Psych Central News Psychology, psychiatry and mental health news and research findings, every weekday. Mon, 03 Aug 2020 00:44:35 +0000 en-US hourly 1 111842359 How Soon Should Concussion Patients Get Back on the Road? Mon, 03 Aug 2020 12:00:03 +0000 A new study suggests that, even after all the symptoms are gone, people who have had a concussion take longer to regain complex reaction times, the kind you need in most real-life driving situations on the road.

The preliminary findings, which will be presented at the 2020 American Academy of Neurology’s Sports Concussion Virtual Conference, could have implications for how quickly experts recommend drivers get back behind the wheel after a concussion.

“People who have concussions often have slower reaction times as a result, and do more poorly on tests of thinking skills after their injury than their peers without concussions,” said Julianne D. Schmidt, Ph.D., ATC, of the University of Georgia in Athens.

“Our study suggests that complicated driving skills, the kind involving split-second reaction times that could mean the difference between life and death, are the ones that may take the longest to regain after you have a concussion, even when all of your symptoms have resolved.”

For the study, the researchers evaluated 28 college students (average age 20) with valid drivers’ licenses, 14 of whom had experienced a concussion. Ten of the 14 concussed students sustained concussions while playing sports.

All of the participants were matched by age, sex, and driving experience. They completed both a simulated driving reaction time test and a computerized neurocognitive test within 48 hours of their concussion symptoms resolving, which occurred an average of 16 days after the injury.

The driving reaction time test involved two simulated driving scenarios. The first scenario included a stoplight reaction time simulation in which the stoplight changed from green to yellow and the students had to quickly choose to brake or accelerate. The second scenario involved a child running in front of a vehicle and participants needed to brake or swerve to avoid collision.

The computerized test consisted of four measures of reaction time including simple, complex, and Stroop reaction time, which is the lag that occurs when you are asked to select a word like “blue” that is printed in a different color.

According to the results, the concussed participants demonstrated slower computerized complex reaction times compared to those who did not have concussions by an average of 0.06 seconds. When reacting to a change in stoplight color, it took those with concussions 0.24 seconds longer to react, or the equivalent of 15.6 feet in stopping distance, compared to those without concussions.

During the scenario involving a child running in front of a car, it took those with concussions 0.06 seconds longer to react, or the equivalent of 3.3 feet in stopping distance, compared to participants without concussions.

Slower reaction time is a strong predictor of crash risk, and these additional split seconds and feet needed to change the vehicle’s movement could be critical for avoiding an accident.

Interestingly, only the computerized complex and Stroop reaction times moderately related to the driving stoplight reaction time, and no other associations were seen, suggesting computerized reaction time measures are not a perfect replacement for measuring real-life driving reaction times.

“Overall, after the symptoms of the drivers with concussions resolved, their reaction times were similar to drivers who didn’t have concussions. However, when we looked specifically at stoplight reaction time, we saw lingering deficits in the drivers who had concussions,” Schmidt said.

“This could mean traditional reaction time tests aren’t the best measure of driving responsiveness and readiness. And that could have important public safety implications, considering more than three million people have sports-related concussions in the United States each year.”

Source: American Academy of Neurology


How People Look and Sound Has An Impact – Even If You Try Not to Notice Mon, 03 Aug 2020 11:00:01 +0000 Your perception of someone new is influenced by their appearance and voice, even when you’re trying not to notice.

In a new Ohio State University study, participants were shown a photo of a face along with a brief audio snippet of speech at the same time — but they were told that the photo and voice belonged to two different people. In some cases, the volunteers were asked to rate how strong an accent they thought the person in the photo would have.

The results, published online in the Journal of Sociolinguistics, show that participants evaluated the person in the photo as having a more accented voice if the words they heard also had a stronger accent — despite being told the image and sound were of two different people.

“Even though we told them to ignore the voice, they couldn’t do it completely,” said study author Dr. Kathryn Campbell-Kibler, an associate professor of linguistics at Ohio State. “Some of the information from the voice seeped into their evaluation of the face.”

The same was true when participants were asked to rate how “good-looking” the person with a particular voice was; they were influenced by the photo they viewed, even when told it was a different person from the speaker they heard.

Although participants usually could not ignore the irrelevant information, there was one intriguing exception: They feared showing a racial stereotype when it came to gauging accented voices.

The study involved 1,034 people who visited an exhibit hosted by Ohio State’s Department of Linguistics at the Center of Science and Industry, a science museum in Columbus.

Volunteers were shown photos of 15 men on a television screen. As each photo was Hashown, they heard a single-word recording repeated three times over the course of five seconds, also by one of 15 men. Depending on what group they were in, participants had to rate how accented or good-looking the face or the voice was.

Some of the speakers in the audio snippets had been rated by people in a previous study as sounding relatively unaccented. Other voices were from people who had learned English at older ages and had been rated as having more of an accent.

When participants evaluated the combined face and voice and were not told to ignore anything, they evaluated “good-looking” mostly based on the face, and “accented” on the voice — as expected.

But some individuals were told to evaluate the face while ignoring the voice, or evaluate the voice while ignoring the face, because they represented two different people.

In those cases, some evaluated the face on the “good-looking” dimension and some evaluated the face on the “accented” dimension. The same was true for evaluating the voice. In both cases, they had to ignore the other input, voice or face.

“We found that people could exercise some control over what information to favor, the voice or the face, depending on what we told them to do,” Campbell-Kibler said. “But in most cases, they were unable to entirely eliminate the irrelevant information.”

There was one exception: Participants were able to completely ignore the face when rating how accented the voice sounded.

Campbell-Kibler said the reason is most likely that the participants, most of whom were white, were being careful not to show any racial stereotyping.

“Some of the participants explicitly told us they were attempting to avoid responses that could be seen as stereotypical,” she said.

They knew that a person’s appearance has no real connection to how they sound, even though racial stereotypes often prompt people to associate strong accents with people who don’t look white.

“They sensed a danger is showing racial bias when it came to evaluating accents. That’s why they were careful to exclude what the face looked like when evaluating if the voice sounded accented,” Campbell-Kibler said.

“They didn’t have that issue when evaluating ‘good-looking,’ because that is seen as subjective enough that you can’t really be wrong,” Campbell-Kibler said.

Because this study used photographs instead of a video, the audio may have had a stronger influence on the participants than it would in real life, she said. Videos would probably have a stronger effect on people’s evaluations than these still photos.

But the main message is the same: We are influenced by all the information we have available, whether it is applicable or not.

“It is hard to ignore socially relevant information your senses perceive, even if we tell you it is not relevant to the task you have right now,” Campbell-Kibler said.

Source: Ohio State University


In US, ‘Older Old’ Seem to Show More Resilience During Pandemic Mon, 03 Aug 2020 10:00:00 +0000 According to a new survey, America’s oldest adults say they’ve been through worse, but many are feeling the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic and prolonged social distancing measures.

Study author Dr. Kerstin Emerson, a clinical associate professor of gerontology at the University of Georgia’s Institute of Gerontology, said she’s concerned that older adults could be experiencing heightened feelings of loneliness due to social distancing.

“Many of the social venues that help older adults stay engaged are effectively cut off now with social distancing. While the Internet can help with some connections, it is hard to replace human contact,” said Emerson. “And for some these remote connections aren’t possible due to no reliable Internet.”

As states began issuing shelter-in-place orders, Emerson decided to conduct a survey of older adults to see how they were coping and to possibly find some ways to help.

A total of 833 adults ages 60 and older living in the U.S. completed the survey between March 30 and April 12.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released recommendations on March 5 encouraging older adults to stay home to protect themselves from COVID-19 exposure. By the time participants took the survey, they had been social distancing for an average of 17 days.

Emerson was particularly interested in how the responses differed among two subsets of survey participants, those aged 60 to 70 and those 71 and older.

“Part of the reason I did that was because I wanted to see if there was a difference by age groups, among the ‘younger old’ and ‘older old,’ who may have different work responsibilities and living situations,” said Emerson.

Two themes emerged from survey responses, which seemed to divide along that age line. About 40% of 60- to 70-year-old respondents said they felt moderately or very stressed and felt out of control of their lives.

That could be the reason why this subgroup also reported more increases in some unhealthy behaviors, such as drinking more alcohol and eating more than usual. One-third report exercising less, although Emerson also noted that one-third of the same group reported exercising more.

Interestingly, the older subgroup, those 71 and older, seem to be handling stress better than their younger counterparts — 74% said that they were experiencing little to no stress, comparing the current situation to being no more stressful than living through wartime in the past.

“That’s where older adults have a strength,” said Emerson. “They have life experience and coping mechanisms that we don’t often give them credit for, but that’s part of their wisdom. We can really turn to older adults as examples of how to manage and live through bad periods of history.”

The survey also found that communication across all modes has increased. More older adults are calling, texting, emailing and using social media.

Compared to pre-social distancing, two-thirds of respondents are on social media, like Facebook, and using more smart devices. Over half reported using video calls once a day.

The new findings are key for public health practitioners, said Emerson, who are trying to develop interventions to support the emotional and physical well-being of older adults remotely.

Emerson acknowledges that the survey respondents represent individuals who have access to the internet and a personal computer or smart device, “so we’re probably not reaching the most vulnerable populations, people who are socially isolated in rural areas or who are incredibly poor.”

There is always more to learn, said Emerson. “The survey ends up raising more questions than giving answers in some cases, but that’s the nature of it.”

Source: University of Georgia



Obesity In Women Linked to Fewer Social Ties Mon, 03 Aug 2020 00:01:31 +0000 Women who lack social ties have a greater likelihood of being obese, according to new research.

Men, on the other hand, were less likely to be obese if they lived alone and had a smaller social network, according to researchers at the University of British Columbia in Canada.

Using data from the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging, the researchers analyzed the social ties of 28,238 adults between the ages of 45 and 85 and how these link to waist circumference, body mass index, and general obesity.

They found that women who were single, widowed, divorced, or separated had higher odds of abdominal and general obesity. There were even higher odds if the women had limited social participation. The researchers discovered that women who were not married, lived alone, and had no monthly social activities had the highest average waist size.

In comparison, among men, the average waist size was greatest among those who were widowed, co-living, and had a large social network, the study found.

For example, men whose social network had more than 219 contacts were more likely to be obese than those with smaller networks.

“There is a lot of literature suggesting that marriage is health-promoting for men and potentially less so for women, so our results about marital status were kind of surprising,” said principal investigator Dr. Annalijn Conklin, an assistant professor in the faculty of pharmaceutical sciences at UBC and a researcher with the Centre for Health Evaluation and Outcome Sciences.

“The different types of social ties that we looked at had a more consistent relationship with obesity for women. Those patterns in men were less obvious and seemed to sometimes even be reversed to what we saw in women.”

The study did not investigate why these gender differences exist. However, Conklin suggested the findings may be partly due to differing gender roles and different social expectations around those roles.

“You would think that having small social networks would be a kind of social stress and that would have consequences for obesity, but we found that it was potentially protective for men,” Conklin said. “It could be that managing very large networks becomes a source of stress for men, as research has shown that men often assign to their wives the emotional labor of keeping track of birthdays, special events, and organizing family or social gatherings.”

More research is needed to understand the factors at work, added lead author Dr. Zeinab Hosseini, who did the work as a postdoctoral research fellow at UBC’s Collaboration for Outcomes Research and Evaluation.

“Not only did we find that minimal social participation was associated with obesity in older women, but also that social participation altered the levels of obesity in widowed women,” said Hosseini. “These findings call for studies that will follow the participants over time to understand the possible causal links between different social connections and the health of older women and men.”

The study results suggest that health care providers may want to begin including social activities alongside healthy diet and exercise when treating single, divorced, or widowed older women, added the researchers.

“Clinicians could be encouraging older women patients who are non-partnered, especially widowed women, to participate in social community interventions as a way to address obesity. This would require clear implementation strategies, and a focus on social connection interventions by health care researchers and decision-makers,” said Hosseini.

The study was published in PLOS One.

Source: University of British Columbia

Men and Women Tend to Have Different Views on Infidelity Sun, 02 Aug 2020 11:00:47 +0000 A new study discovers men and women look at infidelity differently. The distinction is instructive as infidelity has been found to be one of the most common reasons for relationship dissolution worldwide. However, despite the different views most people, regardless of gender, believe they would be hard-pressed to forgive an unfaithful partner.

In the research, Norwegian investigators discovered men usually regard physical infidelity — when the partner has sex with another person — more seriously than women do.

Women regard emotional infidelity — when the partner initiates a close relationship with another person — as more serious.

Despite experiencing the different types of infidelity differently, men and women are about equally willing to forgive their partner. And the new findings show that the degree of forgiveness is not related to the type of infidelity.

“We’re surprised that the differences between the sexes weren’t greater. The mechanisms underlying forgiveness are more or less identical between genders,” said Professor Leif Edward Ottesen Kennair at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s (NTNU) Department of Psychology.

Ottesen Kennair has co-authored the new article in the Journal of Relationships Research. The article addresses infidelity and the mechanisms behind forgiveness.

A research group at NTNU recruited 92 couples for the study. These couples independently completed a questionnaire related to issues described in hypothetical scenarios where the partner had been unfaithful in various ways.

One scenario describes the partner having sex with another person, but not falling in love.

In the other scenario, the partner falls in love with another person, but does not have sex.

So how willing are people to forgive their partner? Interestingly, researchers discovered that men and women both process their partner’s infidelity almost identically.

Most people, regardless of gender and the type of infidelity, think it unlikely that they would forgive their partner’s infidelity.

“Whether or not the couple breaks up depends primarily on how threatening to the relationship they perceive the infidelity to be,” said first author Dr. Trond Viggo Grøntvedt, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Psychology.

The more threatening the infidelity feels, the worse it is for the relationship.

Whether partners believe the relationship can continue also depends on how willing they are to forgive each other, especially in terms of avoiding distancing themselves from their partner.

Of course, great individual differences exist, even within each gender. People react differently to infidelity, according to their personality and the circumstances.

“A lot of people might think that couples who have a strong relationship would be better able to tolerate infidelity, but that wasn’t indicated in our study,” said Professor Mons Bendixen at NTNU’s Department of Psychology.

Another aspect plays a role in cases of emotional infidelity, where no sex has taken place. To what extent can the unfaithful partner be blamed for what happened?

If you willingly have sex with another person, it pretty much doesn’t matter whether you feel it’s your fault.

“The degree of blame attributed to the partner was linked to the willingness to forgive,” says Bendixen.

The relationship is at greater risk if the partner is required to bear a big part of the responsibility for ending up in an intimate relationship with someone else.

“The blame factor doesn’t come into play when the partner is physically unfaithful,” Grøntvedt says.

If you voluntarily have sex with someone other than your partner, it’s more or less irrelevant whether you think it was mostly your fault or not. Possible forgiveness does not depend on accepting blame.

Source: Norwegian University of Science and Technology

Alzheimer’s Risk Factors May Emerge in Young Adulthood Sat, 01 Aug 2020 12:45:31 +0000 Risk factors for Alzheimer’s dementia may emerge as early as the teen and young adult years, particularly in African Americans, according to new research reported at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC) 2020.

These risk factors include heart health factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes, as well as social factors like education quality. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, older African Americans are about twice as likely to have Alzheimer’s or other dementias compared to whites.

“By identifying, verifying, and acting to counter those Alzheimer’s risk factors that we can change, we may reduce new cases and eventually the total number of people with Alzheimer’s and other dementia,” said Maria C. Carrillo, Ph.D., Alzheimer’s Association chief science officer. “Research like this is important in addressing health inequities and providing resources that could make a positive impact on a person’s life.”

“These new reports from AAIC 2020 show that it’s never too early, or too late, to take action to protect your memory and thinking abilities,” Carrillo said.

The Alzheimer’s Association is leading the U.S. Study to Protect Brain Health Through Lifestyle Intervention to Reduce Risk (U.S. POINTER), a two-year clinical trial to determine whether lifestyle interventions that simultaneously target many risk factors protect cognitive function in older adults who are at increased risk for cognitive decline.

In a population of more than 714 African Americans in the Study of Healthy Aging in African Americans (STAR), Kristen George, Ph.D., MPH, of the University of California, Davis, and colleagues found that high blood pressure and diabetes, or a combination of multiple heart health-related factors, are common in adolescence and are linked to poorer late-life cognition.

The study involved 165 adolescents (ages 12-20), 439 young adults (ages 21-34) and 110 adults (ages 35-56). Mean age at cognitive assessment was 68.

The researchers measured participants’ cognition with tests of memory and executive function. The results show that having diabetes, high blood pressure, or two or more heart health risk factors in adolescence, young adulthood, or mid-life was associated with statistically significantly worse late-life cognition. These differences persisted after accounting for age, gender, years since risk factors were measured, and education.

Before this study, it was still unclear whether cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk factors developed prior to mid-life were associated with late-life cognition. This would have significant implications for African Americans who are known to have higher CVD risk factors compared to other racial/ethnic groups from adolescence through adulthood.

The findings suggest that CVD risk factors as early as adolescence influence late-life brain health in African Americans. Efforts to promote heart and brain healthy lifestyles must not only include middle-aged adults, but also younger adults and adolescents who may be particularly susceptible to the negative impact of poor vascular health on the brain.

In what the authors say is the first study to report on the issue, higher early adulthood (age 20-49) body mass index (BMI) was associated with higher late-life dementia risk.

Relatively little is known about the role of early life BMI on the risk of Alzheimer’s and other dementias. The researchers looked at a total of 5,104 older adults from two studies, including 2,909 from the Cardiovascular Health Study (CHS) and 2,195 from the Health, Aging and Body Composition study (Health ABC).

Of the total sample, 18% were Black and 56% were women. For women, dementia risk increased with higher early adulthood BMI. Compared to women with normal BMI in early adulthood, dementia risk was 1.8 times higher among those who were overweight, and 2.5 times higher among those who were obese. Analyses were adjusted for midlife and late life BMI.

The researchers found no association between midlife BMI and dementia risk among women.

For men, dementia risk was 2.5 times higher among those who were obese in early adulthood, 1.5 times higher among those who were overweight in mid-life and 2.0 times higher among those who were obese in mid-life, in models also adjusted for late life BMI. For both women and men, dementia risk decreased with higher late life BMI.

Source: Alzheimer’s Association


Botox Injections May Ease Depression Sat, 01 Aug 2020 11:00:38 +0000 A new study has found that Botox may be a treatment for depression.

Derived from a bacterial toxin, Botox is commonly injected to ease wrinkles, migraines, muscle spasms, excessive sweating and incontinence.

In the new study, researchers at the Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of California San Diego discovered that people who received Botox injections reported depression significantly less often than patients undergoing different treatments for the same conditions.

The World Health Organization estimates that more than 264 million people worldwide experience depression. Depression is frequently treated with psychotherapy, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, dopamine-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors and/or serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors. But these approaches are ineffective for nearly one-third of patients.

That’s why clinicians and researchers are exploring other therapeutic options, including electroconvulsive therapy, transcranial magnetic stimulation, ketamine infusions and, more recently, Botox forehead injections.

“For years, clinicians have observed that Botox injected for cosmetic reasons seems to ease depression for their patients,” said Ruben Abagyan, Ph.D., a professor of pharmacy. “It’s been thought that easing severe frown lines in forehead region disrupts a feedback loop that reinforces negative emotions. But we’ve found here that the mechanism may be more complex, because it doesn’t really matter where the Botox is injected.”

Abagyan led the study with Tigran Makunts, Pharm.D., who was a pharmacy student at the time and is now a research fellow at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and Marc Axel Wollmer, M.D., a psychiatrist and researcher in Germany who has led past clinical studies in which Botox was found to alleviate depression.

The researchers examined the FDA’s Adverse Effect Reporting System (FAERS) database to see what nearly 40,000 people reported happened to them after receiving treatment with Botox for a variety of reasons.

The database contains more than 13 million voluntary reports of adverse effects people experienced while taking a medication.

Abagyan and his research team discovered they can also use the database to look for the absence of a health complaint when a person takes a medication. In this case, they searched for the absence of depression.

The team focused on nearly 40,000 FAERS reports of people experiencing adverse events after a Botox treatment. The reports cover Botox treatment for eight different reasons and injection sites, including forehead, neck, limbs, and bladder. Then the researchers applied a mathematical algorithm to look for statistically significant differences between Botox users and patients who received different treatments for the same conditions.

They discovered that depression was reported 40 to 88 percent less often by Botox-treated patients for six of the eight conditions and injection sites.

“This finding is exciting because it supports a new treatment to affect mood and fight depression, one of the common and dangerous mental illnesses — and it’s based on a very large body of statistical data, rather than limited-scale observations,” Makunts said.

The researchers note that the data used in the study was not collected for the purpose of exploring the association between Botox use and depression exclusively. In addition, the data represents only a subset of Botox users who experienced negative side effects.

While the researchers excluded reports in which a person was also taking antidepressants, the use of other prescription and over-the-counter medications could have been underreported in some cases, they added.

A clinical trial is now testing Botox treatment for people with depression through injections in the forehead, a gold standard approach for gathering insights on the relationship between a medication and a health condition, according to Abagyan.

Since that trial is only testing forehead injection of Botox, Abagyan said additional clinical trials may be necessary to work out the best site and dose to administer the medication specifically for the treatment of depression.

He added that more research is needed to determine the mechanism by which Botox acts as an antidepressant.

He and his collaborators hypothesize a few possibilities worth investigating: Botox could be transported to the regions of the central nervous systems involved in mood and emotions. Or, since Botox is commonly used to treat chronic conditions that may contribute to depression, its success in relieving the underlying problem may indirectly also relieve depression.

The study was published in Scientific Reports.

Source: University of California San Diego

3 Studies Suggest Pandemic May Have Led to More Depression, Fear in U.S. Sat, 01 Aug 2020 10:00:58 +0000 During the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, American adults experienced higher rates of depression, anxiety, suicidal tendencies and psychological trauma, according to three new studies published by University of Arkansas sociologists.

Using an Internet survey distributed in the last week of March that reached 10,368 adults from across the country, the research team sought to better understand the sociological and psychological effects of the pandemic. The common denominator in their findings is fear, said Dr. Kevin Fitzpatrick, professor of sociology and first author of the studies.

“Fear is a pretty consistent predictor,” Fitzpatrick said. “What we found is that fear, coupled with a range of social vulnerabilities, consistently and significantly predict a range of mental health outcomes. Additionally, as originally hypothesized, it appears as though individual fear is higher in those places where there is a higher concentration of confirmed COVID-19 cases and/or a higher death rate.”

In a study focusing on symptoms of depression, published in the journal Anxiety and Depression, Fitzpatrick and colleagues Drs. Casey Harris, associate professor of sociology, and Grant Drawve, assistant professor of sociology, found that on average, participants scored one point higher than the cutoff for clinical significance on a commonly used depression scale.

Nearly a third of respondents were significantly above that level, they found. They also found elevated depressive symptoms among socially vulnerable groups including women, Hispanics, the unemployed and people who report moderate to high levels of food insecurity.

In another study that focused on suicidal thoughts, behaviors and actions published in the journal Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, the researchers found that 15 percent of all respondents were categorized as high risk for suicide.

Blacks, Native Americans, Hispanics, families with children, unmarried and younger respondents scored higher on a symptom assessment of suicide risk than their counterparts, and compounding factors such as food insecurity and physical health symptoms increased the risk among respondents.

In the third study, published in the journal Psychological Trauma, the researchers looked at fear and mental health consequences of the pandemic. When researchers asked respondents how fearful they were of COVID-19 on a scale of one-to-10, the average answer was seven.

But fear of the disease and its consequences is not evenly distributed throughout the country, they found; it was highest in areas with a greater concentration of COVID-19 cases and among the most socially vulnerable groups.

“In short, fear of the virus, and subsequent mental health problems that follow, remain entangled with the types of policies and measures used to combat the virus, both now and as recovery continues to unfold and the United States begins to slowly move forward,” the researchers wrote.

All three studies are part of an initial, early push to understand the sociological impact of COVID-19, said Fitzpatrick. While the situation has changed substantially since March when this National Science Foundation-funded survey was administered, the research points to a need to better understand the consequences of the pandemic so we’ll be better prepared in the future.

“Now is the time to learn the lessons about this pandemic,” said Fitzpatrick. “This needs to be a teaching moment for us all.

“It or something like it will come along again, and we need to be better prepared for it, making sure that science is front and center, and not politics, with a careful eye on who are the most vulnerable and how can we do a better job of protecting them.”

Source: University of Arkansas



Role of REM Versus Non-REM Sleep on Learning Fri, 31 Jul 2020 11:30:12 +0000 New research evaluates which sleep stage is most important for learning: REM or non-REM. In the new study investigators looked at two mechanisms. Does sleep improve learning by enhancing skills while people snooze, or does the sleep benefit arise from reinforcing those skills in the brain so that they’re less likely to forget them?

The answer, according to the Brown University study on visual learning, is “all of the above.”

“Sleep is good for many processes in the body and mind, but the controversy was how sleep is good,” said corresponding author Yuka Sasaki, a professor of cognitive, linguistic and psychological sciences (research) at Brown.

“Do non-REM sleep and REM sleep make different contributions, or does the sleep stage not matter? We think we have one answer, because we clearly show the difference in the roles of non-REM sleep and REM sleep in visual perceptual learning.”

In the study, young adults were trained to identify a letter and the orientation of a set of lines on a textured background in two different tasks: one before sleep and one after sleep. Between the two tasks, the researchers analyzed the participants’ brain waves while they were sleeping. They also simultaneously measured the concentrations of two different chemicals in their brains: an excitatory neurotransmitter called glutamate and an inhibitory neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric acid.

Separately, the researchers performed the same analyses on people who did not participate in the visual learning tasks.

By measuring the ratio of these two chemicals in the brain — called the excitation/inhibition (E/I) balance — scientists can gather clues about the state of a particular brain area.

Sometimes, such as when a brain area has a high E/I balance, neurons are actively forming new connections, which means that the brain area has a high degree of plasticity.

Conversely, when a brain area has low E/I balance, it is said to be in a state of stabilization. During stabilization, less important neural connections are pruned away, thereby increasing the efficiency and resiliency of the connections that remain. Both plasticity and stabilization are integral to the learning process: Plasticity typically translates to performance gains, and stabilization prevents new learning from being overwritten or interfered with by future learning.

This new study, which appears in Nature Neuroscience, found that plasticity and stabilization occur during different stages of sleep.

During non-REM (NREM) sleep, the visual areas of participants’ brains exhibited an E/I balance suggestive of increased plasticity. The pattern was found even among participants who did not partake in the visual learning tasks, which means that it occurs even in the absence of learning.

However, the REM stage appears to be necessary for people to reap the benefits of the increased plasticity they exhibit during NREM sleep. During REM sleep, the chemical concentrations in participants’ brains indicated that their visual areas underwent stabilization.

Investigators discovered this process occurred only in the participants who partook in the visual learning tasks, which suggests that, in contrast to plasticity, stabilization during sleep occurs only in the presence of learning.

Participants who only underwent NREM sleep did not exhibit any performance gains, likely because the new, post-sleep task interfered with their learning of the pre-sleep task. Conversely, those who underwent both NREM and REM sleep exhibited significant performance gains for both the pre-sleep and post-sleep task.

“I hope this helps people realize that both non-REM sleep and REM sleep are important for learning,” Sasaki said. “When people sleep at night, there are many sleep cycles. REM sleep appears at least three, four, five times, and especially in the later part of the night. We want to have lots of REM sleep to help us remember more robustly, so we shouldn’t shorten our sleep.”

Going forward, Sasaki and her colleagues would like to see if their findings can be generalized to other types of learning. They would also like to combine this research with their past research on visual perceptual learning and reward.

“Previously, we showed that reward enhances visual learning through sleep, so we’d like to understand how that works,” she said. “It’s ambitious, but maybe we could expand this research to other types of learning so we could remember better and develop better motor learning, better visual skills and better creativity.”

Source: Brown University

Lower Risk of Dementia when Older Adult Retains Sensory Capabilities Fri, 31 Jul 2020 11:00:14 +0000 New research suggests that if a senior retains their senses of hearing, vision and touch, then they may have half the risk of developing dementia as their peers with marked sensory decline. The sense of smell is often used as an indicator of overall sensory capabilities with the ability to smell roses, turpentine, paint-thinner and lemons typically a good sign.

University of California San Francisco researchers tracked close to 1,800 participants in their seventies for a period of up to 10 years to see if their sensory functioning correlated with the development of dementia. At the time of enrollment, all participants were dementia-free, but 328 participants (18%) developed the condition over the course of the study.

Among those whose sensory levels ranked in the middle range, 141 of the 328 (19%) developed dementia. This compares with 83 in the good range (12%) and 104 (27%) in the poor range, according to the study.

Previous research has centered on the link between dementia and individual senses, but the UCSF researchers’ focus was on the additive effects of multiple impairments in sensory function, which emerging evidence shows are a stronger indicator of declining cognition.

The current study appears in Alzheimer’s and Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association.

“Sensory impairments could be due to underlying neurodegeneration or the same disease processes as those affecting cognition, such as stroke,” said first author Willa Brenowitz, PhD, of the UCSF Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences.

“Alternatively, sensory impairments, particularly hearing and vision, may accelerate cognitive decline, either directly impacting cognition or indirectly by increasing social isolation, poor mobility and adverse mental health.”

While multiple impairments were key to the researchers work, the authors acknowledged that a keen sense of smell, or olfaction, has a stronger association against dementia than touch, hearing or vision. Participants whose smell declined by 10% had a 19% higher chance of dementia, versus a 1% to 3% increased risk for corresponding declines in vision, hearing and touch.

“The olfactory bulb, which is critical for smell, is affected fairly early on in the course of the disease,” said Brenowitz. “It’s thought that smell may be a preclinical indicator of dementia, while hearing and vision may have more of a role in promoting dementia.”

The 1,794 participants were recruited from a random sample of Medicare-eligible adults in the Health, Aging and Body Composition study. Cognitive testing was done at the beginning of the study and repeated every other year. Dementia was defined by testing that showed a significant drop from baseline scores, documented use of a dementia medication or hospitalization for dementia as a primary or secondary diagnosis.

Multisensory testing was done in the third-to-fifth year and included hearing (hearing aids were not allowed), contrast-sensitivity tests for vision (glasses were permitted), touch testing in which vibrations were measured in the big toe, and smell, involving identifying distinctive odors like paint-thinner, roses, lemons, onions and turpentine.

The researchers found that participants who remained dementia-free generally had higher cognition at enrollment and tended to have no sensory impairments. Those in the middle range tended to have multiple mild impairments or a single moderate-to-severe impairment. Participants at higher risk had multiple moderate-to-severe impairments.

“We found that with deteriorating multisensory functioning, the risk of cognitive decline increased in a dose-response manner,” said senior author Kristine Yaffe, MD, of the UCSF departments of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Epidemiology and Biostatistics, and Neurology.

“Even mild or moderate sensory impairments across multiple domains were associated with an increased risk of dementia, indicating that people with poor multisensory function are a high-risk population that could be targeted prior to dementia onset for intervention.”

The 780 participants with good multisensory function were more likely to be healthier than the 499 participants with poor multisensory function, suggesting that some lifestyle habits may play a role in reducing risks for dementia. The former group was more likely to have completed high school (85% versus 72.1%), had less diabetes (16.9% versus 27.9%) and were marginally less likely to have cardiovascular disease, high-blood pressure and stroke.

Source: University of California San Francisco

Trading Social Media for In-Person Interaction May Reduce Depressive Symptoms in LGBT Youth Fri, 31 Jul 2020 10:30:08 +0000 A new study suggests that, over time, frequent social media use can impact depressive symptoms in LGBTQ youth.

When LGBTQ teens in the study attended a social media-free summer camp, they experienced a reduction in depressive symptoms. The findings, published in the Journal of Gay & Lesbian Mental Health, highlight the positive influence of taking a “social media break” within a supportive environment on mental health, especially for LGBTQ youth.

The study also reveals the value of face-to-face interactions and how many youth may be unaware of the mental health benefits they could experience by exchanging social media time for positive face-to-face interactions.

According to author Traci Gillig, an assistant professor in the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University, social media use can potentially foster a positive sense of self and a perception of being valued in a society or community — or it may do the opposite, which can affect teens’ psychological well-being.

Young people who struggle with more negative emotional or psychological symptoms are at higher risk than their peers of developing problematic online use patterns in an attempt to ease mental distress, which can lead to problematic usage patterns for some.

Previous research has found that nearly half of youth (42%) report that social media has taken away from in-person, face-to-face time with friends in today’s digital age. Many young people also report feelings of social exclusion, which is popularly referred to today as the term FOMO (i.e., “fear of missing out”).

In the new study, LGBTQ youth ages 12-18 were surveyed before and after attending a social media-free summer leadership camp for LGBTQ youth. Survey questions looked at the link between youth’s social media use prior to camp and changes in their depressive symptoms during the program.

While looking at the role of social media use in changes in depressive symptoms over time, the researchers came upon significant findings. Before attending the camp, the average number of hours the teens spent using social media each day was about four hours and depressive symptoms among participants was moderate. By the end of the social media-free camp, depressive symptoms had been reduced by about half.

Young people with the highest levels of pre-camp social media use tended to experience a more “across the board” reduction in depressive symptoms. Gillig believes this can be attributed to the social, affirming camp setting that may have filled a critical need of social interaction for the high-volume social media users.

The study results demonstrate the value of face-to-face interactions and how many youth may be unaware of the psychological benefits they could experience by trading social media time for face-to-face interactions in supportive contexts.

In addition, face-to-face interactions can be even more beneficial for marginalized groups, including LGBTQ teens, who may not have access to supportive contacts within their local community. Affirming programming that brings together LGBTQ youth for in-person relationship development, such as camps for LGBTQ individuals, shows promise to improve youth mental health trajectories.

Gillig hopes that other studies continue to look for associations between social media use and psychological distress, especially its impact on LGBTQ youth mental health over time. Further research is needed to help practitioners make informed recommendations to distressed LGBTQ youth and their parents as to whether the youth may benefit from simply unplugging from social media or from unplugging in the context of LGBTQ-affirming programming.

Source: Edward R. Murrow College of Communication 

Texting May Work As Add-On to Therapy for Severe Mental Illness Thu, 30 Jul 2020 13:15:11 +0000 A new randomized clinical trial has discovered a text-messaging-based intervention can be an effective method to augment therapy services for individuals with severe mental illness. The finding is meaningful as it is estimated that almost 20 percent of the United States population have a diagnosable mental illness.

Dartmouth University researchers said the emerging technology is important as clinic-based services for mental health may fall short of meeting patient needs; face-to-face therapy may be inadequate for many reasons including limited hours, difficulty accessing care, and cost.

The new investigation is the first to use a randomized research design to investigate the impact of a texting intervention as an add-on to a mental health treatment program versus one without texting.  The study appears in Psychiatric Services.

Investigators found that 91 percent of participants found the text-messaging acceptable, 94 percent indicated that it made them feel better and 87 percent said they would recommend it to a friend.

“This study is very exciting because we saw real improvement in those who utilized the text messaging-based intervention on top of normal care. This was true for individuals with some of the most serious forms of mental illness,” said co-author Dr. William J. Hudenko, a research assistant professor in the department of psychological and brain sciences at Dartmouth.

“The results are promising, and we anticipate that people with less severe psychopathology may even do better with this type of mobile intervention.”

With the COVID-19 pandemic, many people’s schedules have been upended, which may prevent individuals with mental illness from having routine access to a therapist, such as parents who have children at home.

“Texting can help bridge this gap, by providing a means for mental health services to be continuously delivered. A text-messaging psychotherapy is an excellent match for the current environment, as it provides asynchronous contact with a mental health therapist while increasing the amount of contact that an individual can have,” explained Hudenko.

For the study, the research team examined the impact of text-messaging as an add-on to an assertive community treatment program versus the latter alone. An assertive community treatment program for those with serious mental illness involves a team-based approach to help an individual with life skills, such as finding a job and housing, managing medications, as well as providing daily, in-person clinic-based services.

People with serious mental illness often experience symptoms each day for which they may need additional therapy. The study was a three-month pilot including 49 participants: 62 percent had schizophrenia/schizoaffective disorder, 24 percent had bipolar disorder and 14 percent had depression. Assessments were conducted at baseline, post-trial (three months later) and during a follow-up six months later.

Licensed mental health clinicians served as the mobile interventionists. They received a standard training program on how to engage effectively and in a personal way with participants. The mobile interventionists were monitored on a weekly basis to ensure that they were adhering to the treatment protocol. Throughout the trial, over 12,000 messages were sent, and every message was encoded, monitored and discussed with a clinician.

The results demonstrated that 95 percent initiated the intervention and texted 69 percent of possible days with an average of four texts per day. On average, participants sent roughly 165 or more text messages and received 158 or more messages. The intervention was found to be safe, as there were zero adverse events reported.

Today, there are more than 575,000 mental health therapists in the U.S. By 2025, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that the country will be over 250,000 therapists short. ” A messaging-based intervention is an incredibly scalable, cost-effective way to help manage the enormous shortage of mental health capability in the U.S.,” added Hudenko.

The researchers are planning to study the impact of a messaging intervention in mental health on a much larger scale.

Source: Dartmouth University

CBT Helps Kids Concerned About Food Allergies Thu, 30 Jul 2020 12:30:23 +0000 For some children with food allergies, the fear of what could happen if they eat something they are allergic to can ruin their day and impact overall life happiness.

Researchers from Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) gave as an example a young girl with a peanut allergy who is so stricken by fear of anaphylaxis that she no longer takes part in everyday activities many children take for granted. She’s stopped playing with her siblings, worried that residue from their peanut butter crackers may trigger an allergic reaction.

Moreover, she obsessively washes her hands to make sure there is no trace of peanut on them. She worries that every stomachache could mean she accidently ate something she was allergic to.

Investigators believe this story is becoming more familiar to families across the country. While most children with food allergies maintain a healthy level of caution, there is a small percentage whose anxiety is excessive and impairing.

Excessive anxiety can cause an individual to go to medically unnecessary lengths to avoid the allergen, such as no longer visiting extended family or refusing to eat any allergen-free food that isn’t familiar.

While these coping mechanisms may relieve anxiety in the short term, they may ultimately cause more harm by negatively reinforcing the idea that the world is a dangerous place and that children are helpless to keep themselves safe.

Now, clinicians at CHOP have launched the Food Allergy Bravery (FAB) Clinic to help children with a phobia of anaphylaxis. This revolutionary clinic, housed within the Food Allergy Center, is the first in the world to bring together psychologists and food allergy experts to treat food allergic children with severe phobia of anaphylaxis.

The three Founders of the FAB Clinic published a set of best practices in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, providing guidance to allergists and pediatricians on how to address allergy-related phobias through cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

“CBT works by gradually encouraging anxious children to take part in ‘brave practices,’ like eating with the rest of their family, playing with siblings, and trying new foods that don’t contain allergens,” said Katherine Dahlsgaard, Ph.D., A.B.P.P., director of the FAB Clinic at CHOP.

“As a child’s confidence grows, we gradually introduce them to more challenging brave practices. This could include sitting in the same room with the food they’re allergic to, or even touching the food and then washing their hands thoroughly. The aim is to help children realize, through safe, structured practices in the FAB Clinic, that the world is much safer than they think and that they are capable of keeping themselves safe within it.”

The FAB clinic enthusiastically employs the help of family members, coaching parents or caregivers to repeat brave practices at home.

“We want these children and their families to know they’re safe and capable,” said Dahlsgaard.

“Our ultimate goal is to equip families with practical skills and confidence via focused treatment sessions, so that their child can safely navigate a world that can’t always be allergen-free.”

Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia was founded in 1855 as the nation’s first pediatric hospital.

Source: Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia/EurekAlert

Gum Disease May Be Linked to Later Dementia Thu, 30 Jul 2020 11:37:44 +0000 Severe gum disease may be linked to mild cognitive impairment and dementia two decades later, according to a new study published in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

“We looked at people’s dental health over a 20-year period and found that people with the most severe gum disease at the start of our study had about twice the risk for mild cognitive impairment or dementia by the end,” said study author Ryan T. Demmer, Ph.D., M.P.H., of the University of Minnesota School of Public Health in Minneapolis.

“However, the good news was that people with minimal tooth loss and mild gum disease were no more likely to develop thinking problems or dementia than people with no dental problems.”

The research involved 8,275 people with an average age of 63 who did not have dementia at the beginning of the study. The subjects were evaluated for mild cognitive impairment and dementia. Participants received a full periodontal exam that included measuring gum probing depth, amount of bleeding and recession.

Next, participants were grouped based on the severity and extent of their gum disease and number of lost teeth, with implants counting as lost teeth. At the start of the study, 22% had no gum disease, 12% had mild gum disease, 12% had severe gum inflammation, 8% had some tooth loss, 12% had disease in their molars, 11% had severe tooth loss, 6% had severe gum disease, and 20% had no teeth at all.

A total of 4,559 participants were evaluated at the end of the study, when they had been tracked for an average of 18 years.

Overall, 1,569 people, or 19%, developed dementia during the study. This was the equivalent of 11.8 cases per every 1,000 person-years. Among the people with healthy gums and all their teeth at the start of the study, 264 out of 1,826, or 14%, developed dementia by the end of the study. For those with mild gum disease, 623 out of 3,470, or 18%, developed dementia. For participants with severe gum disease, 306 out of 1,368, or 22%, developed dementia. And 376 out of 1,611, or 23%, developed dementia in the group that had no teeth. This was equal to a rate of 16.9 cases per 1,000 person-years.

When looking at both mild cognitive impairment and dementia, the group with no teeth had about twice the risk compared to subjects with healthy gums and all their teeth. Those with intermediate or severe gum disease, but who still had some teeth, had a 20% greater risk of developing mild cognitive impairment or dementia compared to the healthy group. These risks were after researchers accounted for other factors that could affect dementia risk, such as diabetes, high cholesterol and smoking.

“Good dental hygiene is a proven way to keep healthy teeth and gums throughout your lifetime. Our study does not prove that an unhealthy mouth causes dementia and only shows an association. Further study is needed to demonstrate the link between microbes in your mouth and dementia, and to understand if treatment for gum disease can prevent dementia,” Demmer said.

One limitation of the study was that initial gum exams were conducted when the participants were an average age of 63, and it is possible that cognitive decline might have been begun before the start of gum disease and tooth loss.

Source: American Academy of Neurology


Teen’s Attraction to Sad Faces May Portend Depression Wed, 29 Jul 2020 12:30:14 +0000 Emerging research suggests teenagers who tend to pay more attention to sad faces are more likely to develop depression, especially when stress management skills are less than optimal. Investigators from Binghamton University, State University of New York, developed the study to examine whether attentional biases to emotional stimuli, assessed via eye tracking, serve as a marker of risk for depression for teenagers.

The research was led by graduate student Cope Feurer and professor of psychology Dr. Brandon Gibb in an attempt to discern if being attracted to sad faces could elevate stress in some teens and be a predictor of teen depression.

“Although previous studies from the lab have examined who is most likely to show biased attention to sad faces and whether attention to sad faces is associated with risk for depression, the current study is the first to look at whether these attention biases impact how teenagers respond to stress, both in the lab and in the real world,” said Feurer. Biased attention to sad faces is associated with depression in adults and is hypothesized to increase depression risk specifically in the presence, but not absence, of stress by modulating stress reactivity.

However, few studies have tested this hypothesis, and no studies have examined the relation between attentional biases and stress reactivity during adolescence. This absence of information is present despite evidence that the adolescent developmental window is marked by significant increases in stress and depression risk.

The new study addresses these limitations by examining the impact of adolescents’ sustained attention to facial displays of emotion on individual differences in both mood reactivity to real-world stress, and physiological reactivity to a laboratory-based stressor. Consistent with vulnerability-stress models of attention, greater sustained attention to sad faces was associated with greater depressive reactions to real-world stress.

“If a teenager has a tendency to pay more attention to negative stimuli, then when they experience something stressful they are likely to have a less adaptive response to this stress and show greater increases in depressive symptoms,” said Feurer.

“For example, if two teenagers both have a fight with a friend and one teenager spends more time paying attention to negative stimuli (i.e., sad faces) than the other, then that teenager may show greater increases in depressive symptoms in response to the stressor, potentially because they are paying more attention to the stressor and how the stressor makes them feel.”

The researchers believe that the biological mechanism behind this finding lies in the brain’s ability to control emotional reactivity.

“Basically, if the brain has difficulty controlling how strongly a teenager responds to emotions, this makes it harder for them to look away from negative stimuli and their attention gets ‘stuck,'” said Feurer.

“So, when teenagers who tend to pay more attention to sad faces experience stress, they may respond more strongly to this stress, as they have difficulty disengaging their attention from negative emotions, leaving these teens at increased risk for depression.”

“This is also why we believe that findings were stronger for older than younger adolescents. Specifically, the brain becomes more effective at controlling emotional reactivity as teens get older, so it may be that being able to look away from negative stimuli doesn’t protect against the impact of stress until later adolescence.”

There is increasing research showing that the way teenagers pay attention to emotional information can be modified through intervention, and that changing attention biases can reduce risk for depression. The current study highlights attention toward sad faces as a potential target for intervention, particularly among older teenagers, said Feurer.

The researchers recently submitted a grant that would let them look at how these attention biases change across childhood and adolescence.

“This will help us better understand how this risk factor develops and how it increases risk for depression in youth,” said Gibb. “Hopefully, this will help us to develop interventions to identify risk for these types of biases so that they can be mitigated before they lead to depression.”

The paper appears in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology.

Source: Binghamton University