Thursday, 19 July 2018
Tuesday, 10 July 2018
Trying to suppress worries during a health scare, like the recent Zika outbreak, may lead to an ever-intensifying cycle of emotional suppression and fear, according to a team of researchers.
In a study of pregnant women in areas of the United States vulnerable to the Zika virus, the researchers found that women who tried to suppress their fears reported higher levels of fear later, which, in turn, prompted more emotional suppression. Pregnant women were particularly concerned about Zika because media sources at the time reported that the virus, spread mainly by mosquitoes, could cause birth defects, including brain damage.
"It turns out that not only is suppression ineffective at handling fear, but it's counter-productive," said James Dillard, Distinguished Professor of Communication Arts and Sciences. "It creates a cycle of fear -- and it's a vicious cycle."
According to the researchers, suppression -- actively trying to tamp down fear -- is one strategy people use to manage their fears. Among other strategies, people may also try to avoid bad news, reappraise the situation, or contest the information with counter-arguments. While the researchers found that none of these strategies helped to manage fear during the Zika scare, suppression was the only strategy that they studied that actually increased the fear, said Dillard.
Ironically, the researchers -- who report their findings in the current issue of PLOS ONE -- suggested that, based on risk, the health problems associated with stress and anxiety caused by a health scare -- in this case, Zika -- may be as consequential as the actual disease. For example, while the pregnant women may have feared that Zika threatened the health of their unborn babies, previous studies of pregnant women during the 9/11 attacks showed that fear and stress reduced infant birth weights.
"When people become frightened there are some good things that can happen -- they search out information, they get politically engaged, they might engage in self-protective behavior -- but when people get really scared, it's harmful for them," said Dillard. "Stress hormones pour out and staying in that hyper-vigilant state -- fear -- is also resource intensive."
Dillard said that because people at risk will search on the web for information, public health officials should try to stay one step ahead of the outbreak and provide quality information about growing health crises.
He added that health officials may also want to inform the public about the stress and fear that may accompany disease outbreaks and other health concerns to help them manage their emotional response to the news.
"The other thing we can do that hasn't been done is we can warn people that they may become frightened to inoculate them against that emotional response," said Dillard, who also worked with Chun Yang and Ruobing Li, both former doctoral students in mass communications, Penn State. Yang and Li are currently assistant professors of communication at Louisiana State University.
While the study focused on fear of an epidemic, Dillard said the findings may also apply to other concerns, such as environmental and natural disasters.
The researchers recruited 1002 women between the ages of 18 and 35 who lived in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, all states that were thought to be in range of mosquitoes that could carry the disease, with 912 participants providing usable data. To calculate emotional responses and levels of fear over time, the researchers collected data in two waves. The first collection occurred between Feb. 10 and Feb. 20, 2016, nine days after the World Health Organization declared Zika an international health emergency. The second collection occurred between March 1 and March 15, 2016.
The researchers asked the participants to fill out a survey to assess their fear and their use of emotional regulation strategies, which included avoidance, reappraisal, contesting and suppression.
Future research could be aimed at identifying effective emotion regulation strategies to help people better cope with health scares and other concerns, according to the researchers.
Source : Science Daily
Monday, 9 July 2018
Agoraphobia refers to a fear of any place where escape may be difficult, including large open spaces or crowds, as well as various means of travel.
- Fear or anxiety about:
- being outside of the home alone
- using public transportation
- being in enclosed places (stores, movie theaters)
- standing in line or being in a crowd
- being in open spaces (markets, parking lots)
- being in places where escape might be difficult
- Active avoidance of all situations that provoke fear and anxiety
- Becoming housebound for prolonged periods
- Feelings of detachment or estrangement from others
- Feelings of helplessness
- Dependence upon others
- Anxiety or panic attack (acute severe anxiety)
The etiology of most anxiety disorders, although not fully understood, has come into sharper focus in the last decade. In broad terms, the likelihood of developing anxiety involves a combination of life experiences, psychological traits, and/or genetic factors. Heritability for agoraphobia is reported to be 61 percent, making it the phobia most strongly linked to the genetic factor that represents predisposition to phobias. Some of the environmental factors that are known to be associated with the development of agoraphobia are experiencing stressful events (the death of a parent, being attacked or mugged) and being raised in a household characterized by little warmth and high levels of over protection.
The goal of treatment is to help the agoraphobic person function effectively. The success of treatment usually depends upon the severity of the phobia. Systematic desensitization, also called “exposure therapy,” is a behavioral technique used to treat phobias. It is based on having the person relax, then imagine the components of the phobia, working from the least fearful to the most fearful. Graded real-life exposure has also been used with success to help people overcome their fears. This technique involves exposure to real aversive situations, progressing from less to more extreme situations. For example, a person might be in contact with a few people before they progressively spend time with large groups of people in order to overcome a fear of crowds. The individual will work with a therapist to develop coping strategies such as relaxation and breathing techniques. While “in-vivo” or real-life exposure is ideal, imagined exposure is an acceptable alternative in desensitization exercises. Treating agoraphobia with exposure therapy reduces anxiety and improves morale and quality of life within 75 percent of cases.
Other types of therapy, such as cognitive therapy, assertiveness training, biofeedback, hypnosis, meditation, relaxation, or couples therapy were found to be helpful for some patients. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a combination of cognitive therapy, which can modify or eliminate thought patterns contributing to the patient’s symptoms, and behavioral therapy, which aims to help the patient change his or her behavior.
Source : Psychology Today
Wednesday, 4 July 2018
Dementia is a major public health problem that affects tens of millions of people worldwide. One focus of dementia research has been the hippocampus, a brain structure important for both short- and long-term memory storage. Alzheimer's disease, the most common type of dementia, is associated with atrophy of the hippocampus.
Researchers have hypothesized that abnormal buildups of calcium, or calcifications, in the hippocampus may be related to vascular problems that could contribute to hippocampal atrophy and subsequent cognitive deterioration. However, published research on the association between hippocampal calcification and cognitive impairment is limited.
"We know that calcifications in the hippocampus are common, especially with increasing age," said the study's lead author, Esther J.M. de Brouwer, M.D., a geriatrician at the University Medical Center in Utrecht, the Netherlands. "However, we did not know if calcifications in the hippocampus related to cognitive function."
Advances in imaging have provided opportunities to explore the role of hippocampal calcifications in dementia. The development of multiplanar brain CT scans has enabled better distinction between hippocampal calcifications and calcifications in nearby brain structures like the choroid plexus.
"A multiplanar CT scan makes it possible to see the hippocampus in different anatomical planes; for example, from top to bottom, right to left and front to back," Dr. de Brouwer said. "Before multiplanar CT scans, hippocampal calcifications were often mistaken for choroid plexus calcifications. So with multiplanar CT scans, hippocampal calcifications are better distinguished from calcifications in other areas."
Dr. de Brouwer and colleagues studied the association between vascular risk factors like high blood pressure, diabetes and smoking, and hippocampal calcifications. They also assessed the effects of calcifications on cognitive function.
The study group included 1,991 patients, average age 78 years, who had visited a memory clinic at a Dutch hospital between 2009 and 2015. The patients had a standard diagnostic workup including cognitive tests and brain CT scans. The researchers analyzed the CT scans for the presence and severity of hippocampal calcifications.
Of the 1,991 patients, 380, or 19.1 percent, had hippocampal calcifications. Older age, diabetes and smoking were associated with an increased risk of hippocampal calcifications on CT scans.
While the study was not designed to conclusively determine if smoking and diabetes increase the risk of hippocampal calcifications, the results strongly suggest a link.
"We do think that smoking and diabetes are risk factors," Dr. de Brouwer said. "In a recent histopathology study, hippocampal calcifications were found to be a manifestation of vascular disease. It is well known that smoking and diabetes are risk factors for cardiovascular disease. It is, therefore, likely that smoking and diabetes are risk factors for hippocampal calcifications."
There was no link between the presence and severity of hippocampal calcifications and cognitive function; a surprising finding, according to Dr. de Brouwer, with several possible explanations.
"The hippocampus is made up of different layers, and it is possible that the calcifications did not damage the hippocampal structure that is important for memory storage," she said. "Another explanation could be the selection of our study participants, who all came from a memory clinic."
The researchers plan to carry out additional studies in different groups of people to better understand possible links between these calcification and cognitive problems.
Source: Science Daily