September 30, 2008

Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Have you ever found yourself going in circles and unable to find your way in a familiar environment, such as driving through your own neighbourhood? A recently discovered disorder called Selective Developmental Topographical Disorientation explains this phenomenon. “It's like somebody picks up the whole world and sets it back down at a 90-degree angle,” says Sharon Roseman, who has a type of topographical disorder. "Finding our way" is a kind of task that requires the skills of memory, attention, perception, and decision-making. Specifically, the ability to complete such tasks involves two separate types of memory; procedural and spatial.

Procedural memory is implicit and long term. It consists of our "how to" knowledge; basically our knowledge of the task's procedure. In this particular case, procedural memory would consist of landmarks, distances, and specific movements required for completion of some procedure (i.e. finding our way home). Spatial memory, on the other hand, is a cognitive map or mental picture of your entire trek. This map is formed through sensory information gathered from one’s surroundings. One must be capable of creating and reading such mental layouts in order to navigate our way home.

“Researchers at the University of British Columbia and Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute recently documented the first case of a patient who, without apparent brain damage or cognitive impairment, is unable to orient within any environment.”

It is already known that damage to the brain can cause problems in terms of orientation and navigation, however in this study, no malformations or lesions were detected in the brains of the subjects. The researchers of this study, led by Giuseppe Laria of UBC Faculty of Medicine, used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and behavioural tests to study the disorder among subjects who reportedly get lost in their own neighbourhoods. Findings concluded that the patients were unable to form cognitive maps.

Not only will these findings create awareness, the research and discovery of this first case of Selective Developmental Topographical Disorientation will lead to more research on treatment and help for many who may not even be aware of their own disorder. Also, newer techniques like virtual reality could prove to be very useful in terms of therapy for this new type of disorder.

For more information on this disorder visit:

Getting Lost: A Newly Discovered Developmental Brain Disorder
Lost in your neighbourhood? Could be a genetic disorder


September 26, 2008

Friday, September 26, 2008

Truls Thorstensen (EFS Consulting Vienna), Karl Grammer (Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Urban Ethology) and other researchers at the University of Vienna have discovered that people attribute certain personality traits or emotions to the front of a car. Humans are able to collect information on people's sex, age, emotions, and intentions based on the look of the face. In theory, if humans have this ability to perceive traits and emotion on the human face, could they not attribute the same types of perceptions on inanimate objects that possess face-like qualities?

To investigate this theory, "the researchers therefore asked people to report the characteristics, emotions, personality traits, and attitudes that they ascribed to car fronts and then used geometric morphometrics to calculate the corresponding shape information."

Ninety percent of cars possessed human or animal-like faces according to about a third of the subjects. Of course, the headlights were seen as eyes, the grill as a mouth and about 50% of cars had some part representing a nose. Interestingly, most subjects agreed on the personality traits of certain cars. Subjects tended to prefer cars with either a wide stance, narrow windshield or narrow, but widely spaced headlights. In addition, the more the subject liked a type of car, the more they could perceive a characteristic of power. This suggests that the subjects prefer mature, dominant, masculine, arrogant, angry-looking cars.

There is no doubt that this kind of research will benefit car manufacturers, but what does it say about human nature? There will be an influx in dominant angry-looking cars in the automobile industry. Not only will elaborate designs become distracting, but if humans actually perceive personality traits and emotions from car fronts, it would be safe to assume that incidents of road rage and bullying behaviour might actually increase. Although, this research is interesting and useful, it is likely that it will be used solely to generate more wealth instead of being used to improve the safety of our roads.



September 23, 2008

Tuesday, September 23, 2008
Researchers have recently discovered that subjects report having more emotionally pleasant dreams when they smell the scent of roses while dreaming. Conversely, subjects who experienced the scent of rotten eggs while dreaming reported more negatively charged dreams. Actually, subjects tended to rate their dreams more positively when the aroma was pleasant.

Each subject was tested with three different odours; roses, rotten eggs, and no odour at all. Oddly, "there was hardly any kind of a dream dealing with smelling and tasting". And, it seemed that the more impacted your mood is by a smell while awake, the more so it affects you in dreamland.

Tubes were attached to the nostrils of 15 healthy women in their twenties where an olfactometer pumped constant streams of air into their noses and a ten second shot of a specific odour during REM periods.

How exactly does the brain smell?

Essentially, smell enters the nose and confronts the cell body dendrites of some 10,000 sensory neurons. The odour molecules bind to receptors on a few different classes of neurons, which are, in effect, randomly located in the nose. The binding of the scent alters the electrical properties of these neurons down their axons, which extend to the olfactory bulb. The axons from these activated neurons synapse to a few glomeruli (globular tangle of axons and dendrites) in the olfactory bulb. The synapsing of the activated axons at these glomeruli sends signals, which are transmitted to the brain areas such as the olfactory cortex, hippocampus, amygdala, and hypothalamus in the limbic system, which is involved with emotional behaviour and memory.

The following is an interesting article that explains the olfactory system in greater depth: How the olfactory system makes sense of scents

A few questions come to mind after reading about this new research. I wonder how this new information might differ for people with brain injuries to areas of the brain associated with smell or even those with nasal problems. Also, could this really mean that we could all sleep better with scented air fresheners in our bedrooms?



September 22, 2008

Monday, September 22, 2008
"Service Nova Scotia now requires people renewing their licences to indicate on an application form if they’ve had a 'psychiatric or psychological condition'". If the answer to that question is yes, Nova Scotians' are required to provide more in depth information including medical information that is usually kept in strict confidentiality. This medical information is reviewed by provincial government staff and, if necessary, cases can be referred to a committee of specialists to make recommendations on whether the individual is mentally capable of driving. The application also inquires about any history of lung, heart, eye or neurological diseases. Obviously, doctors can charge a fee for this application and without it people run a risk of losing their licence.

Thankfully, Service Nova Scotia has withdrawn this new form, for now, claiming that the "department failed to check the appropriateness of the wording before putting the new forms into use." Instead, Dulcie McCallum, Nova Scotia's freedom of information and protection of privacy review officer, states that "it would be more appropriate to ask if people were taking any prescription medication that could affect their driving". "That doesn’t connect it to any particular illness or disability or historically disadvantaged group and it may be a bona fide question", she continues. Now, this does not sound like the idea has been completely rejected. In fact, the renewal process still asks whether one has a mental or physical disability that may prevent them from properly operating a motor vehicle and depending on one's response, more detailed information could be requested.

Typically, people come to the realisation that they are no longer able to drive on their own; however Nova Scotia has decided that the government must decide when an individual is no longer mentally fit for driving. Paul Arsenault of the provincial registrar of motor vehicles insists that this is important for public safety.

Granted, prescription medication is being prescribed in record doses, but as far as I know, doctors still have a legal obligation to report whether someone is no longer capable of operating a motor vehicle? Or do they? Apparently, Nova Scotia's doctors are not bound by law to report such cases. Should this not be a more appropriate angle, especially since doctors already have the power to prescribe and have total access to a medical history? It seems more than ridiculous to expect government bureaucrats to police the province’s drivers. What’s next? Are government employees going to start patrolling for drunk drivers too?

David Simpson, an Ontario rights advocate of the Mental Health Police Records Coalition explains that "what you always have to be worried about in situations like this is if there is some sort of systemic bias in place or covert discrimination, that they believe because you have a mental illness you’re going to use your vehicle as a weapon to injure people or injure yourself." What about people busy texting, eating, chatting on their cell phone, fiddling with their blackberry, or operating their GPS?

Furthermore, how long would it be before people with high blood pressure and risk of heart attack or stroke lose their licence as well? We can only hope this line of
thinking doesn’t make its way into Ontario.

Government cancels form asking drivers about mental health
Critics: Don’t tie driver’s licence renewal to psychiatric history


Should one's mental health be considered when issuing a driver's licence?

38% - YES

61% - NO


September 16, 2008

Tuesday, September 16, 2008
Rick Green, a producer, director and comedian, along with Patrick McKenna, an anchor comedian, from Canadian television were both in to interview Thom Hartmann during his radio program for their upcoming documentary, ADD and Loving It. The show will air on Global TV's Global Currents, which hosts weekly one-hour, independently-produced documentaries. The following is the entire interview:

Both Patrick and Rick are well known for their roles in The Red Green Show. Patrick, known to many as Harold, lives quite successfully with ADD. Their documentary will seek to observe how people are coping and surviving with ADD.

It seems they chose Hartmann because of all the work he has done in this area. Hartmann has written several books on the topic of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and adult attention-deficit disorder (AADD). He also proposed the well-known hunter vs. farmer theory. His theory stipulates that ADD is an expected evolutionary adaptation to hunting lifestyles. He suggests that these types of individuals have a unique ability to rapidly shift their focus and external attention and to hold multiple trains of thought. This type of person has greater difficulties in "farming" cultures since behaviours are more planned, predicted, organized and repetitive. Interestingly, Hartmann has also established specialized schools for children with ADHD, such as The Hunter School where they can flourish in the proper environment.


September 11, 2008

Thursday, September 11, 2008
The Journal of Urban Health has published a study by New York City’s health department and the federal Centers for Disease Control’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. It estimated that as many as 70,000 people in New York could be suffering from PTSD because of the attacks on the World Trade Centre seven years ago today. Health officials have determined that more than 400,000 people were exposed to the tragedy on September 11, 2001. Recent data suggests that, of those who experienced the atrocity, 35,000 to 70,000 may have developed PTSD and 3,800 to 12,600 may have developed asthma. There are 71,437 people on the health registry who agreed to be monitored for up to 20 years since the disaster. "Half of those surveyed said they were in the dust cloud left by the collapsing towers, 70 per cent witnessed a traumatic sight – such as a plane hitting a tower or falling bodies – and 13 per cent were injured that day". Of the endless list of rescue and recovery workers, commuters, area workers, Lower Manhattan residents, and passersby, PTSD was highest among those who had sustained injuries (35%), followed by those with low-income (31%), and Hispanic (30%) respondents.

What is PTSD? - (The Ottawa Anxiety and Trauma Clinic)
Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that occurs as a result of exposure to an extreme traumatic stressor involving the threat of death or serious injury. The threat may be experienced directly or may involve witnessing others at risk for death or injury.

DSM-IV-TR criteria for PTSD - (National Center for PTSD)
Diagnostic criteria for PTSD include a history of exposure to a traumatic event meeting two criteria and symptoms from each of three symptom clusters: intrusive recollections, avoidant/numbing symptoms, and hyper-arousal symptoms. A fifth criterion concerns duration of symptoms and a sixth assesses functioning.

Criterion A: stressor - The person has been exposed to a traumatic event in which both of the following have been present:

1. The person has experienced, witnessed, or been confronted with an event or events that involve actual or threatened death or serious injury, or a threat to the physical integrity of oneself or others.

2. The person's response involved intense fear, helplessness, or horror. Note: in children, it may be expressed instead by disorganized or agitated behavior.

Criterion B: intrusive recollection - The traumatic event is persistently re-experienced in at least one of the following ways:

1. Recurrent and intrusive distressing recollections of the event, including images, thoughts, or perceptions. Note: in young children, repetitive play may occur in which themes or aspects of the trauma are expressed.

2. Recurrent distressing dreams of the event. Note: in children, there may be frightening dreams without recognizable content

3. Acting or feeling as if the traumatic event were recurring (includes a sense of reliving the experience, illusions, hallucinations, and dissociative flashback episodes, including those that occur upon awakening or when intoxicated). Note: in children, trauma-specific re-enactment may occur.

4. Intense psychological distress at exposure to internal or external cues that symbolize or resemble an aspect of the traumatic event.

5. Physiologic reactivity upon exposure to internal or external cues that symbolize or resemble an aspect of the traumatic event

Criterion C: avoidant/numbing - Persistent avoidance of stimuli associated with the trauma and numbing of general responsiveness (not present before the trauma), as indicated by at least three of the following:

1. Efforts to avoid thoughts, feelings, or conversations associated with the trauma

2. Efforts to avoid activities, places, or people that arouse recollections of the trauma

3. Inability to recall an important aspect of the trauma

4. Markedly diminished interest or participation in significant activities

5. Feeling of detachment or estrangement from others

6. Restricted range of affect (e.g., unable to have loving feelings)

7. Sense of foreshortened future (e.g., does not expect to have a career, marriage, children, or a normal life span)

Criterion D: hyper-arousal - Persistent symptoms of increasing arousal (not present before the trauma), indicated by at least two of the following:

1. Difficulty falling or staying asleep

2. Irritability or outbursts of anger

3. Difficulty concentrating

4. Hyper-vigilance

5. Exaggerated startle response

Criterion E: duration - Duration of the disturbance (symptoms in B, C, and D) is more than one month.

Criterion F: functional significance - The disturbance causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.

In addition, depression, alcohol/substance abuse, panic disorder, and other anxiety disorders commonly occur with PTSD.

Therapeutic Approaches Commonly Used to Treat PTSD - (Veterans Affairs Canada)

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): involves working with cognitions to change emotions, thoughts, and behaviors.

Exposure therapy: is one form of CBT that is unique to trauma treatment typically by flooding or gradually desensitizing the patient in a safe context until the trauma is no longer stressful.

Pharmacotherapy: use of medication to reduce anxiety, depression, and insomnia. It also facilitates successful participation in other forms of therapy.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR): involves elements of exposure therapy and cognitive-behavioral therapy combined with techniques (eye movements, hand taps, sounds) that create an alternation of attention back and forth across the person's midline.

Group treatment: trauma survivors share traumatic material within the safety, cohesion, and empathy provided by other survivors.

Brief psychodynamic psychotherapy: focuses on the emotional conflicts caused by the traumatic event, particularly as they relate to early life experiences.

Post-traumatic stress disorder may affect up to 70,000 New Yorkers: Sept. 11 study


September 9, 2008

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Can one actually become dependent on tanning? Is it really possible to become addicted to using tanning beds? Tanorexia gets its name from similar characteristic pathologies such as those seen in other mental illnesses like substance abuse and body image disorders.

A study performed by Fox Chase Cancer Center examined this phenomena and discovered that "25% of those surveyed reported symptoms of tanning dependence, including symptoms similar to alcohol and drug-addicted individuals". This finding was revealed by using a modified version of a traditional substance abuse and dependence questionnaire that was administered to 400 students and other volunteers at Virginia Commonwealth University. The survey measured such items as tolerance to tanning, withdrawal symptoms, difficulty controlling tanning behaviour in spite of the knowledge of its negative consequences. Some of the questions included:
  • Do you think you need to spend more and more time in the sun to maintain your perfect tan?

  • Do you continue tanning so your tan will not fade?

  • Does this [your belief that tanning can cause skin cancer] keep you from spending time in the sun or going to tanning beds?

The study investigated the participants’ level of intentional and incidental sun exposure, tanning booth use, and chemical sunless tanner usage as well as other health related habits like smoking and exercise.

Research confirmed that 27% of those studied were classified as dependent on tanning, 40% had used tanning booths and the mean age of onset for tanning booth use was only 17 years old. In addition, sun tanners and indoor tanners during the winter were found to be more closely linked to tanorexia than those who are solely indoor tanners. Most intriguing is that those found to be dependent on tanning were more likely to be either thin or smokers, suggesting probable links to risk taking behaviours. This discovery provides a new avenue for further research and development. It also confirms the wideheld belief that tanorexia really is an addiction.

Some Startling facts about skin cancer:
  • According to the American Cancer Society, skin cancer is the most common form of cancer.

  • Skin cancer accounts for half of all types of cancers.

  • Over 1 million new cases are diagnosed yearly in the U.S.

  • 90% of all skin cancers are associated with ultraviolet radiation

  • Using a tanning bed once a month or more can increase your risk of skin cancer by more than half.

Addicted To Tanning Beds? 'Tanorexia' Common Among University Students
Tanorexics - Ellie Harrison


September 1, 2008

Monday, September 01, 2008

In recent news, a 60 year old grandfather of Stoke, England, awoke from a 10 week coma when he heard the sound of "I Can’t Get No (Satisfaction)" by the Rolling Stones pumping through his headphones.

Sam Carter slipped into a coma after developing severe anaemia. Doctors were not very hopeful about his recovery. In fact, his survival rate was a mere 30%. His wife was reluctant to use a 'music therapy' approach, but all else was failing.

After many weeks of silence, Sam said:
I can't remember much from being in a coma, but I do remember that when that song came on it took me right back to when I was a youngster. I could remember how excited I was to get it down at the record shop. I suddenly had a burst of energy and knew I had a lot more life left in me and that's when I woke up - to the sound of the first song I ever bought.

When I heard about this miracle, it reminded me of how music therapy is sometimes used in cases of acquired brain injury, autism, emotional traumas, geriatric care, hearing impairments, speech and language impairments, substance abuse, and many other areas of mental health. This form of therapy does not seem to get the attention and credit it might deserve. Music therapy uses music and musical elements to treat physical, emotional, cognitive and social problems. The music can facilitate contact, interaction, self-awareness, learning, self-expression, communication, and personal development.

Many questions come to mind regarding the efficiency of music therapy. How does it work and does it work in the same way for everyone? What type of music works best? What sort of brain injuries respond better to this form of therapy? When is it the best treatment option? Who should perform this type of therapy and is there a certified body governing its use? Are success rates linked to age, severity of damage etc?

Unfortunately, the answers to most of these questions are rarely black or white. In terms of an exact methodology; none seems to exist. There is no step by step approach. Instead, many differing methods are used to develop communication, language and intellectual development, assist in the grieving process, relieve stress, motivate rehabilitation, aid memory and imagination etc. Music therapy works by keeping the patient's attention, structuring time, providing an enjoyable method of repetition, helping memory, encouraging movement, and tapping into memories and emotions. Many studies attest to these findings, such as, a Finland study suggesting that listening to music shortly after a stroke can facilitate cognitive and emotional recovery.

But, how exactly does music affect the brain? Researchers at Georgetown University Medical Center demonstrated that
one brain system, based in the temporal lobes, helps humans memorize information in both language and music— for example, words and meanings in language and familiar melodies in music. The other system, based in the frontal lobes, helps us unconsciously learn and use the rules that underlie both language and music, such as the rules of syntax in sentences, and the rules of harmony in music.

Still, it is not easy to identify when this alternative treatment is most appropriate. It appears to be used most often when all else has failed, as was the case with Sam Carter, however since it doesn’t cause any harm it might be best not to leave this option as a last resort.

I have also discovered that the Canadian Association for Music Therapy (CAMT) is a national body that lists accredited University educated music therapists for anyone seeking this form of therapy.

Some interesting facts:

The information most adults consistently recall from childhood is songs and rhymes.

Emotional engagement is the key to effective learning. Music therapy engages the emotions; thus unlocking the brain and preparing it for learning.

People have at least seven distinct intelligences. One of these intelligence areas is the musical area. Often people with special needs learn best through music because that part of the brain is an older part of the brain and less likely to be damaged from birth defects, accidents, etc.

Research studies have shown that 80 - 90% of individuals with autism respond positively to music as a motivator.

Research has shown that music is a valued tool for stimulating the right side of the brain; and also is helpful in encouraging bilateral activity between the brain hemispheres.

The area of the brain that responds to music is located in a different area than the speech and language area.

The following video depicts how music therapy can help to develop new ways of communicating and teach new skills to children with severe disabilities:


Riverbend Down Syndrome Parent Support Group
Music Therapy - Getting Cured Through Melody
Listening To Music Improves Stroke Patients' Recovery, Study Shows
Rolling Stones classic wakes grandfather from coma
Music And Language Are Processed By The Same Brain Systems
Canadian Association for Music Therapy


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