RD, MD – Brain Blogger http://brainblogger.com Health and Science Blog Covering Brain Topics Wed, 30 May 2018 15:00:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.6 Are Boys Really More Hard-Wired for Math than Girls? http://brainblogger.com/2008/11/23/are-boys-really-more-hard-wired-for-math-than-girls/ http://brainblogger.com/2008/11/23/are-boys-really-more-hard-wired-for-math-than-girls/#comments Sun, 23 Nov 2008 15:54:43 +0000 http://brainblogger.com/?p=1921 It used to be accepted as fact that boys are naturally better than girls in math. With time, what was taken as a fact has become an assumption that boys are more inclined to do math than girls. With even more passage of time, studies are shedding light that the differences in achievement between boys and girls may have more to do with nurture than nature.

What is changing the perception? Several factors are involved. Although still under-represented in science and engineering graduate schools across the US, the number of female scientists and engineers are increasing. Some of these scientists are now leading their own research and having more input in areas where previous work was overlooked or may not have considered. The math achievement of girls from different countries have been compared and analyzed.

Girl and boyAn analysis of the performance of the most talented math students from different cultures revealed that between 1992- 2007, of the 11 women ranked in the top 25 in the Putnam Competition (a very challenging math competition for college students in US and Canada), only three were born in the United States. For the International Mathematical Olympiad (an elite high school math competition) many countries, including Bulgaria, Romania, China, and Russia, who often perform better than the US, field very strong teams with female competitors. China, the 2008 world champion, included a female on its team. Bulgaria and Romania two much smaller countries than the United States have won more world championships than the US since 1995 and have had more female members than the US.  For more than twenty years, the United States team did not include a female.  An evaluation of these elite math contests suggests that in countries where girls are encouraged to participate in mathematics they do well. 

A study from Vanderbilt University (The Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth) showed that in the early 1980’s the number of boys younger than 13 who scored higher than 700 on the SAT math when compared to girls in the same age group was 13:1. However, with the implementation of title IX and its emphasis on equal opportunity in education, the same study 22 years later revealed a significantly decreased ratio of 2.8:1. With more emphasis, more role models, and greater opportunity to engage in mathematical activities, young girls are closing the achievement gap.

If boys were more hard-wired for math than girls, it would seem that the achievements should follow a parallel course. Instead, the math achievement of girls has not been static and the disparity between boys and girls success in math is decreasing. As has been done in some of the most competitive countries, more young girls are now being encouraged to study math. An analysis of these countries shows that where participation in math is less gender-oriented, gender is quickly loosing any predictive value in determining a student’s academic ability.

References

Andreescu T, Gallian JA, Kane JM, Mertz JE. Cross-Cultural Analysis of Students with Exceptional Talent in Mathematical Problem Solving. Notices of the American Mathematical Society. 2008;55(10):1248-1260.

David Lubinski, Camilla P. Benbow, Rose Mary Webb, April Bleske-Rechek (2006). Tracking Exceptional Human Capital Over Two Decades Psychological Science, 17 (3), 194-199 DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2006.01685.x

International Math Olympiad. International Math Olympiad: Top Countries by Year.

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Electrical Brain Stimulation Improves Hand Motor Skills http://brainblogger.com/2008/11/14/electrical-brain-stimulation-improves-hand-motor-skills/ http://brainblogger.com/2008/11/14/electrical-brain-stimulation-improves-hand-motor-skills/#comments Fri, 14 Nov 2008 15:18:22 +0000 http://brainblogger.com/?p=1852 Since its discovery many years ago, harnessing the power of electricity has been an ongoing endeavor. Benjamin Franklin’s eighteenth century experiments with electricity ushered in the evolution of the modern battery. In the middle of the last century, electricity was introduced as a remedy for difficult psychiatric disorders. “Shock treatment,” as it was known then, was used to treat many psychiatric diseases by inducing seizures. Now called electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), its mechanism of action is still unknown and its use is under strict guidelines set forth by the American Psychiatric Association. ECT is now reserved for severe psychiatric conditions when other treatments are deemed inadequate.

Fast forward to the 21st century, electricity is now being explored for its potential to improve neurological function. A recent study at Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital and Harvard Medical School suggests that electrical stimulation of the brain may improve dexterity. In this study, 16 right-handed volunteers were fitted with scalp electrodes and weak noninvasive direct currents were transmitted through their skulls to neurons in the motor cortex. Prior to, and after each stimulation, the participants were asked to perform finger-sequencing tasks on a standard keyboard with the non-dominant hand.

HandThe results were amazing. With electrical stimulation of the motor cortex, significant improvements in motor function in the non-dominant hand were seen. Dual stimulation of the right and left motor cortex regions, resulted in improvement of scores by almost 25%. Stimulating only one motor region showed a smaller increase (16%).

The mechanism of action, like ECT, is not is not clear. However, it is believed that transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) increases neuron excitability and may provide an environment supportive for motor skills recovery. Although the physiology is unknown, the implications and possible applications of this procedure is profound. Stroke victims, and people suffering from other conditions where motor function is lost or reduced may be able to acquire new skills or recover some lost motor function.

Reference

Bradley W Vines, Carlo Cerruti, Gottfried Schlaug (2008). Dual-hemisphere tDCS facilitates greater improvements for healthy subjects’ non-dominant hand compared to uni-hemisphere stimulation. BMC Neuroscience, 9 (1) DOI: 10.1186/1471-2202-9-103

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My Amygdala Made Me Vote for McCain/Obama http://brainblogger.com/2008/11/01/my-amygdala-made-me-vote-for-mccainobama/ http://brainblogger.com/2008/11/01/my-amygdala-made-me-vote-for-mccainobama/#respond Sat, 01 Nov 2008 12:46:38 +0000 http://brainblogger.com/?p=1773 There is an old British saying, “a bird in hand is worth more than two in the bush.” Using this metaphor, John McCain is the known quantity (bird in the hand) and Barack Obama is relatively unknown (two in the bush). McCain has been in the public eye for over 35 years. The sheer number of years he has been in public service provides some comfort and familiarity to many. On the other side, Obama is very intelligent, calm under pressure, and seems very welcoming. However, he is new to the national scene. How will we decide who to vote for? This decision may already have been subconsciously made. It is now only a matter of consciously rationalizing the decision.

In the book, The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation, Drew Westen explores the mind of voters and comes to the conclusion that, rather than issues, emotions will more than likely determine the next president. The republicans have been able to parlay emotional subjects such as guns, abortion, race, and taxes into astounding presidential wins. In fact, the only democratic president reelected to office since Franklin Roosevelt is Bill Clinton. It would seem that electing our president is more an emotional process than a deliberative one.

MRIThe amygdala, a one inch almond shaped structure, located in the medial temporal lobe of the brain, is part of the limbic system. This system is important for basic functions, including the expression of emotions, aggression, and sexual response. The amygdala has been linked to an individual’s mental and emotional being and can influence behavior. Using animal models, early studies by H. Kluver and P.C. Bucy showed that lesions in the amygdala can affect behavior. Some neuroscientists explain that the amygdala is actually a highly evolved sensory organ that receives an enormous amount of stimulation or information from the environment and then interprets it. This interpretation consequently guides our behavior. Researchers at the University of California, Davis have demonstrated that lesions in the amygdala can result in the absence of fear. Adult monkeys whose amygdalae were selectively blunted showed less caution and decreased fear when confronted with anxiety provoking situations.

With the economic turmoil in the marketplace, two simultaneous wars in the Mid-East, housing instability, and the credit crunch, for some, the fear has reached fever pitch. Senator McCain might represent less ambiguity and a more reassuring vote. For others, the faltering economy and its consequences for their family evokes so much anxiety and fear that it has become their most pressing concern. Many of these voters may be willing to forgo relative stability and take a chance on the newcomer’s ideas.

As many political pundits say, “As Ohio goes, so goes the nation.” Maybe what they should really say is, “As the amygdala goes, so goes the vote.”

Further Reading

Westen D. The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation. New York: PublicAffairs; 2007.

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Is Vitamin C the New Cancer Cure? http://brainblogger.com/2008/10/18/is-vitamin-c-the-new-cancer-cure/ http://brainblogger.com/2008/10/18/is-vitamin-c-the-new-cancer-cure/#respond Sat, 18 Oct 2008 16:52:51 +0000 http://brainblogger.com/?p=1643 In addition to the popular saying, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away”, maybe some day we can say the phrase, “Vitamin C a day keeps cancer away”.

Who would have thought that oranges and lemons, fruits easily found in a local grocery store, may hold the answer to curing cancer? Oranges vs. cancer — it does not seem like a contest. Cancer has been winning for decades almost unmitigated. Dedicated researchers for years have diligently pursued a cure for cancer. Sometimes the paths they take are not original, but are extensions of concepts previously unexplored or not fully developed. Such is the case with treatment of cancer with vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, an essential nutrient contained in citrus fruits like oranges and lemons.

CitrusVitamin C was previously explored as a treatment for cancer. The hydrogen peroxide generated by high concentrations of vitamin C (above 1,000 µmol/L) were found to be selectively cytotoxic to cancer cells in vitro. Normal cells were not harmed. Nobel Prize laureate in chemistry, Linus Pauling, advanced this idea in the 1970s with trials involving large doses of orally ingested ascorbic acid. The trials, unfortunately, did not show conclusive benefits and the controversial method for cancer treatment was largely ignored by most oncologists. It did, however, remain a popular alternative cancer treatment for many health practitioners.

What’s old may be becoming new again. Treating cancer with ascorbic acid is generating new buzz. This time, however, treatment will be in the form of injections of vitamin C. It turns out that no matter how many oranges, lemons, or vitamin C tablets are ingested, it does not enter the system in sufficient amounts to effect cancer cells. Only injected doses of vitamin C raise the blood level concentration to levels necessary to disrupt and harm cancer cells in laboratory experiments.

Even now, it is not universally accepted that injected vitamin C will be the successful cancer therapy that has been eluding scientists for generations. Some case reports have advanced the use of parenteral vitamin C as an agent against cancer. In three such reports, terminally ill cancer patients with pulmonary metastatic renal cancer, bladder tumor, and diffuse large B-cell lymphoma were injected with vitamin C. The patients improved significantly and had a prolonged life span. These results have not, however, passed the guidelines of the US National Cancer Institute because of insufficient data and inadequate follow-up. In addition, the cases did not have objective pathologic confirmation. So, although promising, injected vitamin C will require larger studies and conclusive benefits before expanding beyond an alternative therapy for cancer.

References

Q. Chen, M. G. Espey, A. Y. Sun, C. Pooput, K. L. Kirk, M. C. Krishna, D. B. Khosh, J. Drisko, M. Levine (2008). From the Cover: Pharmacologic doses of ascorbate act as a prooxidant and decrease growth of aggressive tumor xenografts in mice Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 105 (32), 11105-11109 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0804226105

S. J. Padayatty (2006). Intravenously administered vitamin C as cancer therapy: three cases Canadian Medical Association Journal, 174 (7), 937-942 DOI: 10.1503/cmaj.050346

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Sleep Deprivation, Behavior, and the Young http://brainblogger.com/2008/10/01/sleep-deprivation-behavior-and-the-young/ http://brainblogger.com/2008/10/01/sleep-deprivation-behavior-and-the-young/#comments Wed, 01 Oct 2008 15:37:01 +0000 http://brainblogger.com/?p=1584 These days, sleep is often seen as an expendable resource. With so much work to do and limited time to accomplish tasks, going to sleep later and waking up earlier seems so natural. For some people, lack of sleep was used to prove toughness and stamina. It was common for physician trainees to boast (in some cases complain) about getting little sleep. However, studies showing suboptimal patient care when residents are sleep-deprived have resulted in shorter working hours and mandatory time off after a number of hours at work.

Some of the most vulnerable to sleep deprivation are adolescents. With the economy faltering, parents and families are under enormous pressure, and children are bearing more stress than they should. This time period is also awkward for adolescents, because they are branching out and trying to discover themselves. In addition, they compete academically to gain admission to prized universities and to win scholarships. This competition, at times, can be stifling. To achieve their goals, many adolescents are cutting back on sleep, sometimes significantly. The National Sleep Foundation’s Sleep in America poll found that more than three-fourths of teens between the ages of 13-18 go to bed at 11:00 pm or later on school nights. It is not uncommon for high school students to be found at coffee cafes drinking large cups of coffee or lattes into the night as they finish their projects or study for an AP (advanced placement) class. Energy drinks, and even caffeine tablets to keep awake are being consumed and are causing irregular sleep patterns.

Sleeping teensThe loss of sleep in adolescents is causing more than just increased daytime sleepiness and irregular sleep patterns. A study examining the influence of sleep patterns in adolescents (ages 11-14) revealed symptoms of depression and a decrease in self-esteem with chronic loss of sleep. Those with insomnia were more likely to develop major depression, abuse drugs, and have nicotine dependence. Sleep deprived adolescents also experience more anger, sadness, and fear. Most alarming, however, has been the suicidal behavior exhibited in this group.

It is well known that sleep deprivation can affect brain activity. Insomnia and serotonin, in particular, may be linked to depression and suicidal behavior. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter important in the regulation of the sleep-wake cycle and has been found in decreased concentrations in the brainstem of suicide victims. Loss of sleep or the disturbance of sleep can cause fluctuations in serotonin.

Although there have not been many large studies examining loss of sleep and its effects on adolescent behavior, the effects of sleep deprivation in general have been well documented. Some of these effects include reduced short-term memory and learning ability, negative mood, inconsistent performance, poor productivity and loss of some forms of behavioral control. It is important for youth to have the proper amount of sleep. Doctors recommend at east 8 to 9 hours of sleep for teenagers.

References

S. Okie (2007). An Elusive Balance — Residents’ Work Hours and the Continuity of Care New England Journal of Medicine, 356 (26), 2665-2667 DOI: 10.1056/NEJMp078085

National Sleep Foundation. Sleepiness in Teens. Not Just a Side Effect of Growing Up.

J. John Mann (2003). Neurobiology of suicidal behaviour Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 4 (10), 819-828 DOI: 10.1038/nrn1220

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A Baby’s Smile – Mom’s Natural High http://brainblogger.com/2008/09/06/a-babys-smile-moms-natural-high/ http://brainblogger.com/2008/09/06/a-babys-smile-moms-natural-high/#comments Sat, 06 Sep 2008 16:30:33 +0000 http://brainblogger.com/?p=1313 Many people, at one time or another, have witnessed this ritual: a beaming new mother enters with baby pictures. A group of genuinely excited women gather around the new mother admiring the pictures as they are passed around. The new mother is oblivious to the fact that she has showed dozens of pictures at different angles of “Little Johnny” smiling. In her eyes, the baby is adorable and all she wants to do is hold and cuddle him. The mother, who cannot wait until she returns home to her baby, is in a celebratory mood and returns to her desk, which is now decorated with favorite pictures of her smiling bundle of joy.

It turns out that pictures of the smiling babies may be more than just decorative pieces. An interesting study at the Baylor College of Medicine suggests that a baby’s smile may be providing a natural high to the mother. This natural high, as with some foods or drugs, may even be addictive. Recently released in the journal, Pediatrics, the study shows that the brain responds to the facial cues of babies. Specifically, functional MRI scans revealed that the reward- processing areas of the brain associated with dopamine were activated when first time mothers saw their own infants’ happy faces. These dopamine sensitive areas include the substantia nigra/midbrain ventral tegmental area and primary motor cortex. Dopamine is an important neurotransmitter and hormone produced in several areas of the brain but especially the nuclei of the substantia nigra and ventral tegmentum. Among the many important functions of dopamine is its role in motivation, pleasure, and attachment.

Baby's smileSome research scientists believe that there is an association between the limbic system (emotions), associative system (cognition) and motor system (behavior) of the brain that is set into motion when a new mother observes her happy, smiling baby. A cascade of reactions is initiated with that smile, activating important dopamine-associated reward processing areas of the brain, which motivates maternal care and contributes to maternal-fetal attachment. The brain responses to neutral or sad faces from the baby were also recorded and showed a graded response with the least response coming from sad faces and the highest response from smiling faces. More dopamine sensitive areas were activated with happy faces than with sad or neutral faces. However, sad or neutral faces activated a different area of the brain involved in conflict resolution, which prompts an empathetic response from the mother to soothe the baby.

The findings of this study may shed some light on why some new mothers find it extremely difficult to cope with their new baby or why there is a high incidence of child neglect in mothers who are depressed or who are substance abusers. Past studies show that depressed people display decreased emotional responses to happy faces and have more difficulty recognizing facial expressions. Also, cocaine activates dopamine receptors and may compete with reward-processing areas of the brain that respond to infant cues.

More studies are needed to test fathers’ and grandparents’ neural responses to a child. It would be interesting to see if this natural, addictive high is elicited in them as strongly as the new mother.

Reference

L. Strathearn, J. Li, P. Fonagy, P. R. Montague (2008). What’s in a Smile? Maternal Brain Responses to Infant Facial Cues PEDIATRICS, 122 (1), 40-51 DOI: 10.1542/peds.2007-1566

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Stroke’s Little Known Complication – Pain http://brainblogger.com/2008/09/02/strokes-little-known-complication-pain/ http://brainblogger.com/2008/09/02/strokes-little-known-complication-pain/#respond Wed, 03 Sep 2008 04:25:17 +0000 http://brainblogger.com/?p=1211 Many people have a general familiarity to the obvious symptoms of stroke complications: paralysis, thinking and concentration deficits, speech problems, emotional difficulties, and daily living problems. However, many are unaware of the possible pain complications.

A 29 year old stroke victim in the magazine Stroke Connection provided vivid detail of his stroke pain,

Someone is ripping at my arm, hand, face and foot with razorblades constantly. My fingers are made of metal worms that move constantly. My arm and other bones are broken and sticking out of my skin… I know that’s difficult to imagine, but it’s difficult to explain the evil, horrific, non-stop ripping, clawing, beating, burning,…on and on…and it never stops, even for one second, it’s constant and will not stop and you endure it for the rest of your life!

NeckThis condition, central pain syndrome, is a neurological condition caused by damage to or dysfunction of the central nervous system (CNS), which includes the brain, brainstem, and spinal cord. It is characterized by sensory changes and nerve pain. In addition to stroke, central pain syndrome can be seen with multiple sclerosis, tumors, epilepsy, brain or spinal cord trauma, or Parkinson’s disease

Central pain syndrome is unexpected and bewildering to family members, caretakers, and even the stroke patient. Before them is a limb with little motion that is supposed to be devoid of feeling, yet these very same extremities are transmitting intense sensation. The pain is usually constant, may be moderate to severe in intensity, and is often made worse by touch, movement, emotions, and temperature changes, usually cold temperatures. Individuals experience one or more types of pain sensations, the most prominent being burning. Along with the burning may be pressing, lacerating, or aching pain; sensations of “pins and needles”; and brief, intolerable bursts of sharp pain similar to the pain caused by an exposed nerve. Individuals may have numbness and burning in the areas affected by the pain, especially in the hands or the feet. With the onset of the symptoms more than a month after the stroke, there is much confusion. The symptoms may be misinterpreted as depression or a reaction to a life jarring event. True enough, stroke is a life altering situation, but the pain described or experienced is real.

The increase in soldiers with traumatic brain and spinal cord injuries returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has focused more attention and research on the condition. Treatment at this time is limited. It includes use of antidepressants, anticonvulsants, narcotics, and anti-arrhythmics. The drug of first choice is the antidepressant amitriptyline. Newer techniques such as vestibular stimulation (introduction of water to the inner ear) have shown promising results in pain relief.

References

P. Hansson (2004). Post-stroke pain case study: clinical characteristics, therapeutic options and long-term follow-up European Journal of Neurology, 11 (s1), 22-30 DOI: 10.1111/j.1471-0552.2004.00793.x

P. D. McGeoch, L. E. Williams, R. R. Lee, V. S Ramachandran (2008). Behavioural evidence for vestibular stimulation as a treatment for central post-stroke pain Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry DOI: 10.1136/jnnp.2008.146738

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When the Doctor is the Patient http://brainblogger.com/2008/08/29/when-the-doctor-is-the-patient/ http://brainblogger.com/2008/08/29/when-the-doctor-is-the-patient/#comments Fri, 29 Aug 2008 16:31:25 +0000 http://brainblogger.com/?p=1001 Sometimes we forget that doctors are just like everyday people. They have families, they are members of parent/teacher organizations (PTOs), they help their children with school projects and homework, and they, in many cases, are still repaying school loans. You name it, and yes, the doctor has probably experienced it. So too is the case with sickness. Doctors do get ill, and are seen in the local office, emergency room, and hospitals.

One of the first decisions the doctor-patient must make is whether to reveal that he or she is a physician to the healthcare personnel. This decision is not taken lightly, because the doctor, by admitting he/she is a physician, might inadvertently alter the potential physician-patient relationship. The doctor may end up over-assisting in their own health care. The nurses, assistants, and even the attending physician will sometimes assume that the doctor -patient has revealed the entire history concerning the illness (or the most pertinent facts) and might not be as thorough in gathering information for treatment purposes. Or, the hospital workers will assume the doctor-patient knows the protocols and think they will be boring the doctor by giving detailed preventive lectures.

DoctorIf the doctor-patient does not reveal that he or she is a doctor, will this affect their treatment? Yes, it possibly can. First professional courtesy may not be employed. There is a subtle understanding or bonding between doctors, nurses and other healthcare providers that we are all in this together and an extraordinary effort is taken to make sure their colleague is comfortable or getting the best care. This is also true with other professions. Police officers have a spoken and unspoken respect for other officers. Teachers often identify with other educators. The same is true with doctors and their equally hardworking colleagues at the hospital. A doctor not revealing his or her profession might forfeit some perks (e.g., faster service, more attentive staff) that makes the visit a little more pleasant. They would be just like any other patient and perhaps would not receive extras.

Being a doctor-patient is uncomfortable for many reasons: First, no one, including doctors, wants to visualize themselves ill, and to add to this, people assume that doctors should be able to heal themselves. Second, doctors may feel guilty that their patients do not have the option of playing the “doctor card” in situations where the treatment process is moving too slowly. Doctor-patients believe that they should be able to receive adequate care without revealing their profession, but they know that the healthcare system is imperfect, and it bothers them. Thirdly, doctors usually are the ones who call the shots and so it leaves them with a sense of diminished autonomy. Lastly, how will their colleagues respond, and how will the doctor respond to them?

Sometimes, it seems awkward to see the doctor as a patient but if we all remember that physicians have the same joys, want the same rewards, and have the same responsibilities, then it makes what seems like an irony a little more ordinary.

I want others to chime in, especially if you are a healthcare professional. If you have been a patient did you reveal that you were a physician, nurse, or another healthcare professional?

References

Fromme, E. (2003). Care of the Dying Doctor: On the Other End of the Stethoscope. JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association, 290(15), 2048-2055. DOI: 10.1001/jama.290.15.2048.

Kempainen, R.R., Bartels, D.M., Veach, P.M. (2007). Life on the Receiving End: A Qualitative Analysis of Health Providers??? Illness Narratives. Academic Medicine, 82(2), 207-213. DOI: 10.1097/ACM.0b013e31802d9513

KLITZMAN, R. (2006). Views and approaches toward risks and benefits among doctors who become patients. Patient Education and Counseling, 64(1-3), 61-68. DOI: 10.1016/j.pec.2005.11.013

Noble, S., Marie, A.N., Finlay, I. (2008). Challenges faced by palliative care physicians when caring for doctors with advanced cancer. Palliative Medicine, 22(1), 71-76. DOI: 10.1177/0269216307084607

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Can this Economic Downturn Lead to Better Psychosocial Health? http://brainblogger.com/2008/08/05/economic-downturn-psychosocial-health/ http://brainblogger.com/2008/08/05/economic-downturn-psychosocial-health/#comments Tue, 05 Aug 2008 14:53:37 +0000 http://brainblogger.com/?p=1003 Ok, Ok, before you scream, “This title is nuts, the economic crisis has me spending more time worrying than ever!” let’s think about the positive impact this economic downturn could have on psychosocial health. With the mortgage industry going bust, climbing gas prices, and cost of food at an all time high, Americans are being forced to hunker down and get back to the basics, which mean we spend more time with our families.

It is no longer “in” to keep up with the Joneses by driving a gas-guzzling SUV to try the cuisine at the new takeout restaurant. Families are now trading in their SUVs for fuel efficient cars or using their bikes more often, and cooking more meals at home. Weekly yard work that has been saved for hired hands has now been pared down or stopped altogether. People are now getting dirty doing their own yardwork and the “hired hands” have been replaced with kids.

SUVNow it is “in” to see mothers and their teenage daughter pass up the malls to shop at the local thrift stores. Penny-conscious shoppers are foregoing the department stores and are checking out the latest garage sales. Wal-mart, Sam’s Club and Costco are already cashing in on the consumer need to purchase cheaper goods.

Families are even scaling back on expensive vacations to other states or countries and now visiting local attractions like amusement parks, water parks, museums, and city parks for cheaper fun. Even businesses have caught on to this scale-down mentality. The five, 8 hours a day work week has been scaled down to a four, 10 hours a day work week to the relief of some businesses and families. Businesses save on utility expenses, but most importantly, they have more peaceful, satisfied, and dare I say, productive workers who now have an extra day to do as they please instead of wasting time commuting and spending money on pricey gas.

Guess what comes out of all of this? Gasp! Families are now spending more time together because they are forced to! I am sure the kids will appreciate the time that they spend with their parents, if the parents do not focus solely on the negatives. Getting back to the basics means more family meals at home, and doing cheap things to entertain ourselves like renting a movie, playing board games that have been collecting dust, and having pot-luck with the neighbors you have wanted to know better, but were too busy to do so. Some parents who are thinking positively are using this time to strengthen the family. It has been shown that families that spend more time together have better adjusted children. Cutting back does not mean a certain doomsday, but it may lead to a greater-well being and a richer family life. This is one way to view view this temporary economic downturn.

How has this current economic climate changed your family? Is it more of a worry, or has cutting back afforded you more time to spend with your families?

Reference

Crouter, A.C., Head, M.R., Mchale, S.M., Tucker, C.J. (2004). Family Time and the Psychosocial Adjustment of Adolescent Siblings and Their Parents. Journal of Marriage and Family, 66(1), 147-162. DOI: 10.1111/j.0022-2445.2004.00011.x

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When Age Is Just A Number http://brainblogger.com/2008/07/21/burning-relentless-pain/ http://brainblogger.com/2008/07/21/burning-relentless-pain/#comments Mon, 21 Jul 2008 14:47:12 +0000 http://brainblogger.com/?p=1002 When Henrikje van Andel-Schipper turned 115 years old, her mind was sharper than many 60 year olds. Years before, she knew something about her was unique and requested multiple times for her body to be donated to her hometown university in the Netherlands. As a result of her many requests, scientists began testing her cognitive abilities at the age of 112 and discovered she could outperform those who were half her age. They were baffled by this, and post-mortem studies showed that her brain had few signs of Alzeheimer’s disease or any other age-related diseases associated with mental decline.

Was it the genes? Well, it is true that longevity is genetically related, meaning if your parents lived a long time, then you probably will also. Van Andel’s mother died at the age of 100 and all her siblings lived past 70. Is it the diet? She joked that her daily diet of pickled herrings helped, but maybe it was more? Van Andel did not succumb to Alzheimer’s disease, but stomach cancer, and doctors said she could have lived much longer if it were not for the cancer. Perhaps van Andel’s and her family’s longevity can be attributed to not having Alzheimer’s, where the majority of people die from its complications. Scientists are we now coming to the realization that old age, or a very old age in this case, does not necessarily equilibrate to living with senility or dying from “natural causes”. Post mortem studies of van Andel touches on the theory that there must be a specific disease or culmination of diseases that cause death, and not necessarily just being old.

GeneFor those of you who do not have the “good genes” and won’t be rushing to add pickled herring to your diets, what can we do to prolong life? Researchers say that people whose occupation or hobbies requires them to exercise their brains have a lower risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Both conditions decrease the quality of life and increase the likelihood of death. Over the past two decades, we have discovered that our lust for fast food has sent us to the hospital or shortened our lives prematurely. Maybe if we exercised our brains and implemented healthy eating habits into our diets, we can cheat the grim reaper himself?

Let’s put that theory to test:

Do you have elderly family members who have sharp minds? What do they eat and do they regularly exercise? What were/ are their occupations? What are their hobbies? Do you think they are exercising their brains more than the average person?

Reference

DENDUNNEN, W., BROUWER, W., BIJLARD, E., KAMPHUIS, J., VANLINSCHOTEN, K., EGGENSMEIJER, E., HOLSTEGE, G. (2008). No disease in the brain of a 115-year-old woman. Neurobiology of Aging, 29(8), 1127-1132. DOI: 10.1016/j.neurobiolaging.2008.04.010

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