From the Health Wonks… are men getting the short end of the stick?

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Don’t Get Caught By The Individual Mandate Penalty – It’s Not Just $95

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All The Risk That’s Fit To Print

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Understanding Drug Formularies On New Individual Health Insurance Plans In Colorado

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Valentine’s Day HWR – Something for Everyone

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Connect for Health Colorado Enrollment Update And Upcoming Deadlines

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It’s Not Just About Supply And Demand For Labor – The ACA Makes Life Better, Increases Choices

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Nutritional supplement improves cognitive performance in older adults, study finds

Declines in the underlying brain skills needed to think, remember and learn are normal in aging. In fact, this cognitive decline is a fact of life for most older Americans.Therapies to improve the cognitive health of older adults are critically important for lessening declines in mental performance as people age. While physical activity and cognitive training are among the efforts aimed at preventing or delaying cognitive decline, dietary modifications and supplements have recently generated considerable interest.Now a University of South Florida (USF) study reports that a formula of nutrients high in antioxidants and other natural components helped boost the speed at which the brains of older adults processed information.The USF-developed nutritional supplement, containing extracts from blueberries and green tea combined with vitamin D3 and amino acids, including carnosine, was tested by the USF researchers in a clinical trial enrolling 105 healthy adults, ages 65 to 85.The two-month study evaluated the effects of the formula, called NT-020, on the cognitive performance of these older adults, who had no diagnosed memory disorders.Those randomized to the group of 52 volunteers receiving NT-020 demonstrated improvements in cognitive processing speed, while the 53 volunteers randomized to receive a placebo did not. Reduced cognitive processing speed, which can slow thinking and learning, has been associated with advancing age, the researchers said.The study, conducted at the USF Health Byrd Alzheimer’s Institute, appears in the current issue of Rejuvenation Research (Vol. 17 No. 1, 2014). Participants from both groups took a battery of memory tests before and after the interventions.”After two months, test results showed modest improvements in two measures of cognitive processing speed for those taking NT-020 compared to those taking placebo,” said Brent Small, PhD, a professor in USF’s School of Aging Studies. “Processing speed is most often affected early on in the course of cognitive aging. Successful performance in processing tasks often underlies more complex cognitive outcomes, such as memory and verbal ability.”Blueberries, a major ingredient in the NT-020 formula, are rich in polyphenols, a type of antioxidant containing a polyphenolic, or natural phenol substructure.”The basis for the use of polyphenol-rich nutritional supplements as a moderator of age-related cognitive decline is the age-related increase in oxidative stress and inflammation,” said study co-principal investigator Paula C. Bickford, PhD, a professor in the Department of Neurosurgery and Brain Repair, USF Health Morsani College of Medicine, and senior research career scientist at the James A. …

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Administering natural substance spermidin stopped dementia in fruit flies

Sep. 1, 2013 — Age-induced memory impairment can be suppressed by administration of the natural substance spermidin. This was found in a recent study conducted by Prof. Dr. Stephan Sigrist from Freie Universität Berlin and the Neurocure Cluster of Excellence and Prof. Dr. Frank Madeo from Karl-Franzens-Universität Graz. Both biologists, they were able to show that the endogenous substance spermidine triggers a cellular cleansing process, which is followed by an improvement in the memory performance of older fruit flies.Share This:At the molecular level, memory processes in animal organisms such as fruit flies and mice are similar to those in humans. The work by Sigrist and Madeo has potential for developing substances for treating age-related memory impairment. The study was first published in the online version of Nature Neuroscience.Aggregated proteins are potential candidates for causing age-related dementia. …

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Going through the motions improves dance performance

July 23, 2013 — Expert ballet dancers seem to glide effortlessly across the stage, but learning the steps is both physically and mentally demanding. New research suggests that dance marking — loosely practicing a routine by “going through the motions” — may improve the quality of dance performance by reducing the mental strain needed to perfect the movements.The new findings, published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, suggest that marking may alleviate the conflict between the cognitive and physical aspects of dance practice, allowing dancers to memorize and repeat steps more fluidly.Researcher Edward Warburton, a former professional ballet dancer, and colleagues were interested in exploring the “thinking behind the doing of dance.””It is widely assumed that the purpose of marking is to conserve energy,” explains Warburton, professor of dance at the University of California, Santa Cruz. “But elite-level dance is not only physically demanding, it’s cognitively demanding as well:Learning and rehearsing a dance piece requires concentration on many aspects of the desired performance.”Marking essentially involves a run-through of the dance routine, but with a focus on the routine itself, rather than making the perfect movements.”When marking, the dancer often does not leave the floor, and may even substitute hand gestures for movements,” Warburton explains. “One common example is using a finger rotation to represent a turn while not actually turning the whole body.”To investigate how marking influences performance, the researchers asked a group of talented dance students to learn two routines: they were asked to practice one routine at performance speed and to practice the other one by marking.The routines were relatively simple, designed to be learned quickly and to minimize mistakes. Yet differences emerged when the judges looked for quality of performance.Across many of the different techniques and steps, the dancers were judged more highly on the routine that they had practiced with marking — their movements on the marked routine appeared to be more seamless, their sequences more fluid.The researchers surmise that practicing at performance speed didn’t allow the dancers to memorize and consolidate the steps as a sequence, thus encumbering their performance.”By reducing the demands on complex control of the body, marking may reduce the multi-layered cognitive load used when learning choreography,” Warburton explains.While marking is often thought of as a necessary evil — allowing dancers a “break” from dancing full out — the large effect sizes observed in the study suggest that it could make a noticeable difference in a dancer’s performance:”Marking could be strategically used by teachers and choreographers to enhance memory and integration of multiple aspects of a piece precisely at those times when dancers are working to master the most demanding material,” says Warburton.It’s unclear whether these performance improvements would be seen for other types of dance, Warburton cautions, but it is possible that this area of research could extend to other kinds of activities, perhaps even language acquisition.”Smaller scale movement systems with low energetic costs such as speech, sign language, and gestures may likewise accrue cognitive benefits, as might be the case in learning new multisyllabic vocabulary or working on one’s accent in a foreign language.”

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Going through the motions improves dance performance

July 23, 2013 — Expert ballet dancers seem to glide effortlessly across the stage, but learning the steps is both physically and mentally demanding. New research suggests that dance marking — loosely practicing a routine by “going through the motions” — may improve the quality of dance performance by reducing the mental strain needed to perfect the movements.The new findings, published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, suggest that marking may alleviate the conflict between the cognitive and physical aspects of dance practice, allowing dancers to memorize and repeat steps more fluidly.Researcher Edward Warburton, a former professional ballet dancer, and colleagues were interested in exploring the “thinking behind the doing of dance.””It is widely assumed that the purpose of marking is to conserve energy,” explains Warburton, professor of dance at the University of California, Santa Cruz. “But elite-level dance is not only physically demanding, it’s cognitively demanding as well:Learning and rehearsing a dance piece requires concentration on many aspects of the desired performance.”Marking essentially involves a run-through of the dance routine, but with a focus on the routine itself, rather than making the perfect movements.”When marking, the dancer often does not leave the floor, and may even substitute hand gestures for movements,” Warburton explains. “One common example is using a finger rotation to represent a turn while not actually turning the whole body.”To investigate how marking influences performance, the researchers asked a group of talented dance students to learn two routines: they were asked to practice one routine at performance speed and to practice the other one by marking.The routines were relatively simple, designed to be learned quickly and to minimize mistakes. Yet differences emerged when the judges looked for quality of performance.Across many of the different techniques and steps, the dancers were judged more highly on the routine that they had practiced with marking — their movements on the marked routine appeared to be more seamless, their sequences more fluid.The researchers surmise that practicing at performance speed didn’t allow the dancers to memorize and consolidate the steps as a sequence, thus encumbering their performance.”By reducing the demands on complex control of the body, marking may reduce the multi-layered cognitive load used when learning choreography,” Warburton explains.While marking is often thought of as a necessary evil — allowing dancers a “break” from dancing full out — the large effect sizes observed in the study suggest that it could make a noticeable difference in a dancer’s performance:”Marking could be strategically used by teachers and choreographers to enhance memory and integration of multiple aspects of a piece precisely at those times when dancers are working to master the most demanding material,” says Warburton.It’s unclear whether these performance improvements would be seen for other types of dance, Warburton cautions, but it is possible that this area of research could extend to other kinds of activities, perhaps even language acquisition.”Smaller scale movement systems with low energetic costs such as speech, sign language, and gestures may likewise accrue cognitive benefits, as might be the case in learning new multisyllabic vocabulary or working on one’s accent in a foreign language.”

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Space weather forecast study turns table of effective predictions on its head

July 5, 2013 — A comparison of solar flare forecasting systems has turned the performance table of apparently effective prediction methods on its head. Researchers at Trinity College Dublin, Ireland, have tested the reliability of seven techniques against their record of predicting flares and non-flare events correctly, as well as their history of missed flares and false alarms. When the predictions were put into context of the Sun’s activity levels over time, some of the most seemingly successful techniques slid down the table. Dr D. Shaun Bloomfield is presenting the findings at the RAS National Astronomy Meeting in St. Andrews, Scotland.Solar flares are sudden and dramatic releases of energy from the Sun’s atmosphere in the form of radiation and electrically charged particles. These eruptions are associated with many aspects of ‘space weather’, which can damage satellites and interfere with communications, navigations and power systems. In our technology-dependent society, accurate advanced warning of solar flare occurrence is an area of increasing concern.”The most important aspect of any type of forecast is how it performs,” said Bloomfield. “If we always say, ‘flare expected today’, we will have successfully predicted all flares. However, we would be crying wolf and be completely wrong on most days, as flares can occur quite far apart in time. …

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Poor planning skills found to contribute to income-achievement gap

July 2, 2013 — Children from low-income families tend to do worse at school than their better-off peers. Now a new study of a large ethnically and socioeconomically diverse group of children from across the United States has identified poor planning skills as one reason for the income-achievement gap, which can emerge as early as kindergarten and continue through high school.The study, by researchers at Cornell University, appears in the journal Child Development.”Low-income children appear to have more difficulty accomplishing planning tasks efficiently, and this, in turn, partially explains the income-achievement gap,” according to Gary Evans, Elizabeth Lee Vincent Professor of Human Ecology at Cornell University, one of the study’s researchers. “Efforts to enhance the academic performance of low-income children need to consider multiple aspects of their development, including the ability to plan in a goal-oriented manner.”Researchers used data from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development, which looked at almost 1,500 children from 10 geographic sites across the United States.Planning skills were assessed when the children were in third grade, through the widely used Tower of Hanoi game. The Tower of Hanoi starts with a stack of rings placed on a rod so that the biggest ring is at the bottom and the smallest is on the top. Using two other rods and moving only one ring at a time without ever placing a wider ring on a smaller ring, the children have to recreate the original stack on one of the two spare rods.The study found that the children’s performance in fifth grade could be explained, in part, by how they did on the third grade planning task, even when taking IQ into consideration. Using income as well as math and reading scores, the study also found that the lower the household income during infancy, the worse the children’s performance on reading and math in fifth grade — replicating the well-known gap between income and achievement.The researchers suggest several reasons why poverty may interfere with the development of good planning skills. Individuals living in low-income homes experience greater chaos in their daily lives, including more moves, school changes, family turmoil, and crowded and noisy environments, and fewer structured routines and rituals. In addition, low-income parents may be less successful at planning because of their own stress levels.Researchers believe the group of skills called executive function, which includes planning skills, can be strengthened through interventions. Such interventions are being developed and tested for children as young as the preschool years.

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Spatial training boosts math skills

June 25, 2013 — Training young children in spatial reasoning can improve their math performance, according to a groundbreaking study from Michigan State University education scholars.The researchers trained 6- to 8-year-olds in mental rotation, a spatial ability, and found their scores on addition and subtraction problems improved significantly. The mental rotation training involved imagining how two halves of an object would come together to make a whole, when the halves have been turned at an angle.Past research has found a link between spatial reasoning and math, but the MSU study is the first to provide direct evidence of a causal connection — that when children are trained in one ability, improvement is seen in the other. The findings will be published in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Cognition and Development.Kelly Mix, professor of educational psychology, said the findings suggest spatial training “primes” the brain to better tackle calculation problems. Mix authored the study with Yi-Ling Cheng, a doctoral student in MSU’s College of Education.”What’s shocking is that we saw these improvements in math performance after giving the students just one 20-minute training session in spatial ability,” Mix said. “Imagine if the training had been six weeks.”Understanding the connection between spatial ability and math, she said, is especially important in the early elementary grades because many studies indicate early intervention is critical for closing achievement gaps in math.Spatial ability is important for success in many fields, from architecture to engineering to meteorology, according to a Johns Hopkins University paper. An astronomer must visualize the structure of the solar system and the motions of the objects in it, for example, while a radiologist must be able to interpret the image on an X-ray.Some education experts have called for including spatial reasoning in the elementary math curriculum. But there are many forms of spatial ability and Mix said it’s important to first figure out how each of them may or may not relate to the various math disciplines.To that end, Mix is leading a larger study that tests elementary students on different forms of spatial ability and math performance.Mix’s research into spatial ability and math is funded by two grants totaling $2.8 million from the Institute of Education Sciences, the research arm of the U.S. Department of Education.

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Wristband simplifies blood pressure measurement

June 12, 2013 — The consequences of high blood pressure are one of the most common causes of death worldwide. Despite this, according to the World Health Organization WHO, fewer than one in two of those affected measures their blood pressure regularly. The main reason for this is that regular measurements are costly or inconvenient. An innovative wrist sensor should now change that.Measuring and monitoring blood pressure is a tedious business for patients. It usually involves a cuff which is activated every 15 minutes over several hours and compresses the upper arm, a cumbersome measuring device on the body, or in some cases even invasive monitoring, in which a catheter is inserted into the artery. It is no wonder that those affected avoid this procedure if at all possible.A new sensor hardly bigger than a wristwatch should soon offer a more pleasant method for measuring blood pressure. The company STBL Medical Research AG (STBL) has developed a device that can be worn comfortably on the wrist and records the blood pressure continuously — with no pressure cuff or invasive procedure. The measurement is carried out by several sensors which simultaneously measure the contact pressure, pulse and blood flow on the surface of the skin in the vicinity of the wrist. Michael Tschudin, co-founder of STBL, sees great potential for the device: “This measuring device can be used for medical purposes, for example as a precaution for high-risk patients or for treating high blood pressure, but also as a blood pressure and heart rate monitor for leisure activities and sports as well as for monitoring fitness in high-level sports.”Empa sensor greatly increases measuring accuracyEngineers had one particular obstacle to overcome in this new technology: the pressure of the device on the skin changes constantly, meaning that highly sensitive correctional measurements are necessary. Empa’s Laboratory for High Performance Ceramics sought a suitable solution to this problem within the scope of a CTI project. …

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