Saturday, April 24, 2010

Care to Cure Alzheimer's Conference to Help NH Families

Alzheimer's disease can be devastating to families who become caregivers. Anyone seeking more information about Alzheimer's is invited to attend the Alzheimer's Association's "Care to Cure: the latest in research and care giving" conference on Saturday, May 22 in Concord. Open to individuals and families free of charge, and with a modest registration fee for health care professionals, the program is an effort to bring information and help to those affected by the disease.

"There are more than 22,000 people with Alzheimer's in New Hampshire. This is a fatal, degenerative disease of the brain that creates serious challenges for family and professional caregivers," said Susan Antkowiak, Manager of the Alzheimer's Association's New Hampshire office. "We teach people how to live with Alzheimer's. We are hoping that this half-day program changes the way we manage Alzheimer's here in New Hampshire."

Dr. Michael Wolfe, internationally recognized researcher at Brigham & Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School Hospital and Harvard Medical School will discuss the reality and hopes around Alzheimer's research. Jo Ann Jordan, RN, M.Ed, a dementia specialist, nurse and educator, will cover practical information about providing care for a person with Alzheimer's.

"In addition to the great foundation information about the disease, people will also learn about the services and programs that can help them right now, as well as the best ways to maintain our brains and fight back against the disease," said Antkowiak.

The conference runs 9 a.m.-noon at NHTI: Concord's Community College, at Sweeney Auditorium. Registration begins at 8:15 a.m.

The Alzheimer's Association provides education and support to those affected by the disease. For information on programs, support groups and community resources and to register for the Care to Cure conference call 603-606-6590. For information on other Alzheimer's Association programs visit

Psychedelic trips aid anxiety treatments in study

Seth Wenig In this April 13, 2010 photo, one gram of psilocybin, the psychoactive ingredient in hallucinogenic mushrooms, is seen on a scale at New York University in New York. A study being conducted at the university examines the effects of hallucinogenic drugs on the emotional and psychological state of advanced cancer patients. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Psychedelic trips aid anxiety treatments in study
 Psychedelic trips aid anxiety treatments in study  Psychedelic trips aid anxiety treatments in study  The big white pill was brought to her in an earthenware chalice. She'd already held hands with her two therapists and expressed her wishes for what it would help her do.
She swallowed it, lay on the couch with her eyes covered, and waited. And then it came.
Psychedelic trips aid anxiety treatments in study  "The world was made up of jewels and I was in a dome," she recalled. Surrounded by brilliant, kaleidoscopic colors, she saw the dome open up to admit "this most incredible luminescence that made everything even more beautiful."
Tears trickled down her face as she saw "how beautiful the world could actually be."
That's how Nicky Edlich, 67, began her first-ever trip on a psychedelic drug last year.
She says it has greatly helped her psychotherapeutic treatment for anxiety from her advanced ovarian cancer.
And for researchers, it was another small step toward showing that hallucinogenic drugs, famous but condemned in the 1960s, can one day help doctors treat conditions like cancer anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.
The New York University study Edlich participated in is among a handful now going on in the United States and elsewhere with drugs like LSD, MDMA (Ecstasy) and psilocybin, the main ingredient of "magic mushrooms." The work follows lines of research choked off four decades ago by the war on drugs. The research is still preliminary. But at least it's there.
"There is now more psychedelic research taking place in the world than at any time in the last 40 years," said Rick Doblin, executive director of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, which funds some of the work. "We're at the end of the beginning of the renaissance."
He said that more than 1,200 people attended a conference in California last weekend on psychedelic science.
But doing the research is not easy, Doblin and others say, with government funders still leery and drug companies not interested in the compounds they can't patent. That pretty much leaves private donors.
"There's still a lot of resistance to it," said David Nichols, a Purdue University professor of medicinal chemistry and president of the Heffter Institute, which is supporting the NYU study. "The whole hippie thing in the 60s" and media coverage at the time "has kind of left a bad taste in the mouth of the public at large.
"When you tell people you're treating people with psychedelics, the first thing that comes to mind is Day-Glo art and tie-dyed shirts."
Nothing like that was in evidence the other day when Edlich revisited the room at NYU where she'd taken psilocybin. Landscape photos and abstract art hung on the walls, flowers and a bowl of fruit adorned a table near the window. At the foot of the couch lay an Oriental rug.
"The whole idea was to create a living room-like setting" that would be relaxing, said study leader Dr. Stephen Ross.
Edlich, whose cancer forced her to retire from teaching French at a private school, had plenty of reason to seek help through the NYU project. Several recurrences of her ovarian cancer had provoked fears about suffering and dying and how her death would affect her family. She felt "profound sadness that my life was going to be cut short." And she faced existential questions: Why live? What does it all mean? How can I go on?
"These things were in my head and I wanted them to take a back seat to living in the moment," she said. So when she heard NYU researchers speak about the project at her cancer support group, she was interested.
Psilocybin has been shown to invoke powerful spiritual experiences during the four to six hours it affects the brain. A study published in 2008, in fact, found that even 14 months after healthy volunteers had taken a single dose, most said they were still feeling and behaving better because of the experience. They also said the drug had produced one of the five most spiritually significant experiences they'd ever had.
Experts emphasize people shouldn't try psilocybin on their own because it can be harmful, sometimes causing bouts of anxiety and paranoia.
The NYU study is testing whether that drug experience can help with the nine months of psychotherapy each participant also gets.
The therapy seeks to help patients live fuller, richer lives with the time they have left.
Each study participant gets two drug-dose experiences, but only one of those involves psilocybin; the other is a placebo dose of niacin, which makes the face flush.
The homey NYU room where Edlich had been getting psychotherapy was the setting for her drug experiences. She had brought along photos of her son, grandchildren and partner. She met with two therapists she'd come to trust, knowing they would stay with her through her hours under the influence.
Taking the drug followed a ritual, including the chalice and the hand-holding, because ritual has been part of psilocybin's successful use for centuries by traditional cultures, said Ross, the lead researcher.
After swallowing the white pill, Edlich perused an art book for about a half-hour while waiting for the psilocybin to take effect. Then she lay on the couch with headphones and listened to music with eyeshades over her eyes.
After her vision of the brilliantly colored dome, Edlich went on to two more experiences involving parts of her life. She won't describe those much, even to friends. They "brought me profound sadness and profound grief" but also transformed her understanding of what was important to her in the areas of relationships and trusting, she says.
She sat up and talked with her psychotherapists about what had gone on. And after nine hours in that room, she went home and wrote 30 pages in a diary about what had happened. And she thought about it for weeks afterward.
Did the drug experience help?
It let her view the issues she was working on through a different lens, she said.
"I think it made me more aware of what was so important and what was making me either sad or depressed. I think it was revelatory."
All three people in the study so far felt better, with less general anxiety and fear of death, and greater acceptance of the dying process, Ross said. No major side effects have appeared. The project plans to enroll a total of 32 people.
Ross' work follows up on a small study at the University of California, Los Angeles; results haven't been published yet, but they too are encouraging, according to experts familiar with it.
Yet another study of psilocybin for cancer anxiety, at Johns Hopkins University, has treated 11 out of a planned 44 participants so far. Chief investigator Roland Griffiths said he suspected the results would fall in line with the UCLA work.
In interviews, some psychiatrists who work with cancer patients reacted coolly to the prospects of using psilocybin.
"I'm kind of curious about it," said Dr. Susan Block of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. She said it's an open question how helpful the drug experiences could be, and "I don't think it's ever going to be a widely used treatment."
Ross, meanwhile, thinks patients might benefit from more than one dose of the drug during the psychotherapy. The study permits only one dose, but all three participants asked for a second, he said.
Edlich said her single dose "brought me to a deeper place in my mind, that I would never have gone to ... I feel a second session would even take me to more important places.
"I would do it a second time in a New York minute."

Bret Michaels hospitalized with brain hemorrhage

Bret Michaels is in critical condition suffering from a brain hemorrhage, his publicist said Friday.
Joann Mignano, Michaels’ New York-based publicist, confirmed a report on People magazine’s website that said the former Poison frontman was rushed to intensive care late Thursday after a severe headache. The report said doctors discovered bleeding at the base of his brain stem. Mignano said tests are being conducted but did not know where he was being treated.
The 47-year-old glam-rock reality TV star had an emergency appendectomy at a private care facility for diabetics last week after complaining of stomach pains before he was scheduled to perform at Sea World in San Antonio, Texas. Michaels later wrote on his website that though the surgery “has taken its toll,” doctors expected him to make a full recovery.
Michaels is currently a contestant on the third season of Donald Trump’s NBC competitive reality show, “The Celebrity Apprentice.” For the first six episodes, Michaels served as a lighting rod for the show’s male team, avoiding being fired in the boardroom.
Trump said in a statement Friday that he was “deeply saddened” to hear of Michaels’ condition.
“He’s a great competitor and champion, and I hope he will be fine,” Trump said.
Before joining “The Celebrity Apprentice,” Michaels starred as the lothario on VH1’s lusty reality dating series “Rock of Love” from 2007 to 2009. For three seasons, Michaels searched for the women of his dreams amid a sea of implants, tattoos and thongs. He also served as a judge on the fifth season of the USA singing competition “Nashville Star” in 2007.

Media Advisory: Visualizing “Your Brain on Drugs”

Over the past 35 years, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory have developed and refined an imaging protocol that allows them to visualize the activity of the brain’s reward circuitry in both normal individuals and those addicted to drugs. The technique has led to better insight into why people take recreational drugs as well as ways to evaluate which strategies are most effective in treating addiction.

Joanna Fowler, a senior scientist in Brookhaven’s medical department and recent recipient of the National Medal of Science, will present highlights from this research program at the annual meeting of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology in Anaheim, California, on April 26, 2010.

Drug addiction is a complex process that involves numerous biological and environmental factors, but a central element is how the drugs affect the activity of dopamine, the chemical “messenger” that regulates pleasure and reward in the brain.

To get a real-time sense of dopamine activity, Fowler and her colleague Gene-Jack Wang at Brookhaven, along with Nora Volkow, Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and a team of collaborators combined positron emission tomography (PET), a medical imaging technology useful for identifying brain diseases, with special radioactive tracers that bind to dopamine receptors. The PET scan highlights the movement of the tracers in the brain, and can be used to reconstruct real-time 3-D images of thedopamine system in action.

Over the years, the scientists have tested this procedure on many drug-addicted volunteers as well as age-matched healthy control subjects and found that people with addictions in general have 15-20 percent fewerdopamine receptors than normal. These drug-addicted individuals thus cannot receive the dopamine pleasure signal released in response to the drugs — or sometimes even natural reinforcers like food.

“These addicted individuals all had a blunted dopamine response,” noted Fowler. “This reinforces the idea that drug addicts experience diminished feelings of pleasure, which drives their continual drug use.”

Fowler added that the research program has studied multiple recreational drugs and found similar results. “So while various drugs operate by unique mechanisms, they all share a commonality in that thedopamine receptors in the brains of addicted individuals show an under-stimulated reward system.”

In an interesting correlation, Fowler noted that Gene-Jack Wang has also used the dopamine PET scans on obese individuals and found highly similar patterns of low dopamine receptors — validating the idea that, at least in some cases, obesity can also be considered a disease of addiction.

A potential valuable application of observing dopamine activity in real-time, Fowler noted, involves not looking at addicted individuals while they use drugs, but rather when they don’t.

“We can examine individuals as they use different coping strategies to try to suppress their desires for drugs or food,” she said, “and see in the scans which approaches work best.”

“We still have a lot of research to do before we fully understand why people take drugs,” Fowler continued, “but with the help of PET scans to help us understand the brain, we might help more people stop.”

Hernando County teacher Adela Sanchez focuses on brain disorders

There needs to be more public awareness about brain disorders in children and adolescents afflicted by the disorders. Education is the key. Adela Sanchez
There needs to be more public awareness about brain disorders in children and adolescents afflicted by the disorders. Education is the key. Adela SanchezHow long have you lived in Hernando County, and where do you live? Where did you live previously?

We have lived in the Brooksville area for 15 years on property adjacent to my parents' property. Previously we lived in Pasco County's San Antonio for seven years.

Prior to 1989, my husband and I were migrant workers, and we didn't live long enough in any area to be considered residents of the community.

Who are the members of your family?

My family consists of my husband of 28 years, Benjamin; daughter Angelica, 19; and son, Hector, 27.

Tell us about your career.

I was a migrant farmer traveling to various states harvesting fruits and vegetables with my husband, just as I had done with my parents and siblings, before I married at 18. Life was hard moving all the time, and when our daughter was born, Benjamin and I decided to remain in one location and provide a more stable environment for both of our children. Therefore, we made Dade City our hometown.

There I began to pursue a career in education. It took a while to finish, but I was determined. I graduated from Saint Leo University with a bachelor's degree in education. In December 2009, I received my master's degree in educational leadership.

This June, I will have been teaching for 11 years in the Hernando County School District. The first seven I taught intermediate grades, and the past three years I've taught second grade at Moton Elementary School. For the past two, I have been teaching students who struggle with reading.

What other kinds of activities are you involved in?

I recently ventured into writing a book based on my personal experience with a loved one who has a brain disorder. The inspirational book is titled From Out of the Shadows of Darkness. In it I hope to let readers know there is hope and a light at the end of the tunnel — that we can live life again to the fullest and enjoy our ill loved ones. The book also offers insight as to how a caregiver can be overwhelmed without support from family, health services and the community, and I also suggest books to read.

Although there were medical books with scientific information available when my daughter was young, there were no books on brain disorders on a personal level — something I could have used. I felt totally isolated and removed. It was during a crisis when I saw a flier from the National Alliance for Mental Illness at a local hospital. I called the Beautiful Mind center and inquired about NAMI.

When I learned there was going to be a free 12-week class, I registered. The support and knowledge I received was unmeasurable. I walked away empowered, and it was sometime during the course I decided to become an active member in our Spring Hill chapter, NAMI Hernando.

I soon inquired about the "basics" program and took the initiative to be trained so that I could have the opportunity to teach my colleagues about brain disorders. I want teachers to have the tools necessary to effectively handle a situation encountered with a child who suffers from a brain disorder, as well as educate parents and caregivers to become empowered to handle situations that may arise with their child.

Do you have any special hobbies?

The hobby closest to my heart is going to the beach and watching the seagulls. Spending time at the beach, whether it is on the west or east coast, is always very therapeutic for me. It helps me rejuvenate and relax from the stresses associated with my profession and life in general.

What are your favorite things to do in Hernando County?

Going for a drive through the country roads. The curves and ancient oak trees are a reminder of south Texas, where I spent the summer months with family harvesting fruits and vegetables, and enjoying the sunsets and sunrises on the beach. Our family also enjoys time spent at Pine Island.

What do you think would make Hernando County a better place to live?

Recognizing that more funding is needed for our schools and mental health.

We need child and adolescent psychiatrists available for families in need of mental health services. Currently, families have to drive great distances to receive these services.

There needs to be more public awareness about brain disorders in children and adolescents afflicted by the disorders. Education is the key. We also need more individuals to advocate for those who are unable to have their mental health needs met.

Tell us something about yourself that most people don't know.

Some day in the future, I'd like the opportunity to be able to provide a transitional home (assisted living facility) for young adults with brain disorders needing a place to stay before returning home to their caregiver or living independently on their own.

I'd like it to be staffed with guidance counselors whose responsibility would be to ensure these clients receive the help and guidance necessary to navigate through the process of obtaining their healthy dependence or independence and self-sufficiency.

It is something I am hoping to accomplish in the future with the help of the citizens of Hernando County.

People no smarter after playing online brain games: study

Slideshow image
People who use "brain-training" computer games in a bid to boost their mental skills and memory are likely to be disappointed. A new study finds that the games don't makes users any smarter.
The study, published online by the journal Nature, was funded by the BBC in the United Kingdom. The network airs "Bang Goes the Theory," a science show that aims to challenges long-held scientific principles.
The researchers recruited viewers of the show -- more than 11,000 people aged 18 to 60 – and gave them a modified form of an IQ test before the experiment.
They were then asked to play online brain games for at least 10 minutes a day, three times a week. The games differed between each group:
One group was trained on games focusing on reasoning, planning and problem-solving abilities — skills correlated with general intelligence.
A second group was trained on mental functions targeted by commercial brain-training programs — short-term memory, attention, visuospatial abilities and maths.
A third group, the control subjects, simply used the Internet to find answers to obscure questions.
The volunteers were then assessed again for IQ after six weeks.
The researchers found that the people who did any kind of brain training didn't perform any better on the IQ test than people who had simply been on the Internet. In fact, in some sections of the test, the people who surfed the Web scored higher than those playing the games.
"There were absolutely no transfer effects" from the training tasks to more general tests of cognition, said Adrian Owen, a neuroscientist at the Medical Research Council (MRC) Cognition and Brian Sciences Unit in Cambridge, who led the study.
Owen told a press briefing that there's nothing wrong with playing the games for fun. "But if you're expecting (these games) to improve your IQ, our data suggests this isn't the case," he said.
Study researcher Jessica A. Grahn, also with MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, said even those participants who practised more than average, "there was still no translation to any general improvement in cognitive function," she told the telephone news conference.
"Some of things they were practicing, like getting faster at math, may be useful in and of itself. But if you are [brain training] to see a generalized improvement in overall function, the evidence does not support it," she said.
David Moore, director of the MRC Institute of Hearing Research in Nottingham, UK, and a founder of MindWeavers, a company in Oxford, UK, selling the brain-training program MindFit, said there were some limitations to the study.
He noted to Nature News that the volunteers were a self-selected group "who would have had a natural inclination to play this sort of game," he said.
Moore also wondered whether the six-week length of the study was long enough, noting that the average participant had just four hours of training.
Owen noted that his study's findings apply only to healthy adults who use the games, not those with Alzheimer's disease or other cognitive disorders. "These results do not speak to Alzheimer's disease," Owens said.
He also conceded that his findings don't necessarily mean that training in young children or elderly patients is pointless. But "the evidence is not strong," he said. "And someone needs to go and test it."

Sleeping, dreaming enhance learning

A new study says those who dream about a recently learned task perform it better upon waking, approving long-held notions that sleeping can boost learning.

According to the study published in Cell Biology, napping after learning something new and remembering to dream about it can improve learning.

"We think that the dreams are a marker that the brain is working on the same problem at many levels. The dreams might reflect the brain's attempt to find associations for the memories that could make them more useful in the future," said lead researcher Robert Stickgold.

Dreaming is a sign showing that unconscious parts of the brain are working hard to process information about a recently learned task, the study found.

During this time, critical elements of the recent experience slowly integrate into the memory networks, enhancing one's ability in performing the task.

Scientists believe their findings would pave the way for the development of new strategies in improving learning and memory.

They have the power to switch off your brain

CERTAIN parts of the brain - which control scepticism and vigilance - appear to deactivate in some people when they're in the presence of a speaker who they believe has divine healing powers, scientists in Denmark have found.

Researchers recruited 36 male and female participants; about half were devout Christians from the Pentecostal church, while the other half were non-religious.

The participants who considered themselves religious believed that some people could possess divine powers of healing. The non-religious participants did not believe this.