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Health News: Writers cramp, heart music and suicide

April 18, 2009

Weekend National Health News Focus:

1. Brain Scans Reveal Secrets of ‘Writer’s Cramp’
2. Soothing Songs Please the Heart
3. Family Ties May Help Prevent Teen Suicide


Family Ties May Help Prevent Teen Suicide

THURSDAY, April 16 (HealthDay News) — Adolescents typically consider their friends their most important relationships.

But new research shows its support from mom and dad, not friends, that helps prevent suicidal behavior in teens who’ve experienced depression or have attempted suicide in the past.

Depression during high school and a previous suicide attempt were significant predictors of thinking about suicide one or two years later, according to a study that was to be presented Thursday at the annual meeting of the American Association of Suicidology, in San Francisco.

Young people who were depressed or had attempted suicide in high school were less likely to have suicidal thoughts if they had strong family support and bonds. Having a girlfriend or boyfriend also helped.

“Our findings suggest that the protective quality of family support and bonding, or having an intimate partner, are not replaced by peer support and bonding in emerging adulthood,” said James Mazza, a University of Washington professor of educational psychology.

Bonding refers to a young adult’s closeness with family or a romantic partner and the ability to talk with them about important issues.

“Peers don’t provide the same type of safety net that comes from a family or by having an intimate partner,” Mazza said. “When it comes to suicidal behavior, young adults may feel that their family or partner may be more accepting and less judgmental than perhaps some of their peers.”

Data for the research was drawn from a larger National Institute of Drug Abuse 15-year study of youth in a Seattle-area school district that looked at risk factors for marijuana and cigarette use, binge drinking, depression and past suicidal behavior.

Even if teens act as if they don’t need their parents’ help, research suggests they do.

“Parents shouldn’t give up on their adolescents, because our work indicates they still rely on them in this kind of situation,” Mazza said.

Mental Health America has more on teen suicide.

— Jennifer Thomas,SOURCE: University of Washington, news release, April 13, 2009

Soothing Songs Please the Heart

WEDNESDAY, April 15 (HealthDay News) — If you have heart problems, you might want to plug in that iPod or pop in a CD of mellow songs.

Hospital patients with coronary heart disease reduced their heart rates, breathing rate and blood pressure just by listening to music, a Temple University review of 23 previous studies found.

The report, published in the latest issue of The Cochrane Library, found that the soothing effects were greatest when these patients chose their own tunes. For example, patients’ pulse rates fell by more beats per minute when they made the selections compared with those who listened to music selected by researchers.

“So we do know from clinical experience that if people select music they like, and the music has sedative qualities such as slow tempo, predictable harmonies and absence of sudden changes, they will be better able to relax to the music,” researcher Joke Bradt, assistant director of the Arts and Quality of Life Research Center at Temple University, said in a news release issued by the college.

The review looked at past studies on how music affected 1,461 patients with coronary heart disease, either during a cardiac procedure or within two days of hospitalization. In all the studies, the music used had slow tempos, but in some cases, a music therapist was employed to help with the song selections.

Dr. Robert Bonow, a past president of the American Heart Association, challenged the findings. While agreeing that alleviating stress is important for heart patients, he said the new review shows “no conclusive evidence that this relaxation therapy actually reduces the stress, let alone reducing the outcome of the stress.”

“Exercise is beneficial because it reduces stress, but it also lowers blood pressure,” Bonow, chief of cardiology at Northwestern University, said in the same news release.

The American Music Therapy Association Inc. has more about music therapy.

— Kevin McKeever, SOURCE: Temple University, news release, April 14, 2009

———————-

Brain Scans Reveal Secrets of ‘Writer’s Cramp’

WEDNESDAY, April 15 (HealthDay News) — A team of French researchers has linked abnormalities in certain neural pathways of the brain to the debilitating muscle disorder known as “writer’s cramp.”

The finding could lead to a better understanding of the neurological basis for the resulting loss of muscle control and coordination that characterizes this difficult-to-diagnose disorder — also known as “hand dystonia.” The condition can render a patient unable to write or even maintain a functional grip when trying to perform a simple task.

“These results demonstrate the presence of abnormalities in [brain] fiber tracts,” that are located in areas known to be involved with writer’s cramp, said study author Dr. Stephane Lehericy, director of the Center for NeuroImaging Research at Pitie-Salpetriere Hospital in Paris.

Lehericy explained that although prior research had already linked writer’s cramp to problematic alterations in the gray matter in certain brain regions, the current investigation identified problems with the white matter of certain nerve pathways in brain areas that are responsible for generating motor commands.

Such white matter, explained Lehericy, “contains fiber bundles that convey information from one brain region to another, as well as to the spinal cord.”

Lehericy and his team reported the findings in the April issue of the Archives of Neurology.

To explore linkages between the disorder and the brain, the French team conducted high-tech diffusion-tenor magnetic resonance imaging (DTI) to scan for brain abnormalities among 26 right-handed writer’s cramp patients and 26 right-handed healthy participants.

Among the writers cramp patients, the scans uncovered structural abnormalities in the white matter from the primary sensorimotor cortex region of the brain to below-cortex regions such as the thalamus. The observed abnormalities were not present among the healthy participants.

Such connections, the researchers noted, are typically key to the proper transference of motor coordination instructions from the brain to the spine, brain guidance that ultimately enables proper limb movement.

Dr. Daniel Labovitz, director of the division of cerebral vascular disease at New York University’s Langone Medical Center, said the French researchers used “a very interesting technique to look at a very interesting problem.”

“This is a solid piece of work,” he said, “and a fascinating area of research that touches on issues that go far beyond writer’s cramp alone and has to do with a whole range of activity-related difficulties that clearly have to do with a problem with the brain.”

“So this study builds on the little knowledge we have on an exceedingly rare and unusual issue for which we have virtually no treatment,” Labovitz added. “No, this finding doesn’t tell us what the brain changes mean exactly. But it does add incrementally and importantly to our understanding of the neurology underlying the problem.”

For more on writer’s cramp, head to the Dystonia Medical Research Foundation.

  
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