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Psychology, psychiatry and mental health news and research findings, every weekday.
Updated: 2 hours 27 min ago

For Many Older Americans, Retirement Will Involve Work

15 hours 6 min ago

A large portion of retired Americans are still working in some capacity or plan to do so in the future, according to a new survey by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. In fact, one-fourth of the survey respondents say they plan to never retire, particularly those who earn less than $50,000 per year.

This post-retirement work may involve reducing one’s previous hours to part-time status, moving to a new employer or switching to a new field of work altogether.

Key findings from the survey from adults age 50 and older:

  • Six in 10 Americans age 50 to 64 plan to work past the age of 65. Nearly half of those who are 65 and older say they already work or plan to work during this later stage of life.
  • One-fourth of older workers say they plan to never retire. This sentiment is more common among lower-income workers than higher-income workers, with 33 percent of those earning less than $50,000 a year saying they will never retire, compared with 20 percent of those who earn $100,000 or more.
  • Working adults age 65 and older still put in an average of 31 hours per week.
  • Americans age 50 and older who have spent at least 20 years working for the same employer (four in 10 people) are more excited and less anxious about retirement than those without such long histories with a single employer.
  • A majority of older Americans who are planning to remain in or rejoin the workforce are planning to switch either professional fields or employers in the future.
  • A sizeable minority of older workers are taking steps to keep their skill sets fresh by pursuing job training or additional education.
  • One-fourth of adults age 50 and older have looked for a job in the past five years. Many are encountering difficulties in the job market, with a third reporting that it has been so difficult that they’ve given up looking at some point during their search.

“The circumstances and future plans of older Americans must be well understood by decision-makers,” said Trevor Tompson, director of The AP-NORC Center. “Not only are older Americans going to work longer, but four in 10 respondents are planning to change career fields in the future. These results point to significant changes in the American workforce with impacts likely felt by workers and employers.”

This survey comes at a time when the size of the older population is larger than ever and projected to keep growing. The number of Americans age 65 and older grew from 35.9 million to 44.7 million between the years 2003 and 2013. In the next quarter century, this number is expected to rise to 82.3 million.

Source: NORC at the University of Chicago

New Way Found to Measure Awareness in Brain-Injured Patients

15 hours 51 min ago

A new study has found that measuring the amount of glucose consumed by the brain can predict a person’s level of awareness, or the likelihood that they will recover awareness within a year after a severe brain injury.

That’s important, according to scientists, who note that a precise diagnosis and prognosis of recovery of consciousness of patients after a severe brain injury is a challenging clinical task, as some brain-injured patients retain certain levels of awareness despite appearing fully unresponsive.

“In nearly all cases, whole-brain energy turnover directly predicted either the current level of awareness or its subsequent recovery,” said Ron Kupers of the University of Copenhagen and Yale University. “In short, our findings indicate that there is a minimal energetic requirement for sustained consciousness to arise after brain injury.”

In the new study, Kupers, together with Johan Stender and colleagues from the University of Copenhagen in Denmark and the University of Liège in Belgium, aimed to develop more-reliable diagnostic markers for the assessment of current and future levels of consciousness to complement routine bedside clinical examinations.

To do this, they quantified and mapped cerebral glucose metabolism in 131 brain-injured patients, all of whom were suffering from either full or partial loss of consciousness.

The researchers measured glucose metabolism using FDG-PET, a well-known imaging technique in which glucose labeled with a radioactive tracer molecule is injected into the bloodstream. The labeled glucose makes it possible to capture and map glucose uptake in any organ of interest, including the brain, the researchers explained.

Their results showed that the patients’ individual levels of behavioral responsiveness were strongly linked to their overall cerebral energy turnover.

In fact, patients with glucose metabolism below a well-defined threshold of 42 percent of normal cortical activity appeared to be fully unconscious and did not recover consciousness at the one-year follow-up.

In contrast, nearly all patients with brain metabolic activity above this energetic threshold either showed signs of awareness at the initial examination or had recovered responsiveness a year later, the researchers reported in their findings, which were published in the Cell Press journal Current Biology.

Overall, the cerebral metabolic rate accounted for the current level, or imminent return, of awareness in 94 percent of patients, according to the study’s findings.

“The discovery of a clear metabolic boundary between the conscious and unconscious states could imply that the brain undergoes a fundamental state change at a certain level of energy turnover — in a sense that consciousness ‘ignites’ as brain activity reaches a certain threshold,” Stender said. “We were not able to test this hypothesis directly, but it provides a very interesting direction for future research.”

“The take-home message is that consciousness is a highly energy demanding process, involving the brain at large,” Kupers added. “This fundamental physiological trait can help clinicians determine the potential for recovery of awareness in patients suffering from severe brain injuries of any kind.”

The researchers say it will be important to verify the findings in an independent patient population. They also hope to explore how brain metabolism changes over time in brain-injured patients.

Source: Cell Press
PHOTO: This figure shows brain glucose metabolism as evidenced by positron emission tomography with [18F]-fluorodeoxyglucose (PET-FDG) at rest in patients with chronic disorders of consciousness (vegetative state and minimally conscious patients) and fully conscious control subjects. Please notice the dramatic drop in brain glucose metabolism from full consciousness to the minimal conscious and persistent vegetative states. Credit: Stender et al..

Meditation Can Help Ease Uncertainty of Prostate Cancer

16 hours 36 min ago

A new study shows that mindful meditation helps ease men’s fears and uncertainties about prostate cancer.

Researchers from Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine found that men who are under close medical surveillance following a prostate cancer diagnosis reported significantly greater resilience and less anxiety over time after receiving an intervention of mindfulness meditation.

According to the scientists, the anxiety and uncertainty that men who choose active surveillance experience when diagnosed with prostate cancer causes one in four to receive definitive therapies within one to three years, even when there is no sign of tumor progression.

“It’s very understandable that some men will feel concerned with the knowledge that they indeed have prostate cancer but are asked to NOT do anything to remove it,” said David Victorson, the principal investigator of the study and an associate professor of medical social sciences.

“For many men this can create a great deal of inner turmoil. This turmoil can build up over time and eventually lead to men seeking surgical intervention when it may not ultimately be necessary.”

Mindfulness meditation is a well-known contemplative awareness practice dating back some 2,500 years. It is a form of meditation designed to develop the skill of paying attention to our inner and outer experiences with acceptance, patience, and compassion, the researcher explained.

Victorson and his research team now are partnering with other academic medical institutions to conduct a five-year multi-site controlled trial where men and their spouses will be randomly assigned to eight weeks of intensive mindfulness meditation training or an eight-week control group.

“I believe we have an opportunity to investigate and equip men with additional tools above and beyond surgical intervention that can help them manage cancer-related uncertainty intolerance,” Victorson said.

Source: Northwestern University

Education Called “Foremost Strategy” for Opioid Abuse Prevention

17 hours 21 min ago

Education is key to reducing the current opioid epidemic, and no other strategies can substitute for it, according to Dr. Adam Kaye, a professor of pharmacy at the University of the Pacific in the latest issue of the journal Current Pain and Headache Reports.

In an article titled “Current State of Opioid Therapy and Abuse,” Kaye writes that the newer medical technologies that make it harder for people to abuse opioids — such as the development of pills that produce unpleasant side effects if broken, crushed, or injected — will likely have limited results in curbing the current epidemic of opioid abuse.

“Education is the foremost strategy,” Kaye said. “We must educate primary care providers, surgeons, pharmacists, and other health professionals, as well as patients. That education must take place prior to the starting point of opioid therapy — and it needs to be independent of the pharmaceutical industry.”

The facts surrounding this drug epidemic are grim: Opioid misuse increased by an astounding 4,680 percent between 1996 and 2011, according to the article. These drugs were associated with 28,647 deaths in 2014, triple the number in 2000, and represented 61 percent of all drug overdose deaths.

More than 90 percent of patients who survive a prescription opioid overdose continue to be prescribed opioids, most often by the same prescriber. Prescription opioids are a gateway drug for heroin in that up to 80 percent of heroin users first took prescription opioids.

Kaye and his co-authors lay out and discuss three types of strategies that have been developed to discourage opioid abuse:

  • physical barriers, such as polyethylene oxide, prevent accidental crushing, or chewing;
  • sequestered aversive agents, such as niacin, cause adverse events in patients who chew or crush tablets;
  • sequestered opioid antagonists, such as naloxone, render the opioid ineffective.

The authors write that the first two strategies may help protect patients with no intent of abusing opioids from inadvertent overdose, but neither is likely to deter the intentional abuser. The third strategy carries a risk of sudden and harrowing withdrawal for addicted patients.

“Pharmacists have a big responsibility for cutting down opioid abuse and deaths, whether it’s Prince or other celebrities or the guy down the street,” Kaye said. “We have to be part of primary education efforts.”

The FDA’s Anesthetic and Analgesic Drug Products Advisory Committee and the Drug Safety and Risk Management Advisory Committee recently mandated that prescribers of opiates and their health care teams, including pharmacists, be required to obtain opioid education and broader pain management training.

Source: University of the Pacific



Electronic Media Interferes With Preschoolers Communicating With Parents

Sat, 05/28/2016 - 8:45am

A new study shows that it’s not only teenagers who are too preoccupied with electronic media to listen to their parents. It extends even to preschoolers.

Researchers from the University of Michigan found that there is little mother-child dialogue or conversation while children between the ages of three and five are using media such as TV, video games, and mobile devices.

Unlike previous research that relied on self-reports by parents tracking their children’s media usage, the new study used enhanced audio equipment to track the home environment of preschoolers as they interacted with parents in 2010 and 2011.

For the study’s 44 families, the recordings averaged nearly 10 hours daily, the researchers reported. The recordings documented the format of media used, duration, and communication between the mother and child.

The audio recording output indicated when the recording device “picked up” a media signal, which allowed researchers to code media use and transcribe media-related talk at home. Researchers also examined demographic differences in media use and mother-child communication about media.

What they found is that children of mothers with graduate degrees had less electronic media exposure than kids of mothers with high school degrees and/or some college courses.

The preschoolers whose moms had advanced degrees often watched educational programs. In addition, these highly educated mothers were more likely than other mothers to discuss media with their children, said Nicholas Waters, the study’s lead author and survey specialist at the university’s Institute for Social Research.

“Importantly, children of mothers with less than a graduate degree were exposed to media without any dialogue related to the media content for the vast majority of the time,” said co-author Sarah Domoff, a research fellow with the university’s Center for Human Growth and Development.

This is important because parents’ “active mediation” of television and other types of media may mitigate risks associated with media exposure, she noted.

The study’s findings were presented at the annual Association for Psychological Science conference.

Source: University of Michigan

Acupuncture Can Ease Menopause Symptoms

Sat, 05/28/2016 - 8:00am

A new study has found that acupuncture treatments can reduce the number of hot flashes and night sweats associated with menopause by as much as 36 percent.

“Although acupuncture does not work for every woman, our study showed that, on average, acupuncture effectively reduced the frequency of hot flashes and results were maintained for six months after the treatments stopped,” said Nancy Avis, Ph.D., a professor of public health sciences at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center and lead author of the study.

Funded by the National Institutes of Health, the study included 209 women between the ages of 45 and 60 who had not had a menstrual period for at least three months. On average they had at least four hot flashes or night sweats a day in the previous two weeks.

Participants received a baseline assessment and were then randomly placed in one of two groups.

The first group received acupuncture treatments during the first six months. They were then followed without receiving acupuncture for the second six months.

The second group did not receive any acupuncture during the first six months, but did receive acupuncture for the second six months.

The women were allowed up to 20 treatments within six months provided by licensed, experienced acupuncturists in the community.

According to Avis, the study was designed to make it more “real world” by leaving the frequency and number of the acupuncture treatments up to the study participants and their acupuncturists.

All the women kept a daily diary on the frequency and severity of their hot flashes. They also answered questionnaires about other symptoms every two months.

After six months, the first group reported an average 36.7 percent decline in the frequency of hot flashes compared to baseline measurements. After a year, the benefits persisted, with the women maintaining an average 29.4 percent reduction from baseline.

The second group reported a six percent increase in symptom frequency during the six months when they were not getting acupuncture, but had similar results — an average 31 percent reduction in frequency — to the first group after receiving acupuncture during the second half of the trial, the researchers reported.

“There are a number of non-hormonal options for treating hot flashes and night sweats that are available to women,” Avis said. “None of these options seem to work for everyone, but our study showed that acupuncture from a licensed acupuncturist can help some women without any side effects. Our study also showed that the maximum benefit occurred after about eight treatments.”

Avis cautioned that the effect shown in the study could be due to non-specific effects, such as the additional care and attention the study participants received or the expectation of a benefit.

She also said that additional research is needed to identify individual differences in response to acupuncture.

The study was published in the journal Menopause.

Source: Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center

Acupuncture photo by shutterstock.

Brains of Schizophrenia Patients May Be Reversing Effects of the Disease

Sat, 05/28/2016 - 7:15am

The brains of patients with schizophrenia may be trying to reorganize and fight the illness, according to a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) study conducted by an international team of scientists. This is the first time that imaging data has been used to show how our brains may have the ability to reverse the effects of schizophrenia.

Although schizophrenia is generally associated with a widespread reduction in brain tissue volume, the new findings reveal a subtle and simultaneous increase in brain tissue in certain regions.

The researchers followed 98 patients with schizophrenia and compared them to 83 patients without schizophrenia. Using MRI and a statistical approach called covariance analysis, the research team measured any increases in brain tissue. Due to the subtlety and the distributed nature of increase, this has not been demonstrated in patients until now.

According to Lawson Health Research Institute’s Dr. Lena Palaniyappan, there is an overarching feeling that curing people with a severe mental illness, such as schizophrenia, is not possible. This stems from the long-held notion that schizophrenia is a degenerative illness, with the seeds of damage sown very early during the course of brain development.

“Even the state-of-art frontline treatments aim merely for a reduction rather than a reversal of the cognitive and functional deficits caused by the illness,” said Palaniyappan, medical director at the Prevention & Early Intervention Program for Psychoses (PEPP) at London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC).

“Our results highlight that despite the severity of tissue damage, the brain of a patient with schizophrenia is constantly attempting to reorganize itself, possibly to rescue itself or limit the damage,” said Palaniyappan.

The next step is to study the evolution of this brain tissue reorganization process by repeatedly scanning individual patients with early schizophrenia and to investigate the effect of this reorganization on their recovery.

“These findings are important not only because of their novelty and the rigour of the study, but because they point the way to the development of targeted treatments that potentially could better address some of the core pathology in schizophrenia,” said Dr. Jeffrey Reiss, Site Chief, Psychiatry, LHSC.

The project is part of an international collaboration among scientists in Nottingham, UK, Shanghai and Changsha, People’s Republic of China, Robarts Research Institutes at Western University and Lawson Health Research Institute.

The study is published online in the journal Psychology Medicine.

Source: Lawson Health Research Institute

Difficult Decisions Boost Activity in Brain’s Insular Cortex

Sat, 05/28/2016 - 6:30am

Researchers can tell how much you are struggling with a task or decision based on sensory input by looking at the activity of your brain’s insular cortex, according to a new study at Georgia State University.

For example, if you are driving down the road and suddenly see an object in front of you, you must decide what action to take, such as whether to slow down or go around the object. If the situation remains unclear and you are still unsure what to do — perhaps you are still trying to figure out if it is an animal or a box — then your insular cortex activity would fire up.

The findings shed light on the insular cortex’s role in perceptual decision-making, which up until now has remained a mystery.

The study involved 33 participants with normal or corrected-to-normal vision and normal neurological history. The subjects completed four perceptual-decision making tasks, in which the researchers manipulated the visual and audiovisual stimuli to create varying degrees of task difficulty.

Behavioral experiments were performed both inside and outside the MRI scanner. Outside the MRI scanner, participants were asked to indicate their decisions as quickly and accurately as possible with left and right mouse clicks for two given stimuli.

Inside the MRI scanner, participants were asked to perceive the presented stimuli, wait for a question mark to be displayed on the screen and then indicate their choice by pressing a response key on a button box.

The researchers also measured blood oxygen level dependent (BOLD) signals and examined the role of anterior insulae in easy and difficult perceptual decision-making.

In all four experimental tasks, researchers found that anterior insulae activity consistently increased with task difficulty.

For perception of facial expressions, for example, the anterior insulae was activated significantly more for blurred or “noisy” pictures compared to clear pictures. Researchers also found higher BOLD activity for difficult tasks compared to easier ones. The participants’ behavioral performance also changed when the sensory information was unclear.

“This study found the activity of the anterior insulae can predict how well the sensory information is perceived or what the difficulty level of the perceptual task is,” said Dr. Mukesh Dhamala, associate professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Georgia State.

“This research is important because the anterior insulae, along with two nearby brain structures, make up the salience network, and when this network is impaired, it affects the ability to switch between tasks and make coherent thoughts.”

“Impairment in this network could possibly be linked to psychiatric illnesses, such as schizophrenia, dementia and autism, so it’s essential to learn more about how this brain area should be functioning.”

The findings are published in the journal Neuroscience.

Source: Georgia State University

New Mom’s Parenting Stress Impacts Couple’s Sexual Satisfaction

Fri, 05/27/2016 - 8:30am

A new study finds that a mother’s stress from becoming a first-time parent has a significant effect on both her own and her male partner’s sexual satisfaction. The father’s parenting stress, however, doesn’t appear to affect either partner’s satisfaction, according to researchers at Pennsylvania State who published their results in the journal Sex Roles.

“The transition to parenthood has gained importance recently,” said Chelom E. Leavitt, doctoral student, human development and family studies.

“We know that sexual satisfaction is an important element in relationships, but as far as we know, it hasn’t been studied at this transition before. We wanted to know how parenting stress affects sexual satisfaction.”

For the study, the researchers examined data from 169 expectant heterosexual couples who had participated in the Family Foundations prevention program. When the baby was six months old, the couples were asked to report on the parenting stress they were experiencing. Then once the baby turned twelve months, the couples were asked about their overall sexual satisfaction.

“Interestingly, we found that men’s parenting stress had no impact on either men’s or women’s sexual satisfaction,” said Leavitt.

However, the parenting pressure that new moms experienced affected the sexual satisfaction of both partners. This may be due to the fact that women generally bear greater responsibility in caring for the new baby, says Leavitt, and social pressures may lead women to strive to be the “perfect mother.”

“When new moms feel fatigued by the added responsibilities of parenting, they may feel less sexual,” said Leavitt. “The sexual relationship is interdependent, so when a mom feels greater stress due to parenting, not only is her sexual satisfaction diminished, the dad’s sexual satisfaction is also affected.”

At the six-month survey, each participant was asked to rate several statements regarding the stress of becoming a parent on a scale of one (strongly disagree) to five (strongly agree). The statements included “I find myself giving up more of my life to meet my child’s needs than I ever expected” and “My child smiles at me much less than I expected.”

At the 12-month survey, the mothers and fathers completed the statement, “Regarding your sex life with your partner, would you say that you are overall…”, with a scale ranging from one (not at all satisfied) to nine (very satisfied).

The findings revealed that mothers reported greater sexual satisfaction at 12 months than fathers did, with 69 percent of the women reporting they were somewhat to very satisfied with their sex lives — a six or above on the scale — and 55 percent of men reporting being somewhat to very satisfied.

“This was a good spring board for people to understand how parenting stress affects sexual satisfaction,” said Leavitt.

The findings may help parents, therapists and others gain a better understanding of how the stress of becoming a new parent can impact a couple’s relationship.

Source: Pennsylvania State

Multiple Personality Disorder Rooted in Traumatic Experiences

Fri, 05/27/2016 - 7:45am

A new study supports the notion that multiple personality disorder is rooted in traumatic experiences, such as neglect or abuse in childhood.

Multiple personality disorder, more recently known as dissociative identity disorder (DID), is thought to affect about one percent of the general population, similar to levels reported for schizophrenia.

People who are eventually diagnosed with DID have often had several earlier misdiagnoses, including schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, according to researchers at King’s College London.

DID is characterized by the presence of two or more distinct identities or “personality states” — each with their own perception of the environment and themselves.

Despite being recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), controversy remains around the diagnosis.

Some experts argue that DID is linked to trauma, such as chronic emotional neglect and/or emotional, physical, or sexual abuse from early childhood. Others hold a non-trauma related view of DID, believing the condition is related to a proneness to fantasy, suggestibility, simulation, or enactment, researchers explain.

The new study, published in Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, provides support for the trauma model of DID and challenges the core hypothesis of the fantasy model.

For the study, researchers compared 65 women on a variety of questionnaires that measured traumatic experiences, suggestibility, fantasy proneness, and malingering of psychiatric symptoms.

The sample included women with a genuine diagnosis of DID, female actors who were asked to simulate DID, women with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and a healthy control group.

The researchers found that patients with DID were not more fantasy prone or suggestible and did not generate more false memories compared to patients with PTSD, DID simulating controls, and healthy controls.

The researchers discovered a continuum of the severity of trauma-related symptoms across the groups, with the highest scores in patients with DID, followed by patients with PTSD. Those in the healthy control group had the lowest scores.

This supports the theory that there is an association between severity of trauma-related psychopathology and the age at onset, severity and intensity of traumatization, according to the researchers.

“Our findings correspond with research in other areas of psychology and psychiatry, which increasingly implicate trauma with mental health disorders such as psychosis, depression and now, dissociative identity disorder,” said Dr. Simone Reinders from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) at King’s College London.

“We hope these insights into the causes and nature of DID will inform, among others, clinicians and forensic experts regarding differences between simulated and genuine DID. Ultimately this would lead to faster diagnosis and treatment for patients and greater recognition of DID as a mental health disorder.”

“We now want to understand the neurobiological underpinnings of DID and whether psychological or pharmacological therapies are more effective in treating the disorder,” she concluded.

Source:  King’s College London

Alcohol Ads on Social Media Are Very Influential

Fri, 05/27/2016 - 7:00am

Alcohol ads on social media appear to be very successful at achieving their original intent: Simply seeing them tends to increase the desire for alcohol, according to a new study at Michigan State University (MSU).

The findings show that when participants were exposed to beer advertisements on Facebook, they were much more likely to choose a gift card for a bar rather than for a coffee shop, compared to participants who were shown ads for bottled water.

“In this study we wanted to see whether just the mere exposure to alcohol messages on social media makes any difference in terms of people’s expressing intentions to consume alcohol, as well as engage in alcohol-related consumption behaviors,” said study leader Saleem Alhabash, assistant professor of advertising and public relations.

For the experiment, 121 participants were exposed to ads on Facebook: One group saw ads for a brand of beer, while the other group saw ads for a brand of bottled water. At the end of the study, as a reward for participating, the subjects were offered one of two gift cards — one for a bar, the other for a coffee shop.

Of those who saw the beer ads, 73 percent chose the bar card; this is compared to 55 percent of those who saw the water bottle ads.

“What this tells us is there is an effect and it can be attributed to the sheer exposure to these messages,” said Alhabash. “It primes them to think about alcohol.”

The findings raise critical questions about social media and its ability to influence people, say the researchers, particularly for users who are underage.

“On social media, the line that distinguishes an ad from regular content is very fine,” he said. “On TV, most can recognize an ad from a regular show. That’s not always the case on social media.”

Furthermore, alcohol messages are often included in personal Facebook posts. For example, an individual might post a photo of himself having a drink in a bar, not thinking that his 13-year-old nephew may be viewing it.

“These activities and behaviors that we perform on social media are automatic and habitual,” he said. “We quite often don’t consider the consequences of our actions, such as subtly promoting underage drinking or driving under the influence.”

There is no quick-fix for this problem, as there is little to no regulation for advertising and marketing alcohol on social media. And although Facebook users are required to indicate their age in order to make a profile, they can easily make one up.

Source: Michigan State University


For Obese Air Travelers, “Shaming” Stares More Painful Than Tiny Seats

Fri, 05/27/2016 - 6:15am

Being stared at while boarding and leaving a plane bothers obese air passengers even more than the tight seat belts and tiny seats, according to researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) in Israel who explored the challenges obese passengers must face while flying.

“Most participants agreed that the way people stare at them during boarding and deplaning is humiliating, and at times even shameful,” says Professor Yaniv Poria, chairman of the Department of Hotel and Tourism Management at BGU’s Guilford Glazer Faculty of Business and Management.

Poria, along with co-researcher Jeremy Beal, a graduate of Virginia Tech’s Hospitality and Tourism Management Program, suggest that airlines allow obese people to board first and deplane last. They also suggest making design changes to rest rooms and seat trays which would make every passenger more comfortable.

Planes should also offer seats of varying sizes, argue the researchers. Squeezing down aisles and into seats is particularly problematic for obese passengers, because they are unable to avoid touching other passengers. Many obese passengers report that they try to be first in line to board so they can easily find their seats “and disappear.”

The researchers add that crew members can make everyone’s flight experience more comfortable by respectfully and discreetly moving a passenger seated next to an obese person to another seat. Survey participants reported that African American female crew members seemed to be generally less judgmental and more helpful.

“We assumed that the greatest difficulties obese people faced on planes were caused by tight, confined spaces,” Poria says. “We were surprised to find that the way other people reacted to them was so ‘unpleasant’ and ’embarrassing,’ causing them to feel universally ‘uncomfortable’ and ‘uneasy.’

“Obese people think that others regard them as individuals who intentionally decided to be disabled,” Poria explains. “Moreover, obese people feel that they are perceived as thieves, since their ‘chosen’ disability increases costs for other people. Obesity is a social disability as it prevents obese people from feeling safe in public.”

For the study, researchers interviewed 11 men and 13 women, ages 22 to 64, who were deplaning off both long flights (more than two hours) and short flights (less than two hours) as well as both direct and connecting flights. Sixteen of the 24 passengers self-identified as obese, with a body mass index of 30 or above, and eight considered themselves morbidly obese.

The study, titled “An Exploratory Study About Obese People’s Flight Experience,” published in the Journal of Travel Research.

Source: Ben-Gurion University of the Negev


Stand Up to Boost Productivity at Work

Fri, 05/27/2016 - 5:30am

New research shows a 46 percent increase in workplace productivity with the use of standing desks.

The study, from  the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health, follows on previous research that has shown that standing desks help burn more calories and fight obesity, as well as improve students’ attention and cognitive functioning.

Published in the journal IIE Transactions on Occupational Ergonomics and Human Factors, the study examined the productivity differences between two groups of call center employees over the course of six months.

Researchers found that those with stand-capable workstations — in which the worker could raise or lower the desk to stand or sit as they wished throughout the day — were about 46 percent more productive than those with traditional, seated desk configurations. Productivity was measured by how many successful calls workers completed per hour at work.

The researchers found that workers in the stand-capable desks sat for about 1.6 hours less per day than the seated desk workers.

“We hope this work will show companies that although there might be some costs involved in providing stand-capable workstations, increased employee productivity over time will more than offset these initial expenses,” said Mark Benden, Ph.D., C.P.E., an associate professor at the Texas A&M School of Public Health, director of the Texas A&M Ergonomics Center and member of the Center for Remote Health Technologies and Systems, and one of the authors of the study.

“One interesting result of the study is that the productivity differences between the stand-capable and seated groups were not as large during the first month,” said Gregory Garrett, M.A., a public health doctoral student and a lead author of the study. “Starting with the second month, we began to see larger increases in productivity with the stand-capable groups as they became habituated to their standing desks.”

In addition to helping the bottom line of the company, standing during the day can improve worker health. Nearly 75 percent of those working at stand-capable workstations experienced decreased body discomfort after using the desks for the six months of the study.

“We believe that decreases in body discomfort may account for some of the productivity differences between the two groups,” Garrett said. “However, standing desks may have an impact on cognitive performance, which is the focus of some of our research going forward.”

Benden cautioned that the research did not employ a random sample. All 74 employees with stand-capable workstations had been on the job for one to three months, while the 93 workers with more longevity — one year or more at the company — acted as the control group and remained seated throughout the day.

“Still, we believe that the fact the new employees had at least one full month on the job, in addition to 60 days of training, before we began measuring, was more than enough to minimize ‘experience variation’ between the groups,” Benden said. “This design also eliminates volunteerism bias, which increases the generalizability of the study results.”

In other words, the fact that employees were assigned a particular workstation, instead of being able to choose which one they preferred, means there wasn’t some underlying factor that made some people both more efficient and more likely to request a standing desk.

“This research is a breakthrough in measuring productivity impacts of office workers, as this population of call center workers was directly tied to very objective data on their productivity,” Benden said. “Now that we have this type of finding, we will search for more creative ways to find objective productivity measures for other types of office workers in both traditional seated environments and the newer stand-capable environments.”

Source: Texas A&M University
PHOTO: Workers in a crowded office stand at their desks. Credit: Zbigniew Bzdak and the Chicago Tribune.

Infection May Play A Role in Origins of Alzheimer’s

Thu, 05/26/2016 - 10:56am

Increasingly, research evidence has pointed to the role of the immune system in the development of Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia. A new study from Harvard researchers takes the hypothesis further and suggests that infection may trigger an immunological response that can lead to Alzheimer’s.­

Research has focused on the amyloid-beta protein, which makes up the sticky plaques in the brain associated with Alzheimer’s. But the new study suggests that amyloid-beta is actually an antimicrobial peptide, a critically important protein that acts as a natural antibiotic in the immune system.

“Amyloid-beta was previously thought to be intrinsically pathological, but our findings suggest it is actually designed to protect the brain,” said researcher Dr. Robert Moir, Ph.D., assistant professor of neurology at Harvard Medical Center and Massachusetts General Hospital Neurology Research.

“Because of amyloid-beta ‘s role as part of the innate immune system, researchers may need to more carefully consider infection as a possible environmental factor leading to the development of Alzheimer’s.”

In the study, human amyloid-beta protected against otherwise lethal infections in mice, nematode worms and cultured neuronal cells. In addition, amyloid-beta generation appears to have a protective physiological role, entrapping invading pathogens in a protein cage that is resistant to breaking down.

The findings support a new anti-microbial protection hypothesis: Alzheimer’s disease may arise when the brain perceives itself to be under attack from invading pathogens and launches amyloid formation. Additional study is needed to determine whether amyloid-beta is responding to actual or perceived infection in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients.

As people age and their adaptive immune system changes, they may become more susceptible to pathogens that enter the body.

The study may also have implications for Alzheimer’s therapies currently in development, which are largely based upon the premise that amyloid-beta is pathological. Instead of eradicating amyloid from the brains of Alzheimer’s patients, a safer approach may be therapies designed to lower amyloid levels without destroying them entirely.

“The finding of an innate immune role for amyloid-beta activities shows a clear and urgent need to review the assumptions currently guiding efforts to develop treatments for this terrible disease,” said co-author Rudolph Tanzi, Ph.D., vice-chair of neurology and director of the Genetics and Aging Research Unit at MGH, and the Joseph P. and Rose F. Kennedy Professor of Neurology at Harvard Medical School.

The study, which was published online in Science Translational Medicine, was funded by Cure Alzheimer’s Fund and the National Institute on Aging.  Cure Alzheimer’s Fund provided $1.6 million in funding, made possible in part by a grant from the Helmsley Foundation.

“This research offers a major paradigm shift when it comes to amyloid-beta and the important role it plays in the immune system,” said Timothy Armour, president and CEO of Cure Alzheimer’s Fund. “Not only do these findings raise questions about the potential causes of Alzheimer’s, but they generate new avenues of inquiry into the therapies that may best target the disease.”

Depression Lowers Chances of Pregnancy

Thu, 05/26/2016 - 8:30am

Women with symptoms of severe depression have a decreased chance of becoming pregnant, according to a new study.

Researchers from the Boston University Schools of Public Health and Medicine say they also found that using psychotropic medications does not appear to harm fertility.

The study, published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, found a 38 percent decrease in the average probability of conception in a given menstrual cycle among women who reported severe depressive symptoms, compared to those with no or low symptoms.

The results were similar, regardless of whether the women were on psychotropic medications, the researchers noted.

Despite associations in previous studies between infertility and the use of antidepressants, antipsychotics, or mood stabilizers among already infertile women, “current use of psychotropic medications did not appear to harm the probability of conception,” said lead author Yael Nillni, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the School of Medicine and a researcher with the National Center for PTSD, Women’s Health Sciences Division of the VA Boston Healthcare System.

“Our findings suggest that moderate to severe depressive symptoms, regardless of current psychotropic medication treatment, may delay conception.”

Data for the study came from more than 2,100 women between the ages of 21 and 45 enrolled in a Boston University-led study known as PRESTO (Pregnancy Study Online) that is looking at factors influencing fertility.

The women were asked to report their current depressive symptoms and psychotropic medication use, among many other factors. Overall, 22 percent reported a clinical diagnosis of depression in their medical histories, while 17.2 percent were former users of psychotropic medication, and 10.3 percent were current users of psychotropic drugs, the researchers reported.

Among the study’s secondary findings was that current use of benzodiazepines — sedatives used to treat anxiety and other disorders — was associated with a decrease in fecundability or the ability to conceive.

The study also found that women who were formerly treated with a class of antidepressants known as SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) had improved chances of conception, regardless of the severity of the depressive symptoms.

The researchers speculated that former SSRI users could experience some long-term psychological or neurobiological benefits from past treatment that influence fertility. However, the numbers of individual classes of medications were small, and further study is needed, they said.

Although the study does not answer why women with more depressive symptoms may take longer to become pregnant, the researchers noted several potential areas for future study. For example, they note that depression has been associated with dysregulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, which may influence the menstrual cycle and affect the ability to conceive.

An estimated 10 to 15 percent of couples in the U.S. experience infertility. Past research has shown that women have a higher prevalence of depressive and anxiety disorders during their childbearing years than during other times of life.

Source: Boston University Medical Center

Teens at Greater Risk for Low Self-Esteem if Parents Face Discrimination

Thu, 05/26/2016 - 7:45am

Teens are more likely to suffer from low self-esteem, anxiety, and depression when their parents have been recent targets of discrimination. These mental health problems may become even worse if parents use this experience to teach their children to mistrust other ethnicities, according to a new study of Mexican-American families by researchers at California State University, Fullerton, Arizona State University, and the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

On the other hand, when parents who have been discriminated against are able to discuss these issues with their teens in a more positive light — such as focusing on ethnic heritage and history and not discussing mistrust or fear — it can significantly reduce harm to their teens’ mental health.

“Incidents of discrimination have implications for the family as a whole, not just the individual who experienced them,” said Guadalupe Espinoza, assistant professor of child and adolescent studies at California State University, Fullerton, who led the study.

“Such incidents continue to reverberate even a year later. Parents should be aware that the messages they convey about their own cultural group, but also about other cultural groups, will play a role in shaping their children’s reactions to those experiences.”

For the study, the researchers gave two surveys across a one-year span to 344 high school students in Los Angeles (ages 14 to 16 and mostly low-income) from primarily second-generation Mexican or Mexican-American families as well as their parents or primary caregivers (mostly mothers).

The young people were asked about their mental health issues, including whether or not they had internalized problems (anxiety, depression) externalized problems (aggression or acting out), low self-esteem, or used substances.

They also were asked about their experiences with discrimination and how often their parents talked to them about culture, race and ethnicity, discrimination, being prepared for bias, and mistrusting members of other ethnic groups.

The parents and caregivers also reported how often they find themselves experiencing discrimination (being ignored or excluded due to ethnicity, and being the target of a racial slur or racial insult).

The findings show that experiences of discrimination among parents and caregivers were related to lower feelings of self-esteem and greater internalizing problems among teens a year later, the researchers found. However, no link was found between parents’ experiences with discrimination and externalizing problems or substance use among the adolescents.

Furthermore, when parents made efforts to discuss with their teens their culture and ethnic background, and in particular made efforts to teach about ethnic heritage and history, the emotional outcomes among teens were more positive. Specifically, teens had higher levels of self-esteem and lower levels of both internalizing and externalizing problems.

On the other hand, when parents who had experienced discrimination talked to their children about culture, race, and ethnicity, but in a more fearful way, such as discussing discrimination, being prepared for bias, and mistrusting members of other ethnic groups, the teens reported lower self-esteem.

Self-esteem was lowest when parents had been discriminated against talked to their children about mistrusting other ethnic groups — for example, when parents said things to “keep [teens] from trusting kids from other ethnic groups” or to encourage them to “keep their distance from kids of other ethnicities.”

“It may be difficult for parents to shield their adolescents from threats to their self-esteem when they themselves have been recent victims of discrimination,” said co-author Nancy A. Gonzales Foundation Professor of Psychology at Arizona State University.

“Parents’ efforts to instill a positive sense of cultural identity are very important, but can be undermined or even sensitize adolescents to feel more threatened when they are aware that their parents are experiencing discrimination.”

The findings are published in the journal Child Development.

Source: Society for Research in Child Development

Perhaps “Nagging is Caring” When it Comes to Diabetes

Thu, 05/26/2016 - 7:00am

Researchers at Michigan State University (MSU) came across a strange and surprising finding regarding men and diabetes: Men in an unhappy marriage — as opposed to a happy one — had a reduced risk of developing diabetes and an increased chance of successful treatment after diagnosis.

While the reasons for this are unclear, it could be that wives are often watching and regulating their husband’s health behaviors, especially if he is in poor health or diabetic, say the researchers. And while this may be seen as nagging, the situation may ultimately improve the husband’s physical health.

For the study, lead investigator Dr. Hui Liu, an MSU associate professor of sociology and expert in population-based health and family science set out to investigate the role of marital quality in diabetes risk and management.

She and her colleagues looked at data from the National Social Life, Health and Aging Project and analyzed the survey results from 1,228 married respondents (57 to 85 years old at onset of study) taken over a five-year period. By the end of the study, 389 had developed diabetes.

Liu found two major gender differences: For men, an increase in negative marital quality actually lowered the risk of developing diabetes and increased the chances of managing the disease after its onset.

Diabetes requires frequent monitoring that the wives could be insisting that the husband carry out, potentially boosting his health but also increasing marital stress over time, according to the researchers.

“The study challenges the traditional assumption that negative marital quality is always detrimental to health,” said Liu. “It also encourages family scholars to distinguish different sources and types of marital quality. Sometimes, nagging is caring.”

For women, the findings played out more conventionally: Women in good marriages had a reduced risk of diabetes five years later.

Perhaps women are more sensitive than men to the quality of a relationship, said Liu, and thus more likely to experience a health boost from a good-quality relationship.

More than 9.3 percent of the population (29 million Americans) had diabetes in 2012. It is the seventh leading cause of death in the United States.

“Since diabetes is the fastest growing chronic condition in the United States, implementation of public policies and programs designed to promote marital quality should also reduce the risk of diabetes and promote health and longevity, especially for women at older ages,” the study says.

Source: Michigan State University


ADHD, OCD May Be More Common Among Workaholics

Thu, 05/26/2016 - 6:15am

Workaholics may be more prone to several mental disorders, including obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), depression and anxiety, according to a new study led by the University of Bergen in Norway.

In it, researchers examined the links between workaholism and psychiatric disorders among 16,426 working adults.

“Workaholics scored higher on all the psychiatric symptoms than non-workaholics,” said researcher and Clinical Psychologist Specialist Dr. Cecilie Schou Andreassen, at the Department of Psychosocial Science at the University of Bergen (UiB), and visiting scholar at the University of California, Los Angeles Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior.

Among workaholics, 32.7 percent met ADHD criteria (compared to 12.7 percent among non-workaholics); 25.6 percent OCD criteria (8.7 percent among non-workaholics); 33.8 percent met anxiety criteria (11.9 percent among non-workaholics); and 8.9 percent met depression criteria (2.6 percent among non-workaholics).

“Thus, taking work to the extreme may be a sign of deeper psychological or emotional issues. Whether this reflects overlapping genetic vulnerabilities, disorders leading to workaholism or, conversely, workaholism causing such disorders, remain uncertain,” said Schou Andreassen.

The pioneering study is co-authored by researchers from Nottingham Trent University and Yale University and published in the open-access journal PLOS One.

According to Schou Andreassen, the findings clearly highlight the importance of further studying the underlying neurobiological differences related to workaholic behavior.

“In wait for more research, physicians should not take for granted that a seemingly successful workaholic does not have ADHD-related or other clinical features. Their considerations affect both the identification and treatment of these disorders,” she said.

To identify addictive versus non-addictive behaviors, the researchers asked participants to rate themselves regarding their work motives. They rated the following phrases from one (never) to five (always):

  • You think of how you can free up more time to work.
  • You spend much more time working than initially intended.
  • You work in order to reduce feelings of guilt, anxiety, helplessness, or depression.
  • You have been told by others to cut down on work without listening to them.
  • You become stressed if you are prohibited from working.
  • You deprioritize hobbies, leisure activities, and/or exercise because of your work.
  • You work so much that it has negatively influenced your health.

Scoring four (often) or five (always) on four or more criteria identify a workaholic. Approximately 7.8 percent of the total sample were classified as workaholics, a figure similar to findings in previous research.

The researchers used the Bergen Work Addiction Scale to identify the same symptoms as traditional addictions: salience, mood modification, conflict, tolerance, withdrawal, relapse, and problems.

Source: University of Bergen

Man working late photo by shutterstock.

When Selfishness is Beneficial

Thu, 05/26/2016 - 5:30am

Can’t resist temptation? That may not be a bad thing, according to a new study.

New research from the University of Rochester suggests that what looks like selfishness may actually be beneficial behavior based on an environmental context.

They noted that the classic 1970s “marshmallow tests” that assessed impulse control in preschoolers might have gotten it wrong.

In that experiment, children were given a choice to take a single marshmallow immediately, or to wait several minutes and earn two of the treats as a reward.

Children who displayed an apparent lack of self-control — demonstrated by taking the single treat — were deemed “maladapted.” Follow-up studies identified children who are raised in poverty are far less likely to postpone such sweet temptations than their economically better-off counterparts.

“What looks like impulsiveness may actually be an adaptive strategy — kids who are brought up in homes with limited resources have learned it’s advantageous to seize the moment,” said Dr. Melissa Sturge-Apple, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Rochester and clinical researcher at Mt. Hope Family Center (MHFC).

For the new study, Sturge-Apple and her colleagues measured the vagal tone of preschoolers before they participated in reward-based experiments.

The vagus nerve streams information from the heart, lungs, stomach, and other organs to the brain. It’s associated with the moderation of moods, including fear and anxiety.

High vagal tone is a physiological indicator of what we would call “grace under fire” — the body’s ability to slow down heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration, which can allow for a thoughtful response, the researchers explained.

Previous research in reward-based studies has shown that for children from higher income households, high vagal tone is predictive of their ability to delay gratification. The higher their vagal tone, the longer these children can delay. They are able to keep calm, wait, and earn additional rewards, the researchers noted.

In the new study, however, children from lower income households who have high vagal tone did not demonstrate the same behavior as middle class children. In fact, it was just the opposite.

For children living in poverty, the higher their vagal tone, the quicker they decided to take the single treat — M&Ms candies in this case — and not wait despite the promise of more.

“From a normative model of psychology, this result makes no sense,” she said. “But when we considered what would be the most optimal behavior in a high-risk environment, then this makes complete sense — it’s survival of the quickest.”

“Context means everything,” she continued. “When all is well and prosperous, kids who are highly attuned to what is going on around them can wait, but when things are scarce and unpredictable, then the question becomes ‘why wait?’”

The study was published in Psychological Science.

Source: University of Rochester 

PHOTO: Graph shows the moderating role of socioeconomics on associations between vagal tone and children’s delay of gratification. Credit:S.Kirchoff/U.Rochester.

Yelling at Partner Linked to Heart Problems, Shutting Down to Bad Back

Wed, 05/25/2016 - 9:15am

If you tend to use an unhealthy mode of fighting with your partner — whether it’s releasing a fury of emotions or shutting down completely — you may be heading for specific health problems, according to researchers at the University of California, Berkeley and Northwestern University.

Their findings show that outbursts of anger are linked to cardiovascular issues, while shutting down emotionally is tied to a bad back or stiff muscles. These links were particularly true for men.

“Our findings reveal a new level of precision in how emotions are linked to health, and how our behaviors over time can predict the development of negative health outcomes,” said University of California, Berkeley psychologist Robert Levenson, senior author of the study.

The study is one of several led by Levenson, who researches the inner dynamics of long-term marriages. Participants are part of a group of 156 middle-aged and older heterosexual couples in the San Francisco Bay Area whose relationships Levenson and fellow researchers have tracked since 1989. The surviving spouses who participated in the study are now in their 60s, 70s, 80s, and even 90s.

The connections between emotions and health outcomes were most pronounced for husbands, but some of the key correlations were also found in wives. It did not take the researchers long to guess which spouses would develop ailments down the road based on how they reacted during disagreements.

“We looked at marital-conflict conversations that lasted just 15 minutes and could predict the development of health problems over 20 years for husbands based on the emotional behaviors that they showed during these 15 minutes,” said study lead author Claudia Haase, an assistant professor of human development and social policy at Northwestern University.

The findings could encourage emotionally explosive people to participate in interventions such as anger management, while people who withdraw during conflict might benefit from resisting the impulse to bottle up their emotions, the researchers said.

“Conflict happens in every marriage, but people deal with it in different ways. Some of us explode with anger; some of us shut down,” Haase said. “Our study shows that these different emotional behaviors can predict the development of different health problems in the long run.”

For the study, the couples were videotaped in a laboratory setting every five years. They were asked to talk about events in their lives and to discuss areas of disagreement and enjoyment.

Based on these interactions, each spouse was rated by expert behavioral coders for a wide range of emotions and behaviors based on their facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice. Furthermore, the spouses completed a battery of questionnaires that included a detailed assessment of specific health problems.

The researchers focused on health outcomes linked to anger and an emotion-suppressing behavior they refer to as “stonewalling.” They also looked at sadness and fear as predictors of these health outcomes, but did not find any significant links.

“Our findings suggest particular emotions expressed in a relationship predict vulnerability to particular health problems, and those emotions are anger and stonewalling,” Levenson said.

To identify anger, the researchers monitored the conversations for such behaviors as lips pressed together, knitted brows, voices raised, or lowered beyond their normal tone and tight jaws. To identify stonewalling behavior, researchers looked for “away” behavior, which includes facial stiffness, rigid neck muscles, and little or no eye contact.

This data was then linked to health problems, measured every five years over a 20-year span.

The spouses who appeared to be hot-headed were more likely to develop chest pain, high blood pressure, and other cardiovascular problems over time; while spouses who stonewalled by barely speaking and avoiding eye contact were more likely to develop backaches, stiff necks or joints, and general muscle tension.

“For years, we’ve known that negative emotions are associated with negative health outcomes, but this study dug deeper to find that specific emotions are linked to specific health problems,” Levenson said. “This is one of the many ways that our emotions provide a window for glimpsing important qualities of our future lives.”

The findings are published in the journal Emotion.

Source: University of California, Berkeley