Friday, June 23, 2017

Using Technology to Ease Aging Parent's Lonliness

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More people are living longer lives than we have seen previously.  This is in part to do such factors as better knowledge about nutrition, improved medical treatment, increased physical activity and the overall awareness of health related factors.  Yet as people live longer they often become lonely and isolated, a widespread problem among seniors.  
Often there is the loss of a spouse, family members and good friends, the loss of abilities such as hearing or vision decline, or the ability to drive, less opportunities for social interactions and social events, and after retirement and children become adults with their own families, the loss of a goal or purpose in life.  Most seniors prefer to remain in their homes when possible.  
Overall, the aging senior often feels an absence of fun, excitement and connections with their family and peers.  All these factors can lead to increasing loneliness resulting in depression.  Relatives who live far away may want to help but just don’t know how.
Consider teaching your relative to use technology as a means of maintaining connections.  A computer with a camera can form an instant connection to anyone in the family (albeit that means there may be added pressure on you to look well groomed which non-video communication doesn’t require!) Even someone who has never touched a computer before can learn if they’re willing.  
For one of my parents anniversaries my brothers and I bought them a very simple machine that was just for email.  My father couldn’t use it due to his arthritis and my mother, who was in her 80’s at the time,  announced she would never touch the thing and we needed to take it back.  
One of my brothers set it up anyway and we just left it there for a day or so.  My mom called just wondering how hard it was to operate, not that she intended to do so of course.  We just had a general discussion about how easy it was which I kept short then shifted topic to her grandchildren.  Next she called one of my brothers for a similar purpose and he took it to the next level encouraging her and convincing her she’d have no trouble learning to use it.  Another day or two went by and my mom called my other brother and asked him to come over and just show her how to use it so she could see how it worked.  The final step was when my niece went over and went through everything with her step by step.  
The next thing we knew, emails were flying fast and furiously, to the point we at times regretted the gift.  This was largely due to the fact that while she learned how to email she didn’t appreciate that when an email arrived somewhere this didn’t set off an alarm where we were or send some sort of nanobot out to find us, retrieve us and make use sit and write her back (this was before the ease of mobile technology).  
It also didn’t cross her mind that any of us were doing anything at the time and might not be able to get back to her ASAP.  So she would email one child and upon not receiving an immediate response call one of the other children to say how worried she was having them call child number one.  She then emailed child number three since she’d just spoken to child number two and as, in the meantime she had received a reply from errant child number one, upon not receiving a reply from child number three called child number one about number three.
This went on in various combinations through the day and it never completely abated though the calls stopped and she just used guilt if you didn’t reply immediately.  Now my mother is the queen of the “i”  -  iphone, ipad, ipod with every other computer based item known to mankind.  She is far better with computers than I am and despite explaining I don’t have an “i”anything, is horrified I don’t “do facetime”.  
My mom was never tech savvy at all. Nor did she have any interests to become tech savvy.   Yet when she learned she could keep in touch with her family using it she was completely on board and did what it took to learn how to operate it.  Some people may assume that seniors aren’t capable of accomplishing things in which they don’t engage.  Yet  it may be more a matter of whether something benefits them than ability.  
If you can show them how technology can get them something they want such as feeling more connected to friends and family and  feeling less lonely and isolated then you may find they are quite adept at learning the needed skills.  Just beware.  Once the genie is out of the bottle you can’t force him back in and I guarantee he will be visiting you frequently with emails, techs and requests for facetime!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Compound in Marijuana May Help Treat Schizophrenia

New research suggests that a compound found in Marijuana may help treat schizophrenia.  Cannabidiol (CBD), found in the Cannabis plant may have anti-psychotic properties.  This compound is different from the main ingredient in marijuana, THC, which can produce psychotic reactions and increase the severity of schizophrenia symptoms.  

The symptoms of schizophrenia include Positive, Negative and Cognitive Symptoms.  Positive symptoms which are excesses in behavior or perceptions include hallucinations and delusions, while negative symptoms are deficits of behavior or perceptions such apathy, lethargy and the lack of motivation.  Cognitive symptoms involve the inability to fully understand information or use it productively, which includes problems with decision making,  the inability to sustain attention and the ability to keep information in memory and use it immediately.  Cognitive symptoms of schizophrenia are important because they are most closely related to the ability to function normally in everyday life.  

Despite a great deal of research intended to permit the development of pro-cognitive drugs for schizophrenia, no cognitive enhancer is currently available. While some present research suggesting that recently developed atypical anti-psychotics benefit cognitive deficits, this finding has remained controversial.  Many believe the effect of atypical anti-psychotics on cognitive symptoms is due primarily to their effect on negative symptoms.  Some studies have shown that both the typical and atypical anti-psychotics actually induce cognitive deficits in both healthy individuals and those with schizophrenia.  

Now researchers have determined that use of CBD, may help decrease the cognitive symptoms found in individuals with schizophrenia which are often left after treatment with anti-psychotics alleviate the positive and some of the negative symptoms. Researchers at the University of Cologne in Germany, examined 39 patients diagnosed with Schizophrenia (Leweke, Mueller, Lange & Rohleder, 2016).  Nineteen received an anti-psychotic medication while the rest were treated with CBD.   Results indicated that both groups improved across all categories of symptoms and that the two groups did not differ on strength of the effects.  The benefit of CBD was particularly evident in the absence of most side effects that result from anti-psychotic medication (read abstract).

Anti-psychotic medications have long been known to cause serious side effects which sometimes are irreversible.  These include movement disorders and reduced motivation and pleasure. The newest generation of anti-psychotic medication often leads to  significant weight gain and an increased risk of developing  diabetes.  While not usually life threatening these side effects frequently prove to be  long major obstacles to treatment compliance.

Researchers have warned that simply smoking or otherwise ingesting marijuana will not decrease psychotic symptoms and may make them worse.  This is in due to the predominance of THC relative to CBD found in the whole plant.  This means that psychotic symptoms may be worsened by use of the entire plant.   


Leweke, F. M., Mueller, J. K., Lange, B., & Rohleder, C. (2016). Therapeutic potential of cannabinoids in psychosis. Biological psychiatry, 79(7), 604-612.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Does the Color of Your Nightlight Affect Your Sleep?

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Bright, white light can improve your mood, give you energy, make you feel more alert and less tired. This is great during the daytime but after sundown exposure to these type of lights that are similar to natural light can keep you from sleeping.  One of the ways artificial light does this is by suppressing melatonin, your body’s sleep hormone.  Since most people don’t go to sleep as soon as the sun sets, it’s important to use proper lighting to decrease your body’s natural response to daylight. The color of light you are exposed to at night can also affect your mood. Combined with the effects of good or poor sleep, the effect of light on mood can be significant.

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Bulbs that emit light from longer wavelengths such as the red and orange spectrum are more likely to induce sleep. Incandescent bulbs, the type people use most frequently in their homes. These soft white bulbs are usually inexpensive and provide a warm light.  After red light bulbs, these are the best to use in your bedroom to induce natural sleep. Red bulbs are considered the best for sleep.  Use red or pink bulbs in your bedroom in nightlights or reading lamps used at night or right before bedtime.  Green light, another long wave light, can also induce sleep. Make sure to switch sleep inducing bulbs with those that are associated with wakefulness right before going to sleep, or use them in lamps not used during the day. If they are used when getting up in the morning, it will take longer to feel awake and alert and will increase the likelihood you will hit the snooze button.

Halogen bulbs give off the whitest light and are closest to daylight.  They should be avoided after dark.
Compact fluorescent bulbs are popular because they last about ten times larger than regular bulbs but give
off blue light which can interfere with sleep.   Light-emitting diode bulbs use about 75 percent less energy
than traditional bulbs but they also emit more blue light than traditional bulbs.  If you use these bulbs, it's
best to turn them off at least two hours before sleep. While this may seem inconvenient there are now a
selection of smart lights that you can set to automatically shift from brighter blue light to a warmer color a
few hours before bed.

Light from a laptop or tablet is also white or bluish white white so using these devices close to bedtime or
when you wake up during the night can also inhibit sleep. Cell phones can also be a problem as, although
their light is dimmer, you use them closer to your eyes than larger screens. While computers and cell
phone activity also inhibit sleep by causing the brain to remain active, you can decrease the overall effect
on sleep in where and how you use them. Don't play highly arousing games or engage in other activities
that are challenging and require a lot of thought or that make you feel agitated or excited. If you must play
games at all, try something that you find soothing, that doesn't take a lot of concentration, attention or
effort. Switch your computer or mobile device to nighttime display, which most laptops and mobile
devices now come with, and which emit less intense light and light from longer frequencies. Also make
sure you do not use these devices in bed and ideally not in your bedroom so this area of your home will
become associated in your brain only with sleep.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Negative Word Can Make Rice Mold

A teacher in Brazil focuses on teaching her students the importance of treating others positively.  She demonstrated this lesson using two cups of rice.  She had the students sit in a circle around the cups and asked them to say negative things to one of the cups, such as “you are useless” and “you are stupid”.   The teacher asked the class to say positive things to the other cup such as “you can accomplish anything”, and “you are smart”.  A few days later the rice in the ”positive” cup had fermented normally while the rice in the “negative” had turned black with mold.  One student had an insightful conclusion:
“The damage of negativity is bigger than we can imagine … there are two ways to say things, the right way is to praise the good side of others with the eyes of the heart, not the eyes we see.”   
Research conducted since the 1960’s has shown that people come to identify and behave in ways that reflect how others label them. In adolescents and adults labeling and treating someone as criminally deviant encourages the development of deviant behavior.  This type of labeling also has negative consequences because others are likely to be biased against the person because of the label. Critical and negative comments also effect self -esteem, how effective someone feels they are in important areas of their lives such as work or school, parenting and relationships.

Negative comments and labels given to children has been shown to  decrease expectations and goals for what the child can achieve not only in the child but in the adults in their life such as teachers and parents.  Negativity and criticism also lowers a child’s self-esteem and self-image and harms their relationship with their peers.  The longer this type of treatment goes on the more likely a child will assume the behavior that others expect for them until the comments lead to such things as self-sabotage and become a self -fulfilling prophecy.

The experiment described above is a recreation of work conducted by Masaru Emoto who carried out a similar experiment with rice.  He found similar results for rice that was told positive things and rice that was told negative things.  A third cup of rice which he ignored was found to actually start to rot a few days later.  These experiments have been conducted by thousands of people who have recorded their results and shared them on YouTube. 

Other researchers have shown the same outcome when having people just think positive and negative things toward cups of rice from a remote distance which those who recorded the findings blind to which cups of rice were which.  This classic experiment underscores the importance of each of us paying more attention to the words and emotions we are displaying toward others every day.  As the student said, there are always more than one way say something to another person and the effects of negative words aimed at others is greater than we can ever know.  If negative comments and ignoring molds and rots rice, just imagine what such treatment can do to people’s emotional and physical well-being.  Our words, thoughts and behavior toward other matters.
See Dr. Emoto’s Rice Experiment here.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Is Personal Protection Insurance Right for Your Financial Worries?

In today’s economy, fears about job loss or not having enough savings to cover the bills in case of being unable to work for any reason are common. As a result the number of individuals obtaining Personal Protection Insurance (PPI) has increased in the UK significantly.

What Does PPI Stand For?

PPI products are insurance policies that will pay your loans or credit card bills should you find yourself in a situation such that you are unable to earn income. This includes illness, injuries, accidents and loss of employment. While purchased by the individual, should a PPI claim be filed, benefits are paid directly to the company owed. Most policies cover minimum payments for a specific amount of time (usually 12 months).

While individuals who have purchased such insurance may experience a sense of security related to the possibility of unpredictable loss of wages, care should be taken when purchasing the product to make sure you are eligible for coverage. It is also crucial to ascertain that what you are assuming is included is actually covered. In recent years, it has come to light that many people were mis-sold policies and when they attempted to make a PPI claim they were informed their situation was not covered, leaving them without the means to pay their bills.

Make Sure You Aren’t Mis-sold PPI Products

Thousands of people a day in the UK are discovering when attempting to make PPI claims that situations that they assumed were included in their policy were not covered due to either personal ineligibility or inadequate coverage. There are a number of ways people may be taken advantage of when purchasing PPI insurance that they don’t become aware of until making a PPI claim. Be sure you are aware of the following relevant criteria related to PPI eligibility:

PPI is always voluntary – it is not mandatory to purchase PPI products when applying for a loan, credit card or mortgage.

Not everyone can purchase PPI – Students, pensioners or those who are self-employed are generally not eligible for PPI coverage.

Conditions existing when sold the coverage effects eligibility – Those who are unemployed, have a pre-existing medical condition or are working less than 16 hours a week when they purchase PPI products are not eligible for coverage.

PPI may already be included - PPI payments may be embedded in your loan or credit card contract without your knowledge, in which case additional insurance is not necessary.

New Rules Regarding Miss-sold PPI and Filing Complaints

The High Court has established new rules increasing the number of people who can file PPI complaints. These rules also require Banks to contact all PPI customers to inform them that they may have been mis-sold their insurance and could be eligible for compensation. The amount of compensation awarded depends on the cost of your policy and how long you’ve been paying for your coverage.

Individuals can obtain information through the PPI Claim Company as to how to file complaints themselves. In addition, many companies offer a no win - no fee contract which requires that you are awarded a certain amount of compensation or else the services the company provided to file your complaint are free.

 Make sure to always read the fine print of any PPI policy you intend to buy and don’t sign until another knowledgeable party has reviewed it for possible problems regarding your ability to file a PPI claim should circumstances warrant it.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Where Are All of These HIPAA Violations Coming From?

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It seems like a pretty easy thing to avoid - HIPAA Violations.  Don’t gossip about patients, show records or disclose private information to those who shouldn’t see them and make sure you have the proper set up on your home computer or phone if either are used to access medical records.

If it’s really this simple (with a few other guidelines), then why was there in excess of $22,855,300 paid out in fines for HIPAA violations last year alone, a number of which were over $1,000,000?  Plus, this doesn’t include other remediation efforts for violations where it was determined a fine was not warranted.  So what’s going on?

Avoiding HIPAA violations means commitment to a number of things to prevent breaches and ensure appropriate confidentiality.   Of these, one of the most important boils down to training.  Now that we have been held responsible for following HIPAA regulations and documenting appropriately, some organizations that have been doing this for four of five years may have  become complacent in ensuring everyone in the organization knows what the need to in order to satisfy HIPAA regulations.  
One of the most frequently cited HIPAA violation is the failure to train  all individuals who have access to patient information.  This includes — interns, volunteers, contractors and other employees.  One problem is the failure to understand that all employees who can access medical information even when there is no plausible reason for them to do so must be fully trained on HIPAA compliance and avoiding breaches.  

The best way to avoid a breach based on lack of training is the train everyone.  It might seem inconvenient to train absolutely everyone with access to the ePHI in your company, but try to view it as an investment.  The time you put in now will pay off big when the auditors come your way.  Deciding your time frame for training lets you train in logical groups you choose to maintain the highest level of operation with the remaining employees.

Once you receive notification of an audit there is no time to do remedial work with every employee and stop gap measures are usually detectable during an audit.  This also leaves staff feeling anxious about information they have barely had time to learn which can lead to mistakes.  And where HIPAA compliance is concerned, mistakes can be costly.  

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Thursday, June 1, 2017

Make It Fun - Volkswagen's Fun Theory Makes Ordinary Activities Fun to Improve Health and the Environment

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How many tedious things do we find ourselves doing over the course of the day?  Wouldn’t it be nice if some of the more mundane tasks of our day were somehow made to be fun?  Volkswagen has initiated a competition with just that goal in mind.  

Spokespersons for Volkswagen stated that the the Fun Theory project is aimed at funding projects that make simple tasks fun.  This idea not new. It is commonly recognized that the best way to get someone to change their behavior is to make the behavior fun.

The experiments are being funded through a variety of channels and are live on with English versions  on   A prize of 2500 Euros (currently around $2800)  goes to the person who creates the winning experiment,  Judges who decide on the winners will include a panel of behavioral science and environmental experts.  Some of the funded projects to date have included on stair climbing, bottle recycling, obeying the speed limit, wearing a seatbelt, throwing garbage away into appropriate receptacles.  

One of the most popular projects that was funded and created, is the piano staircase.  What do you do when you want to encourage people to take the healthy option moving up or down in a building?  Why, turn the staircase into a piano, of course!  In Stockholm, a team transformed a simple staircase out of the subway into a functioning piano.  Every stop produces a different tone.  Volkswagen found that 66 percent more people chose to take the piano stairs than the escalator which was right beside the stairs.  
Find more information about the Fun Theory Project and footage of other funded experiments here.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Service Dogs Help Vets With PTSD

Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune Photos

Many vets returning from combat have difficulties coping with what they experienced.  Unfortunately, there is still a great deal of shame associated with seeking mental health services in the military. This prevents numerous vets from seeking the help they need leading to untold suffering and poor quality of life.  This is especially troubling given that we have a new generation of combat vets, the first to be engaged in a long-term conflict since the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, who may be silently hurting.

With the end of Iraq war, our veterans returned to an appreciative country, and while they may have survived physically, they may not have fully done so psychologically.  For some of these vets, reconnecting with their small children may be a problem since in Iraq if they saw a mother and child their first thought involved whether she was carrying explosives.  Some may be experiencing survivor guilt, unable to understand why others were killed and not them, or anger at what they had been forced to do.  Some vets can’t reconnect to friends since they saw too many peers killed and don’t want to experience the pain of losing someone else they care about.  Some can’t reconnect to anyone because they feel that while others may care, none of them can know or relate o what they encountered during the war. For many of these, such problems are just one part of a much larger picture.
Of those vets who fought in Operation Enduring Freedom or Operation Iraqi Freedom, it has been estimated that 25 percent are suffering from PTSD.  This has also been said to be a gross underestimate, as it’s recognized that numerous vets who experience mental health problems do not seek help.  Even many of those diagnosed with PTSD do not follow through on recommended treatment.  In fact, it has been determined that as many as 60 percent of those identified as suffering from PTSD do not begin recommended therapy or drop out soon after beginning therapy.  This amounts to a huge number of our vets who are in pain and not getting the help they need.
K-9 for Veteran Warriors, a Chicago based organization, recognizes that many vets with mental health difficulties don’t pursue therapy or feel that it doesn’t always help with all the problems soon enough to prevent premature termination.  They have begun a program which matches specially trained dogs they get from no kill shelters with veterans suffering from PTSD.  The program takes into account the vets lifestyle including whether they live in an apartment or house, in town or a rural area  how active they are.

The dogs are selected in part because a calm and eager to learn temperament.  They are also chosen because they show evidence of empathy.  These amazing animals actually sense when the vet is beginning to experiencing anxiety and do things to help decrease it.  One vet who has been matched with one of these animals, an Iraqi war veteran who served in the Navy for 7 years before joining the Illinois National Guard which was deployed to Iraq, says the dog he was given has changed his life.  

When he talks about his war experiences in group therapy, the dog stands protectively nearby.  He says that she also prevents him from self-isolating since he has to walk her and that she has made it possible for him to go into crowded places again when she is with him.  When feeling the stress of heavy traffic the dog puts her head on his shoulder.  His wife is also thankful to the dog for helping her husband begin taking care of himself as the result of the responsibility of taking care of her needs.  “We’ve got an adorable little blonde at home that I don’t have to worry about,” his wife said.

The vet also credits the free three week intensive program at the Center for Veterans and Their Families at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, with helping decrease his problems related to the war.  But he added that nothing helped more that the energetic golden retriever/mastiff mix with whom he was gifted.

Those interested in these programs can find out more through the links below.

K-9 for Veteran Warriors - The mission of the program is to place service dogs to help veterans cope with PTSD so they can live happy and productive lives after their military career ends. They also provide free food and medical care for the life of the dog.

The Road Home Program, Rush Medical University -  The Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) is a full-spectrum, three-week treatment program that connects veterans to individualized care for trauma-based disorders and injury.  The program is open to all veterans of any era.  Veterans need not live in Chicago to apply.  Food, lodging and travel expenses for veterans and one family member or significant other will be provided. In some circumstances, the program may be able to help cover other expenses incurred during the three week stay.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Psychology of Party Politics and Impeachment

Consider the current question of the contact between Russia and the Trump campaign. We know there was contact and we even know that sensitive information was discussed, as in the sanctions put in place by Obama against the Russians. We know the Russians, by their own admission, sought to get Trump elected over Clinton. We currently have no absolute evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia as far as interfering in the election.

But, what if there was in fact collusion?  What if the current President did conspire with a foreign power in order to become elected president? And not just any foreign power but a foreign power with nuclear missiles aimed at us 24 hours a day since the 1950's. If collusion, was proven how hard would it actually be to impeach  the ?  It would, by all accounts, be extremely difficult to do and would certainly cause horrendous disruption in the country but treason is treason.  

Yet, even with evidence, why do most say it would be nearly impossible to even start the impeachment ball rolling?  The answer is clearly seen every time there is a State of the Union Address.  Ever notice there is something odd about the frequent standing ovations the President always receives?  Specifically, I refer to how most of the standing ovations of the night include only one half of the room or the other.  When the President says something that the Republicans back, the half of the room comprised of Republicans gets to their feet while the other half of the room applauds politely.  When a comment that is supported by the Democrats is made this outcome reverses.  No one really believes that there would a motion or proposal that 100% of the Republicans and 0% of the Democrats support or vice versa, such that this can only reflect party politics.  

The same thing applies to impeachment.  The United States constitution sets up strict requirements for removal of a sitting president for transgressions of “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”  It requires, however, that both the House and two-thirds of the Senate must vote in favor of impeachment.  Given that impeachment is a political act and the Constitution does not set down any specifics as to under what conditions a President must be removed from office, Impeachment remains in the hands of Congress.  Congress is unlikely to act unless they decide it is in their best interests.  As the Republican Party controls both the House and Senate, they are highly unlikely to try to impeach their own President as it would only hurt them and the Republican Party to do so, also likely ensuring the winner of the next election will be a Democrat.    

For this to happen, several conditions would have to be present. There would need to be solid, irrefutable proof of criminal wrongdoing by the president. This proof would have to be so undeniable that the support Trump currently has would turn against him, making it impossible for the Republicans to fail to impeach him.  Essentially, the Republicans would have to perceive Trump’s continued presidency to be more harmful to them than his removal would be.  At this point there is nothing that approaches this criteria.  Additionally, Trump’s approval ratings would have to be extremely low, before the Republicans began to perceive impeachment they have a mandate for impeachment. Yet with the recent firing of the FBI director and Trump’s approval ratings dropping off significantly, impeachment may be becoming increasingly likely.

This is exactly what Alexander Hamilton was concerned about in Federalist Paper # 65.  In this paper, Hamilton acknowledges that having a political body be the ones to act as a court regarding impeachment proceedings is less than ideal.  He argued this due to the fact that in a bipartisan system, the body responsible for impeachment proceedings would have a majority of one party or the other.  Thus, the decision of whether to prosecute the President would likely be politically based not based on justice.  

While Hamilton recognized that any Government would have small imperfections in terms of handling every problematic situation that arose, it appears that the system of impeaching a President is more than a small imperfection.  It seems that when Congress and the President have the same party affiliation there is practically nothing the President can do that will result in impeachment while when party affiliation differs impeachment proceedings might be attempted to embarrass the other party or get the President out of office despite no true wrongdoing.  This means impeachment has become a weapon to use by Congress against a President of a different political party or as a means of protection allowing a President to stretch the limits of Constitutional authority without repercussion.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

New Study Shows Cannabis Reverses Aging in the Brain

In a monumental new study, conducted through a joint effort at the University of Bonn with researchers from The Hebrew University, Cannabis was shown to reverse aging processes in the brains of mice.  Old animals that showed memory loss and other brain related problems due to age were given low doses of Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the active ingredient of Cannabis.  The treated mice were shown to regress to a state that would be seen in two month old mice.

In this study, aging mice aged 12 and 18 months old were given a low daily dose of (THC).  After only four weeks, the treated mice displayed behavioral signs indicating a reversal of aging related cognitive impairments including learning and memory and learning difficulties.  When examining the brain tissue of treated mice on a genetic level, they determined the behavioral changes reflected real neurological changes at a molecular level.  Conversely, the mice who received placebos continued to display age related declines in performance reflecting the normal aging process.

Human trials are not yet in the works, as more animal studies need to be done to determine safety of long term use of the agent and potential undiscovered side effects. Additionally given the low dose used for this study, it appears using Cannabis for recreation will not improve memory.  At the same time earlier studies have demonstrated that cannabis is effective at decreasing brain inflammation while improving cognition and can help to control chronic pain.

While human trials may be a long time in coming, the findings from this study may bring us one step closer to understanding and treating normal and abnormal aging related changes to the brain. Subsequent research could eventually open up a range of new options for treating and possibly reversing brain aging in humans.  Should support be found for the use of the active agent in Cannabis for aging related memory problems, it could provide hope for those suffering from dementia, most cases of which are currently progressive and irreversible.  The study is published in the May issue of Nature Medicine.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Z is for Zollner Effect - An Optical Illusion that Shows It's All About the Context

Take a look at the image below.  

Do you see the horizontal lines angled toward each other?  If so, you’re not alone. The reality is that the vertical lines are completely parallel.   Don’t believe me?  Then try this link where you can hide the shorter lines and see for yourself.  Then play around with the shorter lines to adjust the angel and watch as the horizontal line seem to become more or less tilted toward each other.

What Do You See?

The Zöllner illusion is a commonly demonstrated optical illusion. Created in 1860 by an astrophysicist, Johann Karl Friedrich Zöllner, this illusion presents a series of seemingly tilted long lines crossed with overlapping shorter lines. The seemingly tilted long lines appear as if they would intersect one another if they were extended.  However, the lines are actually parallel to each other.\

How Does It Work?

This optical illusion shows how an image’s background can distort the perceived appearance of straight lines. Several explanations for the Zöllner illusion have been offered. First, the angle of the short lines compared to the long lines creates the perception of depth. One of the lines appears to be closer to us and the other farther away. Another possible explanation is that our brain tries to increase the angles between the long and short lines. The result is a distortion resulting from our brain attempting to bend the lines away and towards each other.

Most optical illusions result from the way that the images are captured with the eyes and are reconstructed by the visual cortex.  While we may believe that the information we receive from our senses is accurate, this information doesn’t actually correspond exactly to reality.  With vision, for example, the image that hits the retina contains considerably more information than what the optic nerve conveys to the brain.  The brain compensates for this enormous loss of information to provide us with visual perceptions that possess contrast, color, and movement.  In order to do this, the brain uses abstract boundaries that clarify, fill in or elaborate the small segments of reality that are actually provided. The brain's tendency to interpret visual information in this way sometimes results in impression of coherence being created where none exist.  

This is the case with an optical illusion.  The brain uses well-rehearsed strategies to fill in the blanks that are supplied by the image and the incomplete segments of the image that are supplied.  For example, if the brain interprets an image as representing distance it will use perspective related strategies to interpret the different segments.  Parallel lines going away from us into the distance (think railroad tracks) appear to converge as if they will eventually intersect somewhere out of our line of sight.   Of course, while we may perceive railroad tracks as seemingly converging, we logically know they are not doing so and therefore, ignore what our eyes are communicating to our brain and dismiss the image as an optical illusion.  

Yet when we happen upon novel images that use specific features, in this case an image of straight lines crossed by smaller, angled lines our brain automatically corrects for the parts that aren't communicated based on it’s interpretation of distance.  However, in this case we do not have any context as we would with railroad tracks.  We don’t look at it (unless you are already familiar with the illusion) and say, “Oh, yeah, that’s the Zollner Illusion that makes a bunch of parallel lines look like they’re converging.  Of course, I know better.”  So we become convinced our visual perception is accurate and have a lot of trouble when someone tells us that our perception is faulty, trying to change the way we see it, to no avail.  As with everything in life, the context is all important.

An interesting effect occurs if the color of the lines and background are changed.  If you make the color of the lines green and make the color of the background red, the effect entirely disappears and the lines will appear to be parallel as they actually are, as long as the two colors are equally bright.



I'd like to thank all of you out there who came along with me on this journey. At times it seemed like the longest month ever while at other times I had no idea where the days had gone and how I'd keep up the pace.  But I'm glad I did it and it managed to call up some new ideas and even generate a few new full length articles.  You never know what the next year will bring but as of now I'll say I look forward to repeating this challenge the next time April rolls around!  I'll keep you posted.  You do the same.  Don't stop stoppin in though, now that the excitement is over.  Hopefully, I'll keep posting things you find interesting, though not at the same pace as this month. 
 Ciou - SYOTB