Posts by Libby Znaimer


Light Therapy for Depression

Light Therapy for Depression

Jan Brehm lives in rainy Portland, Ore., and she has always dreaded this time of year, when the days get shorter, her mood plummets and all she wants to do is crawl into bed and eat cookie dough. She and her husband were considering moving to Arizona or Colorado — anywhere with more sunlight — until last year, when she purchased her first artificial light box. She keeps it on her desk, and every morning, before she starts her workday, she turns it on and basks in the bright artificial light for about 30 to 45 minutes while catching up on her reading. The boxes come in different sizes; Ms. Brehm’s is about 15 inches high and 12 inches wide, and she keeps it a foot or more from her face. “I still say to myself, ‘It’s a dark crummy day,’ when the clouds roll in,” Ms. Brehm, a 57-year-old actress and entrepreneur, said. “The difference is, I don’t feel like going back to bed.” For the millions of Americans who suffer from mild to severe winter blues — a condition called seasonal affective disorder, or S.A.D. — bright-light therapy is the treatment of choice, with response rates comparable with those of antidepressants. “Your natural clock is usually longer than 24 hours, and you need light in the morning to set it and keep it on track,” said Dr. Alfred Lewy, a professor of psychiatry at Oregon Health and Science University and an expert on seasonal depression and light therapy. Yet many experts think light therapy is underused, given its affordability and relative lack of side effects, in large...
The new Higher Fat DASH Diet

The new Higher Fat DASH Diet

Over the years, I’ve talked about the highly recommended heart-healthy DASH diet on several occasions. It stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, and the original DASH, was high in fruits and vegetables, and also recommended low fat dairy food. But the diet designers have had a re-think on the issue of fat. Researchers ran a clinical trial to see what would happen if they substituted full fat dairy products for the low-fat ones and reduced carbohydrates – mostly by cutting down on fruit juices and other sugars. Their findings, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that a higher fat DASH diet lowered blood pressure to the same extent as the original, and also reduced triglycerides but did not significantly raise LDL or (“bad” cholesterol). The bottom line – the researchers say, the modified HF-DASH diet presents an effective alternative to the old DASH diet, with less stringent dietary fat constraints.And that means more people may be able to stick to...
Super Agers

Super Agers

Most of us probably know at least a few of those uber-Zoomers. Older people you can describe as “sharp as a tack” at the age of 80, 90 and beyond. Well, now researchers have found they have certain brain characteristics that differ from their peers who show more typical age-related memory loss. Scientists from Northwestern University’s Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease Center identified 12 people aged 80 and older who did as well or better on memory tests as people who were 20 to 30 years younger. They dubbed them “SuperAgers.” MRI scans showed that the cortex of SuperAgers was thicker than a comparison group of people aged 80 and older. The cortex is the outer layer of the brain involved in memory, attention and other thinking abilities. Brain scans also showed that people in their 80s and 90s who exhibited more typical memory declines had a thinner cortex. At the same time, SuperAgers also had a larger cingulate cortex, another brain region also involved in attention and memory, than even the middle-aged participants. Researchers still have to figure out the chicken or egg question: does retaining brain volume protecs thinking abilities, or does maintaining thinking abilities protects brain volume. The study is published in the current issue of the Journal of the International Neuropsychological...
How to Become a Superager

How to Become a Superager

A psychology professor who recently did a study on so-called superagers has some advice on how to become a member of that elite group. Lisa Feldman-Barrett’s Op-Ed piece in the New York Times is titled ‘How to Become a Superager’ – one of those people whose memory and attention is way above average for their age, even on par with those who are decades younger. Her suggestion is to work hard at something. Feldman Barrett’s lab used MRI’s to scan and compare the brains of 17 superagers with those of other people the same age. That work confirmed that critical brain regions were thicker in the superagers. Meanwhile, she and other scientists have observed that those brain regions increase in activity and thickness when people perform difficult tasks, whether the effort is physical or mental. Her conclusion is that we can help keep these areas thick and healthy through vigorous use. But it has to be enough to cause some discomfort, like exercise when you are building muscle. The problem is other research suggests that as people get older they tend to pursue happiness by avoiding unpleasant situations. And avoiding the discomfort of mental effort or physical exertion,can result in thinner brain tissue. The bottom line, amusing puzzles like Sudoku and brain games are not enough to provide the benefits of superaging. Lisa Feldman-Barrett wants us to embrace tougher challenges like learning a new language or mastering a musical...
Disability after Emergency

Disability after Emergency

It is a dangerous time for older Zoomers and researchers want to do something about it. A study out of Yale University finds that seniors treated in an emergency room for illness or injury are more likely to become disabled and less physically agile over the next six months. It is well-known that if older persons go to the hospital and are admitted, they are at increased risk of disability and functional decline. But this work shows that patients who were deemed well enough to be released from Emergency to return home, are also at risk for functional decline. The researchers tracked more than 700 people 65 and older over 14 years, including some who’d been treated in the emergency room and some who hadn’t. Those who’d been discharged from the emergency room were more likely to be disabled, to be living in a nursing home or to have died over the next six months compared to those who didn’t go to the ER. Bottom line, emergency rooms could do more to determine the disability risks facing these patients and help...
Liquor Colour and Hangover

Liquor Colour and Hangover

Here’s a tip from scientists on how to avoid a holiday hangover. It may come down to the colour of your preferred tipple. A study out of Brown University found that bourbon gave drinkers a more severe hangover than vodka. They suffered more headaches, nausea, loss of appetite and thirst. One reason could be that bourbon contains 37 times more toxic compounds than vodka does, including nasty organic molecules such as acetone, acetaldehyde, tannins and furfural. Researchers say a good rule of thumb for liquors, is that the clearer they are, the less of these substances they contain. But vodka drinkers aren’t off the hook: Drinkers’ sleep suffered equally with both drinks, as did their performance the morning after on tasks requiring attention and quick...