Brain HEALTH Research SCI

Dehydration is connected to muddled thinking, experts say

A new study continues to add to the growing evidence that even a small amount of dehydration can cause everything from mood changes to declines in cognitive performance.

“We find that when people are mildly dehydrated they really don’t do as well on tasks that require complex processing or on tasks that require a lot of their attention,” said Mindy Millard-Stafford of the Georgia Institute of Technology, who published the recent study.

And it doesn’t take long to become even mildly dehydrated during the summer, especially for people that exercise outdoors.

“If I were hiking at moderate intensity for one hour, I could reach about 1.5 percent to 2 percent dehydration,” said Doug Casa, a professor of kinesiology at the University of Connecticut.

In fact, an average-sized person will sweat out approximately 1 liter of water from 2 percent dehydration.

“Most people don’t realize how high their sweat rate is in the heat,” Casa said.

Another recent study examined young, active women who took cognitive tests after they reduced fluid intake to 6 ounces or less for a day.

“We did manage to dehydrate them by [about] 1 percent just by telling them not to drink for the day,” said Nina Stachenfeld of the Yale School of Medicine who led the research.

“When the women were dehydrated they had about 12 percent more total errors” she said.

And after repeating the tests when the women drank a sufficient amount of water, performance increased.

“We were able to improve executive function back to normal — in other words, back to the baseline day — when they rehydrated,” Stachenfeld said.

The findings were published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.


Most early memories are fictional, study reports

Almost 40 percent of people have fictional first memories, according to new research published in the journal Psychological Science.

Most scientists agree that a human’s earliest memories date back to around 3 to 3-and-a-half years of age. The inability to recall anything earlier than that is a phenomenon known as childhood amnesia.

However, in the new study a team of researchers from various British universities analyzed a group of 6,641 participants and found that 38.6 percent claimed to have memories from the age of 2 or younger. Of those, 893 claimed to have memories from their first year of life.

To explore that, researchers asked the subjects to describe the memories, as well as their conditions. That enabled the team to discount any memory based on an external source like a story or photograph.

As so many of the memories supposedly dated back to before the age of 2, the team believes they were not real. Rather, they likely came from constructed mental representations of early experiences — which can include visualizations or emotions — combined with facts from their own childhood that may have been taken from photos or certain conversations.

“For this person, this type of memory could have resulted from someone saying something like ‘Mother had a large green pram.’ The person then imagines what it would have looked like,” said study co-author Martin Conway, a researcher at the University of London, according to Newsweek. “Over time, these fragments then become a memory, and often the person will start to add things in, such as a string of toys along the top.”

Humans play back many memories as they age. When they do that with false ones, they eventually become solidified in their mind as real.

That is why so many people have fake early memories and why they are integrated into the mind.

“Fictional memories are then part of the life story and may play a central, and positive, role in defining periods of life or lifetime periods,” wrote the team in their study, according to Popular Science.

Brain Research TECH_Social

Scientists clear up the mystery surrounding creative ‘hot streaks’

A new study published in the journal Nature reveals that “hot streaks,” or moments of creative inspiration do exist, and do not happen at random, reports Emma Betuel for Inverse. The study was led by associate professor at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management Dashun Wang, who originally supported the “random impact rule.” The rule held that career achievements generally appeared at random, perhaps in the beginning or middle or end of someone’s career. His latest theory refutes that rule, and establishes “hot streaks” as a non-random occurrence backed by science.

With his team, he examined the three biggest “hits” of someone’s career and compared the time that passed between each event. To accomplish this, he used statistical analysis of “hits” made during the careers of 3,480 artists, 6,233 movie directors, and 20,040 scientists. “If you look at the first big hit alone, you’d think, ‘Oh, that’s also random,’” he says. “But then we realized it’s because they’re all next to each other.” The team discovered that the biggest hits of a person’s career tend to appear in succession to one another. However, the first big hit that begins the hot streak does happen randomly. Following the first hit, the amount of time that passes between the next two big hits is fairly short.

They also found that hot streaks tend to last several years. According to their analysis, for artists, hot streaks lasted 5.7 years, and for directors, they lasted 5.2 years. Scientists’ hot streaks only lasted 3.7 years. The team calls these hot streaks “an endogenous shift in creativity.” Wang explains that “it’s not that you produce more during a hot streak, it’s just that for whatever reason, what you produce is substantially better.”


Shock Therapy is potentially a usable treatment again

Shock therapy or as it is more scientifically known as ECT (electroconvulsive therapy) is once again a popular treatment according to ABC News. Psychiatrists don’t like the term “shock therapy” because othe stigma surrounding it, which they say prevents the large majority of severely depressed patients from even trying it.

It might be surprising to learn that despite its misuse in the past, ECT is now considered one of the most effective treatments for people who haven’t been helped by antidepressant medication. In just the U.S., there’s more than 5  million Americans suffering from depression so crippling that it leads many people to kill themselvesy

Dr. Sarah Lisanby says that “One of my patients explained it to me saying that: “It’s not that I want to die. It’s that living is too painful.”

Dr. Sarah Lisanby works at the National Institute of Mental Health in Maryland, and is developing new ways to help the more than 35 percent of depressed patients who don’t get better with medication.

Dr. Sarah Lisanby added: “Imagine feeling severely depressed, and then you try medication after medication, and those treatments, even though you’re doing everything the doctor told you, the treatments are failing you. It’s not uncommon for someone to have tried 20 or 30 different medications by the time that they come to see me.”

A big issue facing doctors is indeed the stigma surrounding this controversial treatment. It has been suggested by doctors that popularizing a different name would help convince more patients to try this technique. It’s unknown exactly what will happen going forward, but it‘s an interesting topic to follow.



Brain HEALTH Science

Electronic device can stop seizures

Seizures may actually be able to be stopped by an electronic device implanted in the brain, according to Science Daily. The researchers, from the University of Cambridge, the École Nationale Supérieure des Mines and INSERM in France, implanted the device into the brains of mice, and when the first signals of a seizure had been detected, delivered a native brain chemical which stopped the seizure from moving further. The results, published in Science Advances, can also be applied to other conditions including brain tumors and Parkinson’s disease.

This research is another advance in the development of soft, flexible electronical devices that work well with human tissue. “These thin, organic films do minimal damage in the brain, and their electrical properties are well-suited for these types of applications,” said Professor George Malliaras, the Prince Philip Professor of Technology in Cambridge’s Department of Engineering, who led the research.

There are many different types of seizures, but in most patients with epilepsy, neurons in the brain start firing and signal nearby neurons to fire as well, in a snowball effect that can affect consciousness or motor control. Epilepsy is most commonly treated with anti-epileptic drugs, but these drugs often have  side effects and do not actually prevent seizures in many patients.

“In addition to be being able to control exactly when and how much drug is delivered, what is special about this approach is that the drugs come out of the device without any solvent,” said lead author Dr Christopher Proctor, a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Engineering. “This prevents damage to the surrounding tissue and allows the drugs to interact with the cells immediately outside the device.”


Childhood trauma can affect multiple generations, study reports

Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles have discovered that kids are more likely to have behavioral problems if one or both of their parents experienced trauma during childhood, according to a new study published in the journal Pediatrics.

While childhood trauma has long been known to increase the risk of behavioral problems for the person who went through the experience, the new research shows such events may affect their children as well.

“Early-life experiences — stressful or traumatic ones in particular — have intergenerational consequences for child behavior and mental health,” lead author Adam Schickedanz, a researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles, told ABC News. “This demonstrates one way in which all of us carry our histories with us, which our study shows has implications for our parenting and our children’s health.”

To study this trend, the team analyzed the effects of childhood trauma by studying parents who participated in a 2014 Child Development Supplement and 2,529 of their children who completed the 2014 Childhood Retrospective Circumstances Study.

They measured each child’s behavioral issues through a scale known as the behavior problems index and asked the primary caregivers questions to assess present problems, including anxiety, dependency, aggression, depression, and hyperactivity.

Data showed a strong correlation between children with a high rate of behavioral problems and parents who had a rough upbringing. The link was especially strong in those who suffered four or more adverse events before the age of 18.

The team also found that children were more negatively affected when their mothers — as opposed to their fathers — suffered childhood trauma.

This new discovery shows that trauma lasts longer than previously believed. The team plans follow up on their findings to see what else they can uncover about the situation and analyze how such information could lead to more effective treatments.

“If we can identify these children who are at a higher risk, we can connect them to services that might reduce their risk or prevent behavioral health problems,” said Schickedanz, according to Medical Daily.


Small electric charges could reduce violence, study reports

A team of international researchers found that zapping the brain with an electric current may reduce violent tendencies, a new study published in the Journal Of Neuroscience reports.

Though that method sounds extreme, the new research shows that small, controlled zaps to certain areas of the brain may raise an individual’s moral awareness and reduce their desire to commit serious crimes by more than 50 percent.

In the study, researchers stimulated the prefrontal cortex — the part of the brain that controls complex feelings and ideas — to 80 people and applied a small electric charge to half of them for roughly 20 minutes.

At the end of the research, all of the subjects were presented with cases of assault and then asked how likely they would behave in the same situations, as well as how wrong they would feel about their actions.

People who underwent the stimulation were 47 percent less likely to carry out physical assault and 70 percent less likely to carry out sexual assault than people who did not get zapped.

“Much of the focus in understanding causes of crime has been on social causation,” said study co-author Adrian Raine, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, in a statement. “That’s important, but research from brain imaging and genetics has also shown that half of the variance in violence can be chalked up to biological factors.”

These findings are important because they suggest that electric stimulation may be able to reduce the intent of violent crimes. However, as it is early on, more research needs to be done on the subject.

The team plans to follow up on their study to see if they can discover more answers and analyze how the technique may work if applied over longer periods of time.

“This is not the magic bullet that’s going to wipe away aggression and crime,” said Raine, according to International Business Times. “But could transcranial direct-current stimulation be offered as an intervention technique for first-time offenders to reduce their likelihood of recommitting a violent act?”

Brain Science

U.S. depression on the rise, study reports

Clinical depression in Americans has gone up 33 percent since 2013, according to a recent report published by researchers at the insurer Blue Cross Blue Shield.

To reach that conclusion, the team in the study analyzed insurance claims filed by 41 million privately insured Blue Cross Blue Shield members. That revealed depression is one of the biggest health concerns for U.S. citizens, second to only high blood pressure. That is because depression typically comes with more serious health issues like chronic illness and substance abuse.

Though depression increased across all demographics during its recent spike, the largest uptick occurred in younger generations. In the last five years rates went up 47 percent in millennials, 65 percent in adolescent girls, and 47 percent in adolescent boys. Women are more likely on average to be more depressed than men as well.

“The high rates for adolescents and millennials could have a substantial health impact for decades to come,” said Trent Haywood, chief medical officer at Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, according to Newsmax

In addition, the researchers discovered that certain parts of the country have more depression cases than others. Maine, Rhode Island, Minnesota, and Utah all have depression rates around 6 percent, while Hawaii’s sits right around 2 percent.

While the numbers analyzed in the research only apply to people insured by Blue Cross, the rates could be much higher across the general population.

This research builds on and reinforces a series of recent reports that state behavioral health care should become a routine part of medical visits. There are many links between mental and physical health, which means they should both be treated with the same amount of importance.

“They’re intertwined,” added Haywood, according to TIME. “You might start with a condition and then go on to have depression, or you might start with depression and go on to have a chronic condition. It’s bi-directional.”

Brain Research TECH TECH_Technology

Autism researchers unlock social support with Google Glass

In a study published Thursday, researchers at Stanford University discovered that children with autism made more eye contact and were better able to relate to others after participating in an at-home therapy that used Google Glass.

The smart technology, Google Glass, essentially computerized eyeglasses equipped with a camera, small screen, and speaker, in conjunction with a custom smartphone app.

According to findings published in the journal Digital Medicine, one to three months of regular use produced substantial gains for the children with autism.

For the study, 14 children with autism ages 3 to 17 participated in the therapy dubbed “Superpower Glass” for at least 20 minutes three times per week for an average of 10 weeks.

The children wore Google Glass devices that were connected to an app that relied on machine learning to recognize eight emotions, including happiness, sadness, anger, disgust, surprise, fear, neutral and contempt.

The machine learning process was solely based on facial expressions.

During interactions with family, the children received visual or audio cues from the technology about the emotions of those around them. In addition, the kids could practice guessing what different facial expressions mean and were able to try eliciting different emotions from others.

Parents completed questionnaires and interviews before and after their children took part in the therapy. Overall, they indicated that the technology was useful and fun and a dozen of the families reported that their kids showed more eye contact after being involved in the study.

Moreover, researchers said that the average score of children in the study on the Social Responsiveness Scale, a measure of social impairment and autism severity, went down 7.38 points during the treatment and that six of the participants saw the severity of their diagnosis decline from “severe” to “moderate” or “moderate” to “mild” or “mild” to “normal.”

Researchers acknowledged that the study was small and lacked a control group, but indicated that the findings are promising especially in light of the long waits children typically experience before accessing autism treatment.

“We have too few autism practitioners,” said Dennis Wall, an associate professor of pediatrics and biomedical data science at the Stanford University School of Medicine and a senior author of the study. “The only way to break through the problem is to create reliable, home-based treatment systems. It’s a really important unmet need.”


Exercise helps mental health

Researchers found that exercising daily helps with mental health, according to BBC.  Regular physical activity that lasts for at least  45 minutes 3 to 5 times a week can actually reduce poor mental health , but doing more than that is not always beneficial, a large study suggests.

A total of 1.2 million people reported their activity levels for a month and then rated their mental wellbeing. People who exercised had 1.5 fewer “bad days” a month than non-exercisers, thus study found. Cycling, team sports and aerobics had the most positive impact.

All types of activity were found to improve mental health no matter what the person’s age or gender was, including simply doing the housework and looking after the children. The study was published in The Lancet Psychiatry Journal and  is the largest of its kind to date, however it cannot confirm that physical activity is the cause of improved mental health.

Adults who were taking part in the study said that they experienced on average 3.4 days of poor mental health each month. For those who were physically active, this has been reduced to only two days.

Among people who had been diagnosed previously with depression, exercise appeared to have an even larger effect, resulting in 7 days of poor mental health a month compared with nearly 11 days for those who did not exercise.

Dr Adam Chekroud, study author and assistant professor of psychiatry at Yale University, said: “Previously, people have believed that the more exercise you do, the better your mental health, but our study suggests that this is not the case. Doing exercise more than 23 times a month, or exercising for longer than 90-minute sessions is associated with worse mental health.”