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An acceleration of cognitive decline?

26 Jun

Here a disturbing finding published in the most recent issue of the journal Intelligence, I have underlined the key sentence :

The cohort process of cognitive aging is a contested topic in population research. The literature is largely in disagreement over how and why inter-cohort trends in cognitive aging occur in the United States. This paper examines significant trends in the rate of cognitive decline and conceptualizes the role of the depression trajectory as a late life course process that accelerates cognitive aging at the individual and population level. To this end, I draw my study sample from the Health and Retirement Study (N = 24,678) and use aging-vector models as an extension of parallel-process latent growth modeling to analyze repeated measures of cognition and depression. Findings show the acceleration of cognitive decline (“negative” Flynn Effect) and worsening of depression risk for recent cohorts. The upward trends in depression account for significant acceleration in cognitive decline among later cohorts, thus providing a new insight into sociogenic population dynamics of cognitive aging.

From the body of the paper:

Taken together, the findings of the study strongly support the “negative” Flynn Effect on cognitive aging (Alwin, 2008). That is, later cohorts not only perform cognitive tasks more poorly, but also experience a faster rate of cognitive decline. As a result, considerable intercohort gaps occur particularly in old age. Further, the present study shows that the acceleration of cognitive decline is largely driven by depression symptomatology that concurrently evolves in late life, rather than by differences in cognitive reserves during adulthood (e.g., socioeconomic environments). Thus, the negative Flynn Effect is not necessarily paradoxical with regard to a continuous increase in educational attainment, which does not significantly predict the rate of cognitive decline. In contrast, depression risk in later life have significant impacts on cognitive decline at the individual and population levels. The results show that individuals develop an average of 1 to 2 additional depression symptoms in late life. Because later cohorts, particularly Non-Hispanic Blacks and Hispanics, are at higher risk of developing depression symptoms, their exposure to cognitive risk factors should be of public health concern.

Seasonal Affective Disorder may not exist

14 Oct

A surprising finding published in the most recent issue of Clinical Psychological Science:

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is based on the theory that some depressions occur seasonally in response to reduced sunlight. SAD has attracted cultural and research attention for more than 30 years and influenced the DSM through inclusion of the seasonal variation modifier for the major depression diagnosis. This study was designed to determine if a seasonally related pattern of occurrence of major depression could be demonstrated in a population-based study. A cross-sectional U.S. survey of adults completed the Patient Health Questionnaire–8 Depression Scale. Regression models were used to determine if depression was related to measures of sunlight exposure. Depression was unrelated to latitude, season, or sunlight. Results do not support the validity of a seasonal modifier in major depression. The idea of seasonal depression may be strongly rooted in folk psychology, but it is not supported by objective data. Consideration should be given to discontinuing seasonal variation as a diagnostic modifier of major depression.

Here’s one passage from this very interesting paper:

There have been other reports that support this finding and cast doubt on sunlight exposure as a causal factor in depression. Hansen et  al. (2008) reported no increase in depression in northern Norway during the twomonth-long “dark period” (p. 121). A large-scale study of residents of Tromsø, Norway, a city north of the arctic circle and also subject to the two-month polar night, found neither an increase in self-reported mental distress during the polar night nor a decrease in reported mental distress during the polar day (Johnsen, Wynn, & Bratlid, 2012).

Interesting video on the therapeutic use of psychedelic drugs

19 Sep

(hat tip to boingboing)

Exercise against depression

2 Sep

Zoe Margolis writes in The Guardian a powerful account of how running saved her from depression:

“Every step I have taken in the past few months has been a step away from pain, a step closer to feeling better. When I run, I know that at some point endorphins kick in, positive brain chemistry happens, and I feel brilliant. There is science behind that, obviously, but to me it is a simple equation that needs little explanation: I feel crap, so I run, and afterwards, sometimes for days, my depression lifts. It is not a magical cure, and I’m sure it doesn’t work for everyone, but it keeps a lid on it for me. I never expected running to lessen my depression and am surprised, daily, that it does. For me, it is truly a lifesaver.”


Aspartame and depression?

4 Jan

Dr. Greger reviews the evidence:

“Is Postpartum Depression a Disease of Modern Civilization?”

27 Dec

From Current Directions in Psychological Science:

“Access to calorie-dense foods, medicine, and other comforts has made modern humans healthier than our prehistoric ancestors in many respects. However, the epidemics of obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease suggest that there are also drawbacks to modern living. Here, we address the question of whether the dramatic cultural changes that have occurred over the past century have inflated rates of postpartum depression, adding postpartum depression to the list of “diseases of modern civilization.” We review evidence from cross-cultural, epidemiological, and experimental studies documenting associations between postpartum depression and modern patterns of early weaning, diets deficient in essential fatty acids, low levels of physical activity, low levels of sun exposure, and isolation from kin support networks, all of which mark significant divergences from lifestyles believed to have been typical throughout human evolutionary history. This “mismatch hypothesis” of postpartum depression integrates research across diverse research areas and generates novel predictions.”

Pesticides linked to depression in pesticide applicators

12 Nov

An article in Modern Farmer reports on a study linking pesticides with depression in pesticide applicators. Here is the original study.  From the results section of the abstract:

“After weighting for potential confounders, missing covariate data, and dropout, ever-use of two pesticide classes, fumigants and organochlorine insecticides, and seven individual pesticides—the fumigants aluminum phosphide and ethylene dibromide; the phenoxy herbicide (2,4,5-trichlorophenoxy)acetic acid (2,4,5-T); the organochlorine insecticide dieldrin; and the organophosphate insecticides diazinon, malathion, and parathion—were all positively associated with depression in each case group, with ORs between 1.1 and 1.9.”

OR is the abbreviation for odds ratio, explained here.

Diet and depression

28 Mar

Dr. Greger reviews research on mood state and vegetarian diets:


Generating Alternative Thoughts

6 Oct

One of the goals of cognitive behavior therapy is to help us move away from maladaptive thinking. Sometimes our beliefs keep us in a state of paralysis and prevent us from adopting new behaviors.

Here is an abstract for a paper about a technique for  generate alternative thoughts as a means to break the out of our self limiting beliefs. Unfortunately, the paper itself is in Turkish and I yet have not been able to locate an English translation.

“Introduction: One of the basic techniques of cognitive therapy is examination of automatic thoughts and reducing the belief in them. By employing this, we can overcome the cognitive bias apparent in mental disorders. Despite this view, according to another cognitive perspective in a given situation, there are distinct cognitive representations competing for retrieval from memory just like positive and negative schemas. In this sense generating or strengthening alternative explanations or balanced thoughts that explain the situation better than negative automatic thoughts is one of the important process goals of cognitive therapy.

Objective: Aim of this review is to describe methods used to generate alternative/balanced thoughts that are used in examining automatic thoughts and also a part of automatic thought records. Alternative/balanced thoughts are the summary and end point of automatic thought work. In this text different ways including listing alternative thoughts, using examining the evidence for generating balanced thoughts, decatastrophizing in anxiety and a meta-cognitive method named two explanations are discussed. Different ways to use this technique as a homework assignment is also reviewed. Remarkable aspects of generating alternative explanations and realistic/balanced thoughts are also reviewed and exemplified using therapy transcripts.

Conclusion: Generating alternative explanations and balanced thoughts are the end point and important part of therapy work on automatic thoughts. When applied properly and rehearsed as homework between sessions, these methods may lead to improvement in many mental disorders.” (source)

Exercise and depression: A review of the evidence

15 Sep

The Cochrane Reviews are comprehensive and systematic examinations of different health interventions. One of the most important keys to  understanding research is to understand that a single study rarely resolves an issue. One must look at both the quality of individual studies and the overall weight of the evidence.

The Cochrane Reviews try to provide that kind of overview.

A  recent Cochrane report on the effects of exercise on depression finds:

“Exercise is moderately more effective than no therapy for reducing symptoms of depression.
Exercise is no more effective than antidepressants for reducing symptoms of depression, although this conclusion is based on a small number of studies.
Exercise is no more effective than psychological therapies for reducing symptoms of depression, although this conclusion is based on small number of studies.
The reviewers also note that when only high-quality studies were included, the difference between exercise and no therapy is less conclusive.
Attendance rates for exercise treatments ranged from 50% to 100%.
The evidence about whether exercise for depression improves quality of life is inconclusive.”

Thus, the claim that “exercise is the best anti-depressant” is not supported by the evidence. On the other hand, exercise may be a helpful adjunct to other therapeutic interventions.

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