Individual, Family & Group Psychotherapy
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Dec 31

Here’s What Alcohol Plus Cannabis Does To The Brain


Alcohol plus cannabis is one of the most frequently detected combinations of drugs in car accidents.

Alcohol and cannabis taken together may increase the effect of the cannabis, a new study finds.

This may be why, in car accidents, alcohol plus cannabis is one of the most frequently detected combinations of drugs.

Taking both drugs together significantly increases the levels of cannabis’ main psychoactive ingredient, THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) in comparison to taking cannabis alone.

For the research, 19 adults either took doses of cannabis or a placebo.

Both were combined with alcohol.

Tests demonstrated significantly higher levels of THC when the same amount of cannabis was taken with alcohol rather than with a placebo.

Dr Marilyn A. Huestis, the study’s first author, said:

“The significantly higher blood THC and 11-OH-THC [median maximum concentration] values with alcohol possibly explain increased performance impairment observed from cannabis-alcohol combinations.

Our results will help facilitate forensic interpretation and inform the debate on drugged driving legislation.”

The study was published in the journal Clinical Chemistry (Huestis et al., 2015).

Dec 31

5 Questions to Ask a Child Psychologist


Your child has been struggling for weeks, months, maybe even years. Maybe it’s friendship issues. Maybe it’s school stress. Maybe your child seems anxious or irritable most of the time. Maybe you’re worried about your child’s temper. Maybe your family is going through a rough transition and it seems to be hitting your child hard. You’re wondering if your child needs to talk with a psychologist.

For most parents, the idea of bringing their child to see a psychologist seems scary. What if the psychologist makes things worse, or convinces your child that he or she is “crazy,” or insists that your child has to be in therapy forever? What if the psychologist is one of those blame-the-mother people? Does having to bring your child to see a psychologist mean you’re a failure as a parent?

I’ll start with the last question first: No, having to bring your child to see a psychologist absolutely does not mean you’re a failure as a parent! In fact, getting your child the right help can be an extraordinarily loving gift that can reduce suffering, improve communication, or equip your child to cope. A child psychologist is not a parent—that role is uniquely yours. Bringing your child to see a psychologist adds to rather than replaces your relationship. A child psychologist is a combination coach, cheerleader, and fairy godmother, who also happens to have deep knowledge of child development, personal relationships, and clinical research.

Many people put off seeking help because they tell themselves the problem isn’t that bad… But if it’s not that bad, it probably won’t take that much to make things better! The right psychologist will help your child—and you—feel even more capable, not less.

The tricky thing is finding the right psychologist for your child and your family. Just like when you choose a pediatrician, there are many competent professionals out there, but you need to find someone that you can work with and trust.

Start by asking friends, your child’s pediatrician, or the school guidance counselor for suggestions of local child psychologists. Psychotherapy with kids is different than psychotherapy with adults, because kids are often reluctant participants initially, they are more concrete thinkers, and there are other people in charge of them (parents, teachers, babysitters…). You should definitely find someone who enjoys kids and has experience working with them. At least 50% of the psychologist’s practice should involve working with children.

Once you have some names, make some phone calls. Briefly describe the situation then ask questions to get a feel for what it’s like to work with that particular psychologist.

Trust your gut: no one knows your child better than you do. You are the best person to decide which psychologist is a good fit for your child and your family.
Five Questions to Ask a Child Psychologist

To help with your search, here are some questions to ask a child psychologist. As a point of reference, I’ve also included how I would answer them.
Q: How would you typically work with this type of problem?

I haven’t met your child, so I can’t answer this question specifically, but, in general, I focus on helping kids become experts on the area where they struggle and to learn useful strategies for coping with it. [This could involve learning to communicate better, to think about situations from a different perspective, to reach out to others in kind rather than silly ways, to manage frustration, to build up confidence that they can handle anxiety-provoking situations…] I also work closely with parents, to help you figure out effective ways to support your child or deal with challenging situations. My hope is that I can be a source of both practical and emotional support for your child and you.
Q: How involved are parents in therapy?

I tend to work very collaboratively with parents. The way I think about it is that I’m the expert on psychology in general, and you’re the expert on your child and your family in particular. Our job is to put our heads together and come up with ideas for helping this particular child at this particular time.

The younger the child, the more actively involved parents need to be in therapy. With very young children, in some sense, the parents are the main therapists, because you’re the one who is with your child most of the time, and you’re the one who is going to help implement whatever strategies we come up with.

But even with older kids and young teens, I think the parents’ input is very important. Kids don’t necessarily tell me what I need to know, so I generally meet with a parent for the first five or ten minutes of a session, before meeting with the child, just to hear how things have been going and if there are any new concerns. Often, I’ll have the parent come back in with the child at the end of the session, so the child can explain what we’re working on. This helps me check what the child is understanding and keeps the parent in the loop. Depending on what’s going on, I may also have sessions with the whole family or with just the parents.

I believe that therapy should not be mysterious, and that you, as a parent, have a right to know generally what we’re working on and how. On the other hand, kids also need some privacy to be able to trust me, so I’m not going to report, blow-by-blow, what your child said in a session with me. If there’s something important that I think you should know, I will encourage your child to tell you or ask your child’s permission to tell you. If there’s a serious safety issue, I will definitely tell you.
Q: How do we begin?

I like to meet with just the parent(s) initially. I do this for two reasons: First, it gives me a chance to ask a lot of questions to get to know your family, understand the history of the problem, what has or hasn’t helped so far, and also to learn about your child’s strengths. It’s just easier to get all this information without your child present. Second, this first parent meeting gives you a chance to look me over, to decide if I’m the right psychologist for your child and family.

We know from research that one of the main predictors of whether therapy works is whether the client feels connected to the therapist. At the end of the session, I’ll ask you if I seem like someone you can imagine your child connecting with. If you say no, you won’t hurt my feelings. I’ll make sure you get in with someone good. But if you say yes, that’s great. Then you can tell your child, “We met Dr. Eileen, and we think you’re going to like her.” This makes it easier for your child to come meet me.
Q: I think my child will be nervous about coming to see you. What should I say?

Sadly, very few children want to come see me at first! It’s normal for kids to be nervous about coming to see a psychologist, because they don’t know what to expect, and they’re often worried that this means they’re bad. I can almost always win them over, though! My goal in the first session is to help your child to feel comfortable and understood and to walk out with a sense of hope that we can work together so things will get better.

If your child likes the school counselor, you can say that I’m kind of like him or her.

With young children, you may want to say something along the lines of “She’s a nice lady who helps kids to feel happier and to get along better with family and friends. She also has a lot of fun toys and games in her office.”

With older kids, think about what your child wants: What problem does your child want to solve? Which areas of his or her life would your child like to improve? Setting goals that matter to your child can help your child be more receptive to therapy. (These goals may or may not overlap with your goals.)

You may also want to say, “Just try it for a few sessions, and see how it goes.”
Q: How soon should I expect improvement?

That’s hard to predict, because people change at different rates. In general, problems that are more severe, have been around a long time, or affect many areas of your child’s life take longer to change. We’ll need some time for your child to become comfortable with me and for us to figure out which strategies are most helpful. If there were a quick and easy solution, my guess is you would have done it yourself already!

Usually, I would expect to see noticeable progress by twelve weeks. We may be done sooner than that, or we may not be done at that point, depending on how complicated the situation is. I find that kids need to come regularly, on a weekly basis, for me to be enough of a presence in their lives to have a positive influence. It’s rare for me to see kids for more than a year, although some do come back after making good progress then taking a break from therapy for months or years.

Progress doesn’t tend to move in a straight line. Kids might show quick improvement and then plateau for awhile, or they might be slow to start, then take a big step forward, then hit a rough patch and slide backwards for a bit… We’ll talk regularly about how things are going to make sure we focus on the most important issues and that, overall, we’re moving in the right direction.

By Traci Pedersen
Omega 3 Strongly Linked to Behavior, Learning in ChildrenResearchers at the University of Oxford have found that a child’s blood levels of long-chain Omega-3 DHA can significantly predict how well he or she is able to concentrate and learn. The study, published in the journal PLOS One, is one of the first to evaluate blood Omega-3 levels in UK schoolchildren.

“From a sample of nearly 500 schoolchildren, we found that levels of Omega-3 fatty acids in the blood significantly predicted a child’s behavior and ability to learn,” said co-author Paul Montgomery, Ph.D., from Oxford University’s Centre for Evidence-Based Intervention in the Department of Social Policy and Intervention.

“Higher levels of Omega-3 in the blood, and DHA in particular, were associated with better reading and memory, as well as with fewer behavior problems as rated by parents and teachers,” he said.

For the study, blood samples were taken from 493 schoolchildren, between the ages of seven and nine. All of the children were thought to have below-average reading skills, based on national assessments at the age of seven or their teachers’ current judgments.

Analyses of their blood samples revealed that, on average, just under two per cent of the children’s total blood fatty acids were Omega-3 DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid) and 0.5 percent were Omega-3 EPA (Eicosapentaenoic acid), with a total of 2.45 percent for these long-chain Omega-3 combined. This is below the minimum of 4 percent recommended by leading scientists, with 8-12 percent regarded as optimal, the researchers reported.

Parents also reported their child’s diet, revealing to the researchers that almost nine out of ten children in the sample ate fish less than twice a week, and nearly one in ten never ate fish at all.

“’The longer term health implications of such low blood Omega-3 levels in children obviously can’t be known,” said co-author Dr Alex Richardson.

“But this study suggests that many, if not most UK children, probably aren’t getting enough of the long-chain Omega-3 we all need for a healthy brain, heart and immune system.”

“That gives serious cause for concern because we found that lower blood DHA was linked with poorer behavior and learning in these children. Most of the children we studied had blood levels of long-chain Omega-3 that in adults would indicate a high risk of heart disease.

This was consistent with their parents’ reports that most of them failed to meet current dietary guidelines for fish and seafood intake. Similarly, few took supplements or foods fortified with these Omega-3,” he said.

The findings build on previous studies conducted by the same researchers, showing that dietary supplementation with Omega-3 DHA improved both reading progress and behavior in children from the general school population who were struggling with reading.

Their earlier research has shown benefits of supplementation with long-chain omega-3 (EPA+DHA) for children with ADHD, Dyspraxia, Dyslexia, and related conditions.

Dec 24

Soulmates Have Worst Relationships


By Rick Nauert PhD
Provocative new research looks into the way that people think and talk about love.

Social psychologists observed that people talk and think about love in an incessant variety of ways but underlying such diversity are some common themes that frame how we think about relationships.

One popular perspective considers love as perfect unity (“made for each other,” “she’s my other half”); in another view, love is a journey (“look how far we’ve come,” “we’ve been through all these things together”).

These two ways of thinking about relationships are particularly interesting because, according to study authors Spike W. S. Lee and Norbert Schwarz, they have the power to highlight or downplay the damaging effect of conflicts on relationship evaluation.

Here’s the scoop. If two people were really made in heaven for each other, why should they have any conflicts?

“Our findings corroborate prior research showing that people who implicitly think of relationships as perfect unity between soulmates have worse relationships than people who implicitly think of relationships as a journey of growing and working things out,” says Lee.

“Apparently, different ways of talking and thinking about love relationship lead to different ways of evaluating it.”

In one experiment, Lee and Schwarz had people in long-term relationships complete a knowledge quiz that included expressions related to either unity or journey, then recall either conflicts or celebrations with their romantic partner, and finally evaluate their relationship.

As predicted, recalling conflicts leads people to feel less satisfied with their relationship — but only with the unity frame in mind, not with the journey frame in mind.

Recalling celebrations makes people satisfied with their relationship regardless of how they think about it.

In a two follow-up experiments, the study authors invoked the unity vs. journey frame in even subtler, more incidental ways.

For example, people were asked to identify pairs of geometric shapes to form a full circle (activating unity) or draw a line that gets from point A to point B through a maze (activating journey).

Such non-linguistic, merely pictorial cues were sufficient to change the way people evaluated relationships.

Again, conflicts hurt relationship satisfaction with the unity frame in mind, not with the journey frame in mind.

“Next time you and your partner have a conflict,” as Professors Lee and Schwarz would advise, think what you said at the altar, ‘I, ____, take you, ____, to be my husband/wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness or in health, to love and to cherish; from this day forward ‘till death do us part.’”

“It’s a journey,” they said. “You’ll feel better now, and you’ll do better down the road.”

The study was published in a recent issue of the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

Source: University of Toronto

By Traci Pedersen
Common Sleep Aid, Ambien, Intensifies Emotional, Negative MemoriesResearchers have identified the sleep mechanism that enables the brain to strengthen emotional memories.

They also found that a commonly prescribed sleep aid heightens the brain’s remembrance of and response to negative memories.

Dr. Sara Mednick from the University of Riverside and her colleagues found that a sleep condition known as sleep spindles — bursts of brain activity that last for a second or less during a specific stage of sleep — are vital for emotional memory.

In earlier research, Mednick demonstrated the vital role that sleep spindles play in transferring memories from short-term to long-term in the hippocampus.

The drug zolpidem (brand names include Ambien and others) was found to enhance the process, a discovery that could lead to new sleep therapies to improve memory for aging adults and for those with dementia, Alzheimer’s and schizophrenia. It was the first study to show that sleep could be manipulated with medication to improve memory.

“We know that sleep spindles are involved in declarative memory — explicit information we recall about the world, such as places, people and events,” she explained.

But until now, researchers did not know that sleep spindles were involved in emotional memory; they had been focusing on rapid eye movement (REM) sleep instead.

Using two commonly prescribed sleep aids — zolpidem and sodium oxybate (Xyrem) — the researchers were able to tease apart the effects of sleep spindles and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep on the recall of emotional memories. They determined that sleep spindles, not REM, affect emotional memory.

For the study, the researchers gave zolpidem, sodium oxybate and a placebo to 28 men and women between the ages of 18 and 39 who were normal sleepers. They waited several days between doses to allow the medications to leave their bodies.

The participants were shown images known to induce positive or negative responses for one second before and after taking supervised naps. After taking zolpidem, participants recalled more images that had negative or highly arousing content, which also suggests that the brain may lean more strongly toward consolidation of negative memories, Mednick said.

“I was surprised by the specificity of the results, that the emotional memory improvement was specifically for the negative and high-arousal memories, and the ramifications of these results for people with anxiety disorders and PTSD,” she remarked. “These are people who already have heightened memory for negative and high-arousal memories. Sleep drugs might be improving their memories for things they don’t want to remember.”

The study, published in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, has implications for people suffering from insomnia related to post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other anxiety disorders, and who are also prescribed zolpidem as a sleep aid.

Currently, the U.S. Air Force uses zolpidem as one of the prescribed “no-go pills” to help flight crews calm down after using stimulants to stay awake during long missions, the researchers noted in the study.

“In light of the present results, it would be worthwhile to investigate whether the administration of benzodiazepine-like drugs may be increasing the retention of highly arousing and negative memories, which would have a countertherapeutic effect,” they wrote. “Further research on the relationship between hypnotics and emotional mood disorders would seem to be in order.”

Source: University of California, Riverside

Dec 22

Study Reveals the Wandering Mind Behind Insomnia


By Janice Wood
Study Reveals the Wandering Mind Behind InsomniaA new brain imaging study may help explain why people with insomnia often struggle to concentrate during the day.

“We found that insomnia subjects did not properly turn on brain regions critical to a working memory task and did not turn off ‘mind-wandering’ brain regions irrelevant to the task,” said Sean P.A. Drummond, Ph.D., an associate professor in the department of psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego and secretary/treasurer of the Sleep Research Society.

“Based on these results, it is not surprising that someone with insomnia would feel like they are working harder to do the same job as a healthy sleeper.”

A research team led by Drummond and co-principal investigator Matthew Walker, Ph.D., studied 25 people with primary insomnia and 25 good sleepers. While most often insomnia occurs with another disorder, such as depression or chronic pain, primary insomnia is defined as a difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep in the absence of another condition, the researchers explain.

The study participants, who had an average age of 32, underwent a functional magnetic resonance imaging scan while performing a working memory task.

The study’s findings, published in the journal Sleep, show that participants with insomnia did not differ from good sleepers in objective cognitive performance on the task.

However, the MRI scans revealed that people with insomnia could not modulate activity in brain regions typically used to perform the task, according to the researchers.

As the task got harder, good sleepers used more resources within the working memory network of the brain, especially the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, the study found. Those with insomnia, however, were unable to recruit more resources in these brain regions.

As the task got harder, those with insomnia did not dial down the “default mode” regions of the brain that are normally only active when our minds are wandering, the researchers noted.

“The data help us understand that people with insomnia not only have trouble sleeping at night, but their brains are not functioning as efficiently during the day,” said Drummond.

“Some aspects of insomnia are as much of a daytime problem as a nighttime problem. These daytime problems are associated with organic, measurable abnormalities of brain activity, giving us a biological marker for treatment success.”

Source: The American Academy of Sleep Medicine

Dec 22

Not Getting Sleepy? Not Everyone Can Be Hypnotized


By Janice Wood
Not Getting Sleepy? Not Everyone Can Be Hypnotized The brains of people who can be easily hypnotized are different than the brains of people who can’t be hypnotized, according to new research from the Stanford University School of Medicine.

The study used data from functional and structural magnetic resonance imaging to identify how the areas of the brain associated with executive control and attention tend to have less activity in people who cannot be put into a hypnotic trance.

“There’s never been a brain signature of being hypnotized, and we’re on the verge of identifying one,” said David Spiegel, MD, the paper’s senior author and a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences.

This would help scientists better understand the mechanisms underlying hypnosis and how it can be used more widely and effectively in clinical settings, he added.

The researcher estimates that 25 percent of the patients he sees cannot be hypnotized. He adds that the ability to be hypnotized is not linked with any specific personality trait. “There’s got to be something going on in the brain,” he said.

Hypnosis is a trance-like state in which a person has a heightened focus and concentration. It has been shown to help with brain control over sensation and behavior, and has been used clinically to help patients manage pain, control stress and anxiety and combat phobias, according to the researchers.

Hypnosis works by modulating activity in regions of the brain associated with focused attention.

“Our results provide novel evidence that altered functional connectivity in [the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex] and [the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex] may underlie hypnotizability,” the researchers wrote in their paper.

For the study, Spiegel and his colleagues performed functional and structural MRI scans of the brains of 12 adults with high hypnotizability and 12 adults with low hypnotizability.

They looked at the activity of three different networks in the brain: The default-mode network, used when the brain is idle; the executive-control network, which is involved in making decisions; and the salience network, which is involved in deciding something is more important than something else.

According to Spiegel, the findings were clear: Both groups had an active default-mode network, but highly hypnotizable participants showed greater co-activation between components of the executive-control network and the salience network.

In the brains of the highly hypnotizable group, the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, an executive-control region of the brain, appeared to be activated in tandem with the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, which is part of the salience network and plays a role in focusing of attention.

By contrast, there was little functional connectivity between these two areas of the brain in those with low hypnotizability, Spiegel noted.

“The brain is complicated, people are complicated, and it was surprising we were able to get such a clear signature,” he said.

The work also confirms that hypnotizability is less about personality variables and more about cognitive style, he said.

“Here we’re seeing a neural trait,” he said.

The next step is to explore how these functional networks change during hypnosis, according to Spiegel. The research team has recruited high- and low-hypnotizable patients and will conduct fMRI assessments during hypnotic states.

The current study was published in the Archives of General Psychiatry.

Source: The Stanford University School of Medicine

By Christine Schoenwald for
I’m addicted to Facebook. I don’t just go on there once or twice a day — I’m constantly on there. But there are a lot of things I don’t see on my feed, some things (and people) that I’ve blocked and other content that the Facebook algorithm has randomly decided not to show me.

Still, there’s so much on Facebook that I don’t want to see and that I wish I’d never seen. If I never see another over-the-top conservative rant from that nice boy from second grade again, or the endless pictures and videos of my middle school friend’s son learning how to potty, I’d be forever grateful.

But even more than the annoying and sometimes just plain gross shares are the amazing successes and overwhelming joys people share, which cause me to focus on what other people have. I find myself comparing my life to those lives of others, and my life (though a wonderful life) falls short.

Of course, I could unfriend, unfollow or block the spectacular over-sharers, but then who would I have to promote all my crap… I mean, cool activities and milestones to?

I’m just not sure I have the determination I need to take myself off Facebook, though almost everything suggests that, if I did, I’d be most definitely happier.

Meik Wiking, CEO of the Happiness Research Institute said, “Facebook is a constant bombardment of everyone else’s great news, but many of us look out of the window and see grey skies and rain, especially in Denmark.”
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In order to really look at how social networks, specifically Facebook, influence our sense of well-being, the Happiness Research Institute conducted a study of 1,095 Facebook users, 94 percent of whom visit Facebook as part of their daily routine, 86 percent who browse their Facebook news feed often or very often, and 78 percent who use Facebook 30 minutes or more per day.

The researchers polled the participants on their Facebook usage, then divided them into two groups for a week-long experiment. One group (the control group) was told to continue using Facebook the way they would normally, and the other group (treatment group) was asked to not use Facebook for an entire week.

At the end of the seven days, 88 percent of the treatment group (those who gave up Facebook) reported feeling happy compared to the 81 percent of the control group. The treatment group also reported feeling more enthusiastic, more decisive, wasted less time, and felt as if they enjoyed life more.

The control group (still connected to Facebook) were 55 percent more likely to feel stressed, experience trouble concentrating, and described feelings of loneliness. Researchers came to the conclusion that those negative feelings were most likely caused by Facebook envy.

The study stated that 5 out of 10 people envy the amazing experiences of others posted on Facebook, 1 out of 3 people envy how happy other people seem on Facebook, and 4 out of 10 envy the apparent success of others on Facebook.

“The main takeaway from this study is awareness of the negative aspects that social comparisons have, and how we should be mindful of how Facebook and social media affect how we evaluate our lives,” Wiking said.

Instead of depending on Facebook to show me only the good or the annoying, I should try to spend less time on it and focus on making my own happiness.

By Janice Wood
A new study has found that 14- and 15-year-olds are at a higher risk than other young people of becoming dependent on prescription opioids within a 12-month period after using them beyond the prescribed amount.

“Many kids start using these drugs other than what’s prescribed because they’re curious to see what it feels like,” said Maria A. Parker, a doctoral student in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at Michigan State University who led the study.

“The point of our study was to estimate the risk of dependency after someone in this age group starts using them beyond the boundaries of a doctor’s orders.”

The study, based on a nationally representative sample of 12- to 21-year-olds taken each year between 2002 and 2013, focuses on what happens when young people start to use these drugs for other reasons.

Out of about 42,000 respondents, the researchers found that 14- and 15-year-olds were two to three times more likely to become opioid-dependent within a year compared to 20- and 21-year-old users.

The research also reconfirmed earlier studies that found that peak risk for starting to use prescription painkillers above the prescribed intent is seen at 16 and 17 years old, according to the researchers.

The study’s findings come at a time when states, including Michigan, are increasing efforts to combat the growing prescription drug problem.

Earlier this year, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder created a 21-member task force to tackle the issue and offer recommendations to curb prescription drug abuse.

Statistics show that the use of some prescribed pain relieving pills, such as Vicodin, have quadrupled in the last eight years in Michigan. This increase has contributed to the use of other drugs, such as heroin, according to some researchers.

“It’s important to identify when young people are starting to use these drugs because it allows us to provide prevention or intervention outreach strategies around these ages and much earlier on so things don’t escalate into something worse,” Parker said.

Knowing where the drugs are coming from and educating parents on the prescribed dosages appropriate for their children, as well as the proper places to store drugs, are all ways to help ensure they are using them safely, she added.

Other types of prevention efforts often include peer-resistance programs such as keepin’ it REAL and Botvin LifeSkills Training.

“No age group is free from risk though,” Parker concluded.

The study was published in the journal PeerJ.

Source: Michigan State University

Dec 19

6 Secret Signs of Hidden Depression


By John M. Grohol, Psy.D.
Lots of people walk through life trying to hide their depression. Some people with hidden depression can conceal their depression like pros, masking their symptoms and putting on a “happy face” for most others.

People with concealed depression or hidden depression often don’t want to acknowledge the severity of their depressive feelings. They believe that if they just continue living their life, the depression will just go away on its own. In a few cases, this may work. But for most folks, it just drags out the feelings of sadness and loneliness.

Dealing with the black dog of depression through concealing one’s true feelings is the way many of us were brought up — we don’t talk about our feelings and we don’t burden others with our troubles. But if a friend or family member is going through something like this — trying to hide or mask their depression — these signs might help you discover what they’re trying to keep concealed.

6 Signs of Concealed Depression

1. They have unusual sleep, eating or drinking habits that differ from their normal ones.

When a person seems to have changed the way they sleep or eat in significant ways, that’s often a sign that something is wrong. Sleep is the foundation of both good health and mental health. When a person can’t sleep (or sleeps for far too long) every day, that may be a sign of hidden depression.

Others turn to food or alcohol to try and quash their feelings. Overeating can help someone who is depressed feel full, which in turn helps them feel less emotionally empty inside. Drinking may be used to help cover up the feelings of sadness and loneliness that often accompany depression. Sometimes a person will go in the other direction too — losing all interest in food or drinking, because they see no point in it, or it brings them no joy.

2. They wear a forced “happy face” and are always making excuses.

We’ve all seen someone who seems like they are trying to force happiness. It’s a mask we all wear from time to time. But in most cases, the mask wears thin the longer you spend time with the person who’s wearing it. That’s why lots of people with hidden depression try not to spend any more time with others than they absolutely have to. They seem to always have a quick and ready excuse for not being able to hang out, go to dinner, or see you.

It’s hard to see behind the mask of happiness that people with hidden depression wear. Sometimes you can catch a glimpse of it in a moment of honesty, or when there’s a conversation lull.

3. They may talk more philosophically than normal.

When you do finally catch up with a person with masked depression, you may find the conversation turning to philosophical topics they don’t normally talk much about. These might include the meaning of life, or what their life has amounted to so far. They may even open up enough to acknowledge occasional thoughts of wanting to hurt themselves or even thoughts of death. They may talk about finding happiness or a better path in the journey of life.

These kinds of topics may be a sign that a person is struggling internally with darker thoughts that they dare not share.

4. They may put out a cry for help, only to take it back.

People with hidden depression struggle fiercely with keeping it hidden. Sometimes, they give up the struggle to conceal their true feelings and so they tell someone about it. They may even take the first step and make an appointment with a doctor or therapist, and a handful will even will make it to the first session.

But then they wake up the next day and realize they’ve gone too far. Seeking out help for their depression would be admitting they truly are depressed. That is an acknowledgment that many people with concealed depression struggle with and cannot make. Nobody else is allowed to see their weakness.

5. They feel things more intensely than normal.

A person with masked depression often feels emotions more intensely than others. This might come across as someone who doesn’t normally cry while watching a TV show or movie suddenly breaks out in tears during a poignant scene. Or someone who doesn’t normally get angry about anything suddenly gets very mad at a driver who cut them off in traffic. Or someone who doesn’t usually express terms of endearment suddenly is telling you that they love you.

It’s like by keeping their depressive feelings all boxed up, other feelings leak out around the edges more easily.

6. They may look at things with a less optimistic point of view than usual.

Psychologists refer to this phenomenon as depressive realism, and there’s some research evidence to suggest that it’s true. When a person suffers from depression, they may actually have a more realistic picture of the world around them and their impact on it. People who aren’t depressed, on the other hand, tend to be more optimistic and have expectations that aren’t as grounded in their actual circumstances. Non-depressed people believed they performed better on laboratory tasks than they actually did, compared to people with depression (Moore & Fresco, 2012).

It’s sometimes harder to cover-up this depressive realism, because the difference in attitude may be very small and not come across as something “depressing.” Instead of saying, “I really think I’ll get that promotion this time!” after having been passed over it four previous times, they may say, “Well, I’m up for that promotion again, but I doubt I’ll get it.”

By Janice Wood

New research has found that older adults who improved their fitness through a moderate intensity exercise program increased the thickness of their brain’s cortex, the outer layer of the brain that typically atrophies with Alzheimer’s disease.

According to a new study from the University of Maryland School of Public Health, the improvements were found in both healthy older adults and those diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), an early stage of Alzheimer’s disease.

“Exercise may help to reverse neurodegeneration and the trend of brain shrinkage that we see in those with MCI and Alzheimer’s,” said Dr. J. Carson Smith, an associate professor of kinesiology and senior author of the study, published in the Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society.

“Many people think it is too late to intervene with exercise once a person shows symptoms of memory loss, but our data suggest that exercise may have a benefit in this early stage of cognitive decline.”

For the study, previously inactive people between the ages of 61 and 88 were put on an exercise regimen that included moderate intensity walking on a treadmill four times a week over a 12-week period.

On average, cardiorespiratory fitness improved by about eight percent as a result of the training in all participants, the researchers reported.

The researchers also found that the people who showed the greatest improvements in fitness had the most growth in the cortical layer, including both the group diagnosed with MCI and the healthy participants.

Both groups showed strong associations between increased fitness and increased cortical thickness after the intervention. But the MCI participants showed greater improvements compared to the healthy group in the left insula and superior temporal gyrus, two brain regions that have been shown to exhibit accelerated neurodegeneration in Alzheimer’s disease, the study found.

Smith previously reported that the participants in this exercise intervention showed improvements in neural efficiency during memory recall, and this new data adds to the evidence for the positive impact of exercise on cognitive function.

Other research he has published has shown that moderate intensity physical activity, such as walking for 30 minutes three to four days a week, may protect brain health by staving off shrinkage of the hippocampus in older adults.

Smith noted that he plans future studies that include more participants engaging in a longer-term exercise intervention to see if greater improvements can be seen over time, and if the effects persist over the long term.

The key unanswered question is if regular moderate intensity physical activity could reverse or delay cognitive decline and help keep people out of nursing homes and enable them to maintain their independence as they age, he noted.

Source: University of Maryland

Dec 19

Diet Shown to Slow Cognitive Decline


By Rick Nauert PhD
Although the aging process often includes diminished intellectual capabilities, emerging research suggests eating a group of specific foods may slow cognitive decline.

Rush University Medical Center researchers say a food plan that blend parts of the Mediterranean and DASH diets may retard cognitive decline even among aging adults who are not at risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

This finding is in addition to a previous study by the research team that found that the diet may reduce a person’s risk in developing Alzheimer’s disease.

The recent study shows that older adults who followed the diet more rigorously showed an equivalent of being 7.5 years younger cognitively than those who followed the diet least. The results of the study appear online in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association.

The National Institute of Aging funded study evaluated cognitive change over a period of 4.7 years among 960 older adults who were free of dementia on enrollment.

Study participants were part of the Rush Memory and Aging Project, a study of residents of more than 40 retirement communities and senior public housing units in the Chicago area. Average participant age during the study was 81.4 years.

During the course of the study, participants received annual, standardized testing for cognitive ability in five areas: episodic memory, working memory, semantic memory, visuospatial ability and perceptual speed. The study group also completed annual food frequency questionnaires, allowing the researchers to compare participants’ reported adherence to the MIND diet with changes in their cognitive abilities as measured by the tests.

Martha Clare Morris, Sc.D., a nutritional epidemiologist, and colleagues developed the diet, whose full name is the Mediterranean-DASH Diet Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay. As the name suggests, the MIND diet is a hybrid of the Mediterranean and DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diets.

Both diets have been found to reduce the risk of cardiovascular conditions, like hypertension, heart attack and stroke.

“Everyone experiences decline with aging; and Alzheimer’s disease is now the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S., which accounts for 60 to 80 percent of dementia cases. Therefore, prevention of cognitive decline, the defining feature of dementia, is now more important than ever,” Morris says.

“Delaying dementia’s onset by just five years can reduce the cost and prevalence by nearly half.”

The MIND diet has 15 dietary components, including 10 “brain-healthy food groups” and five unhealthy groups: red meat, butter and stick margarine, cheese, pastries and sweets, and fried or fast food.

To adhere to and benefit from the MIND diet, a person would need to eat at least three servings of whole grains, a green leafy vegetable and one other vegetable every day. Additionally participants are asked to drink a glass of wine, snack most days on nuts, have beans every other day or so, eat poultry and berries at least twice a week and fish at least once a week.

In addition, the study found that to have a real shot at avoiding the devastating effects of cognitive decline, he or she must limit intake of the designated unhealthy foods, especially butter (less than 1 tablespoon a day), sweets and pastries, whole fat cheese, and fried or fast food (less than a serving a week for any of the three).

Berries are the only fruit specifically to be included in the MIND diet. “Blueberries are one of the more potent foods in terms of protecting the brain,” Morris says, and strawberries also have performed well in past studies of the effect of food on cognitive function.

“The MIND diet modifies the Mediterranean and DASH diets to highlight the foods and nutrients shown through the scientific literature to be associated with dementia prevention.” Morris explains.

“There is still a great deal of study we need to do in this area, and I expect that we’ll make further modifications as the science on diet and the brain advances.”

Source: Rush University Medical Center/EurekAlert

Dec 19

Stress Can Up Risk of Mild Cognitive Impairment


By Janice Wood
New research has discovered that stress increases the likelihood that elderly people will develop mild cognitive impairment, often a precursor to Alzheimer’s disease.

In a new study, scientists at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Health System in New York found that highly stressed people were more than twice as likely to become cognitively impaired than those who were not.

Because stress is treatable, the study’s findings suggest that detecting and treating stress in older people might help delay or even prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s, the researchers noted in the study, which was published in Alzheimer Disease & Associated Disorders.

Each year, about 470,000 Americans are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s dementia. Many of them first experienced mild cognitive impairment, a pre-dementia condition that significantly increases the risk of developing Alzheimer’s.

For the new study, scientists looked at the connection between chronic stress and amnestic mild cognitive impairment (aMCI), the most common type of MCI, which is primarily characterized by memory loss.

“Our study provides strong evidence that perceived stress increases the likelihood that an older person will develop aMCI,” said Richard Lipton, M.D., senior author of the study, vice chair of neurology at Einstein and Montefiore.

“Fortunately, perceived stress is a modifiable risk factor for cognitive impairment, making it a potential target for treatment.”

“Perceived stress reflects the daily hassles we all experience, as well as the way we appraise and cope with these events,” said the study’s first author, Mindy Katz, M.P.H., a senior associate in the Saul R. Korey Department of Neurology at Einstein.

“Perceived stress can be altered by mindfulness-based stress reduction, cognitive-behavioral therapies and stress-reducing drugs. These interventions may postpone or even prevent an individual’s cognitive decline.”

The researchers studied data collected from 507 people enrolled in the Einstein Aging Study (EAS). Since 1993, the EAS has recruited adults 70 and over who live in Bronx County, N.Y.

Participants undergo annual assessments that include clinical evaluations, a neuropsychological battery of tests, psychosocial measures, medical history, assessments of daily activities, and reports — by the participants and those close to them — of memory and other cognitive complaints.

Starting in 2005, the EAS began assessing stress using the Perceived Stress Scale (PSS). This 14-item measure of psychological stress was designed to be sensitive to chronic stress due to ongoing life circumstances, possible future events, and other causes perceived over the previous month. PSS scores range from zero to 56, with higher scores indicating greater perceived stress, the researchers explained.

The diagnosis of aMCI was based on standard clinical criteria, including the results of recall tests and reports of forgetfulness from the participants or from others.

All 507 enrollees were free of aMCI or dementia at their initial PSS assessment and subsequently underwent at least one annual follow-up evaluation. They were followed for an average of 3.6 years.

During the study, 71 of the 507 participants were diagnosed with aMCI. The greater the participants’ stress level, the greater their risk for developing aMCI, according to the researchers.

For every five point increase in their PSS scores, their risk of developing aMCI increased by 30 percent.

Similar results were obtained when participants were divided into five groups based on their PSS scores. Participants in the highest-stress group were nearly 2.5 times more likely to develop aMCI than were people in the remaining four groups combined.

When comparing the two groups, participants in the high-stress group were more likely to be female and have less education and higher levels of depression, the researchers added.

Source: Albert Einstein College of Medicine

Dec 18

By Janice Wood

A new study of Finnish children has found that exposure to bullying as a child was associated with psychiatric disorders in adulthood that required treatment.

For the study, a team of researchers led by Andre Sourander, M.D., Ph.D., of the University of Turku in Finland, examined the associations between bullying behavior at age 8 and adult psychiatric outcomes by age 29.

The study used data from 5,034 Finnish children. Assessments of bullying and exposure to bullying were based on information from the children, their parents and teachers. Information on the use of inpatient and outpatient services to treat psychiatric disorders from ages 16 to 29 was obtained from a nationwide hospital register.

About 90 percent of the study participants — 4,540 of 5,034 — did not engage in bullying behavior. Of those, 520 (11.5 percent) had received a psychiatric diagnosis by follow-up.

In comparison, 33 of 166 (19.9 percent) of participants who engaged in frequent bullying, 58 of 251 (23.1 percent) participants frequently exposed to bullying, and 24 of 77 (31.2 percent) participants who both frequently engaged in and were frequently exposed to bullying had psychiatric diagnoses by follow-up, according to the study’s findings.

Study participants were divided into four groups: Those who never or only sometimes bully and are not exposed to bullying; those who frequently bully but are not exposed to bullying; those who were frequently exposed to bullying; and those who frequently bully and are exposed to bullying.

The treatment of any psychiatric disorder was associated with frequent exposure to bullying, as well as with being a bully and being exposed to bullying, according to the researchers.

Exposure to bullying was associated with depression, they add.

A limitation of the study is the lack of understanding about how exposure to bullying — whether as the bully or the victim — may lead to psychiatric disorders.

“Future studies containing more nuanced information about the mediating factors that occur between childhood bullying and adulthood disorders will be needed to shed light on this important question,” the researchers concluded in the study, published in JAMA Psychiatry.

“Policy makers and health care professionals should be aware of the complex nature between bullying and psychiatric outcomes when they implement prevention and treatment interventions.”

Source: JAMA Psychiatry

Dec 17

ADHD Isn’t Just a Disorder of Attention


By Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S.

Many people think of ADHD as a disorder of attention or lack thereof. This is the traditional view of ADHD. But ADHD is much more complex. It involves issues with executive functioning, a set of cognitive skills, which has far-reaching effects.

In his comprehensive and excellent book Mindful Parenting for ADHD: A Guide to Cultivating Calm, Reducing Stress & Helping Children Thrive, developmental behavioral pediatrician Mark Bertin, MD, likens ADHD to an iceberg.

Above the water, people see poor focus, impulsivity and other noticeable symptoms. However, below the surface are a slew of issues caused by impaired executive function (which Bertin calls “an inefficient, off-task brain manager”).

Understanding the role of executive function in ADHD is critical for parents, so they can find the right tools to address their child’s ADHD. Plus, what may look like deliberate misbehaving may be an issue with ADHD, a symptom that requires a different solution.

And if you’re an adult with ADHD, learning about the underlying issues can help you better understand yourself and find strategies that actually work — versus trying harder, which doesn’t.

It helps to think of executive function as involving six skills. In Mindful Parenting for ADHD, Dr. Bertin models this idea after an outline from ADHD expert Thomas E. Brown. The categories are:
Attention Management

ADHD isn’t an inability to pay attention. ADHD makes it harder to manage your attention. According to Bertin, “It leads to trouble focusing when demands rise, being overly focused when intensely engaged, and difficulty shifting attention.”

For instance, in noisy settings, kids with ADHD can lose the details of a conversation, feel overwhelmed and shut down (or act out). It’s also common for kids with ADHD to be so engrossed in an activity that they won’t register anything you say to them during that time.
Action Management

This is the “ability to monitor your own physical activity and behavior,” Bertin writes. Delays in this type of executive function can lead to fidgeting, hyperactivity and impulsiveness.

It also can take longer to learn from mistakes, which requires being aware of the details and consequences of your actions. And it can cause motor delays, poor coordination and problems with handwriting.
Task Management

This includes organizing, planning, prioritizing and managing time. As kids get older, it’s task management (and not attention) that tends to become the most problematic.

Also, “Unlike some ADHD-related difficulties, task management doesn’t respond robustly to medication,” Bertin writes. This means that it’s important to teach your kids strategies for getting organized.
Information Management

People with ADHD can have poor working memory. “Working memory is the capacity to manage the voluminous information we encounter in the world and integrate it with what we know,” Bertin writes. We need to be able to temporarily hold information for everything from conversations to reading to writing.

This explains why your child may not follow through when you give them a series of requests. They simply lose the details. What can help is to write a list for your child, or give them a shorter list of verbal instructions.
Emotion Management

Kids with ADHD tend to be more emotionally reactive. They get upset and frustrated faster than others. But that’s because they may not have the ability to control their emotions and instead react right away.
Effort Management

Individuals with ADHD have difficulty sustaining effort. It isn’t that they don’t value work or aren’t motivated, but they may run out of steam. Some kids with ADHD also may not work as quickly or efficiently.

Trying to push them can backfire. “For many kids with ADHD, external pressure may decrease productivity …Stress decreases cognitive efficiency, making it harder to solve problems and make choices,” Bertin writes. This can include tasks such as leaving the house and taking tests.
Other Issues

Bertin features a list of other signs in Mindful Parenting for ADHD because many ADHD symptoms involve several parts of executive function. For instance, kids with ADHD tend to struggle with maintaining routines, and parents might need to help them manage these routines longer than other kids.

Kids with ADHD also have inconsistent performance. This leads to a common myth: If you just try harder, you’ll do better. However, as Bertin notes, “Their inconsistency is their ADHD. If they could succeed more often, they would.”

Managing time is another issue. For instance, individuals with ADHD may not initially see all the steps that are required for a project, thereby taking a whole lot more time. They may underestimate how long a task will take (“I’ll watch the movie tonight and write my paper before the bus tomorrow”). They may not track their time accurately or prioritize effectively (playing until it’s too late to do homework).

In addition, people with ADHD often have a hard time finishing what they start. Kids may rarely put things away, leaving cabinets open and leaving their toys and clothes all over the house.

ADHD is complex and disruptions in executive functioning affect all areas of a person’s life. But this doesn’t mean that you or your child is doomed. Rather, by learning more about how ADHD really works, you can find specific strategies to address each challenge.

And thankfully there are many tools to pick from. You can start by typing in “strategies for ADHD” in the search bar on Psych Central and checking out Bertin’s valuable book.

Dec 16

By Traci Pedersen

Taking certain antidepressants for depression is linked to a greater risk of subsequent mania and a new diagnosis of bipolar disorder, according to a new study published in the online journal BMJ Open.

The strongest link was found with serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and the dual action antidepressant venlafaxine, according to the findings. These drugs were associated with a 34-35 percent increased risk of being later diagnosed with bipolar disorder and/or mania.

For the study, researchers analyzed the medical records of more than 21,000 adults who had been treated for major (unipolar) depression between 2006 and 2013 at a large provider of inpatient and community mental healthcare in London. They also looked at subsequent diagnoses of bipolar disorder or mania following an original diagnosis of major depression.

The overall yearly risk of a new diagnosis of mania and bipolar disorder between 2006 and 2013 was 1.1 percent. Prior treatment with certain antidepressants was linked to a greater risk of a subsequent diagnosis of bipolar disorder and/or mania, the yearly risk of which ranged from 1.3 percent to 1.9 percent.

The risk was particularly high after patients had received treatment with SSRIs or venlafaxine. These drugs were associated with a 34-35 percent increased risk of being diagnosed with bipolar disorder and/or mania. The findings remained strong even after taking account of potentially influential factors.

Since this is an observational study, no firm conclusions can be drawn about cause and effect. The researchers suggest that the findings may be explained by latent bipolar disorder rather than any effects of drug treatment.

“However, regardless of underlying diagnosis or aetiology the association of antidepressant therapy with mania demonstrated in the present and previous studies highlights the importance of considering whether an individual who presents with depression could be at high risk of future episodes of mania,” say the researchers.

Risk factors include a family history of bipolar disorder, a depressive episode with psychotic symptoms, young age at first diagnosis of depression, and depression that is unresponsive to treatment.

“Our findings also highlight an ongoing need to develop better ways to predict future risk of mania in people with no prior history of bipolar disorder who present with an episode of depression,” they write.

The researchers also note that the absolute risk of developing bipolar disorder is still low and that antidepressants are typically safe and effective treatments for depression and anxiety. They advise that patients not stop their treatments suddenly as this could result in withdrawal symptoms.

Dec 15

By Janice Wood

A new study has found that an imbalanced gender ratio affects views on casual sex for both men and women in ways that people don’t consciously realize.

For instance, a greater proportion of women than men on college campuses may contribute to a hook-up culture where women are more willing to engage in casual sex and are more aggressive toward other desirable women who are perceived as rivals, according to the study.

“If your gender is in the majority, then you have to compete with a lot of rivals, and you can’t be as selective or choosy,” said lead researcher Dr. Justin Moss, an adjunct psychology professor at Florida State University. “You might also have to cater to the demands of the other sex more often.”

The gender ratio at U.S. colleges has become more skewed over the past decade as more women attend college and graduate at higher rates than men, who are more likely to drop out, he noted. Last year, 57 percent of college students in the United States were women, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, with the gender ratio even more imbalanced at some schools.

For the study, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, the researchers conducted a series of experiments.

In the first, 129 heterosexual university students — 82 women and 47 men — read one of two fake news articles stating that colleges in the local area were becoming either more female-prevalent or male-prevalent. The students then completed a survey about their attitudes toward casual sex and their prior sexual history.

When the gender ratio was favorable — meaning one’s own gender was in the minority — both men and women adopted more traditional sexual roles, with women less interested in casual sex than men, according to the study findings.

When the gender ratio was unfavorable — with one’s own gender in the majority — those roles shifted as men and women tried to appear more desirable to the opposite sex. If there were more women than men, women stated they were more willing to engage in casual sex. If there were more men than women, men tended to place less importance on casual sex and be more open to long-term commitment.

In another experiment with 177 university students — 73 women and 104 men — both men and women were more willing to deliver painful sound blasts to attractive same-sex competitors when the gender ratio was unfavorable, the researchers reported.

After participants read either the male-prevalent or female-prevalent article from the first experiment, they were told they would be competing on a time-reaction task against a same-sex partner in another room, although there was no real partner and the participants’ responses were recorded by the researchers.

One group was shown a picture of an attractive competitor who was described as an outgoing, sociable student, while the other group saw a photo of a less attractive competitor who didn’t go out much and played a lot of video games.

In the task, the participants were told to hit a computer key as soon as they heard a tone played through some headphones. When participants lost, they heard a painfully loud noise blast. When they won, they got to choose the length and volume of the noise blast that would be inflicted on the competitor.

The students who believed there was an unfavorable gender ratio were more likely to display unprovoked aggression with longer and louder noise blasts against attractive partners, the researchers discovered. The same effects weren’t seen for unattractive partners, possibly because they weren’t seen as a threat, the researchers hypothesized.

When the gender ratio was favorable for participants, they were less aggressive toward attractive competitors.

Moss said he believes the same effects may be seen in other areas with imbalanced gender ratios, such as high schools or workplaces that are predominantly male or female, and even in smaller environments like bars.

“If a woman goes to a bar and notices a lot more women and thinks she has to compete, maybe she can consciously alter the course of her actions or leave and go to a different bar,” Moss said.

“Someone’s personal views toward casual sex play an important role, but there also are environmental factors that people should consider.”

Source: Society for Personality and Social Psychology

Dec 14

By Traci Pedersen

A new study shows that narcissism in teens may be an underlying factor in those who physically assault their parents.

According to the findings, teens who have been exposed to violence in the home, experienced a lack of affectionate and positive communication and/or had an extremely permissive upbringing are more likely to develop narcissistic traits and become aggressive toward their parents.

Until now, there have been few studies and explanations for why children would assault their parents. This is the first study to analyze the factors that can lead to this type of violence.

“In some cases we can observe that element of narcissism: it concerns adolescents who feel that they should have everything that they want, right here and now. They don’t take no for an answer. When their parents try to establish limits, the children react aggressively,” said Dr. Esther Calvete, lead author of the study and a researcher at the University of Deusto in Spain.

For the study, researchers interviewed 591 adolescents from nine public and eleven private secondary schools in Spain over the course of three years, allowing for analysis of the relationship between narcissism and child-to-parent aggression.

The findings show that exposure to violence during the first year of the study was linked to aggression toward parents during the third year. Similarly, a distant parent-child relationship in the first year of the study was connected to narcissism and an oversized self-image in the teens during the second year, and then aggression toward parents during the last year.

“On occasions adolescents assault their parents because the parents themselves have been violent towards the children or among themselves,” said Calvete.

“Through exposure to family violence, children learn to be violent. Other times, it is the lack of affectionate and positive communication between parents and their children, the lack of quality time that is dedicated to the children, or permissive parenting styles that do not impose limits.”

The researchers say that practices of education and upbringing are key.

“If the parents do not raise their children with a sense of responsibility and respect, it is easy for the children to develop problems of aggressive behavior. If the parents were violent when the children were small, it increases the risk of aggressive behavior in children,” said Calvete.

But the behavior displayed by the parents is not the only driving force. “The temperament of the children is another important component, and some boys and girls are more impulsive and learn violent behavior more easily,” she said.

Overall, these teens have the tendency to feel frustrated and rejected. When this occurs, they usually begin with yelling and insults, and move on to physical aggression.

“For that reason, when a father or mother perceives that that their son or daughter continually disrespects them, threatens them and scares them, it’s a sign that they must act and ask for help,” said Calvete.

“Teenagers can also steal or break their parents’ belongings,” Calvete said, pointing out that there are no differences between boys and girls. “Although the statistics show that the problem is becoming more prevalent in girls.”

Once aggressive behavior has emerged in adolescents, treatment should be directed toward reducing the narcissistic views they have developed, according to the researchers.

The findings are published in Developmental Psychology.

Dec 13

Short Sleepers May Catch More Colds


By Roni Caryn Rabin
Want to avoid catching a cold this winter? Start by getting more than six hours of sleep a night.

In what may be the first study of this kind, researchers say they found that adults who sleep less than five or six hours a night are four times more likely to catch a cold than than those who get at least seven or more hours of sleep.

“Sleep plays a role in regulating the immune system, and that’s how we think it influences susceptibility to the common cold,” said Aric A. Prather, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco, who is the lead author of the study, published this week in the journal Sleep.

Previous research had suggested a link between less sleep and higher vulnerability to colds, but that study relied on subjects self-reporting the number of hours they slept. The new study was the first to measure actual sleep. To do so, the researchers used a technique called wrist actigraphy, which uses a watchlike device with an accelerometer that measures movement and inactivity and which, when combined with sleep diaries, provides a more accurate accounting of sleep.

“This study reinforces the notion that sleep is just as important to your health as diet and exercise,” said Dr. Nathaniel F. Watson, president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. “People need to view sleep as a tool to achieve a healthy life, rather than as something that interferes with all their other activities.”

Many Americans don’t get enough sleep; a 2013 survey by the National Sleep Foundation said that one in five adults gets less than six hours of sleep on an average work night.

Poor sleep has been linked to numerous chronic illnesses, and new guidelines issued this year by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society urge adults to get seven or more hours of sleep per night on a regular basis to promote optimal health.

The guidelines say that sleeping less than seven hours per night is associated with weight gain, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and stroke, depression and premature death, as well as “impaired immune function, increased pain, impaired performance, increased errors and greater risk of accidents.”

The new study recruited 164 men and women aged 18 to 55 from the Pittsburgh area between 2007 and 2011, and put them through extensive health screenings, questionnaires and interviews to determine their levels of stress, their general temperament and their use of alcohol and tobacco. Then the researchers measured the subjects’ normal sleep habits for a week, before sequestering them in a hotel and deliberately administering them nasal drops containing the cold virus.

The volunteers were monitored for a week and daily mucus samples were collected to see if they had become infected.

Those who slept less than six hours a night the week before the exposure were 4.2 times more likely to catch the cold compared with those who got more than seven hours of sleep, researchers found. Those who slept less than five hours a night were 4.5 times more likely to catch the cold. (Those who slept just over six hours but less than seven weren’t at increased risk.)

It didn’t seem to matter whether the sleep was continuous or fragmented, Dr. Prather said. The results were adjusted to control for differences among subjects, including pre-existing antibody levels to the rhinovirus, age, sex, race, body mass index, the time of year when the trial was done, education, income, health habits such as smoking and physical activity, and psychological variables such as stress.

“The good thing about this is that there are opportunities for people to improve their sleep, and most people admit they need more and want more,” Dr. Prather said, adding, “it’s just about looking at the barriers and making it a priority.”

Dec 13

Does Exercise Help Keep Our Brains Young?


Gretchen Reynolds on the science of fitness.

Physical fitness may be critical for maintaining a relatively youthful and nimble brain as we age, according to a new study of brain activation patterns in older people.

For most of us, our bodies begin to lose flexibility and efficiency as we enter our 40s. Running and other movements slow down and become more awkward, and something similar seems to occur within our heads. As middle age encroaches, our thinking becomes less efficient. We don’t toggle between mental tasks as nimbly as we once did or process new information with the same aplomb and clarity.

Recently, neuroscientists have begun to quantify how those cognitive changes play out in our brains, to disquieting effect. In studies comparing brain activation in young people with that of people past 40, they have found notable differences, especially during mental tasks that require attention, problem solving, decision-making and other types of high-level thinking.

Such thinking primarily involves activation of the brain’s prefrontal cortex.

In young people, activation in the cortex during these cognitive tasks tends to be highly localized. Depending on the type of thinking, young people’s brains light up almost exclusively in either the right or left portion of the prefrontal cortex.

But in older people, studies show, brain activity during the same mental tasks requires far more brainpower. They typically display activity in both hemispheres of their prefrontal cortex.

In effect, they require more of their brains’ resources to complete the same tasks that young people do with less cognitive effort.

Neuroscientists coined an acronym for this phenomenon: Harold, for hemispheric asymmetry reduction in older adults. Most agree that it represents a general reorganization and weakening of the brain’s function with age.

But scientists have not known whether Harold is inevitable with aging or could perhaps be slowed or even prevented with lifestyle changes.

That possibility attracted the attention of Hideaki Soya, a professor of exercise and neuroendocrinology at the University of Tsukuba in Japan, who studies the effects of exercise on the brain.

For the new study, which will appear next month in NeuroImage, Dr. Soya and his colleagues recruited 60 Japanese men between the ages of 64 and 75 who showed no signs of dementia or other serious cognitive decline.

They tested each man’s aerobic fitness in the laboratory.

Then on another day, they fitted each volunteer with a series of tiny probes across their foreheads and scalps. The probes used infrared light to highlight blood flow and oxygen uptake in various parts of the brain.

With the probes in place, the volunteers completed complex, computerized tests, during which names of colors appeared in type of a different color. The word blue would appear in yellow type, for instance, and the volunteers would be expected to press keys corresponding to the name, but not the hue, of the word.

This test makes considerable demands on someone’s attention and decision-making and, in young people, has been shown to dramatically light up the left hemisphere of the prefrontal cortex.

But when the scientists examined the brain activity of these older men, they found that most also required activity in their right hemispheres. They needed more of their brains to pitch in in order to complete the task, displaying the Harold activity pattern.

However, the most aerobically fit of the volunteers did not follow this pattern. The fittest men showed little or no activation in their right hemispheres; they needed only their left hemisphere for the task.

In terms of attention and rapid decision-making, their brains worked like those of much younger people. They also were quicker and more accurate in their keystrokes, indicating that they attended and responded better than the less-fit volunteers.

Over all, Dr. Soya said, the results suggest that “higher aerobic fitness is associated with improved cognitive function.” Fit older people’s brains require fewer resources to complete tasks than do the brains of older people who are out of shape.

Of course, this study was observational and does not prove that fitness changed the men’s thinking, only that fit men had different brain activation patterns.

The study also did not look at exercise habits, only aerobic fitness. In general, fit older people almost certainly walk, jog or regularly engage in other moderate exercise such as swimming, Dr. Soya said. But he and his colleagues did not directly examine whether exercise affects brain activation.

Perhaps most important, this study and others looking at the Harold phenomenon do not indicate that it is necessarily a harbinger of mental decline. None of Dr. Soya’s volunteers were cognitively impaired, even if they relied heavily on Harold while thinking.

But, Dr. Soya said, the less-fit men did have brains that functionally were less sprightly than those of the fitter men and might be expected to progress earlier to more overt difficulties with memory and thinking.

The upshot of the findings, he said, is that daily mild exercise such as walking and mild jogging may affect the way the brain works, so that an older person’s brain “acts like a younger brain.”

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