can no longer be treated,” said Dr. Andreas Nabers, head of the research group and co-developer of the Alzheimer’s sensor. “If our attempts to arrest the progression of Alzheimer’s fail, it will put a lot of strain on our society.”

The blood test has been upgraded to a fully automated process at the RUB Department of Biophysics. “The sensor is easy to use, robust when it comes to fluctuation in concentration of biomarkers, and standardized,” Nabers said.

Source: Ruhr-Universität Bochum

 

Mobile Game Can Detect Risk of Alzheimer’s

Mon, 05/06/2019 - 5:30am

UK researchers have announced the development of a mobile phone game that can detect people at risk of Alzheimer’s. The app is designed to help researchers better understand dementia by seeing how the brain works in relation to spatial navigation.

University of East Anglia researchers report that more than 4.3 million people worldwide have downloaded and played the Sea Heron Quest app. The game was created by Deutsche Telekom in partnership with Alzheimer’s Research UK, University College London (UCL), the University of East Anglia and game developers, Glitchers.

Investigators studied the gaming data comparing how people who are genetically pre-disposed to Alzheimer’s disease play the game compared to people who are not.

During the game, players make their way through mazes of islands and icebergs. Researchers then translate every 0.5 seconds of gameplay into scientific data.

The results, published in the journal PNAS, show that people who are genetically at risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease can be distinguished from those who are not on specific levels of the Sea Hero Quest game.

The findings are particularly important because a standard memory and thinking test could not distinguish between the risk and non-risk groups.

Lead researcher, Professor Michael Hornberger, from UEA’s Norwich Medical School, said: “Dementia will affect 135 million people worldwide by 2050. We need to identify people earlier to reduce their risk of developing dementia in the future.

“Current diagnosis of dementia is strongly based on memory symptoms, which we know now are occurring when the disease is quite advanced. Instead, emerging evidence shows that subtle spatial navigation and awareness deficits can precede memory symptoms by many years.

“Our current findings show that we can reliably detect such subtle navigation changes in at-genetic-risk of Alzheimer’s disease healthy people without any problem symptoms or complaints. Our findings will inform future diagnostic recommendations and disease treatments to address this devastating disease.”

Investigators explain that the data collected by the Sea Hero Quest app is vital for their on-going research because every two minutes spent playing the game is equal to five hours of lab-based research. And having three million players globally equates to more than 1,700 years’ worth of lab-based research.

The team studied gaming data taken from 27,108 UK players aged between 50-75 — the most vulnerable age group to develop Alzheimer’s in the next decade.

They compared this benchmark data with a smaller lab-based group of 60 people who underwent genetic testing.
In the smaller lab group, 31 volunteers carried the APOE4 gene, which is known to be linked with Alzheimer’s disease, and 29 people did not. Both lab groups were matched for age, gender, education and nationality with the benchmark cohort.

Genetic risk for Alzheimer’s is complicated. People (around one in every four) who have one copy of the APOE4 gene are around three times more likely to be affected by Alzheimer’s and develop the disease at a younger age.

Professor Hornberger said, “We found that people with a high genetic risk, the APOE4 carriers, performed worse on spatial navigation tasks. They took less efficient routes to checkpoint goals.

“This is really important because these are people with no memory problems.

“Meanwhile, those without the APOE4 gene travelled roughly the same distance as the 27,000 people forming the baseline score. This difference in performance was particularly pronounced where the space to navigate was large and open.

“It means that we can detect people who are at genetic risk of Alzheimer’s based on how they play the game.”

Intriguingly, researchers have found that people in different countries and populations navigate through the Sea Hero Quest differently.

This research shows that data collected from people who downloaded and played Sea Hero Quest can be used as a benchmark to help identify those at a genetically higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s in smaller groups of people,” reports Gillian Coughlan, also from UEA’s Norwich Medical School.

“Sea Hero Quest succeeded where a conventional memory and thinking test failed. It demonstrates the power of harnessing large-scale citizen science projects and applying big data technologies to help improve the early detection of diseases like Alzheimer’s.

“This global Sea Hero Quest project provides an unprecedented chance to study how many thousands of people from different countries and cultures navigate space. It is helping to shed light on how we use our brain to navigate and also to aid the development of more personalized measures for future diagnostics and drug treatment programs in dementia research.

“This is the tip of the iceberg and there is still a lot more work to do to extract and capitalize on the wealth of data collected through the Deutsche Telekom’s Sea Hero Quest project.”

Professor Hugo Spiers, from UCL, explained, “Our discovery highlights the value of bringing together big data with precise data to aid the development of digital tools for medical diagnoses.”

Hilary Evans, Chief Executive at Alzheimer’s Research UK, added, “We often hear heart-breaking stories about people with dementia who get lost and can’t find their way home, and we know spatial navigation difficulties like these are some of the earliest warning signs for the condition.

“Research shows us that the brain changes associated with diseases like Alzheimer’s begin decades before symptoms like memory loss start, and for future Alzheimer’s treatments to be effective, it’s likely they must be given at the earliest stages of disease, before there’s too much damage to the brain.

“Using big data to help improve the early and accurate detection of the diseases that cause dementia can help revolutionize how we research and treat the condition. Sea Hero Quest is an amazing example of how pioneering research can help scientists get one step closer to a life-changing breakthrough.”

Hans-Christian Schwingen, Chief Brand Officer at Deutsche Telekom, said, “What Sea Hero Quest has demonstrated is the unique power of innovative cross sector partnerships in advancing research. We are very proud to have been a part of facilitating such a revolutionary project and are excited to see the future insights generated through analysis of the data set collected.”

Source: University of East Anglia

How Girls & Boys with Autism Tell Stories May Be Key to Missed Diagnoses in Girls

Mon, 05/06/2019 - 12:00am

Boys are four times more likely than girls to be diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), yet a growing body of research shows that the condition is more common in girls than previously thought, suggesting that new methods are required to diagnose the disorder at younger ages.

Previous research suggests that how a child tells a story can predict certain social deficits tied to ASD. For example, it was believed that kids with autism use far fewer “cognitive process” words such as “think” and “know” during storytelling. And while past studies used primarily male participants, the results were assumed to generalize to girls.

Now a new study shows that girls with autism use significantly more cognitive process words than autistic boys, despite comparable autism symptom severity.

The findings are published in the journal Molecular Autism.

“In order to place these findings in context, it’s important to understand that because girls tend to exhibit different traits than autistic boys do, they are often incorrectly diagnosed or missed entirely by standard diagnostic tools. That discrepancy also skews the research literature,” explained lead author Julia Parish-Morris, Ph.D., a scientist in the Center for Autism Research and faculty member in the Departments of Child Psychiatry and Biomedical & Health Informatics at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP).

“Autism studies have historically included three to six times as many males as females. This means that we don’t yet know enough about gender differences in autism, and so we miss girls whose traits differ from those of boys.”

Missed diagnoses means many girls do not receive early interventions and that standard interventions may not be appropriate for meeting girls’ unique needs. In fact, many females with autism are not diagnosed until they are adults and report significant social challenges and a profound sense of being different from their typically developing peers.

“Autism is a social condition diagnosed using observable behavior, so we wanted to study an observable skill that relates to social ability,” Parish-Morris said. “We chose storytelling because it involves much more than grammar and vocabulary; it relies on a sense of social appropriateness and sheds light on what speakers decide is important to convey.”

For the new study, the researchers focused on how participants used nouns (object words) compared with cognitive process words. They evaluated 102 verbally fluent school-aged children who either had a diagnosis of ASD (21 girls and 41 boys) or were typically developing (19 girls and 21 boys), and were matched on age, IQ and maternal education. The children viewed a sequence of pictures showing a fisherman, a cat and a bird, and told a story based on what they saw.

The findings reveal that autistic girls used significantly more cognitive process words than autistic boys did, even when they had similar levels of autism severity. In fact, girls with ASD and typical girls used comparable numbers of cognitive process words.

Interestingly, autistic boys and girls both used more nouns than typically developing children, demonstrating object-focused storytelling. Thus, autistic girls showed a unique narrative profile that overlapped with typical girls and boys as well as with autistic boys.

“Through storytelling, we were able to identify key similarities and differences in the language patterns of autistic girls and boys,” Parish-Morris said.

“These findings suggest that sex-informed screening and diagnostic methods may help us identify autism in verbal girls at an earlier age, which should spur efforts to develop appropriate, personalized early interventions resulting in improved support for girls and women with ASD.”

Source: Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia

 

 

New Model: Why Childhood Trauma Ups Risk of PTSD in Some Women

Sun, 05/05/2019 - 9:58pm

A new biological model explains why childhood trauma increases the adult risk of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) for some women but not for others. Historically, although childhood trauma was known to increase the risk of PTSD in adulthood, the biological reason for this correlation was unknown.

University of Missouri researchers believe their model could help psychiatrists better understand the far-reaching impacts of early trauma on women while also clarifying why not all women with traumatic childhoods develop PTSD. Due to hormonal differences between the sexes, the study focused only on women.

The model describes how the body’s main stress response system can be damaged by trauma or abuse during childhood, resulting in a diminished ability to fight off stress and a greater susceptibility to PTSD later in life. Importantly, the theory incorporates the concept of “resilience” as an predictor of who will or will not develop PTSD.

“Our model indicates some women are biologically more resilient than others to PTSD,” said Yang Li, a postdoctoral fellow in MU’s Sinclair School of Nursing. “Normally, the body’s stress response system is regulated by two hormones: cortisol, which floods the body in response to a stressful event, and oxytocin, which brings cortisol levels back down once the stressor has passed.

“That system can break down in response to trauma, leaving cortisol levels unchecked and keeping the body in a stressed and vulnerable state. But when those hormones continue to regulate each other properly, even in the presence of trauma, they serve as barriers against PTSD.”

Li and her colleagues tested their model by analyzing results from a pre-existing study of women with trauma exposure that also recorded hormone levels. This analysis provided important data that both supported and improved the model. The new detail is especially pertinent to women with the dissociative subtype of PTSD, a serious variant of the disorder that can disrupt one’s sense of self and surroundings.

Women with the dissociative form of PTSD experienced a more pronounced alteration in both cortisol and oxytocin levels, indicating the body’s stress-response system functioned less effectively in these women.

The study’s findings supported the idea that, when functioning well and interacting properly, the two hormone systems are markers of resilience in those who have had trauma exposures but do not develop PTSD. That information could prove valuable to psychiatrists looking to identify the origin of a patient’s struggles with trauma.

“It is important to understand that childhood trauma has extensive effects that can follow people throughout their lives,” Li said. “PTSD might surface in response to a specific event in adulthood, but what we are seeing suggests that in many cases, the real root of the problem is in the damage caused during childhood.”

As more research fills the gaps in scientists’ understanding of PTSD, having a biological understanding of a women’s susceptibility to the disorder could also open up new avenues of treatment, Li said.

The study, “Exploring the mutual regulation between oxytocin and cortisol as a marker of resilience,” appears in Archives of Psychiatric Nursing. Afton Hassett and Julia Seng of the University of Michigan also contributed to the study, and funding was provided by a National Institutes of Health grant.

Source: University of Missouri

New Study Finds Sexual Orientation Develops Well into Adulthood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For young men, these patterns have been categorized as:

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

Young women were better described by five categories:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The study was published in the Journal of Sex Research.

Source: Taylor & Francis Group

New Tool Gives Voice to Family Caregivers of Brain Injury Patients

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The tool includes measures of:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Michigan Medicine- University of Michigan

Exercise Boosts Memory in Patients With Heart Failure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: The European Society of Cardiology

Happy Spouse = Longer Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Association for Psychological Science

Middle Age Depression and Substance Abuse on the Rise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Vanderbilt University

Brain Stimulation Improves Memory of Older Adults

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Study finds appear in the journal Neurology.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Northwestern University

Sleep Myths Hinder Good Sleep Habits, May Harm Health

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: NYU Langone Health/NYU School of Medicine

Hospitalized Kids Who Are Depressed May Face Greater Mortality Risk

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

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

The findings are published in the Journal of Affective Disorders.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Rutgers University

 

 

Living Alone Linked to Common Mental Disorders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: PLOS

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

Smart Glasses May Help Kids with Autism Recognize Emotions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: American Psychiatric Association

Many See Empathy as Requiring Too Much Mental Effort

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: American Psychological Association

 

Imbalance in Brain Wiring May Influence Development of PTSD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: University of California Irvine

Light Physical Activity Linked to Healthy Brain Aging

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The study was published in JAMA Network Open.

Source: Boston University School of Medicine