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Migraines Painful — But Don’t Lead to Dementia


Migraines Painful -- But Don't Lead to DementiaResearch from Brigham and Women’s Hospital has shown that migraines are not associated with cognitive decline.

While migraines affect about 20 percent of the female population, there are many unanswered questions surrounding this complex disease, according to the researchers.

Previous studies linked migraines to an increased risk of stroke and structural brain lesions, but until this new study it had been unclear whether migraines had other negative consequences, such as dementia or cognitive decline.

“Previous studies on migraines and cognitive decline were small and unable to identify a link between the two,” said Pamela Rist, a research fellow in the Division of Preventive Medicine at BWH, and lead author on this study. “Our study was large enough to draw the conclusion that migraines, while painful, are not strongly linked to cognitive decline.”

The research team analyzed data from the Women’s Health Study, which included nearly 40,000 women, 45 years and older.

They analyzed data from 6,349 women who provided information about migraine status at baseline and then participated in cognitive testing during followup.

Participants were classified into four groups: No history of migraine, migraine with aura (transient neurology symptoms mostly of the visual field), migraine without aura, and past history of migraine. Cognitive testing was carried out in two-year intervals up to three times.

“Compared with women with no history of migraine, those who experienced migraine with or without aura did not have significantly different rates of cognitive decline,” she said.

“This is an important finding for both physicians and patients. Patients with migraine and their treating doctors should be reassured that migraine may not have long-term consequences on cognitive function.”

There is still a lot that is unknown about migraines, she acknowledged, noting that more research needs to be done to understand the consequences of migraine on the brain and to optimize treatment strategies.

The study was published online by the British Medical Journal.

Source: Brigham and Women’s Hospital

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Challenges of Co-Parenting


Challenges of Co-ParentingDivorce frequently brings the challenge of how best to raise the kids. In today’s environment, it is common for both ex-spouses to share legal and physical custody of children after divorcing.

However, few studies have looked at the process of co-parenting, so little is known about how divorced parents negotiate the co-parenting process. A new study identifies factors that influence the success of co-parenting.

Researchers from Kansas State University discovered that the type of relationship a woman has with her ex-partner is a factor in how the couple shares custody of children.

Investigators followed divorced or separated mothers who were sharing physical custody of their children with their former partners.

Mindy Markham, Ph.D., an assistant professor of family studies and human services divided the study group into three patterns of co-parenting — continuously contentious, always amicable and bad to better.

Markham also looked at additional negative and positive factors that influenced the mothers’ co-parenting relationships.

The study included 20 predominately white, well-educated women between the ages of 26 to 49 who were divorced or separated from the father of their children.

The mothers, from two Midwestern states, shared with their former partners legal and physical custody of the children, who ranged in age from 21 months to 12 years.

At the time of the study, the couples had been separated or divorced from six months to 12 years.

“The findings of this study suggest that shared physical custody relationships are dynamic and can vary greatly,” Markham said.

In current study, nine mothers (45 percent) had continuously contentious co-parenting relationships with their ex-partners from the time of separation to the present.

This stressful negative relationship fueled the mother’s perception of her ex’s parenting abilities; financial concerns, including the ex not having a job or not paying child support; control or abuse by the ex-partner; and the inability of the ex to separate marital — or personal — issues from the co-parenting relationship.

“All mothers in this type of co-parenting relationship reported differences in parenting styles and were concerned with how the ex was raising the children,” Markham said.

“Parenting practices that concerned the mothers varied greatly and included putting children in harmful situations, not bathing the children, not disciplining them and having no rules or routines.

“It was especially difficult for these mothers to share custody with ex-partners who were uninvolved during the marriage. They didn’t believe their exes were responsible parents.”

Markham said eight of the women in the continuously contentious relationships didn’t want to share custody of the children with their ex-partner, but most were told by lawyers or the court that they would have to do so.

Twenty percent of mothers reported an amicable co-parenting relationship — where they reported always getting along with their ex-partners from separation to the present.

In this form of relationship the mothers believed their ex-partners were responsible parents, money wasn’t a source of conflict and the mothers chose to share physical custody.

Seven of the mothers in the study (35 percent) had bad-to-better co-parenting relationships, where co-parenting was contentious at the time of separation, but greatly improved over time.

At the time of the study, these women’s relationships were similar to those of women with always amicable relationships. These mothers wanted to share physical custody, thought the father was a responsible parent and most said money was not a source of conflict.

Significantly, all mothers in bad-to-better relationships said they were unable to co-parent amicably with their ex-partner in the beginning because personal issues were not kept separate from parenting responsibility.

“Although ex-partners with bad-to-better relationships originally allowed their feelings about one another to negatively affect their co-parenting, at some point they realized this was not beneficial and made a conscious effort to change the relationship for the sake of their children,” Markham said.

Being able to communicate with the ex-partner is a major factor during co-parenting. In the always amicable and bad-to-better relationships, mothers were able to communicate well with ex-partners.

The ability to communicate with the ex-partner made discussing differences in parenting styles easier, reported this group of women.

However, for women in continuously contentious relationships, lack of communication was a big issue, Markham said.

These mothers limited direct in-person or phone communication with their ex, preferring alternative methods like texting or email. They also avoided seeing their ex in person when it came time to exchange children by having them picked up at day care or school.

Markham said she was surprised by the level of animosity that accompanies shared custody, at least from some mothers’ perceptions.

“Nearly half of the mothers in this study continue to have conflicted relationships with their ex-partners, and conversations with these women negate the notion that shared physical custody ensures cooperative, less conflicted relationships,” she said.

“This study can be important for helping professionals recognize that shared physical custody is not a panacea for postdivorce problems — and that in some cases it exacerbates them.”

Source: Kansas State University

Parents arguing while child covrs his ears photo by shutterstock.

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Change in Pronoun Use Reflects Women’s Role in Society


Change in Pronoun Use Reflects Women’s Role in SocietyNew research suggests progress in gender equality can be traced by the language found in published literature over the past 50 years.

In a new study led by San Diego State University researchers, investigators explored how the language in the full text of more than one million books reflected cultural change in U.S. women’s status.

Findings are published in the journal Sex Roles.

Jean Twenge, Ph.D., and colleagues examined whether the use of gendered pronouns such as ‘he’ and ‘she’ mirrored women’s status between 1900-2008. Their analyses showed that the frequency of use of female versus male pronouns followed the ups and downs of women’s status over time.

Researchers found that female pronouns were used progressively less often (compared to male pronouns) in the post-war era (1946-1967) when women’s status declined or stagnated, and more often after 1968 when women’s status rose considerably.

Investigators also found that U.S. books used relatively more female pronouns when women were more educated, participated in the labor force more, and married later – all signs of increased status for women.

Researchers posit that U.S. college women were more assertive at times when relatively more female pronouns appeared in books.

“These trends in language quantify one of the largest, and most rapid, cultural changes ever observed: The incredible increase in women’s status since the late 1960s in the U.S.,” said Twenge. “Gender equality is the clear upside of the cultural movement toward individualism in the U.S., and books reflect this movement toward equality.

“That’s exciting because it shows how we can document social change.”

Source: Springer

Woman blowing letters off a book photo by shutterstock.

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Artery Disease Linked to Depression


Artery Disease Linked to DepressionA new research study has discovered that peripheral artery disease often accompanies depression.

Researchers at the San Francisco VA Medical Center and the University of California, San Francisco, discovered the relationship during a study of more than one thousand men and women with heart disease.

Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is a circulatory problem in which blood flow is reduced to the extremities – usually the legs and feet. Blood flow is reduced because of arterial narrowing with the condition often resulting in pain, reduced mobility and, in extreme cases, gangrene and amputation.

The study may be found online in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

Researchers followed men and women with coronary artery disease over a seven-year period. The 1,024 participants were members of the Heart and Soul Study.

“We discovered that there was an association between depression and PAD at baseline, and also found that the patients who were depressed at the beginning of the study had a higher likelihood of developing PAD during follow-up at seven years,” said Marlene Grenon, M.D., C.M., a vascular surgeon at UCSF.

“These findings add to the growing body of research showing the importance of depression in both the development and progression of PAD,” said senior author Beth Cohen, M.D., M.A.S. “This also emphasizes the need for medical providers to be attentive to the mental health of their patients who have developed, or who are at risk for, PAD.”

Researchers discovered that some of the risk for PAD was associated with modifiable risk factors such as smoking and reduced physical activity.

“We still don’t know which comes first,” said Grenon. “Is it that patients with PAD become depressed because their mobility is impaired, or that people who are depressed engage in unhealthy behaviors such as smoking and lack of exercise, and are thus more at risk of developing PAD? Or might it be a vicious cycle, where one leads to the other?”

Further research is needed to tease out cause and effect, she said.

Researchers believe that whatever the initial cause, improving healthy habits such as being more physically active, eating better, quitting smoking and improving stress management might reduce both PAD and depression.

“These lifestyle changes would be considered healthy for anyone, and would also help overall cardiovascular health,” said Grenon.

“As providers, we can help patients recognize the connections between mental and physical health,” added Cohen.

“This may help reduce the stigma of mental health diagnosis and encourage patients to seek treatment for problems such as depression.”

Source: University of California – San Francisco

Abstract of man’s heart photo by shutterstock.

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Stress Changes Learning in the Brain


Stress Changes Learning in the BrainA new experiment from German scientists suggests stress invokes our brain to use different and more complex processes during learning.

In the study, cognitive psychologists Drs. Lars Schwabe and Oliver Wolf discovered that the presence or absence of stress is associated with use of different brain regions and different strategies in the learning process.

Stress appears to make the brain work harder and use a more complex approach when learning. Study findings are reported in the Journal of Neuroscience.

Researchers discovered that non-stressed individuals applied a deliberate learning strategy, while stressed subjects relied more on their gut feeling.

“These results demonstrate for the first time that stress has an influence on which of the different memory systems the brain turns on,” said Schwabe.

In the study researchers analyzed the data from 59 subjects. Two groups were assigned with one group asked to immerse one hand into ice-cold water for three minutes (while being observed by video surveillance).

As expected, this activity stressed the subjects with data collected and confirmed by hormone assays.

The other group was asked to immerse one of their hands in warm water. Then both the stressed and non-stressed individuals completed a task called weather prediction. The task involved having subjects look at playing cards with different symbols and then using the cards to predict which combinations of cards forecast rain and which sunshine.

Each combination of cards was associated with a certain probability of good or bad weather. People apply differently complex strategies in order to master the task.

During the weather prediction task, the researchers recorded the brain activity with MRI.

Researchers found that both stressed and non-stressed subjects learned to predict the weather according to the symbols. However, the way in which they learned the task varied.

Non-stressed participants focused on individual symbols and not on combinations of symbols. They consciously pursued a simple strategy.

The MRI data showed that they activated a brain region in the medial temporal lobe – the hippocampus, which is important for long-term memory.

Stressed subjects, on the other hand, applied a more complex strategy.

They made their decisions based on the combination of symbols. They did this, however, subconsciously, i.e. they were not able to formulate their strategy in words.

In this group of stress participants, brain scans showed that the so-called striatum in the mid-brain was activated — a brain region that is responsible for more unconscious learning.

“Stress interferes with conscious, purposeful learning, which is dependent upon the hippocampus,” concluded Schwabe. “So that makes the brain use other resources. In the case of stress, the striatum controls behavior — which saves the learning achievement.”

Source: Ruhr-University Bochum

Abstract of the brain with key photo by shutterstock.

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Brain Scans Show Teen Drinking Impairs Brain Efficiency


Brain Scans Show Teen Drinking Impairs Brain EfficiencyNew research suggests brains scans can identify patterns of brain activity that may predict if a teen will develop into a problem drinker.

The study also confirms that heavy drinking affects a teenagers’ developing brain.

Using special MRI scans, researchers looked at forty 12- to 16-year-olds who had not started drinking yet, then followed them for about three years and scanned them again.

Researchers discovered that half of the teens started to drink alcohol fairly heavily during this interval.

Investigators also found that kids who had initially showed less activation in certain brain areas were at greater risk for becoming heavy drinkers in the next three years.

However, once the teens started drinking, their brain activity looked like the heavy drinkers’ in the other studies — that is, their brains showed more activity as they tried to perform memory tests.

“That’s the opposite of what you’d expect, because their brains should be getting more efficient as they get older,” said lead researcher Lindsay M. Squeglia, Ph.D., of the University of California, San Diego.

Researchers say an operational definition of heavy drinking typically included episodes of having four or more drinks on an occasion for females and five or more drinks for males.

The findings add to evidence that heavy drinking has consequences for teenagers’ developing brains. But they also add a new layer: There may be brain activity patterns that predict which kids are at increased risk for heavy drinking.

“It’s interesting because it suggests there might be some pre-existing vulnerability,” Squeglia said.

Researchers say they are not advocating for teens to receive MRIs to determine their risk of excessive alcohol consumption. But the findings do give clues into the biological origins of kids’ problem drinking.

Experts say the findings suggest that heavy drinking may affect young people’s brains right at the time when they need to be working efficiently.

“You’re learning to drive, you’re getting ready for college. This is a really important time of your life for cognitive development,” Squeglia said.

She noted that all of the study participants were healthy, well-functioning kids. It’s possible that teens with certain disorders — like depression or ADHD — might show greater effects from heavy drinking.

Source: Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs

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Are Men Looking for Love from an Escort Service?


Are Men Looking for Love from an Escort Service?A new study suggests men who frequent the world’s oldest profession are not attempting to avoid an emotional commitment.

Researchers discovered that in men who become regular clients of sex workers, feelings of romance and love often develop.

The desire for an emotional attachment contradicts the historical or traditional premise that an encounter with a prostitute is a means to avoid attachment.

This study is published in a recent edition of the journal Men and Masculinities.

“In recent years, we have come to see a gradual normalization of independent escort prostitution, where sexual encounters have come to resemble quasi-dating relationships,” stated study author Christine Milrod, Ph.D. “Our study shows that regular clients of a particular sex provider often come to experience feelings of deep affection, which can progress into an authentic love story.”

Technology enables research on the topic as Milrod and co-author Ronald Weitzer, Ph.D., analyzed 2,442 postings on an online discussion board from a sex provider review site. More than a million clients of sex workers read and post about their experiences on the site.

A review of the postings discovered that approximately one-third included a discussion about emotional intimacy between sex workers and their clients.

Researchers discovered many clients expressed a desire to grow their relationships beyond the physical level in the form of sharing private feelings and mutual love.

“These relationships follow a conventionally romantic script that normalizes the liaison and destigmatizes both provider and client,” stated Milrod.

“The study shows that this kind of normalization may manifest itself in a merger of finances, families and finally monogamous partnerships – the provider is no longer just a supplier of the girlfriend experience, but a real-life romantic partner.”

Source: Sage

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Older Adults Beat Younger at Staying Positive


Older Adults Stay PositiveDespite aches and pains and senior moments, older adults display more positive emotions than younger adults, say researchers. And they can pull out of a negative emotional state quicker than much younger adults.

Such emotional control may seem paradoxical, as many would expect that age would be associated with poor moods and emotional distress.

In a new study, Derek Isaacowitz, Ph.D., of Northeastern University attempts to explain the paradox.

He believes positive looking is a possible explanation: older adults may be better at regulating emotion because they tend to direct their eyes away from negative material or toward positive material. In the study, Isaacowitz presents evidence indicating that compared to younger adults, older adults prefer positive looking patterns.

Older adults also show the most positive looking when they are in bad moods — a time when younger adults show the most negative looking.

Researchers believe there is a causal relationship between looking for the good in life and mood. In the study they discovered for adults with good attentional abilities, positive looking patterns can help to regulate their mood.

So focusing on the positive seems to pay off for senior adults. Researchers also discovered that although elders prefer to focus on the positive, this perspective does not prevent them from missing other important information.

Source: Association for Psychological Science

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Upfront Bonus to Teachers Improves Student Performance


Upfront Bonus to Teachers Improves Student PerformanceEducational reform is receiving considerable attention these days, and a new study suggests prepaying teachers appears to improve student academic performance.

Paying an upfront bonus does come with a caveat as part of the money must be returned if student performance fails to improve, say University of Chicago researchers.

The study showed that students gained as much as a 10 percentile increase in their scores compared to students with similar backgrounds — if their teacher received a bonus at the beginning of the year, with conditions attached.

There was no gain for students when teachers were offered the bonus at the end of the school year, the research found.

“This is the first experimental study to demonstrate that teacher merit pay can have a significant impact on student performance in the U.S.,” said economist John List, Ph.D., an author of the study.

The study, published by the National Bureau of Economics Research, reflects the findings of other studies in psychology and behavioral economics.

“The results of our experiment are consistent with over 30 years of psychological and economic research on the power of loss aversion to motivate behavior: Students whose teachers in the ‘loss’ treatment of the experiment showed large and significant gains in their math test scores,” said List, a professor in economics at UChicago.

Timing of the incentive made a significant difference.

“In line with previous studies in the United States, we did not find an impact of teacher incentives that are framed as gains (the reward coming at the end of the year),” he added.

The study comes amid a growing wave of interest of finding ways to provide teacher incentives to increase student performance — as usually assessed by student achievement on standardized tests. Unfortunately, most of the current incentive programs have not shown value, the scholars said.

The new study depends on a formula developed by Dr. Derek Neal, professor of economics at UChicago, and Gadi Barlevy, an economist with the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.

They devised the “pay for percentile” method of measuring teacher performance by comparing individual students with similar backgrounds and achievement to see what impact a teacher had on their learning.

The scholars used the formula in an experiment in Chicago Heights, Ill., a community 30 miles south of Chicago. The community has nine kindergarten to eighth-grade schools with a total enrollment of 3,200 students. Its achievement rates are below state average, and 98 percent of the students are eligible for free or reduced lunches.

At the beginning of the school year, the teachers were introduced to the experiment and offered an opportunity to participate. A total of 150 of the 160 teachers agreed to join in the study, which was supported by the local teachers union.

The teachers were randomly assigned to a control group as well as a group given a bonus at the beginning of the year, a group that could receive the bonus at the end of the year, and a group made up of teachers who worked in teams. Money for the bonuses was provided from private sources.

One group of teachers in the study was given a $4,000 bonus at the beginning of the year and told it would be reduced by an amount reflecting their students’ performance — the more the students’ standardized scores increased, the more of the bonus their teacher could keep. Another group of teachers was told they would receive a $4,000 bonus if their students improved during the year.

The incentives were based on rewarding teachers with $80 for each percentile of increase in their students’ mathematics performance over the district average. They could, depending on exceptional student performance, receive up to $8,000 under the plan — the equivalent of 16 percent of the average teacher salary in the district.

The students were tested with the ThinkLink Predictive Assessment, a standardized, non-high-stakes diagnostic tool that is aligned with state achievement tests.

Thomas Amadio, superintendent of Chicago Heights Elementary School District 170, where the experiment was conducted, said the study shows the value of merit pay as an encouragement for better teacher performance.

“Teachers do have challenges, and classes can vary from year to year in how well they perform. Testing students individually to see their growth is a valuable measure, however,” he said.

Teachers responsible for that growth should be rewarded, he said.

Source: University of Chicago

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Yoga Reduces Depression in Pregnant Women


Yoga Reduces Depression in Pregnant WomenYoga may help women cope with depression during pregnancy, as well as boost maternal bonding, according to new research from the University of Michigan.

Researchers note that one in five pregnant women experience major depression. Their study found that “mindfulness” yoga helped reduce those symptoms.

“We hear about pregnant women trying yoga to reduce stress but there’s no data on how effective this method is,” said lead author Maria Muzik, M.D., M.S., assistant professor of psychiatry.

“Our work provides promising first evidence that mindfulness yoga may be an effective alternative to pharmaceutical treatment for pregnant women showing signs of depression. This promotes both mother and baby well-being.”

Hormonal changes, genetic predisposition and social factors set the stage for some expectant moms to experience persistent irritability, feelings of being overwhelmed and inability to cope with stress, according to the researchers. Untreated, these symptoms could be major health risks for both mother and baby, including poor weight gain, preeclampsia, premature labor, and trouble bonding.

While antidepressants have proven to effectively treat these mood disorders, many pregnant women are reluctant to take these drugs out of concern for their infant’s safety, said Muzik.

“Unfortunately, few women suffering from perinatal health disorders receive treatment, exposing them and their child to the negative impact of psychiatric illness during one of the most vulnerable times. That’s why developing feasible alternatives for treatment is critical.”

Evidence suggests women are more comfortable with non-traditional treatments, including herbal medicine, relaxation techniques and mind-body work, including mindfulness yoga, which combines meditative focus with physical poses, the researcher notes.

For the research study, women who were 12 to 26 weeks pregnant and showed signs of depression participated in 90-minute mindfulness yoga sessions that focused on poses for the pregnant body, as well as support in the awareness of how their bodies were changing to help their babies grow.

More research is needed, according to Muzik, who notes that funding for follow-up work on this subject was recently provided by a grant from the Institute for Research on Women and Gender.

“Research on the impact of mindfulness yoga on pregnant women is limited but encouraging,” she said. “This study builds the foundation for further research on how yoga may lead to an empowered and positive feeling toward pregnancy.”

The findings were published in Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice.

Source: University of Michigan

Pregnant woman performing yoga photo by shutterstock.

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