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Updated: 2 hours 42 min ago

Less GABA Transmitter Tied to Poor Cognition With Age

Thu, 01/19/2017 - 7:45am

A new study suggests that diminishing levels of GABA — the primary inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain — may play a role in cognitive decline as we get older.

The research, published in Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging, shows an association between higher concentrations of GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) in the frontal lobe, a brain region important for complex cognitive functioning, and high performance on a cognitive test in healthy older adults.

The study was led by Professor Ronald Cohen, Director for the Center on Cognitive Aging at the University of Florida (UF), and McKnight Brain Institute. The findings help researchers understand the potential role of age-related GABA decline in cognitive problems and suggest that lower levels of frontal GABA concentrations may help predict neurodegenerative disease.

“These results are an important step towards personalized approaches to age-related cognitive interventions,” said first author Dr. Eric Porges of the University of Florida department of clinical and health psychology in the College of Public Health and Health Professions, and a member of UF’s Center for Cognitive Aging and McKnight Brain Institute.

The cause of the relationship is still unknown, and the cognitive test used in the study is unable to distinguish which specific cognitive domains — such as attention or memory — might be affected by declining GABA concentrations. However, the relationship suggests a very promising target for new treatments.

“Interventions that increase GABA levels (such as exercise) could potentially offset these changes, and this paper opens up a pathway for investigating this exciting possibility,” said Dr. Cameron Carter, editor of the journal.

For the study, 94 healthy older adults (average age of 73 years) completed the Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA), which measures several domains of cognition. The researchers also measured GABA concentrations in the frontal and posterior cortices of each participant to target regions that are important for high level cognitive functioning.

The analysis supports previous research showing that GABA levels may decrease in adulthood and that GABA concentrations continue to diminish in both regions into advanced age. The research also shows a link between reduced GABA concentrations in the frontal lobe and poor test scores. This association remained even after adjusting for age-related changes in cognitive function and tissue atrophy.

“To find that, independent of age and tissue atrophy, GABA levels predict individual differences in cognitive outcome is a provocative finding that may provide insight into physiological mechanisms of age-related cognitive decline,” said Porges.

No link was found between GABA concentrations and the MoCA score in the posterior region, suggesting that the effect on cognition is specific to reductions in the frontal lobe rather than brain-wide changes in GABA concentrations.

Source: Elsevier


For First Time Moms, Gestational Diabetes May Up Depression Risk

Thu, 01/19/2017 - 7:00am

Emerging research suggests that gestational diabetes raises the risk of postpartum depression (PPD) in first-time mothers.

In the largest study of its kind to date, including more than 700,000 women, researchers from Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden also established a strong link between a previous history of depression and PPD.

Their results appear online in the journal Depression and Anxiety.

Investigators discovered women with a history of depression are more than 20 times more likely to experience PPD than mothers without a previous clinical diagnosis of depression.

Moreover, while gestational diabetes alone increased risk for PPD, a history of maternal depression in conjunction with gestational diabetes further increased the likelihood of PPD.

“Most practitioners think of these as two isolated and very different conditions, but we now understand gestational diabetes and postpartum depression should be considered together,” said Michael E. Silverman, Ph.D., lead author of the study.

“While having diabetes increases PPD risk for all women, for those women who have had a past depressive episode, having diabetes during pregnancy makes it 70 percent more likely that they will develop PPD.”

In addition to gestational diabetes, the researchers studied more than a dozen other risk factors, including pre-gestational diabetes, for association with PPD in women with and without a history of depression.

Among women with a history of depression, pre-gestational diabetes, and mild preterm delivery increased risk. Young age, instrument-assisted or cesarean delivery, and moderate preterm delivery increased risk in women who had no history of depression.

Investigators believe that examining the modifying effect of maternal depression on pre- and perinatal PPD risk factors will further our knowledge of the relationship between diabetes and depression.

Showing that a history of depression modifies some of the risks associated with obstetric and perinatal factors suggests that there may be different causal pathways of PPD in women with and without a history of depression.

PPD can result in negative personal and child developmental outcomes, and identifying previous depressive episodes as a risk factor for PPD allows doctors to pursue earlier interventions.

“The reason a doctor asks if you smoke is because they know you are 20 times more likely to get cancer if you do. We believe OB/GYNs should now do the same for depression history,” Dr. Silverman said.

“With this information, we can now intervene early, before the mother gives birth.”

This is the largest population-based study to date to characterize PPD in relation to depression history.

Researchers used the nationwide Swedish Medical Birth Register, which includes information on all births in Sweden. Unlike in past studies, researchers relied on clinical diagnoses of PPD since symptom-based PPD inventories have a tendency to overestimate the prevalence of the condition.

Source: The Mount Sinai Hospital/EurekAlert

Antidepressants During Pregnancy Could Increase Birth Defects

Thu, 01/19/2017 - 6:15am

University of Montreal researchers have found a link between antidepressant use in the first three months of pregnancy and birth defects.

The risk — six to 10 percent, versus three to five percent in women who do not take the drugs — is high enough to merit caution in their use, researchers said.

The study appears in the British Medical Journal.

“In pregnancy, you’re treating the mother but you’re worried about the unborn child, and the benefit needs to outweigh the risk,” said the study’s senior author, Dr. Anick Bérard, a professor at UdeM’s Faculty of Pharmacy and researcher at its affiliated children’s hospital, CHU Sainte-Justine.

An expert in pregnancy and depression, Bérard has previously established links between antidepressants and low birth weight, gestational hypertension, miscarriages, and autism.

Her new study is among the first to examine the link to birth defects among depressed women.

Every year, about 135,000 Quebec women get pregnant, and of those, about seven percent show some signs of depression, mostly mild to moderate. A much smaller percentage, less than one percent, suffers from severe depression.

In her study, Bérard looked at 18,487 depressed women in the Quebec Pregnancy Cohort, a longitudinal, population-based grouping of 289,688 pregnancies recorded between 1998 to 2009.

Of the women studied, 3,640 — about 20 percent — took antidepressants in the first three months.

“We only looked at the first trimester, because this is where all the organ systems are developing,” said Bérard. “At 12 weeks of gestation, the baby is formed.”

Antidepressant use during this critical time-window has the potential to interfere with serotonin intake by the fetus, which can result in malformations.

“Serotonin during early pregnancy is essential for the development of all embryonic cells, and thus any insult that disturbs the serotonin signaling process has the potential to result in a wide variety of malformations,” the study says.

For example, when Celexa (the brand name for citalopram) was taken in the first trimester, the risk of major birth defects jumped from five percent to eight percent, Bérard found. In all, 88 cases of malformations were linked to use of the drug.

Similarly, use of Paxil (paroxetine) was associated with an increased risk of heart defects; venlafaxine (Effexor), with lung defects; and tricyclic antidepressants (such as Elavil), with increased eye, ear, face, and neck defects.

Depression is on the rise across the globe and is a leading cause of death, according to the World Health Organization. Depression is particularly serious during pregnancy, and doctors — especially psychiatrists, obstetricians, and other specialists — are prescribing more antidepressants than ever to expectant mothers, according to the researchers.

Over the decade or so that Bérard studied her cohort, the proportion of expectant mothers on antidepressants in Quebec doubled, from 21 users per 1,000 pregnancies in 1998 to 43 per 1,000 in 2009.

Those using the drugs tend to be older, live alone, or be on welfare; they also may have other ailments such as diabetes, hypertension, and asthma, the new study shows.

The women generally don’t have the financial means, leisure time, or support to seek other solutions, such as exercising regularly or consulting with a psychotherapist.

“There are a multitude of ways to get mild to moderate depression treated, but you need to have the time and money and also the encouragement to take advantage of them,” Bérard said.

“Given that an increasing number of women are diagnosed with depression during pregnancy, (the new) results have direct implications on their clinical management,” the study concluded.

“This is even more important given that the effectiveness of antidepressants during pregnancy for the treatment of the majority of cases of depression (mild to moderate depression) have been shown to be marginal.

“Hence, the need for caution with antidepressant use during pregnancy is warranted and alternative non-drug options should be considered.”

Source: University of Montreal/EurekAlert

Helicopter Parenting Socially Anxious Kids May Backfire

Thu, 01/19/2017 - 5:30am

New research discovers that when mothers of children with social anxiety disorder try to support their children, their efforts may lead to negative consequences.

Investigators used an experiment that involved building difficult puzzles and discovered that, even at home, mothers of children with the disorder are more involved with their offspring than mothers of healthy control children.

These findings indicate behavioral control on the part of the mother, says Julia Asbrand of the Institute of Psychology in Freiburg, Germany.

Study findings are published in the journal Cognitive Therapy and Research.

Experts explain that social anxiety disorder (SAD) usually emerges in late childhood or early adolescence. It affects up to seven percent of children and can persist into adulthood if left untreated.

The diagnosis involves a persistent fear of being embarrassed in social settings. SAD can limit children’s lives in regard to the social relationships they are able to form, their academic performance, and their general well-being.

Most studies that have assessed the important role of the family with regard to SAD have been done within a laboratory setting. To extend research on the matter, Asbrand’s team conducted their experiment in the homes of 55 pairs of mothers and children (aged between nine and 13 years old, with and without SAD).

This was done to assess their interaction within their natural environment.

The children had to complete as many difficult tangram puzzles as possible within ten minutes, and were told that they would receive the results afterwards. The mothers were allowed but not encouraged to help.

The puzzle-building simulated a typical task such as homework or preparation for school that could induce mental stress and frustration. The sessions were videotaped without the experimenter being presented.

According to Asbrand, the finding that mothers of children with SAD are more involved in their offspring’s lives are in line with those of previous studies. She says such over involvement extends to helping with tasks such as preparing for school, as well as tasks that require interaction.

In the experiment, it was noted that mothers of children with SAD touched the puzzle pieces significantly more often and assisted without the child asking for help or showing overt signs of helplessness.

These results indicate behavioral control on the part of the mother. On the positive side, mothers of SAD children were not overly critical or negative about their children’s performance.

“By touching the puzzle, mothers may convey the impression that the child is not able to solve the puzzle alone, thereby limiting the child’s degree of self-efficacy,” Asbrand elaborates.

“Consequently, this kind of control may lead the child to constantly expect a threatening environment, which could increase hypervigilance and subjective fear.

Such behavior by mothers also limits their children’s opportunity to successfully apply coping strategies to new situations on their own.”

Asbrand sees value in focusing on ways to change interactional processes within families, for instance by training parents to react more flexibly towards their children.

Source: Springer/EurekAlert

Mens’ Chronic Work Stress May Increase Risk of Some Cancers

Wed, 01/18/2017 - 7:45am

New Canadian research suggests that for men, prolonged exposure to work-related stress is linked to an increased likelihood of particular types of cancer.

Researchers discovered perceptions of work-related stress over the course of a man’s career was associated with increased risk of lung, colon, rectal, and stomach cancer and non-Hodgkins lymphoma.

The study is the first to assess the link between cancer and work-related stress perceived by men throughout their working life.

The research results appear in Preventive Medicine.

On average, the study participants had held four jobs, with some holding up to a dozen or more during their working lifetime. Significant links to five of the 11 cancers considered in the study were revealed.

These links were observed in men who had been exposed to 15 to 30 years of work-related stress, and in some cases, more than 30 years.

A link between work-related stress and cancer was not found in participants who had held stressful jobs for less than 15 years.

The most stressful jobs included firefighter, industrial engineer, aerospace engineer, mechanic foreman, and vehicle and railway-equipment repair worker.

For the same individual, stress varied depending on the job held. In the study, researchers were able to document changes in perceived work-related stress.

The study also shows that perceived stress is not limited to high work load and time constraints.

Customer service, sales commissions, responsibilities, the participant’s anxious temperament, job insecurity, financial problems, challenging or dangerous work conditions, employee supervision, interpersonal conflict, and a difficult commute were all sources of stress listed by the participants.

“One of the biggest flaws in previous cancer studies is that none of them assessed work-related stress over a full working lifetime, making it impossible to determine how the duration of exposure to work-related stress affects cancer development. Our study shows the importance of measuring stress at different points in an individual’s working life,” the study authors write.

The results raise the question of whether chronic psychological stress should be viewed as a public health issue.

Investigators say additional study is needed as the current results are as yet unsubstantiated because they are based on a summary assessment of work-related stress for a given job.

Researchers say epidemiological studies based on reliable stress measurements, repeated over time and that take all sources of stress into account, are now planned.

Source: Institut national de la recherche scientifique — INRS
Man with a stressful job photo by shutterstock.

CBT Shown to Ease Psychotic Symptoms Over Years

Wed, 01/18/2017 - 7:00am

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) has been shown to strengthen specific brain connections in people with psychosis. Now, researchers at King’s College London have found that these stronger connections are associated with a long-term reduction in symptoms and recovery even eight years later.

CBT involves helping people change how they think about and respond to their thoughts and experiences. For those with psychotic symptoms — common in schizophrenia and a number of other psychiatric disorders — the therapy involves learning to think differently about unusual thought patterns, such as distressing beliefs that others are out to get them. CBT also helps the patient develop new strategies to reduce internal distress and improve well-being.

The new study follows on the heels of the team’s previous work showing how, after receiving CBT, people with psychosis displayed strengthened connections between key regions of the brain involved in processing social threat accurately. The new results show for the first time that these changes continue to have an impact years later on people’s long-term recovery.

In the original study, participants underwent fMRI imaging both before and after six months of CBT in order to observe the brain’s response to images of faces showing different expressions.

Since the participants were already taking medication when they joined the study, the researchers compared their images to those of a medication-only group. The group receiving medication only did not show any increases in connectivity, suggesting that the effects on brain connections were a result of the CBT.

For the new study, the researchers tracked the medical records of 15 of the 22 CBT participants for eight years. The participants were also sent a questionnaire at the end of this period to assess their level of recovery and wellbeing.

The findings show that increases in connectivity between several brain regions — most importantly the amygdala (the brain’s threat center) and the frontal lobes (involved in thinking and reasoning) — are associated with long-term recovery from psychosis. This is the first time that CBT-related changes in the brain have been shown to be associated with long-term recovery in people with psychosis.

“This research challenges the notion that the existence of physical brain differences in mental health disorders somehow makes psychological factors or treatments less important,” said lead author Dr. Liam Mason, a clinical psychologist at the Maudsley Hospital where the research took place.

“Unfortunately, previous research has shown that this ‘brain bias’ can make clinicians more likely to recommend medication but not psychological therapies. This is especially important in psychosis, where only one in ten people who could benefit from psychological therapies are offered them.”

The research team hopes to confirm the results in a larger sample and to identify the changes in the brain that differentiate people who experience improvements with CBT from those who do not. Ultimately, the new findings could lead to more effective and personalized treatments for psychosis by allowing researchers to determine which psychological therapies are effective.

The findings are published in the journal Translational Psychiatry.

Source: King’s College London
Woman in therapy session photo by shutterstock.

Emojis and Emoticons Often Clarify Message

Wed, 01/18/2017 - 6:15am

Authorities believe that more than 90 percent of those online now incorporate emojis and emoticons into their texts and emails.

Early studies have found that these typographic displays can aid in cross-cultural communication and provide insights into user personalities, information that could be of interest to disciplines ranging from linguistics to marketing.

In a new paper, psychologists Drs. Linda Kaye, Stephanie Malone, and Helen Wall discuss emojis and emoticons as tools for evaluating how we relate to each other in the digital age. The paper appears in Trends in Cognitive Sciences.

During face-to-face (or FaceTime-to-FaceTime) interactions, verbal and nonverbal cues such as facial movements, voice pitch, and shaking fists are essential to understanding the meaning of what we are communicating.

Researchers believe that emojis and emoticons are similarly used as visual aids to clarify and understand a message.

“We mostly use emojis like gestures, as a way of enhancing emotional expressions,” said Kaye, a cyberpsychologist at Edge Hill University in the U.K.

“There are a lot of idiosyncrasies in how we gesture, and emojis are similar to that, especially because of the discrepancies as to how and why we use them.”

Emojis and emoticons, popular on social media sites and messaging apps, aren’t just for millennials. A 2014 survey of 1,000 people in the United States showed only 54 percent of emoticon users were in the age range of 18-34.

Communicating via smiley face may actually be more closely related to personality than age. “If you look at personality traits, like agreeableness, how amenable you are to other people, it seems to be related to whether you use emojis or not,” Kaye said.

Psychologists also want to use online data to understand how communicating via emojis and emoticons can provide insights into social inclusion. Depending on how we use emojis, these simple displays of virtual emotion can impact how we perceive each other.

“People are making judgments about us based on how we use emojis, and they’re not necessarily accurate,” Kaye says.

“What we need to be aware of is that those judgments might differ depending on where or with whom you’re using those emojis, such as in the workplace or between family members.”

In the coming years, research in the field of cyberpsychology, or how we interact with technology, will probably help explain if emojis are a true portrayal of emotion.

Moreover, researchers hope to understand how emojis might serve as the intersection between in-person and online interactions and how human nature can be reflected through digital media.

Source: Cell Press/EurekAlert

Photo: This image shows an example of the communicative power of emojis in reducing ambiguity in eritten discourse.Credit: Trends in Cognitive Sciences.

Retelling Recent Info Can Enhance Learning

Wed, 01/18/2017 - 5:30am

New research finds that students who are given information and tell someone about it shortly afterward recall the details better and longer.

Baylor University psychologist Melanie Sekeres, Ph.D., said that actively re-generating the information — for example, by telling someone the particulars, as opposed to simply re-reading the textbook or class notes and studying it again later — makes a big difference.

Sekeres is the lead author of the study, published in the journal Learning & Memory.

“A week later, the memory was just as good,” she said. “Telling someone else about what you’ve learned is a really effective way for students to study instead of just re-reading the textbook or class notes.”

In the study, students were shown 24-second clips from 40 films over a period of about half an hour.

The study focused on their retention of both the general plot of the films as well as such details as sounds, colors, gestures, background details and other peripheral information that allow a person to re-experience an event in rich and vivid detail, said Sekeres.

Researchers also found that giving students a brief visual cue from the movie later — even a simple glimpse of the title and a sliver of a screenshot taken from the film — seemed to jog the memory.

“With a cue, suddenly, a lot of those details will come back,” Sekeres said.

“We don’t permanently forget them, which would indicate lack of storage — we just can’t immediately access them. And that’s good. That means our memories aren’t as bad as we think.”

Much research on memory examines how brain damage or aging affects recall, but “we wanted to look at the normal course of forgetting in healthy brains — and if anyone should have a good memory, it’s healthy young adults,” Sekeres said.

“While the strategy of re-telling information — known as ‘the testing effect’ — has been shown to be a really effective study technique time and again, this study is novel in looking at how our memories change over time for a specialized group.”

Researchers studied three groups of undergraduate students, each with 20 participants, with an average age of 21. After viewing the film clips, researchers asked what they remembered about the films after delays ranging from several minutes after the showings up to seven days later.

“We chose mostly foreign films and somewhat obscure clips that we thought most undergraduates would not have seen,” Sekeres said.

“The clips all contained brief scenes of normal, everyday events that mimicked the kind of events you might experience in a day, such as a family having dinner or kids playing at a park.”

Researchers found that:

  • Not surprisingly, all participants recalled less about both the details and the substance of the films over a longer gap of time. But they forgot the perceptual or “peripheral” details from the films more quickly, and to a greater degree, than the films’ central themes.
  • Significantly, the second group of students, who were given cues before being asked to recall the films, did better at retrieving the faded memory of the peripheral details. However, their retention of central information was not much different from the first group, who did not have such cues.
  • Most noteworthy was that the third group — who retrieved the memory of the films by telling someone about them soon after viewing — remembered both central and peripheral information better over time.

The “replaying” method takes considerable effort, but it can be worth it, Sekeres said.

“We tell students to test yourself, force yourself to tell someone about the lecture. Even by writing out some questions for yourself about the information, then later answering them yourself, you are more likely to remember the information. Unfortunately, simply re-reading or passively listening to a recording of your lecture in the hopes of remembering the information isn’t a great study strategy by comparison.”

Sekeres noted that forgetting some details is to be expected — and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

“The brain is adaptive,” Sekeres said. “We remember the important things, for the most part, and we forget the unimportant details. You don’t want your brain to search through tons of useless information.”

But in certain situations such as giving eyewitness testimony or taking a test, details and context can be vital for more accurate memory, she said. And on a personal level, details make for a richer store of such memories as treasured family times.

While researchers focused on how cuing and active retrieval of memories affected students, those actions also could be helpful to others in reactivating memories, Sekeres said.

“If there’s something you really want to remember, test yourself — like saying names and recalling, for example, that Jim had the green cap and Susan wore the red dress and brought a casserole,” she said.

Sekeres said further research would be valuable to determine how the effects of cuing and active retrieval hold up over a period of months or years.

Additional research involves using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to look into how brain activity changes over time as memories age and lose those peripheral details.

“Identifying changes in patterns of brain activity that accompany normal forgetting in the healthy brain will help us to understand differences between normal and abnormal memory processing,” Sekeres said.

“As researchers, we have to first understand how something normally works before we can try to fix it.”

Source: Baylor University

ASD Kids Face Numerous Challenges During Early School Years

Tue, 01/17/2017 - 7:45am

New research suggests young children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are less likely to develop positive relationships with their teachers than typically developing kids do.

The finding is important because for many, a particular teacher provided a positive lasting influence during the early school years — a factor that often enhanced growth and development both academically and personally.

In fact, numerous studies suggest that a positive student-teacher relationships is one of the best predictors of children’s academic success.

University of California, Riverside investigators teamed with the University of Massachusetts, Boston. They discovered the difficulty bonding exacerbates an already challenging transition into elementary school for these children.

The researchers hope that by understanding — and ultimately improving — these relationships, educators can support children with ASD in their early school years and help them make long-term gains in their academic, behavioral, and social adjustment.

University of California, Riverside’s Jan Blacher and her team spent the past four years studying 200 children with ASD as they moved from pre-kindergarten into elementary school. The investigators tracked student-teacher relationships, children’s emotional behaviors, and parental support.

Children in the study ranged from four to seven years old, with about 85 percent of them having what professionals call “high functioning autism,” meaning they don’t also have intellectual disabilities.

The results are newly published or forthcoming in five new papers in top journals in the field, including the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders; Education and Training in Autism and Developmental Disabilities; and Remedial and Special Education.

Blacher, said that behavior problems and social skills deficits, which accompany many ASD diagnoses, are one reason that students and their teachers fail to build strong mutual relationships.

Externalizing behaviors, such as aggression, increase conflict, while internalizing behaviors, such as anxiety, can reduce the closeness between teachers and students.

“When children with autism come to school, they are already struggling to make social and emotional connections, and when that affects their relationships with teachers it feels like a double whammy,” said Blacher, who has shown in previous research that many children with ASD feel lonely at school.

“A major goal that follows from this research is educating and supporting teachers so they understand how important their interactions with children are during this transitional time.”

Blacher’s group also noted that one cause of behavior outbursts or other instances of “acting out” during the early school years may be an inability for children to control their anger or emotions. Such poor emotional regulation is common in children with ASD.

Blacher notes, “Many intervention programs used by schools focus heavily on behavior management, but we found that supporting emotional regulation is an important tactic in helping children develop interpersonal relationships and complete school activities.

Helping children with ASD take charge of their emotions before they manifest as behavioral problems will go a long way in helping students build positive relationships with their teachers.”

Blacher said the team also studied parents’ roles in helping children make the transition into school, finding that shared reading increased children’s knowledge of contextual language and vocabulary.

“These shared learning experiences are social in nature and help support children as they encounter similar activities in the classroom. Early literacy is a strength for children with high functioning ASD, so this should be encouraged, as it gives the children something to be proud of. One hopes that increasing literacy skills will also lead to better classroom adjustment and, in turn, to more positive teacher-student relationships,” Blacher said.

Source: University of California, Riverside/Newswise

How Mini-Strokes May Contribute to Dementia

Tue, 01/17/2017 - 7:00am

A recent study by investigators at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) has provided additional evidence for understanding the way in which small strokes damage the brain.

Researchers discovered mini-strokes, called micoinfarcts, can affect a larger area of brain tissue and last longer than was previously thought to be the case.

Until now, the mechanisms by which these miniscule lesions (~0.05 to three millimeters in diameter) contribute to cognitive deficits, including dementia, have been poorly understood.

The functional effects of microinfarcts are extremely difficult to study. Not only are most microinfarcts difficult to detect with standard neuroimaging techniques, mismatches between in vivo functional data and post-mortem histological evidence make it nearly impossible to connect microinfarcts to the timeline of cognitive decline.

“These infarcts are so small and unpredictable, we just haven’t had good tools to detect them while the person was still alive,” said Andy Shih, Ph.D., senior author on the article.

“So, until now, we basically just had post-mortem snapshots of these infarcts at the end of the dementia battle as well as measures of the person’s cognitive decline, which might have been taken years before the brain became available for study.”

Intrigued by the mounting evidence linking cognitive decline and microinfarct burden, Shih’s group hypothesized that microinfarcts might disrupt brain function beyond what was visible by histology or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

“Even though a person may experience hundreds of thousands of microinfarcts in their lifetime, each event is extremely small and thought to resolve in a matter of days,” said Shih.

“It’s been estimated that, overall, microinfarcts affect less than two percent of the entire human brain. But those estimates of tissue loss are based only on the ‘core’ of the microinfarct, the area of dead or dying tissue that we can see in routine, post-mortem, histological stains.”

To investigate their theory of broader impacts, the team developed a mouse model so that they could examine the effects of individual cortical microinfarcts on surrounding tissue function in vivo over several weeks post-event.

They discovered functional deficits caused by a single microinfarct occur across a much larger area of viable brain tissue than was previously understood and that the resulting deficits are much longer-lasting.

“I knew larger strokes could have distant effects, but I was surprised that something of this scale could have such a large effect,” said Shih.

The duration of effect from a single microinfarct was also a surprise for Shih’s team.

“The MRI signal increased and then went away as we’d expected, but we were surprised on autopsy to see that there was still lots going on — tissue damage and neuroinflammation,” Shih explained.

“Even after three weeks the neurally evoked blood flow responses had only partially recovered. So, that means a microinfarct can come and go and you can see it briefly with MRI but it leaves a lasting impression on brain function-possibly for months.”

Importantly, a person with vascular disease is likely to experience other microinfarcts during this recovery time. Furthermore, these tiny infarcts occur not only in the brain’s grey matter, where this study was conducted, but also in the white matter, which sends messages from one part of the brain to another.

“Over time, after you have a lot of microinfarcts, there may be enough accumulated damage in the brain’s circuitry to equal the impact of a larger event,” said Shih.

According to Shih, one of the most important messages from this study is that conventional methods used in clinical trials do not reveal the entire impact that microinfarcts have on brain function.

He hopes that his team’s contribution to illuminating microinfarct pathology will help inform MRI interpretation in humans and help researchers better explain some of the relationships that they see in clinical studies.

These findings might also lead to new preventive protocols. “On a clinical level, maybe it’s a situation where therapeutics can play a bigger role. Maybe drugs that we already have can mitigate the cumulative damage of microinfarcts,” speculated Shih.

“The neuro-protective idea hasn’t flown very far for acute stroke, in part, because the window of time for protecting the brain from stroke damage is very narrow. But, for microinfarcts, you don’t have to know exactly when they occur.

If an MRI shows a person is at high risk for microinfarcts, maybe one day we can put them on a drug for a while to reduce the impacts of these lesions.”

Source: Medical University South Carolina/EurekAlert
Photo: Dr. Andy Shih is Assistant Professor of Neurosciences at the Medical University of South Carolina and senior author on an article published online on Jan. 16, 2017 by the Journal of Cerebral Blood Flow and Metabolism. The article provides preclinical evidence that ministrokes can have a lasting effect on brain function that could contribute to dementia. Credit: Medical University of South Carolina.

Jealousy May Lead You to Buy Eye-Grabbing Products

Tue, 01/17/2017 - 6:15am

People who are feeling jealous because their partner is getting too much attention from someone else may be more likely to purchase products that will re-catch their lover’s eye, according to a new study published online in the Journal of Consumer Psychology.

The study, conducted with a series of five experiments, investigated whether strong feelings of jealousy could potentially motivate consumers to buy things that are more likely to grab the attention of others.

Indeed, the researchers found that feelings of jealousy increased the desire for eye-catching products, such as a bright colored coat instead of a dull-colored one, or a T-shirt with a big logo design versus a low-key design.

One surprising finding was that the desire to recapture someone’s attention with eye-catching products even outweighed the risk of public embarrassment.

In one experiment, participants were asked to imagine that they had been invited to a party. One group was invited to a costume party organized by friends, and the other group was invited to a formal welcoming party for new staff members at their company.

Then they were asked to choose whether they’d prefer to wear an ordinary pair of sunglasses to the party or a unique and eye-catching pair. The researchers found that participants who were feeling jealous chose to wear the eye-catching sunglasses to both types of parties, even though they could garner negative attention at a formal work party.

The findings also show that the desire for eye-grabbing products disappeared when there was little chance that the product would be noticed by others in public.

For example, participants who were experiencing feelings of jealousy in one experiment were more likely to buy a noticeable gold lamp for their office, a public place. However, if the lamp was for their bedroom, the plain gray lamp was chosen just as often as the gold one.

“We believe that this effect is not just restricted to jealousy in romantic relationships,” said researcher Xun (Irene) Huang, Ph.D., a professor at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. “Children can be jealous of a sibling’s relationship with their parents, or workers might be jealous of a colleague’s close relationship with a supervisor.”

The findings also have implications for marketing, Huang said. Print advertisements and in-store displays can capture situations in which jealousy is at play, which could motivate consumers to buy products that will attract someone’s attention.

Source: Society for Consumer Psychology

Change of Scene Can Improve Chances of Changing Habits

Tue, 01/17/2017 - 5:30am

A new study vividly shows that keeping a New Year’s resolution can be exceeding difficult task.

According to research presented at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP) Annual Convention, 41 percent of Americans make New Year’s resolutions but only nine percent feel they were successful in keeping their resolutions.

Investigators say timing is important in changing old habits as new behaviors are easier to adopt when they accompany big changes to our everyday lives like moving to a new home.

“Changing your habits is very difficult,” said Dr. Bas Verplanken, professor of social psychology at the University of Bath, “including finding the right moment to make a change.”

Habits develop when we repeat behaviors, and they are reinforced the more everything around us stays the same.

Some habits are beneficial, such as brushing your teeth daily. Other habits can benefit communities and affect how we respond to decisions such as recycling, what we buy, and how we commute.

Work from Verplanken and colleagues show habits can be changed when you change the factors around the habit (location, context). Researchers call this the “discontinuity effect.”

Researchers specially studied the challenge of keeping New Year’s resolutions.

“Changing from December 31st to January 1st is not a dramatic discontinuity,” says Verplanken. “Many resolutions are made on December 31st, and go down the drain on January 2nd.”

Verplanken notes the New Year may be a nice moment to mark the start of a new phase, but the point of the discontinuity effect is that the change in behavior is embedded in other changes.

“In the case of moving to a new home for instance, people may need to find new solutions for how to do things in the new house, where and how to shop, commute, and so on. All of these aspects are absent when talking about New Year resolutions.”

Verplanken studied the behaviors of over 800 people, half of whom had recently moved and half of whom had been at the same home for several years. Participants responded to questions on 25 environment related behaviors including water and energy use, commuting choices, and waste (food waste, recycling).

According to his research, people who received an intervention and had recently relocated reported more change eight weeks later on a composite of 25 environment-relevant behaviors compared to participants who had not recently relocated.

These results were consistent in spite of the strength of previous habits and views, and are consistent with research from others.

Verplanken presented his work at the SPSP Annual Convention.

Source: Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP)

Study Aims for Sweet Spot of Teens’ Screen Time

Mon, 01/16/2017 - 7:00am

A new UK study may help to relieve digital anxiety among parents and pediatricians as researchers discovered the relationship between screen time and well-being is weak at best, even at high levels of digital engagement.

The findings stem from a review of over 120,000 adolescents in the UK. The research is published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

“Digital screens are now an inextricable part of modern childhood. Depending on who you ask they’re either part of creating a generation of so called ‘digital natives’ or a bogeyman who may dispose young people to all kinds of delinquencies,” said psychological scientist Dr. Andrew Przybylski of the University of Oxford, lead researcher on the study.

“Our findings suggest that adolescents’ moderate screen use has no detectable link to well-being and levels of engagement above these points are modestly correlated with well-being.”

Przybylski and co-author Netta Weinstein of Cardiff University noticed a critical gap between what people believe about the effects of teens’ screen time and what scientific research actually shows.

“When we looked at the existing literature as scientists, and parents, we saw an area rich in opinions but short on evidence. We were surprised how poorly linked the literature was to the advice provided to caregivers and educators,” Przybylski explains.

To address this gap, the researchers decided to analyze digital screen time data collected from a large and representative national cohort of British teens, using open and transparent research methods.

Capitalizing on the United Kingdom’s Department for Education National Pupil Database, the researchers analyzed data measuring screen time and well-being collected from 120,115 15 year-olds.

The teens completed a well-established self-report measure of mental well-being and answered questions gauging how much time they spent engaging with different types of digital activities. These included watching TV and other media, playing computer- and console-based games, using computers to surf the web and check email, and using smartphones for social activities.

In contrast to the argument that the detrimental effects of technology are likely to increase as usage increases, Przybylski and Weinstein hypothesized that there may be a digital “sweet spot” between low and high technology use.

In this sweet spot, they speculated, screen time is not harmful and may even benefit teens’ well-being by providing opportunities to develop social connections and skills.

Nearly all — 99.9 percent — of the participating adolescents reported spending time using at least one type of digital technology on a daily basis.

The teens reported spending more time engaging in digital activities on weekend days than on weekdays; they spent more time overall using smartphones compared with watching TV, playing games, and using the Internet.

The data for all digital activities, on both weekdays and weekends, showed trends consistent with the researchers’ sweet spot hypothesis — teens’ well-being increased as their screen time increased, up to a certain point.

After that point, increased screen time was associated with decreased well-being.

These curvilinear trends remained even after Przybylski and colleagues accounted for participants’ gender, ethnic background, and socioeconomic background.

Using statistical methods to determine the tipping point for each type of activity, the researchers found that, on weekdays, teens’ well-being peaked at about one hour and 40 minutes of video-game play, about one hour 57 minutes of smartphone use, about three hours and 41 minutes of watching videos, and about four hours and 17 minutes of using computers.

In general, the points at which screen time turned potentially harmful were even higher on weekend days.

Importantly, the analyses showed that above these tipping points, links between screen time and well-being were weak; for example, the negative association between screen time and well-being was only a third as strong as the positive associations between eating breakfast and well-being and between getting regular sleep and well-being.

Based on these findings, the researchers conclude that moderate digital engagement is unlikely to convey any real risk to teens’ well-being, and any risks are likely to be small even at high levels of engagement.

According to Przybylski, these results are important for both caregivers and policymakers.

“There is good reason to think that parents really struggle to meet stringent professional guidance on screen time,” he said. “Our work confirms that policy guidance on digital screens should be based on work that tests explicit hypotheses about possible technology effects.”

Taken together, these new findings suggest that the effects of digital screen time likely depend on the type of digital activity and the amount and timing of that activity, among other factors. Although excessive engagement may displace some important activities, moderate amounts of screen time could potentially benefit teens.

Source: Association for Psychological Science

Depression + Health Issues = Problem Drinking in Older Adults

Mon, 01/16/2017 - 6:15am

An emerging risk factor of growing older appears to be alcohol misuse as University of Georgia researchers connect multiple chronic illnesses, depression, and alcohol use in seniors.

Investigators discovered older adults suffering from multiple chronic health conditions and depression are nearly five times as likely to be problem drinkers as older adults with the same conditions and no depression.

The study is the first to document the relationship between multiple chronic illnesses, depression, and alcohol use in seniors.

Investigators believe this information could help health care providers identify which older adults are most likely to experience problem drinking and lead to better preventive care for this segment of society.

The study, conducted by researchers from the University of Georgia School of Social Work, utilized data from the National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project, a nationwide survey of older adults that is funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Researchers looked at more than 1,600 individuals aged 57 to 85 who identified as active alcohol consumers.

Investigators discovered that among problem drinkers, or individuals who reported a high amount of negative consequences associated with alcohol use, more than half — 66 percent — reported having multiple chronic health conditions, or MCC, and 28 percent reported having symptoms of depression.

The researchers also found that older adults who experienced MCC combined with depression were those who experienced the highest likelihood of problem drinking.

The study is published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, and will be presented this month at the Society for Social Work and Research’s annual conference in New Orleans.

“These findings suggest that effective training in screening and referral for mental health and alcohol use issues for health care providers of older adults may better serve the approximate four million older adults who currently experience problem drinking in the U.S.,” said Dr. Orion Mowbray, lead author of the study.

Previous efforts to prevent and manage disease in older adults have focused on a single disease at a time, said Mowbray. Few physicians consider the combination of multiple chronic conditions in connection with depression as a potential sign for increased alcohol misuse, although screening and follow-up counseling for behavioral problems is known to help.

“There is sufficient evidence that even brief interventions delivered in medical-related settings can have a positive influence on reducing problem drinking among most older adults,” said Mowbray.

“These interventions can include screening for signs of depression in individuals with long-term health problems, engaging the individual in a conversation about the risks of problem drinking, and providing a referral for brief alcohol-related treatment.”

Other contributors to the paper include Dr. Tiffany Washington, assistant professor of social work, social work doctoral student Greg Purser and Jay O’Shields.

Source: University of Georgia

Cardio in Old Age May Boost Brain Health

Mon, 01/16/2017 - 5:30am

Older adults who engage in high levels of cardiovascular exercise — such as jogging, cycling, swimming, or dancing — may be increasing their brain health as well, according to a new study published in the journal Cortex.

The findings show that older adults who scored high on cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF) tests — a measure of the body’s ability to supply oxygen to the muscles during exercise — performed better on memory tests than those who had low CRF. In addition, the more fit the participants were, the more active their brain was during the learning process.

“Importantly, CRF is a modifiable health factor that can be improved through regular engagement in moderate to vigorous sustained physical activity such as walking, jogging, swimming, or dancing,” said corresponding author Scott Hayes, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine and associate director of the Neuroimaging Research for Veterans Center at the VA Boston Healthcare System.

“Therefore, starting an exercise program, regardless of one’s age, can not only contribute to the more obvious physical health factors, but may also contribute to memory performance and brain function,”

For the study, researchers recruited healthy young adults (18-31 years) and older adults (55-74 years) with a wide range of fitness levels to walk and jog on a treadmill.

The researchers assessed their cardiorespiratory fitness by measuring the ratio of inhaled and exhaled oxygen and carbon dioxide. These participants also underwent MRI scans which collected images of their brain while they learned and remembered names that were associated with pictures of unfamiliar faces.

As would be expected, older adults had more difficulty than younger adults learning and remembering the correct name associated with each face. Age differences in brain activation were observed during the learning of the face-name pairs, with older adults showing decreased brain activation in some regions and increased brain activation in others.

Importantly, however, the degree to which older adults demonstrated these age-related changes in memory performance and brain activity largely depended on their fitness level. Overall, older adults with high fitness levels showed better memory performance and increased brain activity patterns compared to their low fit peers.

In addition, the increased brain activation found in the high fit older adults was found in brain regions that show typical age-related decline, suggesting that fitness may contribute to brain maintenance. Higher fit older adults also had greater activation than young adults in some brain regions, showing that fitness may also serve a compensatory role in age-related memory and brain decline.

The findings suggest that CRF is not only important for physical health but also for brain function and memory performance.

The researchers caution that maintaining high levels of fitness through physical activity will not entirely eliminate or cure age- or Alzheimer’s disease-related decline, but it may slow down the decline.

Source: Boston University Medical Center

Elderly man exercising photo by shutterstock.

Anxiety Over Prostate Cancer Diagnosis May Lead to Over-treatment

Sun, 01/15/2017 - 8:45am

Men who experience high levels of anxiety and emotional distress over a prostate cancer diagnosis are more likely to choose unnecessary treatment options, according to a new study by researchers at the University at Buffalo (UB) and Roswell Park Cancer Institute.

“Emotional distress may motivate men with low-risk prostate cancer to choose more aggressive treatment, such as choosing surgery over active surveillance,” said lead author Heather Orom, Ph.D., associate professor of community health and health behavior in UB’s School of Public Health and Health Professions.

“It underscores what we have been pushing a long time for, which is, ‘Let’s make this decision as informed and supported as possible.’ If distress early on is influencing treatment choice, then maybe we help men by providing clearer information about prognosis and strategies for dealing with anxiety. We hope this will help improve the treatment decision making process and ultimately, the patient’s quality of life.”

The study involved 1,531 men with newly diagnosed, clinically localized prostate cancer — meaning the disease hadn’t spread to other parts of the body. The majority of study participants had either low- or intermediate-risk disease, and were more likely to have been treated with surgery, followed by radiation and active surveillance.

Using an 11-point scale ranging from zero (no distress) to 10 (extreme distress), researchers twice measured the patients’ emotional distress — shortly after their diagnosis and again right after they had made their treatment decision.

“Men’s level of emotional distress shortly after diagnosis predicted greater likelihood of choosing surgery over active surveillance,” said the researchers. “Importantly, this was true among men with low-risk disease, for whom active surveillance may be a clinically viable option and side effects of surgery might be avoided.”

Although prostate cancer is considered a serious disease, it is not a death sentence, according to the American Cancer Society, which estimates there are nearly three million prostate cancer survivors alive today.

Over-treatment is a valid concern for many prostate cancer patients. In particular, surgery and radiation therapy have side effects such as erectile dysfunction and incontinence, and the majority of men diagnosed with low-risk prostate cancer can avoid these issues by choosing active surveillance to monitor the cancer and then choose treatment if the disease progresses.

“The goal of most physicians treating men with prostate cancer is to help their patients and family members through a difficult process and help their patients receive appropriate treatment,” said Willie Underwood III, M.D., MS, MPH, an associate professor in Roswell Park’s Department of Urology, and a paper co-author.

“To do so, it is helpful for physicians to better understand what is motivating men’s decisions and to address negative motivators such as emotional distress to prevent men from receiving a treatment that they don’t need or will later regret.”

The findings are published in the Journal of Urology.

Source: University at Buffalo


Quitting, Cutting Back on Cocaine May Reverse Coronary Artery Disease

Sun, 01/15/2017 - 8:00am

Although using cocaine on a regular basis is tied to a high risk of coronary artery disease, stopping or reducing its use can potentially reverse the disease process, according to a new study published in the Journal of Addiction Medicine.

“In the past, there has been excellent work to uncover the consequences of drug use,” said Dr. Shenghan Lai of Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Baltimore. “However, few studies have revealed what happens after drug use stops. Studies of this kind give people hope for a healthier life after stopping drug use.”

In particular, the findings show that cutting back on cocaine use leads to the regression of unstable, noncalcified coronary plaques — the type most likely to cause a heart attack or stroke.

Since 2000, the research team has been studying the development of coronary atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) in more than 700 African-American patients who were regular cocaine users. The researchers took advantage of previous research showing that a cash incentive program helps patients quit using cocaine, or at least use it less often.

According to their findings, regular cocaine users who cut back showed decreased levels of endothelin-1 (ET-1) — an inflammation-promoting protein that plays a key role in the development of coronary artery disease.

For the new study, the researchers wanted to know whether the drop in ET-1 could lead to reductions in cocaine-induced coronary artery disease. To find out, they conducted a follow-up study in 15 patients who had been using cocaine for an average of 20 years and also had atherosclerosis that was causing more than 50 percent blockage of their coronary arteries. Using imaging scans (CT angiography), the researchers measured the amount and types of coronary plaques, before and after reductions in cocaine use.

As previously reported, the incentive program helped participants decrease their use — from using every day before the program to an average of 50 days during one year of follow-up. Levels of ET-1 and other markers of inflammation decreased as well.

Reduced cocaine use was followed by regression of atherosclerotic plaques in the coronary arteries. The reduction was significant not only for total coronary plaques, but also for noncalcified plaques — the first step in the development of coronary atherosclerosis. Noncalcified plaques are considered unstable or “vulnerable.” Compared to calcified plaques that develop later, they are more likely to rupture and cause heart attack or stroke.

The reductions in coronary plaque remained strong even after the researchers adjusted for other cardiovascular risk factors. In particular, coronary artery disease still regressed even though the patients were not taking cholesterol-lowering “statin” drugs.

Cocaine use remains epidemic in the United States — a 2013 report suggested that there are 1.5 million Americans, or about 0.6 percent of the population, who use cocaine.

“This preliminary study demonstrates potentially beneficial effects of cocaine abstinence/reduction on inflammation and coronary plaque phenotype,” said Lai and coauthors in the paper. While it is unclear how reduced cocaine use leads to regression of coronary artery disease, “Inflammation appears to be a significant link.”

“The findings… may have important implications for the prevention of cocaine-induced coronary artery disease,” the researchers conclude. Since many of the participants were also HIV-positive, the study might also be relevant to people with HIV infection, a population that is already at higher risk for coronary artery disease.

Source: Wolters Kluwer Health


Kids may Put On More Weight When Parents See Them as Overweight

Sun, 01/15/2017 - 7:15am

Children whose parents considered them to be overweight tended to gain more weight over the following decade compared with children whose parents thought they were a normal weight, according to new research.

The findings indicate that children whose parents identified them as being overweight perceived their own body size more negatively. This made them more likely to attempt to lose weight, factors that partly accounted for their weight gain, according to the researchers.

“Although parents’ perception that their children are overweight has been presumed to be important to management of childhood obesity, recent studies have suggested the opposite — when a parent identifies a child as being overweight, that child is at increased risk of future weight gain,” write psychology researchers Drs. Eric Robinson of the University of Liverpool and Angelina Sutin of the Florida State University College of Medicine.

Their study was published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

“We argue that the stigma attached to being an overweight child may explain why children whose parents view them as being overweight tend to have elevated weight gain during development,” the researchers add.

Drawing from the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children, Robinson and Sutin examined data for 2,823 Australian families.

As part of the study, researchers measured the children’s height and weight when they began the study as four or five year-olds. At that time, the children’s parents reported whether they thought the children were best described as underweight, normal weight, overweight, or very overweight.

Later, when they were 12 or 13, the children used a series of images depicting bodies that increased in size to indicate which image most resembled their own body size. The children also reported whether they had engaged in any behaviors in an attempt to lose weight in the previous 12 months.

Researchers took height and weight measurements again when the children were 14 or 15 years old.

The results indicated that parents’ perceptions were associated with children’s weight gain 10 years later, according to the researchers. Children whose parents considered them to be overweight at age four or five tended to gain more weight by age 14 or 15, the study found.

This association could be accounted for, at least in part, by the children’s beliefs and behaviors, the scientists said. That is, children whose parents thought they were overweight perceived their own body size more negatively and were more likely to report attempts to lose weight.

The results were the same for boys and girls, and they could not be explained by other possible factors, such as household income, presence of a medical condition, and parents’ weight, the researchers noted.

Importantly, the link between parents’ perceptions and children’s later weight gain did not depend on how much the child actually weighed when they began the study.

When Robinson and Sutin examined data from 5,886 Irish families participating in the Growing Up in Ireland study, they saw the same pattern of results.

The researchers say they cannot determine whether parents’ perceptions actually caused their children’s weight gain.

“The findings of the present studies support the proposition that parents’ perception of their children as overweight could have unintended negative consequences on their children’s health,” Robinson and Sutin concluded.

Source: Association for Psychological Science

Deadly Thoughts Can Spur Deadly Crimes

Sun, 01/15/2017 - 6:30am

“I could kill you.” It’s a figure of speech often used during an argument or a frustrating situation, with no one actually intending murder.

But for a small percentage of the population, that phrase is not so meaningless, according to a new study.

According to a researcher at Iowa State University, criminal offenders with homicidal ideation — thoughts of committing deadly violence, regardless of action — were more likely to commit a variety of serious crimes.

Surprisingly, previous research shows many people have homicidal thoughts or fantasies — as many as 79 percent of men and 66 percent of women in a 1993 survey of university students, according to Dr. Matt DeLisi, a professor of sociology and criminal justice.

“For most people, the thoughts are short-lived and related to a dispute,” he said. “They may think about killing someone instantaneously, but once they cool down they’re OK.”

“For correctional clients, it’s part of their emotional life,” he continued. “They have a lot of anger, hostility, and psychopathology. They think people are out to get them and they’re very aggressive, so some of these severe offenders contemplate homicide.”

For the study, published in the American Journal of Criminal Justice, only 12 percent of offenders had evidence of homicidal ideation.

While it is a small percentage, DeLisi said it’s a strong indication of criminal behavior. This group was responsible for a majority of most severe crimes, such as murder, kidnapping, assault, and armed robbery.

The study found these offenders committed their first crime at age 14 on average, amassed nearly three dozen arrest charges and nearly 20 convictions, were imprisoned nearly five times and repeatedly violated probation and parole. These totals were significantly worse than offenders who did not experience homicidal ideation, the researchers noted.

This is one of the first studies to look specifically at the relationship between homicidal ideation and criminal behavior. Most of the existing research focuses on homicidal thoughts that stem from taking certain medications.

DeLisi noted the study’s results reflect what he experienced working in the correctional system, while earning his Ph.D. He recalled the case of a 19-year-old convicted of murder in a hate crime and sentenced to life in prison.

“What struck me was that when this man was three and four years old, he was making homicidal statements directed toward his mom and in general,” DeLisi said. “Homicide offenders will have these pervasive thoughts and feelings about killing even in early childhood.”

DeLisi and his colleagues found similar examples in the data analyzed for the study.

They looked at psychological and presentencing reports for 863 clients on federal supervised release to assess homicidal ideation. The majority of the sample were white men, and the most common conviction offense was distribution of methamphetamine.

Researchers controlled for several factors including gender, race, intermittent explosive disorder, antisocial personality disorder, conduct disorder, schizophrenia, and age of arrest. DeLisi said this is important as it shows homicidal ideation is not a byproduct of other conditions and stands alone as an explanation for these crimes.

It’s been shown that five to 10 percent of offenders commit half of all crimes, DeLisi said. They also account for 60 to 100 percent of the most severe offenses, including crimes of violence and violence against law enforcement and corrections officers.

Identifying these chronic offenders can have a significant impact on protecting the public from further crimes because probation officers can assign additional treatment and monitoring to these cases, he explained.

Knowing who these chronic offenders are can also help probation officers safely conduct home and community contacts, DeLisi said.

For example, based on this research, federal probation officials could require two or even three officers, rather than one, to visit offenders with homicidal ideation. Supervisors could assign these high-risk cases to their most senior officers, including mental health specialists, to ensure experienced oversight, he added.

The findings also have implications for criminal justice and sentencing reform, according to DeLisi.

He notes that most of these offenders are psychopaths who are unlikely to be rehabilitated without sustained, intensive treatment. However, treatment is often unsuccessful because of the time and resources required. Most offenders don’t have insurance, and often fail to maintain their medications once they’re released from prison, he said.

The best option is for judges to mandate mental health treatment, including medication coupled with intensive supervision that puts officer safety at the forefront, he added.

“It’s important to understand these offenders because they commit so many more severe crimes, which allows you to do more from a policy perspective,” DeLisi said. “Many of these offenders should probably never be released from confinement, and we may need to rethink sentencing guidelines for these individuals.”

DeLisi said he believes these offenders may require a “containment” approach used to supervise sex offenders in the community, with the premise that protection of society, not rehabilitation of the offender, is the prominent goal.

Source: Iowa State University

Photo: This is Matt DeLisi, professor of sociology and criminal justice. Credit: Iowa State University.

Assessing Global Toll of Drinking During Pregnancy

Sat, 01/14/2017 - 8:38am

A new report by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Canada provides the first-ever global estimates of the percentage of women who drink during pregnancy as well as estimates of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) by country.

Worldwide, nearly 10 percent of women drink alcohol during pregnancy, with wide variations by country and region. In some countries, more than 45 percent of women consume alcohol during pregnancy. The five countries with the highest alcohol use in pregnancy were the following: Russia, United Kingdom, Denmark, Belarus, and Ireland.

Overall, nearly 15 per 10,000 people around the world are estimated to have FAS. As a region, Europe has a 2.6 higher prevalence of FAS than the global average. The lowest levels of drinking and FAS were found for the Eastern Mediterranean and South East Asia regions, as there are high rates of alcohol abstinence in these regions.

Although it is well-established that alcohol can damage any organ or system in the developing fetus, particularly the brain, not every woman who drinks while pregnant will have a child with FAS.

In fact, it’s still not known exactly what makes a fetus most susceptible, in terms of the amount or frequency of alcohol use, or timing of drinking during pregnancy. Other factors, such as genetics, stress, smoking, and nutrition also contribute to the risk of developing FAS.

“We estimated that one in 67 mothers who drink during pregnancy will deliver a child with FAS,” said lead author Dr. Svetlana Popova, senior scientist in CAMH’s Institute for Mental Health Policy Research.

Popova notes that this figure is very conservative and does not include other types of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) that may occur from alcohol consumption during pregnancy, including partial FAS (pFAS) and Alcohol-related Neurodevelopmental Disorders (ARND).

“The safest thing to do is to completely abstain from alcohol during the entire pregnancy,” said Popova.

The study involved comprehensive literature reviews and statistical analyses to determine the estimates, which are intended to help countries plan public health initiatives and policies, such as FAS surveillance systems and educational efforts on the risks of alcohol use during pregnancy, the researchers note.

The predictive model that the researchers developed for this study could also be used to estimate the prevalence of other disease conditions, said Popova. Her team is currently extending this work to study the global scale of all FASDs. In fact, an earlier study by her team revealed that more than 400 disease conditions co-occur with FASD.

The report is published in The Lancet Global Health.

Source: Centre for Addiction and Mental Health
Pregnant woman drinking photo by shutterstock.