Study Shows Gray Matter Density Increases In Adolescence

Study Shows Gray Matter Density Increases In Adolescence

Study Shows Gray Matter Density Increases In Adolescence

A new study solves a paradox that while gray matter declines in adolescence, there is also dramatic cognitive improvement from childhood to young adulthood.

In past studies of gray matter volume and cortical thickness, scientists found that gray matter — the tissue found in regions of the brain responsible for muscle control, sensory perception, such as seeing and hearing, memory, emotions, speech, decision making, and self-control — declines in adolescence. But scientists were puzzled that cognitive performance improved at the same that brain volume and cortical thickness decline.

A new study from researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania reveals that while volume decreases from childhood to young adulthood, gray matter density actually increases.

The findings also show that while females have lower brain volume, proportionate to their smaller size, they have higher gray matter density than males, which could explain why their cognitive performance is comparable despite having lower brain volume.

While adolescents lose brain volume, and females have lower brain volume than males, this is compensated for by increased density of gray matter, the researchers explain.

“It is quite rare for a single study to solve a paradox that has been lingering in a field for decades, let alone two paradoxes, as was done by Gennatas in his analysis of data from this large-scale study of a whole cohort of youths,” said Dr. Ruben Gur, a professor of psychiatry, neurology, and radiology. He referred to the work of Efstathios Gennatas, M.B.B.S., a doctoral student of neuroscience working in the Brain Behavior Laboratory at Penn.

“We now have a richer, fuller concept of what happens during brain development and now better understand the complementary unfolding processes in the brain that describe what happens,” Gur said.

The study findings may better explain the extent and intensity of changes in mental life and behavior that occur during the transition from childhood to young adulthood, Gur noted.

“If we are puzzled by the behavior of adolescents, it may help to know that they need to adjust to a brain that is changing in its size and composition at the same time that demands on performance and acceptable behavior keep scaling up,” he added.

In the study, the researchers evaluated 1,189 youth between the ages of 8 and 23 who completed magnetic resonance imaging as part of the Philadelphia Neurodevelopmental Cohort. The community-based study of brain development included neuroimaging and cognitive data to look at age-related effects on multiple measures of regional gray matter, including gray matter volume, gray matter density, and cortical thickness.

Observing such measures during development allowed the researchers to study the brain at different ages to characterize how a child’s brain differs from an adult’s.

“This novel characterization of brain development may help us better understand the relationship between brain structure and cognitive performance,” Gennatas said.

“Our findings also emphasize the need to examine several measures of brain structure at the same time,” he said. “Volume and cortical thickness have received the most attention in developmental studies in the past, but gray matter density may be as important for understanding how improved performance relates to brain development.”

The study was published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

Source: Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania

 
Photo: MRI-derived gray matter measures, density, volume, mass, and cortical thickness, show distinct age and sex effects, as well as age-dependent intermodal correlations around adolescence. Credit: Penn Medicine.

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Tai Chi Relieves Depression in Chinese Americans

Tai Chi Relieves Depression in Chinese Americans

Tai Chi Relieves Depression in Chinese Americans

Tai chi, a form of slow-moving meditation which originated in China, shows strong potential as a primary treatment for mild to moderate depression in Chinese Americans — a group which has traditionally avoided conventional psychiatric treatment, according to a new pilot study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.

The findings show that Chinese-Americans with mild to moderate depression who enrolled in a 12-week tai chi class experienced a significant reduction in depressive symptoms compared to control groups. The participants were not receiving any other form of treatment.

“While some previous studies have suggested that tai chi may be useful in treating anxiety and depression, most have used it as a supplement to treatment for others medical conditions, rather than patients with depression,” said Albert Yeung, M.D., ScD, of the Depression Clinical and Research Program in the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Department of Psychiatry, lead and corresponding author of the report.

“Finding that tai chi can be effective is particularly significant because it is culturally accepted by this group of patients who tend to avoid conventional psychiatric treatment.”

Participants were recruited through advertisements offering tai chi for stress reduction, and their eligibility for the study was based on in-person interviews and assessments of overall health and depression symptoms.

Eligible participants were Chinese-American adults fluent in either Cantonese or Mandarin, with a diagnosis of major depressive disorder in the mild to moderate range, no history of other psychiatric disorders, no recent practice of tai chi or other mind-body interventions, and no current use of other psychiatric treatments.

A total of 50 participants were randomly placed into one of three groups: 17 in the tai chi intervention group; 14 in an active control group that included discussions on stress, mental health, and depression; and 19 in a passive control, “waitlist” group that returned for repeat assessments during and after the study period.

The 12-week tai chi intervention group met twice a week. Participants were taught basic traditional tai chi movements and were instructed to practice these at home three times a week and to document their practice. The education group also met twice weekly for 12 weeks, and sessions for both groups were offered in Cantonese or Mandarin.

Members of both the education and waitlist groups were able to join free tai chi classes after the initial study period, something they were informed of at the study’s outset.

The 12-week assessments showed that the tai chi group had significantly greater improvement in depression symptoms than did members of either control group. Follow-up assessment at 24 weeks showed sustained improvement among the tai chi group, with statistically significant differences remaining compared with the waitlist group.

“If these findings are confirmed in larger studies at other sites, that would indicate that tai chi could be a primary depression treatment for Chinese and Chinese American patients, who rarely take advantage of mental health services, and may also help address the shortage of mental health practitioners,” says Yeung, who is an associate professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

“We also should investigate whether tai chi can have similar results for individuals from other racial and ethnic groups and determine which of the many components of tai chi might be responsible for these beneficial effects.”

Source: Massachusetts General Hospital

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No Evidence Electrical Brain Stimulation Aids Cognition

No Evidence Electrical Brain Stimulation Aids Cognition

No Evidence Electrical Brain Stimulation Aids Cognition

The emerging practice of applying non-invasive electrical stimulation to the brain may have hit a speed bump as new research suggests it does not provide meaningful benefit to cognitive training.

“Our findings suggest that applying transcranial direct-current stimulation (tDCS) while older participants engaged in daily working memory training over four weeks did not result in improved cognitive ability,” explains Martin Lövdén of Karolinska Institutet and Stockholm University.

Research findings appear in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

“The study is important because it addresses what has arguably been the most promising cognitive application of tDCS: the possibility of long-term cognitive enhancement from relatively limited practice on select cognitive tasks,” Lövdén adds.

“Cognitive enhancement is of interest not just to scientists, but also to the student studying for final exams, the gamer playing online games, and the retiree remembering which pills to take.

Because of this large audience, it is of utmost importance to conduct systematic research to disentangle hype from fact.”

Investigators explain that working memory–our capacity for holding information in mind at any given moment—is essential for many fundamental cognitive processes and is linked with some aspects of intelligence.

Research has shown that working memory training improves working memory performance but it’s unclear whether this specific training can yield improvements to broader cognitive abilities.

Recent interest and publicity surrounding the potential effects of tDCS–which involves conducting a weak electrical current to the brain via electrodes on the scalp led Lövdén and colleagues to wonder: Could using tDCS during cognitive training enhance brain plasticity and enable transfer from working memory to other cognitive processes?

The researchers enrolled 123 healthy adults who were between 65 and 75 years old in a 4-week training program. All participants completed a battery of cognitive tests, which included tasks that were incorporated in the training and tasks that were not, at the beginning of the study and again at the end.

Those randomly assigned to the experimental group trained on tasks that targeted their ability to update mental representations and their ability to switch between different tasks and rules, while those in the active control group trained on tasks that focused on perceptual speed.

As they completed the training tasks, some participants received 25 minutes of tDCS current to the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain that plays a central role in working memory; other participants were led to believe they were receiving 25 minutes of current, when in actuality the current was only active for a total 30 seconds.

Comparing participants’ performance before and after training indicated that those who received working memory training did improve on the updating and switching tasks they had encountered during training and on similar tasks that they had not encountered previously.

But there was no evidence that tDCS produced any additional benefit to the working memory training–at the end of the study, participants who received tDCS did not show greater improvement than their peers.

When the researchers pooled the data from this study with findings from six other studies, they again found no evidence of any additional benefit from working memory training that was combined with tDCS.

Although there is a strong public interest for enhancing cognition, Lövdén and colleagues urge caution when it comes to this as-of-yet unproven application of tDCS:

“A growing number of people in the general public, presumably inspired by such uninhibited optimism, are now using tDCS to perform better at work or in online gaming, and online communities offer advice on the purchase, fabrication, and use of tDCS devices,” the researchers write.

“Unsurprisingly, commercial exploitation is rapidly being developed to meet this new public demand for cognitive enhancement via tDCS, often without a single human trial to support the sellers’ or manufacturers’ claims.”

“These findings highlight exactly how limited our knowledge is of the mechanisms underlying the potential effects of tDCS on human cognition and encourages the research community to take a step back and focus its resources on developing strategies for uncovering such mechanisms before using the technique in more applied settings,” Lövdén concludes.

Source: Association for Psychological Science

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Mindfulness In Prenatal Education Can Reduce Risk of Depression

Mindfulness In Prenatal Education Can Reduce Risk of Depression

Mindfulness In Prenatal Education Can Reduce Risk of Depression

A new study shows mindfulness training that addresses fear and pain during childbirth can improve women’s childbirth experiences.

Moreover, researchers from researchers at the University of Wisconsin, Madison and the University of California, San Francisco discovered the training was associated with a reduction of depression symptoms during pregnancy and the early postpartum period.

“Fear of the unknown affects us all, and perhaps none more so than pregnant women,” says lead author Dr. Larissa Duncan, University of Wisconsin, Madison professor of human development and family studies.

“With mindfulness skills, women in our study reported feeling better able to cope with childbirth and they experienced improved mental well-being critical for healthy mother-infant adjustment in the first year of life.”

The study also suggests that pregnant women who practice mindfulness may use less medication for pain during labor.

This finding is especially relevant as many women and their healthcare providers are concerned about the use of medications during pregnancy, labor, and while breastfeeding because of the potential risks to infants.

Furthermore, if left untreated, maternal mental health problems also pose a significant risk to infants.

“A mindfulness approach offers the possibility of decreasing the need for these medications and can reach women who may not know they are at risk for perinatal depression or can’t access mental health services,” Duncan said.

The new study appears in the journal BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth. The investigation is a randomized, controlled trial called Prenatal Education About Reducing Labor Stress (PEARLS). The research compares mainstream childbirth education with childbirth education that includes mindfulness skills focused on reducing fear among first-time mothers.

Fear of childbirth has been shown in previous studies to be linked to poorer labor-and-delivery outcomes and to depression.

Although many consider childbirth education classes a primary resource for pregnant women and their partners to learn information and strategies for the birthing process and remedies for coping with labor pain — there is limited data that demonstrates they achieve these goals for the more than two million pregnant women who attend them each year in the United States.

In fact, Duncan says, “sometimes women report that the information in childbirth education actually increases their fear of childbirth.”

In the current pilot study, 30 women and their partners, first-time mothers late in their third trimester of pregnancy were offered either a standard childbirth preparation course lacking a mind-body focus or an intensive weekend workshop called Mind in Labor: Working with Pain in Childbirth.

The workshop was based on the Mindfulness-Based Childbirth and Parenting education course developed by study co-author Nancy Bardacke, a certified nurse-midwife and senior mindfulness teacher at University of California, San Francisco.

The program focused on practices like mindful movement, walking meditation, and pain coping strategies. Previous research shows that mindfulness training can be an effective way to manage both chronic and acute pain.

Participants represented a diversity of ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds. They completed self-reported assessments before and after taking part in a childbirth education course and after giving birth.

The mindfulness group also received handouts and guided audio materials so they could practice mindfulness on their own. The study team collected medical record data from each woman.

The researchers found a reduction in depression symptoms in the mindfulness group, which continued through their post-birth follow up at approximately six weeks.

In contrast, depression symptoms worsened among women who participated in the standard childbirth education courses.

While mothers in the mindfulness group sought epidurals at similar rates to those in the control group and retrospectively reported similar levels of perceived pain during labor, the study did see a trend toward lower use of opioid-based pain medication during labor.

While these results were not statistically significant, the rate of narcotic use during labor was around 62 percent in the control group and just 31 percent in the mindfulness group. A larger study is needed to better understand this effect.

“The encouraging results of this small study point to the possibility that mindfulness skills can transform the way expectant parents prepare for this profound life change,” says Bardacke.

Source: University of Wisconsin, Madison

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Parents’ Digital Distractions Linked to Kids’ Behavioral Issues

Parents’ Digital Distractions Linked to Kids’ Behavioral Issues

Parents' Digital Distractions Linked to Kids' Behavioral Issues

Emerging research suggests that even in low amounts, interruptions to parent-child time caused by digital technology are associated with child behavior problems.

The study was a snapshot review of the connection between parents’ technology use and child behavior. As such, a cause-and-effect relationship cannot be inferred although the results will fuel additional investigation.

Parents typically attribute child behavior — be it whining, tantrums or acting out — to factors such as fatigue, hunger or boredom. Researchers are now asking if such negative behaviors could be related to something else: parents spending too much time on their smartphones or tablets.

The small study from University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital and Illinois State University found that heavy digital technology use by parents could be associated with child behavior issues.

The findings appear in the online issue of the journal Child Development.

Researchers analyzed surveys completed separately by both mothers and fathers from 170 two-parent households.

Mothers and fathers were asked about their use of smartphones, tablets, laptops and other technology — and how the devices disrupted family time.

Lead author Dr. Brandon T. McDaniel creatively describes the interruptions or disturbances as ‘’technoference,’ with disturbances being as simple as checking phone messages during mealtime, playtime and routine activities or conversations with their children.

While more research is needed, the study suggests it might: Even low or seemingly normal amounts of tech-related interruption were associated with greater child behavior problems, such as oversensitivity, hot tempers, hyperactivity and whining.

“This was a cross-sectional study, so we can’t assume a direct connection between parents’ technology use and child behavior but these findings help us better understand the relationship,” said senior author Jenny Radesky, M.D., a child behavior expert and pediatrician at Mott.

“It’s also possible that parents of children with behavioral difficulties are more likely to withdraw or de-stress with technology during times with their child.”

But, she added, “We know that parents’ responsiveness to their kids changes when they are using mobile technology and that their device use may be associated with less-than-ideal interactions with their children.

“It’s really difficult to toggle attention between all of the important and attention-grabbing information contained in these devices, with social and emotional information from our children, and process them both effectively at the same time.”

McDaniel, who designed and carried out the study, says researchers hope to learn more about the impact of increasing digital technology use on families and children.

“Research on the potential impact of this exposure lags far behind,” said McDaniel, assistant professor in the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences at Illinois State University.

“It’s too early to draw implications that could be used in clinical practice but our findings contribute to growing literature showing an association between greater digital technology use and potential relationship dysfunction between parents and their children.”

Parents in the study were asked to rate how problematic their personal device use was based on how difficult it was for them to resist checking new messages, how frequently they worried about calls and texts and if they thought they used their phones too much.

Participants also were asked how often phones, tablets, computers and other devices diverted their attention when otherwise engaged with their children.

On average, mothers and fathers both perceived about two devices interfering in their interactions with their child at least once or more on a typical day. Mothers, however, seemed to perceive their phone use as more problematic than fathers did.

About half (48 percent) of parents reported technology interruptions three or more times on a typical day while 17 percent said it occurred once and 24 percent said it happened twice a day. Only 11 percent said no interruptions occurred.

Parents then rated child behavior issues within the past two months by answering questions about how often their children whined, sulked, easily got frustrated, had tantrums or showed signs of hyperactivity or restlessness.

The researchers controlled for multiple factors, such as parenting stress, depressive symptoms, income, parent education as well as co-parenting quality (how supportive partners were of each other in parenting their child), which has been shown to predict child behavior.

The study joins other research and advocacy groups contributing to a larger debate about technology and its effect on child development.

Some professional societies, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and Zero to Three, recommend “unplugged” family time. But they haven’t tested whether lessening or changing digital technology use during parent-child activities is associated with improved child behavior.

McDaniel and Radesky advise parents to try to carve out designated times to put away the devices and focus all attention on their kids.

Reserving certain times of the day or locations as being technology-free — such as mealtime or playtime right after work — may help ease family tensions caused by the modern blurring of outside worlds with home life, they say.

“Parents may find great benefits from being connected to the outside world through mobile technology, whether that’s work, social lives or keeping up with the news. It may not be realistic, nor is it necessary, to ban technology use all together at home,” Radesky said.

“But setting boundaries can help parents keep smartphones and other mobile technology from interrupting quality time with their kids.”

Source: University of Michigan/EurekAlert

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Dual Gait Analysis Can Aid Early Diagnosis of Dementia

Dual Gait Analysis Can Aid Early Diagnosis of Dementia

Dual Gait Analysis Can Aid Early Diagnosis of Dementia

A new approach that assesses ambulation while performing a cognitively demanding task is an effective predictor of progression to dementia.

In a new study, researchers at Canada’s Lawson Health Research Institute and Western University discovered gait analysis while simultaneously performing mental tasks is a new way to assess cognitive decline.

To date, there has been no definitive way for health care professionals to forecast the onset of dementia in a patient with memory complaints. Experts believe early detection of dementia can lead to halting its progression.

Dr. Manuel Montero-Odasso, a geriatrician and associate professor in the Division of Geriatric Medicine at Western University’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, is leading the “Gait and Brain Study.”

His team is assessing up to 150 seniors with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), a slight decline of memory and other mental functions which is considered a pre-dementia syndrome, in order to detect an early predictor of cognitive and mobility decline and progression to dementia.

“Finding methods to detect dementia early is vital to our ability to slow or halt the progression of the disease,” said Montero-Odasso.

The study, funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, followed participants for six years and included bi-annual visits.

Researchers asked participants to walk while simultaneously performing a cognitively demanding task, such as counting backwards or naming animals.

They have discovered that individuals with MCI that slow down more than 20 percent while performing a cognitively demanding task are at a higher risk of progressing to dementia.

“While walking has long been considered an automatic motor task, emerging evidence suggests cognitive function plays a key role in the control of walking, avoidance of obstacles, and maintenance of navigation,” Montero-Odasso said.

“We believe that gait, as a complex brain-motor task, provides a golden window of opportunity to see brain function.”

The “gait cost,” or speed at which participants completed a single task (walking) versus a dual-task, was higher in those MCI individuals with worse episodic memory and who struggle with executive functions such as attention keeping and time management.

“Our results reveal a ‘motor signature’ of cognitive impairment that can be used to predict dementia,” said Montero-Odasso.

“It is conceivable that we will be able to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias before people even have significant memory loss. Our hope is to combine these methods with promising new medications to slow or halt the progression of MCI to dementia.”

The study appears in the journal JAMA Neurology.

Source: Lawson Health Research Institute

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Study Looks at Keys to Exercise Motivation for Women

Study Looks at Keys to Exercise Motivation for Women

Study Looks at Keys to Exercise Motivation for Women

Many women start fitness programs to lose weight, and when they don’t, they feel like failures and stop exercising. In a new study, researchers analyzed what women say makes them feel happy and successful, and how their expectations and beliefs about exercise foster or undermine those things.

Dr. Michelle Segar, director of the University of Michigan’s Sport, Health, and Activity Research and Policy Center, and co-investigators reviewed the factors that could help a woman regain enthusiasm for improving their health.

“A new understanding of what really motivates women might make an enormous difference in their ability to successfully incorporate physical activity into their daily routine and have fun doing it,” said Segar.

The findings, which will appear in the journal BMC Public Health, show that both active and inactive women report the same ingredients for feeling happy and successful:

• connecting with and helping others be happy and successful;
• being relaxed and free of pressures during their leisure time;
• accomplishing goals of many sorts (from grocery shopping to career goals).

But the study also found that for inactive women, their beliefs and expectations about exercise actually thwarted the things that make them feel happy and successful:

• they believe “valid” exercise must be intense, yet they want to feel relaxed during their leisure time;
• they feel pressured to exercise for health or to lose weight, yet during their leisure time they want to be free of pressures.

Success comes from achieving goals, yet their expectations about how much, where and how they should be exercising means they can’t achieve these goals.

“The direct conflict between what these low-active women believe they should be doing when they exercise, and their desire to decompress and renew themselves during leisure time, demotivates them,” Segar said.

“Their beliefs about what exercise should consist of and their past negative experiences about what it feels like actually prevents them from successfully adopting and sustaining physically active lives.”

Segar and co-investigators Jennifer Taber, Heather Patrick, Chan Thai and April Oh conducted eight focus groups among white, black and Hispanic women aged 22-49 who were either categorized as “high active” or “low active.”

While the findings about happiness and success seemed to hold true for both groups in the different demographics, low-active women held distinctly different views than high-active women about exercising.

“We’ve all been socialized to exercise and be physically active for the last 30 years,” said Segar.

“The traditional recommendation we’ve learned to believe is that we should exercise at a high intensity for at least 30 minutes, for the purpose of losing weight or improving our health. Even though there are newer recommendations that permit lower intensity activity in shorter durations most people don’t know or even believe it.”

This more traditional message has worked for a small minority of the population, but more generally it has failed to increase population physical activity, she says.

“This traditional approach to exercising might actually harm exercise motivation. Our study shows that this exercise message conflicts with and undermines the very experiences and goals most women have for themselves,” she said.

The exceptions found in the study were among the more active participants, who held more flexible views of exercise. They expressed that it “was not the end of the world” if they had to skip exercising once in awhile.

They made exercise more of a “middle priority,” which took the pressure off and left room for compromise when schedules and responsibilities did not permit planned exercise to occur.

The high-active women seemed to have more positive feelings from exercising, in contrast to most of the low-active women, who, in general, tended to dread the very idea of it.

“There are important implications from this study on how we can help women better prioritize exercise in their day-to-day life,” Segar said.

“We need to re-educate women they can move in ways that will renew instead of exhaust them, and more effectively get the message across that any movement is better than nothing. To increase motivation to be physically active, we need to help women to want to exercise instead of feeling like they should do it.”

This can be achieved by:

• re-educating women that movement can and should feel good to do;
• promoting physical activity as a way to connect with important others;
• reframing physical activity as a vehicle that helps women renew and re-energize themselves to better succeed at their daily roles and goals;
• explain physical activity as a broad continuum that counts all movement as valid and worth doing.

Source: University of Michigan/EurekAlert

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Childhood Obesity May Raise Risk of Later Depression

Childhood Obesity May Raise Risk of Later Depression

Childhood Obesity May Raise Risk of Later Depression

Being overweight or obese in childhood may substantially increase one’s lifetime risk of major depression, according to a new study presented at the European Congress on Obesity.

Researchers found that children who were overweight at age eight or 13 had more than triple the risk of developing major depression later in life, while carrying excess weight over a lifetime (both as a child and as an adult) quadrupled the chance of developing depression compared to only being overweight as an adult.

More than one in three children in the U.S. are overweight and nearly one in five children aged between two and 19 years are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Previous research has shown that people who are obese are more likely to become depressed, but few have looked at the influence of early-life obesity over the long term, or the age-related effect of obesity on depression risk.

For the study, researcher Dr. Deborah Gibson-Smith from VU University Medical Center in the Netherlands and colleagues observed the relationship between being overweight in childhood and lifetime depression in 889 participants from the population-based AGES (Age, Gene/Environment Susceptibility) Reykjavik study (begun in 1967). They also studied whether the detrimental effect of obesity on mental health is due to lifelong obesity or the result of being overweight in adulthood.

A random sample of surviving participants (average age 75) from the Reykjavik study were assessed to see whether they had current depressive symptoms or had ever had a major depressive disorder in the past. Data on height and weight during childhood and midlife were obtained from school records and the Reykjavik study, respectively.

A BMI of between 25 and 29.9 was considered overweight. The data were adjusted for sex and the age at which the BMI measurements were taken. A total of 39 participants had been diagnosed with major depression at some point in their lifetime.

The analysis revealed that carrying excess weight in childhood was a stronger predictor of subsequent depression than being overweight in midlife only. The researchers estimate that being overweight or obese at age eight or 13 years is associated with a more than four times increased risk of lifetime major depressive disorder compared with children who were normal weight as a child but went on to become overweight as adults (a statistically significant result).

This is an observational study so no conclusions can be drawn about cause and effect. But the findings confirm earlier research showing an increased risk of depression in young people who are obese.

“Our findings suggest that some of the underlying mechanisms linking overweight or obesity to depression stem from childhood,” the authors stated. “A shared genetic risk or low self-esteem, which is frequently associated with those who do not conform to the ideal body type, could be responsible.”

“Given the rise in adolescents’ obesity and greater influence of social media on body image, understanding the associations between childhood obesity and depression is critical.”

Source: European Association for the Study of Obesity

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Mindfulness Benefits from Home Practice

Mindfulness Benefits from Home Practice

Mindfulness Benefits from Home Practice

A new study suggests that home practice is an important component of developing competency in mindfulness.

Danish researchers discovered a typical student in a standard mindfulness course says they practice for 30 minutes at home every day – with the practice making a difference.

Traditionally, students taking part in a standard Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) or Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) courses are asked to practice mindfulness meditation practice for 45 minutes a day at home, as well as attend weekly group sessions with the teacher.

And the 45 minutes is every day, six days a week for the eight weeks that the course lasts.

Still, in the new study, investigators from Aarhus University in Denmark found practice of 30 minutes a day was effective even though teachers asked for more. Researchers discovered that although students practiced for less time than requested, positive benefits were derived including reduced stress, pain, and better well-being.

The review was an international collaboration between the Universities of Aarhus, Oxford and Bristol and has recently been published in the journal Behavior Research and Therapy.

“This is the clearest evidence we have that mindfulness-home practice can make a difference. This is a big source of debate because there are many components at play in a MBSR or MBCT course. The support of a teacher might bring about benefit, practicing mindfulness on the actual course, or being in a group with similar other people,” said associate professor Dr. Christine Parsons.

According to the study, the effect of doing home practice is small, but statistically significant in the 28 scientific studies included in the analysis. In all studies, the MBCT or MBSR courses were eight weeks long, and the participants kept diaries of their practice at home.

The diaries were used by researchers to examine the benefits of practice. Unfortunately, there is always uncertainty linked to a self-report diary, which Parsons is trying to minimize.

Researchers wonder if they can rely on students to tell their own teacher about their home practice? Moreover, do student’s fill in their diaries faithfully? We know that people have difficulty reporting on their food or alcohol consumption or even physical activity. Should mindfulness practice be any different?

Similarly, Parsons is concerned about the difference between the quantity of mindfulness practice and the quality of the practice. Anyone who has tried to meditate knows that practice can be difficult.

For example, it is easy to spend time thinking about a conflict at work or writing a long mental shopping list. Mindfulness practice is about cultivating awareness of the present moment, without judging or evaluating, not just spending time on a yoga mat.

“We need to understand how people truly engage with their home practice. There are many problems with self-report as our only assessment method.”

To solve some of these problems, Parsons will develop a number of other measurement methods that will clarify how mindfulness students behave outside the classroom.

For example, she and a group of engineers from Aarhus University, led by associate professor Dr. Kasper Løvborg Jensen and the Danish Center for Mindfulness, are developing an app that records how long participants listen to the guided meditations, which are part of the home practice in MBCT or MBSR.

The information will be sent via the mobile phone app to a server that registers and compares the incoming data with information from a ‘fitness’ wristband. This enables the research team to see what happens to, for example, the student’s heartbeat when he or she is practicing mindfulness.

“It’s all little pieces of the big jigsaw puzzle — how students actually behave outside the classroom. How they practice, what it means, and what actually works,” said Parsons, without wanting to undermine the importance of the recently published result.

“This study forms the basis of our new work, and now we know, that practicing at home has an impact.”

Source: Aarhus University/EurekAlert

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Keeping Your Practice HIPAA Compliant

Keeping Your Practice HIPAA Compliant

Patient Protection

keeping your practice hipaa compliantAs psychologists around the country are treating more people for mental health issues it is as important as ever to keep those patients personal information safe and secure. From internal meddling, to internet security breaches, the need to protect patient information is at an all time high. Years ago patient information was stored physically in the office and documented on paper. Today, patient information is stored locally on hard drives or in the cloud on secure servers designed specifically to be HIPAA compliant storage servers. This allows local practitioners to relieve themselves of the responsibility of  storing data locally, giving them a solution without the technical headaches. Cloud storage is still susceptible to hacks and doing your due diligence is encouraged when searching for a HIPAA compliant storage solution for your patient data. This does not mean however that there aren’t secure ways to store your data in-office. This may be the solution for your practice, we just suggest taking extra security measures to make sure your data is safe.

Secure Your Network

Password protect everything. From the point of entry on your network all the way to the computer that the data is being stored on. Here are various levels of security that should be implemented if local storage is an option for you.

Secure your router

Secure your switch

• Add a HIPAA compliant firewall

• Password protect all computers

• Have an admin login separate from the user login

• Do not allow employees to have admin level access to the computers

Proper Disposal Of Patient Records (Paper)

As with any healthcare provider, patience come and go and patient information eventually needs to be discarded of. shredding patient documentsMany practices still rely heavily on paper and folders to store patient records for quick, convenient access. When a patient schedules a visit, a psychologist uses this information to access past records, assessments, prescriptions, and evaluations. There are many ways to dispose of these patient records should they become absent in their visits. The most common for of disposal for paper records is the use of a paper shredder.  It is important as a health practitioner to remain HIPAA compliant and this means properly disposing of patient records.

 

Proper Disposal Of Patient Records (Digital)

The disposal of digital records is a little more complicated. Paper shredders fit conveniently in any Dr’s office and the shredding process is a simple one. With digital data, the process is far more complex. Simply deleting patient records from a hard drive isn’t always enough. Secure data disposal is imperative to remaining compliant and properly disposing of patient records.

 

Proper Disposal Of Computer Hard Drives

There may be a time where the disposal of data isn’t necessary, maybe you are getting rid of the computers in your practice, or maybe you are updating the computer at the front desk to improve patient scheduling. Whatever the reason for updating the computers in your practice, make sure you dispose of the old ones properly. Hiring someone to properly break down the old machines is recommended if that is something that is outside of your knowledge base. But what if you are not replacing the entire computer? What if you just want to update your existing hard drive to a solid state drive for improved performance? If you decide to migrate data from your old hard drive to your new solid state drive it will be extremely important to properly dispose of the old drive. Hiring a company that specializes in HIPAA compliant hard drive destruction would be the first step in ensuring you continue to abide by HIPAA compliancy.

 

Conclusion

If you have gone through med school, opened a practice, and are actively treating patients for psychological disorders then it is of the upmost importance that remain HIPPA compliant to protect your patients, your practice, and your medical license. For more information about HIPAA compliancy for Psychologists you can visit the link provided.

Posted by Patricia Adams in Default