1. Study suggests brain activity is inherited, may inform treatment for ADHD, autism

    November 13, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Oregon Health & Science University press release:

    Every person has a distinct pattern of functional brain connectivity known as a connectotype, or brain fingerprint. A new study conducted at OHSU in Portland, Oregon, concludes that while individually unique, each connectotype demonstrates both familial and heritable relationships. The results published today in Network Neuroscience.

    “Similar to DNA, specific brain systems and connectivity patterns are passed down from adults to their children,” said the study’s principal investigator Damien Fair, Ph.D., P.A.-C., associate professor of behavioral neuroscience and psychiatry, OHSU School of Medicine. “This is significant because it may help us to better characterize aspects of altered brain activity, development or disease.”

    Using two data sets of functional MRI brain scans from more than 350 adult and child siblings during resting state, Fair and colleagues applied an innovative technique to characterize functional connectivity and machine learning to successfully identify siblings based on their connectotype.

    Through a similar process, the team also distinguished individual sibling and twin pairs from unrelated pairs in both children and adults.

    “This confirms that while unique to each individual, some aspects of the family connectome are inherited and maintained throughout development and may be useful as early biomarkers of mental or neurological conditions,” said lead author Oscar Miranda-Dominguez, Ph.D., research assistant professor of behavioral neuroscience, OHSU School of Medicine.

    Overall, the connectotype demonstrated heritability within five brain systems, the most prominent being the frontoparietal cortex, or the part of the brain that filters incoming information. The dorsal attention and default systems, important for attention or focus and internal mental thoughts or rumination, respectively, also showed significant occurrences.

    “These findings add to the way we think about normal and altered brain function,” said Fair. “Further, it creates more opportunity for personalized and targeted treatment approaches for conditions such as ADHD or autism.”


  2. Study suggests online parent training can help young kids with ADHD

    October 16, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Lehigh University press release:

    Parents of children with ADHD can feel desperate for resources or treatments to help their children who struggle with inattention, distractibility and impulsiveness affecting school and home. Researchers at Lehigh University have discovered that brief online or in-person behavioral therapy for parents is equally effective in improving children’s behavior and parental knowledge — a potential game changer for parents strapped for time and access.

    They report these findings in a new paper published in The Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology.

    Few Use Behavior Therapy, Despite Recommendations

    While the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends behavior therapy support as the first line of treatment for preschool-age children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), limited availability of clinicians, cost and challenges in transportation and child care — as well as reliance on pharmacological drugs — mean few families access such therapy for themselves and their children. A 2016 report from the Centers for Disease Control found that about 75 percent of young children with ADHD received medicine as treatment and only about 50 percent of young children with ADHD with Medicaid and 40 percent with employer-sponsored insurance got psychological services, which may include behavior therapy. ADHD occurs in 2 to 15 percent of young children, with 11 percent of children in the U.S. receiving an ADHD diagnosis at some point in their lives.

    The research by George DuPaul, professor of school psychology, and Lee Kern, professor of special education, at Lehigh University is the first to look at online ADHD behavior therapies in this age group (3-5 years old). It was conducted with a $1.2 million grant from the Institute of Education Sciences, the research arm of the U.S. Department of Education.

    Parents learned effective ways to anticipate and prevent child behavior problems, teach their children better ways to communicate their needs, and how to best reinforce their children’s positive behaviors with about 15 hours of parent education that can be delivered equally successfully in a typical face-to-face format or online,” DuPaul said of the findings. “The fact that parents can learn these strategies on their own schedule via an online platform has the potential to significantly improve current practice and present savings in terms of time and cost to families for whom access is an issue.”

    Training Benefits Parents and Children

    For the study, researchers created a program of parent education and support that was shorter in duration than most similar trainings. They recruited 47 families in the Lehigh Valley region of Pennsylvania who had 3- to 5-year-old children who met diagnostic criteria for ADHD. Families were randomly assigned to one of three groups (face-to-face parent education, online parent education or a wait-list control group), with parents taking part in 10 weekly education sessions.

    “We collected parent questionnaires, tested parent knowledge and observed parent-child interactions in family homes before and after parent education was delivered to evaluate whether our program made a difference relative to families who did not receive parent education,” DuPaul said.

    In addition to finding online training was similarly effective to face-to-face training, researchers found parents participating in the streamlined 10-week format were more likely to be engaged and to complete training than those participating in longer formats. Both in-person and online training formats had high attendance and significantly improved parent knowledge of interventions and adherence to treatment protocols.

    In addition, children in the study were better able to regulate their behavior, demonstrating reduced restlessness and impulsivity and improved self-control, affect and mood compared to the control group.

    Though behavioral parent training is known to have positive results for children with ADHD, fewer parents and mental health and medical practitioners know about it than medication prescribed for ADHD, which can come with side effects and is not recommended as a first-line treatment for preschool-age children, DuPaul said.

    Thus the study provides options both relative to medication and among behavioral therapy in terms of the effectiveness of both in-person and electronically delivered formats.

    “I hope these findings add to the existing evidence that behavioral parent training is an effective approach for young kids with ADHD even when applied over a relatively short time, and show that both in-person and online formats can be effective in parent and child behavior change,” said DuPaul, who hopes the research also spurs more development of alternative ways of delivering interventions to parents.

    “The implications are substantial given barriers that many families experience with face-to-face behavioral parent training,” the study states.

    In addition to parents, the findings will be useful for others who interact with young children at risk for ADHD, from mental health practitioners and pediatricians to preschool teachers and early childhood education professionals, DuPaul said.


  3. Study suggests school year ‘relative age’ may cause bias in ADHD diagnosis

    October 15, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Nottingham press release:

    Younger primary school children are more likely to be diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) than their older peers within the same school year, new research has shown.

    The study, led by a child psychiatrist at The University of Nottingham with researchers at the University of Turku in Finland, suggests that adults involved in raising concerns over a child’s behaviour — such as parents and teachers — may be misattributing signs of relative immaturity as symptoms of the disorder.

    In their research, published in The Lancet Psychiatry, the experts suggest that greater flexibility in school starting dates should be offered for those children who may be less mature than their same school-year peers.

    Kapil Sayal, Professor of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry at the University’s School of Medicine and the Centre for ADHD and Neurodevelopmental Disorders Across the Lifespan at the Institute of Mental Health in Nottingham, was the lead author on the study.

    He said: “The findings of this research have a range of implications for teachers, parents and clinicians. With an age variation of up to 12 months in the same class, teachers and parents may misattribute a child’s immaturity. This might lead to younger children in the class being more likely to be referred for an assessment for ADHD.

    “Parents and teachers as well as clinicians who are undertaking ADHD assessments should keep in mind the child’s relative age. From an education perspective, there should be flexibility with an individualised approach to best meets the child’s needs.”

    Evidence suggests that worldwide, the incidence of ADHD among school age children is, at around five per cent, fairly uniform. However, there are large differences internationally in the rates of clinical diagnosis and treatment.

    Although this may partially reflect the availability of and access to services, the perceptions of parents and teachers also play an important role in recognising children who may be affected by ADHD, as information they provide is used as part of the clinical assessment.

    The study centred on whether the so-called ‘relative age effect’ — the perceived differences in abilities and development between the youngest and oldest children in the same year group — could affect the incidence of diagnosis of ADHD.

    Adults may be benchmarking the development and abilities of younger children against their older peers in the same year group and inadvertently misinterpreting immaturity for more serious problems.

    Previous studies have suggested that this effect plays an important role in diagnosis in countries where higher numbers of children are diagnosed and treated for ADHD, leading to concerns that clinicians may be over-diagnosing the disorder.

    The latest study aimed to look at whether the effect also plays a significant role in the diagnosis of children in countries where the prescribing rates for ADHD are relatively low.

    It used nationwide population data from all children in Finland born between 1991 and 2004 who were diagnosed with ADHD from the age of seven years — school starting age — onwards. In Finland, children start school during the calendar year they turn 7 years of age, with the school year starting in mid-August. Therefore, the eldest in a school year are born in January (aged 7 years and 7 months) and the youngest in December (6 years and 7 months).

    The results showed that younger children were more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than their older same-year peers — boys by 26 per cent and girls by 31 per cent.

    For children under the age of 10 years, this association got stronger over time — in the more recent years 2004-2011, children born in May to August were 37 per cent more likely to be diagnosed and those born in September to December 64 per cent, compared to the oldest children born in January to April

    The study found that this ‘relative age affect’ could not be explained by other behavioural or developmental disorders which may also have been affecting the children with an ADHD diagnosis.

    However, the experts warn, the study did have some important limitations — the data did not reveal whether any of the young children were held back a year for educational reasons and potentially misclassified as the oldest in their year group when in fact they were the youngest of their original peers.

    The flexibility in school starting date could explain why the rate of ADHD in December-born children (the relatively youngest) were slightly lower than those for children born in October and November.

    And while the records of publicly-funded specialised services which are free at the point of access will capture most children who have received a diagnosis of ADHD, it will miss those who were diagnosed in private practice.


  4. Study suggests ADHD kids can be still, if they’re not straining their brains

    September 30, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Central Florida press release:

    How’s this for exasperating: Your ADHD child fidgets and squirms his way through school and homework, but seems laser-focused and motionless sitting in front of the TV watching an action thriller.

    Well, fret not, because new research shows lack of motivation or boredom with school isn’t to blame for the differing behavior. It turns out that symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder such as fidgeting, foot-tapping and chair-swiveling are triggered by cognitively demanding tasks — like school and homework. But movies and video games don’t typically require brain strain, so the excessive movement doesn’t manifest.

    “When a parent or a teacher sees a child who can sit perfectly still in one condition and yet over here they’re all over the place, the first thing they say is, ‘Well, they could sit still if they wanted to,'” said Mark Rapport, director of the Children’s Learning Clinic at the University of Central Florida. “But kids with ADHD only need to move when they are accessing their brain’s executive functions. That movement helps them maintain alertness.”

    Scientists once thought that ADHD symptoms were always present. But previous research from Rapport, who has been studying ADHD for more than 36 years, has shown the fidgeting was most often present when children were using their brains’ executive functions, particularly “working memory.” That’s the system we use for temporarily storing and managing information required to carry out complex cognitive tasks such as learning, reasoning and comprehension.

    As recently published in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, Professor Rapport’s senior doctoral student Sarah Orban and research team tested 62 boys ages 8 to 12. Of those, 32 had ADHD. Thirty did not have ADHD and acted as a control group.

    During separate sessions, the children watched two short videos, each about 10 minutes long. One was a scene from “Star Wars Episode I — The Phantom Menace” in which a young Anakin Skywalker competes in a dramatic pod-race. The other was an instructional video featuring an instructor verbally and visually presenting multistep solutions to addition, subtraction and multiplication problems.

    While watching, the participants were observed by a researcher, recorded and outfitted with wearable actigraphs that tracked their slightest movements. The children with ADHD were largely motionless while watching the Star Wars clip, but during the math video they swiveled in their chairs, frequently changed positions and tapped their feet.

    That may not seem surprising. After all, weren’t the children absorbed by the sci-fi movie and bored by the math lesson? Not so, Rapport said.

    “That’s just using the outcome to explain the cause,” he said. “We have shown that what’s really going on is that it depends on the cognitive demands of the task. With the action movie, there’s no thinking involved — you’re just viewing it, using your senses. You don’t have to hold anything in your brain and analyze it. With the math video, they are using their working memory, and in that condition movement helps them to be more focused.”

    The takeaway: Parents and teachers of children with ADHD should avoid labeling them as unmotivated slackers when they’re working on tasks that require working memory and cognitive processing, researchers said.

    The study builds on Rapport’s earlier research, including a 2015 study that found that children with ADHD must be allowed to squirm to learn.


  5. Study suggests ADHD may be linked to sleep problems

    September 16, 2017 by Ashley

    From the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology press release:

    Around 75% of children and adults with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) also have sleep problems, but until now these have been thought to be separate issues. Now a in a pulling together of the latest research, Scientists are proposing of a new theory which says that much of ADHD may in fact be a problem associated with lack of regular circadian sleep.

    Presenting the proposal at the ECNP Conference in Paris, Professor Sandra Kooij (Associate Professor of Psychiatry at VU University Medical Centre, Amsterdam and founder and chair of the European Network Adult ADHD) said:

    “There is extensive research showing that people with ADHD also tend to exhibit sleep problems. What we are doing here is taking this association to the next logical step: pulling all the work together leads us to say that, based on existing evidence, it looks very much like ADHD and circadian problems are intertwined in the majority of patients.

    We believe this because the day and night rhythm is disturbed, the timing of several physical processes is disturbed, not only of sleep, but also of temperature, movement patterns, timing of meals, and so on.

    If you review the evidence, it looks more and more like ADHD and sleeplessness are 2 sides of the same physiological and mental coin.”

    Professor Kooij laid out the links which have led to the synthesis:

    • In 75% of ADHD patients, the physiological sleep phase — where people show the physiological signs associated with sleep, such as changes in the level of the sleep hormone melatonin, and changes in sleep-related movement — is delayed by 1.5 hours.
    • Core body temperature changes associated with sleep are also delayed (reflecting melatonin changes)
    • Many sleep-related disorders are associated with ADHD, including restless-leg syndrome, sleep apnea, and the circadian rhythm disturbance, the delayed sleep phase syndrome
    • ADHD people often show greater alertness in the evening, which is the opposite of what is found in the general population
    • Many sufferers benefit from taking melatonin in the evening or bright light therapy in the morning, which can help reset the circadian rhythm
    • Recent work has shown that around 70% of adult ADHD sufferers show an oversensitivity of the eyes to light, leading many to wear sunglasses for long periods during the day — which may reinforce the problems associated with a ‘circadian shift’.
    • Chronic late sleep leads to a chronic sleep debt, associated with obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer. This cascade of negative health consequences may in part be preventable by resetting the sleep rhythm.

    Professor Kooij continued:

    “We are working to confirm this physical-mental relationship by finding biomarkers, such as Vitamin D levels, blood glucose, cortisol levels, 24 hour blood pressure, heart rate variability, and so on. If the connection is confirmed, it raises the intriguing question: does ADHD cause sleeplessness, or does sleeplessness cause ADHD? If the latter, then we may be able to treat some ADHD by non-pharmacological methods, such as changing light or sleep patterns, and prevent the negative impact of chronic sleep loss on health.”

    “We don’t say that all ADHD problems are associated with these circadian patterns, but it looks increasingly likely that this is an important element.”

    Commenting, Professor Andreas Reif (University Hospital, Frankfurt, and leader of the EU CoCA project on ADHD ), who was not involved in the research, said “A disturbance of the circadian system may indeed be a core mechanism in ADHD, which could also link ADHD to other mental illnesses such as depression or bipolar disorder. But also beyond these pathophysiological considerations, sleep problems and abnormalities of circadian rhythms are a huge problem for many patients, heavily impacting on their social life” He continued “More research into the interconnections between ADHD and the “inner clock” is thus very relevant to improve patients’ lives and to shed light on the disease mechanism of ADHD.”

    Note: Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a group of behavioural symptoms with a neurobiological background, that include inattentiveness, hyperactivity, mood swings and impulsiveness. ADHD is highly heritable, and several differences in brain volume and function have been shown compared to controls. Symptoms of ADHD tend to be noticed at an early age and may become more noticeable when a child’s circumstances change, such as when they start school. Most cases are diagnosed when children are 6 to 12 years old, but ADHD is also increasingly recognised in adults and older people, as ADHD can persist during the lifespan. People with ADHD often have additional problems, such as sleep, mood- and anxiety disorders. Between 2 and 5 % of children, adults and older people suffer from ADHD.


  6. Inattentive kids show worse grades in later life

    September 14, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Frontiers press release:

    Researchers studied children with and without attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and found that inattentiveness was linked to worse academic performance up to 10 years later, regardless of ADHD, even when they accounted for the children’s intellectual ability.

    Although grades aren’t everything, academic achievement is clearly an important factor in later career success and financial stability. Helping children to maximize their academic potential and overcome obstacles to academic success is important. One factor in academic performance is intellectual ability, and unsurprisingly, numerous studies have found that higher intellectual ability is linked with higher academic performance.

    Another factor that can affect academic performance is attentiveness. Aside from making it difficult to focus in school and on homework, inattentiveness can be associated with other problems, such as mood disorders and difficulties interacting with other children. Helping children to overcome inattentiveness could pay dividends in later life.

    Astri Lundervold, a researcher at the University of Bergen, is interested in the short- and long-term consequences of inattention in childhood. “A high number of children are challenged by problems related to inattention. A cluster of these problems is defined as hallmark symptoms of ADHD, but inattentiveness is not restricted to children with a specific diagnosis,” explains Lundervold. Are problems related to inattention something that parents and teachers should address in any child?

    This question inspired Lundervold to investigate the link between inattentiveness and academic performance in a sample containing mostly healthy children in Bergen, Norway. To make the sample more culturally diverse and inclusive of a larger spectrum of mental health disorders, she collaborated with researchers in America (Stephen Hinshaw and Jocelyn Meza). Together, they expanded the study, which was recently published in Frontiers in Psychology, to include a sample of girls from another long-term study in Berkeley, California, where a large subgroup had been diagnosed with ADHD.

    The children were aged from 6 — 12 when the researchers recruited them and began the study. They assessed the children’s IQ and asked their parents to rate their inattentiveness. Finally, 10 years later, the researchers followed-up with the children to see how they had performed in school.

    Unsurprisingly, children with higher IQ scores tended to perform better academically. Also, as expected, the children with ADHD showed higher inattentiveness compared with those without, and also performed worse in school. However, the negative effects of inattention on academic performance were not restricted to children with ADHD. “We found a surprisingly similar effect of early inattention on high school academic achievement across the two samples, an effect that remained even when we adjusted for intellectual ability,” explains Lundervold.

    The results highlight the long-term effects that childhood inattention can have on academic performance. These findings suggest that inattention could have significant adverse effects on the academic performance of a variety of children, potentially including those with a high intellectual ability and no ADHD. So, how can parents help their children to achieve their academic potential, regardless of their IQ or mental health?

    “Parents of primary school children showing signs of inattention should ask for help for the child. Remedial strategies and training programs for these children should be available at school, and not just for children with a specific diagnosis,” says Lundervold. “Parents and teachers could also benefit from training to help address the needs of inattentive children.”


  7. Study shows childhood psychiatric disorders increase risk for later adult addiction

    July 12, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Elsevier press release:

    Children’s health and well-being while growing up can be indicators of the potential health issues they may encounter years later. A study published in the July 2017 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry(JAACAP) suggests that a childhood psychiatric disorder increases the risk of developing addiction later in life. Based on a large amount of data from previous studies on these participants, the researchers identified a correlation between various psychiatric disorders among children and later risk of developing addictions.

    The team, led by researchers from the Child Study group at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam and Accare, the Center for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the University Medical Center Groningen, the Netherlands, found that individuals diagnosed in childhood with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), oppositional defiant disorder (ODD)/conduct disorder (CD), and depression had an increased risk of developing addictions. Interestingly, results concerning anxiety were less clear. The risk may depend on the specific type of anxiety disorder, but to date, no studies have focused on this topic.

    “We know that ADHD in childhood increases the risk for later substance-related disorders, but until now, no systematic evaluation of other childhood psychiatric disorders had been conducted,” said Dr. Annabeth P. Groenman, researcher at Accare, Center for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, University Medical Center Groningen, the Netherlands. “Our findings show that not only ADHD increased the risk of addictions, but that other childhood psychiatric disorders also increased risk. This indicates the importance of early detection of mental health problems in a wider group. Addiction is a major cause of immense personal, familial, and societal burden, and prevention is therefore an important goal.”

    The study re-analyzed data of 37 previous studies containing a total of 762,187 individuals, of whom 22,029 had ADHD, 434 had disruptive behavior disorders (such as ODD/CD), 1,433 had anxiety disorder, and 2,451 had depression. The researchers identified studies looking at childhood psychiatric disorders and later addiction.

    Disruptive behaviors (ODD/CD) frequently co-occur with ADHD, in approximately 30% of cases. This so-called “comorbidity” is often thought to be the main cause of addictions in individuals with ADHD. However, the results suggest that co-occurring ODD/CD in ADHD does not fully explain the risk of addictions in this group.

    Professor Jaap Oosterlaan, principal investigator of the Child Study Group at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam and the Emma Children’s Hospital AMC, the Netherlands, said: “Now that we have firmly established children with psychiatric disorders as a high-risk group for later substance-related disorders, the next step is to make parents, clinicians, and the government aware of these risks and work together in reducing the risks for addiction and its debilitating consequences.”


  8. How technology use affects at-risk adolescents

    May 16, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Duke University press release:

    More use of technology is linked to later increases in attention, behavior and self-regulation problems for adolescents already at risk for mental health issues, a new study from Duke University finds.

    “Also, on days at-risk adolescents use technology more, they experience more conduct problems and higher ADHD symptoms compared to days they use technology less,” said Madeleine J. George, a Duke Ph.D. candidate and the lead author of the study.

    However, the study also found that using technology was linked to some positive outcomes: On days when adolescents spent more time using digital technologies they were less likely to report symptoms of depression and anxiety.

    The research, published May 3 in a special issue of Child Development, looks at associations between adolescents’ mental health symptoms and how much time they spent each day texting, using social media and using the Internet.

    For the study, 151 young adolescents completed surveys on smartphones about their daily digital technology use. They were surveyed three times a day for a month and were assessed for mental health symptoms 18 months later. The youth participating were between 11 and 15 years old, were of a lower socioeconomic status and were at a heightened risk for mental health problems.

    The adolescents spent an average of 2.3 hours a day using digital technologies. More than an hour of that time was spent texting, with the adolescents sending an average of 41 texts a day.

    The researchers found that on days when adolescents used their devices more — both when they exceeded their own normal use and when they exceeded average use by their peers — they were more likely to experience conduct problems such as lying, fighting and other behavioral problems.

    In addition, on days when adolescents used digital devices more, they had difficulty paying attention and exhibited attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder symptoms.

    The study also found that young adolescents who spent more time online experienced increases in conduct problems and problems with self-regulation — the ability to control one’s behavior and emotions — 18 months later.

    It’s unclear whether high levels of technology use were simply a marker of elevated same-day mental health symptoms or if the use of technology exacerbated existing symptoms, said Candice Odgers, the senior author of the study and a professor in Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy.

    On the positive side, the researchers found evidence that digital technology use may be helpful to adolescents experiencing depression and anxiety. More time spent texting was associated with fewer same-day symptoms of depression and anxiety.

    “This finding makes sense when you think about how kids are commonly using devices to connect with their peers and social networks,” said Odgers, a faculty fellow at the Duke Center for Child and Family Policy.

    The findings suggest contemporary youth may be using digital technology to connect in positive ways versus isolating themselves, the authors said. In the past, some research found that teenagers using digital technology were socially isolated. But at that time, only a small minority of youth were frequently online.

    Odgers noted that the adolescents in the study were already at an increased risk for mental health problems regardless of digital device use. It’s therefore unclear if the findings would apply to all adolescents. Because this was a correlational study, it is possible factors other than technology use could have caused the increase in mental health problems.

    As rates of adolescent technology use continue to climb, more work is needed to investigate its effects, the researchers say. Odgers and George are now conducting a large study of more than 2,000 N.C. adolescents to determine how and why high digital device use predicts future problems among some adolescents. The study also looks at whether being constantly connected during adolescence could provide opportunities to improve mental health.


  9. Exposure to racism harms children’s health

    May 14, 2017 by Ashley

    From the American Academy of Pediatrics press release:

    New research to be presented at the 2017 Pediatric Academic Societies 2017 Meeting illustrates the unhealthy effects racism can have on children, with reported exposure to discrimination tied to higher rates of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), anxiety and depression, as well as decreased general health.

    Authors of the study abstract, “The Detrimental Influence of Racial Discrimination in the United States,” will present their findings on Sunday, May 7, in the Moscone Covention Center West in San Francisco. For the study, they looked at data from 95,677 participants in the 2011-12 National Survey on Children’s Health. In addition to providing physical and mental health data, caregivers of children in the survey were asked whether the child had experienced being “judged or treated unfairly” because of his or her race or ethnicity.

    After adjusting for socioeconomic status, family structure, primary language and other factors, the researchers found a significant link between exposure to racism and health. The average proportion of children reported by parents to be in “excellent health” decreased by 5.4 percent among those exposed to perceived discrimination, for example. Exposure to racism also appeared to boost the odds of ADHD by 3.2 percent.

    The biggest reduction in general health appeared among low-income, minority children, particularly Hispanic participants, said Ashaunta Anderson, MD, MPH, lead author of the study abstract and Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the University of California, Riverside.

    Some children exposed to discrimination who were from high-income households, however, also experienced negative health effects.

    “White children with high income who experienced racial or ethnic discrimination had larger decreases in general health,” Dr. Anderson said, “while black children experiencing that combination of factors had increased rates of ADHD.”

    The study also found that children who experienced racial discrimination had twice the odds of anxiety and depression compared to children who did not experience discrimination. In turn, children with anxiety or depression had roughly half the odd of excellent general health, and four times the odds of ADHD.

    “Our findings suggest that racial discrimination contributes to race-based disparities in child health, independent of socioeconomic factors,” Dr. Anderson said, adding that coordinated efforts are needed to support children affected by discrimination with developmentally appropriate coping strategies and systems of care. In particular, she said, programs that provide positive parenting practices training and promote positive peer and role model relationships can help buffer children from the negative health effects of discrimination.


  10. Brain cells show teamwork in short-term memory

    March 23, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Western Ontario press release:

    Nerve cells in our brains work together in harmony to store and retrieve short-term memory, and are not solo artists as previously thought, Western-led brain research has determined.

    The research turns on its head decades of studies assuming that single neurons independently encode information in our working memories.

    “These findings suggest that even neurons we previously thought were ‘useless’ because they didn’t individually encode information have a purpose when working in concert with other neurons,” said researcher Julio Martinez-Trujillo, based at the Robarts Research Institute and the Brain and Mind Institute at Western University.

    “Knowing they work together helps us better understand the circuits in the brain that can either improve or hamper executive function. And that in turn may have implications for how we work though brain-health issues where short-term memory is a problem, including Alzheimer disease, schizophrenia, autism, depression and attention deficit disorder.”

    Working memory is the ability to learn, retain and retrieve bits of information we all need in the short term: items on a grocery list or driving directions, for example. Working memory deteriorates faster in people with dementia or other disorders of the brain and mind.

    In the past, researchers have believed this executive function was the job of single neurons acting independently from one another — the brain’s version of a crowd of people in a large room all singing different songs in different rhythms and different keys. An outsider trying to decipher any tune in all that white noise would have an extraordinarily difficult task.

    This research, however, suggests many in the neuron throng are singing from the same songbook, in essence creating chords to strengthen the collective voice of memory. With neural prosthetic technology — microchips that can “listen” to many neurons at the same time — researchers are able to find correlations between the activity of many nerve cells. “Using that same choir analogy, you can start perceiving some sounds that have a rhythm, a tune and chords that are related to each other: in sum, short-term memories,” said Martinez-Trujillo, who is also an associate professor at Western’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry.

    And while the ramifications of this discovery are still being explored, “this gives us good material to work with as we move forward in brain research. It provides us with the necessary knowledge to find ways to manipulate brain circuits and improve short term memory in affected individuals,” Martinez-Trujillo said.

    “The microchip technology also allows us to extract signals from the brain in order to reverse-engineer brain circuitry and decode the information that is in the subject’s mind. In the near future, we could use this information to allow cognitive control of neural prosthetics in patients with ALS or severe cervical spinal cord injury,” said Adam Sachs, neurosurgeon and associate scientist at The Ottawa Hospital and assistant professor at the University of Ottawa Brain and Mind Research Institute.