1. Imagining an action-consequence relationship can boost memory

    September 13, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care press release:

    The next time you hear about the possibility of rain on the weather forecast, try imagining the umbrella tip being lodged in your home’s door lock, blocking you from locking it. This mental exercise could prevent you from leaving home without an umbrella.

    Imagining an action between two objects (the umbrella being lodged in the door lock) and a potential consequence (not being able to lock the door) may help people improve their memory for relationships with other objects, according to a recent Baycrest Health Sciences study published in the Memory & Cognition journal.

    This finding is part of an in-depth study into a natural memory strategy — termed “unitization” — that was used by an individual with amnesia, D.A., who was able to create new memories despite his condition.

    Better understanding of this strategy could allow it to be used in personalized memory rehabilitation to help older adults and those with amnesia bypass gaps in their abilities, says Dr. Jennifer Ryan, senior scientist at Baycrest’s Rotman Research Institute.

    “Previous research has shown that imagining two objects fusing into one will help people work around these memory deficits; but our work demonstrated that understanding the relationship between the two items is also important,” says Dr. Ryan, who is also a psychology and psychiatry professor at the University of Toronto. “We know that cognitive function is impaired during aging and this strategy could be one workaround for minor memory problems, depending on what you need to achieve.”

    The study evaluated the performance of 80 healthy older adults (between the ages of 61 to 88) on a memory task. The group was first trained and tested on the task to gather initial results. They were then either taught one of the three individual features of unitization (fusion, motion, action/consequence) or the overall unitization strategy. After learning these new approaches, participants were tested again to see if this helped their performance.

    Older adults trained to improve their memory using only the action/consequence feature of unitization saw the greatest memory improvements.

    “We are trying to understand what’s important to unitization and what people need to learn in order to benefit,” says Dr. Ryan. “There is no single strategy that will fix your memory, but one method may be more be suitable than another.”

    Next steps for the research will be to explore how the brain’s systems support different memory strategies. With additional funding, researchers could explore incorporating this memory strategy with a personalized brain rehabilitation program for older adults.

    This research was supported by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long Term Care and the Canada Research Chairs Program.


  2. Study links mental health to retirement savings

    by Ashley

    From the Medica Research Institute press release:

    The question of how mental health status affects decisions regarding retirement savings is becoming a pressing issue in the United States. Key factors contributing to this issue include the tenuous state of the Social Security system, greater use of defined-contribution pension plans by employers, longer lifespans, and the rise of depression and other mental health issues in older Americans.

    In the latest edition of the journal Health Economics, researchers Vicki Bogan of Cornell University and Angela Fertig, research investigator at Medica Research Institute, find that mental health problems have a large and significant negative effect on retirement savings.

    “A growing number of households are dealing with mental health issues like depression and anxiety,” says Fertig. “Our project studies the effect that mental health issues have on retirement savings because we need to understand how health problems may affect the economic security of this growing population.”

    The researchers found that psychological distress is associated with:

    • up to a 62 percent lower probability of holding retirement accounts
    • $15,000 less held in retirement savings accounts by single households and $42,000 less held by married couples
    • up to a 47 percent higher probability that married couples withdraw from their retirement accounts

    The results are generally consistent across single and married households. However, the study found some evidence to indicate that singles with psychological distress may divert funds away from retirement accounts, while married individuals with psychological distress may withdraw more from their retirement accounts. The study did not find evidence indicating that psychological distress affects retirement savings behavior through financial literacy or cognitive limitations.

    The effect sizes found are large, suggesting that more employer management and government regulation of defined-contribution pension plans, IRAs, and Keogh retirement accounts may be warranted.

    “The magnitude of these effects underscores the importance of employer management policy and government regulation of these accounts to help ensure households have adequate retirement savings,” says Fertig. “Better understanding the link between mental health and retirement savings decisions could inform policy interventions that may encourage households to save sufficient funds for retirement through defined contribution plans and shape national changes to the defined contribution plan withdrawal penalties.”


  3. Study suggests gut instinct for danger as sharp in seniors as in young adults

    September 12, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Portsmouth press release:

    Our gut instinct about whether a stranger poses a threat is as good when we’re 80 as when we’re 18, according to new research.

    Older people are as good as young adults at knowing when someone is potentially aggressive, and being streetwise appears to be a skill honed in childhood but not fully reliable until adulthood.

    The new research, led by Dr Liam Satchell, of the University of Portsmouth, is the third study he has led on examining our ability at various ages to gauge others’ aggression.

    He said: Older people can be reassured that their gut instincts about who is posing a danger are, generally, excellent, there was no difference in the ability of each adult group.

    “The results could encourage older people to recognise they are street smart, that their gut instincts are spot on.”

    Dr Satchell wanted to examine our ability to assess real threats in strangers as we age against a backdrop of much debate on the effects of fear of crime in older people.

    He said: “When walking down a street late at night, people may feel concerned about the threat posed by an approaching person. They may cross a street or change their behaviour and might even stop going out.

    “There could be lots of factors which might make an older person frightened of being a victim of crime, but research on the relationship between age and fear of crime isn’t clear-cut. It’s likely to be influenced by many factors, including the type of crime feared, gender and a person’s belief in their ability to defend themselves.

    “Until now, there has been little conclusive evidence of older people’s ability to detect everyday street threats.”

    Previous research has shown that simply watching someone walk communicates a great deal about the likelihood of them being aggressive.

    Dr Satchell’s series of studies have shown that feelings of threat and intimidation are reliable at telling us how aggressive other people are, and that this is a skill that improves gradually through childhood, reaches its peak in adulthood, and doesn’t decline in older age.

    “A lot of people are afraid walking at night, but some people see risk where there is none,” he said.

    “It’s important we can make quick, accurate judgments of the danger posed by others. All our studies have shown adults are very good at detecting traits in others, at recognising danger. Even when we simulate a shadowy outline of a person at a distance, people can readily recognise a potential aggressor. The accuracy of our social perceptions in adulthood is robust, but children may need more time to develop the relevant experiences.”

    The latest results are from a small-scale study and he said more research needs to be done to assess, for example, whether the older people who agree to take part in a scientific study are, by nature, also confident and likely to be less worried about crime.

    His study examined threat perception in 39 people aged 59-91, and in 87 people aged 20-28.

    Nearly all — 95 per cent — of both groups correctly gauged the aggression, or level of intimidation, of five women and four men filmed walking on a treadmill. The ‘walkers’ had been selected after taking a renowned aggression test to ensure they represented a wide cross-section of degrees of aggression.

    Dr Satchell and his co-authors, Dr Lucy Akehurst, Dr Paul Morris and Dr Claire Nee, are members of the University of Portsmouth’s International Centre for Research in Forensic Psychology.

    The study is the latest in a series of research papers he has led on which together build a picture of how well we recognise the aggression of an approaching person from childhood to old age. He has found that as children we are generally poor at judging threat, that we develop sharper instincts around the age of 18-20, and that these instincts don’t decline as we age.

    He said: “The findings overall suggest we develop a streetwise ability, that we are able to make judgments about others and our safety, once we reach adulthood.”

    Some 13-15 year olds were very accurate in their assessments of threat in an earlier study, but in general, there is a lot of variation in young people’s reliability, whereas, post-18, almost everyone was very good, they made the same judgements and they were accurate. They have learned the ability to detect threat.


  4. Study examines behaviour of older users of Facebook

    September 3, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Penn State press release:

    Older adults are drawn to Facebook so they can check out pictures and updates from family and friends, but may resist using the site because they are worried about who will see their own content, according to a team of researchers.

    In a study of older people’s perception of Facebook, participants listed keeping in touch, monitoring other’s updates and sharing photos as main reasons for using Facebook. However, other seniors listed privacy, as well as the triviality of some posts, as reasons they stay away from the site.

    “The biggest concern is privacy and it’s not about revealing too much, it’s that they assume that too many random people out there can get their hands on their information,” said S. Shyam Sundar, distinguished professor of communications and co-director of the Media Effects Research Laboratory, Penn State. “Control is really what privacy is all about. It’s about the degree to which you feel that you have control over how your information is shared or circulated.”

    The researchers, who report their findings in a forthcoming issue of Telematics and Informatics, said that Facebook developers should focus on privacy settings to tap into the senior market.

    “Clear privacy control tools are needed to promote older adults’ Facebook use,” said Eun Hwa Jung, assistant professor of communications and new media, National University of Singapore. “In particular, we think that privacy settings and alerts need to be highly visible, especially when they [older adults] are sharing information.”

    While older adults are leery about who is viewing their posts, they enjoy using the site to look at pictures and read posts from friends and family, according to the researchers.

    “I am more of a Facebook voyeur, I just look to see what my friends are putting out there,” one participant told the researchers. “I haven’t put anything on there in years. I don’t need to say, ‘I’m having a great lunch!’ and things like that, I don’t understand that kind of communication.”

    Sundar said that, in fact, many participants mentioned the triviality of the conversation that kept them from using Facebook.

    “They believe that people reporting on the mundane and unremarkable things that they did — brushing their teeth, or what they had for lunch — is not worth talking about,” said Sundar. “That’s an issue, especially for this generation.”

    Older users could be a significant resource to help drive the growth of Facebook and other social media sites, Sundar said.

    “The 55-plus folks were slow initially in adopting social media, but now they are one of the largest growing sectors for social media adoption,” he said.

    The researchers suggest that Facebook is helping to serve as a communications bridge between the generations and that young people are prompting their older family members to join the site.

    “In particular, unlike younger people, most older adults were encouraged by younger family members to join Facebook so that they could communicate,” said Jung. “This implies that older adults’ interaction via social networking sites can contribute to effective intergenerational communication.”

    The researchers recruited 46 participants who were between 65 and 95 years old to take part in in-depth interviews. The group included 17 male participants and 29 female participants, all of whom had a college degree. The participants also said they used a computer in their daily lives.

    A total of 20 Facebook users and 26 non-users participated in the study. If participants had a Facebook account, researchers asked them about their experience and their motivations for joining. Participants who did not use Facebook were asked why they did not join.

    Because all of the participants in this study lived in a retirement home, the researchers said that future research should look at the perception and use of Facebook by seniors who live alone.


  5. People with dementia benefit from goal-oriented therapy

    August 7, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Exeter press release:

    Personalised cognitive rehabilitation therapy can help people with early stage dementia significantly improve their ability to engage in important everyday activities and tasks.

    A large-scale trial led by the University of Exeter, presented at the international Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC) 2017 on Tuesday July 18, has found that cognitive rehabilitation leads to people seeing satisfying progress in areas that enable them to maintain their functioning and independence.

    Cognitive rehabilitation involves a therapist working with the person with dementia and a family carer to identify issues where they would like to see improvements. Together, they set up to three goals, and the therapist helps to develop strategies to achieve these goals. The research, funded by the National Institute for Health Research Health Technology Assessment programme, featured on the BBC’s Horizon programme in May 2016.

    The goals participants chose were varied, as dementia affects people in a wide range of ways. Some participants wanted to find ways of staying independent, for example by learning or re-learning how to use household appliances or mobile phones. Some wanted to manage daily tasks better, and worked with therapists on developing strategies to prevent them burning their food when cooking meals. Others wanted to stay socially connected, and focussed on being able to remember details like the names of relatives or neighbours, or improving their ability to engage in conversation. Sometimes staying safe was important, so strategies focused on things like remembering to lock the door at home or withdrawing money safely from a cashpoint.

    Dr Ola Kudlicka, who managed the trial, said: “We know there’s a great deal that can be done to support people to live well with dementia. Our research is about finding out what matters most to individuals and working with them to find strategies to manage important tasks and maintain their interests. Contrary to popular belief, our trial shows that people with early-stage dementia, given the right kind of support, have the capacity to learn and to improve their skills. We aim to support them in their right to live a fulfilling and happy life and be as independent as possible.”

    The Goal-oriented Cognitive Rehabilitation in Early-stage Alzheimer’s and Related Dementias: Multi-centre Single-blind Randomised Controlled Trial (GREAT) trial involved 475 people across eight sites in England and Wales. Half of them received ten cognitive rehabilitation sessions over three months, and the other half did not. The group receiving the therapy then took part in four “top-up” sessions over six months.

    The researchers found that those who took part in the therapy showed significant improvement in the areas they had identified, after both the ten week and “top-up” sessions. Family carers agreed that their performance had improved. Both participants and carers were happier with the participants’ abilities in the areas identified.

    Professor Linda Clare, who led the research, said: “We now know that cognitive rehabilitation effectively supports people to achieve the everyday goals that matter to them. The next step is to quantify benefits such as whether this approach delays the need for people to go into care homes by supporting them to live independently for longer. This could have important financial benefits for social care. We must also assess whether the therapy can be integrated into how practitioners routinely work, so that more people can have access and are supported to live better lives with dementia.”

    Alzheimer’s Society funded an initial pilot study for this work to make sure that the methods were acceptable for people affected by dementia and is now funding an implementation study so the researchers can work with NHS and social care providers to adapt the therapy for use in real-life practice.

    The charity’s Head of Research Development, Colin Capper, said: “Learning to live well with dementia is vitally important for the people affected and their carers. The personalised nature of this therapy highlights that everyone with dementia is different and that tailored approaches to care and setting individual goals can show clear benefits. We are thrilled at the results of this study and look forward to helping this important work to move forward and be brought closer to the people who need it.”