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Early Brain Responses to Words Predict Developmental Outcomes in Children With Autism
May 29, 2013
The pattern of brain responses to words in 2-year-old children with autism spectrum disorder predicted the youngsters' linguistic, cognitive and adaptive skills at ages 4 and 6, according to a new study.
The findings, to be published May 29 in PLOS ONE, are among the first to demonstrate that a brain marker can predict future abilities in children with autism.
"We've shown that the brain's indicator of word learning in 2-year-olds already diagnosed with autism predicts their eventual skills on a broad set of cognitive and linguistic abilities and adaptive behaviors," said lead author Patricia Kuhl, co-director of the University of Washington's Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences.
"This is true four years after the initial test, and regardless of the type of autism treatment the children received," she said.
In the study, 2-year-olds -- 24 with autism and 20 without -- listened to a mix of familiar and unfamiliar words while wearing an elastic cap that held sensors in place. The sensors measured brain responses to hearing words, known as event-related potentials.
The research team then divided the children with autism into two groups based on the severity of their social impairments and took a closer look at the brain responses. Youngsters with less severe symptoms had brain responses that were similar to the typically developing children, in that both groups exhibited a strong response to known words in a language area located in the temporal parietal region on the left side of the brain.
This suggests that the brains of children with less severe symptoms can process words in ways that are similar to children without the disorder.
In contrast, children with more severe social impairments showed brain responses more broadly over the right hemisphere, which is not seen in typically developing children of any age.
"We think this measure signals that the 2-year-old's brain has reorganized itself to process words. This reorganization depends on the child's ability to learn from social experiences," Kuhl said. She cautioned that identifying a neural marker that predicts future autism diagnoses with assurance is still a ways off.
The researchers also tested the children's language skills, cognitive abilities, and social and emotional development, beginning at age 2, then again at ages 4 and 6.
The children with autism received intensive treatment and, as a group, they improved on the behavioral tests over time. But the outcome for individual children varied widely and the more their brain responses to words at age 2 were like those of typically developing children, the more improvement in skills they showed by age 6.
In other studies, Kuhl has found that social interactions accelerate language learning in babies. Infants use social cues, such as tracking adults' eye movements to learn the names of things, and must be interested in people to learn in this way. Paying attention to people is a way for babies to sort through all that is happening around them and serves as a gate to know what is important.
But with autism, social impairments impede children's interest in, and ability to pick up on, social cues. They find themselves paying attention to many other things, especially objects as opposed to people.
"Social learning is what most humans are about," Kuhl said. "If your brain can learn from other people in a social context you have the capability to learn just about anything."
She hopes that the new findings will lead to brain measures that can be used much earlier in development -- at 12 months or younger -- to help identify children at risk for autism.
"This line of work may lead to new interventions applied early in development, when the brain shows its highest level of neural plasticity," Kuhl said.
Coauthors are Jeffrey Munson and Annette Estes, both at UW; Sharon Coffey-Corina, University of California, Davis; and Geraldine Dawson, Autism Speaks and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The research was funded by a grant from the National Institutes of Health.
University of Washington. "Early brain responses to words predict developmental outcomes in children with autism." ScienceDaily, 29 May 2013. Web. 4 Jun. 2013.
Most people believe the chef who invented vichyssoise was French, working in America; his name was Louis Diat, working at the Ritz-Carlton in NYC. He based the recipe on his mother's leek and potato soup, which is an old French classic hot winter soup. His innovation is trying it as a cold summer soup. So, those who have (sensibly) tasted it hot and found how good it is, are just discovering a classic French soup. And yes, it can be bland, which is why the French often use herbs when making it.
1 tablespoon butter
3 leeks, bulb only, sliced into rings
1 onion, sliced
5 potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 teaspoon fresh or dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram
1 bay leaf
5 cups chicken or vegetable broth (gluten free)
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
||In a large stock pot melt butter over low heat. Add leeks (wash well to remove any sand) and onion, cover, and cook for 10 minutes.
||Add potatoes and season with salt and pepper. Add thyme, marjoram, bay leaf and stir well. Cover pot and continue to cook for 12 minutes.
||Add chicken or vegetable stock and bring to a boil, reduce heat and cook, partially covered for 30 minutes.
||Remove bay leaf. Puree soup in blender or food processor and cool.
||Prior to serving add cream.
Healthy Lifestyle Choices Mean Fewer Memory Complaints
May 30, 2013
Research has shown that healthy behaviors are associated with a lower risk of Alzheimer's disease and dementia, but less is known about the potential link between positive lifestyle choices and milder memory complaints, especially those that occur earlier in life and could be the first indicators of later problems.
To examine the impact of these lifestyle choices on memory throughout adult life, UCLA researchers and the Gallup organization collaborated on a nationwide poll of more than 18,500 individuals between the ages of 18 and 99. Respondents were surveyed about both their memory and their health behaviors, including whether they smoked, how much they exercised and how healthy their diet was.
As the researchers expected, healthy eating, not smoking and exercising regularly were related to better self-perceived memory abilities for most adult groups. Reports of memory problems also increased with age. However, there were a few surprises.
Older adults (age 60-99) were more likely to report engaging in healthy behaviors than middle-aged (40-59) and younger adults (18-39), a finding that runs counter to the stereotype that aging is a time of dependence and decline. In addition, a higher-than-expected percentage of younger adults complained about their memory.
"These findings reinforce the importance of educating young and middle-aged individuals to take greater responsibility for their health -- including memory -- by practicing positive lifestyle behaviors earlier in life," said the study's first author, Dr. Gary Small, director of the UCLA Longevity Center and a professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA who holds the Parlow-Solomon Chair on Aging.
Published in the June issue of International Psychogeriatrics, the study may also provide a baseline for the future study of memory complaints in a wide range of adult age groups.
For the survey, Gallup pollsters conducted land-line and cell phone interviews with 18,552 adults in the U.S. The inclusion of cell phone-only households and Spanish-language interviews helped capture a representative 90 percent of the U.S. population, the researchers said.
"We found that the more healthy lifestyle behaviors were practiced, the less likely one was to complain about memory issues," said senior author Fernando Torres-Gil, a professor at UCLA's Luskin School of Public Affairs and associate director of the UCLA Longevity Center.
In particular, the study found that respondents across all age groups who engaged in just one healthy behavior were 21 percent less likely to report memory problems than those who didn't engage in any healthy behaviors. Those with two positive behaviors were 45 percent less likely to report problems, those with three were 75 percent less likely, and those with more than three were 111 percent less likely.
Interestingly, the poll found that healthy behaviors were more common among older adults than the other two age groups. Seventy percent of older adults engaged in at least one healthy behavior, compared with 61 percent of middle-aged individuals and 58 percent of younger respondents.
In addition, only 12 percent of older adults smoked, compared with 25 percent of young adults and 24 percent of middle-aged adults, and a higher percentage of older adults reported eating healthy the day before being interviewed (80 percent) and eating five or more daily servings of fruits and vegetables during the previous week (64 percent).
According to the researchers, older adults may participate in more healthy behaviors because they feel the consequences of unhealthy living and take the advice of their doctors to adopt healthier lifestyles. Or there simply could be fewer older adults with bad habits, since they may not live as long.
While 26 percent of older adults and 22 percent of middle-aged respondents reported memory issues, it was surprising to find that 14 percent of the younger group complained about their memory too, the researchers said.
"Memory issues were to be expected in the middle-aged and older groups, but not in younger people," Small said. "A better understanding and recognition of mild memory symptoms earlier in life may have the potential to help all ages."
Small said that, generally, memory issues in younger people may be different from those that plague older generations. Stress may play more of a role. He also noted that the ubiquity of technology -- including the Internet, texting and wireless devices that can result in constant multi-tasking, especially with younger people -- may impact attention span, making it harder to focus and remember.
Small noted that further study and polling may help tease out such memory-complaint differences. Either way, he said, the survey reinforces the importance, for all ages, of adopting a healthy lifestyle to help limit and forestall age-related cognitive decline and neurodegeneration.
The Gallup poll used in the study took place between December 2011 and January 2012 and was part of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, which includes health- and lifestyle-related polling questions. The five questions asked were:
(1) Do you smoke?
(2) Did you eat healthy all day yesterday?
(3) In the last seven days, on how many days did you have five or more servings of vegetables and fruits?
(4) In the last seven days, on how many days did you exercise for 30 minutes or more?
(5) Do you have any problems with your memory?
University of California - Los Angeles. "Healthy lifestyle choices mean fewer memory complaints." ScienceDaily, 30 May 2013. Web. 4 Jun. 2013.
Neuroscientists Explain How the Sensation of Brain Freeze Works
May 22, 2013
Brain freeze is practically a rite of summer. It happens when you eat ice cream or gulp something ice cold too quickly. The scientific term is sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia, but that's a mouthful. Brain freeze is your body's way of putting on the brakes, telling you to slow down and take it easy. Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center neuroscientist Dwayne Godwin, Ph.D., explains how it works.
"Brain freeze is really a type of headache that is rapid in onset, but rapidly resolved as well," he said. "Our mouths are highly vascularized, including the tongue -- that's why we take our temperatures there. But drinking a cold beverage fast doesn't give the mouth time to absorb the cold very well."
Here's how it happens: When you slurp a really cold drink or eat ice cream too fast you are rapidly changing the temperature in the back of the throat at the juncture of the internal carotoid artery, which feeds blood to the brain, and the anterior cerebral artery, which is where brain tissue starts.
"One thing the brain doesn't like is for things to change, and brain freeze is a mechanism to prevent you from doing that," Godwin said.
The brain can't actually feel pain despite its billions of neurons, Godwin said, but the pain associated with brain freeze is sensed by receptors in the outer covering of the brain called the meninges, where the two arteries meet. When the cold hits, it causes a dilation and contraction of these arteries and that's the sensation that the brain is interpreting as pain.
Analyzing brain freeze may seem like silly science to some, but "it's helpful in understanding other types of headaches," Godwin said.
"We can't easily give people migraines or a cluster headache, but we can easily induce brain freeze without any long-term problems," he said. "We can learn something about headache mechanisms and extend that to our understanding to develop better treatments for patients."
Is there a cure for brain freeze? Yes -- stop drinking the icy cold beverage. You can also jam your tongue up to the roof of your mouth because it's warm or drink something tepid to normalize the temperature in your mouth.
Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. "Neuroscientists explain how the sensation of brain freeze works." ScienceDaily, 22 May 2013. Web. 4 Jun. 2013.
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Sensory Learning Program
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