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Updated: 44 min 21 sec ago

Many Struggling Readers Have Binocular Vision Problems

Sun, 02/18/2018 - 9:00am

A new Canadian study finds that many elementary school children who read below grade level have challenges with their eyesight — even if standard tests say their vision is 20/20.

Researchers from the University of Waterloo found that one-third of a group of children with reading difficulties tested below-normal in binocular vision. Healthy binocular vision is defined as both eyes being able to aim simultaneously at the same visual target. Problems with binocular vision may lead to eye strain, fatigue or double vision.

“A complete binocular vision assessment is not always part of the standard vision test,” said Dr. Lisa Christian, lead researcher on the project and an associate clinical professor at the School of Optometry and Vision Science, University of Waterloo. “However, binocular vision problems could be compounding a child’s academic difficulties, and should be investigated.”

The research involved a retrospective review of 121 children between the ages of six and 14 who had all been assigned an Individual Education Plan (IEP) specifically for reading. The findings show that more than three-quarters of these children had good eyesight, but when they were tested for binocular vision, more than a third of them scored below what was considered normal.

Optometrists classify binocular vision anomalies under three main categories: accommodation, vergence and oculomotor. The symptoms may sometimes appear benign or may be masked as other problems.

Children with accommodative issues have trouble focusing or have difficulty changing their focus from one distance to another. For example, our eyes have a natural focusing system, similar to a camera. When the eyes cannot switch focus correctly, the images appear blurry.

Children with vergence problems have trouble turning their eye in or out — eye movements required for reading. When reading a book up close, for example, our eyes need to be able to move inward to see the words. Children with oculomotor issues have trouble with eye tracking and may lose their place while reading.

“Kids can see words on the page, but if (for example) they have difficulty turning their eyes in to read or focusing words on a page, they may experience symptoms of eye strain, double vision or fatigue after five or 10 minutes,” Christian said. “It’s not just about visual acuity, but about how well the eyes work together when performing an activity such as reading.”

“Full eye examinations, particularly in children with vision issues, may be a tool for parents and educators to assist children who are found to have difficulty reading.”

Source: University of Waterloo

High Dopamine May Cause Psychosis Patients to Focus More on Expectations

Sun, 02/18/2018 - 8:15am

A new study finds that schizophrenia patients with auditory hallucinations often hear what they expect to hear. In fact, the hallucinations may be an extreme version of a perceptual distortion quite common among healthy people.

Research has long established that people who experience hallucinations and other psychotic symptoms tend to have elevated dopamine, but the exact link between dopamine and hallucinations has remained unclear.

In the new study, researchers at Columbia University Irving Medical Center (CUIMC) and New York State Psychiatric Institute (NYSPI) found that elevated dopamine could be causing some patients to rely more on expectations, which could then result in hallucinations.

The findings help explain why treatments targeting the production of dopamine could help alleviate this condition.

“Our brain uses prior experiences to generate sensory expectations that help fill in the gaps when sounds or images are distorted or unclear,” said Guillermo Horga, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of clinical psychiatry at CUIMC and a research psychiatrist at NYSPI.

“In individuals with schizophrenia, this process appears to be altered, leading to extreme perceptual distortions, such as hearing voices that are not there. Furthermore, while such hallucinations are often successfully treated by antipsychotic drugs that block the neurotransmitter dopamine in a brain structure known as the striatum, the reason for this has been a mystery since this neurotransmitter and brain region are not typically associated with sensory processing.”

For the study, the research team designed an experiment that induced an auditory illusion in both healthy participants and participants with schizophrenia. They observed how building up or breaking down sensory expectations can modify the strength of this illusion. They also measured dopamine release before and after administering a drug that triggers the release of dopamine.

The findings show that the schizophrenia patients tended to perceive sounds in a way that was more similar to what they had been cued to expect, even when sensory expectations were less reliable and the illusions weakened in healthy participants.

This tendency to inflexibly hear what was expected became worse after they were given a dopamine-releasing drug, became more pronounced in participants with elevated dopamine release, and more apparent in participants with a smaller dorsal anterior cingulate (a brain region previously shown to track reliability of environmental cues).

“All people have some perceptual distortions, but these results suggest that excess dopamine can exacerbate our distorted perceptions,” said Horga. “Novel therapies should aim to improve the processing of contextual information by targeting the dopamine system or downstream pathways associated with modulation of perceptual processing, which likely include the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex.”

The study is published in the journal Current Biology.

Source: Columbia University Medical Center

Screening All Adults for Hepatitis C is Most Cost-Effective Way to ID Those Infected

Sun, 02/18/2018 - 7:30am

Screening all adults for hepatitis C (HCV) is the most cost-effective way to identify more people with the disease as well as improve patients’ health and quality of life, compared to the current recommendations of screening only certain populations.

Hepatitis C is a viral infection that causes liver inflammation and sometimes serious liver damage. Many people with HCV experience neuropsychiatric symptoms such as brain fog, confusion, irritability, difficulty concentrating, and fatigue. These symptoms make it difficult to carry on everyday tasks.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) currently recommends HCV testing for people born between 1945 and 1965, the highest risk population in the U.S. However, recent statistics have shown a growing incidence rate of HCV among young people.

“Due in part to the opioid epidemic and the increase in injection drug use, the country has seen an increase in cases of HCV among young people,” says Benjamin Linas, M.D., co-senior author of the study and infectious disease physician at BMC and an associate professor of medicine at Boston University Medical Center. “The CDC could address this public health concern by recommending all adults receive a one-time HCV test.”

To address this gap in testing, researchers from Boston Medical Center, Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), and Stanford University created a simulation model to estimate the effectiveness of HCV testing strategies among different age groups.

They compared the effects of testing four age brackets: current testing recommendations (those born between 1945 and 1965), testing people over 40 years old, testing people over 30 years old, and testing all adults over 18 years old. All strategies included the current recommendations for targeted testing of high-risk individuals, such as people who inject drugs.

The researchers discovered that, compared to current recommendations, screening all adults over 18 for HCV would identify more than 250,000 additional people with the disease, increase cure rates from 41 percent to 61 percent, and reduce death rates for HCV-attributable diseases by more than 20 percent. Overall, screening for all adults would increase life expectancy and quality of life while remaining cost-effective.

“When we expanded testing, the results were compelling,” says Joshua Barocas, M.D., lead author on the study, an infectious disease physician at MGH and an instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School. “Changing the current recommendations could have a major public health impact, improving the quality of life for young people with HCV, and reducing death rates.”

The study pulled data from national databases, clinical trials, and observational cohorts to inform their simulation models, which took into account the same demographics and HCV epidemiology of the U.S. population.

Although all of the age-based strategies lowered costs associated with managing chronic HCV and advanced liver disease, the strategy of testing all adults was most effective. Even in a simulated scenario that required twice as much testing among uninfected people to identify the same number of HCV cases, the testing-all-adults strategy remained cost-effective.

“Testing all adults would lead to earlier diagnosis and treatment for many people, which would help to prevent cirrhosis and other long-term complications,” says Joshua Salomon, Ph.D., co-senior author of the study and professor of medicine at Stanford University. “Overall, when you consider both the better health outcomes and the reduced costs of managing long-term liver disease, expanded testing offers excellent value for money.”

Researchers say these findings should be considered by the CDC for future recommendations on HCV testing.

Source: Boston Medical Center

Many Teens Take Great Care in Posting Online Content

Sat, 02/17/2018 - 10:00am

A new study finds that many teens, particularly girls, may go to great lengths to create a favorable online image. That may include posting only carefully selected photos, choosing to share activities that make them appear well-liked and even going as far as to ask friends to like and comment on their posts.

So what may appear as a fun and effortless way to share content may actually be quite painstaking and tedious.

“Teenagers aren’t just posting carelessly; they’re surprisingly thoughtful about what they choose to reveal on social media,” said lead author Joanna Yau, a Ph.D. candidate in education at the University of California, Irvine (UCI). “Peer approval is important during adolescence, especially in early adolescence, so they’re sharing content that they think others will find impressive.”

In fact, the researchers found that the primary social media goal of most teens is to post content that makes them appear interesting, well-liked and attractive.

In contrast to real life scenarios, social media platforms, such as Snapchat, Facebook, and Instagram, allow individuals time to craft and edit posts and even strategize about how they want to present themselves online. This is quite possible because many online “friends” are those we know in person but aren’t necessarily close to, such as classmates.

Yau and study co-author Dr. Stephanie Reich, UCI associate professor of education, found that for girls, the effort to construct a favorable image can involve lengthy deliberation and advice from confidantes. The process of posting pictures is particularly time-consuming and can be a joint endeavor among friends, ensuring that only the most flattering photos, filters and captions are chosen.

Girls also actively enlist their friends to comment on and like their posts in an attempt to boost their popularity index, with especially savvy users choosing to post during peak social media traffic hours in order to maximize their number of likes. Boys in the study did not ask pals for feedback or to like their posts.

“We found that some teens invested great effort into sharing content on Facebook and Instagram and that what may seem to be an enjoyable activity may actually feel tedious,” Yau said.

“Their social rules for online interaction require a higher level of sensitivity than do those for in-person communication. Even interesting and positive posts can be interpreted negatively. For example, sharing about college admissions could come across as pretentious and prideful.”

The research included 51 Southern California adolescents between the ages of 12 and 18 (27 females and 24 males). The study involved 10 focus groups consisting of three to eight teens each, based on proximity, grade level and gender. At each grade level, there were female, male, and mixed-gender groups, with no adults known to the participants present.

Source: UC Irvine

More Daily Activity Linked to More Gray Matter in Older Adults’ Brains

Sat, 02/17/2018 - 9:00am

Higher levels of everyday physical activity, such as house cleaning, walking a dog, and gardening, are associated with more gray matter in the brains of older adults, according to a new study.

The gray matter in the brain includes regions responsible for controlling muscle movement, experiencing the senses, thinking and feeling, memory and speech and more. The volume of gray matter is a measure of brain health, but the amount of gray matter in the brain often begins to decrease in late adulthood, even before symptoms of cognitive dysfunction appear, noted researchers at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.

“More gray matter is associated with better cognitive function, while decreases in gray matter are associated with Alzheimer’s disease and other related dementias,” said Shannon Halloway, Ph.D., the study’s lead author and the Kellogg/Golden Lamp Society Postdoctoral Fellow in the Rush University College of Nursing. “A healthy lifestyle, such as participating in lifestyle physical activity, is beneficial for brain health, and may help lessen gray matter atrophy.”

The study measured the levels of lifestyle physical activity by 262 older adults in Rush’s Memory and Aging Project, an ongoing epidemiological cohort study. Participants are recruited from retirement communities and subsidized housing facilities in and around Chicago to participate in annual clinical evaluations and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, and to donate their brains and other parts of their bodies for research after their deaths.

Participants in the lifestyle study wore a non-invasive device called an accelerometer continuously for seven to 10 days. The goal was to accurately measure the frequency, duration, and intensity of a participant’s activities over that time, the researchers explained.

Lifestyle physical activity is “more realistic for older adults” than a structured exercise program that might require them to go to a gym, according to Halloway.

“Accessibility becomes an issue as one ages,” she said. “Transportation can be a problem. Gym settings can be intimidating for any individual, but especially so for older adults.”

The use of accelerometers was only one of the ways in which this analysis differed from some other investigations of the health of older people, according to Halloway. Most research that explores the effects of exercise relies on questionnaires, which ask participants to “self-report” their levels of activity, she noted.

The problem with questionnaires is that “sometimes, we get really inaccurate reports of activity,” she said. “People commonly over-estimate, and on the flip side, some underestimate the lifestyle activity they’re getting from things they don’t consider exercise, like household chores, for example.”

Another departure in Halloway’s study from others was the opportunity she had to assess the effects of exercise on individuals older than 80. In fact, the mean age in this study was 81 years, compared with 70 years for other studies Halloway used as a reference.

“One great strength of the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center is its amazing ability to follow up with participants, and its high retention rates of participants,” she said.

As a result, the Memory and Aging Project captures a number of participants in that older age group, she explained.

However, no one was included in Halloway’s analysis who had a diagnosis or symptoms of dementia, or even mild cognitive impairment; a history of brain surgery; or brain abnormalities such as tumors, as seen on MRIs.

The study compared gray matter volumes as seen in participants’ MRIs with readings from the accelerometers and other data, which all were obtained during the same year. Halloway’s analysis found the association between participants’ actual physical activity and gray matter volumes remained after controlling for age, gender, education levels, body mass index, and symptoms of depression.

All of these are associated with lower levels of gray matter in the brain.

“Our daily lifestyle physical activities are supportive of brain health, and adults of all ages should continue to try and increase lifestyle physical activity to gain these benefits,” Halloway said.

“Moving forward, our goal is to develop and test behavioral interventions that focus on lifestyle physical activity for older adults at increased risk for cognitive decline due to cardiovascular disease.”

The study was published in The Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences.

Source: Rush University Medical Center
Photo: This is Rush University College of Nursing researcher Shannon Halloway, PhD and patient. Credit: Rush Photo Group.

Conversation Boosts Kids’ Brain Development

Sat, 02/17/2018 - 8:00am

New research has discovered that conversation between an adult and a child appears to change the child’s brain.

In a study of children between the ages of four and six, cognitive scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that differences in the number of “conversational turns” accounted for a large portion of the differences in brain physiology and language skills that they found in children.

The findings suggest that parents can have considerable influence over their children’s language and brain development by simply engaging them in conversation, according to the researchers.

“The important thing is not just to talk to your child, but to talk with your child. It’s not just about dumping language into your child’s brain, but to actually carry on a conversation with them,” said Rachel Romeo, a graduate student at Harvard and MIT and the lead author of the paper, which was published in Psychological Science.

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), the researchers identified differences in the brain’s response to language that correlated with the number of conversational turns.

In children who experienced more conversation, Broca’s area, a part of the brain involved in speech production and language processing, was much more active while they listened to stories, according to the study’s findings. This brain activation then predicted children’s scores on language assessments.

“The really novel thing about our paper is that it provides the first evidence that family conversation at home is associated with brain development in children. It’s almost magical how parental conversation appears to influence the biological growth of the brain,” said senior author Dr. John Gabrieli, the Grover M. Hermann Professor in Health Sciences and Technology at MIT and the senior author of the study.

A landmark 1995 study found that children from higher-income families hear about 30 million more words during their first three years of life than children from lower-income families. This “30-million-word gap” correlates with significant differences in tests of vocabulary, language development, and reading comprehension.

Before the new study, little was known about how the “word gap” might translate into differences in the brain, the researchers noted. So they set out to find these differences by comparing the brain scans of children from different socioeconomic backgrounds.

As part of the study, the researchers used a system called Language Environment Analysis (LENA) to record every word spoken or heard by each child. Parents who agreed to have their children participate in the study were told to have their children wear the recorder for two days, from the time they woke up until they went to bed, the researchers explained.

The recordings were then analyzed by a computer program that yielded three measurements: the number of words spoken by the child, the number of words spoken to the child, and the number of times that the child and an adult took a “conversational turn” — a back-and-forth exchange initiated by either one.

The researchers found that the number of conversational turns correlated strongly with the children’s scores on standardized tests of language skill, including vocabulary, grammar, and verbal reasoning.

The number of conversational turns also correlated with more activity in Broca’s area when the children listened to stories while inside an fMRI scanner.

These correlations were much stronger than those between the number of words heard and language scores, and between the number of words heard and activity in Broca’s area, the researchers reported.

This result aligns with other recent findings, according to Romeo.

“But there’s still a popular notion that there’s this 30-million-word gap, and we need to dump words into these kids — just talk to them all day long, or maybe sit them in front of a TV that will talk to them,” she said. “However, the brain data show that it really seems to be this interactive dialogue that is more strongly related to neural processing.”

The researchers believe interactive conversation gives children more of an opportunity to practice their communication skills, including the ability to understand what another person is trying to say and to respond in an appropriate way.

While children from higher-income families were exposed to more language on average, children from lower-income families who experienced a high number of conversational turns had language skills and Broca’s area brain activity similar to those of children who came from higher-income families, according to the study’s findings.

“In our analysis, the conversational turn-taking seems like the thing that makes a difference, regardless of socioeconomic status. Such turn-taking occurs more often in families from a higher socioeconomic status, but children coming from families with lesser income or parental education showed the same benefits from conversational turn-taking,” said Gabrieli, who is also a professor of brain and cognitive sciences and a member of MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research.

The researchers hope their findings will encourage parents to engage their young children in more conversation. Although this study was done in children age four to six, this type of turn-taking can also be done with much younger children, by making sounds back and forth or making faces, the researchers said.

Source: MIT

Social Media Replaces Human Contact? Maybe Not

Sat, 02/17/2018 - 7:00am

A new study contradicts the notion that social media has created “social displacement” — the alienation of people from friends and family in favor of Facebook and Twitter.

Published in the journal Information, Communication & Society, the study finds no evidence for the proposition that social media crowds out face-to-face communication with those who ought to matter most — our close friends and family, according to Dr. Jeffrey Hall, a University of Kansas Associate Professor of Communication Studies.

“I’m trying to push back on the popular conception of how this works,” Hall said. “That’s not to say overuse of social media is good, but it’s not bad in the way people think it is.”

For the study, Hall and then-KU doctoral students Michael W. Kearney and Chong Xing performed two unique studies.

In the first, they compared data sets from the Longitudinal Study of American Youth (LSAY) from 2009 and 2011, to see whether there was any decrease in interpersonal contact that could be correlated with increased use of social media. The researchers found no such relationship.

Hall said the young adults tracked in the LSAY “are squarely in the middle of Generation X. What was really convenient was the questions about social media use were asked right when Facebook was hitting its inflection point of adoption, and the main adopters in that period were Gen Xers.”

“It was not the case at all that social media adoption or use had a consistent effect on their direct social interactions with people,” he said.

Direct interactions were defined as getting out of one’s house, visiting friends, talking on the phone and attending meetings of groups and organizations (apart from religious groups), he explained.

“What was interesting was that, during a time of really rapid adoption of social media, and really powerful changes in use, you didn’t see sudden declines in people’s direct social contact,” Hall said. “If the social-displacement theory is correct, people should get out less and make fewer of those phone calls, and that just wasn’t the case.”

The second study was one the researchers designed and executed themselves in 2015. They recruited 116 people, half adults and half college students, and texted them five times a day for five consecutive days, querying them each time about their use of social media and direct social contacts in the previous 10 minutes.

“What we found was that people’s use of social media had no relationship to who they were talking to later that day and what medium they were using to talk to people later that day,” Hall said. “Social media users were not experiencing social displacement. If they used social media earlier in the day, they were not more likely to be alone later.”

“It’s also not the case that because they were using social media now, they were not interacting face to face later,” he said. “It doesn’t seem that, either within the same time period or projecting the future, that social media use indicates people not having close relationship partners in face-to-face or telephone conversation.”

Hall notes that while several studies have questioned the displacement effect, the theory seems stubbornly resistant to debunking.

He said he suspects that time spent on social media has displaced older forms of media, such as reading the newspaper, browsing the Internet, or watching television.

Source: University of Kansas

New Antipsychotic May Relieve Psychosis in Dementia Patients

Fri, 02/16/2018 - 8:45am

A new atypical antipsychotic, known as pimavanserin (Nuplazid), has been shown to help relieve the terrifying symptoms of psychosis in Alzheimer’s disease without the devastating side effects often seen with current antipsychotics, according to new findings published in the journal Lancet Neurology.

The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Exeter Medical School in the U.K., found that those with the most severe psychotic symptoms benefited most from the drug.

Up to half of the 45 million Alzheimer’s patients around the world will experience psychotic episodes, a figure that is even higher in some other forms of dementia. Psychosis is also associated with faster deterioration in dementia.

Currently, there is no medication proven to be safe and effective for these disturbing symptoms. In dementia patients, the use of antipsychotics often leads to sedation and can even double the speed at which brain function deteriorates. Their use also increases the risk of falls and leads to 1,660 unnecessary strokes and 1,800 unnecessary deaths in the U.K. every year. In addition, these drugs show very little benefit in improving psychosis in people with dementia.

Pimavanserin works differently than other antipsychotics, by blocking a very specific nerve receptor (THT2A) in the brain. In the new study, it was shown to effectively reduce symptoms of psychosis in Alzheimer’s patients without the damaging effects of other antipsychotics.

“Psychosis is a particularly terrifying symptom of Alzheimer’s disease. People may experience paranoia, or see, hear or smell things that are not there. It’s distressing both for those experiencing the delusions and for their carers,” said study leader Clive Ballard, professor of age-related diseases at the University of Exeter Medical School.

“It’s particularly encouraging that most benefit was seen in those with the most severe psychotic symptom, as this group is most likely to be prescribed antipsychotics. We are talking about vulnerable elderly, frail people who are suffering terrifying symptoms, being sedated with current antipsychotics even though its well known that they cause terrible health issues and even death in people with dementia, and have very little benefit.”

“We urgently need to do better by them, and our encouraging results provides hope. We’re delighted that our results have led to a larger phase three clinical trial which is now ongoing.”

The study was a double-blind, placebo-controlled exploratory trial designed to evaluate the effectiveness and safety of pimavanserin in 181 patients with Alzheimer’s disease psychosis. Half of the participants were given pimavanserin and half were put on placebo.

The hopeful findings build on previous research showing that pimavanserin is effective for people with dementia related to Parkinson’s disease. Pimavanserin has been approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the U.S. for this purpose, but has not yet been submitted for approval to the European equivalent, the European Medicines Agency.

The safety and efficacy of the drug in reducing psychotic symptoms in dementia is now being assessed in a larger-scale clinical trial in the U.S.

Source: University of Exeter

Unawareness of Memory Problems Is Predictor of Alzheimer’s

Fri, 02/16/2018 - 8:00am

New research confirms that not realizing a memory problem is in itself a warning sign for dementia. Physicians explain that some brain conditions can interfere with a patient’s ability to understand they have a medical problem, a neurological disorder known as anosognosia, often associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

A new study now finds that individuals who experience this lack of awareness present a nearly threefold increase in likelihood of developing dementia within two years. The study appears in the journal Neurology.

Joseph Therriault, a graduate student at McGill University examined data available through the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI), a global research effort in which participating patients agree to complete a variety of imaging and clinical assessments.

Therriault analyzed 450 patients who experienced mild memory deficits, but were still capable of taking care of themselves, who had been asked to rate their cognitive abilities. Close relatives of the patient also filled out the similar surveys.

When a patient reported having no cognitive problems but the family member reported significant difficulties, he was considered to have poor awareness of illness.

Researchers compared the poor awareness group to the ones showing no awareness problems and found that those suffering from anosognosia had impaired brain metabolic function and higher rates of amyloid deposition, a protein known to accumulate in the brains of Alzheimer’s disease patients.

A follow up two years later showed that patients who were unaware of their memory problems were more likely to have developed dementia, even when taking into account other factors like genetic risk, age, gender, and education.

The increased progression to dementia was mirrored by increased brain metabolic dysfunction in regions vulnerable to Alzheimer’s disease. The finding provides crucial evidence about the importance of consulting with the patient’s close family members during clinical visits.

“This has practical applications for clinicians: people with mild memory complaints should have an assessment that takes into account information gathered from reliable informants, such as family members or close friends,” says Dr. Serge Gauthier, co-senior author of the paper and Professor of Neurology & Neurosurgery, Psychiatry, and Medicine at McGill.

“This study could provide clinicians with insights regarding clinical progression to dementia,” adds Dr. Rosa-Neto, co-senior author of the study.

The scientists are now expanding the research by exploring how awareness of illness changes across the full spectrum of Alzheimer’s disease, and how these changes are related to critical Alzheimer’s biomarkers.

Source: McGill University

Romance Shields Gay and Lesbian Youth from Emotional Distress

Fri, 02/16/2018 - 7:15am

New research finds that a romantic relationship helps buffer lesbian and gay youth from the negative effects of bullying and victimization. Furthermore, being involved in a relationship helps to significantly reduce psychological distress among gays and lesbians. Conversely, relationship involvement among bisexual youth increased psychological distress.

The Northwestern Medicine study, conducted in collaboration with the University of Cincinnati, is the first to discover that an active relationship provides better support than that conveyed from family or friends.

“Romantic relationships add luster to life,” said corresponding author Brian Mustanski, the director of the Institute for Sexual and Gender Minority Health and Wellbeing at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

“Your romantic partner can be the first person you reach out to when you have good news to celebrate or for a shoulder to cry on when you have bad news. Having a partner then can amplify the good things in life and provide critical support during tough times.”

While the benefits of being in a romantic relationship to mental health is well documented in adults, limited research has been conducted on the association between dating relationships and mental health in young people.

Even fewer researchers have examined the potential stress-buffering effects of romantic involvement for sexual minority groups.

“There are lot of questions about if and how we should help LGBT teens form romantic relationships, so that they can have the same experiences of dating and learning about relationships as their heterosexual peers,” said Sarah Whitton, first author and associate professor of psychology at the University of Cincinnati.

“The findings suggest there might be great value in initiatives that could help LGBT youth meet other youth such as citywide ‘queer proms,’ and engage in healthy learning about dating and romance.”

The paper appears in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology.

Romantic involvement was associated with higher psychological distress for bisexual individuals, however, the study also showed.

Researchers discovered that when bisexuals were in relationships, they were 19 percent more distressed than when they were not in relationships. When lesbian and gay individuals were in relationships, they were 17 percent less distressed than when they were not in relationships.

“Bisexuals may face unique stressors in relationships,” Mustanski said.

In previous research, bisexual women reported their romantic male partners expected threesomes with another female and perceived of the woman’s bisexuality as a threat to their own masculinity.

Bisexual men in relationships with women described difficulties discussing their bisexuality and experiencing stereotypes that they are really gay and not bisexual.

Participants came from Project Q2 — the longest running longitudinal study of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) youth ever conducted.

Project Q2 is a racially diverse community sample of 248 sexual minority youth from the Chicago area between the ages of 16-20, who provided eight waves of data over a five-year period beginning in 2007. Most participants identified as gay, lesbian, bisexual, and/or transgender.

Source: Northwestern University/EurekAlert

Smart-Phone Addiction May Actually Represent Innate Social Needs

Fri, 02/16/2018 - 6:30am

The transformation into the Information Age has fostered the creation of a knowledge-based society that influences the way we live and socially interact. While generally positive, the evolution has created issues as some individuals have become excessively dependent on technology.

For example, it is relatively common to know a person who appears incapable of living without the bright screen of their phone for more than a few minutes as they are constantly texting and checking out what friends are up to on social media.

New research examines this so-called antisocial behavior linked to smartphone addiction. In a provocative new study, researchers from McGill University posit that we may be looking at things the wrong way?

Could smartphone addiction be hyper-social, not anti-social?

Professor Samuel Veissière, a cognitive anthropologist who studies the evolution of cognition and culture, explains that the desire to watch and monitor others, but also to be seen and monitored by others, runs deep in our evolutionary past.

He explains that humans evolved to be a uniquely social species and require constant input from others to seek a guide for culturally appropriate behavior. This is also a way for them to find meaning, goals, and a sense of identity.

In the new study, to be published in Frontiers in Psychology, Veissière and Moriah Stendel, researchers in McGill’s Department of Psychiatry, reviewed current literature on dysfunctional use of smart technology through an evolutionary lens.

Saliently, they found that the most addictive smartphone functions all shared a common theme: they tap into the human desire to connect with other people.

While smartphones harness a normal and healthy need for sociality, Professor Veissière agrees that the pace and scale of hyper-connectivity pushes the brain’s reward system to run on overdrive, which can lead to unhealthy addictions.

Veissière believes addictions are often influenced by evolutionary forces — that our current post-industrial environment is different from settings in which we evolved. He gives the example of how current surplus’ of fat and sugary foods can lead to uncontrollable temptation as we are wired to take advantage of excess food capacity for in the distant past, this excess was often followed by deprivation. Therefore, we are genetically programmed to overindulge when the opportunity arises.

He believes the pro-social needs and rewards [of smartphone use as a means to connect] are similar, with the concerns of societal chaos overblown.

“There is a lot of panic surrounding this topic,” says Veissière. “We’re trying to offer some good news and show that it is our desire for human interaction that is addictive and there are fairly simple solutions to deal with this.”

He does believe some immediate actions may be beneficial to mitigate smart phone addiction such as such as turning off push notifications and setting up appropriate times to check your phone. Research suggests that workplace policies “that prohibit evening and weekend emails” are also important.

“Rather than start regulating the tech companies or the use of these devices, we need to start having a conversation about the appropriate way to use smartphones,” said the professor in a recent interview. Parents and teachers need to be made aware of how important this is.”

Steps to regain control over smartphone addictions :

  • Relax and celebrate the fact your addiction reflects a normal urge to connect with others!
  • Turn off push notifications and set appropriate times to check your phone intentionally.
  • Create “intentional protocols” with friends, family, and work circles to set clear expectations on when to communicate

Source: McGill University

Depression, Fatigue Up Risk of Women’s Work Injuries

Thu, 02/15/2018 - 8:45am

New research finds that depression, anxiety, and fatigue cause women to have an increased risk of being injured at work. Investigators found that although men were more likely to be injured at work, mental health factors only affected a women’s chance of work injury, not men.

The study, by researchers from the Colorado School of Public Health’s Center for Health (SPH), Work & Environment appears in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

“The findings of our study demonstrate that keeping workers safe requires more than your typical safety program. It requires an integrated approach that connects health, well-being, and safety,” said Dr. Natalie Schwatka, the study’s lead author. Schwatka is an assistant professor in the Colorado SPH’s Center for Health, Work & Environment and Department of Environmental and Occupational Health.

The authors collaborated with Colorado’s largest workers’ compensation insurer, Pinnacol Assurance, to examine the claims data of 314 businesses from a range of industries. Close to 17,000 employees ranging from executives to laborers were represented in the study.

The researchers found that men were more likely to sustain a work-related injury but behavioral health factors, like poor sleep and anxiety, did not directly affect their risk of injury. Women were more likely to report experiencing mental and behavioral health issues and these conditions increased their risk of getting hurt on the job.

Almost 60 percent of women with a work injury reported experiencing a behavioral health condition before they were injured, compared to 33 percent of men.

Yet Schwatka cautioned that further research is needed to understand why there are differences in women’s and men’s risk of work-related injuries. Overall, workers who had an injury in the past were more likely to be injured again, regardless of their gender.

“There a number of social and cultural factors that may explain why women reported having more behavioral health concerns than men did. Men generally admit to fewer health concerns,” said Schwatka.

“And women may face different stresses at work and at home. It’s something that is worth exploring in future research.”

Source: University of Colorado/EurekAlert

New Thoughts on How Personality Develops

Thu, 02/15/2018 - 8:00am

A new theory on how personality develops suggests personality reflects how we have used our innate abilities and environmental experiences to satisfy our basic needs.

In an article in Psychological Review, Dr. Carol Dweck, a Lewis and Virginia Eaton Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, explains how personalities develop and how life experiences influence personality development.

Dweck proposes that our personalities develop around basic needs. The three basic psychological needs we develop include the need to predict our world, the need to build competence to act on our world, and, because we are social beings, the need for acceptance from others.

She also shows how new needs emerge later from combinations of these basic needs and how personalities may evolve over time.

Infants arrive highly prepared to meet these needs; they are brilliant, voracious learners on the lookout for need-relevant information. Then, as infants try to meet their needs, something important happens. They start building beliefs about their world and their role in it: Is the world good or bad, safe or dangerous? Can I act on my world to meet my needs?

Dweck explains that these beliefs, plus the emotions and action tendencies that are stored with them, are termed “BEATs.” They represent the accumulated experiences people have had trying to meet their needs, and they play a key role in personality — both the invisible and the visible parts of personality.

The invisible part of personality consists of the needs and BEATs. They form the basis of personality and they drive and guide the visible part. The visible part happens when the needs and BEATs create the actual goals people pursue in the world — what people actually do.

For example, some people are conscientious, actively pursuing achievement and showing self-discipline and perseverance. That’s the visible part. Everyone has a need for competence, but how people pursue competence — whether they do so in a conscientious manner — will depend on their BEATs (the invisible part, such as their beliefs).

Research shows that some people hold the belief that their abilities are simply fixed traits. When they are confronted with a challenging task, they may choose an easier one instead because the challenging task carries a risk. That is it could expose their fixed ability as deficient, it could undermine their sense of competence.

However, other people believe that their abilities can be developed. They are more likely to welcome the challenging task and stick to it in the face of setbacks in order to develop their competence. They display the hallmarks of conscientiousness.

In other words, underlying BEATs can have a pronounced effect on the visible “personality” people display as they pursue their goals.

Temperament can also be important. Consider the following: if children are shy or fearful it can make certain needs (such as the need for predictability) stronger than others and it can affect the way they react to things that happen to them. As a result, innate characteristics can mold the BEATs they develop and carry forward.

According to Dweck, the theory describes how our personality develops around our motivations (our needs and goals) and is not simply about traits we’re born with. The theory also reveals the invisible parts of personality and shows how we can identify and address important BEATs (particularly beliefs) to promote personality change.

In short, like large, classic theories of the last century, the current theory brings together our motivations, our personality, and our development within one framework and helps shed light on processes that contribute to well-being and human growth.

Source: American Psychological Association/EurekAlert

Mouse Study: Running May Ward Off Stress-Related Memory Loss

Thu, 02/15/2018 - 7:15am

Exercise, particularly running, while under stress may help protect memory, according to a new mouse study conducted by researchers at Brigham Young University (BYU).

The findings, published in the journal of Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, suggest that running mitigates the negative impact that chronic stress has on the hippocampus, the region of the brain associated with learning and memory.

“Exercise is a simple and cost-effective way to eliminate the negative impacts on memory of chronic stress,” said study lead author Dr. Jeff Edwards, associate professor of physiology and developmental biology at BYU.

Memory formation and recall occur best when the synapses or connections between neurons are strengthened over time. This process of synaptic strengthening is known as long-term potentiation (LTP). Chronic or prolonged stress weakens the synapses, which reduces LTP and ultimately affects memory.

The new study finds, however, that when we exercise when we’re stressed, these LTP levels do not decrease, but instead remain normal.

For the study, Edwards conducted experiments with mice. One group of mice used running wheels over a four week period (averaging slightly over three miles per day) while another set of mice was left sedentary.

Half of the mice in each group was then exposed to stress-inducing situations, such as walking on an elevated platform or swimming in cold water. One hour after the stressful experience, researchers carried out electrophysiology experiments on the animals’ brains to measure their LTP levels.

The researchers discovered that stressed mice who had been exercising on the wheel had significantly greater LTP than the stressed mice who were not running. They also found that stressed mice who exercised performed just as well as non-stressed mice in a maze-running experiment designed to test their memory. In fact, the exercising mice made significantly fewer memory errors in the maze than the sedentary mice.

The findings show that exercise may be a practical method to protect learning and memory mechanisms from the negative cognitive effects of chronic stress on the brain.

“The ideal situation for improving learning and memory would be to experience no stress and to exercise,” Edwards said. “Of course, we can’t always control stress in our lives, but we can control how much we exercise. It’s empowering to know that we can combat the negative impacts of stress on our brains just by getting out and running.”

Source: Brigham Young University

Materialism May Diminish Marital Satisfaction

Thu, 02/15/2018 - 6:30am

Emerging research provides insight on how an obsession with materialism can doom a marriage. Investigators discovered a focus on expanding material possessions leads to a deemphasizes of other aspects of life, such as the importance of a marriage.

Dr. Jason Carroll, a Brigham Young University professor of marriage and family studies, said, “We know that materialism can lead to poor money management and that leads to debt and strain, but financial factors may not be the only issue at play in these situations.”

Carroll believes that materialism is not an isolated life priority. He believes that as the pursuit of money and possessions are prioritized, the other dimensions of life, such as relationships, are deemphasized.

In the study, found in the Journal of Family and Economic Issues, Carroll and his team surveyed 1,310 married individuals to measure materialism, perception of marriage importance, and marital satisfaction.

Each participant was given statements such as, “Having nice things today is more important to me than saving for the future” and “Having money is very important to me.” They were then asked to rank how strongly they agreed or disagreed with the statements.

The study found that higher levels of materialism are linked to a decreased sense of importance of marriage and less satisfaction in a marriage.

One of the possible causes is that materialism crowds out other life priorities and creates a scarcity of time for other relationship priorities such as communication, conflict resolution, and intimacy.

Carroll and his graduate students, Ashley LeBaron and Heather Kelly, also found that materialism may be associated with a possession-oriented rather than a relationship-oriented approach to happiness.

In short, materialistic spouses may be seeking happiness in possessions, rather than people — which means they end up putting less time and energy into making their marriage a success.

For Caroll, the study is a continuation of his previous research on the topic which showed what kinds of problems materialism causes. The new study shows why they occur.

“Marriage dissatisfaction occurs because those who highly value money and possessions are likely to value their marriage less, and are thus likely to be less satisfied in their relationship,” said LeBaron, the study’s lead author.

Despite the findings, Carroll believes that changes can be made for couples to solve materialism issues.

“Many people are not fully aware of their materialism or the degree to which the pursuit of money is becoming an unbalanced priority in their life,” Carroll said.

“It is helpful for spouses to evaluate and openly discuss the time patterns in their lives and make sure they are devoting enough time to prioritize and strengthen their marriage relationship.”

Source: Brigham Young Univesity

Control of Screen Time Should Begin by Age 2

Wed, 02/14/2018 - 8:45am

A Canadian study suggests that watching too much television can contribute to poor eating habits in adolescence and suboptimal school performance. While the concept is not new, the study suggests that screen time must be controlled by the early age of two, confirming new recommendations by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Researchers at Université de Montréal’s School of Psychoeducation, performed a longitudinal study looking at a birth cohort of nearly 2,000 Quebec boys and girls born between spring 1997 and 1998. The children were followed since they were five months old as part of the Quebec Longitudinal Study of Child Development.

When they reached two years of age, their parents reported on their daily television habits. Then, at age 13, the youths themselves reported on their dietary habits and behavior in school.

The research appears in the journal Preventive Medicine.

“Not much is known about how excessive screen exposure in early childhood relates to lifestyle choices in adolescence,” explains Professor Linda Pagani. Pagnai supervised the research of graduate student Isabelle Simonato.

“This birth cohort is ideal, because the children were born before smartphones and tablets, and before any pediatric viewing guidelines were publicized for parents to follow. They were raising their children with TV and seeing it as harmless. This makes our study very naturalistic, with no outside guidelines or interference — a huge advantage.”

Simonato added, “Watching TV is mentally and physically sedentary behavior because it does not require sustained effort. We hypothesized that when toddlers watch too much TV it encourages them to be sedentary, and if they learn to prefer effortless leisure activities at a very young age, they likely won’t think much of non-leisure ones, like school, when they’re older.”

In their study, the researchers found that every hourly increase in toddlers’ TV viewing forecasted bad eating habits down the road — an increase of eight percent at age 13 for every hourly increase at age two.

In questionnaires, those early-TV adolescents reported consuming more French fries, prepared meats and cold cuts, white bread, regular and diet soft drinks, fruit-flavored drinks, sports drinks, energy drinks, salty or sweet snacks, and desserts.

Early TV viewing also translated into less eating of breakfast on school days (by 10 percent) and led to more overall screen time at age 13.

Every additional hour of watching TV also predicted a higher body mass index (a 10 percent increase) and less effortful behavior at school in the first year of secondary school, ultimately affecting performance and ambition.

“This study tells us that overindulgent lifestyle habits begin in early childhood and seem to persist throughout the life course,” Pagani noted. “An effortless existence creates health risks. For our society that means a bigger health care burden associated with obesity and lack of cardiovascular fitness.”

The researchers also measured their results against revised screen time guidelines by the American Academy of Pediatrics, which reduced the amount of daily viewing from two hours a day to one a day for children between ages two and five.

Compared to children who viewed less than one hour a day at age two, those who viewed between one and four a day later reported (at age 13) having less healthy dietary habits, skipping breakfast on weekdays, having a higher BMI, engaging in more intense screen time, and being less engaged as students.

“Because we had a lot of information on each child and family we were able to eliminate other psychological and socio-demographic factors that could have explained the results, which is a really ideal situation,” said Simonato.

“We even removed any influence of screen time habits at age 13 to really isolate long-term associations with toddler viewing.”

Source: University of Montreal/EurekAlert

Tactics to Avoid Infidelity

Wed, 02/14/2018 - 8:00am

New research highlights methods to maintain love in our intimate relationships and also identifies predictors or risk factors for failed relationships. The topic is timely for Valentine’s Day, a time many use to share our love to special individuals. The study is the first to find evidence of psychological responses that help a person avoid infidelity.

Florida State University (FSU) psychology researchers Jim McNulty, Andrea Meltzer, Anastasia Makhanova, and Jon Maner discovered factors that lead to infidelity, as well as prevent it. Their findings provide reassurance that many of us are equipped with the basic psychological instincts to have a successful intimate relationship that lasts.

The research, which appears in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology confirms that cheating on a partner is one of the surest ways to cause a breakup.

Investigators believe the findings are more important than ever. The divorce rate in the United States ranges between 40 and 50 percent, and the ubiquity of social media makes it easier to connect with others. There is a compelling need, the researchers concluded, to develop new ways that help people maintain long-term relationships.

The FSU research team followed 233 newly married couples for up to three and a half years and documented intimate details about their relationships. The introspection included assessment of marital satisfaction, long-term commitment, whether they had engaged in infidelity and if they were still together.

McNulty, Meltzer, Makhanova, and Maner tested two psychological processes that everyone shares in varying degrees: Attentional Disengagement and Evaluative Devaluation of potential romantic partners.

Disengagement from possible partners is the ability to direct attention away from an attractive person who could be considered a romantic option.

Devaluation of possible partners is a tendency to mentally downgrade the attractiveness of another person, even if he or she is especially good looking.

The team tested newlyweds on those processes by showing them photographs of highly attractive men and women, as well as average-looking men and women.

Researchers discovered that participants who quickly disengaged their attention from an attractive person were less likely to engage in infidelity. The time of that response was notable: Individuals who looked away in as little as a few hundred milliseconds faster than average were nearly 50 percent less likely to have sex outside marriage.

Conversely, partners who took significantly longer to look away from romantic alternatives had a higher risk of infidelity, and their marriages were more likely to fail.

The tendency to devalue, or downgrade, the attractiveness of potential romantic partners also lowered the risk of infidelity and raised the likelihood of maintaining the relationship. Faithful people evaluated romantic alternatives much more negatively.

Both reactions — disengagement and devaluation — minimized the risk of infidelity and, consequently, were predictors of relationships with a higher likelihood of succeeding.

These reactions are typically automatic, according to McNulty.

“People are not necessarily aware of what they’re doing or why they’re doing it,” said McNulty, the lead author of the study. “These processes are largely spontaneous and effortless, and they may be somewhat shaped by biology and/or early childhood experiences.”

The FSU research team believes these findings could offer mental health practitioners practical suggestions to help people stay committed to their partners.

While the processes may be ingrained to some degree, McNulty said a growing body of research suggests people may be able to boost their psychological ability to employ disengagement or devaluation when tempted.

The study also identified some of the strongest predictors of infidelity. These included age, marital satisfaction, sexual satisfaction, attractiveness, and history of short-term relationships.

Researchers found younger people and those less satisfied with their relationships were more likely to be unfaithful.

Surprisingly, people satisfied with sex in their relationship were more likely to engage in infidelity, perhaps suggesting they felt more positive about sex in general and would seek it out regardless of how they felt about their main relationship.

Another predictor of infidelity was attractiveness. A person’s own attractiveness was negatively associated with infidelity among women but not men — meaning less attractive women were more likely to have an affair.

A partner’s attractiveness was negatively associated with infidelity among men but not women — meaning men were more likely to be unfaithful when their partners were less attractive.

A person’s history of sex was a predictor of infidelity, too. Men who reported having more short-term sexual partners prior to marriage were more likely to have an affair, while the opposite was true for women.

“With the advent of social media, and thus the increased availability of and access to alternative partners, understanding how people avoid the temptation posed by alternative partners may be more relevant than ever to understanding relationships.”

Source: Florida State University

Preventing Teen Substance Abuse with Exercise

Wed, 02/14/2018 - 7:15am

Exercise has numerous, well-documented health benefits — and may also play a role in preventing and reducing substance misuse and abuse in adolescents.

Investigators from Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and Cleveland Clinic found support for exercise, particularly assisted exercise, in the prevention and adjunctive treatment of substance-use disorders, including alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, opioids, and heroin.

Investigators explained that adjunctive treatments aid or supplement the primary treatment when tackling a disease. Examples of assisted exercise include the pedaling of a fellow cyclist on a tandem bicycle and a specially designed indoor cycle which provides mechanical assistance to pedal faster.

“Although use-rates for most substances have remained relatively stable, the frequency of marijuana use and the perception that regular marijuana use is not harmful has increased in adolescents,” said lead author Nora L. Nock, Ph.D., associate professor of population and quantitative health sciences at Case Western Reserve University’s School of Medicine.

“In addition, nonmedical use of opioids has increased in teens, particularly in the South, Midwest, and rural low-income communities.”

A chief reason for teen substance use is that risk-taking behaviors accelerate during these years, with a goal and subsequent feeling of reward.

The teenage years are often a time when underdeveloped connections, or an “imbalance,” between cognitive and emotional decision-making mechanisms in the brain occur. This natural process of compromised ‘synching’ between the brain regions leads to impulsive or risky behaviors.

“We think that substance use, which may cause adverse structural and functional brain changes, may exacerbate this imbalance, potentially leading to substance-use disorders as well as other behavioral problems,” said Nock.

“Exercise may help to reinforce these underdeveloped connections between reward and regulatory processes and offset reward-seeking from substance use in adolescents.”

While encouraging exercise in all teens, Nock and co-authors propose assisted exercise as a potentially superior solution for preventing or helping end substance misuse.

They have previously shown that mechanical assistance in pedaling for patients with Parkinson’s disease leads to cycling rates as much as 35 percent faster than unaided cycling, leading to increased activity in select cortical and sub-cortical regions of the brain.

“Our team has shown that assisted exercise can improve central motor control processing and other functioning in Parkinson’s disease patients,” said Alberts.

“This new work shows forced exercise also may also provide particular benefits to substance use disorder patients, especially those with dopamine deficits — which can result from drug use, poor nutrition, stress, and lack of sleep, and result in depression, fatigue, apathy, and mood swings.”

Drawing on this and other research, the authors hypothesize that assisted exercise may provide particular benefits to substance-use disorder patients.

“We believe,” they write in the article, that “exercise (and, potentially assisted exercise) should be included as an adjunctive component to existing substance use treatment programs and should be offered as a preventative measure to adolescents at high risk for substance abuse based on their family history, mental health, genetic and neurocognitive profiles and other risk factors.”

Investigators acknowledge, however, that given the shortage of randomized trials in adolescents, additional studies are needed to determine which dose (frequency, intensity, duration, length), type (aerobic, resistance training), and format (assisted, standard) of exercise is most effective.

More broadly, the authors write that “assisted exercise … might be more beneficial than standard [exercise] for a variety of diseases and conditions, [such as] … obesity and neurological diseases including Parkinson’s.”

The review article was recently published in Birth Defects Research.

Source: Case Western Reserve University

Cannabis May Ease Chronic Pain in Elderly

Wed, 02/14/2018 - 6:30am

A new Israeli study published in The European Journal of Internal Medicine shows that medical cannabis therapy significantly reduces chronic pain in patients age 65 and older without any major adverse effects.

Researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) and the Cannabis Clinical Research Institute at Soroka University Medical Center discovered that cannabis therapy is safe and effective for elderly patients who are seeking relief from symptoms of cancer, Parkinson’s disease, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and other medical issues.

“While older patients represent a large and growing population of medical cannabis users, few studies have addressed how it affects this particular group, which also suffers from dementia, frequent falls, mobility problems, and hearing and visual impairments,” said Professor Victor Novack, M.D., from the BGU Faculty of Health Sciences (FOHS).

“After monitoring patients 65 and older for six months, we found medical cannabis treatment significantly relieves pain and improves quality of life for seniors with minimal side effects reported.”

People age 65 and older represent a growing segment of medical cannabis users, ranging from seven percent to more than 33 percent, depending on the country. Recent U.S. polls suggest that Americans over the age of 65 represent 14 percent of the total population and use more than 30 percent of all prescription drugs, including highly addictive painkillers.

For the study, the researchers surveyed 2,736 patients 65 years and older who had received medical cannabis through “Tikun Olam,” the largest Israeli medical cannabis supplier. More than 60 percent were prescribed medical cannabis to help relieve pain, particularly pain associated with cancer.

The findings show that, after six months of treatment, more than 93 percent of 901 participants reported their pain dropped from a median of eight to four on a 10-point scale. In addition, nearly 60 percent of patients who originally reported “bad” or “very bad” quality of life upgraded to “good” or “very good.” More than 70 percent of patients surveyed reported moderate to significant improvement in their condition.

After six months, more than 18 percent of patients surveyed had stopped using opioid analgesics or had reduced their dosage. The most commonly reported adverse effects of cannabis were dizziness (9.7 percent) and dry mouth (7.1 percent).

More than 33 percent of patients used cannabis-infused oil; approximately 24 percent inhaled therapy by smoking, and approximately six percent used vaporization. All patients in the study were given a prescription after consulting with a doctor who prescribed treatment.

According to the researchers, cannabis may decrease dependence on prescription medicines, including opioids, but they say that more evidence-based data from this special, aging population is needed.

Source: American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev

Pediatric Heart Issues May Increase Risk of Early Dementia

Tue, 02/13/2018 - 8:45am

New research suggests that people born with heart defects may be at higher risk of developing dementia, particularly dementia that starts before 65 years of age. The finding comes from a historical review of a Danish database that extends for more than a hundred years.

The investigation acknowledges that improved care for newborns and enhanced childhood treatments have allowed more people born with heart defects to survive into adulthood. A 2016 study estimated that approximately 1.4 million adults are living with congenital heart defects in the United States.

“Previous studies showed that people born with heart defects have a higher risk of neurodevelopmental problems in childhood, such as epilepsy and autism, but this is, to our knowledge, the first study to examine the potential for dementia later in adult life,” said Carina N. Bagge, B.Sc., lead author of the study.

Using national medical databases and records covering all Danish hospitals, the researchers examined the occurrence of dementia in 10,632 mostly Caucasian adults (46 percent male) born with heart defects between 1890 and 1982 (most between 1960 and 1982).

Investigators then matched the incidence of dementia to the general population of the same gender born the same year. Study results are published in American Heart Association’s journal Circulation.

Researchers found the risk of dementia from any cause, including vascular dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and others, in people born with heart defects in Denmark was:

  • 60 percent higher overall than the general population;
  • 160 percent (2.6 times) higher for early-onset dementia (diagnosed before age 65);
  • 30 percent higher for dementia diagnosed after age 65.

The study was observational, which means that the researchers were examining individuals with heart defects over time to see if there was an association between being born with a heart defect and developing dementia later in life.

While they did find an association, the study does not mean that every person who was born with a heart defect will develop dementia. The study observed a higher risk, but did not prove cause and effect.

Heart defects are the most common group of birth defects, occurring in four to 10 of every 1,000 live births in the United States and eight to 10 out of every 1,000 live births in Denmark.

“Our study involved an older population born when treatments for heart defects were more limited. Modern treatment has improved greatly, and as a result we can’t directly generalize these results to children born today. We need further work to understand the risks in the modern era,” Bagge said.

Dementia or cognitive impairment is often progressive, and can be caused by many factors, including reduced blood flow to the brain, strokes, and Alzheimer’s disease. People with dementia may have problems with memory, reasoning, behavior, and other mental functions.

In this study, the risk of dementia was higher in people born with heart defects who developed other heart disease risk factors later in life, such as atrial fibrillation, heart failure, and diabetes.

These risk factors are more common in people born with heart defects than in the general population, and they have also been shown to independently raise the risk of dementia.

“While we must be careful to appreciate these findings within the limitations of the study design, continued study of this association may yield important clinical screening and medical management strategies in the future, and there may even be opportunities discovered to aid in the prevention of dementia in this population,” said Nicolas L. Madsen, M.D., M.P.H., senior author of the study.

Source: American Heart Association