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Updated: 28 min 2 sec ago

Participation in the Arts Improve Mental Health

Thu, 07/20/2017 - 7:45am

New research found that participation in arts-based groups benefit the emotions of both healthy adults and those experiencing mental health conditions.

In the study, art-based involvement included participation in activities that involved choir singing and creative writing.

Investigators discovered participants reported a significant increase in positive emotions and a decrease in negative emotions during the arts-based activity compared with other times during the day.

Interestingly, the influence on positive emotions was short-lived while the effect on negative emotions lasted until evening.

Saliently, adults with chronic mental health conditions were equally able to derive emotional benefits as healthy adults.

Furthermore, study participants described numerous ways in which their participation in the arts-based groups enhanced their individual and interpersonal emotion regulation.

“People with chronic mental health conditions tend to experience difficulties with emotion perception and regulation, which can have a big impact on their social relationships. These symptoms are not well treated with medication or psychotherapy,” explains Dr. Genevieve Dingle, corresponding author of the British Journal of Clinical Psychology study.

“The findings of this study are exciting because they clearly show the potential for participation in arts-based groups to influence emotions and emotion regulation in positive ways.”

Source: Wiley/EurekAlert

Success of Cancer Treatment May Depend on Social Interactions

Thu, 07/20/2017 - 7:00am

New research suggests social interactions during a course of chemotherapy influences the success of the treatment.

Investigators from the National Institutes of Health and the University of Oxford discovered cancer patients were a little more likely to survive for five years or more after chemotherapy if they interacted during chemotherapy with other patients who also survived for five years or more.

Patients were a little more likely to die in less than five years after chemotherapy when they interacted during chemotherapy with those who died in less than five years.

The findings appear online in the journal Network Science.

“People model behavior based on what’s around them,” said Jeff Lienert, lead author from the NHI’s National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI).

“For example, you will often eat more when you’re dining with friends, even if you can’t see what they’re eating. When you’re bicycling, you will often perform better when you’re cycling with others, regardless of their performance.”

Lienert set out to see if the impact of social interaction extended to cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. Joining this research effort were Lienert’s adviser, Felix Reed-Tsochas, Ph.D., Laura Koehly, Ph.D., and Christopher Marcum, Ph.D.

They based their findings on electronic medical records data from 2000 to 20009 from two major hospitals in the United Kingdom’s National Health Service.

The researchers examined the total time a patient spent with the same patients undergoing chemotherapy and their five-year survival rate. The five-year survival rate is the percentage of people who live at least five years after chemotherapy treatment is completed.

For example, a five-year survival rate of 70 percent means that an estimated 70 out of 100 people are still alive five years after chemotherapy. They also reviewed a room schematic to confirm the assumption that patients were potentially positioned to interact.

“We had information on when patients checked in and out of the chemotherapy ward, a small intimate space where people could see and interact for a long period of time,” Lienert said. “We used ‘time spent getting chemotherapy in a room with others’ as a proxy for social connection.”

When patients were around those during chemotherapy who died in less than five years following chemotherapy, they had a 72 percent chance of dying within five years following their chemotherapy.

The best outcome was when patients interacted with someone who survived for five years or longer: They had a 68 percent chance of dying within five years. The researchers’ model also predicted that if patients were isolated from other patients, they would have a 69.5 percent chance of dying within five years.

“A two percent difference in survival — between being isolated during treatment and being with other patients — might not sound like a lot, but it’s pretty substantial,” Lienert said.

“If you saw 5,000 patients in nine years, that two percent improvement would affect 100 people.”

“Mr. Lienert’s research is the first to investigate, on a large scale, how social context in a treatment setting can play a significant role in disease outcomes,” said Koehly.

“As cancer care moves more towards targeted therapies based on genomic tumor assessments, NHGRI is interested in understanding how these social environmental factors might impact treatment efficacy.”

The researchers didn’t study why the difference occurred, but hypothesize that it may be related to stress response. “When you’re stressed, stress hormones such as adrenaline are released, resulting in a fight or flight response,” Lienert said.

“If you are then unable to fight or fly, such as in chemotherapy, these hormones can build up.”

While the researchers also didn’t investigate the impact of visitors on cancer patients undergoing therapy, the effect would likely be similar, he said.

“Positive social support during the exact moments of greatest stress is crucial,” Lienert said.

“If you have a friend with cancer, keeping him or her company during chemotherapy probably will help reduce their stress. The impact is likely to be as effective, and possibly more effective, than cancer patients interacting with other cancer patients.”

Source: National Human Genome Research Institute

Why Some Women are at Greater Risk for Hormone-Related Depression

Thu, 07/20/2017 - 6:15am

A new study published in the journal Menopause helps shed light on why some women appear to be more susceptible to hormone-related depression, particularly during vulnerable times such as childbirth and menopause.

The study focused primarily on the effects of estradiol, the predominant estrogen present during a woman’s reproductive years. Importantly, estradiol helps regulate the synthesis, availability, and metabolism of serotonin, a key neurotransmitter in depression.

Although fluctuations of estradiol during the transition into menopause are very common, the duration of exposure to this hormone throughout the adult years varies widely among women.

Overall, the researchers found a higher risk for depression among women who went through menopause at an earlier age, had fewer menstrual cycles over their entire lifespan, and/or experienced more frequent hot flashes.

On the other hand, women who had been using birth control for a longer period of time appeared to have a reduced risk of depression.

The study titled “Lifelong estradiol exposure and risk of depressive symptoms during the transition to menopause and postmenopause” included data from more than 1,300 regularly menstruating premenopausal women aged 42 to 52 years at study entry.

The primary goal of the study was to understand why some women are more vulnerable to depression, even though all women experience hormone fluctuations. Previous studies have suggested a role for reproductive hormones in causing an increased susceptibility to depression.

A key finding of this study was that longer duration of estrogen exposure from the start of menstruation until the onset of menopause was significantly linked with a reduced risk of depression during the transition to menopause and for up to 10 years postmenopause.

In addition, longer duration of birth control use was associated with a decreased risk of depression. The number of pregnancies or incidence of breastfeeding had no association to depression risk.

“Women are more vulnerable to depressive symptoms during and after the menopause transition because of fluctuating hormone changes,” said Dr. JoAnn Pinkerton, executive director of the North American Menopause Society (NAMS).

“This study additionally found a higher risk for depression in those with earlier menopause, fewer menstrual cycles over lifespan, or more frequent hot flashes. Women and their providers need to recognize symptoms of depression such as mood changes, loss of pleasure, changes in weight or sleep, fatigue, feeling worthless, being unable to make decisions, or feeling persistently sad and take appropriate action.”

Source: The North American Menopause Society

Heart Health as Young Adult Influences Brain Health by Middle Age

Thu, 07/20/2017 - 5:30am

A new study suggests maintaining cardiovascular health in young adulthood may help prevent the brain from shrinking decades later.

Researchers say behaviors in a person’s 20s, such as exercising, eating a healthy diet, and controlling blood pressure and cholesterol, can aid mental and cardiovascular health in later years.

Investigators discovered people who take care of their heart health in young adulthood may have larger brains in middle-age, compared to people who do not take care of their heart health.

The study findings are published online in Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

“We know that when people take certain steps like exercising and eating well, they have healthier hearts,” said study author Michael Bancks, Ph.D., of Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.

“The American Heart Association created seven simple steps everyone can take to improve heart health called Life’s Simple 7 and recent research has shown that people who score higher on that assessment also score higher on thinking tests.

We wanted to see if maintaining a healthy heart, as defined by these seven factors, affected the physical make-up of the brain as well.”

The American Heart Association’s Life’s Simple 7 includes the following factors: maintaining a healthy blood pressure, controlling cholesterol, reducing blood sugar, being active, eating better, losing weight, and stopping smoking.

For the study, researchers looked at data on 518 people with an average age of 51 who had been followed for 30 years.

Participants were initially screened for height, weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, and interviewed about diet and exercise. They then received follow-up exams every two to five years and also had brain scans 25 years after starting the study.

Researchers scored each participant on how well they followed each of the seven steps to heart health at the start of the study and then at year 25. Researchers gave participants zero points for poor adherence, one point for intermediate and two points for ideal, with total scores ranging from zero to 14.

Scores of zero to seven were considered poor adherence, eight to 11 were intermediate and 12 to 14 were ideal. At the beginning of the study, five percent had poor adherence, 62 percent intermediate, and 33 percent ideal.

By year 25, 26 percent had poor adherence, 58 percent had intermediate and 16 percent had ideal.

They found that people who had better heart health scores at the beginning of the study had a higher average brain volume as a percentage of their total head size in middle age. This was also true for people who had a better average of the beginning score and the score at year 25.

Bancks said that every point increase in the Life’s Simple 7 score was roughly equivalent to one year of aging in the amount of brain shrinkage that occurred.

There was a stronger association between current smoking and smaller brain volume than other factors.

“These findings are exciting because these are all changes that anyone can make at a young age to help themselves live a long and healthy life,” Bancks said.

“This may mean that heart health may have an impact on brain function in early life, but more study needs to be done to confirm this theory.”

The data used for this study was pulled from the larger Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults Study (CARDIA).

Limitations of this study include that brain imaging was only conducted at one point in life. It is also unclear if heart health affects brain size or if brain size in early age may influence behaviors affecting heart health.

Source: American Academy of Neurology/EurekAlert

Different Bacteria Profile Found in Alzheimer’s Brains

Wed, 07/19/2017 - 7:45am

The brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease appear to show both increased bacterial populations and different proportions of specific bacteria compared to healthy brains, according to a new U.K. study which used DNA sequencing to evaluate the postmortem brains of Alzheimer’s patients.

The new findings, published in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, support growing evidence that bacterial infection and inflammation in the brain may play a role in Alzheimer’s disease, a severe neurodegenerative condition that leads to cognitive decline, and eventually death.

“Alzheimer’s brains usually contain evidence of neuroinflammation, and researchers increasingly think that this could be a possible driver of the disease, by causing neurons in the brain to degenerate,” said study author Dr. David Emery at the University of Bristol.

But what exactly is causing this inflammation? Some genetic risk-factors for Alzheimer’s disease can have effects on the inflammatory response, but infection may also play a role.

“Neuroinflammation in the brain may be a reaction to the presence of bacteria,” said Emery.

A healthy brain is sealed behind specialized blood vessels that make it very difficult for bacteria in the blood to enter. However, certain genetic risk-factors for Alzheimer’s disease may cause these blood vessels to lose some of their integrity, potentially allowing bacteria to enter and colonize the brain.

For the study, the researchers investigated whether there were any differences in the types of bacteria present in brains from Alzheimer’s disease patients and healthy brains.

“Previous studies looking at bacteria in the Alzheimer’s brain have primarily investigated specific bacterial species,” said Dr. Shelley Allen, another researcher involved in the study.

“We wanted to use an unbiased method to obtain the fullest overview possible of the entire bacterial population in the Alzheimer’s brain, and compare these results with those from a healthy aged brain.”

The research team analyzed eight Alzheimer’s and six healthy brain samples from a brain bank, where people donate their brains after death for medical research. They used a technique called next generation sequencing (NGS) to detect specific bacterial genes.

“NGS technology allows millions of these DNA molecules to be sequenced at the same time, providing an unbiased overview of a complex bacterial population,” said Allen.

The researchers found that the Alzheimer’s brains contained different proportions of specific bacteria compared with the healthy brains.

“Comparing the bacterial populations showed at least a tenfold higher ratio overall of Actinobacteria (mostly P. acnes) to Proteobacteria in the Alzheimer’s brain compared with the healthy brain,” said Emery.

However, they were surprised to discover that there also appeared to be more bacteria in the Alzheimer’s brains.

“Unexpectedly, Alzheimer’s brains gave on average an apparent 7-fold increase in bacterial sequences above that seen in the healthy brain,” said Allen. “The healthy brains yielded only low levels of bacterial sequences, consistent with either a background signal or normal levels present in the blood stream in brain tissue.”

The researchers warn that the NGS technique does not directly indicate bacterial numbers, and more studies are needed to confirm that bacteria play an active role in the disease.

“We need quantitative studies on the bacterial presence in the brain,” said Allen. “Larger numbers of brain samples are required, and future studies should also investigate if bacteria are involved in other neurodegenerative diseases involving neuroinflammation.”

Source: Frontiers

Work Stress Can Lead to Shopping Binges

Wed, 07/19/2017 - 7:00am

Michigan State University investigators found that when service workers face verbal abuse from customers during the workday, they are more likely to go on unnecessary shopping sprees in the evening.

Investigators studied 94 call-center workers at a large bank in China and discovered that customer mistreatment (e.g., customers who yelled, argued, swore, etc.) put the employees in a bad mood after work.

This, in turn, led to damaging thoughts (ruminating or repeatedly and excessively worrying about the mistreatment) and behaviors (impulse shopping).

“Thus, stress from customers spills over to spoil people’s experiences outside of work,” said Dr. Russell Johnson, a Michigan State University associate professor of management.

The findings from Johnson and colleagues, who surveyed employees multiple times per day for 15 consecutive workdays, appear online in the Academy of Management Journal.

In the study, the researchers explored a variety of interventions and found simple solutions to the problem.

The first approach encouraged workers to think about a recent incident where they helped customers (a “recall of prosocial action intervention”) before starting work.

Another effective strategy, also performed before going to work, was for the worker to think about an interaction from the customer’s viewpoint (a “perspective-taking intervention”).

Researchers discovered setting a pre-work mentality reduced employees’ perceptions of mistreatment, reduced their negative mood and led to less rumination and impulse shopping.

Becoming more prosocial shifts attention away from the self and reduces impulsive and individualistic acts, explain the study authors.

“These recall and perspective-taking interventions are quick and easy exercises that customer-service employees can do prior to beginning the workday to reduce the stress from rude customers,” Johnson said.

Source: Michigan State University

Heavy Drinking in Teens Can Damage Brain

Wed, 07/19/2017 - 6:15am

Although drinking alcohol is an accepted cultural behavior in many countries across the world, heavy use of alcohol can cause disastrous short-term and long-term consequences, especially among youth.

Experts explain that adolescents are known to enjoy their drinking games and nights-out without worrying much about the effects alcohol can have on their health. In fact, drinking in high quantities is common during adolescence with nearly 25 percent of high school seniors in the US reporting that they got drunk in the last 30 days.

A new mini review looks at the effects of heavy drinking among young people; in particular, how the behavior impacts brain health.

“Adolescence is a time when the brain still matures including not only biological development but also maturation of psychosocial behaviors. Given the increase of binge and heavy drinking in young people, understanding the effects of consuming large quantities of alcohol on neural development and the impact on cognitive skills is very important,” said Assistant Professor Anita Cservenka, an Assistant Professor at Oregon State University.

The study appears in Frontiers in Psychology.

Binge or heavy episodic drinking means four or more standard drinks within a two-hour drinking session for females, five or more drinks for males. The review highlights existing research that examines the harmful effects of such drinking habits with a view to inform future studies.

“We looked at six areas to determine the deleterious impact of heavy drinking on brain response, namely: response inhibition, working memory, verbal learning and memory, decision making and reward processing, alcohol cue reactivity, and socio-cognitive/socio-emotional processing” Cservenka said.

The review establishes that binge drinking among young people is associated with a thinning or reduction of areas of the brain that play a key role in memory, attention, language, awareness, and consciousness, which include cortical and subcortical structures.

Using learning and memory as an example, researchers explain that studies have shown heavy drinking leads to a deficit in the ability of young people to learn novel words, which has been linked to changes in brain activity.

Looking to the future, “these brain alterations, as a result of heavy alcohol use during adolescence and young adulthood, could result in increased risk of developing an alcohol use disorder later on in life.

“It is therefore important to continue raising awareness of the risks of binge drinking and to promote future research in this area. Our review provides a useful basis to determine the areas that require further attention,” Cservenka said.

Source: Oregon State University/EurekAlert

Individualism on the Rise Across the Globe

Wed, 07/19/2017 - 5:30am

New research suggests the cultural phenomena that prioritizes independence and uniqueness is not merely a Western trait, but a practice that appears to be spreading across the globe.

Scientists discovered improved socioeconomic development in a country is a strong predictor of increasing individualistic practices and values over time.

In general, individualist cultures tend to conceive of people as self-directed and autonomous, and they tend to prioritize independence and uniqueness as cultural values.

Collectivist cultures, on the other hand, tend to see people as connected with others and embedded in a broader social context; as such, they tend to emphasize interdependence, family relationships, and social conformity.

“Much of the research on the manifestation of rising individualism — showing, for example, increasing narcissism and higher divorce rates — has focused on the United States. Our findings show that this pattern also applies to other countries that are not Western or industrialized,” says psychology researcher Dr. Henri C. Santos of the University of Waterloo.

“Although there are still cross-national differences in individualism-collectivism, the data indicate that, overall, most countries are moving towards greater individualism.”

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

Drawing from national census data and data collected for the World Values Survey, Santos, senior study author Igor Grossmann, Ph.D., (University of Waterloo), and study co-author Michael E.W. Varnum, Ph.D., (Arizona State University) were able to examine 51 years’ worth of data detailing individualist practices and values in a total of 78 countries.

To measure individualistic practices across cultures, the researchers examined data on household size, divorce rates, and proportion of people living alone.

To measure individualistic values, they examined data on the importance that people place on friends versus family, how important people believe it is to teach children to be independent, and the degree to which people prioritize self-expression as a national goal.

The researchers also looked at data on specific socio-ecological factors — including the level of socioeconomic development, disaster frequency, incidence of infectious disease, and extreme temperatures in each country — to examine whether they might account for any shifts in individualism over time.

Overall, the results showed a clear pattern: Both individualistic practices and values increased across the globe over time. Specifically, statistical models indicated that individualism has increased by about 12 percent worldwide since 1960.

Only four countries — Cameroon, Malawi, Malaysia, and Mali — showed a substantial decrease in individualistic practices over time, while 34 out of 41 countries showed a notable increase.

And only five countries — Armenia, China, Croatia, Ukraine, and Uruguay — showed a substantial decrease in individualistic values over time, with 39 out of 53 countries showing a substantial increase.

While the data indicated an overarching trend toward greater individualism, the researchers noted that sizable differences between countries remained through 2011.

Several socio-ecological factors — including more frequent disasters, less prevalent infectious disease and less climatic stress in poorer countries — were linked with individualism, but increased socioeconomic development was the strongest predictor of increased individualism over time.

Various aspects of development were related to increases in individualism, particularly increases in the proportion of white-collar jobs, education levels and household income.

“The fact that most of the countries that did not show an increase in individualist values were among the lowest in socioeconomic development over the time period examined is consistent with the observation that socioeconomic development drove the rise in individualism,” the researchers explain in their paper.

“China is an exception to this pattern, showing a decrease in individualist values even though the country has experienced economic growth. Notably, China has a complex socioeconomic history, so it will be worthwhile to investigate this country in more detail in future research.”

“I hope that these findings encourage psychologists in a variety of countries to take a more in-depth look at the rise of individualism within their respective countries,” said Santos.

Santos and Grossmann are hoping to continue this line of research, studying other predictors of cultural change, including migration and shifts in ethnic diversity, and also the potential consequences that rising individualism may have on a global scale.

Source: Association for Psychological Sciences

Brain Anomaly Tied to PTSD & Brain Injury in Vets

Tue, 07/18/2017 - 8:00am

A new study finds that veterans who developed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after a mild traumatic brain injury (TBI) tend to have a larger amygdala — the part of the brain that helps regulate emotion — compared to veterans with mild TBIs who didn’t develop PTSD.

The findings were recently presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s Sports Concussion Conference in Jacksonville, FL.

“Many consider PTSD to be a psychological disorder, but our study found a key physical difference in the brains of military-trained individuals with brain injury and PTSD, specifically the size of the right amygdala,” said Joel Pieper, M.D., M.S., of University of California, San Diego.

“These findings have the potential to change the way we approach PTSD diagnosis and treatment.”

Together, the right and left sides of the amygdala help control emotion, memories, and behavior. Research has shown that the right amygdala controls fear and aversion to unpleasant stimuli.

For the study, researchers evaluated 89 current or former members of the military with mild traumatic brain injury. Using standard symptom scale ratings, 29 participants were identified with significant PTSD. The rest of the participants had mild traumatic brain injury without PTSD.

Using brain scans to measure the volume of various brain regions, the researchers found that subjects with mild traumatic brain injury and PTSD had 6 percent overall larger amygdala volumes, particularly on the right side, compared to those with mild traumatic brain injury only. No significant differences in age, education, or gender between the PTSD and control groups were found.

The study also shows only an association and does not prove PTSD causes structural changes in the amygdala.

“People who suffered a concussion and had PTSD demonstrated a larger amygdala size, so we wonder if amygdala size could be used to screen who is most at risk to develop PTSD symptoms after a mild traumatic brain injury,” said Pieper.

“On the other hand, if there are environmental or psychological cues that lead to brain changes and enlargement of the amygdala, then maybe such influences can be monitored and treated.”

“Further studies are needed to better define the relationship between amygdala size and PTSD in mild traumatic brain injury. Also, while these findings are significant, it remains to be seen whether similar results may be found in those with sports-related concussions,” said Pieper.

Pieper emphasizes that the current study focused on veterans with blast injuries, not those with sports-related concussions.

Source: American Academy of Neurology

Mice Study Links Depression Symtoms to Abnormal Brain Wiring

Tue, 07/18/2017 - 7:00am

A new study has linked specific wiring in the brain to distinct behavioral symptoms of depression.

University of California San Diego scientists found brain circuits tied to feelings of despair and helplessness and were able to alleviate and even reverse such symptoms in mice studies.

The research is published in the journal Cell.

“We took an approach of studying depression in the sense that different brain areas and circuits of the brain might mediate or contribute to very discrete aspects of depression,” said study first-author Daniel Knowland, a University of California San Diego graduate student.

“For example, brain area A might contribute to loss of appetite, brain area B to social withdrawal and so forth.”

Senior author Dr. Byungkook Lim, an assistant professor in the Neurobiology Section, said the results require much more study and evaluation to be applied to humans with depression, but the new research in animal models provides solid grounding.

“This is one of the first studies providing clear evidence showing that different brain circuitry is involved in different types of depressive behavior with specific symptoms,” said Lim.

“Each area of the brain is different with distinct cell types and connectivity, so if we can confirm that one area of circuitry is more involved in a particular symptom than another, we may eventually be able to treat a depression patient more efficiently than treating everyone the same way.”

The researchers employed several tools to track brain pathways and specific areas of neurons involved in specific behaviors, including imaging techniques and social strategy behavioral models.

Two populations of neurons were identified in the brain’s ventral pallidum region (part of the basal ganglia) as key to underlying depressive behavior.

The new study found that specifically modifying pathways in these two areas in a mouse displaying depression led to improved behavioral changes similar to those of a healthy mouse.

More importantly, this study provides strong insight to understanding the interaction between several brain areas in depression.

Previous studies have mainly focused on the role of certain brain areas in isolation. Researchers in the new study were able to examine connections across multiple regions and how one impacted the other.

Source: University of California, San Diego

New Methods Help Predict Violent Behavior Among Individuals at Risk for Psychosis

Tue, 07/18/2017 - 6:15am

Researchers have developed a new screening battery which can predict violent behavior among individuals who may go on to develop psychosis.

In the study, investigators from Columbia University Medical Center followed young persons at clinical high-risk of developing psychosis and identified measures of violence potential.

Researchers believe the new metrics will be useful in predicting both the increased risk of future violent behavior and the actual development of psychosis.

The article, A Longitudinal Study of Violent Behavior in a Psychosis-Risk Cohort, by Gary Brucato, Ph.D., Ragy Girgis, M.D. and colleagues at Columbia University Medical Center, appears in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology.

Researchers explain that public often has misconceptions about individuals with psychosis committing acts of violence. The reality is that persons with mental illness account for a very small proportion of violent crime in the U.S.

Nevertheless, studies have shown that people with psychotic disorders are more prone to acts of mass violence involving strangers or intrafamily violence if they have not received effective treatment.

“It is important that we acknowledge that violence can be fueled by mental illness and that steps be taken to identify those people who might be prone and treat them accordingly.

“That is why these findings are so important as they demonstrate that screening people with sensitive instruments can detect which people in the incipient stages of mental disorders are at greatest risk of violence,” noted Jeffrey A. Lieberman, M.D., professor and chair of psychiatry at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.

The study followed 200 individuals at high-risk of psychosis over a period of two years. Twelve (six percent) of them reported acts of violent behavior in the six months before joining the study, fifty-six (28 percent) reported violent ideation at the time of entry into the study, and eight (four percent) committed acts of violence during the two-year follow-up period.

As a result of the study evaluation, the study staff provided treatment and took preemptive action for ten additional individuals whose thoughts had developed into plans for violent acts.

The results of the study showed that both thoughts of violence and recent violent behavior were associated with future incidents of violence, which occurred within an average of seven days of when the person developed psychotic symptoms.

Only information contained in the description of the person’s symptoms predicted the violent behavior, and not direct questions of “whether you want to hurt anyone”.

The authors suggest that this is likely why prior studies of violence in mental illness did not predict violent behavior.

The direct question “have you had thoughts of harming anyone else?,” elicited zero responses of violent ideation from any of the 200 participants. However, the indirect question “have you felt that you are not in control of your own ideas or thoughts?” elicited reports of violent ideation from 56 individuals.

Also, the targets of the violent thoughts at the beginning of the study were not those that the person subsequently attacked. This suggests that the attacks may have been impulsive and opportunistic rather than planned, and the result of the person’s psychotic symptoms.

“These individuals feel that they themselves are not having violent fantasies, “said Dr. Gary Brucato, clinical psychologist and researcher in the department of psychiatry and first author on the paper. “They feel that the thoughts they are having are intrusive and not their own. Since they are not convinced that these thoughts are real, they tend not to report them or consider them meaningful.”

A variety of factors, including alcohol and drug abuse, failure to take antipsychotic medications regularly, younger age, and psychotic symptoms such as delusions and hallucinations have been shown to have some effect on the risk of violence among people with psychosis.

Earlier research has also indicated that the period around the time of a first psychotic episode is a time of high risk for violent behavior, and that violent behavior peaks at this time.

“These findings indicate that pre-symptomatic individuals at-risk for psychosis should be screened for violent ideation, and, importantly, demonstrate how to do the screening effectively,” said Ragy Girgis, M.D., assistant professor of psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center and senior author on the paper.

“We hope this finding and means of assessment will move the field to develop a more nuanced understanding of violent ideation in the context of psychotic symptoms. Much like suicidal ideation in depression, destigmatizing the experience of violent ideation in the attenuated phase of psychosis will allow patients to freely report it.”

Source: Columbia University/EurekAlert

Diet Can Slow or Speed Brain Aging

Tue, 07/18/2017 - 5:30am

New research suggest dietary patterns may either decrease or increase inflammation in the brain, a condition that influences brain aging.

Investigators from Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) believe the brain-healthy effects of a Mediterranean-type diet and similar dietary patterns may be due to nutrients that decrease inflammation in the brain and slow brain aging.

The findings, presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in London, may explain why older people who consume this type of diet have a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

“Several studies have shown that adhering more closely to a dietary pattern that emphasizes fish, poultry, olive oil, fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and moderate amounts of alcohol — versus red meat, high-fat dairy products, and saturated fats — has a protective effect against Alzheimer’s disease,” said neuropsychologist and epidemiologist Yian Gu, Ph.D..

In the recent study, Gu and colleagues at CUMC found that increased levels of inflammatory biomarkers were associated with more brain atrophy.

“We wanted to learn about the underlying mechanism for these effects, so we investigated the possibility that the nutrients contained in these dietary patterns may prevent damaging inflammation in the brain, which may, in turn, protect against brain aging,” she said.

In the current study, Gu and colleagues examined the relationship between frequent consumption of various nutrients and levels of two key inflammation markers (C-reactive protein and interleukin-6), neuron-rich gray matter volume, and cognitive performance in 330 elderly adults who did not have dementia.

They discovered that elderly adults who consumed more omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, folate, and vitamins B1, B2, B5, B6, D, and E had lower levels of inflammatory markers, more gray matter, and better visuospatial cognition than those who consumed fewer of these nutrients.

The study also suggested that having larger, better preserved brain gray matter might be one of the reasons why those who consume more of these nutrients have better cognition.

“This study suggests that certain nutrients may contribute to the previously observed health benefits of some foods, and anti-inflammation might be one of the mechanisms,” Gu said.

“We hope to confirm these results in larger studies and with a wider range of inflammatory markers.”

Source: Columbia University Medical Center

Females with Autism May Face Greater Challenges with Real World Planning Than Males

Mon, 07/17/2017 - 7:45am

Females with autism may face greater challenges when it comes to organization, independence skills, and real world planning, according to new research published in the journal Autism Research.

The study is the largest to date to analyze executive function (the ability to make a plan, get organized, and follow through) and adaptive skills (the ability to perform basic daily tasks like getting up and dressed or making small talk) in women and girls with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

“Our goal was to look at real world skills, not just the diagnostic behaviors we use clinically to diagnose ASD, to understand how people are actually doing in their day to day lives,” says Allison Ratto Ph.D., a psychologist in the Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders at Children’s National and one of the study’s authors.

“When parents were asked to rate a child’s day-to-day functioning, it turns out that girls were struggling more with these independence skills. This was surprising because in general, girls with ASD have better social and communication skills during direct assessments. “

“The natural assumption would be that those communication and social skills would assist them to function more effectively in the world, but we found that this isn’t always the case.”

For the study, researchers at the Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders at Children’s National Health System, the National Institute of Mental Health and The George Washington University collected data from several questionnaires in which parents had rated their child’s executive function and adaptive behavior.

The research involved 79 females and 158 males aged seven to 18 who met clinical criteria for autism spectrum disorders. The groups were matched for intelligence, age and level of autism and ADHD symptoms.

The findings add to a growing body of research focused on how ASD may affect females differently than males. The ratio of girls to boys with autism is approximately three to one.

Since there are more males with ASD, existing data is mainly focused on traits and challenges in that population. This is especially true in clinical trials, where enrollment is overwhelmingly male.

“Our understanding of autism is overwhelmingly based on males, similar to the situation faced by the medical community once confronted with heart disease research being predominantly male,” said senior author Lauren Kenworthy, Ph.D., director of the Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders.

“We know how to identify signs, symptoms, and treatments for autism in males, but we know very little about unique aspects of it in females.”

The lack of research on how autism presents in females may contribute to misdiagnosis and delay or prevent intervention. Such delays can have a significant effect on outcomes, as research has shown the critical importance of early diagnosis and intervention in ASD.

“Our focus in caring for children with autism is equipping ALL of them with strategies and skills to allow them to function and succeed in day-to-day living,” said Kenworthy.

“This study highlights that some common assumptions about the severity of challenges faced by girls with ASD may be wrong, and we may need to spend more time building the adaptive and executive function skills of these females if we want to help them thrive.”

“Enhancing our understanding of how biological differences change the presentation of autism in the long term is crucial to giving every person with ASD the tools they need to succeed in life,” she said.

Source: Children’s National Health System

Strong Work Friendships Reduce Social Conflict in Female Workforce

Mon, 07/17/2017 - 7:00am

New research suggests an employer-facilitated workplace culture that supports positive, social relationships between women coworkers reduces the risk of conflict among women employees.

George Washington University investigators discovered the relationship is more pronounced within male dominated organizations.

The study, “Gender and Negative Work Ties: Exploring Difficult Work Relationships Within and Across Gender at Two Firms” appears in the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORMS) journal Organization Science.

Jenifer Merluzzi surveyed 145 management-level employees regarding workplace dynamics at two large U.S. firms that were primarily male-dominated environments. In the worksettings, women represented less than one-third of the workforce and under 15 percent of the senior management.

Merluzzi found that — while men and women are equally likely to cite having a difficult co-worker — compared to men, women are more likely to cite another woman as a difficult coworker than they are to cite a man, or not cite anyone.

However, this tendency is reduced among women who cite having more women coworkers for social support and friendship at work.

Researchers believe managerial appreciation of unique gendered network characteristics and the benefit of employee social support can help organizations create a culture to minimize conflict.

“While gender diversity and inequality are well document topics in management, sociology, and labor economics, few have looked closely at the gendered negative relationships within the workplace from a social relationship perspective,” said Merluzzi.

“Understanding the relational side of conflict also bears practical importance as companies increasingly organize using diverse teams, heightening the reliance on informal ties between and within gender to get work accomplished.”

Source: Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORM)

Care Management Program + Medication = Improved Daily Function for People with Alzheimer’s

Mon, 07/17/2017 - 6:15am

New research suggest an approach that includes a commonly-prescribed drug for Alzheimer’s disease with a specific care management program can dramatically improve daily function.

New York University (NYU) Langone Medical Center researchers discovered the care management program multiplies the medication’s ability to improve daily function by about 7.5 times, mitigating several of the disease’s most damaging effects.

These are the findings from a randomized trial presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference 2017 in London.

“Alzheimer’s and dementia clinicians have known for some time that medication alone is not enough to stop disease progression,” says research principal investigator Barry Reisberg, M.D., professor of psychiatry at NYU Langone.

“Our new research shows that a comprehensive, patient-centered care program brings significant benefits in daily activities, which are important to individuals with Alzheimer’s and those who care for and about them.”

Reisberg was the first author of a 2003 New England Journal of Medicine paper that was used in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s approval of memantine, making it the first treatment for the later stages of Alzheimer’s disease.

Now, after more than 13 years of research, he and his team have shown that combining this drug with a comprehensive disease management system achieved significantly greater therapeutic effects than what was observed in the original study.

With no significant new drug for Alzheimer’s having been approved since memantine in 2003 — and a number failing clinical trials this year — the study authors argue that the time has come for the field to pay more attention to methods that can dramatically improve the impact of existing drugs.

The new study measured the added therapeutic benefits in patients taking memantine among patients also placed in a Comprehensive, Individualized, Person-Centered Management program (CI-PCM).

The CI_PCM system of care includes caregiver training, residence assessment, therapeutic home visits, and caregiver support groups. The program was developed and conducted by study co-investigator Sunnie Kenowsky, DVM, co-director of the Fisher Alzheimer’s Disease Program and clinical instructor of Psychiatry at NYU Langone.

In a 28-week, blinded, randomized controlled trial, 10 patient-caregiver groups enrolled in the CI-PCM were compared against 10 pairs receiving standard community care. Standard care included a clinic visit, referrals to resources for caregiver training, care counseling, physical, speech and occupational therapy, medic-alert bracelets training, day care centers, and support group programs. All patients were taking memantine.

The two groups were compared at the end of 28 weeks using a recognized tool called Functional Assessment Staging (FAST), which measures losses in the ability of a person to independently carry out daily activities, such as dressing, bathing, and toileting.

The medication plus CI-PCM patient group tested 7.5 times — or 750 percent — higher than the medication-only group measured in the original 2003 study.

Alzheimer’s disease has been considered a degenerative condition, so there is currently little emphasis on retraining patients, says Reisberg.

The team’s prior work had shown that losses in function related to Alzheimer’s occur in reverse order from the sequence in which the skills are acquired in the first place during normal development.

They coined this theory “retrogenesis,” which suggests that people with Alzheimer’s with advanced disease can still learn if their training matches the developmental age level that their disease has restricted them to.

The CI-PCM system used in the study was designed based on this retrogenesis theory, and includes caregiver training, “memory coaching” that teaches patients how to accomplish skills they lost, in combination with other supportive programs.

This new research validates this hypothesis, says Reisberg, and shows that significant improvements are possible in some of the most disturbed and impaired community-residing people with Alzheimer’s.

This latest research builds on a recent paper published in the journal Dementia and Geriatric Cognitive Disorders, which reported increases in memantine’s therapeutic effect using different measurement procedures.

“While there are many great resources for people with Alzheimer’s and their families within communities, direct training in basic skills in more severe and more disturbed persons with Alzheimer’s is an underutilized and understudied treatment method in the clinic setting that has not been studied,” says Reisberg.

Source: NYU Langone Medical Center/EureAlert

New Report Outlines National Strategy to Reduce Opioid Epidemic

Mon, 07/17/2017 - 5:30am

A new report from the esteemed National Academies suggests containment of opioid abuse will require years of sustained and coordinated efforts.

Experts say a prolonged effort is necessary to contain and reverse the harmful societal effects of prescription and illicit opioid epidemics. These trouble areas are currently intertwined and getting worse, explains a new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

The report, requested by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), says it is possible to stem the still-escalating prevalence of opioid use disorder and other opioid-related harms without foreclosing access to opioids for patients suffering from pain whose providers have prescribed these drugs responsibly.

The committee that conducted the study and wrote the report recommended actions the FDA, other federal agencies, state and local governments, and health-related organizations should take.

Strategies include promoting more judicious prescribing of opioids, expanding access to treatment for opioid use disorder, preventing more overdose deaths, and weighing societal impacts in opioid-related regulatory decisions. Moreover the experts recommend investing in research to better understand the nature of pain and develop non-addictive alternatives.

“The broad reach of the epidemic has blurred the formerly distinct social boundary between prescribed opioids and illegally manufactured ones, such as heroin,” said committee chair Richard J. Bonnie, director of the Institute of Law, Psychiatry, and Public Policy at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

“This report provides an action plan directed particularly at the health professions and government agencies responsible for regulating them. This plan aims to help the millions of people who suffer from chronic pain while reducing unnecessary opioid prescribing.

We also wanted to convey a clear message about the magnitude of the challenge. This epidemic took nearly two decades to develop, and it will take years to unravel.”

As of 2015, at least two million people in the United States have an opioid use disorder involving prescription opioids — meaning they are addicted to prescription opioids — and almost 600,000 have an opioid use disorder involving heroin.

An average of about 90 Americans die every day from overdoses that involve an opioid.

While the annual number of deaths from prescription opioids remained relatively stable between 2011 and 2015, overdose deaths from illicit opioids — including heroin and synthetic opioids such as fentanyl — nearly tripled during this time period, partially in connection to a growing number of people whose use began with prescription opioids.

Drug overdose, driven primarily by opioids, is now the leading cause of unintentional injury deaths in the United States, and trends indicate that premature deaths associated with the use of opioids are likely to climb.

Some of the consequences of increased prescribing of opioids over the last few decades have been increases in the use of heroin; overdose deaths; and cases of HIV, hepatitis C, and other injection-related harms.

In more recent years, national initiatives to reduce opioid prescribing have modestly decreased the number of prescription opioids dispensed. However, many people who otherwise would have been using prescription opioids have transitioned to heroin use.

The declining price of heroin, together with regulatory efforts designed to reduce harms associated with the use of prescription opioids — including the availability of abuse-deterrent formulations — may be contributing to increased heroin use, the report says.

With this in mind, one approach to addressing the opioid epidemic is to have a fundamental shift in the nation’s approach to prescribing practices and improve awareness of the risks and benefits of opioids.

To this end, the committee recommended enhancing education for both health professionals and the general public. Such education should involve mandating pain-related education for all health professionals who provide care to people with pain, requiring and providing basic training in the treatment of opioid use disorder for health care providers, and training prescribers and pharmacists to recognize and counsel patients who are at risk for opioid use disorder or overdose.

In addition, the committee was struck by the relative lack of attention to educating the general public about the risks and benefits of prescription opioids and called for an evaluation of the impact and cost of an education program that raises awareness among patients with pain and the general public.

The committee stressed that restrictions on lawful access to prescription opioids could have other unintended effects, and any policy designed to curtail legal access to them will inevitably drive some people toward the illegal market.

Therefore, a strategy for reducing lawful access to opioids should be coupled with an investment in treatment for the millions who have opioid use disorder.

The committee recommended that states — with assistance from relevant federal agencies, particularly the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration – provide universal access to treatment for opioid use disorder. The experts recommended evidence-based treatment approaches to be used in a variety of settings, including hospitals, criminal justice settings, and substance-use treatment programs.

Efforts to this end should be carried out with particular intensity in communities with a high burden of opioid use disorder. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and state health financing agencies should also remove impediments to full coverage of medications approved by the FDA for treatment of opioid use disorder.

In addition, preventing overdose deaths and other opioid-related harms should be substantially and immediately elevated as a public health priority.

The committee recommended improving access to the medication naloxone, which blocks or reverses the effects of opioids, as well as safe injection equipment to reduce transmission of HIV and hepatitis C.

Providers and pharmacists should be permitted to prescribe, dispense, or distribute naloxone to laypersons, third parties, and first responders. Additionally, prescribers should be immune from civil liability or criminal prosecution for prescribing, dispensing, or distributing naloxone, and laypersons should be ensured immunity for possessing or administering it.

The sale or distribution of syringes should be also permitted, exempting syringes from laws that prohibit the sale or distribution of drug paraphernalia, and syringe exchanges should be authorized.

Another key element to the strategic response is weighing societal, not just the individual, impacts of opioids.

The FDA traditionally has taken a product-specific approach to drug approval decisions by focusing on the data generated and submitted by a drug’s manufacturer and balancing the benefits against the known risks to the individual patient.

While this approach works well in most cases, it is necessary to view regulatory oversight of opioid medications differently from that of other drugs, because these medications can have a number of consequences not only at the individual level but also at the household and societal levels.

Therefore, the FDA should incorporate public health considerations into opioid-related regulatory decisions, including during the clinical development stage.

Several other strategies that the committee recommended are that:

  • the FDA should complete a review of the safety and effectiveness of all approved opioids;
  • states should convene a public-private partnership to implement drug take-back programs that allow drugs to be returned to any pharmacy on any day, rather than relying on occasional take-back events;
  • public and private payers, including insurance companies, should develop reimbursement models that support evidence-based and cost-effective comprehensive pain management, including both drug and non-drug treatments for pain;
  • HHS, in concert with state organizations, should conduct or sponsor research on how data from prescription drug monitoring programs can be better leveraged to track opioid prescribing and dispensing information; and
  • the National Institutes of Health, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and industry should invest in research that examines the nature of pain and opioid use disorder, as well as develop new non-addictive treatments for pain.

Source: National Academies

Memory Impairment Begins Early in Schizophrenia and May Worsen

Sun, 07/16/2017 - 8:00am

People with schizophrenia often experience debilitating cognitive problems, including difficulties with episodic memory, a key factor in social functioning.

Episodic memory involves recalling personal events such as what you did yesterday, what you had for lunch an hour ago, or the the details of social interactions. Poor episodic memory, a common feature of schizophrenia, limits the ability to form relationships with others.

Now, researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) have discovered that early-stage schizophrenia patients have better recall regarding social events if they are given hints about context. The new findings suggest a potential strategy for memory training for people with this debilitating disease.

For the study, the researchers wanted to investigate whether episodic memory regarding social interactions worsens over the course of the illness. They recruited three groups: people at high risk for psychosis, people who had one episode of psychosis and people with chronic schizophrenia.

Without telling the subjects that they were taking part in a memory test, the researchers showed the participants 24 film clips, depicting friends talking, a car mechanic speaking to a customer, and other ordinary scenes.

Participants then looked at photographs of 24 people featured in the film clips, as well as photos of 24 people who were not in the clips. Researchers asked the subjects to identify which faces just seemed familiar and which faces elicited detailed memories about the specific situations depicted in the film clips.

Volunteers from all three groups were able to identify faces from the film clips, but all demonstrated poor episodic memory in their ability to recall the social situations that matched the faces.

In the second part of the study, participants were shown the photos again and this time were asked to choose one of four sentences describing the situation in which the face had appeared. The participants who were at risk for developing schizophrenia had no trouble with this task. However, those who had already experienced an episode of psychosis or who had chronic schizophrenia had difficulty with this experiment.

According to the researchers, the findings offer several insights:

  • The difference among groups in the sentence-selection experiment suggests a subtle change in social memory with the onset of psychosis — once the illness starts, the picture cues aren’t helpful;
  • Knowing the importance of providing context as a way to improve social memory in the earliest phase of schizophrenia may help family members and caregivers interact with and support the patients;
  • Impaired social episodic memory may be an early symptom of schizophrenia.

Source: University of California, Los Angeles, Health Sciences


Insufficient Vitamin D in Pregnancy May Hinder Child Development

Sun, 07/16/2017 - 7:00am

Insufficient Vitamin D in expectant mothers during pregnancy has been found to have a negative effect on the social development and motor skills of preschool age children.

Examining data gathered from more than 7,000 mother-child pairs, researchers from the University of Surrey and the University of Bristol discovered that pregnant women who were deficient in Vitamin D (less than 50 nmol per liter in blood) were more likely to have children with the lowest scores — the bottom 25 percent — in preschool development tests for gross and fine motor development.

The tests, given at 2 and a half years, included assessments of coordination, such as kicking a ball, balancing, and jumping, as well as the child’s use of fine muscles, including holding a pencil and building a tower with bricks.

Vitamin D insufficiency in pregnancy was also found to affect a child’s social development at 3 and a half years, according to the study’s findings.

However, no associations were found between a mother’s vitamin D status and other outcomes at older ages, such as IQ and reading ability at seven to nine years old, the researchers reported.

Previous evidence from animal studies has shown that the neurocognitive development of fetuses is detrimentally affected when levels of Vitamin D in the mothers are low. Researchers believe that interactions between Vitamin D and dopamine in the brain of the fetus may play a crucial role in the neurological development of the areas of the brain controlling motor and social development.

“The importance of Vitamin D sufficiency should not be underestimated,” said lead author Dr. Andrea Darling from the University of Surrey. “It is well-known to be good for our musculoskeletal systems, but our research shows that if levels are low in expectant mothers, it can affect the development of their children in their early years of life.”

Vitamin D is derived from sunlight and diet. It is found in oily fish, such as salmon, sardines, mackerel, and fresh tuna, and in small amounts of red meat, eggs, fortified fat spreads, and some breakfast cereals.

However, unless a large portion of oily fish (100g) is eaten daily, it is difficult to get the recommended daily intake of 10 micrograms per day from food alone, researchers noted.

“Many pregnant women, especially those from minority groups with darker skin (e.g. African, African-Caribbean or South Asian), will still need to take a 10 micrograms Vitamin D supplement daily, particularly in the autumn and winter when Vitamin D cannot be made from the sun in the UK,” Darling said.

“However, it is important to remember that ‘more is not necessarily better’ and it is important not to take too much Vitamin D from supplements, as it can be toxic in very high doses.”

The study was published in the British Journal of Nutrition.

Source: University of Surrey

Simple Prosocial Measures Can Improve Lives of Dementia Patients

Sun, 07/16/2017 - 6:00am

Person-centered activities, combined with just one hour a week of social interaction, can improve quality of life and reduce agitation for people with dementia living in nursing homes — while saving money, according to a new study.

The results of the large-scale trial led by the University of Exeter, King’s College London, and Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust, were presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference 2017.

The trial involved more than 800 people with dementia in 69 care homes in South London, North London, and Buckinghamshire. Two “care staff champions” at each home were trained over four daylong sessions to take simple measures, such as talking to residents about their interests and decisions around their own care.

When combined with just one hour a week of social interaction, it improved quality of life and reduced agitation, the researchers discovered.

The approach also saved money compared to standard care, according to the researchers, who say the next challenge is to introduce the program to the 28,000 care homes in the U.K. to benefit the lives of the 300,000 people with dementia living in these facilities.

“People with dementia who are living in care homes are among the most vulnerable in our society,” said Professor Clive Ballard of the University of Exeter Medical School, who led the research. “Incredibly, of 170 carer training manuals available on the market, only four are based on evidence that they really work. Our outcomes show that good staff training and just one hour a week of social interaction significantly improves quality of life for a group of people who can often be forgotten by society.”

“Taking a person-centered approach is about really getting to know the resident as an individual — knowing their interests and talking with them while you provide all aspects of care,” said Dr. Jane Fossey from the Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust. “It can make a massive difference to the person themselves and their carers. We’ve shown that this approach significantly improves lives, reduces agitation and actually saves money too. This training must now be rolled out nationwide so other people can benefit.”

According to Doug Brown, director of research for the Alzheimer’s Society, 70 percent of people living in care homes have dementia, “so it is vital that staff have the right training to provide good quality dementia care.”

“We know that a person-centered approach that takes each individual’s unique qualities, abilities, interests, preferences, and needs into account can improve care,” he said.

“This study shows that training to provide this type of individualized care, along with activities and social interactions, has a significant impact on the well-being of people living with dementia in care homes. It also shows that effective care can reduce costs, which the stretched social care system desperately needs.”

The results are the findings of the Improving Wellbeing and Health for People with Dementia (WHELD) trial, the largest non-pharmacological randomized control trial in people with dementia living in care homes to date, according to the researchers.

Source: University of Exeter

Dislike for Unfamiliar Groups of People May Be Learned

Sun, 07/16/2017 - 6:00am

A new study suggests that although we are inherently drawn to familiar groups of people, having dislike for unfamiliar groups appears to be a learned behavior.

The findings show that, by the age of one, young children already prefer speakers of their native tongue, but do not necessarily view speakers of an unfamiliar language negatively, according to the research at the University of British Columbia (UBC).

“Persistent discrimination and conflict across cultures has led psychologists to question whether we are naturally inclined to like people who are similar to ourselves and to dislike those who are different, or whether we are taught to feel this way,” said Anthea Pun, the study’s lead author and a graduate student in the UBC department of psychology.

“These findings suggest both are true: liking people who are similar to ourselves seems to be an innate bias, but disliking those who are different is something we likely learn later.”

Previous research has shown that three-year-olds show positive biases toward people who are similar to them and negative biases towards those who are different. In the new study, the UBC researchers wanted to focus on infants to find out when and how these biases first emerge.

The study involved six experiments with 456 infants aged eight to 16 months at Science World’s Living Lab located at TELUS World of Science in Vancouver. The experiments investigated how quickly babies habituated to either familiar or unfamiliar language speakers performing prosocial (giving) behavior or antisocial (taking) behavior.

Habituation measures how long it takes infants to process pictures and sounds. When the information matches the infants’ expectations, attention declines at a faster rate. By measuring infants’ rate of habituation, the researchers were able to independently measure whether infants had formed positive or negative evaluations of people speaking familiar and unfamiliar languages.

Overall, the findings show that, by one year of age, infants not only think of speakers of their native language as good, but they also expect them to be prosocial. The infants appeared to be surprised when observing speakers of their native language engaging in antisocial behavior.

The infants did not appear to have any positive or negative expectations of speakers of an unfamiliar language, however, suggesting that negativity toward groups different from their own is likely learned after the first year of life.

“This study provides critical insight into the origins of social group bias by allowing researchers to understand how positivity and negativity toward groups develops independently,” said  Dr. Andrew Baron, the study’s senior author and associate professor in the UBC department of psychology.

Source: University of British Columbia