Monday, April 5, 2010

Health: Exercise makes you happy

We all know that getting out on our bikes when it’s cold and dark can be hard, but when we do, it always makes us feel better and lifts our mood.
And now the exercise-makes-us-happier theory is official. A recent study from the American College of Sports Medicine has shown that just one 30-minute exercise session can boost your mood and tackle depression.
The study, published in Medicine & Science in Sports and Exercise, took 40 participants, all of whom had been recently diagnosed with depressive disorders but were not taking any form of antidepressant medication, and divided them into two groups: a control group that rested for 30 minutes and an exercise group that walked on a treadmill for 30 minutes.
The participants were asked to complete written surveys before their rest or exercise and at regular intervals afterwards, and the results showed that although both groups reported fewer feelings of negativity afterwards (tension, depression, anger, fatigue), only the exercise group expressed increased good feelings such as ‘vigour’ or ‘well-being’. 
If walking for 30 minutes can act as a method for managing feelings of depression, completely free from prescribed medication, in people with diagnosed depression who aren’t necessarily cyclists, the principles can surely be applied to our kind too. After all, if low-to-moderate-intensity exercise is all that’s needed to give yourself a boost, imagine the benefits that cyclists can get from intense exercise, such as 30 minutes of pedalling hard.
Just how exercise boosts your mood is a little complex, though there is plenty of science to back it up. It comes down to heightened production of chemicals in the brain that help to keep you happy, such as serotonin, dopamine and phenylethylamine. Not only this, but exercise releases growth hormones that increase the supply of blood and oxygen to the brain, stimulating the release of powerful mood-enhancing endorphins. These chemical messengers can create euphoria and pain relief that is stronger than that produced by morphine. 
Alongside the psychological and emotional benefits of exercise, also remember that it can boost confidence by helping you get into shape and meet exercise goals, it can take your mind off worries, increase social interaction – with like-minded cyclists – and help you feel more in control. Do you really need any more reasons to get on your bike? 
Happy chemicals
Studies have isolated the chemicals affected by exercise that can put us in a better mood, but what are they and how can you boost your intake?
Serotonin: Serotonin is the mood neurotransmitter which keeps us emotionally and socially stable. Levels rise during exercise, boosting self-confidence and positive feelings. Serotonin is produced from tryptophan that is found in bananas, granola, cottage cheese, duck, turkey, chicken, oats, seeds, pasta and baked potatoes, and vitamins B6 and B12 which are found in oily fish like salmon, trout, herring and mackerel.
Dopamine: Dopamine is a major feel-good neurotransmitter, essential to helping us feel energised and motivated. One study into how exercise alters the activity of dopamine found that after 12 weeks of endurance or interval-based training the activity of dopamine receptors in the brain increased, meaning the production of feelings of motivation were also amplified. Protein-rich foods such as meat, milk, fish, beans and soya beans help produce dopamine, as do theobromine and phenylethylamine, both found in chocolate.
Phenylethylamine: Phenylethylamine is a naturally occurring neurotransmitting chemical found in the brain. It occurs through the microbial fermenting of food and works as a mood-enhancing stimulant that aids the production of dopamine. It raises blood pressure and blood glucose levels which make us feel more alert and content. Foods such as yellow cheeses, citrus fruits, red wine and chocolate are good sources, giving you a great excuse to indulge yourself (a little)....

New method to predict Alzheimer's created

STATE COLLEGE, Pa., April 5 (UPI) -- U.S. scientists say they've developed a method of reliably predicting development of Alzheimer's disease.

Pennsylvania State University Associate Professor Michael Wenger said the method involves one's brain's capacity for information storage.

"We have developed a low-cost behavioral assessment that can clue someone in to Alzheimer's disease at its earliest stage," Wenger said. "By examining (information) processing capacity, we can detect changes in the progression of mild cognitive impairment."

Such impairment is a condition that affects language, memory and related mental functions and is distinct from the ordinary mental degradation associated with aging, Wenger said.

Both mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer's are linked to a steady decline in the volume of the hippocampus, the area of the brain responsible for long-term memory and spatial reasoning, Wenger said.

Although magnetic resonance imaging is the most reliable and direct way to detect hippocampal atrophy, the scientists said the procedure is often unavailable or too expensive.

"MRIs can cost hundreds of dollars an hour," Wenger said. "We created a much cheaper alternative, based on a memory test that correlates with hippocampal degradation."

Wenger, along with Mayo Clinic College of Medicine scientists Selamawit Negash, Ronald Peterson and Lyndsay Peterson detailed their findings in a recent issue of the Journal of Mathematical Psychology.

7 Ways to Recover From a Relapse

It's a dreadful place.
Maybe you had hoped you'd never go there. Or maybe you stay awake fearing you will. It doesn't matter. You don't have to stay there for long. You'll be on your way shortly.
I prefer to use the term "set back" when I get sucked back into the Black Hole--bam!--stuck inside a brain that covets relief, any form of relief, and will do just about anything to get it. Because it's certainly not the end of  recovery. From depression or any addiction. A relapse merely gives you a new starting place.
Since I've been struggling with this recently in my own life, I've laid out seven strategies to get unstuck ... to recover from a relapse.
1. Listen to the right people.
If you're like me, you're convinced that you are lazy, ugly, stupid, weak, pathetic, and self-absorbed when you are depressed or have given into an addiction. Unconsciously you seek people, places, and things that will confirm those opinions. So, for example, when my self-esteem has plummeted to below-seawater status, I can't stop thinking about the relative who asked me, after I had just returned from the psych ward and was doing everything I possibly could to recover from depression: "Do you WANT to feel better?" Indicating that I was somehow willing myself to stay sick in order to get attention or maybe because fantasizing about death is so much fun. I can't get her and that question out of my mind when I'm pedaling backward. SO I draw a picture of her, with her question inside a bubble. Then I draw me with a bubble that says "HELL YES, DIMWIT!" Then I get out my self-esteem file and read a few of the affirmations of why I'm not lazy, ugly, stupid, weak, pathetic, and self-absorbed.
2. Make time to cry.
I've listed the healing faculties of tears in my piece "7 Good Reasons to Cry Your Eyes Out." Your body essentially purges toxins when you weep. It's as if all your emotions are bubbling to the surface, and when you cry, you release them, which is why it is so cathartic. Lately I've been allowing myself 10 to 15 minutes in the morning to have a good cry, to say whatever I want without cognitive adjustments, to let it all out, and not to judge it.
3. Ditch the self-help.
As I wrote in my piece "Use Caution with Positive Thinking," cognitive-behavioral adjustments can be extremely helpful for persons struggling with mild to moderate depression, or struggling with an addition that isn't destroying them. With severe depression or a crippling addiction, though, positive thinking can sometimes make matters worse. I was so relieved the other day when my psychiatrist told me to put the self-help books away. Because I do think they were contributing to my self-battery.
Right now, when I start to think "I can't take it anymore," I try not to fret. I don't worry about how I can adjust those thoughts. I simply consider the thoughts as symptoms of my bipolar disorder, and say to myself, "It's okay. You won't feel that way when you're better. The thoughts are like a drop in insulin to a diabetic ... a symptom of your illness, and a sign you need to be especially gentle with yourself."
4. Distract yourself.
Instead of sitting down with some self-help books, you would be better off doing whatever you can to distract yourself. I remember this from my former therapist who told me, during the months of my severe breakdown, to do mindless things ... like word puzzles and reading trashy novels. Recently, I've been going to Navy football games, which does take my mind off of my thoughts for a few hours on Saturdays. Not that I understand football ... but there is a lot to watch besides the cheerleaders. Like my children trying to score all kinds of junk food.
5. Look for signs of hope.
The little, unexpected signs of hope kept me alive during my mega-breakdown, and they are the gas for my sorry-performing engine during a fragile time like this. Yesterday a saw a rose bloom on our rose bush out front. Since roses symbolize healing for me, I took it as a sign of hope ... that I won't plummet too far ... there are things in this life that I'm meant to do.
6. Say yes anyway.
In her book Solace: Finding Your Way Through Grief and Learning to Live Again, author Roberta Temes suggests a policy whereby you always say yes to an invitation out. That keeps you from isolating, which is so easy to do when you're grieving or stuck in a depression or off the wagon in a big way. I've been following this piece of advice. When a friend asks me to have coffee (and I really hope she doesn't!), I have to say yes. It's non-negotiable. Until I feel better and get back my brain.
7. Break your day into moments.
Most depressives and addicts would agree that "a day at a time" simply doesn't cut it. That's WAY too long. Especially first thing in the morning. I have to get to bedtime? Are you kidding me? So when rear-ended in the depression tunnel or fighting one of my many addictions, I break the day into about 850 moments. Each minute has a few moments. Right now it's 11:00. I only have to worry about what I'm doing now, until, say 11:02.

Symposium features presentation on deep brain stimulation surgery

Banner Boswell Medical Center invites the community to a free public symposium on deep brain stimulation from 8:30 to 11 a.m. April 23 in the Smoot Hall Conference Center at Lakeview United Methodist Church, 10298 W. Thunderbird Blvd. in Sun City.

Reservations are encouraged by calling 602-230-CARE (602-230-2273). A continental breakfast will be served.

Presentations include “Deep Brain Stimulation: How Do You Know When It’s Time?” with neurologist Dr. Maria Cristina Ospina, and “Deep Brain Stimulation as a Surgical Treatment for Parkinson’s Disease” with neurosurgeon Dr. David Pootrakul. A panel discussion and question-and-answer session will follow.

DBS is a surgical therapy used to help patients with Parkinson’s disease or essential tremor. Qualified patients who opt for DBS have motor-skill challenges that significantly interfere with their quality of life and cannot be controlled by medication.

DBS therapy works much like a cardiac pacemaker. A pulse generator is implanted beneath the skin in the chest and sends electrical signals through a wire in the neck and up to the region of the brain that controls movement. Leads – thin, insulated wires – typically are placed on both sides of the brain to lessen the effects of tremor and the stiffness and slowness associated with Parkinson's disease.

Banner Boswell is one of three centers in the Valley and 160 centers in the nation approved to perform DBS.

In the largest study of its kind published in the Jan. 7, 2009 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers concluded that DBS improves both physical function and quality of life after six months in patients with Parkinson’s disease. The surgical procedure is approved by the FDA and covered by most insurance providers, including Medicare.

There is currently no cure for the more than 1.5 million Americans who suffer from the Parkinson’s disease

Massive Study Begins on ITB Therapy to Treat Spasticity After Brain, Spinal Cord Injury, and Stroke

Medtronic, Inc. recently began enrolling European stroke patients into clinical trials for Intrathecal Baclofen (ITB) therapy to treat spasticity that has otherwise proven unresponsive to treatment. While the study is restricted to stroke patients, spasticity affects patients with other conditions as well. A PR Newswire release reported that ITB treatment has already been approved for use in patients with spasticity issues due to “multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, spinal cord injury, brain injury, and stroke that do not respond to oral medication.”
ITB treatment medicates against spasticity by way of a pump placed under the skin of the torso and connected to a catheter. Medicine to stop spasticity is delivered into the spinal fluid, which means a much lower dose of baclofen can be administered than when taken orally. The lead investigator of the SISTERS study (Spasticity in STrokE Randomised Study), Professor Leopold Saltuari said, “ITB Therapy has the potential to restore quality of life in patients whose lives have been completely disrupted by a stroke and the impairing and debilitating symptoms of spasticity. With this study we are aiming to demonstrate that there is a way to manage spasticity for many of them,” in the PR Newswire release.
Previous clinical trials have demonstrated the effectiveness of ITB in reducing spasticity in 89 percent of patients who received the treatment over six months. “The primary endpoint is the reduction of spasticity after six months of treatment with ITB Therapy and physical therapy compared to patients treated with one or more oral medications and physical therapy,” the article continued. Spinal cord injury and multiple sclerosis patients who took part in earlier studies showed a 92 percent decrease in spasticity symptoms after receiving ITB therapy.
However, the therapy may not be for everyone. The side effects, while usually temporary, include “loose muscles, drowsiness, nausea/vomiting, headache and dizziness,” the article said. In addition, sudden stopping of the medication can lead to “high fever, altered mental status, returned spasticity, and muscle rigidity, and in rare cases has been fatal,” the article continued. Check with your doctor to learn more about ITB.

Brain Scans Help Identify Injury’s Effects

Neurologists at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have adapted a brain scanning technique developed for studying the organization of the brain. The novel approach to the scanning might be just what the doctor ordered for traumatic brain injury and stroke patients. If it proves successful, the brain scans will give doctors a tool for predicting the extent of a brain injury and potentially avert some of the damage.
Functional connectivity (FC) is the technique in question. It allows doctors and scientists to observe visual details of the “health of brain networks that let multiple parts of the brain collaborate,” a Washington University article mentioned. Former studies using the same technique have revealed how damage to one part of the brain sometimes leads to disability in other parts. This is part of how FC studies can assist in predicting the extent of brain injuries.
The results of the recent study were published in the March issue of the journal Annals of Neurology. Marurizio Corbetta, MD, professor of Neurology, radiology, and neurobiology said, “Clinicians who treat brain injury need new markers of brain function that can predict the effects of injury, which helps us determine treatment and assess its effects. This study shows that FC scans are a potentially useful way to get that kind of information,” the article continued.
FC scans are done using MRI scanners while patients relax inside the giant machine. MRI scans track various changes in the brain by way of monitoring blood flow. Variations in mental activity lead to changes in the way blood moves and concentrates in the brain. What scientists found in the study was that damage to communication networks between both sides of the brain led to more problems for patients and highlighted the need for a new understanding of how the brain actually functions.
Alex Carter, MD, PhD, and assistant professor of neurology told Washington University of the discovery, “It’s not wrong to say that one side of your brain controls the opposite side of your body, but we’re starting to realize that it oversimplifies things.” He suggested that the two halves of the brain vie for attention and maintain a delicate balance of effort throughout the brain. Further studies of FC are currently in the planning phase.

In The Brain, It's All In The Timing

For many years, neuroscientists have been puzzling over a very basic question: How is it that an area of the brain called the thalamus can drive so much activity so widely throughout the brain?
To explain this, it's necessary to go over some basics. The thalamus is an almond-shaped structure that lies deep in the midline. It receives sensory input from all over the body and connects widely to the sensory cortex. Although its outgoing signals account for only a small percentage of activity received by cortical neurons (around 5%), the thalamus controls most of what goes on in the sensory cortex. The question is, how does it do this?
It was previously believed that it in order for a particular signal to be "heard," a neuron would have to increase its rate of firing order to "drown out" other signals being received from other sources. Now it seems that at least as far as the thalamus is concerned, it's all in the timing.
On the basis of a computer model, a group of neuroscientists from the Salk Institute for Biological Studies have found that for an incoming signal to predominate, only around 30 or so thalamic neurons would have to fire simultaneously. This is in spite of the fact that any given sensory neuron in the cerebral cortex receives input from many different areas (as many as 6,000 signals at any one time).
In other words, if only 30 of those 6,000 signals arrive at the same time from the thalamus, that signal can "drive" much of what goes on. Amazing.
This model is important because it gives scientists a new tool for decoding the basic "language" of the brain, which in turn might lead to new ways of understanding and treating a number of neurological and psychiatric disorders.

Poor Communication In The Brain Linked To Schizophrenia

New evidence suggests that schizophrenia can be caused by a lack of synchronization between regions of the brain.
Mice with a genetic defect linked to schizophrenia had trouble navigating through a maze. (

Mice with a genetic defect linked to schizophrenia had trouble navigating through a maze.
In a study, just published in the journal Nature, researchers from Columbia University compared mice bred to have a genetic mutation linked to schizophrenia in humans with healthy mice and found that mutant mice had more trouble completing spatial tasks -- like getting through a maze.
Though most people associate schizophrenia most strongly with hallucinations and delusions, the disease also impairs cognitive abilities, including working memory. The Columbia researchers found that the two regions of the brain associated with working memory in the mutant mice -- the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex -- weren't communicating the way they do in normal animals.
The short circuit may lend a clue to the causes of schizophrenia in humans.
Shots caught up with Dr. Joshua Gordon, a psychiatrist at Columbia University Medical Center and a senior author of the study, to learn more. Here are edited highlights from the interview.
How did you get interested in this line of research?
Obviously when you have a gene that you've identified that contributes to an illness -- especially a psychiatric illness -- that's the first step to understanding how the disease develops.
So, we first started with this gene that's very clearly associated to schizophrenia -- this particular gene is actually a deletion of 20-some-odd genes that gives individuals at 30 percent greater risk for developing schizophrenia. That's the strongest link of any gene.
And so we looked at mice that were lacking those same genes. They had some of the cognitive deficits that schizophrenic patients have. In particular, we studied working memory. That's the ability to hold information for short periods of time and then use it to complete tasks.
And how was the experiment carried out?
We asked the mice to hold spatial information in their memory and use it to help decide their way through a maze. And we found that the mice carrying the deletion can't do that as well.
What intrigued me is that this kind of behavior is actually one that we know a whole lot about. The hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex need to communicate with each other to complete the tasks we're asking the mice to do. So, we wondered if the connections between these two regions weren't working as well in these mice, and we attached electrodes to the mice to see those connections.
In normal mice, the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex work together during the task -- the activity becomes synchronized. In the mutant mice, the activity between the two areas did not become synchronized to the same extent; they weren't able to use these two areas together.
Whether the wiring is incorrect or if the wiring is there but not functional, the link between the two areas cannot be established to the same degree.
But we were also able to show that, for each individual animal, the mutants that had more difficulty synchronizing the two areas had more difficulty doing the behavioral task. So this isn't two different phenomena -- a behavioral one and one in brain communication. They're linked.
Is this genetic deletion that predisposes humans to schizophrenia the same one in mice?
It's as identical as we could possibly make it. Ninety-five percent of the genes deleted in the human are deleted in the mice.
So how can you reconcile these findings in mice with the what to expect in humans?
People have looked at connectivity between brain regions and schizophrenia before. In fact, the hypothesis that the brain regions can't communicate as a cause for schizophrenia has been around for 100 years. What this study does is move it along and says that this particular gene leads to this particular dysfunction in connectivity between these particular brain regions.
This also tells us that in the subset of schizophrenics who carry this mutation, it's quite likely that they have connectivity problems between these brain regions. That gives us two ways to go forward. Now that we know which brain regions and which populations of patients to look at, we can use imaging techniques to verify this model found in the mice. We now know what specific questions we need to be asking.
If we verify that this is the case, we can use the mice to develop a treatment that will enhance the ability of the brain regions to communicate and then take that back to humans.
Are there any such treatments that focus on brain connectivity?
Actually, no. And that's a big problem in the treatment of schizophrenia right now. Our treatments are very good at helping the most obvious symptoms -- hallucinations and all -- but the treatments don't help make brain function more fluid.
Many schizophrenic patients may not be hearing voices, but they may have trouble balancing a checkbook or taking the Metro -- cognitive problems -- and we don't have treatments for this. So, if we could develop treatments [to improve cognition] we could really change the lives of many schizophrenic patients today.

Communication Breakdown in Brain Caused by a Gene Defect May Contribute to Schizophrenia

MENTAL MECHANISM: Scientists have finally gained insight into how a genetic variant might cause symptoms of schizophrenia.
More than 15 years after a genetic variant was shown to predispose its carriers to schizophrenia, scientists have finally uncovered how the chromosomal abnormality might cause symptoms of the brain disorder. By studying mice with a similar gene defect, the research team from Columbia University Medical Center linked abnormalities in behavior to a faulty connection between the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex—two brain areas important for learning and memory.

"We know that this genetic deficit predisposes us to schizophrenia, and now we have identified a clear pathophysiological mechanism of how [it] confers this risk…," Maria Karayiorgou, co-author on the study published April 1 in Nature and lead author on the 1994 publication identifying the genetic variant in Brain Research, said in a prepared statement. (Scientific American is part of Nature Publishing Group.)

Thirty percent of people carrying the variant—a small deletion of genetic material on chromosome 22—will go on to develop the schizophrenia, making it "one of largest genetic risk factors" for the disease, according to senior author Joshua Gordon. The odds of someone in the general U.S. population developing the disorder are one in 100, but those odds jump to one in 10 for people with an affected first-degree relative, and one in three for people with a schizophrenic identical twin, highlighting the role of genes in the development of the disease.

People with schizophrenia suffer from a loss of contact with reality, confused thinking, delusions and hallucinations—usually hearing internal voices. Scientists think that no single gene defect causes the disease. Rather, they theorize that several genetic variations passed on haphazardly from one generation to the next are to blame, along with certain environmental factors—making it harder to understand how various neurological processes might be going wrong. But by spotting interrelated behavioral and physiological differences in their mouse model, the Columbia team has implicated communication between brain areas as one such process.

The researchers measured the neural activity between the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex while normal mice and those with the genetic deletion performed a task—learning and remembering the whereabouts of a food reward on a T-shaped maze. "We found that successful completion of the task in our healthy mice required the two regions of the brain—the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex—to work together," Gordon said in a prepared statement. "And in our mouse model, the information transfer was less efficient or was unable to take place at all." The experiment even revealed a dose effect—the mice who had the least communication between the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex turned in the worst performances negotiating the maze.

The researchers are excited to have discovered a possible mechanism linking the genetic variant to the behavioral deficits in schizophrenia. "We now know that one of the consequences of that deletion is to disrupt functional communication between these two brain regions, and we have evidence from the study that the disruption actually has an impact on a cognitive behavior that is disrupted in patients," said Joseph Gogos, the study's other senior author, in a prepared statement. "It is possible that similar abnormalities in functional connectivity may also account for other symptoms of the disease and can be used to better assess treatment response, and, most importantly, to develop new medications."

In addition to its role in the heightened risk for schizophrenia, "the gene deletion also increases the risk for other cognitive and psychiatric disorders," said Dolores Malaspina, a psychiatrist at New York University Langone Medical Center who was not involved in the study. The study is "an important step in illuminating how the deletion may be related to a brain dysfunction that is present in some people with mental illness," she added. "This is important information whether or not any of [the genes involved] turn out to be common causes of schizophrenia in the population."

How the brain stores memories for specific fears

Brain cells are shown glowing with multicolor fluorescent proteins. Photo: AP
AP Brain cells are shown glowing with multicolor fluorescent proteins. Photo: AP
Neuroscientists are clueing into how the brain is capable of holding and retrieving memories for specific fears, revealing a more sophisticated storage and recall capacity than previously thought.
The study may have implications for treating post-traumatic stress syndrome - as scientists begin to understand how different fears are stored in the brain, they can move toward addressing specific fear memories.
The study was conducted by researchers at New York University (NYU) Centre for Neural Science, NYU department of psychiatry, Copernicus Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies in Krakow, Poland, Emotional Brain Institute at the Nathan S. Kline Institute for Psychiatric Research.
The research focused on the brain's amygdala, which has previously been shown to store fear memories. However, prior studies have indicated that the amygdala does not discriminate among the different threats it holds and processes.
In other words, whether you are afraid of dogs because you were once bitten by a dog or you are afraid of pizza because you once nearly choked to death eating it, all the amygdala remembers is that both of these experiences were scary.
Conversely, other brain areas, such as cortex, ensures that all other aspects of these fearful events in your life are remembered.
The scientists sought to determine if there were differences in how the amygdala processes and remembers fears. To do so, they focused on a process called memory consolidation in which an experience is captured, or encoded, then stored.
Once consolidation occurs, memories may be long lasting - one experience may create memories that last a lifetime. However, whenever recalled, memories become labile - that is, susceptible to changes. This process is called reconsolidation, says a NYU release.
The finding demonstrates that the amygdala makes distinctions among the fear memories it holds and retrieves.

Examiner Bio Child abuse prevention, Part 1- Never shake the baby!

Shaking a baby is child abuse
Shaking a baby is child abuse
Babies cry. In fact, they cry and cry and cry.  This is a normal reflex babies have for communicating to their caregivers when they are hungry, tired, sick or need their diapers changed.  Likewise, the normal response from caregivers when babies cry is to nurture, love and help them feel comfortable.  But normal is not always the norm, and sometimes crying babies can cause an adverse reaction from caregivers that can harm them for life.  April is Child Abuse Prevention Month and the time is now to get educated about Shaken baby syndrome (SBS) a silent form of child abuse with horrific consequences.
Last Wednesday, March 31, 2010, a three month-old Houston baby was taken to Texas Children's Hospital and treated for SBS.  The mother admitted to being a little rough with the baby and shaking him because he was crying so much.  The baby died two days later on Friday, April 2.
Last year 1,200-1,400 babies were given treatment after having been shaken.  25%-30% of those babies died, and the rest will have lifelong repercussions.  Sadly, many more children suffer from the effects of SBS, but they go unnoticed and unreported because there are no visible signs of SBS.
Babies have large heads and underdeveloped necks, so the whiplash action from shaking bounces the brain around in the skull.  Blood vessels that connect the brain to the skull are often torn, resulting in brain seizures, blindness and/or paralysis that can last throughout life and even cause death.
Carol V. Weishampel is the adoptive mother of Darrell.  Darrell was shaken as a baby and is now profoundly retarded and blind because of it.  Carol states, "Darrell was born healthy.  Shaking caused a subdural hematoma as his delicate brain slammed against his skull.  His brain's occipital lobe and frontal cortex were bruised and bleeding, his arm was broken and he had broken ribs before he was a few weeks old."   Darrell suffers from grand mal seizures and cannot perform basic duties required to take care of himself.  Now a grown man, Darrell cannot walk or talk.
Carol spends much of her time educating young mothers and caregivers about SBS so that they can be made aware of this form of child abuse.  What usually starts as excessive crying, results in irritation and aggravation from already weary caregivers.  They end up shaking the baby to quiet them because they are at their wit's end.
Hopefully education and assistance will help alleviate this form of child abuse.  March 27, 2010, the SBS Prevention Act was introduced to the U.S. Senate to make the public aware of SBS and educate them on the dangers of shaken baby syndrome.
Make sure to check in for part 2 of this series.  The different forms and causes of excessive crying in infants will be highlighted. 

Brain therapy giving hope of new way to conquer afflictions

Martha Buckalew had a great life. She traveled with her husband, drove her golf cart to garage sales in Sun City, played bridge with friends.

Then she was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. Her gait slowed and stiffened. Her hands shook so badly she couldn't hold a pen. She fainted at church.

In December, Buckalew was wheeled into an operating room. A neurosurgeon drilled two holes into her skull, inserted electrodes in her brain and sent her back to a better life.

The treatment is deep-brain-stimulation therapy, or DBS, which uses electrical pulses to quiet her tremors. It has been used as a last-resort medical treatment since 1997 for people with certain movement disorders.

Now, doctors hope the therapy can treat an array of ailments, from easing depression to controlling morbid obesity.

As the medical community learns more about the brain's physiology, the pacemaker-like device has far-reaching potential.

Array of treatments

Researchers expanded the scope of deep brain stimulation beyond movement disorders when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration last year approved its limited use for obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Now, about 30 clinical trials are under way to research the therapy's possible use to treat about a dozen disorders.

Some trials are for relatively rare conditions such as Tourette's syndrome and Huntington's disease. Others are for more familiar afflictions such as epilepsy, depression and obesity. A clinical trial also is under way in Canada to study whether the treatment can improve memory in Alzheimer's patients.

Deep brain stimulation works on the principle that the brain controls all the activities of the body. Find the right neurological pathway, and you can adjust the body's actions.

Dr. Donald Whiting is leading a clinical trial in hopes of combating morbid obesity: being 100 pounds or more overweight.

Electrodes were implanted a year ago in three patients who had failed to lose weight by traditional measures, including gastric bypass surgery, said Whiting, a neurologist at West Virginia University Hospital. The trial is expected to wrap up by early 2012.

"At this point we have been able to kind of get rid of their urge to eat," Whiting said. "They seem to be eating less, but it's harder to document any metabolic changes. It's promising but still too early to say if it's effective enough."

'Some real benefits'

In 2006, Diane Hire of Ohio was one of the first patients in a pilot study to undergo the therapy for chronic depression.

"I was severely depressed for 20 years, to the point in the last 10 years I could hardly function on my own," the 56-year-old said. She attempted suicide three times. "I could not work and was put on disability. I would get out of bed in the morning and say, 'Oh, good, only 16 hours before I can go to bed again.' "

She tried 20 medications, psychotherapy and electroconvulsive therapy. Then she tried deep brain stimulation.

"I am a completely different person," said Hire, who still takes Prozac and Wellbutrin but hopes to be eventually weaned off the psychotropic drugs. "I wake up happy and ready to face the day."

Cleveland Clinic psychiatrist Donald Malone is the lead investigator in the use of deep brain stimulation for treatment-resistant depression. A clinical trial with 30 volunteers will conclude in two years. He also oversaw the pilot trial that involved Hire.

"The preliminary findings demonstrate some real benefits in patients who don't get better in any other way," Malone said. "Patients enrolled in these trials are not the run-of-the-mill average depression patient. For the most part, the odds of them responding to different medications or therapies are very, very small."

Some physicians in the U.S. and Europe are trying the therapy for chronic pain.

Dr. Virgilio Evidente of the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale has performed the therapy on two patients with severe, recurring headaches.

Chronic head pain that may benefit from the therapy includes cluster headaches and headaches that bring stabbing pain for only a few seconds but occur hundreds of times a day.

Evidente said the therapy anecdotally has been effective in patients with failed-back syndrome, which is persistent pain because of back surgery.

He said certain patients respond well. But the therapy doesn't work for everyone.

"We don't know why," Evidente said. "Obviously, pain syndromes are not all the same."

The surgery

Dr. David Pootrakul has become a local expert on the therapy, using it at Banner Boswell Medical Center on more than 70 patients with movement disorders such as dystonia and Parkinson's.

In December, with representatives from Medtronic, the manufacturer of the device, providing technical support, he performed the delicate procedure on Buckalew.

Buckalew was awake, her shaven scalp numbed by anesthesia, when Pootrakul drilled two dime-size holes into her skull.

A thin electrode, guided by a metal frame screwed into Buckalew's head, was slowly inserted through a hole drilled into the right side of her brain. The pathway is charted by a computerized image-guidance system.

Once Pootrakul was comfortable that the electrode hit the target site, he performed tests. He asked Buckalew to tap her fingers together and to repeat "sunny day in Sun City."

Satisfied that the electrode's placement helped to reduce the tremors, Pootrakul repeated the surgical procedure on the left side of Buckalew's brain.

A week later, Buckalew returned for part two of her surgery, this time as an outpatient. Pootrakul implanted a neurostimulator below her collarbone and connected it to the electrodes in her brain through a thin wire that tunnels under her scalp and neck.

A week after the surgery, Buckalew went to her neurologist, who turned on the neurostimulator, a stopwatch-size box that houses a battery and microchip.

With more than 60,000 possible settings for stimulating the brain, it will take multiple office visits to get the right programming. The physician makes the adjustments on a device similar to a TV remote control.

It may take months before doctors determine how much the therapy improves Buckalew's medical condition. Her hands don't tremble, her balance is better and she can walk without holding onto her husband. She has resumed the everyday chores that had eluded her, such as cooking and ironing. Better yet, she is no longer a shut-in.

"I am able to get around better," Buckalew, 75, said. But she would like to rely a lot less on medication.

Pootrakul is the only surgeon performing deep brain stimulation at Banner Boswell. The Sun City hospital, Mayo Clinic and St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center are the only medical facilities in the Phoenix area that offer the procedure.

More than 75,000 people worldwide have undergone the surgery, according to Medtronic Inc., the only company approved by the FDA to sell the system in the United States.

A last resort

Deep brain stimulation is a last-resort treatment, used only in patients whose medications and other remedies stop working or when the side effects from treatments do more harm than good.

Brain surgery carries risks of cranial bleeding, paralysis, coma and death. If a brain infection develops, it could lead to bacterial meningitis, a swelling and irritation of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord that can cause brain damage or hearing loss.

And the devices themselves can pose complications. Double vision and numbness can emerge. Some patients report jolting or shocking sensations sparked by the device's electrical charge.

Sometimes, symptoms of the disease worsen temporarily, according to Medtronic officials.

Another drawback to the therapy is its price tag. At Banner Boswell, if a patient doesn't have insurance or qualify for the state's health insurance for the poor, the procedure costs about $128,000. And for uses that haven't been FDA-approved, insurance generally won't cover the therapy's cost, according to Evidente of Mayo Clinic.

Still, brain stimulation therapy has advantages.

Unlike previous surgeries to control Parkinson's symptoms, the therapy doesn't damage brain tissue.

The neurostimulator can be programmed to adjust to a patient's changing medical condition.

And the procedure is reversible, allowing the device to be removed if better treatments become available.

The therapy doesn't cure a patient's condition but can control the symptoms, enabling patients to reduce their medication by half or even more, Pootrakul said.

What's next

Medtronic has the monopoly on brain-stimulation devices in the United States.

However, several companies are emerging on the horizon. St. Jude Medical has received approval in Europe and Australia to sell its stimulator device. And NeuroPace is focusing its foray into the market with a similar stimulation device for epilepsy.

Medical experts said the technology has nearly limitless potential to ease brain-related disorders, once physicians know which part of the cerebrum to target.

"There's no question as we learn more about the science of the brain's physiology, more people realistically can benefit from neuromodification of the brain," said Dr. Michael Schulder of the American Association of Neurological Surgeons.

Schulder said the therapy could be used in the far-off future for conditions such as hypertension and diabetes. But careful study is required.

It's not as if 20 million Americans with major weight problems or psychological issues will have implants to control their conditions within five years, he said.

First, help is ahead for those suffering from Alzheimer's, depression and chronic pain.

"Over the next 10 years, if we can make a dent in those conditions with DBS, we will really have done a great service to the world," Schulder said.

Laughter is nothing to laugh about scientists say

Researchers are seeking to understand laughter better.Scientists seek to understand more about laughter and its potential health benefits.
Washington ( – Researchers are seeking to understand more about laughter and its potential impact on human health. As reported by the Associated Press (AP), researchers view laughter as a serious area of study, and some suggest that may be a social response as opposed to a reaction to humor.
Baltimore neuroscientist Robert Provine is quoted in the report as stating of laughter, “Laughter above all else is a social thing… The requirement for laughter is another person…All language groups laugh `ha-ha-ha’ basically the same way. Whether you speak Mandarin, French or English, everyone will understand laughter. … There’s a pattern generator in our brain that produces this sound.”
Provine is further stated to suggest that only up to 15 percent of laughter comes from hearing something funny.

Worried about brain health? There are things you can do

A colleague of mine once described the speed of his brain as similar to an old cash register - you sequentially push one key after the other and then push the total key. This was in contrast to the speed of a younger person's brain, which was compared to a high-speed computer. High contrast in processing speed, same result.

As I get older, it's amazing the number of people who have mentioned to me in passing that they're worried about the health of their brains. They worry they're starting to lose it, that maybe it's the beginning of dementia.

Could be, but there's also a good chance they're just feeling their own aging a bit. We're used to taking our mental prowess pretty much for granted. Maybe it takes a little extra reflection to think through a concept. Perhaps we misspeak because we assume our vocal skills will keep up with our thoughts without actively thinking about our words. Perhaps we balance so many detailed tasks and plans in our day that we simply can't remember everything. Our brains may be just fine, just on overload and running a little slower than they used to.

Regardless, one of the prime issues of concern, particularly to the health-conscious boomer generation, is maintaining brain health.

Paul D. Nussbaum is a clinical neuropsychologist who has focused much of his work on brain health. He talks about five factors that people can use to impact one's brain health:

uSocialization: It's important to stay connected with one's community, family and friends. Studies have shown that isolated people have a higher risk for dementia. Research also has shown that this can lead to feelings of loneliness. Loneliness can relate to the risk of dementia through increased stress and altered blood flow.

uPhysical activity: To be healthy, 25 percent of the blood from each heartbeat needs to flow to the brain. Exercise helps to keep things flowing. Staying active through sports, dance and any number of activities that get the cardiovascular system moving will help. People think of their daily walks as good for their physical health, but they're really great for brain health as well.

uNutrition: Dietary neuroscience is a relatively new field. Our brains consist of more than 50 percent fat. The type of fats we eat can make a difference in brain health. Fatty acid from certain foods such as fish and walnuts is good; processed food and saturated fat are not. Fruits and vegetables are some of the best brain health foods.

uSpirituality: We need to slow down and de-stress. Research has documented the negative effect of too much stress. Prayer, participation in worship activities, massage, meditation and relaxation procedures promote general health and help us slow down.

uMental stimulation: Research shows the positive effects on brain health of new learning. Lifelong learning through academics, pursuit of hobbies or commitment to social causes helps stimulate the brain. Puzzles and games are great. Even the Internet and our new electronics can help.

At the University of California, Los Angeles, professor of psychiatry Dr. Gary Small led a group studying the effect of doing Internet searches on the brain's neural circuitry. One group of participants performed book-reading tasks while another did Internet searches, all the while undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging scans (MRIs). The Internet-based group saw significant increase in frontal lobe decision-making and short-term memory centers.

So, I guess it's best not to worry too much about the speed of the cash register or occasional slip-ups. Indulging in any new learning that meets my fancy, maybe getting a massage and playing a little harder might be the ticket. Maybe I'll get on the Internet and check out some ideas.

Lynn Kellogg is chief executive officer of Region IV Area Agency on Aging in Southwest Michigan. Questions on age or independence services? Call the Info-Line for Aging & Long-Term Care at (800)654-2810 or check the Web site at The Generations column appears each Sunday in The Herald-Palladium.

Anxiety may help combat depression: Study

If you are among those who worry a lot, chances are that you won't suffer from depression as a new study claims that fretfulness may help relieve the condition of feeling low and sad.

The University of Illinois study found that unlike vigilance that aggravates depression, anxiety associated with worrying may neutralise brain activity and help combat the ill effects of the condition.

"Sometimes worry is a good thing to do. Maybe it will get you to plan better. There could be an up-side to these things," said lead researcher Professor Gregory A Miller.
"It could be that having a particular type of anxiety will help processing in one part of the brain while at the same time hurting processing in another part of the brain."
For their study, the researchers looked at depression and two types of anxiety -- anxious arousal ( the fearful vigilance that sometimes turns into panic) and anxious apprehension, better known as worry, LiveScience reported.

The study involved a task wherein the subjects were asked to identify colours of words connotative of negative, positive or neutral meanings, ignoring the latter part.
Then they used functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) to scan the subjects' brain areas that became activated in response to emotional words.
They looked at such brain activities in different types of patients -- those who were depressed and not anxious, those who were anxious but not depressed and those who showed signs of variable degrees of depression along with one or both types of anxiety.
They found that the fMRI signature of the brain of a worried and depressed person doing the emotional word task was very different from that of a vigilant or panicky depressed person.

It was observed that anxious arousal enhanced activity in that part of the right frontal lobe that is also active in depression, but only when a person's level of anxious apprehension (or worry) was low.Neural activity in a region of the left frontal lobe -- an area known to be involved in speech production -- was found higher in the depressed and worried-but-not-fearful subjects.

Despite their depression, the worriers also did better on the emotional word task than those depressives who were fearful or vigilant.Hence, it was established that worriers performed the task better implying that they had better ability to ignore the meaning of negative words and concentrate on the task.

Prof Wendy Heller, co-author of the study, said: "Although we think of depression and anxiety as separate things, they often co-occur.""The combination of depression and anxiety, and which type of anxiety, give you different brain results."The study appears in the journal Cognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience

Brain can adapt, heal itself, research indicates

DALLAS - By the time Scott Hayner was 7, he had had one skull fracture and three major concussions from falling off horses.

Nobody connected those accidents to the difficulties he had in school as he acted out, stopped talking for three months and cried every day for two years. As an adult, Hayner, who lives in Highland Park, Texas, seemed to be a thriving, successful stockbroker, until traumatic brain injury from a 1999 soccer accident led to seizures and sidelined his ability to talk to people and stay on task.

At 42, two realizations have turned his life around. First, he realized that brain injuries were behind the troubles he had experienced all his life. Second, he read about brain plasticity - the concept that the brain can heal and learn at all ages.

"It was a relief," says Hayner, who credits his 2008 training at the Center for BrainHealth at the University of Texas in Dallas for helping to restore abilities he had thought were long gone. "It helped me regain my self-esteem and self-confidence. It gave me hope."

Neuroplasticity, or the brain's ability to adapt and change through life, is gaining traction in medical circles.

Dr. Norman Doidge, author of the best-seller "The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph From the Frontiers of Brain Science" (Penguin, $16), refers to neuroplasticity as "the most important change in our understanding of the brain in four hundred years."

"For the longest time, our best and brightest neuroscientists thought of the brain as like a machine, with parts, each performing a single mental function in a single location," he wrote in an e-mail from the University of Toronto (he also teaches at Columbia University in New York City). "We thought its circuits were genetically hardwired, and formed and finalized in childhood."

This meant that doctors assumed they could do little to help those with mental limitations or brain damage, Doidge says - because machines don't grow new parts. The new thinking changes that: "It means that many disorders that we thought can't be treated have to be revisited."

Dr. Jeremy Denning, a neurosurgeon at Baylor Regional Medical Center in Plano, Texas, has seen that in his own practice.

"The brain has the amazing ability to reorganize itself by forming new connections between brain cells," Denning says. "I have one patient I operated on a year ago who almost died from a hemispheric brain stroke and actually recovered from coma to hemiplegia (paralysis) to actually walking out of the hospital in four to five weeks. There are numerous studies looking at the changes that occur at the molecular level at the site of neuron connections. It is a very complex phenomenon, and we are still in the infancy of completely understanding it."

Dr. Sandra Chapman believes in lifelong plasticity. As founder of the Center for BrainHealth, she has set several studies in motion to explore how that concept can help those with brain damage and everyone else, including those with aging brains, middle-schoolers who need a brain boost and autistic children who need help rewiring the brain to improve their social cognition.

Scott Hayner is among those people who have benefited from some of these studies, although BrainHealth primarily is a research institute.

"Our brain is one of the most modifiable parts of our whole body," Chapman says.

That means that, just as physical exercise keeps the body healthy, the right kind of learning will make it more likely for our brains to keep up with our expanding life span.

Even while using the latest high-tech scanning devices to monitor results in her studies, when it comes to brain health, Chapman puts her greatest emphasis on a brain-fitness exam she refers to as a "neck-up checkup." It's done one-on-one with an interviewer using puzzles, paper, pen, pencil and just a few computer questions.

A "brain physical" at the center costs $600. Based on the results, experts recommend a simple strategy usually focusing on three key areas:

• Strategic attention: the skill to block out distractions and focus on what's important. Exercises might include taking stock of your environment, identifying what distracts you and eliminating or limiting those things, and creating daily priority lists.

• Integrated reasoning: the ability to find the message or theme in what you're watching, reading or doing. Exercises might include making a point of reflecting on the meaning of a book after you've read it or a movie after you've seen it.

• Innovation: the vision to identify patterns and come up with new ideas, fresh perspectives and multiple solutions to problems. Exercises might include thinking of multiple solutions to problems as they come up, talking to other people to get a different perspective and taking time to step away from a problem to give yourself an opportunity for creative thoughts.

Hayner says his sessions - he attended for two months and completed take-home exercises - proved invaluable.

"I've been on so many drugs and medications, and they got me nowhere," he says. "Adults with TBIs (traumatic brain injuries) tend to become overwhelmed, and when someone becomes overwhelmed, it spirals into fear and chaos, and we have a tendency to shut down.

"Today, as long as I stick to what I was taught here about filtering information and innovative thinking and what's important and what's not important, and apply that to my real life, things don't confuse and baffle me. ... I can make a decision on the important things that have to be done each day."

Chapman maintains that it's never too late - or early - to learn, but she notes that some physiological changes in the brain come with age.

The frontal lobes, which control critical thinking, judgment, reasoning and problem-solving, accelerate from ages 16 to 25 and may begin to decline after age 30, particularly without efforts to keep the brain fit.

Memory and processing abilities also may slow as people get older, Chapman says.

But the brain, like the body, can stay fit in core areas as the years go by, she maintains.