Parent-child therapy helps young children with depression

Early intervention supports kids in processing emotions

June 20, 2018

Science Daily/Washington University School of Medicine

New research demonstrates that an interactive therapy involving parents and their depressed preschoolers can reduce rates of depression and lower the severity of children's symptoms.

 

Children as young as 3 can be clinically depressed, and often that depression recurs as kids get older and go to school. It also can reappear during adolescence and throughout life.

 

But new research from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis demonstrates that an interactive therapy involving parents and their depressed children can reduce rates of depression and lower the severity of children's symptoms.

 

"By identifying depression as early as possible and then helping children try to change the way they process their emotions, we believe it may be possible to change the trajectory of depression and perhaps reduce or prevent recurrent bouts of the disorder later in life," said principal investigator Joan L. Luby, MD, director of the university's Early Emotional Development Program.

 

The findings are published June 20 in The American Journal of Psychiatry.

 

Luby's team adapted a treatment known as Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT) that was developed in the 1970s to correct disruptive behavior in preschoolers. The adaptation involved adding a series of sessions focused on emotions.

 

"We consider depression to be an impairment of the ability to experience and regulate emotions," said Luby, the Samuel and Mae S. Ludwig Professor of Psychiatry.

 

The 18-week, 20-session therapy program begins with a truncated version of the traditional PCIT program, then focuses more on enhancing emotional development.

 

"For example, we coach parents how to manage a child's emotional responses to stressful situations," Luby said.

 

Among the ways of doing so is an activity in which researchers place a package for a child in a room and then make the child wait to open it. The parent wears an earpiece and is coached by a therapist observing through a one-way mirror. The idea is to give children tools to keep their emotions under control, and to train parents to help their children reinforce those tools.

 

Luby's team studied 229 parent-child pairs. Children in the study were 3 to 7 years old and had been diagnosed with depression. Half received the adapted therapy, called PCIT-ED.

 

Compared with children who were placed on a wait list before starting the therapy, those who received the intervention right away had lower rates of depression after 18 weeks and less impairment overall. If depression continued after the treatment, it tended to be less severe than that seen in the kids who had not yet received therapy.

 

Luby said children in the study will be followed to see how long the effects of the therapy last. Her team is analyzing data gathered three months after treatment ended to see whether improvements were maintained or whether any depression symptoms had returned by that point. The researchers hope to follow the children into adolescence to see whether intervention in early childhood provides sustained benefits.

 

They also are conducting brain-imaging as part of the study. In previous research, Luby and her colleagues found that brain changes linked to depression can alter the brain's structure and function, making the children potentially vulnerable to future problems. Now they want to learn whether this interactive therapy might prevent or reverse those previously identified brain changes.

 

Interestingly, the researchers also found that symptoms of clinical depression improved in the parents who worked with their children during the study.

 

"Even without targeting the parent directly, if a parent has been depressed, his or her depression improves," Luby said. "It previously had been demonstrated that if you treat a parent's depression, a child's depression improves, but this is powerful new data suggesting that the reverse also is true."

 

Luby added that the therapy program doesn't require a psychiatrist and can be delivered by master's degree-level clinicians.

 

"This is a therapy that could be widely disseminated," she said. "Since it only takes 18 weeks and doesn't require a child psychologist or psychiatrist, we think it would be highly feasible to deliver in community clinics from a practical standpoint and in terms of cost."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/06/180620094812.htm

Helicopter parenting may negatively affect children's emotional well-being, behavior

Children with overcontrolling parents may later struggle to adjust in school and social environments

June 18, 2018

Science Daily/American Psychological Association

It's natural for parents to do whatever they can to keep their children safe and healthy, but children need space to learn and grow on their own, without Mom or Dad hovering over them, according to new research. The study found that overcontrolling parenting can negatively affect a child's ability to manage his or her emotions and behavior.

 

"Our research showed that children with helicopter parents may be less able to deal with the challenging demands of growing up, especially with navigating the complex school environment," said Nicole B. Perry, PhD, from the University of Minnesota, and lead author of the study. "Children who cannot regulate their emotions and behavior effectively are more likely to act out in the classroom, to have a harder time making friends and to struggle in school."

 

Children rely on caregivers for guidance and understanding of their emotions. They need parents who are sensitive to their needs, who recognize when they are capable of managing a situation and who will guide them when emotional situations become too challenging. This helps children develop the ability to handle challenging situations on their own as they grow up, and leads to better mental and physical health, healthier social relationships and academic success. Managing emotions and behavior are fundamental skills that all children need to learn and overcontrolling parenting can limits those opportunities, according to Perry.

 

The researchers followed the same 422 children over the course of eight years and assessed them at ages 2, 5 and 10, as part of a study of social and emotional development. Children in the study were predominantly white and African-American and from economically diverse backgrounds. Data were collected from observations of parent-child interactions, teacher-reported responses and self-reports from the 10-year-olds.

 

During the observations, the research team asked the parents and children to play as they would at home.

 

"Helicopter parenting behavior we saw included parents constantly guiding their child by telling him or her what to play with, how to play with a toy, how to clean up after playtime and being too strict or demanding," said Perry. "The kids reacted in a variety of ways. Some became defiant, others were apathetic and some showed frustration."

 

Overcontrolling parenting when a child was 2 was associated with poorer emotional and behavioral regulation at age 5, the researchers found. Conversely, the greater a child's emotional regulation at age 5, the less likely he or she was to have emotional problems and the more likely he or she was to have better social skills and be more productive in school at age 10. Similarly, by age 10, children with better impulse control were less likely to experience emotional and social problems and were more likely to do better in school.

 

"Children who developed the ability to effectively calm themselves during distressing situations and to conduct themselves appropriately had an easier time adjusting to the increasingly difficult demands of preadolescent school environments," said Perry. "Our findings underscore the importance of educating often well-intentioned parents about supporting children's autonomy with handling emotional challenges."

 

Perry suggested that parents can help their children learn to control their emotions and behavior by talking with them about how to understand their feelings and by explaining what behaviors may result from feeling certain emotions, as well as the consequences of different responses. Then parents can help their children identify positive coping strategies, like deep breathing, listening to music, coloring or retreating to a quiet space.

 

"Parents can also set good examples for their children by using positive coping strategies to manage their own emotions and behavior when upset," said Perry.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/06/180618102627.htm

Brain matures faster due to childhood stress

June 15, 2018

Science Daily/Radboud University Nijmegen

Stress in early childhood leads to faster maturation of certain brain regions during adolescence. In contrast, stress experienced later in life leads to slower maturation of the adolescent brain.

 

In 1998, the group -- which then comprised 129 one-year-olds and their parents -- was tested for the first time. Over the past 20 years, researchers studied, inter alia, their play sessions and interactions with parents, friends and classmates. The children were also subjected to MRI scans. This wealth of data has enabled Karin Roelofs, Professor of Experimental Psychopathology, her PhD student Anna Tyborowska and other colleagues of Radboud University to investigate how stress in various life stages affected the adolescent brain of these children.

 

More specifically, they looked at the effects on cerebral maturation. During adolescence, our brain experiences a natural pruning process in which previously made connections between brain cells are refined, allowing the creation of more useful and efficient networks.

 

More pruning due to early life stress

 

The researchers investigated two types of stressors -- negative life events and negative influences from the social environment -- in two life stages of their subjects: early childhood (0-5 years) and adolescence (14-17 years). They related these stress levels to the maturation of the prefrontal cortex, amygdala and hippocampus. These brain regions play an important role in functioning in social and emotional situations and are known to be sensitive to stress.

 

Stress due to negative experiences during childhood , such as illness or divorce, appears to be related to faster maturation of the prefrontal cortex and amygdala in adolescence. However, stress resulting from a negative social environment during adolescence, such as low peer esteem at school, is connected to slower maturation of the brain area hippocampus and another part of the prefrontal cortex. 'Unfortunately, in this study we can't say with certainty that stress causes these effects. However, based on animal studies we can hypothesize that these mechanisms are indeed causal,' Anna Tyborowska says.

 

Loss of flexibility

 

'The fact that early childhood stress accelerates the maturation process during adolescence is consistent with theories of evolutionary biology,' says Tyborowska. 'From an evolutionary perspective, it is useful to mature faster if you grow up in a stressful environment. However, it also prevents the brain from adjusting to the current environment in a flexible way. In other words, the brain become "mature" too soon.' The researchers were surprised to find, however, that social stress later in life seems to lead to slower maturation during adolescence. Tyborowska: 'What makes this interesting is that a stronger effect of stress on the brain also increases the risk of developing antisocial personality traits'.

 

Tyborowska is now conducting the eleventh round of measurements, with the subjects now being in their twenties. 'Now that we know that stress affects the maturation of brain regions that also play a role in the control of emotions, we can investigate how this development continues later in life'.

 

Longitudinal study from Nijmegen

 

The Nijmeegse Longitudinale Studie (Nijmegen Longitudinal Study) was initiated in 1998. This study aims to investigate how the development and functioning of children at various ages is influenced by their interactions with parents and peers and how this relates to their disposition and personality. Several research groups have access to the data collected from the subjects (at present about 100). Other research topics include mother-child relationships, bullying and risk behaviour. This long-term study is one of the few worldwide in which so many measurements are taken over such a long period.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/06/180615094830.htm

Today's dads are engaging more with their kids

Fatherhood norms shifting alongside masculinity

June 12, 2018

Science Daily/Brigham Young University

Whether it's physically being there for a baseball game or piano recital, or emotionally being there to provide warmth or support in a tough time, there appears to be a shift in how fathers are viewing their roles.

 

Sociologists at BYU and Ball State have found that a majority of fathers today are relatively involved in their children's lives.

 

Whether it's physically being there for a baseball game or piano recital, or emotionally being there to provide warmth or support in a tough time, there appears to be a shift in how fathers are viewing their roles.

 

"We found that today's dads spend more time, provide more care and are more loving toward their kids than ever before," said Kevin Shafer, BYU sociology professor and a co-author of the study. "Most dads see themselves as playing an equally important role in helping their children as mothers do. At the same time, however, there is a group of dads who believe they are to be breadwinners, disciplinarians and nothing more."

 

The study also showed a correlation between fathers who exhibit negative aspects of traditional masculinity and fathers who are less involved with their children.

 

"It's important to understand what masculinity is and is not," Shafer said. "In some circles, when people hear terms like hegemonic or toxic masculinity, they think those are attacking all men. Not so. There are some very beneficial aspects of masculinity -- being goal-oriented or being loyal, for example. However, we are talking about more problematic aspects of masculinity -- like aggression, detached relationships, not showing emotion and failing to ask for help. These are negative aspects of traditional masculinity, and our research suggests it hurts families."

 

Shafer believes this new research has provided a better, broader examination of masculinity and fatherhood than in previous studies.

 

The study is published in the Journal of Marriage and Family and used data on 2,194 fathers from a national study on fathers of children ages 2 through 18.

 

The researchers assessed fathers' perceptions of negative masculine behaviors by evaluating responses to a variety of statements, such as "It is essential for the child's well?being that fathers spend time interacting and playing with their children" and "It is difficult for men to express warm and tender affectionate feelings toward children."

 

The results from the responses showed, on average:

 

·     Fathers of younger children engaged with them several times a week

·     Fathers of older children engaged with their child between once and several times a week and knew a lot about their child's activities

·     Fathers of younger and older children only sometimes engaged in harsh discipline

·     Fathers of younger children stated that warm behaviors toward their child are "very much like me"

·     Fathers of older children acted warm toward their child between often and always

·     Finally, fathers of older children also generally agreed that their child turns to them for emotional support

 

Previous research indicates that many fathers struggle with the balance of adhering to masculine norms while still being more emotionally available and nurturing toward their children. This has been more of a trend as of late, but not something drastically new. Sociologists have noted that over the past several decades, fatherhood ideals have continued to change due to shifting paternal expectations and behaviors.

 

"Fathers continue to navigate changing social expectations," said Lee Essig, another co-author of the study and BYU graduate student. "As current social trends are pushing for men's increased familial involvement, we see more fathers stepping up to engage more actively in their children's lives in various ways. As we teach boys and men to be more emotionally aware and cultivate emotional well-being, these men and boys will be able to become better fathers for their children, as they will be able to provide for them not only through financial contributions, but by being emotionally and mentally present for their children and their wellbeing."

 

Based on the study, the researchers provide the following reminders to fathers:

 

It's OK to show and feel your feelings. Doing so will help you be a better, more involved and engaged father.

 

·     Be an example. Children learn by example and demonstrating beliefs and attitudes that are supportive not only benefit the father-child relationship, but they also teach children positive behaviors.

·     There are many ways to be a man -- being a "tough guy" is associated with poor parenting, which can negatively affect children.

·     Fathers should not be afraid of being nurturing, caring and hands-on. Children and families all benefit when they do.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/06/180612185124.htm

Music playschool enhances children's linguistic skills

June 11, 2018

Science Daily/University of Helsinki

Weekly music playschool significantly improved the development of children's vocabulary skills.

 

Several studies have suggested that intensive musical training enhances children's linguistic skills. Such training, however, is not available to all children.

 

Researchers at Cognitive Brain Research Unit in the University of Helsinki studied in a community setting whether a low-cost, weekly music playschool provided to 5-6-year-old children in kindergartens affects their linguistic abilities.

 

The children (N=66) were tested four times over two school-years with phoneme processing and vocabulary subtests, along with tests for perceptual reasoning skills and inhibitory control.

 

According to the results, published in Scientific Reports, music playschool significantly improved the development of children's phoneme processing and vocabulary skills, compared to their peers either attending to similarly organized dance lessons or not attending to either activity.

 

"Our data suggest that even playful group music activities -- if attended to for several years -- have a positive effect on preschoolers' linguistic skills," says the first author of the research, Tanja Linnavalli.

 

"Therefore we promote the concept of implementing regular music playschool lessons given by professional teachers in early childhood education."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/06/180611133431.htm

Education linked to higher risk of short-sightedness

Findings have important implications for educational practices

June 6, 2018

Science Daily/BMJ

Spending more years in full time education is associated with a greater risk of developing short-sightedness (myopia).

 

The researchers say their study provides "strong evidence" that more time spent in education is a risk factor for myopia, and that the findings "have important implications for educational practices."

 

Myopia, or short-sightedness, is a leading cause of visual impairment worldwide. Currently, 30-50% of adults in the United States and Europe are myopic, with levels of 80-90% reported in school leavers in some East Asian countries.

 

Based on existing trends, the number of people affected by myopia worldwide is expected to increase from 1.4 billion to 5 billion by 2050, affecting about half of the world's population. Almost 10% of these people (around 9 million) will have high myopia, which carries a greater risk of blindness.

 

Many studies have reported strong links between education and myopia, but it is not clear whether increasing exposure to education causes myopia, myopic children are more studious, or socioeconomic position leads to myopia and higher levels of education.

 

So researchers based at the University of Bristol and Cardiff University set out to determine whether education is a direct (causal) risk factor for myopia, or myopia is a causal risk factor for more years in education.

 

Using a technique called Mendelian randomisation, they analysed 44 genetic variants associated with myopia and 69 genetic variants associated with years of schooling for 67,798 men and women aged 40 to 69 years from the UK Biobank database.

 

Analysing genetic information in this way avoids some of the problems that afflict traditional observational studies, making the results less prone to unmeasured (confounding) factors, and therefore more likely to be reliable.

 

An association that is observed using Mendelian randomisation therefore strengthens the inference of a causal relationship.

 

After taking account of potentially influential factors, Mendelian randomisation analyses suggested that every additional year of education was associated with more myopia (a refractive error of ?0.27 dioptres a year).

 

To put this into context, a university graduate from the UK with 17 years of education would, on average, be at least ?1 dioptre more myopic than someone who left school at 16 (with 12 years of education). This level of myopia would mean needing glasses for driving.

 

By contrast, there was little evidence to suggest that myopia led people to remain in education for longer.

 

The researchers point to some study limitations. For example, UK Biobank participants have been shown to be more highly educated, have healthier lifestyles, and report fewer health issues compared with the general UK population, which may have affected the results. However, there was little evidence that this could explain their findings.

 

"This study shows that exposure to more years in education contributes to the rising prevalence of myopia, and highlights a need for further research and discussion about how educational practices might be improved to achieve better outcomes without adversely affecting vision," they conclude.

 

In a linked editorial, Professor Ian Morgan at the Australian National University and colleagues say the evidence suggests that it is not only genes but environmental and social factors that may have major effects on myopia.

 

They point to East Asia, where early intense educational pressures combined with little time for play outdoors has led to almost 50% of children being myopic by the end of primary school, compared with less than 10% in a study of British children.

 

"Early onset allows more time for myopia to progress to high and potentially pathological myopia," they warn, and they argue that education systems "must change to help protect the visual health of future generations."

 

In a linked opinion piece, study author Denize Atan also points to evidence showing that time spent outdoors in childhood partially protects against the development of myopia.

 

Although reduced exposure to natural daylight might not be the sole mechanism to explain the association between education and myopia, she writes, "given the advantages of time spent outdoors on mental health and the protection it provides against obesity and chronic diseases, we might all benefit from spending more time outside."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/06/180606185354.htm

Preterm newborns sleep better in NICU while hearing their mother's voice

Novel strategy can help improve sleep in a noisy neonatal intensive care unit

June 6, 2018

Science Daily/American Academy of Sleep Medicine

Hearing a recording of their mother's voice may help neonates maintain sleep while in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), according to preliminary data from a new study.

 

About 10 percent of U.S. newborns require treatment in a NICU, which is a noisy environment that could influence the development of newborn sleep patterns. This study explored the possibility that infants' exposure to their mother's voice in the NICU could modulate that impact.

 

Results indicate that newborns in a NICU were less likely to be awakened by noises when a recording of their mother's voice was playing. The study also found that newborns born at or after 35 weeks gestation show sleep-wake patterns that appear to respond increasingly with age to recorded maternal voice exposure. Similar associations were not found for infants born before 35 weeks gestation.

 

"Environmental noise can be remarkably high in the NICU and may influence neonatal sleep patterns," said principal investigator Dr. Renée Shellhaas, a clinical associate professor of pediatrics in the division of Pediatric Neurology at the University of Michigan. "Exposure to a mother's voice recording may insulate NICU patients from some of the impact of unavoidable noise by reducing the likelihood of wakefulness during the highest peak noise levels."

 

The study in a NICU involved 20 neonates born at or after 35 weeks gestation and 27 born preterm at 33-34 weeks. Their mothers were recorded reading children's books. The neonates underwent a 12-hour sleep evaluation by attended polysomnography. Each mother's recording was randomized to be played continuously for her child during either the first or second 6-hours of the polysomnogram.

 

Sleep-wake stage distributions, entropy, and EEG power were calculated for each 6-hour block. Quantitative sleep measures were evaluated as a function of gestational age, with adjustment for neurological examination scores. Data were compared for polysomnogram epochs with, versus without, the recorded maternal voice playing.

 

Newborn infants who are ill or born prematurely may require extended care in a neonatal ICU during a time of critical brain development. Shellhaas noted that interventions designed to improve sleep in newborns who require intensive care may need to be tailored according to gestational age.

 

"Our study results suggest an intervention as simple as playing a recording of the mother reading stories may result in improved sleep," said Shellhaas. "However, the impact of such interventions appears to be more significant for newborns who are near term gestation than for more premature infants."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/06/180606170205.htm

Teenage girls are more impacted by sleepiness than teen boys are

Sleep disturbances in girls associated with more difficulties staying awake in and out of school

June 6, 2018

Science Daily/American Academy of Sleep Medicine

Preliminary results of a recent study show that teen girls reported a higher degree of interference of daytime sleepiness on multiple aspects of their school and personal activities than boys.

 

The study examined whether teen boys and girls report similar negative impact of sleep disturbances on their daytime functioning.

 

"What was most surprising is the fact that teenage girls reported a higher degree of interference of daytime sleepiness than teenage boys on multiple aspects of their school and personal activities," said co-author Pascale Gaudreault, who is completing her doctoral degree in clinical neuropsychology under the supervision of principal investigator Dr. Geneviève Forest at the Université du Québec en Outaouais in Gatineau, Québec, Canada. "For example, teenage girls have reported missing school significantly more often than teenage boys due to tiredness, as well as reported having lower motivation in school due to a poor sleep quality."

 

731 adolescents (311 boys; 420 girls; ages 13 to 17.5 years; grades 9-11) completed a questionnaire about sleep and daytime functioning. Questions were answered on a seven-point Likert scale (1=never; 7=often). Gender differences were assessed using t-tests.

 

Study results show that teenage girls reported more difficulties staying awake during class in the morning, during class in the afternoon, and during homework hours than boys. They also reported feeling too tired to do activities with their friends, missing school because of being too tired, feeling less motivated in school because of their poor sleep, and taking naps during weekends more often than boys. However, there was no gender difference when it came to using coffee or energy drinks to compensate for daytime sleepiness or for falling asleep in class.

 

"These results suggest that teenage girls may be more vulnerable than teenage boys when it comes to the negative impacts of adolescence's sleep changes," said Gaudreault.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/06/180606143714.htm

Sleep paralysis and hallucinations are prevalent in student athletes

Study also suggests sleep disorders are associated with depression symptoms

June 4, 2018

Science Daily/American Academy of Sleep Medicine

Pilot data from a recent study suggest that sleep paralysis and dream-like hallucinations as you are falling asleep or waking up are widespread in student athletes and are independently associated with symptoms of depression.

 

Occasional sleep paralysis was reported by 18 percent of the sample, and 7 percent reported that this happens at least once per week. Hypnogogic/hypnopompic hallucinations (which are dream-like experiences that occur while falling asleep or waking up) were reported by 24 percent of the sample, and 11 percent reported that they experience these symptoms at least once per week.

 

Compared to those who never experience sleep paralysis or hypnogogic/hypnopompic hallucinations, those who did experience them -- even rarely -- also reported higher depression scores. This was even the case after controlling for how much sleep or what quality of sleep the person experienced.

 

"These symptoms are often thought to be relatively harmless and quite rare. But they can be very distressing to those who experience them, and they may be surprisingly common among student athletes," said senior author Michael Grandner, PhD, MTR, the director of the Sleep and Health Research Program and assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Arizona College of Medicine. "What was also surprising was that the degree to which people reported these symptoms predicted severity of depression symptoms, even after controlling for poor sleep and lack of sleep -- which can contribute to both depression and these types of sleep symptoms."

 

Data were collected from 189 NCAA Division-I student athletes, who were asked how often they experienced the symptoms of sleep paralysis and hypnogogic/hypnopompic hallucinations. Participants were also asked about sleep duration, and they completed the Insomnia Severity Index and the Centers for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale. Regression analyses examined depression score as outcome and sleep symptom as predictor in models adjusted for age and sex; as well as age, sex, insomnia severity, and sleep duration.

 

Student athletes often struggle to find time to rest due to their busy schedules. Shorter sleep duration and poor sleep quality contribute to disordered sleep in many student athletes. In addition, sleep symptoms such as sleep paralysis and hallucinations are more common in younger adults.

 

The preliminary findings of this study suggest that these symptoms may be warning signs of another medical problem.

 

"These sleep symptoms are usually harmless on their own, but they can be a sign of more serious sleep problems," said lead author Serena Liu, a student research assistant in the Sleep and Health Research Program directed by Grander. "The fact that they are so common among student athletes suggests that this is a group with some significant sleep problems that should be evaluated and dealt with."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/06/180604093104.htm

Childhood communication enhances brain development, protecting against harmful behaviors

May 3, 2018

Science Daily/Elsevier

Children with greater parent communication in early adolescence have less harmful alcohol use and emotional eating in young adulthood.

 

The 14-year study, which followed participants from 11 to 25 years old, identified that the extent of communication between parents and children promotes the development of a brain network involved in the processing of rewards and other stimuli that, in turn, protects against the overconsumption of food, alcohol and drugs. In this way, robust parent-child communication has an impact on health behaviors in adulthood.

 

"It might mean that social interactions actually influence the wiring patterns of the brain in the teenage years," said John Krystal, MD, Editor of Biological Psychiatry. "It points to an important potential role of family interactions in brain development and the emergence of maladaptive behaviors in adulthood," he added.

 

The study, led by Christopher Holmes, PhD and colleagues from the University of Georgia's Center for Family Research, focused on rural African Americans, an understudied population that may be disproportionately at risk for these harmful health behaviors in young adulthood. In 2001, the research team began a longitudinal study involving rural African American families with a child 11 years of age. Between the ages of 11 and 13 years, participants reported on interactions with their parents, including the frequency of discussions and arguing.

 

When the participants reached 25 years of age, a subsample of 91 participants was recruited from the larger study to take part in a neuroimaging session that measured brain activity using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Specifically, the researchers used fMRI to study a network of brain connections called the anterior salience network (ASN). The participants also answered questions about harmful alcohol use and emotional eating at age 25.

 

Greater parent-child communication in early adolescence predicted greater connectivity of the ASN at age 25, supporting the idea that high-quality parenting is important for long-term brain development. Greater ASN connectivity was, in turn, associated with lower harmful alcohol use and emotional eating at age 25. The findings point to the ASN as a brain mechanism for how parenting in childhood affects health behaviors in early adulthood.

 

"These findings highlight the value of prevention and intervention efforts targeting parenting skills in childhood as a means to foster long-term, adaptive neurocognitive development," said Allen Barton, PhD, corresponding author of the study.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/05/180503101651.htm

The case for hope: Educating as if survival matters

May 2, 2018

Science Daily/Cornell University

The world is facing ever-more-dire warnings from scientists about the faltering health of the environment and the negative consequences for humans, habitats, and the creatures with whom we share the Earth. Still, a new article suggests there's reason for hope. It boils down to what we teach today's young people.

 

"It would be easy to throw up our hands in despair," says article author Nancy Trautmann, education director at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in Ithaca, New York. "The problems are just so big."

 

Trautmann and co-author Michael P. Gilmore at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, write that teachers need to get their students fired up about investigating environmental issues on their own, collecting and analyzing data, and participating in citizen science and conservation action. They believe that taking such direct actions will counteract feelings of hopelessness and lead students to question how their own lifestyles, goals, and assumptions may be harming the planet and how they can take corrective action.

 

"One way to accomplish this is by connecting deeply with people from drastically different cultures," says Trautmann, "especially those who live in more direct connection with the natural world through more sustainable lifestyles in places such as the Amazon rainforest." Trautmann and Gilmore are collaborating with other educators and the Maijuna indigenous group of the Peruvian Amazon to develop curriculum to engage students at the K-12 and college undergraduate levels in this type of work.

 

The authors conclude that education for sustainability must build on the creative tension between anguish and empowerment, capturing students' attention while inspiring a sense of responsibility to build a better tomorrow.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/05/180502152908.htm

To improve future relationship with your kids, turn up the music

May 1, 2018

Science Daily/University of Arizona

Children who grow up listening to music with their parents report having better quality relationships with their moms and dads when they reach young adulthood, researchers found.

 

If you're a parent whose teenagers spend family road trips with earbuds firmly in place, you may want to encourage them to unplug, then turn the car radio to something the whole family can enjoy.

 

It just might do wonders for your future relationship with your son or daughter, according to a new study from the University of Arizona.

 

Researchers found that young men and women who shared musical experiences with their parents during childhood -- and especially during adolescence -- report having better relationships with their moms and dads as they enter young adulthood.

 

"If you have little kids, and you play music with them, that helps you be closer to them, and later in life will make you closer to them," said study co-author Jake Harwood, professor and head of the UA Department of Communication. "If you have teenagers and you can successfully listen to music together or share musical experiences with them, that has an even stronger effect on your future relationship and the child's perception of the relationship in emerging adulthood."

 

Researchers surveyed a group of young adults, average age 21, about the frequency with which they engaged with their parents, as children, in activities such as listening to music together, attending concerts together or playing musical instruments together. Participants reported on their memories of experiences they had between ages 8 and 13 and age 14 and older.

 

They also shared how they perceive their relationship with their parents now.

 

While shared musical experiences at all age levels were associated with better perceptions of parent-child relationship quality in young adulthood, the effect was most pronounced for shared musical experiences that took place during adolescence.

 

"With young kids, musical activity is fairly common -- singing lullabies, doing nursery rhymes," Harwood said. "With teenagers, it's less common, and when things are less common you might find bigger effects, because when these things happen, they're super important."

 

The research, published in the Journal of Family Communication, started as an undergraduate project by Sandi Wallace, who was a student in Harwood's class in music and communication and is the lead author of the study.

 

"I was interested in seeing if music, with all of its power and influence on society today, could perhaps influence and positively affect the parent-child relationship," said Wallace, who earned her bachelor's degree in communication from the UA in December and will start the communication master's program in the fall.

 

For their study, Wallace and Harwood controlled for other ways children spent time with their parents growing up, and were able to determine that music seems to have a unique effect.

 

They say two factors may help explain the relationship between shared musical experiences and better relationship quality.

 

This first is coordination.

 

"Synchronization, or coordination, is something that happens when people play music together or listen to music together," Harwood said. "If you play music with your parent or listen to music with your parents, you might do synchronized activities like dancing or singing together, and data shows that that causes you to like one another more."

 

The other way music may strengthen relationship quality is through empathy, Wallace said.

 

"A lot of recent research has focused on how emotions can be evoked through music, and how that can perpetuate empathy and empathic responses toward your listening partner," she said.

 

Harwood and Wallace found evidence that both coordination and empathy play a role, although coordination appears to be more influential, based on study participants' responses to questions measuring their empathy for their parents as well as how in sync they feel with their parents when working to complete a task together.

 

Important for parents to note is that shared musical experiences with their children don't have to be complicated. In fact, simple activities such as listening to music in the car together may have an even greater impact than more formal musical experiences such as playing in a band together, according to the researchers' findings, although their study sample of participants who played musical instruments with their parents was limited.

 

Future research should look more closely at the differences between formal and informal musical experiences, and also consider how music may affect the quality of other types of relationships, including romantic partnerships, Wallace said.

 

For now, Wallace and Harwood urge parents to increase their musical interactions with their kids -- especially their teens -- and even empower them to control the radio dial every now and then.

 

"For people who are just becoming parents or have small children, they may be thinking long term about what they want their relationship with their kids to be," Wallace said. "It's not to say that this is going to be the prescription for a perfect relationship, but any parent wants to find ways to improve their relationship with their child and make sure that it's maintained long term, and this may be one way it can be done."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/05/180501193524.htm

EEG signals accurately predict autism as early as 3 months of age

Early diagnosis by 'digital biomarkers' may allow early intervention, better outcomes

May 1, 2018

Science Daily/Boston Children's Hospital

Autism is challenging to diagnose, especially early in life. A new study shows that inexpensive EEGs, which measure brain electrical activity, accurately predict or rule out autism spectrum disorder in infants, even in some as young as three months.

 

"EEGs are low-cost, non-invasive and relatively easy to incorporate into well-baby checkups," says Charles Nelson, PhD, director of the Laboratories of Cognitive Neuroscience at Boston Children's Hospital and co-author of the study. "Their reliability in predicting whether a child will develop autism raises the possibility of intervening very early, well before clear behavioral symptoms emerge. This could lead to better outcomes and perhaps even prevent some of the behaviors associated with ASD."

 

The study analyzed data from the Infant Sibling Project (now called the Infant Screening Project), a collaboration between Boston Children's Hospital and Boston University that seeks to map early development and identify infants at risk for developing ASD and/or language and communication difficulties.

 

William Bosl, PhD, associate professor of Health Informatics and Clinical Psychology at the University of San Francisco, also affiliated with the Computational Health Informatics Program (CHIP) at Boston Children's Hospital, has been working for close to a decade on algorithms to interpret EEG signals, the familiar squiggly lines generated by electrical activity in the brain. Bosl's research suggests that even an EEG that appears normal contains "deep" data that reflect brain function, connectivity patterns and structure that can be found only with computer algorithms.

 

The Infant Screening Project provided Bosl with EEG data from 99 infants considered at high risk for ASD (having an older sibling with the diagnosis) and 89 low-risk controls (without an affected sibling). The EEGs were taken at 3, 6, 9, 12, 18, 24 and 36 months of age by fitting a net over the babies' scalps with 128 sensors as the babies sat in their mothers' laps. (An experimenter blew bubbles to distract them.) All babies also underwent extensive behavioral evaluations with the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS), an established clinical diagnostic tool.

 

Bosl's computational algorithms analyzed six different components (frequencies) of the EEG (high gamma, gamma, beta, alpha, theta, delta), using a variety of measures of signal complexity. These measures can reflect differences in how the brain is wired and how it processes and integrates information, says Bosl.

 

The algorithms predicted a clinical diagnosis of ASD with high specificity, sensitivity and positive predictive value, exceeding 95 percent at some ages.

 

"The results were stunning," Bosl says. "Our predictive accuracy by 9 months of age was nearly 100 percent. We were also able to predict ASD severity, as indicated by the ADOS Calibrated Severity Score, with quite high reliability, also by 9 months of age."

 

Bosl believes that the early differences in signal complexity, drawing upon multiple aspects of brain activity, fit with the view that autism is a disorder that begins during the brain's early development but can take different trajectories. In other words, an early predisposition to autism may be influenced by other factors along the way.

 

"We believe that infants who have an older sibling with autism may carry a genetic liability for developing autism," says Nelson. "This increased risk, perhaps interacting with another genetic or environmental factor, leads some infants to develop autism -- although clearly not all, since we know that four of five "infant sibs" do not develop autism."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/05/180501085140.htm

Proximity to books and adult support enhance children's learning opportunities

April 30, 2018

Science Daily/New York University

An innovative book distribution program that provides free children's books in low-income neighborhoods, combined with supportive adults who encourage reading, can boost children's literacy and learning opportunities, finds a new study.

 

"Both physical and psychological proximity to books matter when it comes to children's early literacy skills," said Susan B. Neuman, professor of childhood and literacy education at NYU Steinhardt and the study's lead author. "Children need access to books in their neighborhoods, as well as adults who create an environment that inspires reading."

 

Reading aloud to children has been touted by experts as a key to developing skills early in life that translate to later academic success. In fact, a 2014 position statement by the American Academy of Pediatrics called for parents to read aloud to their infants starting from birth.

 

At the heart of these recommendations is the assumption that all children have the opportunity to learn from a selection of high quality, age-appropriate books. However, a recent NYU Steinhardt study of three major cities shows that access to books remains a significant barrier to reading with children; many poor neighborhoods were found to be "book deserts," or communities with limited to no access to children's books.

 

Other prior research shows that creating both physical and psychological proximity to books helps get them into the hands of children. For example, creating reading corners in classrooms that are accessible and attractive encourages children to engage with books. From a psychological perspective, people help shape the setting for a child's literacy development through, for instance, reading to children or engaging them in rich dialogue around books.

 

The current study, funded by JetBlue and published in the journal Urban Education, examines a community-wide effort to promote greater access to books through a book distribution program in neighborhoods identified as "book deserts." Four low-income neighborhoods -- three in Detroit and one in Washington, D.C. -- received with vending machines that dispensed free children's books over the summer months, a time when children traditionally have less access to books.

 

The vending machines held children's books, provided by Random House Children's Books, in slots arranged by age ranges. Similar to a snack machine, an individual could review the selections, press a button, and a book would be dispensed free of charge. Book titles were selected to reflect a variety of genres, including fiction and nonfiction, as well as multicultural themes and authors. Selections changed every two weeks to encourage people to return to the machine.

 

The study was designed to capture how, why, and in what ways these machines were used. Neuman and her coauthor, Jillian Knapczyk, used several measures to examine how greater access to books and adult support for book reading functioned within these communities.

 

The researchers studied the vending machine sites, the traffic patterns around them, and conducted brief interviews with individuals using the machines. They also assessed children's school readiness skills before the vending machines were installed and again at the end of the summer, and had parents complete questionnaires. They sought to determine the influence of adult support on children -- for instance, children who visited the vending machines with a teacher and independently visited with their parents or grandparents were identified as receiving high adult support.

 

The researchers found that providing greater access through close physical proximity to books and greater adult support for book reading enhanced children's opportunities to learn.

 

Throughout the summer, the vending machines were heavily used, distributing more than 64,000 books over the eight-week period -- 26,200 to unique, one-time users and 38,235 to return users. Often two or three books were selected in a single visit.

 

"Our study provides a vivid counterpoint to the view that low-income parents are less inclined and less interested in their children's early education. This study challenges that view and provides an alternative scenario, recognizing that providing access to resources -- reaching families where they are -- and encouraging adult support may be a key enabler toward enhancing parent engagement and children's early literacy development," Neuman said.

 

Children who had the highest adult support -- visiting a machine with both a parent and with a teacher from the childcare center -- seemed to thrive and slightly gain throughout the summer. They saw a boost in their school readiness skills, and were able to recognize more book titles (suggesting greater exposure to books) than other children with less adult support.

 

In analyzing traffic patterns, the researchers found that an average of 180 people passed by a vending machine over a two-hour period, suggesting that the machines were highly visible. Despite the sizable traffic flow, not all passersby took advantage of the machines: 60 percent used them, while 40 percent did not.

 

Interviews revealed that those who used the machines enjoyed reading, and appreciated the opportunity to have books more accessible in the community. Parents and grandparents were highly influential in encouraging children to select books. Those who didn't select a book most often cited a lack of interest in reading. In other words, the physical proximity of books did not convert non-readers into readers, and changes in the environment alone may not be enough to motivate those who do not enjoy reading.

 

"Our findings suggest that only having one side of the equation -- access to books or adult support -- is insufficient. Rather, both are necessary. Without access to books, one cannot read to children; without adult supports, children cannot be read to," said Neuman.

 

JetBlue's Soar with Reading program has donated nearly $3 million worth of books to children in need, including in the communities where this study was conducted.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/04/180430160455.htm

Brains of young people with severe behavioral problems are 'wired differently'

April 30, 2018

Science Daily/University of Bath

Research published today (Tuesday 1 May) has revealed new clues which might help explain why young people with the most severe forms of antisocial behaviour struggle to control and regulate their emotions, and might be more susceptible to developing anxiety or depression as a result.

 

The study, published in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, used neuroimaging methods to investigate young people with the condition 'Conduct Disorder' -- typified by symptoms that range from lying and truancy, through to physical violence and weapon use at its more extreme end.

 

Researchers from the universities of Bath (UK), Cambridge (UK) and the California Institute of Technology (USA) wanted to understand more about the wiring of the brain in adolescents with Conduct Disorder, and link connectivity to the severity of Conduct Disorder and 'psychopathic traits' -- the term used to define deficits in guilt, remorse and empathy.

 

Through functional MRI scans of young people with Conduct Disorder as well as typically-developing teens, the team analysed the amygdala -- a key part of the brain involved in understanding others' emotions -- and how it communicates with other parts of the brain.

 

Previous studies by the research team suggested that adolescents with Conduct Disorder find it difficult to recognise angry and sad facial expressions, and so the purpose of this experiment was to establish what goes wrong at a brain level that could explain this.

 

They found that youths with Conduct Disorder showed significantly lower amygdala responses to angry and sad faces. Patients with amygdala damage show a range of problems such as reading others' emotions and, given the similarities in behaviour between these patients and youths with Conduct Disorder, scientists had previously hypothesised that the amygdala might be damaged or dysfunctional in some way.

 

When the researchers analysed connectivity between the amygdala and the brain's prefrontal cortex -- the region responsible for decision making and behavioural inhibition -- they found surprising clues that could explain why certain groups of youths with Conduct Disorder find it difficult to control their emotions.

 

Contrary to previous thinking, youths with Conduct Disorder and high levels of psychopathic traits showed normal connectivity between the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex, whereas those with Conduct Disorder alone showed abnormal connectivity between these brain areas.

 

Dr Graeme Fairchild, from the Department of Psychology at the University of Bath, explained: "These results may explain why young people with Conduct Disorder, but without psychopathic traits, find it difficult to control their emotions -- especially strong negative emotions like anger.

 

The parts of the brain that are normally involved in regulating the emotional parts of the brain appear less able to do so in the youths with Conduct Disorder alone. Over time, this could lead to them developing comorbid mental health problems like depression or anxiety, whereas youths with psychopathic traits might be protected from developing such problems.

 

"This study shows that there may be important differences between youths with high and low levels of psychopathic traits in the way the brain is wired. The findings could have clinical implications, because they suggest that psychological treatments that enhance emotion regulation abilities are likely to be more effective in the youths with Conduct Disorder alone, than in the psychopathic subgroup."

 

As an under-researched and often misunderstood condition, the team now hope their findings can feed into more targeted interventions to better help young people with Conduct Disorder and their families. This could involve neurofeedback methods which train young people to control activity in specific parts of their brains using MRI.

 

They are currently running a large-scale European study -- investigating sex differences in antisocial behaviour to investigate whether boys and girls with Conduct Disorder show similar or different brain abnormalities relative to typically developing boys and girls.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/04/180430212356.htm

Youth tackle football participation linked to earlier onset of cognitive and emotional symptoms

April 30, 2018

Science Daily/Boston University School of Medicine

Starting to play tackle football before age 12 could lead to earlier onset of cognitive and emotional symptoms among athletes who were diagnosed with CTE and other brain diseases postmortem, according to a new study.

 

The findings, from researchers at VA Boston Healthcare System (VABHS) and Boston University (BU) School of Medicine, found that among 211 football players who were diagnosed with the neurodegenerative disease CTE after death, those who began tackle football before age 12 had an earlier onset of cognitive, behavior, and mood symptoms by an average of 13 years.

 

Every one year younger that the individuals began to play tackle football predicted earlier onset of cognitive problems by 2.4 years and behavioral and mood problems by 2.5 years. This study included 246 deceased football players who were part of the UNITE (Understanding Neurologic Injury and Traumatic Encephalopathy) study and who had donated their brains for neuropathological examination to the VA-BU-CLF (Concussion Legacy Foundation) Brain Bank. Of those 246, 211 were diagnosed with CTE (with several having evidence of additional brain diseases, such as Alzheimer's) and 35 had no evidence of CTE, though several had evidence of other neuropathology. Of the 211 with CTE, 76 were amateur football players and 135 played at the professional level.

 

"Youth exposure to repetitive head impacts in tackle football may reduce one's resiliency to brain diseases later in life, including, but not limited to CTE," said corresponding author Ann McKee, MD, chief of Neuropathology at Boston VA Healthcare System, and Director of BU's CTE Center. "It makes common sense that children, whose brains are rapidly developing, should not be hitting their heads hundreds of times per season."

 

It is noteworthy that, although age of first exposure to tackle football was associated with early onset of cognitive and emotional problems, it was not associated with worse overall severity of CTE pathology, Alzheimer's disease pathology or other pathology. In addition, earlier symptom onset was not restricted to those diagnosed with CTE. The relationship was similar for the former football players without CTE who had cognitive or behavioral and mood changes that may have been related to other diseases.

 

"Younger age of first exposure to tackle football appears to increase vulnerability to the effects of CTE and other brain diseases or conditions. That is, it influences when cognitive, behavioral, and mood symptoms begin. It is comparable to research showing that children exposed to neurotoxins (e.g., lead) during critical periods of neurodevelopment can have earlier onset and more severe long-term neurological effects. While participation in sports has important health and social benefits, it is important to consider contact and collision sports separately and balance those benefits against potential later life neurological risks," said Michael Alosco, PhD, an assistant professor of Neurology at BU School of Medicine and an investigator at the BU Alzheimer's Disease Center and the BU CTE Center.

 

The study extends research from the BU CTE Center that previously linked youth tackle football with worse later-life cognitive, emotional, and behavioral disturbances in living former amateur and professional tackle football players, as well as changes in brain structures (determined by MRI scans) in former NFL players.

 

Data were collected by conducting telephone interviews with family members and/or friends to determine the absence or presence, and age of onset, of cognitive, behavior and mood symptoms. The interviewers did not know the neuropathological findings and the neuropathologists did not know the individuals' histories.

 

Although this study supports the idea that there may be long-term consequences associated with experiencing repeated hits to the head during childhood, the researchers stress that it is unclear if their findings generalize to the broader tackle football population and that much more research, particularly prospective longitudinal studies, is needed to understand the association between youth football and long-term consequences. The findings appear online in the journal Annals of Neurology.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/04/180430131950.htm

Study explores link between curiosity and school achievement

Promoting curiosity may be a valuable approach to foster early academic achievement, particularly for children in poverty, a new analysis finds.

April 30, 2018

Science Daily/Michigan Medicine - University of Michigan

The more curious the child, the more likely he or she may be to perform better in school -- regardless of economic background -- suggests a study.

 

Researchers know that certain factors give children a leg up when it comes to school performance. Family income, access to early childhood programs and home environment rank high on the list.

 

Now, researchers are looking at another potentially advantageous element: curiosity.

 

The more curious the child, the more likely he or she may be to perform better in school -- regardless of economic background -- suggests a new study published in Pediatric Research.

 

Researchers at University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children's Hospital and the Center for Human Growth and Development analyzed data from 6,200 kindergartners from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Birth Cohort. The cohort is a nationally representative, population-based study sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education that has followed thousands of children since birth in 2001.

 

The U-M team measured curiosity based on a behavioral questionnaire from parents and assessed reading and math achievement among kindergartners.

 

The most surprising association offered new insight: Children with lower socioeconomic status generally have lower achievement than peers, but those who were characterized as curious performed similarly on math and reading assessments as children from higher income families.

 

"Our results suggest that while higher curiosity is associated with higher academic achievement in all children, the association of curiosity with academic achievement is greater in children with low socioeconomic status," says lead researcher Prachi Shah, M.D., a developmental and behavioral pediatrician at Mott and an assistant research scientist at U-M's Center for Human Growth and Development.

 

The findings present an opportunity for families, educators and policymakers.

 

"Curiosity is characterized by the joy of discovery and the desire for exploration and is characterized by the motivation to seek answers to the unknown," Shah says. "Promoting curiosity in children, especially those from environments of economic disadvantage may be an important, underrecognized way to address the achievement gap."

 

Cultivating curious kids

 

When it comes to nurturing curiosity, the quality of the early environment matters.

 

Children who grow up in financially secure conditions tend to have greater access to resources to encourage reading and math academic achievement, whereas those from poorer communities are more likely to be raised in less stimulating environments, Shah notes. In less-stimulating situations, the drive for academic achievement is related to a child's motivation to learn, or curiosity, she explains.

 

Parents of children enrolled in the longitudinal study were interviewed during home visits; the children were assessed when they were nine months and two years old, and again when they entered preschool and kindergarten. Reading levels, math skills and behavior were measured in these children when they reached kindergarten in 2006 and 2007.

 

U-M researchers factored in another important known contributor to academic achievement known as "effortful control," or the ability to stay focused in class. They found that even independent of those skills, children who were identified as curious fared well in math and reading.

 

"These findings suggest that even if a child manifests low effortful control, they can still have more optimal academic achievement, if they have high curiosity" Shah says. "Currently, most classroom interventions have focused on the cultivation of early effortful control and a child's self-regulatory capacities, but our results suggest that an alternate message, focused on the importance of curiosity, should also be considered."

 

Shah notes that fostering early academic achievement in young children has been a longstanding goal for pediatricians and policymakers, with a growing awareness of the role social-emotional skills in school readiness.

 

And while more study is needed, similar efforts to boost curiosity could one day follow.

 

"While our results suggest that the promotion of curiosity may be a valuable intervention target to foster early academic achievement, with particular advantage for children in poverty, further research is needed to help us better understand how to develop interventions to cultivate curiosity in young children.

 

"Promoting curiosity is a foundation for early learning that we should be emphasizing more when we look at academic achievement."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/04/180430075616.htm

More than 1 in 20 US children and teens have anxiety or depression

April 24, 2018

Science Daily/Wolters Kluwer Health

About 2.6 million American children and adolescents had diagnosed anxiety and/or depression in 2011-12, reports an analysis of nationwide data in the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics, the official journal of the Society for Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics. The journal is published by Wolters Kluwer.

 

The number of children with diagnosed anxiety -- but not depression -- has increased in recent years, according to the new report. The lead author was Rebecca H. Bitsko, PhD, of the National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

 

Study Shows High Rates and Impact of Anxiety and Depression in American Youth

 

The researchers analyzed data from the nationally representative National Survey of Children's Health for the years 2003, 2007, and 2011-12. In the most recent year, more than 65,000 parents were asked about problems with anxiety and/or depression (diagnosed by a doctor or other healthcare professional) in their children aged six to 17 years.

 

In the 2011-12 survey, 5.3 percent of children and teens had current anxiety or depression. The prevalence of current anxiety increased significantly between surveys: from 3.5 percent in 2007 to 4.1 percent in 2011-12. By comparison, the prevalence of current depression showed no significant change: 2.5 and 2.7 percent, respectively.

 

"These estimates correspond with approximately two million children aged six to 17 years in 2011-12 with current anxiety, 1.4 million children with current depression, 2.6 million with current anxiety or depression, and 760,000 children with both," Dr. Bitsko and coauthors write. The percentage of children who had ever been diagnosed with anxiety or depression increased from 5.4 percent in 2003 to 8.4 percent in 2011-12.

 

Children with anxiety and/or depression were more likely to have other diagnosed chronic health conditions as well, including neurobehavioral disorders and obesity. Even after adjustment for other health problems, the presence of anxiety or depression was associated with increased use of healthcare services, more problems at school, and higher levels of aggravation for parents.

 

"Despite significant healthcare needs, nearly 20 percent of children with anxiety or depression did not receive mental health treatment in the past year," Dr. Bitsko and coauthors write. Only about one-third of the children with anxiety or depression had a "medical home" -- that is, a usual source of healthcare with referrals and care coordination, if needed.

 

Based on repeated surveys of a nationwide sample of parents, the study provides new information on the burden of anxiety and depression among US children and adolescents. The reasons for the increase in parent-reported anxiety are unclear. This trend may reflect improved identification or increased use of mental health services, or an increase in the number of children experiencing anxiety symptoms, the authors suggest.

 

Based on repeated surveys in nationally representative samples, the study provides new insights into the prevalence and burden of anxiety and depression in children and teens. The researchers note that the national estimates are lower than data from community-based studies, "suggesting that child anxiety may be under-diagnosed."

 

"Children with anxiety and depression may have needs that go beyond diagnosis and mental health treatment," Dr. Bitsko comments, "Anxiety and depression are associated with school problems, parenting stress, and unmet medical needs. Parents, healthcare providers, and teachers can look for ways to support children with anxiety and depression in all areas of the child's life." The researchers emphasize the need for further research to identify factors associated with the increased prevalence of anxiety, and to evaluate how improved care coordination and other strategies can improve the health and well-being of children with anxiety and depression.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/04/180424184119.htm

Depressed, inactive and out of work -- study reveals lives of lonely young adults

April 24, 2018

Science Daily/King's College London

New research shows that lonely young adults are more likely to experience mental health problems and more likely to be out of work than their peers. The study gives a detailed snapshot of the lives of lonely 18-year-olds and shows how loneliness goes hand-in-hand with a wide range of problems in health and wellbeing.

 

Loneliness is strongly linked with premature death in old age, to a similar degree as smoking or obesity. With increasing attention on loneliness as a major public health issue, the study highlights the importance of early intervention to prevent young adults being trapped in loneliness as they age.

 

Over 2000 British 18-year-olds were asked questions such as 'how often do you feel you lack companionship?' and 'how often do you feel left out?', and were interviewed about their mental and physical health, lifestyle habits, education and employment.

 

Loneliness was common among young adults: the researchers found a quarter of study participants reported feeling lonely some of the time and approximately 7% reported feeling lonely often. These findings mirror a recent ONS survey which found that loneliness was more common among 16 to 24-year-olds than any other age group.

 

'It's often assumed that loneliness is an affliction of old age, but it is also very common among younger people,' said lead author Dr Timothy Matthews from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) at King's College London. 'Unlike many other risk factors, loneliness does not discriminate: it affects people from all walks of life; men and women, rich and poor.'

 

Lonely young adults were more than twice as likely to have mental health problems such as anxiety and depression, and to have self-harmed or attempted suicide. They were also more likely to have seen their GP or a counsellor for mental health problems in the past year.

 

In addition, lonelier young adults were more likely to be out of work and education and were less confident about their career prospects. One in five people in the loneliest 10% of the sample were not in education, employment or training, compared to one in ten non-lonely young people.

 

Lonelier young people were also less likely to be physically active, more likely to smoke, and more likely to use technology compulsively (at the expense of other activities and obligations).

 

Dr Matthews said: 'Our findings suggest that if someone tells their GP or a friend that they feel lonely, that could be a red flag that they're struggling in a range of other areas in life.

 

'There are lots of community initiatives to try and encourage people to get together and take part in shared activities. However, it's important to remember that some people can feel lonely in a crowd, and the most effective interventions to reduce loneliness involve counselling to help individuals tackle negative patterns of thinking.'

 

The study does not show whether loneliness is the cause of problems in health and wellbeing, but it does show how loneliness cuts across a wide range of important social issues.

 

Senior author Professor Louise Arseneault from the IoPPN said: 'It's important that we become comfortable talking about loneliness as a society. People are often reluctant to admit that they feel lonely, because there is still a stigma attached to it. That in itself can be profoundly isolating.'

 

The study participants were members of the Environmental Risk (E-Risk) Longitudinal Twin Study, funded by the Medical Research Council, which has followed 2,332 British children from birth and will continue to monitor the lives of lonely young people as they age.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/04/180424083911.htm

Biofeedback relaxation app may help kids during medical procedures

April 19, 2018

Science Daily/Wiley

A new study indicates that biofeedback-assisted relaxation may help manage pain and anxiety in children undergoing medical procedures.

 

BrightHearts is a biofeedback mediation relaxation app designed for mobile phones and tablet computers that responds to changes in heart rate and can be used to teach children biofeedback assisted relaxation.

 

In the study of 30 children aged 7 to 18 years undergoing a medical procedure (peripheral blood collection, botulinum toxin injections, or intravenous cannula insertion), BrightHearts was acceptable to patients, their parents, and their healthcare providers. The pilot study also demonstrated that the use of BrightHearts did not impede the administration of medical procedures and in some cases was perceived to facilitate the procedure. The majority of patients, parents and healthcare providers indicated that they would use BrightHearts again during a procedure.

 

"BrightHearts taps into children's interest in devices like smart phones and tablets," said co-author Dr. Angela Morrow, of The Children's Hospital at Westmead and the University of Sydney, in Australia. "Biofeedback is a modality that we hope will empower children and help them to manage their pain and anxiety without the need for medications."

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/04/180419100207.htm

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