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Updated: 28 min 31 sec ago

Supporting Kids Through Academic Changes Can Boost Well-Being, Self-Esteem

Mon, 10/23/2017 - 7:45am

When parents support the independence of their children through educational transitions, they tend to develop greater well-being and self-esteem and have a reduced risk of depression, according to a new study by researchers at the Academy of Finland.

These findings apply to all of a student’s major academic transitions: from primary school to middle school, from middle school to high school, and from high school to university. The positive effects increased with the age of the child.

Parents can help encourage their child’s autonomy by giving them greater choices over their educational goals, providing plenty of flexibility within a structured environment, and by setting up their environment for success, such as encouraging the children to keep their homework space clean, equipped, and organized.

The researchers point out that autonomy support provided by moms and dads prevented depression during all three transitions and increased the self-esteem of young people in the final two transitions.

An important finding is that the positive effects of autonomy support tend to increase as the child gets older. “In the past, it was thought that parents only play an important role during childhood, but this research demonstrates their importance during adolescence and even young adulthood,” said Professor Katariina Salmela-Aro.

For a long time, the importance of self-regulation was emphasized only in connection with overall well-being and success in life. However, the new findings suggest that parents and children continue to have a strong and interactive, regulative effect on each other’s well-being.

For example, parenting affects youngsters’ well-being, but the well-being of young people also affects that of their parents. In fact, young people play a greater role in affecting parental support for their autonomy than previously thought: When children begin to do less well, parents tend to step in and take over, essentially providing less support for their children’s independence.

“However, from the perspective of young peoples’ well-being, it would be important for parents to provide more support in such cases, because autonomy support has been shown to reduce depression,” said Salmela-Aro.

The study involved 2,000 Finnish young people, whose educational paths and well-being were tracked by the researchers during all educational transitions.

The research was conducted with the help of the LEAD project under the Future of Learning, Knowledge, and Skills Academy program and the Mind the Gap cross-disciplinary study under the Human Mind Academy program.

Source: Academy of Finland

Ketamine Shows Promise in Easing Intractable Migraine Pain

Mon, 10/23/2017 - 7:00am

A new study suggests that the powerful anesthetic ketamine may help alleviate migraine pain in patients who have not been helped by other treatments.

Ketamine is commonly used as a general anesthetic and increasingly used for depression. In an April 2017 article in the journal JAMA Psychiatry, a number of studies have shown that ketamine can have “rapid and robust antidepressant effects in patients with mood and anxiety disorders that were previously resistant to treatment.”

The study of 61 patients found that almost 75 percent experienced an improvement in their migraine intensity after a three- to seven-day course of inpatient treatment with ketamine.

“Ketamine may hold promise as a treatment for migraine headaches in patients who have failed other treatments,” said study co-author Eric Schwenk, M.D., director of orthopedic anesthesia at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia, Penn.

“Our study focused only on short-term relief, but it is encouraging that this treatment might have the potential to help patients long-term. Our work provides the basis for future, prospective studies that involve larger numbers of patients.”

Migraines are relatively common, affecting an estimated 12 percent of the U.S. population. The disorder is characterized by recurring attacks of throbbing or pulsing moderate to severe pain.

A subset of these patients, along with those who suffer from other types of headaches, do not respond to treatment. During a migraine, people are often very sensitive to light, sound, and may become nauseated or vomit.

Migraines are three times more common in women than in men.

The researchers reviewed data for patients who received ketamine infusions for intractable migraine headaches that have failed all other therapies. On a scale of zero to 10, the average migraine headache pain rating at admission was 7.5, compared with 3.4 on discharge.

The average length of infusion was 5.1 days, and the day of lowest pain ratings was day four. Adverse effects were generally mild. Schwenk said while his hospital uses ketamine to treat intractable migraines, the treatment is not yet widely available.

Thomas Jefferson University Hospital will be opening a new infusion center this fall that will treat more patients with headaches using ketamine.

“We hope to expand its use to both more patients and more conditions in the future,” he said.

Researchers are optimistic, yet cautious, as the study was small in scale.

“Due to the retrospective nature of the study, we cannot definitively say that ketamine is entirely responsible for the pain relief, but we have provided a basis for additional larger studies to be undertaken,” Schwenk added.

The new study was presented at the ANESTHESIOLOGY® 2017 annual meeting.

Source: American Society of Anesthesiologists/EurekAlert

Parents’ Alcohol Problems May Up Risk of Teen Dating Violence

Mon, 10/23/2017 - 6:15am

A new study from the University at Buffalo Research Institute on Addictions in New York finds that having a parent with an alcohol use disorder increases the risk for dating violence among teenagers.

“Although teen dating violence is typically viewed as a problem related specifically to adolescent development, our findings indicate that the risk for aggressive behavior and involvement in dating violence are related to stressors experienced much earlier in life,” said researcher Jennifer A. Livingston, Ph.D.

The study appears in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence.

For the research, Livingston evaluated 144 teenagers who had fathers with an alcohol use disorder and who had been initially recruited for study at 12 months of age.

By analyzing data collected regularly over the course of their lifespan, Livingston was able to identify factors that led to abusive dating relationships for some of the teens.

“It appears that family dynamics occurring in the preschool years and in middle childhood are critical in the development of aggression and dating violence in the teenage years,” she said.

Mothers living with partners who have alcohol use disorder tended to be more depressed and, as a result, were less warm and sensitive in their interactions with their children, beginning in infancy.

“This is significant because children with warm and sensitive mothers are better able to regulate their emotions and behavior,” Livingston says. “In addition, there is more marital conflict when there is alcohol addiction.”

These conditions can interfere with children’s abilities to control their own behavior, resulting in higher levels of aggression in early and middle childhood.

Research has found that children who are more aggressive in childhood, particularly with their siblings, are more likely to be aggressive with their romantic partners during their teen years.

“Our findings underscore the critical need for early intervention and prevention with families who are at-risk due to alcohol problems. Mothers with alcoholic partners are especially in need of support,” Livingston said.

“Our research suggests the risk for violence can be lessened when parents are able to be more warm and sensitive in their interactions with their children during the toddler years.

“This in turn can reduce marital conflict and increase the children’s self-control, and ultimately reduce involvement in aggressive behavior.”

Source: University of Buffalo

Fear of Pain After Surgery Can Stoke Anxiety

Mon, 10/23/2017 - 5:30am

A new study suggests many people significantly overestimate how much pain they will be in after surgery — often resulting in unnecessary anxiety.

The finding, presented at the ANESTHESIOLOGY® 2017 annual meeting, found that individuals who receive regional anesthesia, such as peripheral nerve blocks, epidurals, or spinal anesthesia, were most likely to overestimate their postoperative pain.

“We believe providers need to do a better job of counseling patients on realistic pain expectations,” said study co-author Jaime L. Baratta, M.D., director of regional anesthesia at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia, Penn.

“This is especially true for patients receiving regional anesthesia who may not fully understand the benefits of nerve blocks and other regional anesthesia procedures aimed at preventing postoperative pain.”

During regional anesthesia, the physician anesthesiologist makes an injection near a cluster of nerves to numb the area of the body that requires surgery. The patient may remain awake or be given a sedative. Either way, the patient does not feel the surgery taking place.

The findings suggest that individuals receiving regional anesthesia before surgery may experience unnecessary anxiety and have exaggerated pain expectations simply because they do not understand regional anesthesia’s pain relieving benefits.

The study included 223 patients, averaging 61 years old, who were undergoing orthopedic, neurosurgical, or general surgery procedures. Of these, 96 received some type of regional anesthesia (spinal, epidural, or peripheral nerve block). Of the 96 patients, 80 had no general anesthesia, while 16 had general anesthesia with a peripheral nerve block before or after surgery.

The remaining 127 patients received only general anesthesia. Patients completed a questionnaire before surgery to evaluate what level of postoperative pain they expected on a zero to 10 scale.

Following surgery, they were asked about their level of pain in the post-anesthesia care unit (PACU) one hour following surgery and on the first day after surgery.

Patients’ average expected pain rating immediately following surgery was 4.66, compared to an actual pain rating of 2.56. The average expected pain rating on the first day after surgery was 5.45, compared to an actual pain rating of 4.30.

Patients who had regional anesthesia had an average expected pain rating in the PACU of 4.63, compared to an actual pain rating of 0.92. The average expected pain rating for these patients on the first day after surgery was 5.47, compared to an actual pain rating of 3.45.

Researchers believe the study results will improve the way in which medical providers explain the surgical procedure so as to alleviate unfounded anxiety.

“With advancements in regional anesthesia, great strides have been made in preventing postoperative pain. Given the clear benefit of patient education and anxiety alleviation on postoperative pain, providers must find ways to effectively manage patient expectations to help improve outcomes,” said study co-author Amir C. Dayan, M.D.

Source: American Society of Anesthesiologists/EurekAlert

Diabetes Boosts Risk of Cognitive Issues After Surgery

Sun, 10/22/2017 - 8:45am

Older patients with diabetes may be at an 84 percent higher risk of developing postoperative cognitive dysfunction (POCD) than those who are not diabetic, suggests new research presented at the ANESTHESIOLOGY 2017 annual meeting.

“With POCD, a patient’s mental ability declines after surgery, compared to their cognitive performance before surgery, resulting not only in increased complications and potential death, but also impairing the patient’s quality of life,” said Gunnar Lachmann, M.D., of the Department of Anesthesiology and Operative Intensive Care Medicine, Charité-Universitätsmedizin Berlin in Germany.

“POCD is increasingly recognized as a common complication after major surgery, affecting 10 to 13 percent of patients, with seniors being especially vulnerable.”

POCD is a major form of cognitive disturbance that can occur after anesthesia and surgery, but little is known about its potential risk factors. An association between diabetes and age-related cognitive impairment is well established, but the role diabetes has in the development of POCD is unknown, researchers noted.

In the study, researchers performed a secondary analysis of three studies that had data for 1,034 patients — 481 who had cardiac surgery, and 553 who had non-cardiac surgery — to examine whether diabetes was a risk factor for POCD.

Of the 1,034 patients studied, 18.6 percent had diabetes. The association of diabetes with risk of POCD was determined using logistic regression models at the longest patient follow-up period for each study, which was three or 12 months. Risk estimates were pooled across all three studies, researchers reported.

After adjusting for age, sex, surgery type, randomization, obesity, and hypertension, the researchers determined diabetes was associated with an 84 percent higher risk of POCD. Patients age 65 or older were at particularly high risk.

“Our findings suggest that consideration of diabetes status may be helpful for the assessment of POCD risk among patients undergoing surgery,” said Lachmann. “Further studies are warranted to examine the potential mechanisms of this association, to ultimately help in the development of potential strategies for prevention.”

Source: American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA)

Study IDs Factors That Can Lead to Postpartum Depression

Sun, 10/22/2017 - 8:00am

Women who give birth in winter or spring are less likely than women who deliver in the fall or summer to suffer from postpartum depression (PPD), according to a new study.

The study, presented at the ANESTHESIOLOGY 2017 annual meeting, also found that women who delivered babies at a higher gestational age — further along in their pregnancy — were less likely to develop PPD.

Researchers also found that women who did not have anesthesia, such as an epidural, during delivery had an increased risk of PPD.

Researchers theorize that women who did not have anesthesia may have been at an increased risk for PPD because the pain associated with labor may have been traumatizing to the women during delivery. Another possibility is that the women who declined anesthesia just happened to have intrinsic characteristics that made them more vulnerable to experiencing PPD, the researchers postulated.

The study also found that Caucasian women had a lower risk of PPD compared to women of other races.

Additionally, increased body mass index (BMI) was associated with an increased risk of PPD.

There was no association found between delivery mode and PPD, according to the study’s findings.

“We wanted to find out whether there are certain factors influencing the risk of developing postpartum depression that may be avoided to improve women’s health both physically and mentally,” said lead study author Jie Zhou, M.D., of Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston.

According to the researchers, at least 10 percent of women suffer from anxiety or depressive disorders following childbirth. Symptoms of PPD include sadness, restlessness and/or agitation, and decreased concentration.

PPD typically arises from a combination of hormonal changes, psychological adjustments to motherhood and fatigue. Left untreated, PPD can interfere with mother-child bonding and cause distress to the mother, baby, and the entire family.

The study included a review of medical records of 20,169 women who delivered babies from June 2015 through August 2017. Of those, 817 women — or 4.1 percent — experienced PPD.

While the study did not examine why certain factors might influence the development of PPD, Zhou said the higher the gestational age, the more mature the baby will be at delivery.

“It is expected that the mother will do better and be less mentally stressed when delivering a mature, heathy baby,” he noted.

Additionally, the researchers suggest the protective mechanism seen for women delivering in winter and spring may be attributed to the seasonal enjoyment of indoor activities mothers experience with newborns. Outdoor activities, although not as convenient, with newborns are also good, as this will help to increase sun exposure, researchers add.

“The significant difference in the risk of developing PPD between Caucasian and other populations may be due to differences in socioeconomic status among these ethnicities,” he said, adding “while women with increased BMI needed more hospital-based maternal outpatient follow-ups and had more pregnancy-related complications, which could affect maternal outlook.”

Source: The American Society of Anesthesiologists

Study Explores Forgiveness of Partner Infidelity

Sun, 10/22/2017 - 7:15am

Many people who have been unfaithful to their spouse do not believe they are truly forgiven, even if their partner assures them they are, according to a new study at Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU).

“We have a strong tendency not to believe our partner when they tell us we are forgiven,” said Dr. Mons Bendixen, associate professor in the department of psychology.

Infidelity is quite common: At least 20 percent of couples — and perhaps many more, depending on where you set the limit — are unfaithful to their spouse.

For the study, researchers conducted a survey with 92 young heterosexual couples who answered questions about imagined sexual or emotional infidelity by their partner and themselves.

According to the findings, when the unfaithful partner really does not believe that he or she is forgiven — even if the other partner is quite reassuring — the unfaithful partner will tend to overcompensate. For example, he or she may become more attentive, buy gifts, or do other things that they think their partner will appreciate.

Underestimating the degree of forgiveness is most likely an evolutionary mechanism, because the relationship may be in danger.

“The cost could be high if you think you are forgiven, but really are not. You might not work hard enough to mend the relationship,” said Bendixen.

In fact, in this particular case, it may be to your advantage to be wrong. The error management theory (EMT), a theory of evolved perceptual errors, can help explain why. When interpreting signals, we can make one of two false assumptions: we can believe that something exists even if it doesn’t, and we can believe that something doesn’t exist even if it does.

From an evolutionary perspective, it’s a question of which errors are more adaptable.

“An example is men who think women are interested in sex, even though the women’s intention is just to be nice. The most important thing for men in situations like this is not to miss a sexual opportunity,” says Bendixen.

The survey findings also show that most partners aren’t particularly intent on getting revenge or seeing their partner suffer. That doesn’t mean that it never happens, of course, but the probability is the same for both sexes. Instead, they are more likely to pull away and want to keep some distance.

“Partners want the infidelity to have a cost, but will rarely respond by being unfaithful themselves,” said evolutionary psychologist Dr. Trond Viggo Grøntvedt in NTNU’s department of public health and nursing.

There is also no difference between men and women when it comes to whether they would break up with the unfaithful partner or not. However, there is one major difference between the genders regarding which types of behaviors qualify as cheating.

Although sexual infidelity strongly affects both men and women, emotional infidelity is much harder on women than it is on men.

Men who have been caught engaging in emotional infidelity often do not believe that they have done anything wrong. As a result, they do not attempt to make up for anything, at least not as much as if they had been sexually unfaithful.

“Men often do not understand how hard emotional infidelity is on women,” said Professor Leif Edward Ottesen Kennair in the Department of Psychology. “Many men do not see this as infidelity at all, since they did not have sex with the other woman.”

At the same time, men are more likely to forgive this form of infidelity in their spouse. Men have less need to distance themselves from their partner than women do, and they look at emotional infidelity as less threatening to the relationship than women do.

These findings confirm the psychologists’ predictions. Previously, they investigated jealousy reactions in women and men around the suspicion of infidelity. Many of the same patterns were found in that study.

Women become most jealous at the thought of their partner being emotionally unfaithful, while men become most jealous in the case of sexual infidelity. These reactions are in line with the evolutionary theory of parental investment.

For most women, it has historically been worse for them if their partner breaks up than it has been for most men. Becoming emotionally attached to someone other than themselves has therefore been more threatening to women than to men.

Whether these responses would apply to all heterosexual relationships is unknown. Participants of this study were quite young, so in theory they could more easily find a new partner than older people, and we can assume they knew they would talk to each other about the answers afterwards.

But the conditions were the same for both sexes, and gender differences are still quite clear.

Source: Norwegian University of Science and Technology

‘Selfish Brain’ Wins Competition With Muscle Power

Sun, 10/22/2017 - 6:30am

It takes lot of energy to run our brains and that comes at a cost, according to a new study.

According to researchers, the investigation into the immediate trade-off that occurs inside us when we have to think fast and work hard at the same time is the first to demonstrate that — while both are impaired — our mental ability is less affected than our physical capacity.

Researchers at the University of Cambridge say that the findings suggest a “preferential allocation of glucose to the brain” which, they argue, is likely to be an evolved trait. Prioritizing quick thinking over fast moving, for example, may have helped our species survive and thrive, they note.

For the study, scientists from the university’s PAVE (Phenotypic Adaptability, Variation, and Evolution) research group tested 62 male students drawn from the university’s elite rowing crews. Participants had an average age of 21.

The rowers performed two separate tasks: One memory, a three minute word recall test, and one physical, a three minute power test on a rowing machine.

They then performed both tasks at once, with individual scores compared to those from previous tests.

As expected, the challenge of rowing and remembering at the same time reduced both physical and mental performance, according to the study’s findings.

However, the research team found that change in recall was significantly less than the change in power output.

During the simultaneous challenge, recall fell by an average of 9.7 percent, while power fell by an average of 12.6 percent. Across all participants, the drop in physical power was on average 29.8 percent greater than drop in cognitive function, the researchers discovered.

The researchers say the results of the new study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, add evidence to the “selfish brain” hypothesis — that the brain evolved to prioritize its own energy needs over those of the rest of the body, such as skeletal muscle.

“A well-fueled brain may have offered us better survival odds than well-fueled muscles when facing an environmental challenge,” said Dr. Danny Longman, the study’s lead author from the PAVE team in Cambridge’s Department of Archaeology.

“The development of an enlarged and elaborated brain is considered a defining characteristic of human evolution, but one that has come as a result of trade-offs,” he continued. “At the evolutionary level, our brains have arguably cost us decreased investment in muscle as well as a shrunken digestive system.”

He noted that, developmentally, human babies have more stored fat than other mammals, which acts as an “energy buffer that feeds our high cerebral requirements.”

“On an acute level, we have now demonstrated that when humans simultaneously experience extremes of physical and mental exertion, our internal trade-off preserves cognitive function as the body’s priority,” he said.

The adult brain derives its energy almost exclusively from the metabolism of glucose. Yet skeletal muscle mass is also energetically expensive tissue, accounting for 20 percent of the male basal metabolic rate, which is the energy used when doing nothing.

A limited supply of blood glucose and oxygen means that, when active, skeletal muscle becomes a “powerful competitor” to the brain, according to Longman.

“This is the potential mechanism for the fast-acting trade-off in brain and muscle function we see in just a three-minute window,” he said. “Trade-offs between organs and tissues allow many organisms to endure conditions of energy deficit through internal prioritizing. However, this comes at a cost.”

He points to examples of this trade-off in humans benefiting the brain: “The selfish nature of the brain has been observed in the unique preservation of brain mass as bodies waste away in people suffering from long-term malnutrition or starvation, as well as in children born with growth restriction.”

Source: University of Cambridge
Photo: This is lead researcher Dr Danny Longman rowing with the Cambridge University Boat Club. This is an example of the type and standard of the sample population used in the study. Credit: Danny Longman.

Poor Sleep, Physical Inactivity Up Genetic Risk of Obesity

Sat, 10/21/2017 - 8:45am

Poor sleep and low levels of physical activity exacerbate the impact of genetic risk factors for obesity, according to a new study presented at the American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG) 2017 Annual Meeting. The new findings confirm and strengthen previous studies based on self-reported activity.

Researchers at the University of Exeter Medical School in the U.K. have been investigating the genetics of body mass index (BMI) and type II diabetes. In the past, it has been difficult to measure interactions between genetic risk factors and aspects of environment and lifestyle in a systematic way, say the researchers.

“Until recently, physical activity and sleep patterns could not be measured with as much precision as genetic variants, and we relied on diaries or self-report, which can be very subjective,” said Timothy Frayling, Ph.D..

The new study, however, made use of wrist accelerometer data, which is more objective and quantifiable, and a large genetic database of about 85,000 U.K. Biobank participants aged 40 to 70.

“We wanted to find out if obesity-related genes and activity level have an interactive effect on obesity risk — if there is a ‘double whammy’ effect of being both at genetic risk and physically inactive, beyond the additive effect of these factors,” said Dr. Andrew Wood, Ph.D., a postdoctoral researcher.

The researchers calculated a genetic risk score for each participant based on 76 common variants known to be associated with elevated risk of obesity. Then they analyzed this score in the context of accelerometer data and participants’ BMIs.

The research team found the strongest evidence to date of a modest gene-activity interaction. For example, for a person of average height with 10 genetic variants associated with obesity, that genetic risk accounted for a 7.9 pound (3.6 kilograms) increase in weight among those who were less physically active but just 6.1 pounds (2.8 kilograms) among those who were more active.

The findings were similar in analyses of sleep patterns: Among participants with some genetic risk of obesity, those who woke up frequently or slept more restlessly had higher BMIs than those who slept more efficiently.

As of now, the researchers are looking into whether this interaction between genetics and physical activity differs between men and women. They are also studying the effects of activity patterns; for example, whether a consistent level of moderate activity yields different results than low activity levels punctuated by periods of vigorous activity.

“We hope these findings will inform clinicians who help people lose or maintain their weight, and contribute to the understanding that obesity is complex and its prevention may look different for different people,” said Frayling. “Ultimately, with further research, we may have the scope to personalize obesity interventions.”

Source: American Society of Human Genetics

Delayed Word Processing May Predict Risk of Alzheimer’s

Sat, 10/21/2017 - 8:00am

A delayed neurological response to processing the written word could be an indicator that a patient with mild memory problems is at an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, according to new research.

Using an electroencephalogram (EEG) — a test that detects electrical activity in a person’s brain via electrodes attached to their scalp — researchers at the University of Birmingham, the University of Kent, and the University of California studied the brain activity of a group of 25 patients to establish how quickly they processed words shown to them on a computer screen.

The patients were a mix of healthy elderly people, patients with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), and patients with MCI who had developed Alzheimer’s within three years of being diagnosed with MCI.

MCI, a condition in which someone has minor problems with mental abilities such as memory beyond what would normally be expected for a healthy person of their age, is estimated to be suffered by up to 20 percent of people over 65. It is not a type of dementia, but a person with MCI is more likely to go on to develop dementia, researchers noted.

“A prominent feature of Alzheimer’s is a progressive decline in language, however, the ability to process language in the period between the appearance of initial symptoms of Alzheimer’s to its full development has scarcely previously been investigated,” said Dr. Ali Mazaheri of the University of Birmingham.

“We wanted to investigate if there were anomalies in brain activity during language processing in MCI patients which could provide insight into their likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s.”

He noted the researchers focused on language functioning, since it is a crucial aspect of cognition and is particularly impacted during the progressive stages of Alzheimer’s.

Previous research has found that when a person is shown a written word, it takes 250 milliseconds for the brain to process it, activity that can be picked up on an EEG.

“Crucially, what we found in our study is that this brain response is aberrant in individuals who will go on in the future to develop Alzheimer’s disease, but intact in patients who remained stable,” said Dr. Katrien Segaert of the University of Birmingham.

“Our findings were unexpected as language is usually affected by Alzheimer’s disease in much later stages of the onset of the disease. It is possible that this breakdown of the brain network associated with language comprehension in MCI patients could be a crucial biomarker used to identify patients likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease.”

Researchers hope to test the validity of the biomarker in a large group of patients in the U.K. to see if it’s a specific predictor of Alzheimer’s disease or a general marker for dementia involving the temporal lobe.

“The verification of this biomarker could lead the way to early pharmacological intervention and the development of a new low cost and non-invasive test using EEG as part of a routine medical evaluation when a patient first presents to their GP with concern over memory issues,” Segaert added.

The study was published in Neuroimage Clinical.

Source: The University of Birmingham

Inflamed Support Cells May Contribute to Some Types of Autism

Sat, 10/21/2017 - 7:15am

Inflammation in supporting brain cells called astrocytes may contribute to neuronal dysfunction in at least some subtypes of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), according to a new study led by researchers at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine. Importantly, the research suggests that this neuronal damage might be reversible through novel anti-inflammatory therapies.

The research involved dental pulp cells donated from the baby teeth of three children with diagnoses of non-syndromic autism (part of the on-going Tooth Fairy Project). The researchers reprogrammed these cells to become either neurons or astrocytes, a type of glia or support cell abundantly found in the brain. The cells were grown into organoids, which are essentially mini-brains in a dish.

Though genetically distinct, all three children exhibited stereotypical ASD behaviors, such as lack of verbal skills or social interaction. When the scientists analyzed the developed organoids in microscopic detail, they found that the neurons had fewer synapses (connections to other neurons) and other network defects. Additionally, some astrocytes showed high levels of interleukin 6 (IL-6), a pro-inflammatory protein. High levels of IL-6 are toxic to neurons.

The researchers then co-cultured astrocytes derived from the ASD children with neurons taken from healthy controls. The healthy neurons behaved like ASD neurons, said co-senior author Alysson R. Muotri, Ph.D., professor in the University of California San Diego School of Medicine departments of Pediatrics and Cellular and Molecular Medicine, director of the University of California San Diego Stem Cell Program and a member of the Sanford Consortium for Regenerative Medicine.

“But more importantly, the opposite was true. When we co-cultured ASD neurons with normal astrocytes, we could rescue the cellular defects. The neurons reverted to normal functioning and behavior,” said Muotri.

The researchers say the data suggests there may be an intrinsic inflammatory reaction within a subgroup of persons with ASD.

“What we are trying to do now is understand if we can predict this subgroup through genome sequencing and, perhaps, find a therapeutic opportunity to treat them with anti-inflammatory drugs.”

The findings are published in the journal Biological Psychiatry.

Source: University of California San Diego Health

New Assessment Model Links Emotions to Mental Health

Sat, 10/21/2017 - 6:30am

Psychologists often turn to a variety of methods to analyze how people express and manage their emotions. Now in a new study, researchers at the City College of New York (CCNY) have developed a novel assessment model, called the Mentalized Affectivity Scale (MAS), which allows clinicians to approach mental health disorders in a new way.

The new assessment model breaks emotion regulation into three basic elements:

  • identifying: the ability to identify emotions and to reflect on the factors that influence them (e.g. childhood or other traumatic events);
  • processing: the ability to modulate and distinguish complex emotions;
  • expressing: the tendency to express emotions outwardly or inwardly.

For the study, Drs. Elliot Jurist and David M. Greenberg from the City College of New York administered the MAS to nearly 3,000 adults online. Statistical modeling of the findings revealed the following: processing emotions delineates from identifying them and expressing emotions delineates from processing them.

The team of psychologists discovered that emotion regulation was related to personality and well-being in surprising and unexpected ways. They also found that the ability to process and modulate emotions was a significant predictor of well-being beyond personality and demographic information.

“We have introduced a way for psychologists and psychiatrists to use emotion regulation to supplement diagnoses,” said Greenberg, a postdoctoral  student at Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership and lead author of the study.

One of the most important findings was how the three elements — identifying emotions, processing emotions and expressing emotions — were linked to the participants’ previous clinical diagnoses involving anxiety, mood, eating, and neurodevelopmental disorders.

“For the first time we have empirical evidence for the validity and usefulness of the theory that can be carried out into the mainstream by neuroscientists, emotion researchers and psychiatrists,” said Jurist, senior author and director of the Mentalized Affectivity Lab at CCNY and professor at the Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership.

The new model can be applied to many psychological conditions, such as anxiety, mood, and developmental disorders. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), approximately one in five adults in the U.S. — 43.8 million, or 18.5 percent — experiences mental illness in a given year.  About 18.1 percent of adults in the U.S. experienced an anxiety disorder such as post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and specific phobias.

The new findings are published in the journal PLOS ONE.

Source: The City College of New York

Smartphones Compromise Teens’ Sleep

Fri, 10/20/2017 - 7:45am

Emerging research suggests that young people are sleeping less than ever before with the sleep void potentially damaging their physical and mental health.

Ironically, but perhaps not surprisingly, San Diego State University investigators discovered the decline in restorative slumber is linked to technology and because teens are trading their sleep for smartphone time.

Most sleep experts agree that adolescents need nine hours of sleep each night to be engaged and productive students; less than seven hours is considered to be insufficient sleep. However, a peek into any bleary-eyed classroom in the country will tell you that many youths are sleep-deprived, but it’s unclear whether young people today are in fact sleeping less.

Jean Twenge, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University, along with psychologist Zlatan Krizan and graduate student Garrett Hisler — both at Iowa State University in Ames, wanted to quantify how much kids are sleeping, and, if the hours are less than previous generations, then why the change?

To do this, the research team examined data from two long-running, nationally representative, government-funded surveys of more than 360,000 teenagers.

The Monitoring the Future survey asks U.S. students in the eighth, 10th, and 12th grades how frequently they receive at least seven hours of sleep, while the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System survey queries ninth to 12th-grade students on how many hours of sleep they obtain on an average school night.

Combining and analyzing data from both surveys, the researchers found that about 40 percent of adolescents in 2015 slept less than seven hours a night, which is 58 percent more than in 1991 and 17 percent more than in 2009.

Delving further into the data, the researchers learned that the more time young people reported spending online, the less sleep they got. Teens who spent five hours a day online were 50 percent more likely to not sleep enough than their peers who only spent an hour online each day.

Beginning around 2009, smartphone use skyrocketed, which Twenge believes might be responsible for the 17 percent bump between 2009 and 2015 in the number of students sleeping seven hours or less.

Not only might teens be using their phones when they would otherwise be sleeping, the authors note, but previous research suggests the light wavelengths emitted by smartphones and tablets can interfere with the body’s natural sleep-wake rhythm.

The study results appear in the journal Sleep Medicine.

“Teens’ sleep began to shorten just as the majority started using smartphones,” said Twenge, author of iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy — And Completely Unprepared for Adulthood. “It’s a very suspicious pattern.”

Students might compensate for that lack of sleep by dozing off during daytime hours, adds Krizan.

“Our body is going to try to meet its sleep needs, which means sleep is going to interfere or shove its nose in other spheres of our lives,” he said. “Teens may catch up with naps on the weekend or they may start falling asleep at school.”

But, what’s a parent to do? Taking away a cell phone is an untenable action in today’s world as smartphones and tablets are an indispensable part of everyday life.

Researchers believe the key is moderation, Twenge stresses. Limiting usage to two hours a day should leave enough time for proper sleep, she says. And that’s valuable advice for young and old alike.

“Given the importance of sleep for both physical and mental health, both teens and adults should consider whether their smartphone use is interfering with their sleep,” she says.

“It’s particularly important not to use screen devices right before bed, as they might interfere with falling asleep.”

Source: San Diego State University/EurekAlert

Same Rate of Prevention Services for People With and Without Mental Health Conditions

Fri, 10/20/2017 - 7:00am

New research finds that people with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder receive preventive health screenings at rates similar to or higher than people without mental illnesses.

The finding stems from a study of more than 800,000 patients, and appears in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Discovery of equitable preventive care for people with a mental health diagnosis is a welcomed finding because people with a serious mental health conditions have higher early death rates compared to those without these conditions.

Nearly 10 million people in the United States live with a serious mental health condition, with one study finding patients with schizophrenia were 3.5 times more likely to die early, compared to the general population.

Experts say this disparity is largely due to preventable causes such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and heart disease, and to modifiable risk factors such as poor diet, lack of exercise, smoking, and medications that cause weight gain.

In the investigation, researchers had hypothesized that people with mental illnesses might receive less preventive care than people without these illnesses. However, the study, which included patients within the Kaiser Permanente system and patients who get their care from safety-net clinics, found just the opposite.

Kaiser Permanente patients who were diagnosed with a mental health condition received between 80 and 81 percent of the recommended preventive care, while people with no diagnosis of a mental health condition received about 80 percent of the preventive care recommended for them.

In safety-net clinics, there was a larger difference between the two groups. Patients diagnosed with mental health conditions received between 62 and 70 percent of the preventive services recommended for them, while patients without a diagnosis of a mental health condition received about 60 percent of the recommended care.

“We were pleased to learn that people with mental health conditions received as many or more preventive services as people without these conditions,” said Bobbi Jo Yarborough PsyD, lead author and researcher with the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research.

However, Yarborough added, the finding doesn’t answer the question of why, according to national statistics, these people die earlier.

“It may be that people with mental illnesses aren’t getting the support and treatment they need to prevent chronic disease. For example, we know that the medications people take to manage serious mental illnesses can cause rapid weight gain, but there are few programs to help these people manage their weight while they are on the medications,” said Yarborough.

To address this need, Yarborough and her colleagues developed a successful weight loss and diabetes risk reduction program, but she says few health systems implement these types of programs.

For the current study, researchers compared the proportion of recommended preventive screenings received among more than 100,000 adults who had a diagnosis of schizophrenia, bipolar or affective psychosis, or other mental health conditions such as anxiety or major depressive disorder, to the proportion of recommended screenings received among nearly 700,000 adults without a diagnosis of mental illness.

Study subjects were members of the Kaiser Permanente Northwest health system, or patients who received care in clinics that serve low-income individuals and those without health insurance. During 2012-2013, the researchers examined the medical records of these patients to find out if they were eligible for and had received 12 preventive services recommended by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force.

The services included screening for obesity, diabetes, tobacco use, colorectal cancer, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol, as well as the pneumococcal and flu vaccines. And for women, screening for breast and cervical cancer, and chlamydia and osteoporosis were also included.

Source: Kaiser Permanente/EurekAlert

Plants May Help Maintain Mental Health of Astronauts

Fri, 10/20/2017 - 6:15am

Research has shown that gardening or even just the presence of plants has a positive psychological effect on people, making them happier and more social. Now, in a new review published in the journal Open Agriculture, researchers at the University of Florida assert that plants may play a key role in maintaining the mental well-being of space crews.

Long periods of space travel can lead to sleep problems, reduced energy, inattentiveness, difficulty in problem-solving, and even memory loss. It can also increase hostility, impulsivity and, despite the danger and excitement, it can be quite boring.

Ever since people started going into outer space, researchers have taken these mission opportunities to test whether plants can survive in a zero-gravity atmosphere. While scientific curiosity was one reason for sending plants into space, it was also realized how cost effective and healthier it would be to grow fresh fruits and vegetables on demand during long space missions, rather than to rely on processed foods.

Once it was confirmed that plants could survive in zero gravity situations, more experiments were conducted to see if they could be used in other ways, such as for purifying the air inside a spacecraft. Plants consume carbon dioxide and produce oxygen and clean the air of pollutants.

Now in the paper entitled “Gardening for Therapeutic People-Plant Interactions during Long-Duration Space Missions,” researchers Raymond Odeh and Charles L. Guy from the University of Florida wrote a review of the existing literature on plant-people interactions to find that plants may play a major role in the mental health of astronauts.

In their research, the authors uncovered how humans have a tendency to look for natural life, a behavior referred to as the “biophilia hypothesis,” which might help to explain why space travel can be so dangerous for the human psyche.

The researchers conclude that what applies to humans on Earth also applies to astronauts in space. Plants can help reduce both social and cognitive problems related to space travel, and suggest that plants should be part of the design of future space missions for both nutritional and psychological reasons.

“A review of this topic for space research is long overdue, and should provide a strong argument to systems analysts and biomedical researchers to look more closely at the ‘other’ contributions of plants to exploration of space,” said Dr. Raymond Wheeler, a senior scientist for NASA at the Kennedy Space Center.

“I highly recommend this paper for anyone who has an interest in human space travel, and the notion of using plants for bioregenerative life support.”

Source: De Gruyter

Learn to Control Your Dreams

Fri, 10/20/2017 - 5:30am

Australian researchers have found that a precise combination of actions will increase a person’s chance of controlling their dreams. The specific preparatory techniques will help a person experience lucid dreams, in which the dreamer is aware they’re dreaming while it’s still happening and enable the individual to control the dream experience.

University of Aldelaide investigators explain that although many techniques exist for inducing lucid dreams, previous studies have reported low success rates, preventing researchers from being able to study the potential benefits and applications of lucid dreaming.

Dr. Denholm Aspy’s research in Adelaide’s School of Psychology addressed this problem and developed more effective lucid dream induction techniques. The results from his studies have confirmed that people can increase their chances of having a lucid dream.

The research appears in the journal Dreaming.

The study involved three groups of participants and investigated the effectiveness of different techniques often proposed as a means to increase the chance of having a lucid dream.

  1. reality testing — which involves checking your environment several times a day to see whether or not you’re dreaming.
  2. wake back to bed — waking up after five hours, staying awake for a short period, then going back to sleep in order to enter a REM sleep period, in which dreams are more likely to occur.
  3. MILD (mnemonic induction of lucid dreams) — which involves waking up after five hours of sleep and then developing the intention to remember that you are dreaming before returning to sleep, by repeating the phrase: “The next time I’m dreaming, I will remember that I’m dreaming.” You also imagine yourself in a lucid dream.

Among the group of 47 people who combined all three techniques, participants achieved a 17 percent success rate in having lucid dreams over the period of just one week. This achievement was significantly higher compared to a baseline week where they didn’t practice any techniques.

Moreover, among those who were able to go to sleep within the first five minutes of completing the MILD technique, the success rate of lucid dreaming was much higher, at almost 46 percent of attempts.

“The MILD technique works on what we call ‘prospective memory’ — that is, your ability to remember to do things in the future. By repeating a phrase that you will remember you’re dreaming, it forms an intention in your mind that you will, in fact, remember that you are dreaming, leading to a lucid dream,” says Dr. Aspy.

“Importantly, those who reported success using the MILD technique were significantly less sleep deprived the next day, indicating that lucid dreaming did not have any negative effect on sleep quality,” he says.

“These results take us one step closer to developing highly effective lucid dream induction techniques that will allow us to study the many potential benefits of lucid dreaming, such as treatment for nightmares and improvement of physical skills and abilities through rehearsal in the lucid dream environment.”

Aspy is continuing his research into lucid dreams in an attempt to further increase the effectiveness of the technique. He’s conducting a new study, which is open to any English-speaking people aged 18 and over anywhere in the world.

For more information and to take part in the study, visit:

Source: University of Adelaide

Gentle Touch May Help Ease Pain of Social Rejection

Thu, 10/19/2017 - 7:45am

The gentle touch of another may help ease the negative emotional effects of social exclusion, according to a new study at University College London (UCL).

Researchers tested the impact of a slow, affectionate touch against a fast, neutral touch following social rejection and found a connection between gentle touch and social bonding.

“As our social world is becoming increasingly visual and digital, it is easy to forget the power of touch in human relations. Yet we’ve shown for the first time that mere slow, gentle stroking by a stranger can reduce feelings of social exclusion after social rejection,” said lead author Mariana von Mohr at UCL.

The new findings follow on the heels of other research showing that affective social touch and in particular, gentle stroking of the skin, may be coded by a special physiological system linking the skin to the brain.

While a few other studies have investigated the buffering effects of social support on ostracism through the presence of friends, teddy bears and supportive text messages, this is the first to investigate social touch.

For the study, 84 healthy women were told they would be playing a computerized ball-tossing game with two other participants to measure their mental visualisation skills. Although the participants thought they were playing games with other study participants, the other players were actually computer-generated.

After throwing and catching the ball several times, the participants answered a questionnaire asking how they felt about ostracism, the feelings of belonging, self-esteem, meaningful existence, and control.

When the participants went back to playing the game after a 10 minute break, the other players unexpectedly stopped throwing balls to them after a couple of ball-tosses, causing them to feel socially excluded.

Next, the women were blindfolded and their left forearms were touched with a soft-bristled brush on either slow or fast speed. They then completed the same questionnaire and the results were compared and controlled against a baseline.

Participants touched at a slow speed had reduced feelings of negativity and social exclusion caused by the game compared to those who received a fast, “neutral” touch, even though general mood remained the same among both groups. Neither type of touch was sufficient to eliminate all of the negative effects of being socially rejected.

“Mammals have a well-recognised need for closeness and attachment, so it wasn’t a big surprise that social support reduced the emotional pain of being excluded in social interactions,” said senior author Dr. Katerina Fotopoulou at UCL.

“What is interesting however is that social support was optimally conveyed only by a simple, yet specific, instance of touch. No words, or pictures were necessary, at least in the short term. This finding builds on evidence that the same kind of touch can have unique effects on physical pain and it can have implications for the role of touch in various mental and physical care settings”

The researchers say that more studies are needed to specify the neurophysiological mechanisms involved and that future studies might consider the effect of skin-on-skin contact, social context and how results vary with temperature.

The findings are published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Source: University College London

Boss’ Support Critical to Employee Mental Health

Thu, 10/19/2017 - 7:00am

A new survey finds nearly half of American workers express concern about the changing nature of work. Although most workers report that they have the skills they need to perform their current job well, those without supervisor support for career development are more likely to distrust their employer and plan on leaving within the next year.

The American Psychological Association’s “2017 Job Skills Training and Career Development Survey,” was conducted online by Harris Poll, and surveyed 1,076 U.S. adults who are employed full or part time.

“Employee growth and development is a key element of a psychologically healthy workplace, but it’s often overlooked in employers’ workplace well-being efforts,” said David Ballard, Psy.D., M.B.A., head of APA’s Center for Organizational Excellence.

“Our surveys of the U.S. workforce consistently find that training and development is one of the areas employees are least satisfied with. The lack of opportunity for growth and advancement is second only to low pay as a source of work stress.

“In a rapidly changing work environment, making participation in job-related training and career development activities an expectation and preparing employees for a successful future are one way to protect workers and enhance our nation’s workforce readiness.”

For employees whose supervisors do not support and encourage their career development, only 15 percent say their employer provides opportunities for them to develop the technical skills they will need in the future.

Furthermore, only 20 percent say their employer provides training in necessary “soft skills,” such as teamwork and communication, and just eight percent report having the opportunity to develop necessary leadership and management skills.

Lack of supervisor support for career development was also linked to important organizational outcomes. For working Americans without supervisor support:

    less than half (48 percent) say they are motivated to do their best at work (vs. 88 percent who report having supervisor support);

  • 39 percent are satisfied with their job (vs. 86 percent);
  • 16 percent say their company or organization makes them feel valued (vs. 80 percent);
  • 22 percent would recommend their organization as a good place to work (vs. 79 percent), and;
  • more than half of U.S. workers say they do not trust their employer (56 percent) and intend to seek employment outside the organization within the next year (53 percent).

As talk of automation, artificial intelligence, and skills retraining dominate conversations about the future of jobs, 43 percent of employed Americans say they are concerned about the changing nature of work.

As a whole, 87 percent of working Americans report that they have the skills they need to perform their current job well, and 61 percent say their employer is providing opportunities for development of the technical and soft skills needed in the future.

But fewer (52 percent) report they have adequate time for career development activities and only half (50 percent) say their employer provides career development opportunities that meet their needs and sufficient opportunities for advancement (50 percent).

The survey also found differences between how men and women view their opportunities for training and career development, with women faring worse than men.

Both men (89 percent) and women (85 percent) report that they have the technical skills necessary to perform their current jobs well, but fewer women than men report that their employer is providing them with opportunities to develop the technical, soft or leadership skills they’ll need in the future.

The gender perception of skill training is revealing:

  • 68 percent of men said their employer provides training for technical skills needed in the future (vs. 53 percent of women);
  • 65 percent of men report trainings for future-needed soft skills (vs. 56 percent of women);
  • and 60 percent of men report opportunities for them to develop the leadership and management skills they’ll need (vs. 47 percent of women).

Despite these differences, fewer women than men are concerned about the changing nature of work (37 percent of women vs. 49 percent of men) and women and men equally (77 percent) feel motivated to do their best at work.

An education divide also seems to persist as the survey highlights gaps between employees with and without a college degree. Nearly three-fourths (74 percent) of employees with a college degree said their employer values training and development while 64 percent of those without one said the same.

Regarding technical skills needed for the future, 72 percent of those with college degrees said their employer provides opportunities for training and development vs. 52 percent without a degree.

“While there are many uncertainties about the future of work, research is clear that employees and organizations benefit from an emphasis on growth and development,” Ballard said.

Source: American Psychological Association

Primary Care Team Can Be Effective in Reducing Opioid Addiction

Thu, 10/19/2017 - 6:15am

University of Michigan researchers believe many of the two million Americans addicted to opioids can receive treatment and assistance in getting off prescription painkillers or heroin from a primary care team.

The collaborative team-based intervention typically includes physicians, nurses, medical assistants, social workers, and pharmacists, as they coordinate to help individuals break their addiction by using anti-opioid medication.

The researchers hope their findings will encourage more general practitioners to start offering medication-assisted therapy or MAT. To that end, a new paper of peer-reviewed evidence showing the benefits of MAT, and the process by which primary care clinic have had success with MAT, appears in the journal PLOS.

MAT combines a medication called buprenorphine with counseling. It has a track record of success for easing the withdrawal from opioid dependence — but it requires frequent check-in visits, drug monitoring tests, and prescription refills for months or even years on end.

In addition, the federal government requires that physicians take an eight-hour course to before they can prescribe buprenorphine.

These factors have slowed intervention efforts where primary care physicians provide buprenorphine as addiction treatment.

Use of MAT has increased in recent years, driven by the opioid crisis and MAT coverage through Medicaid expansion in many states. The federal government has increased the number of MAT patients that one physician can treat at any given time. Nurse practitioners and physician assistants can also get permission to prescribe MAT in states where they have prescribing privileges.

But the number of people who need addiction care still far outpaces the number who can provide MAT using buprenorphine or its more-intensive and more-restricted cousin methadone.

“There is a major need to do this,” says Pooja Lagisetty, M.D., M.Sc., the study’s lead author and a University of Michigan primary care doctor who provides MAT to her own patients at the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System.

“It’s hard to convince primary care physicians to do this work when they’re already busy and they don’t have additional addiction-related training or experience. But if we can learn from others and find a way to offer physicians logistical support, then maybe it’s possible.”

Lagisetty and her colleagues looked globally for common elements in successful primary care MAT models. They compiled data from 41 studies conducted in several U.S. states, as well as Great Britain, Australia, Canada, Ireland, France, and Italy.

In general, they find that patients had the highest chance of successful opioid addiction treatment when their primary care physician worked with a team of non-physicians to deliver MAT.

The successful models featured coordinated care, in which physicians handled the patient encounters where their skills were required or most needed, and other team members helped patients between doctor appointments. Nurse case managers, who handled duties including regular phone calls to track patients’ symptoms and cravings, were a common element. A few care models were based solely on a physician handling all MAT duties.

“Multidisciplinary teams featured in the bulk of the studies we evaluated, though every one took a different approach and many ended up with similar results,” says Lagisetty, a clinical lecturer in the Division of General Internal Medicine at Michigan Medicine, University of Michigan’s academic medical center, and a member of University of Michigan’s Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation.

A large majority of the sites included in the studies did not have a specific addiction focused counselor. “This suggests primary care clinics have a bit of ‘wiggle room’ to use the resources and staff already available at their respective clinics to manage all the components of MAT,” Lagisetty notes.

In the review, researchers zeroed in on seven studies that showed the best success — with 60 percent or more of patients staying on their MAT regimen for three months or more, and a good score on the standard scale the University of Michigan investigators developed.

Lagisetty notes that many of the clinics in these best studies did not have an addiction psychologist or other addiction counselor as part of their teams. Many, but not all, required patients to sign contracts pledging they would avoid opioids.

The new analysis also shows that primary clinics do not need to give the first dose of buprenorphine to patients while they’re physically in the clinic.

These “inductions,” which occur hours after the patient has stopped using opioids and is beginning to feel the symptoms of withdrawal, can occur at home as long as the patient has someone to call about any cravings or symptoms they may feel after starting to take the medication.

She hopes the new systematic review of the evidence for primary care MAT will spur more clinics to consider offering the option. She also points to a recent Annals of Internal Medicine review that evaluated the different models for MAT laid out by local and state government agencies.

Primary care teams already provide intensive treatment for other conditions and medication regimens, Lagisetty observes. These range from anticoagulation medicine for people with high risk of blood clots, to managing heart failure patients and people on insulin for diabetes.

Such patients also often require checks between physician appointments while they are being stabilized. Non-physician team members help with dose monitoring and frequent check-ins by phone or in person with the patient. “We can build upon these existing resources to similarly treat patients with MAT,” she says.

In fact, Lagisetty and two of her co-authors on the new paper, Amy Bohnert, Ph.D., and Michele Heisler, M.D., M.S., published a paper last year setting forth the anticoagulation clinic model as a model for MAT. She notes that anticoagulation medications don’t come with the kind of federal regulations that buprenorphine has.

“We already have studies showing that MAT in primary care can produce similar results to providing it in specialty care settings, and patients might be more willing to seek help in a primary care setting because of the lack of stigma and the ability to address their other health concerns,” she said. “Doing MAT in primary care makes sense.

“I don’t think that many primary care physicians went into medicine with a desire to focus on treating addiction,” said Lagisetty.

“However, opioid addiction is increasingly becoming common in our practices and our patients are struggling to find help. Primary care doctors don’t need to all be treating 100 patients. It can just be five. We should just have the medication in our tool box and be able to screen and potentially treat patients in our own setting.”

Source: University of Michigan/EurekAlert

Exposure to Nature May Improve City-Dwellers’ Mental Health

Thu, 10/19/2017 - 5:30am

A new study by German researchers suggests that exposure to urban green space may reduce the risk of mental health issues among city dwellers.

Experts explain that the noise, pollution, and high population density of typical city life can cause chronic stress. As such, city dwellers are at a higher risk of psychiatric illnesses such as depression, anxiety disorders, and schizophrenia than country dwellers.

Investigators at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development studied the brain area called the amygdala, a central region in the brain that plays an important role in stress processing and reactions to danger. Comparisons show higher activity levels in city dwellers’ than in country dwellers’ amygdala.

Taking this information, a research team led by psychologist Dr. Simone Kühn searched for factors that could have a protective influence in relieving the stress. They examined how nature located near people’s homes such as forest, urban green, or wasteland influences stress-processing brain regions such as the amygdala.

“Research on brain plasticity supports the assumption that the environment can shape brain structure and function. That is why we are interested in the environmental conditions that may have positive effects on brain development.

“Studies of people in the countryside have already shown that living close to nature is good for their mental health and well-being. We therefore decided to examine city dwellers,” explains Kühn, the first author and leader of the study.

Indeed, the researchers found a relationship between place of residence and brain health: those city dwellers living close to a forest were more likely to show indications of a physiologically healthy amygdala structure und were therefore presumably better able to cope with stress.

This effect remained stable when differences in educational qualifications and income levels were controlled for. However, it was not possible to find an association between the examined brain regions and urban green, water, or wasteland.

With these data, it is not possible to distinguish whether living close to a forest really has positive effects on the amygdala or whether people with a healthier amygdala might be more likely to select residential areas close to a forest. Based on present knowledge, however, the researchers regard the first explanation as more probable. Further longitudinal studies are necessary to accumulate evidence.

Researchers studied participants from the Berlin Aging Study II (BASE-II), a large longitudinal study examining the physical, psychological, and social conditions for healthy aging. In total, 341 adults aged 61 to 82 years took part in the present study.

Apart from carrying out memory and reasoning tests, the structure of stress-processing brain regions, especially the amygdala, was assessed using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

In order to examine the influence of nature close to peoples’ homes on these brain regions, the researchers combined the MRI data with geoinformation about the participants’ places of residence. This information stemmed from the European Environment Agency’s Urban Atlas, which provides an overview of urban land use in Europe.

Source: Max Planck Institute