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Updated: 16 min 21 sec ago

Proof that Spousal Relationships are Important for Composure and Perseverance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Brigham Young University

Sleep & Exercise May Affect New Moms & Dads Differently

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Penn State/EurekAlert

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Massachusetts General Hospital


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

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

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

The findings are published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: University of California- San Diego


Combat-Related Brain Injury with PTSD Tied to Larger Amygdala

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Veterans Affairs Research Communications



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute

Continuity of Future Self Tied to Being Happier in Later Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

Surprisingly, this is not what Reiff and colleagues discovered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Society for Personality and Social Psychology

Noninvasive Brain Stimulation May Reduce ADHD Symptoms

Tue, 04/30/2019 - 6:00am

A new study suggests that trigeminal nerve stimulation (TNS), a noninvasive electrical stimulation treatment, may reduce symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children.

“Many parents are hesitant to give strong medications like stimulants to young children, so there has been a lot of interest from families in non-pharmacological alternatives for ADHD,” said lead study author James McGough, M.D., a professor of clinical psychiatry at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

The trigeminal nerve, the largest of the cranial nerves, connects sensory cells on the head with several brain regions involved in attention.

For the study, researchers at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the UCLA randomly assigned 62 children ages 8 to 12 with ADHD to receive four weeks of nightly stimulation with either a TNS device or sham device.

The research was designed to specifically test the effects of TNS, so all the children were medication-free during the study and at least 30 days prior.

The TNS and sham device looked the same — a small box with wires for placement on the forehead via an adhesive patch. The only difference was the sham devices produced no electric current.

While both groups of children experienced symptom improvements after one week, the children who received the active TNS showed continued improvements over the next three weeks. In contrast, symptoms among children in the placebo stimulation group plateaued after the first week.

At the end of four weeks, symptom scores in children in the TNS group dropped an average of 9 points (using the doctor-administered ADHD-Rating Scale) compared with a reduction of scores by about 4.5 points in children in the placebo group.

Overall, this 9-point reduction is less than what stimulants such as methylphenidate have shown in clinical studies, but is on par to nonstimulant medications used to treat children with ADHD, such as the norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor atomoxetine.

According to McGough, the differences seen between the two groups after the first week point to the improvements of TNS being more than just a placebo effect. But stronger validation came after analyzing electroencephalography (EEG) tests given to all the children.

“EEG measures brain wave activity, and our tests showed emphatic differences between the kids receiving active versus sham stimulation,” McGough said.

In fact, the brainwave changes found in children whose symptoms improved resembled those seen in people performing well on executive function tests, said McGough. This similarity supports the idea that the EEG changes represent changes in attention and decision-making.

McGough added that TNS was very well-tolerated. There were a few instances of headache or increased appetite among TNS users, but there were no serious side effects and no children had to quit treatment due to side effects.

The Food and Drug Administration is currently reviewing TNS as a treatment for pediatric ADHD. McGough noted that if approved, there can be more detailed discussions about where this approach might fit in the spectrum of available treatments.

He noted that more research is needed, particularly studies testing the long-term effects of TNS and studies assessing how TNS works in conjunction with medication.

The findings are published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

Source: American Psychiatric Association


High Exposure to Violence May Reduce Trust of ‘Good’ People

Mon, 04/29/2019 - 6:30am

High exposure to violence appears to damage a person’s ability to place trust in “good people,” according to a new study by psychologists from Yale University and the University of Oxford.

The findings are published in the journal Nature Communications.

More than 80 percent of youth in urban areas experienced violence in their communities in the last year, and those experiences have a profound effect on their health, the researchers say.

“We know exposure to violence is related to negative life outcomes, from increased health and mental health problems to greater engagement in violent behavior, but there is very little research on understanding the underlying cognitive processes that might be affected by this life experience,” said Yale psychologist Dr. Arielle Baskin-Sommers, co-senior author of the paper.

The researchers evaluated 119 males incarcerated in Connecticut prisons, some of whom scored high on exposure to violence. In the study, participants learned about two strangers who faced a moral dilemma: the strangers had to decide whether to inflict painful electric shocks on another person in exchange for money.

While the “good” stranger mostly refused to shock another person for money, the “bad” stranger tended to maximize their profits despite the painful consequences for the other person. The participants were asked to predict the strangers’ choices, and later had to decide how much trust to place in the good versus the bad stranger.

The findings show that participants with higher exposure to violence were able to recognize that the good stranger made fewer harmful choices than the bad stranger. However, when deciding whom to trust, they trusted the good stranger less than participants who had a lower exposure to violence.

“In other words, exposure to violence disrupted the ability to place trust in the ‘right’ person,” said Jennifer Siegel, an Oxford doctoral student and first author of the paper. “We also saw that this disruption led to a greater number of disciplinary infractions within the prison setting.”

Co-senior author Dr. Molly Crockett from Yale said the findings suggest that exposure to violence changes the way people use information they’ve learned to make healthy social decisions.

“Social flourishing depends on learning who is likely to be helpful vs. harmful, and then using that information to decide who to befriend versus avoid,” she said. “Our research suggests exposure to violence impairs this crucial aspect of social functioning.”

Baskin-Sommers added, “The combination of exposure to violence and this specific cognitive disruption may leave certain individuals vulnerable to continually developing problematic social connections that limit their chances for psychosocial and economic stability.”

Source: Yale University

Work Stress and Trouble Sleeping Can Be Toxic Combination

Sun, 04/28/2019 - 6:46pm

A new study shows a link between work stress and trouble sleeping with a threefold higher risk of cardiovascular death in employees with hypertension.

“Sleep should be a time for recreation, unwinding, and restoring energy levels,” said Professor Karl-Heinz Ladwig of the German Research Centre for Environmental Health and the Medical Faculty, Technical University of Munich. “If you have stress at work, sleep helps you recover. Unfortunately poor sleep and job stress often go hand in hand, and when combined with hypertension the effect is even more toxic.”

One-third of the working population has hypertension, also known as high blood pressure, the researcher noted. Previous studies have shown that psychosocial factors have a stronger detrimental effect on individuals with pre-existing cardiovascular risks than on healthy people.

The new study included 1,959 hypertensive workers between the ages of 25 and 65 who did not have cardiovascular disease or diabetes. Compared to those with no work stress and good sleep, people with both risk factors had a three times greater likelihood of death from cardiovascular disease, according to the study’s findings.

People with work stress alone had a 1.6-fold higher risk, while those with only poor sleep had a 1.8 times higher risk, according to the researcher.

During an average follow-up of nearly 18 years, the risk of cardiovascular death in hypertensive employees increased in a stepwise fashion with each additional condition, the study discovered.

Employees with both work stress and impaired sleep had an absolute risk of 7.13 per 1,000 person-years compared to 3.05 per 1,000-person years in those with no stress and healthy sleep. Absolute risk for only work stress was 4.99, while it was 5.95 for poor sleep.

In the study, work stress was defined as jobs with high demand and low control, for example when an employer wants results but denies authority to make decisions.

“If you have high demands but also high control — in other words you can make decisions — this may even be positive for health,” said Ladwig. “But being entrapped in a pressured situation that you have no power to change is harmful.”

Impaired sleep was defined as difficulties falling asleep and/or maintaining sleep. “Maintaining sleep is the most common problem in people with stressful jobs,” he said. “They wake up at 4 o’clock in the morning to go to the toilet and come back to bed ruminating about how to deal with work issues.”

“These are insidious problems,” he continued. “The risk is not having one tough day and no sleep. It is suffering from a stressful job and poor sleep over many years, which [deplete] energy resources and may lead to an early grave.”

Based on these finding, doctors should ask patients with high blood pressure about sleep and job stress, Ladwig said.

“Each condition is a risk factor on its own and there is cross-talk among them, meaning each one increases (the) risk of the other,” he said. “Physical activity, eating healthily, and relaxation strategies are important, as well as blood pressure-lowering medication if appropriate.”

Employers should provide stress management and sleep treatment in the workplace, he added, especially for staff with chronic conditions like hypertension.

The study was published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, a journal of the European Society of Cardiology.

Source: European Society of Cardiology

Obesity Linked to Increased Risk of Anxiety & Depression in Kids

Sun, 04/28/2019 - 9:00am

A new study has found a link between obesity and an increased risk of developing anxiety and depression in children and adolescents.

That increased risk is independent of traditional risk factors, such as parental psychiatric illness and socioeconomic status, according to researchers at the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden.

The study compared more than 12,000 Swedish children who had undergone obesity treatment with more than 60,000 matched controls. It found that girls with obesity were 43 percent more likely to develop anxiety or depression compared to their peers in the general population. Similarly, boys with obesity faced a 33 percent increased risk for anxiety and depression compared to their counterparts, according to the study’s findings.

“We see a clear increased risk of anxiety and depressive disorders in children and adolescents with obesity compared with a population-based comparison group that cannot be explained by other known risk factors, such as socioeconomic status and neuropsychiatric disorders,” said Dr. Louise Lindberg of the Karolinska Institutet, who led the research.

“These results suggest that children and adolescents with obesity also have an increased risk of anxiety and depression, something that healthcare professionals need to be vigilant about.”

Anxiety and depression are reported to be more common in children with obesity than in children of normal weight, but it is unclear whether the association is independent of other known risk factors, the researchers noted. Previous studies are hampered by methodological limitations, including self-reported assessment of anxiety, depression, and weight, they add.

To provide more evidence, the researchers conducted a nationwide population-based study to investigate whether obesity is an independent risk factor for anxiety or depression. The study included 12,507 children between the ages of 6 and 17 who were on the Swedish Childhood Obesity Treatment Register between 2005 and 2015. These children were compared to 60,063 normal weight children from the general population matched for sex, year of birth, and living area, the researchers explained.

The research team adjusted for a range of factors known to affect anxiety and depression, including migration background, neuropsychiatric disorders, parental psychiatric illness, and socioeconomic status.

During the study, 4,230 children and adolescents developed anxiety or depression over an average of 4.5 years.

Obesity was clearly linked with higher risk of anxiety and depression in childhood and adolescence, according to the study’s finding.

Girls (11.6 percent vs 6 percent) and boys (8 percent vs 4.1 percent) with obesity were more likely to be diagnosed with anxiety and depression than those in the general population over the study period.

A further analysis that excluded children with neuropsychiatric disorders or a family history of anxiety or depression found that the risks were even higher. In particular, boys with obesity were twice as likely to experience anxiety or depression as their normal-weight peers, while girls with obesity were 1.5 times more likely, the researchers reported.

“Given the rise of obesity and impaired mental health in young people, understanding the links between childhood obesity, depression, and anxiety is vital,” Lindberg said. “Further studies are needed to explain the mechanisms behind the association between obesity and anxiety/depression.”

The study was presented at the 2019 European Congress on Obesity.

Source: European Association for the Study of Obesity

Study IDs Brain Changes Tied to Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Sun, 04/28/2019 - 6:35am

A new study by an international team of researchers reveals that teens who were exposed to alcohol in the womb exhibit altered brain connections consistent with impaired cognitive performance.

The study, published in the journal Chaos, is one of the first to investigate the biological changes in the brain that drive fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD).

FASD is one of the leading causes of intellectual disability worldwide and is linked to a wide range of neurological issues, including attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

The findings were reached by measuring the responses from a brain imaging technique called magnetoencephalography (MEG) and then analyzing them with tools developed using chaos theory, a branch of mathematics that deals with complex systems that are highly sensitive to slight changes in conditions.

“The paper provides important integrative results for the field of FASD,” said Julia Stephen, Ph.D., an author on the paper. “These results may then indicate that simple sensory measures may provide sensitivity for brain deficits that affect the broader cognitive domain.”

Previous attempts to study the brain circuitry in affected individuals have been hindered by the difficulty of drawing conclusions from the complicated data of magnetoencephalography (MEG). MEG is a neuroimaging technique that maps brain activity by recording magnetic fields produced by the brain’s natural electrical currents.

To get to the heart of the problem, the researchers developed a sophisticated computer technique that could identify which areas of the brain were active when subjects were in the MEG machine.

After data from 19 FASD patients and 21 subjects without FASD was collected, the computational approach revealed several areas of the brain that showed impaired connectivity in the FASD group.

Subjects who were exposed to alcohol in the womb were more likely to have problems with connections through their corpus callosum, the band of brain tissue that connects the left and right halves of the brain. Deficits in this area have been reported in individuals with schizophrenia, multiple sclerosis, autism, depression and abnormalities in sensation.

“This work presents major evidence that children exposed to alcohol prenatally are at risk of suffering from impaired cognitive abilities and other secondary factors,” said Lin Gao, Ph.D., lead author on the paper. “Our study … shows that there is no safe amount or safe stages during pregnancy for alcohol consumption.”

The researchers hope the study inspires other groups to conduct similarly collaborative research on diseases like FASD that benefit from drawing together medical and computational fields.

Source: American Institute of Physics


Insomniacs Often Struggle to Get Past Emotional Distress

Sun, 04/28/2019 - 6:00am

Insomniacs tend to have a hard time getting past embarrassing mistakes, even when the stressful event occurred decades ago, according to a new study by researchers at the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience.

The scientists asked participants to relive their most shameful experiences from decades ago while observing their brain activity with an MRI scan. They found that while good sleepers had settled those experiences in their head as neutralized memories, those with insomnia had not been able to do so.

The finding suggests that failure to neutralize emotional distress could be a major contributor to insomnia and may also help explain why insomnia is the primary risk factor for the development of disorders of mood, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress.

The findings are published in the scientific journal Brain.

Researchers have established that sleep helps us to remember important experiences. But sleep is also necessary to get rid of the emotional distress that may have occurred during those experiences. Both these overnight processes involve changes in the connections between brain cells: some become stronger and consolidate memories, whereas others are weakened and get rid of unwanted associations.

“Sayings like ‘sleeping on it’ to ‘get things off your mind’ reflect our nocturnal digestion of daytime experiences,” said doctoral student and first author Rick Wassing. “Brain research now shows that only good sleepers profit from sleep when it comes to shedding emotional tension. The process does not work well in people with insomnia. In fact, their restless nights can even make them feel worse.”

The new findings support a previous study conducted by the same research group. In this study, published in the journal Sleep, the researchers asked participants to sing along to a song karaoke-style. Headphones prevented participants from hearing their own voice and finding the correct pitch. Their singing was recorded and played back for them later.

Many participants felt intense shame when listening to their own out-of-tune solo singing. But when good sleepers listened to their own singing again after getting a good night’s sleep, they didn’t feel that distressed about it anymore. They had released the distress from their minds. However, after a restless night, people with insomnia became even more upset about their embarrassing experience.

The new findings suggest that insomnia triggers may actually be found in brain circuits that regulate emotions, rather than in brain regions that regulate sleep, as previously believed. These emotion-regulating circuits contain risk genes for insomnia and may not activate properly, as they normally do, during rapid eye movement sleep.

Without the benefits of sound sleep, distressing events of decades ago continue to activate the emotional circuits of the brain as if they are happening right now. This suggests that people with insomnia may continue to be haunted by memories of past distress.

Source: Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience



When Your Pain is My Gain

Sat, 04/27/2019 - 7:00am

If someone in the workplace is mistreated, their colleagues may respond with empathy or with schadenfreude.

Schadenfreude is experiencing pleasure, joy, or self-satisfaction after learning about or witnessing the troubles, failures, or humiliation of another.

A new study shows that schadenfreude occurs primarily in highly competitive work environments, when one person’s misfortune facilitates another’s goals.

Even worse, schadenfreude can be contagious, according to researchers at the University of Zurich. That’s why it is good business policy to establish an inclusive working climate and team-based incentives, researchers say.

Most employees have heard of or witnessed a colleague being mistreated, talked over, or bullied. To date, most research on this subject argues that observers feel empathy toward victims and anger toward perpetrators.

However, Dr. Jamie Gloor, a business economist at UZH, believes that this view oversimplifies the complex nature of social dynamics. Working with colleagues from Shanghai Jiao Tong University and the National University of Singapore, she studied the emergence, development, and behavioral consequences of schadenfreude, an emotion discussed by philosophers as early as Aristotle but which modern organizational research has largely overlooked.

While modern organizations can provide positive social experiences, such as camaraderie and support, they also create competition, envy, and intergroup tension, according to the researchers.

These negative dynamics increase the likelihood that some people may benefit from the mistreatment of others, the researchers said, pointing out that it is under these conditions that schadenfreude is able to arise and thrive.

“In complex and progressively busy environments, like workplaces, we focus on what is most relevant to us and our goals,” Gloor said.

This means that schadenfreude is more likely to be directed toward employees who particularly stand out and are envied, she noted.

“The mistreatment can level the playing field, potentially increasing one’s own chances for coveted rewards, such as bonuses and promotions,” she said.

Co-workers may be particularly bold in showing their schadenfreude if the victim is deemed to have deserved the mistreatment and is somehow responsible, for example, because of past misdeeds. The researchers point out the distinction between this righteous schadenfreude and ambivalent schadenfreude, which is when the pleasure in someone else’s misfortune is clouded by feelings of guilt and shame.

The problem with schadenfreude, particularly when it is considered to be justified, is that it can set off more cycles of mistreatment, the researchers said.

This can lead co-workers to start treating the target of their schadenfreude unfairly, for example, by refusing to help them or actively excluding them. In this way, pleasure in another person’s pain can create vicious circles of mistreatment, Gloor said.

“If schadenfreude becomes pervasive among employees, mistreatment could also become the norm,” she added.

How can managers counteract schadenfreude?

The researchers advise leaders to develop shared visions and promote team-based rather than individual incentives.

Creating an inclusive environment may also help reduce feelings of “otherness,” which can also promote feelings of schadenfreude.

It is also important for bosses to maintain fair policies and procedures to reduce potential envy and resentment toward star performers, they said.

Finally, it may also be worth paying close attention to opinion leaders within social groups to avert spirals of mistreatment, the researchers concluded.

Source: University of Zurich

For Some, Creativity Peaks in Mid-50s

Sat, 04/27/2019 - 6:00am

A new study of winners of the Nobel Prize in economics suggests that there are two different life cycles of creativity, one that hits some people early in their career and another that tends to strike later in life.

Among laureates, for example, the creativity peak either appeared in their mid-20s or later in their mid-50s. And when this breakthrough occurred was tied to their creative style.

“Whether you hit your creative peak early or late in your career depends on whether you have a conceptual or experimental approach,” said lead author Dr. Bruce Weinberg, professor of economics at Ohio State University.

Conceptual innovators tend to peak early in their careers before they become immersed in the already accepted theories of the field, said Weinberg. They think outside the box, challenging conventional wisdom and come up with new ideas suddenly.

Experimental innovators, on the other hand, who peak later, tend to gather knowledge throughout their careers and find groundbreaking ways to analyze, interpret and synthesize that information into new ways of understanding.

The new findings, published in a special issue of the journal De Economist, support previous studies showing similar patterns in the arts and other sciences.

“We believe what we found in this study isn’t limited to economics, but could apply to creativity more generally,” said Weinberg. “Many people believe that creativity is exclusively associated with youth, but it really depends on what kind of creativity you’re talking about.”

Weinberg conducted the study with Dr. David Galenson, professor of economics at the University of Chicago. They arranged the 31 laureates on a list from the most experimental to the most conceptual. This ranking was based on specific, objective characteristics of the laureates’ single most important work which was indicative of a conceptual or experimental approach.

For example, conceptual economists tend to use assumptions, proofs and equations and have a mathematical appendix or introduction to their papers. Experimental economists rely on direct inference from facts, so their papers tend to have more references to specific items, such as places, time periods and industries or commodities.

After classifying the laureates, the researchers determined the age at which each laureate made his most important contribution to economics and could be considered at his creative peak.

They did this through a convention of how academics rate the value and influence of a research paper. A paper is more influential in the field when other scientists cite the paper in their own work. So the more citations a paper accumulates, the more influential it is.

Weinberg and Galenson used two different methods to calculate at which age the laureates were cited most often and thus were at the height of their creativity.

The two methods found that conceptual laureates peaked at about either 29 or 25 years of age. Experimental laureates peaked when they were roughly twice as old — around 57 in one method or the mid-50s in the other.

Most other studies in this area look at differences in peak ages of creativity between disciplines, such as physics versus medical sciences. These studies generally find small variations across disciplines, with creativity peaking in the mid-30s to early 40s in most scientific fields.

“These studies attribute differences in creative peaks to the nature of the scientific fields themselves, not to the scientists doing the work,” Weinberg said. “Our research suggests than when you’re most creative is less a product of the scientific field that you’re in and is more about how you approach the work you do.”

Source: Ohio State University



Pets Help Older Adults Cope with Life Issues

Fri, 04/26/2019 - 7:30am

Emerging research from a national poll discovers pet ownership, be it an affectionate cat, a tail-wagging dog, a chirping parakeet or even a calm goldfish, may help older adults cope with mental and physical health issues.

However, researchers discovered having pet is not always health-inducing as they can also bring concerns, and some people may even put their animals’ needs ahead of their own health.

Investigators discovered 55 percent of adults ages 50 to 80 have a pet, and more than half of those have multiple pets. More than three-quarters of pet owners say their animals reduce their stress, and nearly as many say pets give them a sense of purpose. But 18 percent also said having a pet or pets puts a strain on their budget.

Two-thirds of all pet owners, and 78 percent of dog owners, said their pet helps them be physically active, according to the new findings from the National Poll on Healthy Aging. The poll is conducted by the University of Michigan Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation and sponsored by AARP and Michigan Medicine, U-M’s academic medical center.

Pet ownership appears to be especially beneficial for those who reported that their health was fair or poor. More than 70 percent of these older adults said their pet helps them cope with physical or emotional symptoms, and 46 percent said their pets help take their mind off of pain.

“We have long known that pets are a common and naturally occurring source of support,” says Cathleen Connell, PhD, a professor at the U-M School of Public Health who has studied the role of companion animals in older adults’ lives.

“Although the benefits of pets are significant, social connections and activities with friends and family are also key to quality of life across the lifespan. Helping older adults find low cost ways to support pet ownership while not sacrificing other important relationships and priorities is an investment in overall mental and physical health.”

Poll director Preeti Malani, MD, who has training in caring for older adults, says the poll results indicates a need for physicians and other health care providers to ask older adults about the role of pets in their lives.

“More activity, through dog walking or other aspects of pet care, is almost always a good thing for older adults. But the risk of falls is real for many, and six percent of those in our poll said they had fallen or injured themselves due to a pet,” she says.

“At the same time, given the importance of pets to many people, the loss of a pet can deal a very real psychological blow that providers, family and friends should be attuned to.”

“This study highlights the many physical, psychological, and social benefits that pets can have for older adults,” says Alison Bryant, Ph.D., senior vice president of research for AARP. “In recognition of these health benefits, more assisted living facilities today are allowing residents to have pets.”

Researchers discovered companionship and social connection were positive side effects of pet ownership for many poll respondents.

In fact, more than half of those who owned pets said they did so specifically to have a companion — and a slightly higher percentage said their pets sleep in bed with them. Sixty-five percent of pet owners said having a pet helps connect them to other people, too.

“Relationships with pets tend to be less complicated than those with humans, and pets are often a source of great enjoyment,” says Mary Janevic, PhD, MPH, an assistant research scientist at the U-M School of Public Health who helped design the poll.

“They also provide older adults with a sense of being needed and loved.”

Nevertheless, ownership of a pet is linked with responsibility, with more than half of pet owners saying that having a pet also made it difficult to travel or enjoy activities outside the home.

And one in six said that they put their pet’s needs ahead of their own health needs — a figure that was closer to one in four among those with health issues.

“Later life is often a time when people have more freedom to travel, and a long list of things they want to do with their free time, and sometimes having a pet can get in the way,”says Janevic.

“For people living on a fixed income, expenses related to health care for pets, and especially pets that have chronic health issues, can be a struggle. Older adults can also develop health problems or disabilities that make pet care difficult.”

The survey also provided sage information regarding a non-pet owner perspective. Investigators discovered the 45 percent of older adults who said they don’t have pets gave many reasons for not keeping a dog, cat, fish, lizard, bird or small mammal around.

Among non-pet owners, 42 percent said they didn’t want to be tied down. Twenty percent said they didn’t have time, and 23 percent gave cost as the reason, while 16 percent said their own allergies, or those of someone in their household, were the reason.

For those who can’t own pets due to allergies, budget constraints, housing circumstances or schedules, there’s often a need for volunteers at local animal shelters or pet-sitting for friends and family, the researchers say. They note that health care providers and family may even want to recommend these options to older adults who have no pets and wish to have one.

The National Poll on Healthy Aging results are based on responses from a nationally representative sample of 2,051 adults aged 50 to 80 who answered a wide range of questions online. Questions were written, and data interpreted and compiled, by the IHPI team. Laptops and Internet access were provided to poll respondents who did not already have them.

Source: University of Michigan

Older Adults Who Fall for Scams May Be at Greater Risk for Dementia

Fri, 04/26/2019 - 7:00am

Older adults are often targeted by con-artists and are highly vulnerable to scams and fraud, particularly scams that are financial in nature. Now a new study finds that older adults who easily fall for these scams may be at greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s dementia or mild cognitive impairment.

The findings, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, suggest that changes in social judgment may occur before any obvious changes in thinking or memory.

Researchers from Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center in Chicago asked 935 dementia-free older adults to complete a “scam awareness questionnaire” to calculate a scam awareness score. For approximately 6 years, participants also completed traditional neuropsychological tests each year, and the 264 participants who died had an autopsy of the brain to look for the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease.

The research team found that low scam awareness was a predictor of poor cognitive outcomes. Low scam awareness was also linked to Alzheimer’s disease pathology in the brain. According to the researchers, the findings suggest that low scam awareness is an early sign of impending mild cognitive impairment and dementia.

The researchers conclude that screening for behaviors such as scam awareness may help to identify people at risk for dementia before cognitive symptoms begin to surface.

An older adult who is defrauded may end up unable to pay for medications, food, and long-term care, the author wrote. The author provides an example of a patient who was scammed out of the majority of his life savings by a con-artist who tricked him into thinking he had won the lottery.

Reduced financial capacity, financial abuse and exploitation are major economic and public health problems. As such, the new findings should be a call to action for health care systems, the financial services industry and their regulators to protect the health and wealth of our aging population.

Source: American College of Physicians

Study: Specific Form of Brain-Imaging Aids Care for Alzheimer’s

Fri, 04/26/2019 - 6:30am

A new national study has found that a form of brain imaging that detects Alzheimer’s-related “plaques” significantly influences the clinical management of patients with mild cognitive impairment and dementia.

Researchers discovered that providing clinicians with the results of positron emission tomography (PET) scans changed medical management — including the use of medications and counseling — in nearly two-thirds of cases. The change in the way clinicians provide care is more than double what researchers predicted in advance of the study.

In the study, the technique known as “amyloid PET imaging” identified amyloid plaques in the brain and lead to an alteration of the cause of cognitive impairment in more than 30 percent of study participants. Alzheimer’s disease is characterized by the accumulation of both amyloid protein plaques and tau protein “tangles” in the brain, the presence of which are required for a definitive diagnosis. Until recently, amyloid plaques could only be detected by postmortem analysis of autopsied brain tissue.

With the advent of amyloid PET — which involves injecting patients with “tracer” molecules that stick to amyloid plaques and can be used to visualize their location in the brain — it became possible to detect plaques with a brain scan and therefore more accurately diagnose people living with the disease.

PET imaging results that reveal no signs of amyloid buildup in the brain rule out Alzheimer’s disease as the cause of memory loss, can prompt an evaluation for alternative and sometimes reversible causes for the memory loss. For example, medication side effects, sleep or mood disorders and other medical conditions could be the cause for memory loss and may be treatable.

Though there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, early diagnosis enables physicians to prescribe appropriate symptom-management therapies, counsel families on important safety and care-planning issues and direct people to clinical trials for promising new drugs.

The multicenter study of more than 11,000 Medicare beneficiaries appears in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). The study was managed by the American College of Radiology and led by scientists at the Alzheimer’s Association, UC San Francisco, Brown University School of Public Health, Virginia Commonwealth University School of Public Health, Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, UC Davis School of Medicine, and the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research.

“We are impressed by the magnitude of these results, which make it clear that amyloid PET imaging can have a major impact on how we diagnose and care for patients with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of cognitive decline,” said study lead author and principal investigator Gil Rabinovici, MD, from the UCSF Memory and Aging Center.

“These results present highly credible, large-scale evidence that amyloid PET imaging can be a powerful tool to improve the accuracy of Alzheimer’s diagnosis and lead to better medical management, especially in difficult-to-diagnose cases,” added Maria C. Carrillo, PhD, Alzheimer’s Association chief science officer and a co-author of the study.

“It is important that amyloid PET imaging be more broadly accessible to those who need it.” Improved diagnosis of Alzheimer’s allows people with the disease and their families to plan for the future, including legal and financial issues, and accessing resources and support programs.

However, despite FDA approval of amyloid PET tracers, use of amyloid PET imaging to assist with the accurate diagnosis of the cause of someone’s dementia is currently not covered by Medicare or health insurance plans, making it unavailable to most people.

Launched in 2016, the four-year Imaging Dementia – Evidence for Amyloid Scanning (IDEAS) study was developed by a team of scientists convened by the Alzheimer’s Association to determine whether learning the results amyloid PET imaging would change medical management and health outcomes of people with memory loss and cognitive decline.

IDEAS recruited nearly 1,000 dementia specialists at 595 sites in the U.S. and enrolled more than 16,000 Medicare beneficiaries with mild cognitive impairment or dementia of uncertain cause. Under their Coverage with Evidence Development policy, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) reimbursed amyloid PET scans conducted at 343 facilities and interpreted by more than 700 imaging specialists as part of this clinical study.

“This was a uniquely real-world study that looked at the impact of amyloid PET imaging in community clinics and other non-academic settings, and demonstrates for the first time how much impact this technology has in real-world dementia care,” Rabinovici said.

The newly published results from the first phase of the IDEAS study focused on how amyloid PET scans altered physician diagnosis and treatment plans for the 11,409 participants who completed the study.

As the study’s primary endpoint, the scientists collected data on how physicians altered participants’ medication prescriptions and counseling about safety and future planning. As a secondary endpoint, the researchers evaluated whether PET imaging results caused physicians to alter participants’ diagnoses.

Finally, several exploratory endpoints included physician decisions about referrals to Alzheimer’s clinical trials. The newly published data reveal that physicians changed their clinical management of more than 60 percent of patients in the study, more than double the number the authors had predicted in advance.

In participants who joined the study with mild cognitive impairment and whose brain scans revealed the presence of significant amyloid deposits, clinicians were twice as likely to prescribe Alzheimer’s drugs following PET imaging (~40 percent prior to imaging vs. ~82 percent following imaging). In those with dementia and significant amyloid buildup on PET scans, prescriptions of these drugs rose from ~63 percent to ~91 percent after the study.

Doctors discontinued the use of these drugs in some patients whose scans revealed little amyloid deposition. In addition, for approximately one quarter of study participants, physicians changed non-Alzheimer’s drug prescriptions and counseling recommendations based on PET imaging results.

PET scans that revealed no significant amyloid buildup led physicians to rule out Alzheimer’s disease for approximately one in three patients who had previously been given an Alzheimer’s diagnosis. On the other hand, PET scans that showed significant amyloid plaque buildup led to a new diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease in nearly half of patients who had not previously been diagnosed with the disease.

The researchers also discovered that one-third of participants who had previously been referred to Alzheimer’s clinical trials showed no sign of amyloid buildup based on PET imaging, which generally rules out Alzheimer’s disease as the cause of their cognitive symptoms.

Based on the imaging results, physicians were able to ensure that nearly all patients referred to Alzheimer’s trials were amyloid-positive (93 percent), which is critical to these trials’ success.

“Accurate diagnoses are critical to ensure patients are receiving the most appropriate treatments. In particular, Alzheimer’s medications can worsen cognitive decline in people with other brain diseases,” said Rabinovici.

“But perhaps more fundamentally, people who come into the clinic with concerns about memory problems want answers. An early, definitive diagnosis may allow individuals to be part of planning for the next phase of their lives and to make decisions that otherwise would eventually need to be made by others.”

Source: Alzheimer’s Association/EurekAlert

Photo: Amyloid-positive (left) and amyloid-negative (right) PET scans can respectively be used to diagnose or rule out Alzheimer’s disease in individuals with memory loss or cognitive decline. Credit: UCSF Memory and Aging Center.

Many Expectant Moms Feel Pushed Out of Their Jobs

Fri, 04/26/2019 - 6:00am

Many pregnant women feel like they are pushed out of their jobs, while new fathers tend to get a career boost, according to a new study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

Researchers from Florida State University (FSU) investigated two long-standing theories on why new mothers are more likely to leave the workforce than new fathers: The first theory suggests that pregnant women decide for themselves to “opt out” of work due to changing personal and career values. The second indicates that pregnant women often feel “pushed out” of the workplace.

The new findings suggest that the first notion is often driven by the second. In other words, the researchers found that inherent biases do exist against expectant mothers, which in turn makes them feel unwelcome in the workplace, often leading to them to opt out.

“We found that pregnant women experienced decreased career encouragement in the workplace only after they disclosed they were pregnant,” said Samantha Paustian-Underdahl, assistant professor of management at FSU’s College of Business, who has been studying the issue of expectant mothers in the workplace for six years.

“Once they told managers and co-workers, we saw a decline in career encouragement for women but an increase in career encouragement for men.”

That kind of contrasting treatment between men and women in the workplace has been documented in previous work. Known as the “motherhood penalty” and “fatherhood premium,” researchers have attributed both to old cultural stereotypes that favor fathers as breadwinners and women as caregivers.

Labor statistics back up that financial contrast: When couples have children, women’s salaries tend to go down while men’s go up, yet few studies have been able to pinpoint the causes of those wage differences.

“This is one of the first studies to look at the workplace experiences of both men and women, and it shows men get benefits from parenthood that women don’t,” Paustian-Underdahl said.

The findings did not find examples of pregnant women becoming less enthusiastic about working, however.

“Contrary to expectations, career motivation increased for both men and women over the pregnancy,” Paustian-Underdahl said. “We expected career motivation to decrease for mothers throughout pregnancy, but we found the opposite to be true.”

But if expectant moms felt pushed out by an organization, then their career motivation dropped and they chose to leave their jobs. “This is the first study to show that being pushed out can actually drive women to adopt an opting-out attitude,” she said.

The research offers new ideas on how to treat expectant women. Primarily, workplaces should not reduce their career-related encouragement toward pregnant employees. Furthermore, managers should provide both fathers and mothers with social and career support to help them attain their work and family goals.

Paustian-Underdahl hopes her findings prompt all workers to stop making assumptions about men and women with children.

“If employers want to retain top talent, they should have honest conversations with employees about their career goals and plans, and then managers need to provide support to help employees achieve those goals,” she said. “Organizations need to give their workers the encouragement they’re looking for because, in this study, pregnant women really wanted career support, and they did not get it.”

Source: Florida State University

Quick Fix to Improve Mood

Fri, 04/26/2019 - 5:30am

Life is an emotional event with ups and downs. Being in a bad mood is not pleasant and we all have solutions for lifting our spirits. Sometimes this may involve going for a jog, having a glass of wine or perhaps consuming a piece of chocolate. While these activities can be beneficial, new research suggests we should turn outward and rather than centering on ways to make ourselves feel better, wish others well.

“Walking around and offering kindness to others in the world reduces anxiety and increases happiness and feelings of social connection,” said Douglas Gentile, professor of psychology at Iowa State University. Gentile and his research team — Dawn Sweet, senior lecturer in psychology, and Lanmiao He, graduate student in psychology — discovered the strategy is simple, doesn’t take a lot of time, and is easily incorporated into our daily activities.

Gentile, Sweet, and He tested the benefits of three different techniques intended to reduce anxiety and increase happiness or well-being.

The researchers had college students walk around a building for 12 minutes and practice one of the following strategies:

  • Loving-kindness: Looking at the people they see and thinking to themselves, “I wish for this person to be happy.” Students were encouraged to really mean it as they were thinking it.
  • Interconnectedness: Looking at the people they see and thinking about how they are connected to each other. It was suggested that students think about the hopes and feelings they may share or that they might take a similar class.
  • Downward social comparison: Looking at the people they see and thinking about how they may be better off than each of the people they encountered.

The study also included a control group in which students were instructed to look at people and focus on what they saw on the outside, such clothing, color combinations, and textures as well as makeup and accessories. All students were surveyed before and after the walk to measure anxiety, happiness, stress, empathy and connectedness. Study results appear in the Journal of Happiness Studies.

For the study, researchers compared each technique with the control group and found those who practiced loving-kindness or wished others well felt happier, more connected, caring, empathetic, and less anxious. The interconnectedness group was more empathetic and connected. Downward social comparison showed no benefit and was significantly worse than the loving-kindness technique.

Students who compared themselves to others felt less empathetic, caring and connected than students who extended well wishes to others. Although previous studies have shown downward social comparison has a buffering effect when we are feeling bad about ourselves, researchers found the opposite.

“At its core, downward social comparison is a competitive strategy,” Sweet said. “That’s not to say it can’t have some benefit, but competitive mindsets have been linked to stress, anxiety and depression.”

The researchers also examined how different types of people reacted to each technique. They expected people who were naturally mindful might benefit more from the loving-kindness strategy, or narcissistic people might have a hard time wishing for others to be happy. They were somewhat surprised by the results.

“This simple practice is valuable regardless of your personality type,” He said. “Extending loving-kindness to others worked equally well to reduce anxiety, increase happiness, empathy and feelings of social connection.”

Researchers believe the results of the study suggest participation in social media to improve mood may be risky as use of social media prompts comparisons.

“It is almost impossible not to make comparisons on social media,” Gentile said. “Our study didn’t test this, but we often feel envy, jealousy, anger or disappointment in response to what we see on social media, and those emotions disrupt our sense of well-being.”

Comparison works well when we are learning something or making a choice, Gentile said. For example, as children we learn by watching others and comparing their results to ours. However, when it comes to well-being, comparison is not as effective as loving-kindness, which consistently improves happiness.

Source: Iowa State University