The coronavirus pandemic has dominated the headlines and our daily lives for most of this year. Medical News Today have covered this fast-moving, complex story with live updates on the latest news, interviews with experts, and an ongoing investigation into the deep racial disparities that COVID-19 has helped unmask.
However, this has not stopped us from publishing hundreds of fascinating stories on a myriad of other topics.
This week, we reported on the long-term cognitive benefits of playing video games (nobody tell my 12-year-old), the link between thunderstorms and an increased number of emergency room visits, and how simple changes to your lifestyle and diet could ward off dementia.
We also look at a new light therapy for people with migraine, which has been tested in humans for the first time, and a study that saw stem cell implantation restore motor function in mice with Parkinson’s disease.
Finally, we look at the psychology of voting (and not voting) and news from Germany about how even a gentle 10-minute massage can bring about lasting relaxation.
Below are 10 recent stories that you may have missed amid all the COVID-19 fervor.
1. Video gaming as a child related to improvements in memory
Good news for gamers, this week, with our report on new research that has found a link between video games and cognition. The results suggest that video games may induce cognitive changes that last for years after people have stopped playing.
“Video games are a perfect recipe for strengthening our cognitive skills, almost without our noticing,” says the lead author of the study, Dr. Marc Palaus.
2. What to know about mermaid syndrome
Our detailed report on this extremely rare, very serious congenital condition was read by over 100,000 visitors this week, making it our most-viewed new article.
Mermaid syndrome, or sirenomelia, was first described in the medical literature of the 15th century. It is called mermaid syndrome because the newborn baby’s legs are fused. Our article looks at the causes, treatments, and care techniques, as well as possible risk factors and the outlook for babies with this syndrome.
3. Study reveals possible biochemical trigger for Alzheimer’s disease
There was also great interest in our coverage of new research that may help both the diagnosis and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. Nearly 4,000 readers spent, on average, over 6 minutes with this article.
Scientists at the Instituto de Neurociencias de Alicante, in Spain, identified differences in how the brains of people with Alzheimer’s chemically label a key protein, called the amyloid precursor protein, with sugars.
Finding this difference in the protein’s sugar labeling, or glycosylation, could lead to the development of a new diagnostic test for Alzheimer’s disease. In the longer term, it may even inspire new treatments.
4. Is there a link between thunderstorms and an increase in ER visits?
This week, MNT reported on a possible link between weather conditions and the number of older adults visiting emergency rooms with respiratory issues. Over the 14-year period covered in their study, the researchers found 52,000 additional visits to emergency rooms on the days to either side of a significant thunderstorm.
It’s thought that climate change will cause more intense thunderstorms of the type identified in this study. Respiratory problems spurred by an increase in temperature and particulate matter caused by storms could result in many more older people seeking medical assistance, particularly if they have asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
5. Lifestyle changes may offset cognitive decline
Changing the diet and increasing physical activity levels can reduce the risk of developing dementia, even in older people, after a diagnosis of cognitive decline. That was the conclusion of a proof-of-concept study covered by MNT this week.
The changes proposed in the new study, led by a team from The Australian National University, in Canberra, are relatively easy to adopt and inexpensive to follow, making this approach to preventing dementia a promising option for many older people.
“With the right intervention, people experiencing cognitive decline may retain sufficient neuroplasticity for their brain to ‘bounce back’ from decline,” says Mitchell McMaster, the study’s lead author.
6. Research gives green light for migraine relief
Migraine usually involves moderate-to-severe headaches, which may accompany other symptoms that can be debilitating, such as visual disturbances, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and extreme sensitivity to sound and light.
Pain relief medications are not always effective and often cause unpleasant side effects. Light therapy, however, offers the promise of relief without a dependence upon drugs.
This week, MNT reported on new research that suggests that exposure to green light of a particular wavelength and brightness may relieve migraine headaches just as effectively as drugs.
The results have already been demonstrated in mice, and this new study represents the first time a clinical trial of green light therapy in humans has produced a significant improvement in the frequency of migraine headaches.
7. Stem cells repair damaged circuits in mice with Parkinson’s
In a fascinating study, covered this week by MNT, researches found that the type of neurons transplanted into the brain, rather than their location, was the key to restoring brain health and movement in mice with Parkinson’s disease.
Within 4–5 months, the dopamine-producing stem cells implanted in this study made connections with the area of the brain involved in coordinating movement.
However, the researchers caution that the greater distances between brain areas in humans may make it more difficult for implanted stem cells to make these connections and restore movement in the same way.
8. Damage from high cholesterol in early life may be irreversible
A diet of junk food in your teens and early 20s may contribute to serious health problems decades later, even if your diet improves in the meantime. This was the conclusion of new research that we covered this week.
The authors argue that this evidence supports the prescription of lipid-lowering drugs, like statins, in people aged 20–39 years as well as earlier interventions to improve dietary and lifestyle choices if doctors detect high cholesterol.
9. Electoral psychology: Why people vote … or do not vote
In recent weeks, MNT has published a number of articles on health and the 2020 election, covering topics like the mental health benefits of voting, advice on how to vote safely, and how health influences voting behavior.
In this Special Feature, we look at voter apathy and some of the factors that may influence the psychology of voting. We ask: Who votes, who does not, and why might this be?
10. Massage measurably reduces stress
Finally in this week’s Recovery Room, we’ve found another reason to unwind with a massage. Psychologists at the University of Konstanz, in Germany, have found that a 10-minute massage measurably increases relaxation.
The researchers divided participants into three groups. One received a moderately intense 10-minute massage designed to activate the stress-relieving parasympathetic nervous system. The second group received a softer massage, and the third group was asked to sit at a table and relax for 10 minutes, no massage included.
All of the participants reported feeling less stressed and more relaxed after the tests, but heart rate variability (HRV), a physiological measure of relaxation, was much higher in those who had received a massage. The team now plans to measure the benefits of other relaxation techniques, such as meditation and breathing exercises, using HRV as their guide.
We hope these have provided a taste of the stories that we cover at MNT. We will be back with a new selection next week.
Coming soon: A sneak preview of what’s in our drafts folder
We publish hundreds of news stories and features every month. Here are some upcoming articles that may pique our readers’ interest:
- Medical myths: Mental health misconceptions
- Parkinson’s: Study examines the potential of spinal cord stimulation
- What will the presidential election mean for the physical and mental health of older Americans?