Friday, September 25, 2015

Feel Good: Volunteer With AARP Foundation Tax-Aide for 2016

Feb. 2015

Help people and give your mind a workout, too.

AARP Foundation Tax-Aide is the nation's largest volunteer-run tax preparation and assistance service. And we want you to join us.

We started in 1968 with just four volunteers at one site preparing 100 tax returns. AARP Foundation Tax-Aide now involves more than 35,000 volunteers and serves 2.6 million taxpayers annually at more than 5,000 sites nationwide. In fact, we're one of the most effective volunteer programs in America.

But even though we've grown a lot, we're still all about the grassroots. You'll be helping people in your own community with a much-needed service that's free, individualized and has no strings attached.

Almost four out of five people who turn to AARP Foundation Tax-Aide are 60 or older. Household incomes aren't high. For many of them, a tax refund could mean they won't have to choose between paying for groceries and keeping the lights on.

Who volunteers?

People like you. And there's a role for everyone.

Good with numbers? Be a tax volunteer.

You'll work with taxpayers directly; filling out tax returns and helping them seek a refund. Experience isn't necessary — we'll train you on the latest tax preparation forms and software.

Skilled in all things digital? Be a technology coordinator.

You'll manage computer equipment, ensure taxpayer data security and provide technical assistance to volunteers at multiple sites.

Love working with people? Be a greeter.

You'll welcome taxpayers, help organize their paperwork and manage the overall flow of service.

Want to help us get the word out? Be a communications coordinator.

You'll promote AARP Foundation Tax-Aide and recruit volunteers in your community.

Have a knack for running things? Be a leadership or administrative volunteer.

Manage volunteers, make sure program operations run smoothly, track volunteer assignments and site activities, and maintain quality control.

Speak a second language? You're urgently needed!

We have a big demand for bilingual speakers. Dedicated translators who can assist our volunteers are also welcome.

Get the joy and satisfaction of helping others by applying to join the AARP Foundation Tax-Aide volunteer team today! Your expertise will be appreciated more than you can imagine.

AARP Foundation Tax-Aide is offered in conjunction with the IRS.

Sign up to be an AARP Foundation Tax-Aide Volunteer. Go

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Expansion of relief for inaccurate 1095 Marketplace documents


Today, the Department of the Treasury is expanding the relief it announced previously on February 24, which will mitigate any harm to tax filers. If you enrolled in Marketplace coverage, received an incorrect Form 1095-A, and filed your return based on that form, you do not need to file an amended tax return. The IRS will not pursue the collection of any additional taxes from you based on updated information in the corrected forms. This relief applies to tax filers who enrolled through the Federally-facilitated marketplace or a state-based marketplace.

As before, you still may choose to file an amended return. Treasury intends to provide additional information to help tax filers determine whether they would benefit from filing amended returns. You also may want to consult with you tax preparers to determine if you would benefit from amending. For more information on the Treasury announcement, see Treasury’s statement and consumer FAQs.

While Treasury expects that in the vast majority of cases the impact on a consumer’s tax refund or bill, if any, will be very small, we know that we have a responsibility to identify these issues quickly, understand the impact and reach out to you with the information you need. Issues that negatively impact your experience are not acceptable and we are focused on providing a smoother consumer experience. If you have not received your original or corrected form or have any questions about the information on your form, reach out to the Marketplace call center or your state Marketplace.


Obamacare Tax Extension - between March 15 and April 30

There's another Obamacare break — the administration is offering a special enrollment period for Americans who didn't realize they would have to pay a tax if they don't have health insurance.

"This special enrollment period will allow those individuals and families who were unaware or didn't understand the implications of this new requirement to enroll in 2015 health insurance coverage through the federally facilitated marketplace," the Health and Human Services Department said in a statement. People will be able to sign up for private health insurance on the Obamacare exchanges between March 15 and April 30.

"If consumers do not purchase coverage for 2015 during this special enrollment period, they may have to pay a fee when they file their 2015 income taxes," HHS said.

Also Friday, government officials acknowledged they goofed when they sent tax forms to about 800,000 Americans who got federal subsidies last year through Obamacare. Those people will receive corrected forms to use in filing their 2014 taxes.


Monday, March 30, 2015

Pay gap between male and female RNs has not narrowed

Public Release: 24-Mar-2015
The JAMA Network Journals

An analysis of the trends in salaries of registered nurses (RNs) in the United States from 1988 through 2013 finds that male RNs outearned female RNs across settings, specialties, and positions, with no narrowing of the pay gap over time, according to a study in the March 24/31 issue of JAMA.

Fifty years after the Equal Pay Act, the male-female salary gap has narrowed in many occupations. Yet pay inequality persists for certain occupations, including medicine and nursing. Studies have documented higher salaries for male registered nurses, although analyses have not considered employment factors that could explain salary differences and have not been based on recent data, according to background information in the article.


The salary gap was $7,678 for ambulatory care and $3,873for hospital settings. The gap was present in all specialties except orthopedics, ranging from $3,792 for chronic care to $6,034 for cardiology. Salary differences also existed by position (such as for middle management, nurse anesthetists).


Lung transplant patients in the UK fare better than publicly insured Americans

Public Release: 24-Mar-2015
Johns Hopkins Medicine

Publicly insured Americans who undergo lung transplantation for cystic fibrosis fare markedly worse in the long run than both publicly insured patients in the United Kingdom and privately insured Americans, according to the results of a study conducted by researchers from Johns Hopkins in Baltimore and U.K. colleagues working in that nation's government-funded National Health Service.


The analysis, based on a review of medical records and published March 24 in the American Journal of Transplantation, reveals that publicly insured U.S. patients had overall poorer survival compared with their U.K. counterparts insured by the National Health Service. U.S. patients on Medicaid or Medicare insurance also fared worse than their privately insured fellow Americans.


"The U.K. National Health Services' lung transplant program equals the top-notch care achieved under American private insurance and outperforms care received by publicly insured Americans," says Stephen Clark, D.M., professor of cardiothoracic surgery at the University of Northumbria and Freeman Hospital in Newcastle and lead investigator of the U.K. team. "The results of the study underscore the ability of publicly funded health care systems to achieve excellent results in complex transplant surgery, and this is something we are rather proud of."

The researchers emphasize that their study did not look into the specific causes of the difference in survival rates but say their findings warrant a careful look into the factors driving the gap if it is to be eliminated.


More schools, more challenging assignments add up to higher IQ scores

Public Release: 24-Mar-2015
Penn State

More schooling -- and the more mentally challenging problems tackled in those schools -- may be the best explanation for the dramatic rise in IQ scores during the past century, often referred to as the Flynn Effect, according to a team of researchers. These findings also suggest that environment may have a stronger influence on intelligence than many genetic determinists once thought.

Researchers have struggled to explain why IQ scores for developed nations -- and, now, developing nations -- have increased so rapidly during the 20th century, said David Baker, professor of sociology and education, Penn State. Mean IQ test scores of American adults, for instance, have increased by about 25 points over the last 90 years.

"There've been a lot of hypotheses put forward for the cause of the Flynn Effect, such as genetics and nutrition, but they generally fall flat," said Baker. "It really begged the question of whether an environmental factor, or factors, could cause these gains in IQ scores."

School enrollment in the United States reached almost 90 percent by 1960. However, the researchers, who report their findings in the current issue of Intelligence, suggest that it is not just increasing attendance, but also the more challenging learning environment that are reasons behind the IQ score rise.

"If you look at a chart of the Flynn Effect over the 20th century in the United States, for example, you notice that the proportion of children and youth attending school and how long they attend lines up nicely with the gains in IQ scores," said Baker. "As people went to school, what they did there likely had a profound influence on brain development and thinking skills, beyond just learning the three R's. This is what our neurological and cognitive research shows."

He added that over the century, as as a higher percentage of children from each new generation went to school and attended for more years, this produced rising IQ scores.

"Even after full enrollments were achieved in the U.S. by about the 1960s, school continued to intensify its influence on thinking," said Baker.

While even basic schooling activities can shape brain development, over the past century, schools have moved from learning focused on memorization to lessons that require problem solving and abstract thinking skills, which are often considered functions of fluid intelligence, Baker said.

"Many like to think that schooling has become 'dumbed down,' but this is not true," said Baker. "This misperception has tended to lead cognitive scientists away from considering the impact of schooling and its spread over time as a main social environment in neurological development."

Just as more physical exercise can improve sports performance for athletes, these more challenging mental workouts in schools may be building up students' mental muscles, he added, allowing them to perform better on certain types of problems that require flexible thinking and abstract problem solving, such as IQ tests.

"Certain kinds of activities -- like solving problems, or reading -- stimulate the parts of the brain that we know are responsible for fluid intelligence," said Baker. "And these types of activities are done over and over in today's schools, so that you would expect these students to have higher development than populations of people who had no access to schooling."

Students must not only solve more challenging problems, they must use multiple strategies to find solutions, which adds to the mental workout in today's schools, according to Baker.


He said that genetics alone could not explain the Flynn Effect. Natural selection happens too slowly to be the sole reason for rising IQ scores. This suggests that intelligence is a combination of both genetics and environment.

"The best neuroscience is now arguing that brains of mammals, including, of course, humans, develop in this heavy genetic-environmental dependent way, so it's not an either-or situation," said Baker. "There's a high genetic component, just like there is for athletic ability, but the environment can enhance people's abilities up to unknown genetic limits."


To measure the challenge level of lessons, the researchers analyzed more than 28,000 pages of content in textbooks published from 1930 to 2000. They measured, for example, whether students were required to learn multiple strategies to find solutions or needed other mental skills to solve problems.

Children less likely to come to the rescue when others are available

Public Release: 24-Mar-2015
Association for Psychological Science

Children as young as 5 years old are less likely to help a person in need when other children are present and available to help, according to new research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

"The children in our study helped at very high levels only when responsibility was clearly attributable to them," explains psychological scientist and lead researcher Maria Plötner of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. "These findings suggest that children at this age take responsibility into account when deciding whether to help."

The research indicates that, just like adults, children show the "bystander effect," which is most likely driven by a diffusion of responsibility when multiple bystanders are available to help someone in need.

Previous research has shown that children are generally very helpful, but few studies had specifically looked at whether the presence of others affects this helping behavior.


Effective Narcississm

Public Release: 24-Mar-2015
Study provides academic support for new Steve Jobs portrayal
Research: Narcissistic leaders are most successful with a little humility
Brigham Young University

It's no surprise that some of the most celebrated leaders in the business world also happen to be self-promoting narcissists.

New research from Brigham Young University's Marriott School of Management finds those strong characteristics are not such a bad thing--as long as those leaders temper their narcissism with a little humility now and then.

"Just by practicing and displaying elements of humility, one can help disarm, counterbalance, or buffer the more toxic aspects of narcissism," said Bradley Owens, assistant professor of business ethics at BYU. "The outcome is that narcissism can possibly be a net positive."

One of the most prominent examples of this type of leader was Steve Jobs. In fact, the study mentions the former Apple CEO by name: "Although Jobs was still seen as narcissistic, his narcissism appeared to be counterbalanced or tempered with a measure of humility, and it was this tempered narcissist who led Apple to be the most valuable company in the world..."


Study results show leaders with high narcissism and high humility were perceived as more effective leaders with more engaged followers. Fortunately, Owens said, humility can be developed.

"We are finding that virtues such as humility are subject to development or deterioration depending on a willingness to practice them," he said. "In this way, they are like moral muscles."

Why all migraine patients should be treated with magnesium

I found this after reading a letter to the editor in New Scientist that taking magnesium tablets once or twice a week cured her migraines.

Mar. 18, 2012

Magnesium, the second most abundant intracellular cation, is essential in many intracellular processes and appears to play an important role in migraine pathogenesis. Routine blood tests do not reflect true body magnesium stores since <2% is in the measurable, extracellular space, 67% is in the bone and 31% is located intracellularly.


Migraine sufferers may develop magnesium deficiency due to genetic inability to absorb magnesium, inherited renal magnesium wasting, excretion of excessive amounts of magnesium due to stress, low nutritional intake, and several other reasons. There is strong evidence that magnesium deficiency is much more prevalent in migraine sufferers than in healthy controls.


Both oral and intravenous magnesium are widely available, extremely safe, very inexpensive and for patients who are magnesium deficient can be highly effective. Considering these features of magnesium, the fact that magnesium deficiency may be present in up to half of migraine patients, and that routine blood tests are not indicative of magnesium status, empiric treatment with at least oral magnesium is warranted in all migraine sufferers.

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Mental health report finds staffing problems linked to ward suicides

Public Release: 23-Mar-2015
University of Manchester

Suicidal patients who are under observation may be put at risk by relying on inexperienced staff and agency nurses, according to a new report issued today.

Commissioned by the Healthcare Quality Improvement Partnership as part of the Clinical Outcome Review Programmes, researchers from The University of Manchester's National Confidential Inquiry into Suicide and Homicide by People with Mental Illness, found that 18 in-patients a year died by suicide while under observation. This usually meant checks every 10-15 minutes but in 9% the patient was supposed to be under constant observation.

The research team examined the details of all suicides in the UK over 7 years under observation. They also conducted an on-line survey for patients and staff to report their experience of observation.

The researchers found that half of deaths examined occurred when checks were carried out by less experienced staff or agency staff who were unfamiliar with the patient. Deaths occurred when staff were distracted by ward disruptions, during busy periods, or when the ward was poorly designed.

One nurse who participated in the focus group said: "Very few nurses really understood what an observation meant. They thought it meant go away, see someone, come back and sign the sheet."

Professor Louis Appleby, Director of the Inquiry, also leads the National Suicide Prevention Strategy for England. He said: "The current observation approach is not working safely enough. This is an important part of keeping patients safe, but we found that where deaths occurred, responsibility had often been given to less experienced members of staff. Deaths also occurred when the protocols were not followed. Observation is a skilled task, not an add-on that can be delegated to anyone available."


The research also found that patients have mixed feelings about observation, finding it intrusive or protective. The process is often unpopular with staff.

One patient who participated in the study said: "You feel like a prisoner. It is so, so traumatic. You don't feel they care about your welfare - you are seen as causing them an extra burden."


Suspension leads to more pot use among teens, study finds

Public Release: 19-Mar-2015
University of Washington

Suspending kids from school for using marijuana is likely to lead to more -- not less -- pot use among their classmates, a new study finds.

Counseling was found to be a much more effective means of combating marijuana use. And while enforcement of anti-drug policies is a key factor in whether teens use marijuana, the way schools respond to policy violators matters greatly.


Sunday, March 29, 2015

Sugar Beets Make Hemoglobin

I knew hemoglobin & chlorophyll are very similar chemically, but I didn't know some vegetables contain hemoglobin itself.

Jan 20, 2015 |By Amy Nordrum

Hemoglobin is best known as red blood cells' superstar protein—carrying oxygen and other gases on the erythrocytes as they zip throughout the bodies of nearly all vertebrates. Less well known is its presence in vegetables, including the sugar beet, in which Nélida Leiva-Eriksson recently discovered the protein while working on her doctoral thesis at Lund University in Sweden. In fact, many land plants—from barley to tomatoes—contain the protein, says Raúl Arredondo-Peter, an expert on the evolution of plant hemoglobins, or leghemoglobins, at the Autonomous University of the State of Morelos in Mexico. “Hemoglobins are very ancient proteins,” he notes. Scientists first discovered them in the bright-red nodules of soybean roots in 1939 but have yet to determine the proteins' role in plants in most cases. One popular idea is that hemoglobin binds with and delivers nitric oxide to cells, sending signals to regulate growth.


Plant hemoglobins might even serve as a blood substitute for humans someday—an idea that Arredondo-Peter says is conceivable but far off because they do not carry and release oxygen at the same rates as human hemoglobins. Or they could be exploited to trick our senses: food scientists at Stanford University are experimenting with plant hemoglobins as an ingredient in veggie burgers to make them taste more like bloody steaks.

Warming Arctic blamed for worsening summer heatwaves

by Fred Pearce
Mar. 12, 2015 \
in the Mar. 21 - 27, 2015 issue, p. 18

It seems our weather is getting slower – and hotter. Arctic warming appears to be aggravating summer heatwaves across Europe and North America, by putting the brakes on atmospheric circulation in mid-latitudes.

The team that uncovered this Arctic effect says it caused the Russian heatwave of 2010, which lasted six weeks, killing crops and causing massive forest fires; the west European scorcher of 2003 that killed an estimated 70,000 people; and possibly the record US heatwave of 2012, which decimated corn crops.

Dim Coumou and colleagues at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany studied atmospheric circulation in the northern hemisphere from 1979 to 2013. They found longer and more frequent hot spells in mid-latitudes that, they say, are likely to have been triggered by a reduction in the temperature difference between the Arctic, which is warming quickly, and mid-latitudes, where average warming is slower.

The Arctic has in fact warmed twice as fast as the rest of the globe, because of the melting of the ice replaces a reflective surface with dark ocean that absorbs much more solar energy.

Climatologists believe that this temperature difference drives the general west-to-east movement of mid-latitude weather systems, such as the depressions that bring storms and the high-pressure systems that bring hot dry weather in summer and intense cold in winter. A smaller temperature difference slows these systems down, so their associated weather persists for longer.

Coumou's team found that the frequency of stalled weather systems in summer has doubled since the onset of rapid Arctic warming around 2000. In many cases, they stop moving for weeks at a time. That can mean long spells of hot weather that dry out soils, kill crops, empty rivers, trigger forest fires – and strain the body, with consequences for our health. So even though average weather is not changing much at mid-latitudes, the incidence of heatwaves is increasing fast.


The resulting stalled weather systems have been blamed - alongside the changing polar vortex - for the present long cold winter in the eastern US and the one immediately before this. But Coumou says that the summer effects are just as strong.

Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University, New Jersey, says the findings support her hypothesis that Arctic warming is slowing the jet stream, a high-altitude wind that drives atmospheric circulation at ground level in mid-latitudes.

"Coumou and his colleagues are looking at the individual weather systems that ride along the flow of the jet. And they find that as the Arctic warms, the weather systems stall, leading to more persistent heatwaves," she says. "In the case of heatwaves, there is less surface wind to stir up and distribute heat from a scorching sun beating down on dry soil."

With the Arctic melt set to continue, the long-range forecast is looks set to feature more heatwaves and more drought.

Mercury pollution danger for arctic ivory gulls

Mar. 20, 2015

A paper in Proceedings of the Royal Society B today says that mercury levels in arctic ivory gulls have risen almost 50 fold over the last 130 years. Scientists think this increase in mercury pollutants could be to blame for plummeting population figures.

Since the 1980s populations of ivory gulls in Canada have nosedived by more than 80%. In Canada the species is now endangered with only 400-500 breeding pairs left. The reason for the drastic decline in the population is unclear but scientists think there could be a link to mercury pollution. A study in 2004 found that the eggs of ivory gulls have the highest concentration of mercury of any arctic seabird.

Using museum specimens, the scientists tested the concentration of mercury in the feathers of 80 ivory gulls that lived over the last 130 years. Mercury in the body of birds builds up in feathers when it is trapped and stabilised by processes which produce keratin which feathers, claws and hair are made of.

The team found 45 times more mercury in the feathers of ivory gulls from 2007 than those from the 1877s. As well as eating fish, ivory gulls are also known to scavenge blubber and meat from marine mammal carcasses and may be consuming high concentrations of mercury from these apex predators at the top of the food chain where pollutants tend to accumulate.

The researchers tested stable isotopes of carbon and nitrogen in the feathers to determine whether a change in the diet of the ivory gulls in Canada could account for the huge increase in mercury consumption. They found no evidence of a dietary change that could explain the increase in mercury they found.

'This dramatic change in the absence of a dietary shift is clear evidence of the impact of anthropogenic [from human activity] mercury on this high-latitude threatened species,' say the researchers.

Mercury consumption has been shown to have damaging effects on wildlife, affecting the breeding success of birds. The researchers conclude that increased levels of mercury in the environment is likely partly responsible for the severe decrease in the ivory gull population in Canada. Other contributing causes could be illegal hunting and changing sea-ice conditions.

'Bioavailable mercury, transported long distances in the atmosphere from emission sources in Asia, is expected to continue increasing in the Arctic,' say the team, raising the alarm over future population declines in wildlife, even for those animals that live far from the sources of human pollution.

Expanding Medicaid under ACA helped to identify 23 percent more people with previously undiagnosed diabetes

Public Release: 23-Mar-2015
American Diabetes Association

States that have expanded their Medicaid programs under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) are capturing an increased number of people with previously undiagnosed diabetes, allowing them to begin treatment earlier, potentially reducing complications and other negative outcomes, according to a study being published online today and in the May issue of Diabetes Care.

The release of the study coincides with the 5th anniversary of the ACA, which expanded Medicaid eligibility to reach nearly all non-elderly adults with incomes at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty level (about $16,105 for individuals), while giving states the option of offering this expanded coverage. Twenty-six states chose to do so, while 24 states did not. The study compared increases in patients with newly diagnosed diabetes in both groups, finding a 23 percent increase in newly diagnosed diabetes patients in states that expanded their Medicaid programs, compared to a 0.4 percent increase in states that did not.

"The division of states created an opportunity to examine the impact of Medicaid expansion on specific health metrics, such as detection of disease," wrote the authors of the study, who relied upon the Quest Diagnostics database to identify newly diagnosed patients with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Diabetes was chosen, the authors noted, because it has such a large at-risk population and because "aggressive prevention and treatment programs have been shown to improve outcomes."

"Clearly, expanding Medicaid has allowed those 26 states that did so to identify a large number of people who previously did not know they were living with diabetes," said Vivian Fonseca, MD, Professor of Medicine and Pharmacology, Tullis Tulane Alumni Chair in Diabetes Chief, Section of Endocrinology at the Tulane University Health Sciences Center, Tulane University School of Medicine. "Early identification can be potentially life-saving for people with diabetes, and can at the very least greatly increase the chances of preventing or delaying complications. Data on prevention of complications comes from several trials funded by the National Institutes of Health, American Diabetes Association and others. In the long term, such prevention of complications has been shown to be cost saving, since the complications -- including blindness, amputations and kidney failure requiring dialysis or transplant -- are extremely expensive."


Smoking in front of your kids may increase their risk of heart disease as adults

Public Release: 23-Mar-2015
American Heart Association

Kids exposed to their parents' smoking may have a higher risk of developing heart disease in adulthood than those whose parents didn't smoke, according to research in the American Heart Association journal Circulation.

The study's results add to the growing evidence that exposure to smoking from parents has a lasting effect on children's cardiovascular health in adulthood.


Regardless of other factors, the risk of developing carotid plaque in adulthood was almost two times (1.7) higher in children exposed to one or two parental smokers compared to children of parents who did not smoke. Further, risk was elevated whether parents seemed to limit their children's exposure:

Almost two times (1.6) higher in children whose parents smoked, but seemed to limit their children's exposure.

Four times higher in children whose parents smoked but did not seem to limit their children's exposure.


Chefs, offering choice may increase vegetable, fruit selection in schools

Public Release: 23-Mar-2015
The JAMA Network Journals

Fruit and vegetable selections in school meals increased after students had extended exposure to school food made more tasty with the help of a professional chef and after modifications were made to school cafeterias, including signage and more prominent placement of fruits and vegetables, but it was only chef-enhanced meals that also increased consumption, according to an article published online by JAMA Pediatrics.


The authors found that after three months of chef-enhanced meals, entree and fruit selection were unchanged but the odds of vegetable selection increased compared with control schools. After seven months, entree selection remained unchanged in the intervention schools compared with control schools. However, the odds of students selecting fruit increased in the chef, smart café and chef plus smart café schools compared with controls. Among the students who selected fruit, the servings consumed were greater in chef schools compared with control schools but there was no effect of the smart café intervention.

The odds of students selecting vegetables also increased in the chef, smart café and chef plus smart café schools compared with control schools. The percentage of vegetables consumed increased by 30.8 percent in chef schools and by 24.5 percent in chef plus smart café schools compared with control schools, according to the study.


How much math, science homework is too much?

Public Release: 23-Mar-2015
American Psychological Association

When it comes to adolescents with math and science homework, more isn't necessarily better -- an hour a day is optimal -- but doing it alone and regularly produces the biggest knowledge gain, according to research published by the American Psychological Association.


The researchers found that the students spent on average between one and two hours a day doing homework in all subjects. Students whose teacher systematically assigned homework scored nearly 50 points higher on the standardized test. Students who did their math homework on their own scored 54 points higher than those who asked for frequent or constant help. The curves were similar in science.

"Our data indicate that it is not necessary to assign huge quantities of homework, but it is important that assignment is systematic and regular, with the aim of instilling work habits and promoting autonomous, self-regulated learning," said Javier Suarez-Alvarez, PhD, co-lead author with Ruben Fernandez-Alonso, PhD. "The data suggest that spending 60 minutes a day doing homework is a reasonable and effective time."

The total amount of homework assigned by teachers was a little more than 70 minutes per day on average, the researchers found. While some teachers assigned 90-100 minutes of homework per day, the researchers found that the students' math and science results began to decline at that point. And while they found a small gain in results between 70 and 90 minutes, "that small gain requires two hours more homework per week, which is a large time investment for such small gains," said Suarez-Alvarez. "For that reason, assigning more than 70 minutes of homework per day does not seem very efficient."

As for working autonomously or with help, the researchers found that students who needed help and did 70 minutes of homework per day could expect to score in the 50th percentile on their test while autonomous students spending the same amount of homework time could expect to score in the 70th percentile. One possible explanation of this result is that self-regulated learning is strongly connected to academic performance and success, according to Suarez-Alvarez.


Republican Lawmakers Choose ACA Over Private Market

And it's an easy bet that if Republicans do repeal the Affordable Care Act, they will retain taxpayer-paid health insurance coverage for themselves.

By: Sarah Jones
Sunday, March, 29th, 2015

Republicans love the private market and hate “welfare”. Amiright?

That is, unless they are the ones getting the subsidies, or “welfare” as they call it when poor people with dark skin take it.

Hypocritical Republican lawmakers like Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) could have gone for a “private market” solution, but instead they chose to let you subsidize their healthcare via President Obama’s healthcare law.

Lindsay Wise of the McClatchy Washington Bureau broke this down in Kentucky .Com as it pertained to the Chairman of the Tea Party Caucus in the House, Kansas Rep. Tim Huelskamp. Yup, he has also chosen to sign up for President Obama’s healthcare law:


It’s true that members of Congress who want to take advantage of health benefits offered through their employer – the federal government – must use plans offered through a government-run exchange in the District of Columbia.
But that’s not the whole story.
Huelskamp could have foregone coverage completely, or shunned the exchange and purchased a family health plan directly from a private broker.


It was big news when Senator Ted Cruz signed up for President Obama’s healthcare law after he shut down the entire government in a fit over… Obamacare.

But apparently while Cruz was “principled” enough to waste 24 billion dollars plus of your money shutting down the government in hopes that he could defund the healthcare law, he is not “principled” enough to reject Obamacare and the subsidies lawmakers get if they use it.

Yes, it’s true. Cruz could have gone for a “private market” solution – you know, the thing Republicans are always trying to shove onto you? Yes, well, it’s not good enough for Ted Cruz.


Cruz tried to worm his way out of his entire raison d’être by claiming he was only objecting to the job killing part of Obamacare. Of course, that’s a Republican “belief” and not reality. If he isn’t aware of the stats yet, Cruz might want to take a gander at 2014, during which we had the best job growth since 1999. But, all is not lost. Cruz can thank himself for shaving “0.6 percent off the nation’s economic growth” with his shutdown, according to a Standard & Poor’s analysis.


Project to reduce violence in Panama City with improved parenting

Public Release: 23-Mar-2015
University of Manchester

University of Manchester researchers have piloted a parenting trial which aims to improve child behaviour in Panama City the place with the eighth highest murder rate in the world.

Gang crime and child maltreatment are pressing concerns in Panama and the UN described the capital Panama City as having the world's eighth highest murder rate in 2014. To mitigate this, the UN and the Panamanian government have prioritised investing in children to keep them away from gangs and drugs.

As part of this process, the researchers from The University of Manchester's School of Psychological Sciences tested a parenting intervention in six primary schools in low income neighbourhoods in the city.

Anilena Mejia led the pilot study: "We felt that a lack of resources shouldn't mean that children and parents in poorer areas receive less help than those in wealthier countries," she said. "The idea behind this pilot was to establish if a simple level of support could make a difference."

The researchers recruited 108 parents of children aged 3-12 who had been selected by the schools and divided them into two groups. One group was a control which received no intervention and the other attended a session called 'dealing with disobedience'.

In the two-hour session, this group watched videos and took part in planned activities which addressed issues such as encouraging good behaviour and reasons for disobedience. The method, known as Triple P, had been developed in Australia and was accompanied by workbooks and resources which the parents could take home with them.

After six months, the parents were interviewed about their child's behaviour and, compared to the control group there was a marked improvement.

One parent, the mother of boy aged 10, said: "Now if something happens, I take action. I find a solution. Before I will turn away and leave, because I thought there was no solution. But not anymore."

Another, the mother of boy aged 9, said: "After the program I understood how my yelling was affecting my kids, and that I was making them be inhibited"

Anilena added: "This was a small project but it showed some encouraging signs of success. With more time, we'd like to develop resources which are specific for the culture and issues in particular countries and use them to break the cycle of poor parental skills which leads to crime and ill health."

Delayed retirement could increase inequalities among seniors

Public Release: 23-Mar-2015
University of Montreal

Raising the age of eligibility for the Old Age Security pension and the Guaranteed Income Supplement will increase inequalities between older people. "This change will force retired people into greater dependence on their private savings to support them as they get older. Research shows that greater privatisation of the retirement income system results in growing inequalities among the older population. When you raise the pension eligibility age, you are also opening the door to rising disparities" according to demographer Yves Carrière, of the University of Montreal, who presented, last week in Ottawa, a report on this topic to the Population Change and Life-course Strategic Knowledge Cluster meeting.

Mr. Carrière, a specialist on Canada's retirement income system, has collated the most recent international research on this issue and concludes that there might be unpleasant surprises in store for future generations of retired people. "Despite the stated aim of preventing inter-generational inequities - because there are fewer people of working age to support more and more people in retirement - we run the risk of generating greater inequalities between those who will be in retirement in the future: that is, within the very generations we say we want to be fair to".

To limit the inflation of costs caused by the baby boomers joining the ranks of the retired in Canada, the Federal Government has announced that it intends to raise the age of eligibility for the Old Age Security pension and the Guaranteed Income Supplement by two years (from age 65 to 67). The rise is to take effect over six years starting in 2023. Yves Carrière argues that this policy will further impoverish those older people whose incomes are already low.

Number of births may affect mom's future heart health

Public Release: 23-Mar-2015
UT Southwestern Medical Center

DALLAS - March 23, 2015 - Women who give birth to four or more children are more likely to have cardiovascular changes that can be early indicators of heart disease than women who have fewer children, new research by UT Southwestern Medical Center cardiologists finds.

"This study adds to a body of evidence that pregnancy, which generally occurs early in a woman's life, can provide insight into a woman's future cardiovascular risk," said Dr. Monika Sanghavi, Assistant Professor of Internal Medicine and lead author of the study.


The associations were not affected by adjusting for socioeconomic status or traditional cardiovascular risk factors, suggesting that physiological changes associated with pregnancy may account for the change, Dr. Sanghavi said.


Zinc deficiency linked to immune system response, particularly in older adults

Getting too much zinc can cause other problems, including interfering with other minerals.

Public Release: 23-Mar-2015
Oregon State University

Zinc, an important mineral in human health, appears to affect how the immune system responds to stimulation, especially inflammation, new research from Oregon State University shows.

Zinc deficiency could play a role in chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes that involve inflammation. Such diseases often show up in older adults, who are more at risk for zinc deficiency.

"When you take away zinc, the cells that control inflammation appear to activate and respond differently; this causes the cells to promote more inflammation," said Emily Ho, a professor and director of the Moore Family Center for Whole Grain Foods, Nutrition and Preventive Health in the OSU College of Public Health and Human Sciences, and lead author of the study.

Zinc is an essential micronutrient required for many biological processes, including growth and development, neurological function and immunity. It is naturally found in protein-rich foods such as meat and shellfish, with oysters among the highest in zinc content.

Approximately 12 percent of people in the U.S. do not consume enough zinc in their diets. Of those 65 and older, closer to 40 percent do not consume enough zinc, Ho said. Older adults tend to eat fewer zinc-rich foods and their bodies do not appear to use or absorb zinc as well, making them highly susceptible to zinc deficiency.

"It's a double-whammy for older individuals," said Ho, who also is a principal investigator with the Linus Pauling Institute.


Understanding the role of zinc in the body is important to determining whether dietary guidelines for zinc need to be adjusted. The recommended daily intake of zinc for adults is 8 milligrams for women and 11 milligrams for men, regardless of age. The guidelines may need to be adjusted for older adults to ensure they are getting enough zinc, Ho said.

There is no good clinical biomarker test to determine if people are getting enough zinc, so identifying zinc deficiency can be difficult. In addition, the body does not have much ability to store zinc, so regular intake is important, Ho said. Getting too much zinc can cause other problems, including interfering with other minerals. The current upper limit for zinc is 40 milligrams per day.


High-definition scans suggest effects of smoking may be seen in unborn babies

Public Release: 23-Mar-2015
Durham University

The harmful effects of smoking during pregnancy may be reflected in the facial movements of mothers' unborn babies, new research has suggested.

Researchers at Durham and Lancaster universities said the findings of their pilot study added weight to existing evidence that smoking is harmful to fetuses as they develop in the womb and warranted further investigation.

Observing 4-d ultrasound scans, the researchers found that fetuses whose mothers were smokers showed a significantly higher rate of mouth movements than the normal declining rate of movements expected in a fetus during pregnancy.

The researchers suggested that the reason for this might be that the fetal central nervous system, which controls movements in general and facial movements in particular did not develop at the same rate and in the same manner as in fetuses of mothers who did not smoke during pregnancy.

Previous studies have reported a delay in relation to speech processing abilities in infants exposed to smoking during pregnancy, the researchers added.


In common with other studies, the research also showed that maternal stress and depression have a significant impact on fetal movements, but that the increase in mouth and touch movements was even higher in babies whose mothers smoked.

The study also found some evidence of a bigger delay in the reduction of facial touching by fetuses whose mothers smoked, compared to the fetuses of non-smokers, but the researchers said this delay was less significant.


Power naps produce a significant improvement in memory performance

After taking a nap for about an hour, this is the first thing I saw when I turned on my computer.

Public Release: 20-Mar-2015
Saarland University


Sara Studte, a graduate biologist specializing in neuropsychology, working with her PhD supervisor Axel Mecklinger and co-researcher Emma Bridger, is examining how power naps influence memory performance. The results are clear: 'Even a short sleep lasting 45 to 60 minutes produces a five-fold improvement in information retrieval from memory,' explains Axel Mecklinger.

Strictly speaking, memory performance did not improve in the nap group relative to the levels measured immediately after the learning phase, but they did remain constant. 'The control group, whose members watched DVDs while the other group slept, performed significantly worse than the nap group when it came to remembering the word pairs. The memory performance of the participants who had a power nap was just as good as it was before sleeping, that is, immediately after completing the learning phase, says Professor Mecklinger.


The research teams draws a clear conclusion from its study: 'A short nap at the office or in school is enough to significantly improve learning success. Wherever people are in a learning environment, we should think seriously about the positive effects of sleep,' says Axel Mecklinger. Enhancing information recall through sleeping doesn't require us to stuff bulky tomes under our pillow. A concentrated period of learning followed by a short relaxing sleep is all that's needed.

Additives to biodegrade plastics don't work

Public Release: 20-Mar-2015
Michigan State University

Recycling plastic works; additives to biodegrade plastic do not.

A new study from Michigan State University shows that several additives that claim to break down polyethylene (i.e., plastic bags) and polyethylene terephthalate (i.e., soda bottles) simply don't work in common disposal situations such as landfills or composting.

"Making improper or unsubstantiated claims can produce consumer backlash, fill the environment with unwanted polymer debris and expose companies to legal penalties," said Susan Selke, co-author of the study and MSU packaging professor.

The results, featured in the current issue of Environmental Science and Technology, are a culmination of a three-year study that focused on five additives and three categories of biodegradation, which cover the majority of methods available on the market today.


"There was no difference between the plastics mixed with the additives we tested and the ones without," said Rafael Auras, co-author and MSU packaging professor. "The claim is that, with the additives, the plastics will break down to a level in which microorganisms can use the decomposed material as food. That simply did not happen."

William Rathje, the late Arizona paleontologist and founder of the Tucson Garbage Project, revealed that even after years underground, chicken bones still had meat on them, grass was still green and that even carrots still maintained their orange color.

Since organic materials take so long to decompose, it's not surprising then that plastics, even with the aid of additives, would take decades or longer to break down, if at all. So, if the additives don't work, what's the solution?

"The solution is to not make claims that are untrue," Selke said. "The proper management of waste plastics is the proper management of waste plastics."

And for now, that means not using any of the disposal methods or additives included in the study as feasible options, Selke said.

It's a growing trend that many U.S. cities and countries have banned or have adopted legislation taxing the retail use of plastic bags, one of the largest sources of polyethylene waste. Plastic manufacturers are also seeking solutions to this problem, Selke said.

"Package-user companies funded this study because they wanted to know if the additives that are being marketed to them work," she said. "They wanted scientific proof to evaluate the products and disposal approaches that are available to them to break down plastic."

Obese women 40 percent more likely to get cancer

Public Release: 16-Mar-2015
Cancer Research UK

Obese women have around a 40 per cent greater risk of developing a weight-related cancer in their lifetime than women of a healthy weight, according to new figures* released by Cancer Research UK today (Tuesday).

Obesity increases a woman's risk of developing at least seven types of cancer - including bowel, post-menopausal breast, gallbladder, womb, kidney, pancreatic and oesophageal cancer.

The new statistics find that obese women have around a one in four risk of developing a cancer linked to weight in their lifetime.

In a group of 1,000 obese women, 274 will be diagnosed with a bodyweight-linked cancer in their lifetime, compared to 194 women diagnosed in a group of 1,000 healthy weight women.


Dr Julie Sharp, head of health information at Cancer Research UK, said: "Losing weight isn't easy, but you don't have to join a gym and run miles every day or give up your favourite food forever. Just making small changes that you can maintain in the long term can have a real impact. To get started try getting off the bus a stop earlier and cutting down on fatty and sugary foods. Losing weight takes time so gradually build on these to achieve a healthier lifestyle that you can maintain. And find out about local services, which can provide help and support to make lifestyle changes over the long term.

"We know that our cancer risk depends on a combination of our genes, our environment and other aspects of our lives, many of which we can control - helping people understand how they can reduce their risk of developing cancer in the first place remains crucial in tackling the disease.

"Lifestyle changes - like not smoking, keeping a healthy weight, eating a healthy diet and cutting back on alcohol - are the big opportunities for us all to personally reduce our cancer risk. Making these changes is not a guarantee against cancer, but it stacks the odds in our favour."

The cost of dominance

Public Release: 19-Mar-2015
University of Utah

SAVANNAH, Ga., March 19, 2015 - Bad news for relentless power-seekers the likes of Frank Underwood on House of Cards: Climbing the ladder of social status through aggressive, competitive striving might shorten your life as a result of increased vulnerability to cardiovascular disease. That's according to new research by psychologist Timothy W. Smith and colleagues at the University of Utah. And good news for successful types who are friendlier: Attaining higher social status as the result of prestige and freely given respect may have protective effects, the researchers found.


In surveys with 500 undergraduate volunteers, hostile-dominant types reported greater hostility and interpersonal stress. Warm-dominant types tended to rank themselves as higher in social status. Both styles were associated with a higher personal sense of power.

The psychologists also monitored the blood pressure of 180 undergraduates as they reacted to stressful conversations with others who were scripted to act deferentially or dominantly. Hostile-dominant types experienced significant increases in blood pressure when interacting with a dominant partner, but not with a deferential one. Previous studies have found that increased blood pressure reactivity to stress puts people at risk for cardiovascular disease.

In a third study with 94 young, married couples, Smith and colleagues found that hostile-dominance in men was linked with higher blood pressure recorded throughout the day with a wearable monitor, but not among women. Warm-dominance in women predicted lower blood pressure, but not in men.

Among 154 older, married couples (average age of 63), a warm-dominant style was associated with less conflict and more support. A hostile-dominant style was associated with more severe atherosclerosis in men and women, as measured by coronary artery calcification. Hostile-dominance was also linked with greater marital conflict and lower marital support.

"It's not a style that wears well with other people," Smith says. The good news is that people can take steps to change a hostile personality style. "Something usually has to fall apart first before they are willing to entertain that option," Smith says. "But there is some evidence that it is possible to teach old dogs new tricks, and if you do, it can reduce coronary risk."

Being near greened vacant lots lowers heart rates

Public Release: 19-Mar-2015
University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine

Greening vacant lots may be associated with biologic reductions in stress, according to a new study from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. Residents who walked near newly greened vacant lots had significantly lower heart rates compared to walking near a blighted, or neglected, vacant lot.


The average heart rate reduction attributable to being in view of the greened lots was over 5 beats per minute (bpm) lower than when near non-greened lots. In contrast, at the control site, there was minimal change in heart rate from the pre- to post-time period when walking past control lots versus non-study vacant lots. In a second analysis, the total net reduction of heart rate when near and in view of greened vacant lots was over 15 bpm. Walks ranged from about 1,500 to 2,000 feet in length.


Hidden benefits of electric vehicles revealed

Public Release: 19-Mar-2015
Michigan State University


electric vehicles emit significantly less heat. That difference could mitigate the urban heat island effect, the phenomenon that helps turn big cities like Beijing into pressure cookers in warm months.

Moreover, the cooling resulting from replacing all gas-powered vehicles with electric vehicles could mean city dwellers needing less air conditioning, another environmental win.

"It's easy not to see the big picture on issues like electric cars and global warming, but when we look with a holistic approach, we find these unexpected connections," said co-author Jianguo "Jack" Liu, who holds the Rachel Carson Chair in Sustainability at MSU and is director of the Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability (CSIS). "Heat waves kill, and in terms of climate change, even one degree can make a difference."


Fewer multiple births could reduce autism risk in ART children

Public Release: 19-Mar-2015
Columbia University

In a paper published online today (Thursday, March 19), scientists report that the incidence of diagnosed autism was twice as high for assisted reproductive technology (ART) as non-ART births among the nearly 6 million children in their study, born in California from 1997 through 2007. However, much of the association between ART and autism was explained by age and education of the mother as well as adverse perinatal outcomes, especially multiple births. After accounting for these factors, the study showed an elevated risk only for mothers ages 20-34.

Notably, the study reported no significant increased risk of autism for women who gave birth to singleton children. "These results indicate that the higher autism risk may be due mainly to the large numbers of multiple births and complications of pregnancy and delivery among children conceived with ART," said Christine Fountain, assistant professor of sociology at Fordham University and affiliated researcher at Columbia University.







New MIND diet may significantly protect against Alzheimer's disease

Public Release: 19-Mar-2015
Rush University Medical Center

A new diet, appropriately known by the acronym MIND, could significantly lower a person's risk of developing Alzheimer's disease, even if the diet is not meticulously followed, according to a paper published online for subscribers in March in the journal Alzheimer's & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer's Association.

Rush nutritional epidemiologist Martha Clare Morris, PhD, and colleagues developed the "Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay" (MIND) diet. The study shows that the MIND diet lowered the risk of AD by as much as 53 percent in participants who adhered to the diet rigorously, and by about 35 percent in those who followed it moderately well.

"One of the more exciting things about this is that people who adhered even moderately to the MIND diet had a reduction in their risk for AD," said Morris, a Rush professor, assistant provost for Community Research, and director of Nutrition and Nutritional Epidemiology. "I think that will motivate people."

Morris and her colleagues developed the MIND diet based on information that has accrued from years' worth of past research about what foods and nutrients have good, and bad, effects on the functioning of the brain over time. This is the first study to relate the MIND diet to Alzheimer's disease.


The MIND diet is a hybrid of the Mediterranean and DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diets, both of which have been found to reduce the risk of cardiovascular conditions, like hypertension, heart attack and stroke. Some researchers have found that the two older diets provide protection against dementia as well.


The MIND diet is also easier to follow than, say, the Mediterranean diet, which calls for daily consumption of fish and 3-4 daily servings of each of fruits and vegetables, Morris said.

The MIND diet has 15 dietary components, including 10 "brain-healthy food groups" -- green leafy vegetables, other vegetables, nuts, berries, beans, whole grains, fish, poultry, olive oil and wine -- and five unhealthy groups that comprise red meats, butter and stick margarine, cheese, pastries and sweets, and fried or fast food.

With the MIND diet, a person who eats at least three servings of whole grains, a salad and one other vegetable every day -- along with a glass of wine -- snacks most days on nuts, has beans every other day or so, eats poultry and berries at least twice a week and fish at least once a week and benefit. However, he or she must limits intake of the designated unhealthy foods, especially butter (less than 1 tablespoon a day), cheese, and fried or fast food (less than a serving a week for any of the three), to have a real shot at avoiding the devastating effects of AD, according to the study.

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

The MIND diet was not an intervention in this study, however; researchers looked at what people were already eating. Participants earned points if they ate brain-healthy foods frequently and avoided unhealthy foods. The one exception was that participants got one point if they said olive oil was the primary oil used in their homes.


"With late-onset AD, with that older group of people, genetic risk factors are a small piece of the picture," she said. Past studies have yielded evidence that suggests that what we eat may play a significant role in determining who gets AD and who doesn't, Morris said.

When the researchers in the new study left out of the analyses those participants who changed their diets somewhere along the line -- say, on a doctor's orders after a stroke -- they found that "the association became stronger between the MIND diet and [favorable] outcomes" in terms of AD, Morris said. "That probably means that people who eat this diet consistently over the years get the best protection."

In other words, it looks like the longer a person eats the MIND diet, the less risk that person will have of developing AD, Morris said. As is the case with many health-related habits, including physical exercise, she said, "You'll be healthier if you've been doing the right thing for a long time."


Unconscious race and social class biases appear unassociated with clinical decisions

Public Release: 18-Mar-2015
The JAMA Network Journals

While unconscious race and social class biases were present in most trauma and acute-care clinicians surveyed about patient care management in a series of clinical vignettes, those biases were not associated with clinical decisions, according to a report published online by JAMA Surgery.

Disparities in the quality of care received by minority patients have been reported for decades across multiple conditions, types of care and institutions, according to the study background. Adil H. Haider, M.D., M.P.H., of Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston, conducted a web-based survey among physicians from surgery and related specialties at an academic, level I trauma center.


The study results included 215 clinicians (74 attending surgeons, 32 fellows, 86 residents, 19 interns and four physicians). The authors found implicit race and social class biases were present for most respondents. Average test scores among all clinicians were 0.42 for race (indicates moderate preference) and 0.71 for social class (indicates strong preference). Scores did not differ significantly by practitioner specialty, race or age. Subtle differences in scores between women and men were not significant in further analyses.

Some analysis indicated an association between race and social class biases among survey responders in 3 of 27 possible patient management decisions in the survey vignettes, including respondents being more likely to diagnose a young black woman with pelvic inflammatory disease rather than appendicitis and being less likely to order an MRI of the cervical spine for patients with neck tenderness after a motor vehicle accident if they were of low rather than high socioeconomic status. However, those differences were not significant in further analysis and authors, overall, found no differential patient treatment related to race or social class biases.

"Although this study of clinicians from surgical and other related specialties did not demonstrate any association between implicit race or social class bias and clinical decision making, existing biases might influence the quality of care received by minority patients and those of lower socioeconomic status in real-life clinical encounters. Further research incorporating patient outcomes and data from actual clinical interactions is warranted to clarify the effect of clinician implicit bias on the provision of health care and outcomes," the study concludes.

Are antipsychotic drugs more dangerous to dementia patients than we think?

Public Release: 18-Mar-2015
University of Michigan Health System

Drugs aimed at quelling the behavior problems of dementia patients may also hasten their deaths more than previously realized, a new study finds.

The research adds more troubling evidence to the case against antipsychotic drugs as a treatment for the delusions, hallucinations, agitation and aggression that many people with Alzheimer's disease and other dementias experience.

In the new issue of the journal JAMA Psychiatry, researchers report findings from nearly 91,000 American veterans over the age of 65 with dementia.


Those taking drugs called antipsychotics had outsize risks of death. Among those taking the newer, more commonly used antipsychotics, the risk climbed along with the dose.

The study also examined other psychiatric medications. The risk of death seen with the mood stabilizer valproic acid was similar to the antipsychotics. Antidepressants had less risk compared with antipsychotics and valproic acid, but it was still higher than that of those not taking any psychiatric medications to treat behavior issues in dementia.

Antipsychotic drugs have significant risk of side effects, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warns that their use in people with dementia is associated with increased risk for cardiovascular adverse events and the risk of death.

"The harms associated with using these drugs in dementia patients are clear, yet clinicians continue to use them," says lead author and U-M/VA psychiatrist Donovan Maust, M.D., M.S. "That's likely because the symptoms are so distressing. These results should raise the threshold for prescribing further."


The "DICE" approach to assess and manage behavioral symptoms in dementia that has been put forth by Kales and colleagues could help.

This approach emphasizes putting non-pharmacological strategies first. But the approach takes more time than writing a prescription, and its use will depend on the support of policy-makers and alignment of reimbursement strategies.

"In other words, non-pharmacologic approaches will only succeed if we as a society agree to pay front-line providers for the time needed to 'do the right thing'," says Kales.


An Upbeat Emotion That’s Surprisingly Good for You

I find paying attention to nature a good source of awe. Also beautiful music. Great songwriting. Great intellectual explanations that bring me new insights can also do it. Occasionally my own actions can bring me awe, with a feeling of being gifted, like being able to write my song "The Oneness of Being".

By Gretchen Reynolds
March 26, 2015

This article appeared in the March 29 issue of The New York Times Magazine.

Dark moods are bad for your health. Scientists have known for decades that a wide variety of unpleasant emotions, like shame, depression and anxiety, are linked to greater rates of ills like heart disease, inflammation, cancer and premature death. Conversely, positive feelings have been shown to be good for you.

Far less is known, however, about the health benefits of specific upbeat moods — whether contentment, say, might promote good health more robustly than joy or pride does. A new study singles out one surprising emotion as a potent medicine: awe. And happily, awe seems to be much easier to come by than many might expect, even for the busy and stressed-out.


While acknowledging that awe is conceptually squishy and subjective, Dr. Keltner says that in general, a primary attribute of an awe-inspiring event is that it “will pass the goose-bumps test.” And he advises that people “seek it often.” He is just not certain what that means for everyone. “Some people feel awe listening to music,” Dr. Keltner says, “others watching a sunset or attending a political rally or seeing kids play.”

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Diet soda linked to increases in belly fat in older adults

Public Release: 17-Mar-2015

A new study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society shows that increasing diet soda intake is directly linked to greater abdominal obesity in adults 65 years of age and older. Findings raise concerns about the safety of chronic diet soda consumption, which may increase belly fat and contribute to greater risk of metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular diseases.

Metabolic syndrome--a combination of risk factors that may lead to high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, and stroke--is one of the results of the obesity epidemic. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 1.9 billion adults were overweight (body mass index [BMI] of 25 or more) in 2014. Of this group, 600 million people fell into the obese range (BMI of 30 or more)--a figure that has more than doubled since 1980.


Findings indicate that the increase in waist circumference among diet soda drinkers, per follow-up interval, was almost triple that among non-users


Better breakfast, better grades

Public Release: 17-Mar-2015
University of Iowa

A new study from the University of Iowa reinforces the connection between good nutrition and good grades, finding that free school breakfasts help students from low-income families perform better academically.

The study finds students who attend schools that participate in the U.S. Department of Agriculture's School Breakfast Program (SBP) have higher achievement scores in math, science, and reading than students in schools that don't participate.

"These results suggest that the persistent exposure to the relatively more nutritious breakfast offered through the subsidized breakfast program throughout elementary school can yield important gains in achievement," says researcher David Frisvold, assistant professor of economics in the Tippie College of Business.

The federal government started the SBP for children from low-income families in 1966. The program is administered in coordination with state governments, many of which require local school districts to offer subsidized breakfasts if a certain percentage of their overall enrollment comes from families that meet income eligibility guidelines.


He found the schools that offered free breakfasts showed significantly better academic performance than schools that did not, and that the impact was cumulative so that the longer the school participated in the SBP, the higher their achievement. Math scores were about 25 percent higher at participating schools during a students' elementary school tenure than would be expected otherwise.

Reading and science scores showed similar gains, Frisvold says.


Chile desert rains sign of climate change: chief weather scientist

A warming globe is resulting in both increased droughts & severe floods. Like a higher temperature when boiling a post of water in cool weather causes the water to evaporate faster, while resulting in water accumulating on windows.

By Rosalba O'Brien
May 27, 2015

The heavy rainfall that battered Chile's usually arid north this week happened because of climate change, a senior meteorologist said, as the region gradually returns to normal after rivers broke banks and villages were cut off.

"For Chile, this particular system can only be possible in an environment of a changed climate," Deputy Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization Jeremiah Lengoasa told Reuters on a visit to Santiago on Friday.

The intense rainfall that began Tuesday in an area that is home to the Atacama, the world's driest desert, had resulted in nine deaths by Friday, with 19 people still missing, nearly 6,000 people in temporary housing and some roads cut off, the government's emergency office Onemi said.

Under a more familiar beating sun, people began to trickle back to debris-strewn villages and smashed houses. A curfew is in place in the Atacama region tonight, Onemi said, while operations at some mines in the top copper producer are still on hold.

Local media reported that one of those who lost his home was Victor Zamora, one of the 33 miners whose dramatic rescue from a mine in nearby Copiapo in 2010 attracted global attention.

While the worst seems to be over, Chile can expect to see more of this kind of event in the future, Lengoasa said.

"This is an example of an extreme (event) - it's an unprecedented event in a place where you would not normally expect it to happen," he said.

Antofagasta, which averaged just 3.8 mm of precipitation per year between 1970 - 2000, and has a long-term average of 1.7 mm of precipitation per year, received a deluge of 24.4 mm (0.96 inches) during the 24 hour period ending at 8 am EDT March 26. That's over fourteen years of rain in one day!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Snow melting 16 days earlier in Wyoming mountains

By/ Becky Oskin/ 26, 2015

The spring snowmelt now comes more than two weeks earlier than it did in the 1970s in Wyoming's Wind River Range, a new study finds.

The trend is part of a larger snow shortfall across the Western United States documented by many researchers. Several independent studies have found the spring snowmelt starts up to 20 days earlier in the West than in the past because there's less snow falling each winter and warmer spring weather means the snow that does fall melts earlier. The double whammy is hurting water resources in states, such as Wyoming, that rely on snowmelt.

"Earlier snowmelt impacts the water resources of most of the state of Wyoming, which has been undergoing a drought since 1999," Dorothy Hall, lead author of the study and a senior research scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, said in a statement.


The forgetful side effect of frequent recall

Public Release: 16-Mar-2015
University of Birmingham

A new study from the University of Birmingham and the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences unit in Cambridge has shown how intentional recall is beyond a simple reawakening of a memory; and actually leads us to forget other competing experiences that interfere with retrieval. Quite simply, the very act of remembering may be one of the major reasons why we forget.


Over the course of four selective retrievals the participants in the study were cued to retrieve a target memory, which became more vivid with each trial. Competing memories were less well reactivated as each trial was carried out, and indeed were pushed below baseline expectations for memory, supporting the idea that an active suppression of memory was taking place.


Dr Wimber continued, "Forgetting is often viewed as a negative thing, but of course, it can be incredibly useful when trying to overcome a negative memory from our past. So there are opportunities for this to be applied in areas to really help people."

The team note that being able to decode how the brain goes about suppressing competing information needs to be acknowledged in a number of situations; not least in the judicial process.

Dr Wimber said, "It has significance for anything that relies on memory, but a really good example is that of eyewitness testimonies. When a witness is asked to recall specific information about an event, and they are quizzed time and time again, it could well be to the detriment of associated memories - giving the impression that their memory is sketchy. In fact, the repeated recall is causing them to forget these details."

The findings of this research are not restricted to specific memory types. Semantic memory, episodic memory and even recently acquired short-term memories are impacted by the forgetful side effect of frequent recall.





Oncologists reveal reasons for high cost of cancer drugs in the US, recommend solutions

Public Release: 16-Mar-2015
Mayo Clinic

Increasingly high prices for cancer drugs are affecting patient care in the U.S. and the American health care system overall, say the authors of a special article published online in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

"Americans with cancer pay 50 percent to 100 percent more for the same patented drug than patients in other countries," says S. Vincent Rajkumar, M.D., of Mayo Clinic Cancer Center, who is one of the authors. "As oncologists we have a moral obligation to advocate for affordable cancer drugs for our patients."

Dr. Rajkumar and his colleague, Hagop Kantarjian, M.D., of MD Anderson Cancer Center, say the average price of cancer drugs for about a year of therapy increased from $5,000 to $10,000 before 2000 to more than $100,000 by 2012. Over nearly the same period the average household income in the U.S. decreased by about 8 percent.

In the paper, the authors rebut the major arguments the pharmaceutical industry uses to justify the high price of cancer drugs, namely, the expense of conducting research and drug development, the comparative benefits to patients, that market forces will settle prices to reasonable levels, and that price controls on cancer drugs will stifle innovation.

"One of the facts that people do not realize is that cancer drugs for the most part are not operating under a free market economy," says Dr. Rajkumar. "The fact that there are five approved drugs to treat an incurable cancer does not mean there is competition. Typically, the standard of care is that each drug is used sequentially or in combination, so that each new drug represents a monopoly with exclusivity granted by patent protection for many years."

Drs. Rajkumar and Kantarjian say other reasons for the high cost of cancer drugs include legislation that prevents Medicare from being able to negotiate drug prices and a lack of value- based pricing, which ties the cost of a drug to its relative effectiveness compared to other drugs.

The authors recommend a set of potential solutions to help control and reduce the high cost of cancer drugs in the U.S. Some of their recommendations are already in practice in other developed countries.


•Eliminate "pay-for-delay" strategies in which a pharmaceutical company with a brand name drug shares profits on that drug with a generic drug manufacturer for the remainder of a patent period, effectively eliminating a patent challenge and competition.

[Drug companies also pay generic companies to not make drugs even after the patent has run out.]


Solar could meet California energy demand 3 to 5 times over

And scientists are discovering how to make more efficient solar devices, so even less space could supply enough solar power.

Public Release: 16-Mar-2015
Carnegie Institution


New work from Carnegie's Rebecca R. Hernandez (now at University of California Berkley), Madison K. Hoffacker, and Chris Field found that the amount of energy that could be generated from solar equipment constructed on and around existing infrastructure in California would exceed the state's demand by up to five times. It is published by Nature Climate Change.

"Integrating solar facilities into the urban and suburban environment causes the least amount of land-cover change and the lowest environmental impact," Hernandez explained.

Just over 8 percent of all of the terrestrial surfaces in California have been developed by humans--from cities and buildings to park spaces. Residential and commercial rooftops present plenty of opportunity for power generation through small- and utility-scale solar power installations. Other compatible opportunities are available in open urban spaces such as parks.

Likewise, there is opportunity for additional solar construction in undeveloped sites that are not ecologically sensitive or federally protected, such as degraded lands.

"Because of the value of locating solar power-generating operations near roads and existing transmission lines, our tool identifies potentially compatible sites that are not remote, showing that installations do not necessarily have to be located in deserts," Hernandez said.


The team's work shows it is possible to substantially increase the fraction of California's energy needs met by solar, without converting natural habitat and causing adverse environmental impact and without moving solar installations to locations remote from the consumers.


Pollution levels linked to stroke-related narrowing of arteries

Public Release: 16-Mar-2015
NYU Langone Medical Center / New York University School of Medicine

Air pollution has been linked to a dangerous narrowing of neck arteries that occurs prior to strokes, according to researchers at NYU Langone Medical Center.

The scientists analyzed medical test records for more than 300,000 people living in New York, New Jersey or Connecticut. They found that people living in zip codes with the highest average levels of fine-particulate-matter pollution were significantly more likely to show signs of narrowing (stenosis) in their internal carotid arteries, compared to those living in zip codes with the lowest pollution levels.


Medical researchers have noticed since the 1950s that episodes of high air pollution can bring temporary jumps in local heart attack and stroke cases. More recent studies have linked heart attack and stroke risks to long-term pollution exposures as well, including PM 2.5 exposures.


The researchers' analysis showed that subjects in the top fourth of tri-state zip codes, ranked by average PM 2.5 levels, were about 24 percent more likely than those in the bottom quarter to have shown signs of stenosis--defined as a narrowing by at least half--in either internal carotid artery.

"Our study was a population study, so it can't establish cause and effect, but it certainly suggests the hypothesis that lowering pollution levels would reduce the incidence of carotid artery stenosis and stroke," says Dr. Newman.

Scientists aren't yet sure how air pollution contributes to vascular disease. Studies have indicated that it may do so in part by causing adverse chemical changes to cholesterol in the blood, by promoting inflammation, and by making blood platelets more likely to form clots.


Study: Past warming increased snowfall on Antarctica, affecting global sea level

Public Release: 16-Mar-2015
Oregon State University

A new study confirms that snowfall in Antarctica will increase significantly as the planet warms, offsetting future sea level rise from other sources - but the effect will not be nearly as strong as many scientists previously anticipated because of other, physical processes.

That means that many computer models may be underestimating the amount and rate of sea level rise if they had projected more significant impact from Antarctic snow.


So Clark and his colleagues looked to the past to examine ice core data to see what they could learn about the future. They found that ice cores taken from the Antarctic Ice Sheet captured snow accumulation over time - and they could match that accumulation with established temperature data. They focused on a period from 21,000 years ago to 10,000 years ago - when the Earth gradually came out of the last ice age.

What they found was that Antarctica warmed an average of 5 to 10 degrees (Celsius) during that period - and for every degree of warming, there was a 5 percent increase in snowfall.

"The additional weight of the snow would have increased the ice flow into the ocean offsetting some of the limiting effect on sea level rise," said Katja Frieler, a climatologist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany and the lead author of the study. "It's basic ice physics."

The scientists found that the ice core results agreed with projections from three dozen computer models used to calculate future changes in snowfall. The end result, Clark said, is that projected increasing snowfall will still have a limiting effect on sea level rise, but that impact will be some 20 percent less than previously expected.

"Looking at the past gives us more confidence in anticipating what will happen in the future," Clark noted. "The validation through ice core studies helps ground truth the computer models."

Clark, a professor in Oregon State's College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences, was coordinating lead author on sea level change for the fifth Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report.

Zinc acetate lozenges may help shorten symptoms associated with the common cold

I have found zinc in various forms & doses helpful when I am sick. I take lower doses more frequently. I judge how much is right for me by how long it takes before I stop feeling better.
For me, about 23 mg every two hours or 50 mg every 4 hours works.
Be sure to take with food, to avoid nausea!
Pay attention to your body.

Public Release: 16-Mar-2015
University of Helsinki

According to a meta-analysis published in BMC Family Practice, high dose zinc acetate lozenges may help shorten diverse symptoms associated with the common cold.

The common cold is an infection caused by over a hundred viruses, and it is a major cause of days off school or work and visits to a doctor.

A previous meta-analysis of three randomized trials found that high dose zinc acetate lozenges shorten the duration of colds by 42%. Since all of the three studies reported the duration of diverse respiratory symptoms and of systemic symptoms such as muscle ache and headache, Harri Hemilä from Helsinki, Finland and Elizabeth Chalker from Sydney, Australia decided to investigate whether there are differences in the effect of zinc lozenges on different common-cold symptoms.

When zinc acetate lozenges dissolve in the mouth, zinc ions are released into the saliva of the pharyngeal region where the levels are consequently high. Therefore the effects of zinc lozenges might be greatest on symptoms of the pharyngeal region such as sore throat, and less on nasal symptoms. However, when Hemilä and Chalker pooled together the results of the three studies, they found no evidence that the effects of zinc lozenges are less for nasal symptoms compared with respiratory symptoms originating from lower anatomical regions.

According to the calculations by Hemilä and Chalker, high dose zinc acetate lozenges shortened the duration of nasal discharge by 34%, nasal congestion by 37%, sneezing by 22%, scratchy throat by 33%, sore throat by 18%, hoarseness by 43%, and cough by 46%. Furthermore, they found strong evidence that zinc lozenges also shortened the duration of muscle ache by 54%. On the other hand, there was no evidence of zinc effect on the duration of headache and fever. However, the latter two symptoms were infrequent in the three studies and therefore no definite conclusions can be drawn on headache and fever.

Adverse effects of zinc were minor in the three studies. Therefore Hemilä and Chalker conclude from their research that "zinc acetate lozenges releasing zinc ions at doses of about 80 mg/day may be a useful treatment for the common cold, started within 24 hours, for a time period of less than two weeks."

Losing weight substantially reduces atrial fibrillation

Public Release: 16-Mar-2015
American College of Cardiology

Obese patients with atrial fibrillation who lost at least 10 percent of their body weight were six times more likely to achieve long-term freedom from this common heart rhythm disorder compared to those who did not lose weight, according to a study presented at the American College of Cardiology's 64th Annual Scientific Session.


Sufficient sleep is important for healthy sexual desire

Public Release: 16-Mar-2015

In a study of 171 women, those who obtained more sleep on a given night experienced greater sexual desire the next day. Reflecting sleep's impact on sexual desire, each additional hour of sleep increased the likelihood of sexual activity with a partner by 14%.