Share this page on your social media

Earlier Lifestyle Factors Relate to Cognitive Health in Later Life
By Jason von Stietz, M.A.
April 30, 2017
Getty Images


Is there a secret to being mentally fit in old age? Will what you do in your youth and middle years impact your brain in older age? Researchers examined the relationship between lifestyle factors such as diet, physical activity, alcohol consumption, smoking, and social and cognitive activity on cognitive functioning in older age. Findings indicated that earlier life health and activity may lead to greater cognitive health in later life. The study was discussed in recent article in Medical Xpress:  


The large-scale investigation published in the journal PLOS Medicine and led by the University of Exeter, used data from more than 2,000 mentally fit people over the age of 65, examined the theory that experiences in early or mid life which challenge the brain make people more resilient to changes resulting from age or illness – they have higher "cognitive reserve".


The analysis, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) found that people with higher levels of reserve are more likely to stay mentally fit for longer, making the brain more resilient to illnesses such as dementia.


The research team included collaborators from the universities of Bangor, Newcastle and Cambridge.


Linda Clare, Professor of Clinical Psychology of Ageing and Dementia at the University of Exeter, said: "Losing mental ability is not inevitable in later life. We know that we can all take action to increase our chances of maintaining our own mental health, through healthy living and engaging in stimulating activities. It's important that we understand how and why this occurs, so we can give people meaningful and effective measures to take control of living full and active lives into older age.


"People who engage in stimulating activity which stretches the brain, challenging it to use different strategies that exercise a variety of networks, have higher 'Cognitive reserve'. This builds a buffer in the brain, making it more resilient. It means signs of decline only become evident at a higher threshold of illness or decay than when this buffer is absent."


The research team analysed data from 2,315 mentally fit participants aged over 65 years who took part in the first wave of interviews for the Cognitive Function and Ageing Study Wales (CFAS-Wales).


They analysed whether a healthy lifestyle was associated with better performance on a mental ability test. They found that a healthy diet, more physical activity, more social and mentally stimulating activity and moderate alcohol consumption all seemed to boost cognitive performance.


Professor Bob Woods of Bangor University, who leads the CFAS Wales study, said: "We found that people with a healthier lifestyle had better scores on tests of mental ability, and this was partly accounted for by their level of cognitive reserve.


"Our results highlight the important of policies and measures that encourage older people to make changes in their diet, exercise more, and engage in more socially oriented and mentally stimulating activities."


Professor Fiona Matthews of Newcastle University, who is principal statistician on the CFAS studies, said "Many of the factors found here to be important are not only healthy for our brain, but also help at younger age avoiding heart disease."


Read the original article Here


Comments (0)
tDCS Increases Honest Behavior
By Jason von Stietz, M.A.
April 21, 2017
Getty Images


Can honesty be strengthened like a muscle? Researchers at University of Zurich led a study examining the relationship between honesty and non-invasive brain stimulation known as transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS). Findings indicated that tDCS applied over the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex increased honesty in situations in which it is tempting to cheat for personal gain. The study was discussed in a recent article in MedicalXpress: 


Honesty plays a key role in social and economic life. Without honesty, promises are not kept, contracts are not enforced, taxes remain unpaid. Despite the importance of honesty for society, its biological basis remains poorly understood. Researchers at the University of Zurich, together with colleagues from Chicago and Boston, now show that honest behavior can be increased by means of non-invasive brain stimulation. The results of their research highlight a deliberation process between honesty and self-interest in the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (rDLPFC).


Occasional lies for material self interest


In their die-rolling experiment, the participants could increase their earnings by cheating rather than telling the truth (see box below). The researchers found that people cheated a significant amount of the time. However, many participants also stuck to the truth. "Most people seem to weigh motives of self-interest against honesty on a case-by-case basis; they cheat a little but not on every possible occasion." explains Michel Maréchal, UZH Professor for Experimental Economics. However, about 8% of the participants cheated in whenever possible and maximized their profit.


Less lies through brain stimulation


The researchers applied transcranial direct current stimulation over a region in the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (rDLPFC). This noninvasive brain stimulation method makes brain cells more sensitive i.e., they are more likely to be active. When the researchers applied this stimulation during the task, participants were less likely to cheat. However, the number of consistent cheaters remained the same. Christian Ruff, UZH Professor of Neuroeconomics, points out "This finding suggests that the stimulation mainly reduced cheating in participants who actually experienced a moral conflict, but did not influence the decision making process in those not in those who were committed to maximizing their earnings".


Conflict between money and morals


The researchers found that the stimulation only affected the process of weighing up material versus moral motives. They found no effects for other types of conflict that do not involve moral concerns (i.e., financial decisions involving risk, ambiguity, and delayed rewards). Similarly, an additional experiment showed that the stimulation did not affect honest behavior when cheating led to a payoff for another person instead of oneself and the conflict was therefore between two moral motives. The pattern of results suggests that the stimulated neurobiological process specifically resolves trade-offs between material self-interest and honesty.


Developing an understanding of the biological basis of behavior


According to the researchers, these findings are an important first step in identifying the brain processes that allow people to behave honestly. "These brain processes could lie at the heart of individual differences and possibly pathologies of honest behavior", explains Christian Ruff. And finally, the new results raise the question to what degree honest behavior is based on biological predispositions, which may be crucial for jurisdiction. Michel Maréchal summarizes: "If breaches of honesty indeed represent an organic condition, our results question to what extent people can be made fully liable for their wrongdoings."


Read the original article Here

Comments (0)
Mental Health Issues Stigmatized Among Providers
By Jason von Stietz, M.A.
April 15, 2017
Getty Images


Mental health providers often help people work through their most traumatic and personal issues. Although they attempt to act as a model of mental health, their own wellbeing can often suffer. Mental health providers often work long hours, receive inadequate support in the workplace, and are expected to remain resilient in the face of trauma. In other words, admitting to their own mental health issues and seeking help can be highly stigmatized. This phenomenon was discussed in a recent article in The Guardian:   


Understanding around mental health is improving: campaigns such as Time To Change have drawn public awareness to the issue and employers are realising the affects of dedicated wellbeing support to staff – which have led to a 30% reduction in mental health-related absences. But surprisingly, stigma still exists for those working in mental healthcare themselves.


Many people working in the sector are reluctant to talk about their own experiences, says Elizabeth Cotton, an academic at Middlesex University researching the topic. She was one of them. “I walked a thin line between being a competent professional and feeling like a fraud at managing my own mental health at work.”


This experience also rings true for Sarah Jones*, a peer support manager for a mental health charity. In previous jobs she was forced to actively hide her mental health problems.


“I have friends who work within the sector who have very little support at work, and have told me they just wouldn’t disclose their mental health issues to colleagues or managers due to fear of judgment or discrimination,” she says.


Mental health workers are often expected to be “self-reliant [and] cope in the face of traumatic and emotionally challenging work,” says Ruth Allen, chief executive of the British Association of Social Workers.


There is expectation that because these care workers are supporting mentally ill people, their own mental health must be under control. This can put immense pressure on them.


“Even when I was working in a psychiatric hospital and suffering from mental health issues, I didn’t feel I could trust my supervisor to get beyond the notion that I was just being ‘a bit anxious’,” says Laura Sharp*, a social worker who works in adult and child care. “I was working with suicidal people all day every day, but I was told to be less emotive.”


Sharp says this experience made her work – which often involved restraining suicidal patients from self harm or cleaning up blood – traumatising. “I felt neither contained nor safe, physically, emotionally or professionally.”


It is widely assumed that workers in the sector will be less susceptible to trauma and are somehow desensitised to the emotionally difficult work they carry out, says Allen. These unrealistic exceptions can often be “a dangerous contributor to less compassionate and engaged care and support,” she warns.


Allen also says that people working in the mental health sector often find that the job does not meet their expectations. “They often are in a different culture, working with a financial regime that is at odds with their personal commitment,” she says. This creates a stressful situation: “staff either bend themselves out of shape, become exhausted trying to make the system work, or simply leave,” she says.


Other elements of the job can exacerbate or catalyse this distress. Cuts to fundingand stretched services, particularly in the NHS, can cause internal support infrastructure to crumble, meaning workers needing help can also fall through the cracks. A survey (pdf) from the British Psychoanalytic Council and UK Council for Psychotherapy found that therapists felt burnt out and distressed because of their work, while not receiving adequate supervision to help deal with these issues.


Mental health workers, who often work punishingly long hours to begin with, are working additional hours to compensate for lack of staffing and rising demand, says Allen. “Staff are left feeling like they have no time to adapt to changes and perform at their best.”


Sharp, who has since got a new job, thinks the sector needs a further push in looking after employees’ mental health, which will ultimately benefit service users. “I still think every day about the patients I worked with and how the system is failing them,” she says. “I’m a social worker and I still love my job. But I only managed to get this love back by leaving a job I had initially felt passionate about. That’s not right.”


The sector needs to do more to support mental health issues in staff. Since changing jobs, Jones has also found an employer that views her own experiences of mental health as an asset. She says the support at her current work has helped her to thrive and eradicated her feelings of shame around mental illness.


*Some names have been changed


Read the original article Here

Comments (1)
by -