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Updated: 47 min 6 sec ago

How Men and Women View Financial Debt

Thu, 04/05/2018 - 7:00am

Researchers have long recognized a gender divide in money matters. When it comes to high-risk investments, for example, women are known to be more cautious than men.

Regarding debt, however, it has remained unclear how gender plays a role. In a new study, published in The Journal of Consumer Affairs, researchers found that men are more willing to acquire debt in order to purchase luxury items, while women tend to see debt as a safeguard to make ends meet.

“We found that gender absolutely influences attitudes about debt,” said Dr. Mary Eschelbach Hansen, a study author and American University economics professor.

“When women observe others facing financial troubles or unemployment, or when women themselves have these experiences, they come to view debt as a tool to help smooth consumption. And, in general, they are less tempted than men to use debt to buy luxuries.”

Using consumer survey data from 2004-2013, the research team looked at whether women and men had differing tolerances for debt and whether economic events — both recent and in the past — had an impact on their feelings about taking on debt. The study specifically focused on men and women who had never been married.

Hansen conducted the study with colleagues Drs. Erin E. George, assistant professor of economics at Hood College, and Julie Lyn Routzahn, associate professor of economics and business administration at McDaniel College.

The researchers looked at the responses of both genders regarding their attitudes toward borrowing money for luxury purchases and toward covering living expenses when income is cut.

They also took into account whether the participants had recently been unemployed or had difficulty making debt payments. The researchers used changes between the annual surveys to measure how living through the Great Recession affected women and men.

The Great Recession, a period of global economic decline which began in 2007, is the only recession since 1973 in which women experienced substantial job loss. Declining tax revenues led to harsh measures that disproportionately affected women working in the public sector and those who received public benefits.

The subprime mortgage crisis was also more hard on women, as women were more likely to be targeted by lenders to receive subprime loans.

“As women observed the negative effects of the mortgage crisis and the Great Recession on other women, it reinforced their beliefs to use credit to bridge gaps in income,” said George.

“But perhaps more importantly, the experience of the Great Recession made women more cautious about taking on debt for non-essentials. This attitude of caution is a central reason why their financial position improved relative to the position of men.”

For example, the researchers note that in the 2010 survey, the monthly debt burden of never-married men was higher than the burden carried by the typical never-married woman.

The findings are good news for women, say the researchers, because if women mainly use debt to smooth consumption, they can protect their well-being. If personal difficulties make women less willing to borrow for luxuries, then they will probably experience improvement in their financial stability. They will also have greater potential to acquire assets, thus reducing financial insecurity in old age.

Since the findings concern women who have never married, improved financial stability increases the bargaining power of women entering marriage, thus reducing domestic abuse and divorce, and improving outcomes for children.

The findings also suggest that education about debt management should be spread across adulthood and that gender-specific education may be more effective than a gender-neutral curriculum.

“Lifetime financial education is important,” said Routzahn. “People’s attitudes change over time as things happen to them and in the wider world. Women, in particular, tend to have lower wages and assets. Focusing on financial education for women at critical junctures in their lives, when they may benefit from such education, should be considered.”

“Critical junctures could include, for example, when women are applying for unemployment insurance. That would be a good juncture because we know women are strongly affected by those experiences.”

Source: American University



Parkinson’s Can Lead to Feeling Demoralized, Not Depressed

Thu, 04/05/2018 - 6:00am

A new study suggests people with Parkinson’s disease who show signs of depression may actually have a condition called demoralization. Demoralization is a state of feeling helpless and hopeless, with a self-perceived inability to perform tasks in stressful situations.

With depression, a person usually knows the appropriate course of action and lacks motivation to act. With demoralization, a person may feel incompetent and therefore uncertain about the appropriate course of action. The two can occur together.

The study, which found that demoralization may be common in Parkinson’s disease, appears online in Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

“The distinction between depression and demoralization is important because the treatments approaches are different,” said study author Brian Koo, M.D., of Yale University in New Haven, Conn., and a member of the American Academy of Neurology.

“Demoralization may be better treated with cognitive-behavioral therapy rather than antidepressant medication, which is often prescribed for depression.”

For the study, researchers enrolled a total of 180 people with an average age of 68. Of the group, 94 people had Parkinson’s disease and 86 people did not. Those in the control group were matched for sex, race, education and age.

Participants were evaluated for demoralization with questionnaires asking questions such as “Do you experience feelings of helplessness, hopelessness or giving up?” and “Do you feel that you have failed to meet your expectations or those of other people?” They were also assessed for depression.

Researchers found that people with Parkinson’s disease were 2.6 times more likely to be demoralized than people without the disease. In people with Parkinson’s disease, 18 percent, or 17 of 94 people, were demoralized compared to 8 percent, or seven of 86 people in the control group.

Additionally, in the people with Parkinson’s disease, 20 percent, or 19 of 94 people, were depressed compared to 4 percent, or three of 86 people in the control group.

While demoralization and depression can occur at the same time, researchers found there were individuals with just one of the conditions.

Among those with Parkinson’s disease, 37 percent, or seven out of 19 people with depression were not demoralized. Also, 29 percent, or five out of 17 people who were demoralized were not depressed.

“This suggests that demoralization is not simply a marker of depression,” Koo said.

Researchers also found that demoralization, but not depression, was tied to the inability to control movement.

Koo said, “Since our research shows a link between demoralization and a person’s ability to function, more research may help further define how to best treat demoralization in Parkinson’s disease.”

Research explain that one limitation of the study was a lack of information on details of employment. Another was that Parkinson’s patients with severe disease were more likely to not participate, so the prevalence of demoralization may be underestimated.

Source: American Academy of Neurology

Alpha Brain Wave Frequency May Reveal Vulnerability to Pain

Wed, 04/04/2018 - 7:00am

The personal experience of pain is quite variable among individuals, even in cases where the underlying injury is identical.

Although previous studies have shown that genetics can influence pain susceptibility, researchers still haven’t developed a reliable tool to help predict patients’ pain levels, particularly after medical interventions such as chemotherapy or surgery.

Now a new study, conducted by researchers at the University of Birmingham (UK) and the University of Maryland, finds that measuring the frequency of a person’s alpha brain waves may help reveal how vulnerable he or she is to developing and experiencing pain.  Alpha waves (8 to 12 Hz) are present when the brain is in an idling default-state such as while daydreaming, meditating or practicing mindfulness.

The aim of the study was to see if — based on the resting brain activity of a healthy individual — it were possible to predict how much pain the participant would report once prolonged pain had been induced.

The findings show that participants with a slower frequency of alpha brain waves reported being in much more pain than those who had a faster alpha frequency.

The researchers induced the pain by applying and heating capsaicin paste, an ingredient found in hot chili peppers, to the left forearms of all 21 participants. Topical capsaicin exposure induces “robust thermal hyperalgesia,” a common symptom in chronic pain. All of the volunteers in the study experienced a state of pain for around an hour.

Using an electroencephalogram (EEG) to measure electrical activity of the brain, the researchers discovered that those who had a slower frequency of alpha brain waves recorded before the pain reported being in much more pain than those who had a fast frequency of alpha brain waves.

The researchers also recorded the activity of alpha brain waves during the experience of pain, and if alpha frequency increased (relative to the no-pain condition) the participants reported to be in less pain than when alpha pain decreased.

“Here we observe that an individual’s alpha frequency can be used as a measure of an individual’s predisposition to developing pain,” said co-senior author Dr. Ali Mazaheri, of the University of Birmingham’s Center for Human Brain Health. “This has a direct relevance to understanding what makes an individual prone to chronic pain after a medical intervention, such as surgery or chemotherapy.

“Potentially this means we could be able to identify which individuals are more likely to develop pain as a result of a medical procedure and take steps early on in formulating treatment strategies in patients likely to be predisposed to developing chronic pain.”

Dr. David Seminowicz and graduate student Andrew Furman of the University of Maryland were also authors of the report.

“Alpha frequency has been found to be slower in individuals who have experienced chronic pain. So the fact we observed that the slowing down of alpha activity as a result of pain correlated with the intensity of an individual’s pain report was not that unexpected,” said Furman.

But he said that what was very surprising was that the pain-free alpha frequency, recorded before the onset of pain, could predict how much pain individuals would experience.

“This would suggest that it could be that the slowing of alpha activity in the chronic pain patients isn’t because of the pain, but rather these individuals had slow alpha frequency to begin with, and as such were more prone or vulnerable to developing pain.”

The findings are published in the journal Neuroimage.

Source: University of Birmingham

Sudden Financial Loss Can Be Life-Threatening

Wed, 04/04/2018 - 5:59am

Researchers have discovered that a sudden loss of net worth in middle or older age is associated with a significantly higher risk of death. Investigators from Northwestern Medicine and University of Michigan discovered that when people lose 75 percent or more of their total wealth during a two-year period, they are 50 percent more likely to die in the next 20 years.

“We found losing your life savings has a profound effect on a person’s long-term health,” said lead author Dr. Lindsay Pool, a research assistant professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

“It’s a very pervasive issue. It wasn’t just a few individuals but more than 25 percent of Americans who had a wealth shock over the 20 years of the study.”

Although the rate of savings loss spiked during the Great Recession, significant losses occurred for many middle- and older-age Americans across the 20-year study period beginning in 1992 regardless of the larger economic climate.

The study, published in JAMA, is the first to look at the long-term effects of a large financial loss.

“Our findings offer new evidence for a potentially important social determinant of health that so far has not been recognized: sudden loss of wealth in late middle or older age,” said senior author Dr. Carlos Mendes de Leon, professor of epidemiology and global public health at University of Michigan’s School of Public Health.

The study also examined a group of low-income people who didn’t have any wealth accumulated and who are considered socially vulnerable in terms of their health. Their increased risk of mortality over 20 years was 67 percent.

“The most surprising finding was that having wealth and losing it is almost as bad for your life expectancy as never having wealth,” Pool said.

The likely cause of the increased death risk may be twofold. “These people suffer a mental health toll because of the financial loss as well as pulling back from medical care because they can’t afford it,” Pool said.

The new study builds on prior research in the wake of the Great Recession from 2007 to the early 2010s. Those studies examined short-term health effects such as depression, blood pressure and other markers of stress that changed as peoples’ financial circumstances took a nosedive.

The study was based on data from the Health and Retirement Study from the National Institute on Aging (NIA). Started in 1992, the longitudinal study follows a representative group of U.S. adults 50 years and older every two years. More than 8,000 participants were included in the Northwestern study.

“This shows clinicians need to have an awareness of their patients’ financial circumstances,” Pool said. “It’s something they need to ask about to understand if their patients may be at an increased health risk.”

Next, Pool and colleagues will investigate the mechanisms that lead to higher mortality after a big financial loss. “Why are people dying, and can we intervene at some point in a way that might reverse the course of that increased risk?” she said.

Source: Northwestern University/EurekAlert

Self-Rating Poor Mental Health as ‘Good’ Tied to Better Outcomes a Year Later

Tue, 04/03/2018 - 7:00am

A new study finds that over 60 percent of patients who screen positive for either depression or serious psychological distress rate their own mental health as “good.” And one year later, these individuals are significantly less likely to meet criteria for mental health problems, even without any treatment, compared to those who rate their mental health more negatively.

The findings, published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, suggest that self-rated mental health may have an independent positive impact on future mental health.

“Self-rated mental health is a very powerful construct that can be useful in clinical practice if we consider it a potential screener for mental health. Positive ratings of mental health even in the face of symptoms might not be a result of denial but may offer valuable insights about a person’s ability to cope with their symptoms,” said study co-author Dr. Sirry Alang, assistant professor of sociology at Lehigh University.

Alang noted that strong mental health is not just the absence of symptoms or mental illness, but also includes the ability to cope and adapt to life, fulfill desired roles, sustain meaningful relationships and maintain a sense of purpose and belonging.

Alang conducted the study with Drs. Donna D. McAlpine of the University of Minnesota and Ellen McCreedy of Brown University.

Using data from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, the authors sampled people who met the criteria for having a mental health problem and then compared the outcomes of those who did and did not rate their own mental health as poor.

After examining whether self-rated mental health affects the future outcomes of individuals with mental health problems, the team estimated the impact of these self-ratings on later mental health among disordered persons who did not receive treatment.

The study authors say they were surprised to find that self-rated mental health had an independent positive impact on future mental health. They conclude that asking patients to rate their own mental health may be a simple intervention to help identify individuals who might benefit most from treatment.

Source: Lehigh University


Persuasive Messages Couched In Emotion May Backfire

Tue, 04/03/2018 - 6:00am

New research finds that people tend toward appeals that aren’t simply more positive or negative but are infused with emotionality, even when they’re trying to sway an audience that may not be receptive to such language.

The findings appear in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

“Beyond simply becoming more positive or negative, people spontaneously shift toward using more emotional language when trying to persuade,” said researcher Matthew D. Rocklage, Ph.D., of The Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.

We might imagine that people would use very positive words such as “excellent” or “outstanding” to bring others around to their point of view, but the findings showed that people specifically used terms that convey a greater degree of emotion, such as “exciting” and “thrilling.”

Understanding the components that make for a persuasive message is a critical focus of fields ranging from advertising to politics and even public health.

In the new study, Rocklage and colleagues wanted to look at the question from a different angle, exploring how we communicate with others when we are the ones trying to persuade.

“It’s possible that to be seen as rational and reasonable, people might remove emotion from their language when attempting to persuade,” says Rocklage.

Drawing from attitudes theory and social-function theories of emotion, however, Rocklage and colleagues Drs. Derek D. Rucker and Loran F. Nordgren hypothesized that people would go the other way, tapping into emotional language as a means of social influence.

In one online study, the researchers showed 1,285 participants a photo and some relevant details for a particular product available from They asked some participants to write a five-star review that would persuade readers to purchase that product, while they asked others to write a five-star review that simply described the product’s positive features.

Using an established tool for quantitative linguistic analysis, the Evaluative Lexicon, the researchers then quantified how emotional, positive or negative, and extreme the reviews were.

Although the reviews were equally positive in their language, the data showed that reviewers used more emotional language when they were trying to persuade readers to buy a product compared with when they were writing a five-star review without intending to persuade.

Participants’ persuasive reviews also had more emotional language compared with actual five-star reviews for the same products published on

Importantly, the shift toward more emotional language appeared to be automatic rather than deliberative.

Participants still used more emotional descriptors in persuasive reviews when they were simultaneously trying to remember an 8-digit number, a competing task that made strategizing very difficult.

The tendency to use more emotional language emerged even when participants were attempting to persuade a group of “rational” thinkers.

“Past research indicates that emotional appeals can backfire when an audience prefers unemotional appeals,” said Rocklage. “Our findings indicate that there is a strong enough connection between persuasion and emotion in people’s minds that they continue to use emotion even in the face of an audience where that approach can backfire.”

Researchers found evidence to support this tenet as they discovered a connection between emotion and persuasion in memory. They found that the more emotional a word was, the more likely participants were to associate it with persuasion and the quicker they did so.

An interesting avenue for future research, Rocklage said, is to investigate whether the association transfers across various contexts.

“For instance, would people use less emotion if they were in a boardroom meeting or if they were writing a formal letter of recommendation?” he wondered.

Source: Association for Psychological Science

How ADHD Symptoms Relate to Poor Driving Skills in Teens

Mon, 04/02/2018 - 7:45am

In a new study, researchers wanted to know how the specific symptoms found in attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) might affect teens’ new driving skills. They discovered that teens with greater symptoms of inattention made more mistakes in a driving simulator test, while those with symptoms of hyperactivity and conduct disorder were more likely to engage in risky driving behaviors.

Their findings are published in the journal Nursing Research.

Research has shown that teen drivers aged 16 to 19 have triple the risk of being in a fatal car accident compared to older drivers. In addition, around 20 percent of teens in this age group are affected by symptoms of a mental health disorder, and 9 percent have a lifetime history of ADHD.

Nursing researcher Catherine McDonald from the University of Pennsylvania studies what distracts these newest drivers on the road. In the new study, she looked at data from 60 teens who completed a simulated driving assessment as well as several questionnaires.

She and colleagues from Penn Medicine, the Center for Injury Research and Prevention (CIRP) at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), and Utah State University looked for associations  between teens’ mistakes behind the wheel and self-reported symptoms of ADHD and other mental-health disorders. Shedding light on these connections can identify problem behaviors that, when corrected, can help make the roads safer for teens and others.

“Previous studies have shown increases in crash risk related to an ADHD diagnosis,” says McDonald, who has secondary appointments in Penn Medicine and at CIRP.

“We wanted to tease apart the nuances behind that. Is it about risk-taking, skill, or performance deficits? Is it about decision-making? In the capacity of a simulator as well as self-reported behaviors, we wanted to see if our data could get at the why of what is happening around driving behaviors.”

The research involved 16- and 17-year-olds in Pennsylvania who had recently earned their driver’s licenses (no more than 90 days). At the beginning of the study, participants rated how closely several statements aligned with how they felt and thought. For example, one question assessing symptoms of ADHD asked if they had trouble keeping their mind on what people say. Another, about conduct disorder, asked if they bullied or threatened others.

The teens also answered a questionnaire about depressive symptoms and another about their driving behaviors on the road, such as tendency to speed, use of cell phones, and number of passengers they typically carried. In addition, parents assessed their child for ADHD symptoms and other mental-health problems.

“We know that about 5 percent of older adolescents meet criteria for ADHD, so we weren’t expecting too many in our sample to meet the threshold for diagnosis,” McDonald says. “For that reason, we looked at symptom measures instead. That gives us an idea of the severity of symptoms, even if they are not high enough to meet the criteria for a full diagnosis.”

Next, all participants underwent an assessment in the driving simulator at CIRP. During the test drives, teens were exposed to different crash scenarios, such as a rear-end collision or a hidden hazard. These were all avoidable, however, if they proceeded to drive safely.

By the end of the assessment, the teens had maneuvered through 21 potential crash situations. The researchers analyzed the simulator data on a variety of the participants’ actions, including how they behaved at simulated stop signs, in which lane they drove, where they looked on the road, and how they applied the brake in potentially dangerous situations.

The researchers noticed a clear connection: The more inattention symptoms a teen reported, the more mistakes that driver made in the simulator. McDonald says knowing this offers a clear opening for health-care providers.

“Inattention was associated with more errors in the simulator, and self-reported symptoms of hyperactivity and conduct disorder were related to more self-reported risky driving behaviors,” she says. “This presents an opportunity to help intervene with patients and their families, to talk about the child’s whole health and mental well-being and how it might relate to driving behaviors.”


Source: University of Pennsylvania

Bariatric Surgery Tied to Greater Odds of Relationship Changes

Mon, 04/02/2018 - 6:24am

Bariatric surgery patients have a higher probability of experiencing relationship changes post-surgery, including getting married, separating from their partner or getting divorced, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden.

The new findings are published in the journal JAMA Surgery.

Previously, the research team looked at the medical benefits of bariatric surgery, but in the new study, they wanted to investigate how other more personal aspects of a patient’s life may also change post-surgery.

Prior research has shown that bariatric surgery often leads to an improved quality of life and that individuals tend to become more socially active after the surgery  all of which could make it easier to find a partner after surgery.

In the current study, the researchers did indeed find that individuals who have undergone bariatric surgery are more likely to find a new partner or to get married compared with non-surgery control subjects. They also found an association between the degree of weight loss and the possibility of finding a partner.

They also found that separations and divorces are slightly more common after bariatric surgery. The underlying reasons for this are unclear, but in some cases the new lifestyle adopted by a person after surgery may lead to partners drifting apart. Another possibility is that the improved self-confidence and self-image that often occurs after bariatric surgery may empower individuals to finally leave an unhealthy relationship.

Although more research is required to better understand the reasons behind this observed increase in relationship breakdowns, it is still important for healthcare providers to be aware of these potential relationship changes after surgery, so they can offer relevant information and support to patients.

Of course, it is important to emphasize that bariatric surgery does not automatically lead to a dysfunctional relationship. In fact, prior research has found that most relationships are strengthened or are unchanged.

This is also supported by the new findings showing that the majority of individuals who have undergone bariatric surgery remain in the same relationship, many years after the surgery, said Dr. Per-Arne Svensson, associate professor at Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg.

The current study involved two large Swedish cohorts of bariatric surgery: the Swedish Obese Subjects (SOS) study and the Scandinavian Obesity Surgery registry.

In the SOS study, the researchers analyzed self-reported relationship status (including marriages and cohabitation) in approximately 2,000 individuals who had undergone bariatric surgery and compared these findings with approximately 2,000 control persons with obesity.

In the Scandinavian Obesity Surgery registry, the researchers compared the  frequencies of legal marriages and divorces of around 29,000 individuals who had undergone bariatric surgery to those of matched control individuals from the general population.

Source: University of Gothenburg


If Class Time Is Out of Sync With Students’ Biological Clock, Grades May Suffer

Sun, 04/01/2018 - 6:46pm

It may be time to tailor students’ class schedules to their natural biological rhythms, according to a new study.

Researchers found that students whose circadian rhythms were out of sync with their class schedules — for instance, night owls taking early morning courses — got lower grades due to “social jet lag;” their peak alertness times were at odds with work, school, or other demands.

For the study, investigators from the University of California Berkeley and Northeastern Illinois University tracked the personal daily online activity profiles of nearly 15,000 college students as they logged into campus servers.

After sorting the students into “night owls,” “daytime finches” and “morning larks”—based on their activities on days they were not in class — researchers compared their class times to their academic outcomes.

“We found that the majority of students were being jet-lagged by their class times, which correlated very strongly with decreased academic performance,” said study co-lead author Dr. Benjamin Smarr, a postdoctoral fellow who studies circadian rhythm disruptions in the lab of UC Berkeley psychology professor Dr. Lance Kriegsfeld.

In addition to learning deficits, social jet lag has been tied to obesity and excessive alcohol and tobacco use, he noted.

The study also found that if a student can structure a consistent schedule where class days resemble non-class days, they are more likely to achieve academic success, according to study co-lead author Dr. Aaron Schirmer, an associate professor of biology at Northeastern Illinois University.

When the researchers looked at how larks, finches, and owls scheduled their classes during four semesters from 2014 to 2016, they found that about 40 percent were mostly biologically in sync with their class times. As a result, they performed better in class and earned higher GPAs.

However, 50 percent of the students were taking classes before they were fully alert, and another 10 percent had already peaked by the time their classes started.

While students in all categories suffered from class-induced jet lag, the study found that night owls were especially vulnerable, many appearing so chronically jet-lagged that they were unable to perform optimally at any time of day.

But it’s not as simple as students just staying up too late, according to Smarr.

“Because owls are later and classes tend to be earlier, this mismatch hits owls the hardest, but we see larks and finches taking later classes and also suffering from the mismatch,” said Smarr. “Different people really do have biologically diverse timing, so there isn’t a one-time-fits-all solution for education.”

The results suggest that “rather than admonish late students to go to bed earlier, in conflict with their biological rhythms, we should work to individualize education so that learning and classes are structured to take advantage of knowing what time of day a given student will be most capable of learning,” he added.

The study was published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Source: University of California-Berkeley

Photo: Owls performed worst of all the groups due to chronic social jet lag. Credit: Benjamin Smarr.

Optimism Tied to Healthier Heart Among Latinos

Sun, 04/01/2018 - 7:00am

Keeping an optimistic outlook on life may result in a healthier heart, according to a new study of more than 4,900 people of Latino/Hispanic ancestry living in the United States.

The study is one of the first to investigate the link between emotional well-being and cardiac health in a large diverse sample of Hispanic/Latino adults.

The researchers found that each percentage point increase in optimism was associated with a better cardiovascular health score among participants; on the other hand, very few people who scored low in optimism met the criteria for ideal heart health.

“Each unit increase in a Latino adult’s level of optimism was associated with 3 percent higher odds of meeting the criteria for ideal cardiovascular health across four or more metrics,” said principal investigator Rosalba Hernandez, Ph.D., a professor of social work at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

“The correlation between optimism and cardiovascular health was consistent across heritage groups, regardless of age, sex, nativity status or level of acculturation.”

Although several earlier studies — including a 2015 study by Hernandez — found an association between a positive mental outlook and cardiovascular health, the samples in those studies contained primarily Latinos of Mexican descent, Hernandez said. To find out whether the effect persisted across heritage groups, the new study used a sample that was much more diverse.

Latinos of Mexican heritage composed more than 37 percent of the participants, followed by Latinos of Cuban descent (20 percent), Puerto Rican (15.5 percent), Dominican (11.5 percent), Central American (7.4 percent) and South American (4.7 percent) ancestries.

Participants’ cardiovascular health was evaluated by using the American Heart Association’s “Life’s Simple 7” metrics, which include blood pressure, body mass index, fasting plasma glucose and serum cholesterol levels, dietary intake, physical activity and tobacco use.

Each person’s level of dispositional optimism, an expectation that good things will happen in the future, was measured using the Life Orientation Test-Revised. The test asks participants how much they agree with statements such as, “In uncertain times, I usually expect the best.” Possible scores range from six (least optimistic) to 30 (most optimistic).

The findings revealed that levels of optimism differed by ancestry: Latinos of Cuban and Central American heritage were the most optimistic, while Latinos of Mexican and Puerto Rican heritage were the least optimistic. In addition, participants with the highest levels of optimism also tended to be older, married or living with a partner, better educated and more affluent.

Latinos born outside the U.S. have 50 percent lower rates of cardiovascular disease compared with Latinos who are born in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The study suggests that tapping into psychological assets such as optimism may offer effective, low-cost strategies for improving the cardiovascular health of some of these Latino populations.

“Problems with access to health care, affordability and the shortage of psychologists and psychiatrists who speak Spanish are significant challenges for Latino populations in the U.S.,” Hernandez said. “We need to find accessible, cost-effective ways of utilizing technology to help vulnerable populations.”

In a related project, Hernandez is studying whether people with high blood pressure can be taught to be more optimistic, and if greater optimism, in turn, can moderate hypertension. Both that project and the current study were funded by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

“We don’t know much about the connections between emotional and physical health,” Hernandez said. “However, if we can identify certain strengths within a population that can be used to improve their health, that would be fantastic.”

The sample for the current study was drawn from the Sociocultural Ancillary Study, which explored socioeconomic, cultural and psychosocial influences on Latinos’ health.

Source: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Kids With Autism & ADHD at Higher Risk for Anxiety, Mood Disorders

Sun, 04/01/2018 - 6:00am

A new study finds that children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are at higher risker for anxiety and mood disorders.

Published in Pediatrics, the study, completed by the Interactive Autism Network (IAN), is one of the largest to compare comorbidities in individuals with ASD alone to individuals with ASD and ADHD, according to researchers.

For the study’s findings, researchers from Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore examined the data of a cross-sectional, network-based survey of children between the ages 6 and 17 with ASD who were enrolled in the Interactive Autism Network  between 2006 and 2013.

Of the 3,319 children in the study, 1,503 (45.3 percent) also had ADHD.

Data was analyzed for parent-reported diagnosis and/or treatment of ADHD, anxiety disorder and mood disorders.

Researchers discovered that children with ASD and ADHD had more than twice (or 2.2 times) the risk of anxiety disorder and 2.7 times the risk of other mood disorders. Researchers also found that these psychiatric conditions were more prevalent in older children.

“We have known that anxiety and mood disorders are highly prevalent in those with ASD,” said Eliza Gordon-Lipkin, M.D., lead study author and a fellow in the Department of Neurology and Developmental Medicine at Kennedy Krieger Institute.

“This study, however, takes it another step further, providing insights on the differences between children with just ASD versus those with ASD and ADHD. What exactly happens in the human brain that causes children with ASD to have other mental health conditions is not fully understood, but we hope this study inspires other researchers to pursue the answer to this question.”

According to recent statistics, ASD affects 1 in 68 children and ADHD affects 1 in 10 in the United States. Researchers and clinicians have long known that these disorders have overlapping features and can occur together, having negative developmental, cognitive, behavioral and functional implications, researchers note.

“The takeaway from the study’s findings, and one that both parents of children with ASD and doctors need to keep in mind, is that managing these psychiatric disorders is a dual effort,” said Paul H. Lipkin, M.D., director of Medical Informatics and the Interactive Autism Network at Kennedy Krieger Institute. “That by working closely together in monitoring a child for anxiety and mood symptoms, we can ensure early diagnosis and treatment, which is key to preserving a child’s quality of life.”

Source: GolinHarris DC

Embarrassment Can Be Overcome With Mental Training

Sat, 03/31/2018 - 8:36pm

A new study shows that training your mind to be an observer, rather than actively participating in an embarrassing situation, can help you overcome humiliating or distressing feelings.

Some people have such an intense fear of embarrassment that they go to great lengths to avoid everyday situations. This could include not asking a shop assistant a question about a new product for fear of sounding stupid, or not taking an embarrassing yet potentially life-saving medical test.

“Embarrassment prevents us from asking advice about what we should do, for example, about our mounting mortgage bills or unplanned pregnancies,” said  researcher Li Jiang of Carnegie Mellon University, who led the study. “In many cases, if we are to help ourselves, and others, we must overcome our fear of embarrassment in social situations.”

Jiang and her colleagues conducted three sets of studies, each involving different groups of students from a large university in the U.S.

In the first study, the researchers asked participants to respond to an advertisement showing someone accidentally farting in a yoga class. The second study tested participants’ reactions to an advertisement about getting tested for sexually transmitted diseases. The third study questioned participants about an advertisement where a man accidentally farts in front of a potential love interest.

In each study, the researchers wanted to test the hypothesis that adopting an observer’s perspective can reduce feelings of embarrassment.

One of the findings was that people who are extremely self-conscious in public are more likely to take an actor’s perspective in an embarrassing situation, even if this concerns others, according to the researchers.

Self-conscious people will even feel distressed when watching an advertisement with an embarrassment appeal, they note.

However, levels of self-consciousness drop in these people when they are able to picture themselves as observers of a situation, and not as being directly involved in it.

“Our research shows that devising strategies to successfully reduce embarrassment avoidance is complicated,” Jiang said. “This is because consumers will react differently to persuasion tactics depending on their level of public self-consciousness and their amount of available cognitive resources.”

She believes the results have significant implications for marketers who often use potentially embarrassing situations in their advertisements to entice consumers to buy their products.

“Embarrassment avoidance forms the basis for attempts to motivate consumers to buy a wide variety of products, from laundry detergents that can resolve rings around someone’s collar, to dishwasher liquid that can remove unsightly spots on dishes,” she said. “Our research is relevant to those situations in which marketers want to inoculate consumers against a fear of embarrassment and encourage them to take actions they might otherwise avoid.”

The study was published in Springer’s journal Motivation and Emotion.

Source: Springer

After Stroke, Many Suffer from ‘Hidden’ Disabilities

Sat, 03/31/2018 - 2:16pm

Many stroke survivors suffer from “hidden” problems that go much deeper than physical disability alone. A new study investigates the prevalence of these post-stroke problems, such as fatigue, anxiety, thinking difficulties and dissatisfaction with social life.

The findings are published in the journal Neurology.

“After a stroke, people who have only mild disability can often have ‘hidden’ problems that can really affect their quality of life,” said study author Irene L. Katzan, M.D., M.S., of the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio and a member of the American Academy of Neurology.

“And for people with more disability, what bothers them the most? Problems with sleep? Depression? Fatigue? Not many studies have asked people how they feel about these problems, and we doctors have often focused just on physical disability or whether they have another stroke.”

The research involved 1,195 subjects who had suffered an ischemic stroke, a stroke where blood flow to part of the brain is blocked. The participants answered questions about their physical functioning, fatigue, anxiety, sleep problems, thinking skills such as planning and organizing, how much their pain affects other aspects of their life and their satisfaction with their current social roles and activities.

On average, the participants completed the questionnaires around 100 days after their stroke; about a quarter of the participants needed help from a family member to fill them out. Researchers also measured their level of disability.

In every area except for sleep and depression, stroke survivors had scores that were considerably worse than those in the general population. Not surprisingly, the area in which stroke survivors were most affected was physical functioning, where 63 percent had scores notably worse than those of the general population. Stroke survivors had an average score of 59, where a score of 50 is considered the population average.

Regarding the question about whether they were satisfied with their social roles and activities, 58 percent of stroke patients had scores meaningfully worse than those of the general population.

“People may benefit from social support programs and previous studies have shown a benefit from efforts to improve the social participation of people with stroke, especially exercise programs,” said Katzan.

The thinking skills of stroke patients, such as executive function, or planning and organizing, were also impacted, with 46 percent having scores that were meaningfully worse than the population average.

“The social participation and executive functioning skills are areas that have not received a lot of attention in stroke rehabilitation,” Katzan said. “We need to better understand how these areas affect people’s well-being and determine strategies to help optimize their functioning.”

The study had some limitations: The patients in the study had experienced milder strokes than average, and the questionnaires did not ask about other problems that can occur after stroke, such as communication issues. Also, the average age of participants was 62, which is lower than the average age of 69 for people with stroke overall.

Source: American Academy of Neurology



Risk of Depression, Suicide Drops When Transgender Kids Can Use Chosen Names

Sat, 03/31/2018 - 7:00am

A new study has found that when transgender youths are allowed to use their chosen name in places such as work, school and at home, their risk of depression and suicide drops.

“Many kids who are transgender have chosen a name that is different than the one that they were given at birth,” said author Dr. Stephen T. Russell, a professor and chair of human development and family science at The University of Texas at Austin. “We showed that the more contexts or settings where they were able to use their preferred name, the stronger their mental health was.”

For the study, researchers interviewed transgender youths between the ages of 15 and  21 and asked whether they could use their chosen name at school, home, work, and with friends.

Compared with peers who could not use their chosen name in any context, young people who could use their name in all four areas experienced 71 percent fewer symptoms of severe depression, a 34 percent decrease in reported thoughts of suicide, and a 65 percent decrease in suicidal attempts.

Earlier research by Russell found that transgender youths report having suicidal thoughts at nearly twice the rate of their peers, with about one out of three transgender youths reporting considering suicide.

The new study discovered that having even one context in which a chosen name could be used was associated with a 29 percent decrease in suicidal thoughts.

“I’ve been doing research on LGBT youth for almost 20 years now, and even I was surprised by how clear that link was,” Russell said.

The study interviewed 129 youths in three U.S. cities, one each in the Northeast, the Southwest and the West Coast. Transgender youths are estimated to be only about 1 percent of the population and are difficult to reach, so the research team worked with community organizations serving LGBT youths and other venues to reach as diverse a population of transgender youths as possible, Russell said.

He calls the sample “remarkably ethnically and geographically diverse and diverse in terms of social class.”

Because many names are common to one gender, allowing transgender youths to use a chosen name is one simple step that institutions such as schools, hospitals, financial institutions, workplaces and community organizations can use to help young people affirm their gender identity, Russell said.

“It’s practical to support young people in using the name that they choose,” Russell said. “It’s respectful and developmentally appropriate.”

The study was published in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

Source: The University of Texas at Austin

Perinatal Depression Seen as Undertreated in Minority Women

Sat, 03/31/2018 - 6:00am

In a new position paper, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Northwestern University urge federal policymakers to appropriate funds toward diagnosis and treatment of perinatal depression in minority women — a group they say has been lacking in such care.

Such a move would include increasing the number of medical providers who are trained in culturally sensitive screening and treatment methods.

Perinatal depression is defined as a major depressive episode occurring during pregnancy or within the first year after giving birth. It is the most common complication of childbearing.

Although perinatal depression is estimated to affect about 12 to 19 percent of women in the general population, rates are believed to be significantly higher among minority women. As many as 43 percent of Latinas and up to 28 percent of African-American women may be affected, according to the researchers.

Yet despite this increased risk for perinatal depression among Latina and African-American women, research has shown that minority females are significantly less likely to be screened or treated for symptoms. And this continues to be the case even with the wide availability of reliable screening tools and national awareness campaigns.

University of Illinois kinesiology and community health professor Sandraluz Lara-Cinisomo, Ph.D., co-wrote the paper with psychiatrist Dr. Crystal T. Clark of the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, who specializes in perinatal depression in African-American women; and Jayme Wood, then a graduate student at University College London.

The researchers note that along with financial obstacles, including higher poverty rates and lack of health insurance, other barriers such as immigration status may prevent minority women from being screened and treated.

The stigmatization of mental illness and mistrust of the healthcare system that are generally found in American culture are even more pervasive among African-American and Latino communities, according to the paper.

Concerns about stigmatization may be further complicated by cultural beliefs about motherhood and women’s role in the family, the researchers suggest. Among Latinas, for example, the concept of “marianismo” — the belief that mothers should be self-sacrificing, strong women who promote their family members’ well-being over their own — may limit their treatment-seeking.

In a similar fashion, African-American women may feel pressure to live up to the ideal of the strong black woman by toughing it out or by trying to overcome depression through inner strength alone, Lara-Cinisomo said.

A new Illinois law beginning on June 1 will make untreated or undiagnosed postpartum depression or psychosis — a more severe form of the disease — a mitigating factor if it’s found that a woman’s involvement in a crime, such as a life-threatening event with her child, was due to one of these disorders.

“Illinois is breaking new ground in this regard. I feel very proud to live in the state, given the work that’s going on around perinatal mental health,” Lara-Cinisomo said. “However, there are other states that make it a legal risk for women to report. The current political climate makes it very dangerous for Latinas to discuss their depressive symptoms.”

Many low-income minority women have a strong fear that disclosing symptoms of mental illness could cause them to lose custody of their children, and so establishing trust with their healthcare providers is critical, Lara-Cinisomo said.

“It is important to launch campaigns to help mothers feel safe in their reporting of depressive symptoms. Simple education, information and awareness are low-investment, high-benefit actions that providers in health settings serving high-risk women can take,” Lara-Cinisomo said.

“There are a number of opportunities for providers at multiple levels — nurses, nurse practitioners, physicians and obstetrician-gynecologists — to discuss perinatal depression with women.”

Sharing statistics on its prevalence and treatability can help reduce feelings of shame and stigma while building patient trust, she added.

In particular, women need advice on the effectiveness, potential risks to mother and baby, confidentiality and costs associated with the recommended treatments of medications and psychotherapy, the researchers wrote.

Finally, education interventions for perinatal depression seem to be most effective when given to women before delivery, Lara-Cinisomo said.

The paper is published in the journal Women’s Health Issues.

Source: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Epilepsy Drug Exposure in Utero Tied to Poorer Academics

Fri, 03/30/2018 - 6:15am

Fetal exposure to certain epilepsy drugs is associated with significantly poorer school test results, according to a new UK study conducted by the Neurology Research Group at Swansea University Medical School in Wales.

The findings, published in the Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery & Psychiatry, reveal that seven year-olds who were exposed to the epilepsy drug sodium valproate — or to multiple epilepsy drugs — in the womb achieved significantly poorer school test scores than those in the control group.

Currently, women with epilepsy who need medication to control their seizures are advised to continue taking the drugs during pregnancy because convulsions can harm both mother and baby. However, the researchers recommend that expectant moms be fully informed of the risks of epilepsy treatments, so they can make an educated decision.

Although previous research has suggested that epilepsy drugs, particularly sodium valproate, taken during pregnancy, are associated with neurodevelopmental disorders, few studies have been based on real-life population circumstances (population data).

For the new study, the researchers used routinely-collected healthcare data from the Secure Anonymous Information Linkage (SAIL) databank as well as national school test data (Key Stage 1)  to compare the academic performance of seven year-olds in Wales born to mothers with epilepsy.

SAIL contains the anonymous primary health care records of 80 percent of Welsh family doctors, corresponding to around 77 percent of the Welsh population (2.3 million people).

The Key Stage 1 (KS1) test assesses math, language (English/Welsh) and science among seven year-olds, scoring them from levels 1 to 3. Test results were available for 440 children whose mothers had been diagnosed with epilepsy before their pregnancy between the years 2003 and 2008.

Prescription patterns were divided into five categories: treatment with one drug (carbamazepine, lamotrigine or sodium valproate); a combination of several drugs; and no drug treatment. A total of 20 of the 39 moms (54 percent) prescribed several drugs were taking sodium valproate, but there were 15 different drug combinations in all.

The findings reveal that children born to mothers who had been prescribed carbamazepine or lamotrigine, or nothing, performed just as well as those born to moms of the same age and deprivation level, but without epilepsy (control group).

However, children whose mothers had been prescribed sodium valproate during their pregnancy performed 10.5 – 13 percent worse on all KSI tests compared to those in the control group.

Furthermore, children born to mothers who had been prescribed a combination of epilepsy drugs achieved the worst results in the study with scores being 19-22 percent lower. The findings remained after factoring in smoking and children with epilepsy.

“Women with epilepsy should be informed of this risk and alternative treatment regimens should be discussed before their pregnancy with a physician that specialises in epilepsy,” said Dr. Owen Pickrell, leader of the SAIL neurology team.

The researchers note that they were unable to account for certain potentially influential factors, such as the mothers’ IQ, weight or alcohol consumption; the doses of epilepsy drugs prescribed; or intake of folic acid around conception. But the findings match up with those of other independent studies, they point out.

“While this study highlights the risk of cognitive effects in the children of mothers prescribed sodium valproate or multiple [anti-epilepsy drugs], it is important to acknowledge that some epilepsies are difficult to manage without these treatment regimens,” said Professor Mark Rees, Professor of Neurology and Molecular Neuroscience Research.

Source: Swansea University

Do Narcissists Prefer Pursuing Mates Who Are Already Taken?

Fri, 03/30/2018 - 5:30am

Research has shown that people tend to perceive those in relationships as more desirable. Combine that with the traits of narcissism, and you might have a recipe for aggressive “mate poaching,” the scientific term for someone already in a relationship.

But a new study finds that while narcissists are not necessarily on the hunt for partners who are already in a relationship, if a target is in a relationship, then this does not appear to stand in their way, either.

Investigators determined narcissists are more likely to engage in mate poaching, but are not more interested in people who are already in a relationship — with the exception of opportunities for a low-cost sexual encounter, such as a one-night stand.

“I thought it was possible that there might be something appealing about the ‘game’ of mate poaching that might appeal to narcissists, because they are known to play games,” said co-author Dr. Amy Brunell, an associate professor of psychology at Ohio State’s Mansfield campus.

Researchers found, however, that evidence of that type of pattern did not appear in the study. The research appears online in the journal PLOS ONE.

Study participants with narcissistic traits reported that they have, with greater frequency than people who aren’t narcissists, attempted to pursue relationships with someone who is in an existing relationship, Brunell said. But that wasn’t necessarily because the person was taken.

“They seem to not discriminate between those in relationships and those who are single. It could be that they just go after whoever appeals to them without regard for relationship status,” she said.

Narcissism is marked by selfishness, arrogance, an inflated sense of self and extraversion. Furthermore, narcissists believe they’re special, unique, and entitled. They tend to take advantage of others and experience less guilt. And they also report more casual sex, more sexual partners, and a greater desire for short-term relationships.

In the first study, Brunell and her collaborators surveyed 247 college students from introductory psychology courses and assessed them for narcissism through a commonly used 40-item test.

The participants also completed a personality survey and a survey designed to assess the students’ past experiences in mate poaching. Narcissism was linked with more frequent short-term and long-term attempts to connect sexually with people in other relationships.

In a second study designed to test the results of the first, though, only narcissistic women reported more frequent attempts at mate poaching. This led researchers to conclude that it’s possible that narcissistic women are more frequently guilty of the behavior.

A third study that included 249 students were asked to assess potential romantic partners in a manner similar to popular dating services such as or Next, the participants were shown a picture of a target individual and told that they had “similar interest” with the target.

Some participants were told the target was single, and some were told the target was in a relationship. Then they were asked about their level of interest in the person.

The study found no evidence that narcissists were preferentially drawn to people in a relationship.

“It is likely people are simply interested in the target and not necessarily as concerned that the target is in a relationship,” the researchers concluded.

In the last study, the researchers recruited 240 participants and again compared their narcissism scores and likelihood to mate poach a “target” individual. They found that narcissists had a greater likelihood of hooking up with the target for a short-term fling, but not for a relationship.

“Understanding the behavior of narcissists is important because it helps us better understand the people who are in our lives — and the types of people we don’t necessarily want in our lives,” Brunell said.

Source:Ohio State University

Parental Conflict Can Cause Lasting Emotional Damage to Kids

Thu, 03/29/2018 - 8:00am

Children who regularly witness parental conflict may be sustaining lasting harm to their emotional processing abilities, potentially becoming overvigilant, anxious and vulnerable to misreading even neutral human interactions, according to a new study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.

The findings are particularly strong for children who are naturally shy and sensitive.

“The message is clear: even low-level adversity like parental conflict isn’t good for kids,” said Dr. Alice Schermerhorn, an assistant professor in the University of Vermont’s Department of Psychological Sciences and the lead author of the study.

In the study, 99 children (aged 9 to 11) were divided into two groups based on their scores from psychological tests which assessed how much parental conflict they experienced and how much they felt the conflict threatened their parents’ marriage.

Next, the children looked at a series of photographs of couples engaged in happy, angry or neutral interactions and asked to choose which category the photos fit.

Most of the children from the low-conflict homes consistently scored the photos accurately. However, children from high-conflict homes were only able to accurately identify the happy and angry couples, not those in neutral poses. These children would incorrectly perceive the neutral photos as either angry or happy, or they would say they didn’t know which category they fit into.

According to the researchers. one possible reason for the inability of those in the high-conflict group to evaluate the neutral photos could be hypervigilance. “If their perception of conflict and threat leads children to be vigilant for signs of trouble, that could lead them to interpret neutral expressions as angry ones or may simply present greater processing challenges,” said Schermerhorn.

Alternatively, it could be that neutral parental interactions may be less significant for children who feel threatened by their parents’ conflict.

“They may be more tuned into angry interactions, which could be a cue for them to retreat to their room, or happy ones, which could signal that their parents are available to them,” she said. “Neutral interactions don’t offer much information, so they may not value them or learn to recognize them.”

The study also reveals the impact of shyness on the children’s ability to process and recognize emotion. The shy children in the study, who were identified via a questionnaire completed by the subjects’ mothers, were unable to correctly identify couples in neutral poses, even if they were not from high-conflict homes.

Shyness made them more vulnerable to parental conflict. Children who were both shy and who also felt threatened by their parents’ conflict were unable to perceive photos of neutral interactions as simply neutral.

“Parents of shy children need to be especially thoughtful about how they express conflict,” Schermerhorn said.

The findings have significant implications, according to Schermerhorn, because they shed light on the impact relatively low-level adversity like parental conflict can have on children’s development. Either of her interpretations for the findings —hypervigilance or not being able to read neutral interactions — could mean trouble for children down the road.

“One the one hand, being overvigilant and anxious can be destabilizing in many different ways,” she said. “On the other, correctly reading neutral interactions may not be important for children who live in high conflict homes, but that gap in their perceptual inventory could be damaging in subsequent experiences with, for example, teachers, peers, and partners in romantic relationships.”

“No one can eliminate conflict altogether,” said Schermerhorn, “but helping children get the message that, even when they argue, parents care about each other and can work things out is important.”

Source: University of Vermont

Regular Meditation Shown to Boost Attention In Long Term

Thu, 03/29/2018 - 6:00am

A long-term study finds that consistent and intensive meditation sessions can have a long-lasting effect on a person’s attention span and other cognitive abilities. The research is the most comprehensive investigation to date examining a group of meditation practitioners.

Investigators evaluated the benefits people gained after three months of full-time meditation training and whether these benefits were maintained seven years later. Although the findings are positive, lead author Dr. Anthony Zanesco cautioned that further research is needed before meditation is viewed as a primary method for countering the effects of aging on the brain.

The study appears in the Journal of Cognitive Enhancement and is a follow-up on previous work by the same group of researchers at the University of California, Davis in 2011. In this study, the researchers assessed the cognitive abilities of 30 people who regularly meditated before and after they went on a three-month-long retreat at the Shambhala Mountain meditation center in Colorado.

At the center, they meditated daily using techniques designed to foster calm sustained attention on a chosen object and to generate aspirations such as compassion, loving-kindness, emphatic joy and equanimity.

During this time, another group of 30 people who regularly meditated were also monitored. Other than traveling to the meditation center for a week-long assessment period, they carried on with their lives as normal. After the first group’s initial retreat was over, the second group received similar intensive training at the Shambhala Mountain Center.

As part of this study, follow-up assessments were conducted six months, eighteen months and seven years after completion of the retreats. During the last appraisal, participants were asked to estimate how much time over the course of seven years they had spent meditating outside of formal retreat settings, such as through daily or non-intensive practice.

The forty participants who had remained in the study all reported some form of continued meditation practice: 85 percent attended at least one meditation retreat, and they practiced amounts on average that were comparable to an hour a day for seven years.

The participants again completed assessments designed to measure their reaction time and ability to pay attention to a task. Although these did not improve, the cognitive gains accrued after the 2011 training and assessment were partially maintained many years later.

This was especially true for older participants who practiced a lot of meditation over the seven years. Compared to those who practiced less, they maintained cognitive gains and did not show typical patterns of age-related decline in sustained attention.

“This study is the first to offer evidence that intensive and continued meditation practice is associated with enduring improvements in sustained attention and response inhibition, with the potential to alter longitudinal trajectories of cognitive change across a person’s life,” Zanesco said.

Nevertheless, Zanesco is aware that participants’ lifestyle or personality might have contributed to the observations. Therefore, additional research is indicated to confirm the use of meditation as an intervention to improve brain functioning among older people.

Zanesco, now at the University of Miami, said the current findings also provide a sobering appraisal of whether short-term or non-intensive mindfulness interventions are helpful to improve sustained attention in a lasting manner.

Participants practiced far more meditation than is feasible for shorter-term programs that might aim to help with cognitive aging, and despite practicing that much meditation, participants did not generally improve over years; these benefits instead plateaued.

Zanesco believes this has broad implications for meditation and mindfulness-based approaches to cognitive training and raises important questions regarding how much meditation can, in fact, influence human cognition and the workings of the brain.

Source: Springer

Reducing Alzheimer’s Stigma Could Enhance Research

Wed, 03/28/2018 - 8:00am

A new study suggests ongoing research on Alzheimer’s disease may be challenged by the stigma associated with the disease. This concern comes from the results of a national survey which discovered people may be afraid to admit they have early stage Alzheimer’s because of fear of discrimination — especially potential limitations on their health insurance.

Researchers say these fears can hopefully be overcome by the development of new policies to protect individuals. Nondisclosure of early symptoms that may or may not be Alzheimer’s hinders a individuals ability to obtain timely care. Additionally, a person may miss the opportunity to participate in clinical studies that discover potential therapies.

The finding are the results of a national survey about what beliefs, attitudes and expectations are most often associated with Alzheimer’s disease. The survey results appear in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association.

“We found that concerns about discrimination and overly harsh judgments about the severity of symptoms were most prevalent,” said Shana Stites, Psy.D., from the Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania.

“By understanding what the biggest concerns are about the disease, we can help develop programs and policies to reduce the stigma about Alzheimer’s disease.”

The study consisted of a random sample of 317 adults who were asked to react to a fictional description of a person with mild stage Alzheimer’s disease dementia. Researchers asked respondents to read a vignette and then complete the survey.

Three different assessments were presented for the fictional person’s condition. Respondents were told the person’s condition would worsen, improve or remain unchanged.

Over half of the respondents (55 percent) expected the person with mild cognitive impairment or dementia due to Alzheimer’s to be discriminated against by employers and to be excluded from medical decision-making.

Almost half expected the person’s health insurance would be limited due to data in the medical record (47 percent), a brain imaging result (46 percent) or genetic test result (45 percent). Those numbers increased when the survey participants were informed that the condition of the person with Alzheimer’s would worsen over time.

The study findings suggest respondents continue to have concerns about documentation in the medical record or test results, despite the fact that there are some protections in place against gene-based health care insurance discrimination through the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA).

However, those concerns of the public also include issues not addressed by that legislation, including brain imaging results.

In addition, the study authors found that when told the fictional person’s prognosis would improve over time, 24 percent to 41 percent fewer respondents expected that the person would encounter discrimination or exclusion than when told the person’s prognosis would worsen.

According to the researchers, this suggests that advances in therapies that improve the prognosis of Alzheimer’s could help reduce stigma.

“The unfortunate stigma associated with Alzheimer’s may prevent people from getting the diagnosis they need or the opportunity for early intervention that could improve their quality of life,” said Maria C. Carrillo, Ph.D., Chief Science Officer, Alzheimer’s Association.

“We need to reduce the stigma to encourage persons with mild or even no symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease to enroll in prevention trials to find effective treatments. These survey findings could also have implications on the national goal of developing an effective therapy by 2025.”

Carrillo stressed the importance of early diagnosis for people with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias and their families to provide more time to plan for the future. Optimal care is associated with shared decision-making on treatments, living options, and financial and legal matters. Moreover, building a care team helps to make it easier to manage the disease.

Source: AAlzheimer’s Association/EurekAlert