Vol. 206 January 15, 2019 Updates on 2018 Blogs

January 15, 2019

Causes of Deaths of U.S. Children in 2016
Firearms-related deaths are #2, just behind motor vehicle crashes.  60 % of the three thousand plus firearms-related deaths were homicides. 35% were suicides. Both motor vehicle and firearms-related deaths percentages have increased every year since 2013. The ratio of causes of firearms-related deaths of adults (over 20 yo.) was the opposite: 62% suicide and 37% homicide. Cancer was #3 at 9% of all children deaths both years.

Continued resistance to gun safety reform legislation has been called “another example of U.S. public health intervention being cast as an attack on individual liberty.”

Driver safety being the other example, of course.

Benefits of Aspirin in Elderly or Diabetics
Three studies published in the New England Journal of Medicine this October showed that daily low dose aspirin provided no benefit to the elderly against all types of deaths, cancer-related deaths, dementia, physical disability, or cardiovascular events. They did reveal an increase in non-fatal significant bleeding events. 3% of those taking the aspirin suffered such an event compared to 2% taking the placebo.

A fourth study published in the same issue appeared to show that low dose aspirin reduced the incidence of non-cardiac vascular events in adults (all ages) with diabetes. The percentages of adverse bleeding events (mostly gastrointestinal) was again 1% higher in those taking the aspirin. In contrast to other studies the use of aspirin did not reduce the incidence of gastrointestinal cancer.

Immigrant Children in Detention
The latest independent estimate of children held in 9 U.S. centers is 15,000. The Department of Home Security does not publish statistics, and, in fact, is not too sure itself how many they have. There have been two instances when Home Security could not account for 1400-1500 children. Most of the children are held in large centers with up to a thousand children. The length of stay has been from 104 to 240 days. Currently nearly 300 are children whose parents have already been deported, so that their eventual disposition is up for grabs. 

The recent deaths of two Guatemalan children in detention (one 7 yo. and the other 8 yo.) remain under investigation, but in reading between the lines I suspect that they were caused by flu-like illnesses in dehydrated, malnourished, and tired kids, i.e. eminently preventable deaths.

More About the Southern Border Immigrants
The number of people arrested trying to illegally cross the Mexican border has been decreasing each year since 2005 (President Bush) and is now at the lowest point since 1971. The number of “people in families” arrested monthly during the same period has increased 2.5X from under 10,000 to 25,172 this November. Hence, one reason for the recent development of an “humanitarian crisis”. The number of arrests of “unaccompanied children” has remained the same at about 5,000 per month

The Mexican border is the primary entry point for cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine which is mostly carried by trucks through official border crossings.

Texas is the only state that has statistics on crimes by immigrants (the federal agencies have none). In 2015 the relative rates of crimes per 100,000 residents in Texas analyzed by the Cato Institute were:

All Crime – (3307 per 100,000 persons) – 
           54 % native born
           27% undocumented immigrants
          18%  legal immigrants

Larceny – (403 per 100,000 persons)
           66% native born
           15% undocumented immigrants
           18% legal immigrant

Sex crime – (64 per 100,000 persons)
            45% native born
            41% undocumented immigrants
            14% legal immigrants

Probiotics for Diarrhea/Effects on Your Microbiome
Two recent very large studies in children showed that twice daily doses of a certain probiotic did NOT shorten the duration of diarrhea or reduce the number of bowel movements per day. This is yet another study showing no real benefit from probiotics, but believers point out that maybe they were using the “wrong” probiotic. 

In other probiotic news: In contrast, another recent study suggests that probiotics can change a person’s own gut microbiome in such a way to make the person’s gut microbiome LESS protective against illnesses.

The Microbiome and Obesity
A study of multi-generational Southeast Asian immigrants showed that soon after arrival in the U.S. the diversity of their gut microbiome began to decrease to the level resembling the less-varied microbiome of European Americans. “Just living in the U.S. reduced their microbiome diversity by 15%.” At the same time their obesity rate spiked!  Previous studies indicated that the more diverse gut microbiome in people in less developed countries protected them from developing metabolic diseases like diabetes.

We Are All Getting Heavier
In the U.S. both the average man and the average woman gained 24 pounds from 1960 to 2002.
By 2016 men had gained an average of 8 pounds more; women 7 pounds.
Both white and black men increased an inch in waist size. White woman increased their waist size by 2 inches; black women reduced theirs by an inch.
The average American man is now 5 feet 9 inches, weighs 198 pounds, and has a 40 inch waist. The average American woman is 5 feet 4 inches, weighs 171 pounds, and has a 39 inch waist. Both have a BMI near or at 30, the “high end of overweight.”
These results are from actual measurements because “ people tend to overreport their height and underreport their weight.”

Editorial note: Our local YMCA “free sign-up day” on January 1 was mobbed. On January 6 the men’s locker room was quite crowded. Overheard from the next cubicle: “Just wait 3 weeks. There’ll be plenty of room again.”
Update in the near future.

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Vol. 205 January 1, 2019 Hemp, MJ, THC, and CBD . . . Wha.a.a.a?

December 31, 2018

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Hemp and marijuana are both cannabis plants. 

But they are not the same.

There are 80 different cannabinoid compounds in cannabis plants. THC and CBD are the largest in volume. Both hemp and MJ have THC (the chemical that gives you the high) and CBD (the chemical that does not); but in vastly different amounts.  Hemp products have only 0.3% THC.  Marijuana contains from 5% to 30% THC. The CBD in MJ actually regulates (moderates) the effect of THC, produces no euphoria, and is non-addictive.

The Kentucky Supreme Court decided years ago that marijuana and hemp were the same. Woody Harrelson in 1996 was charged with “illegal possession of marijuana” in Kentucky when he announced that he had “planted 4 hemp seeds.” Four years later a Lee County jury acquitted him of that charge. The jury knew that marijuana and hemp were not the same. Hemp has about 25,000 different manufacturing uses and was one of Kentucky’s leading crops until the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 shut down production. 

Both MJ and hemp are touted to help treat medical illnesses. Some studies show that CBD may be effective in selected medical illness. Our medical knowledge about CBD’s ability to “enhance wellness” is about at the same stage as our scientific understanding of probiotics. Neither seems to do any harm, but there are few studies that indicate they provide any real benefit.

The few studies of medical marijuana have used THC in pill form. Most promoters of medical marijuana believe that the whole marijuana product has to be smoked or ingested to get any benefit. Nobody smokes marijuana for its CBD. Interestingly, marijuana does NOT treat glaucoma. It turns out that the early studies suggesting that were too small and not controlled enough to support that conclusion.

Medical marijuana is now legal in 33 states and D.C.. Hemp products have been legal in all 50 states for some years.

It is the “hemp-derived” CBD oil that is legal and available on Amazon, at Target, or at your local gift and wellness store as one of 150 “wellness” CBD products derived from hemp. Any “marijuana-derived” CBD product carries all the baggage of current marijuana laws. Hence, a good deal of confusion.

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“Hemp-derived” CBD was a $591 million(M) dollar business in the U.S. this year. With the 2018 Federal Farm Act (spear headed by Mitch McConnell, R- Ky) that lifts decades-long U.S. prohibition of hemp cultivation on January 1, 2019 (today), the U.S. hemp industry is predicted to grow to $22 billion(B) by 2022.

The largest marijuana-producing company in Canada is salivating (Hey, remember that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that corporations are persons, so why can’t they salivate?) about going into the distribution of hemp-derived CBD-infused “sports” beverages in the U.S.  Vogue magazine calls CBD wellness products one of the top 10 trends in 2018.

Because of severe federal restrictions on research on marijuana there is little reliable scientific data about its medical benefits.  What few studies there are or not always clear about what is actually being tested; THC, CBD, or the other 80 cannabinoids. So there is ample room for scientific and public discussion about the relative medical benefits of THC, CBD, hemp seeds, hemp oil, or other compounds in marijuana and hemp. The lack of real data about relative benefits and risks will continue to allow proponents of one product to shill louder than the others for the consumer’s dollar.

It is helpful to remember that this lack of knowledge about marijuana is such that a physician can NOT write an actual  prescription for it. A physician’s prescription for any medication has to designate the medication’s name, dose, form, and instructions for frequency and duration of use. There is no data to allow the physician to know how to do that for marijuana. Selective physicians can only certify a person as eligible for medical marijuana use. The “patient”  then takes the certificate (not a prescription) to the marijuana store and buys the type, the form, and the dose of the substance he or she chooses.  How does the user know what to buy? By word of mouth, advice from the store keeper, and good old trial and error. Hardly deserves the term “medical use”, does it?


Vol. 204 December 1, 2018 “Why Doctors Hate Computers”

December 2, 2018

 

Digitization promises to make medical care easier and more efficient. But are
screens coming between doctors and patients?
 – Atul Gawande

I wished I had thought of this title.
I wished I had written the article in the New Yorker that went with it. (1) But, it was written by a better writer, and a surgeon no less; a proceduralist, not a cognitive doctor like us pediatricians and internists. Atul Gawande nailed the reasons for the frustrations of most doctors in dealing with electronic medical records, including graphic points of special irritation with one specific computer behemoth, Epic.

Epic is the $100 million computer software system now in place in the Partners Health Care system serving 70,000 employees in 12 teaching hospitals with dozens of different medical/surgical specialities as well as thousands of office-based providers and their staff. In Epic I have learned the 6 different ways of using 13 different tabs or, worse still, those tiny little icons stuffed into the margin of the screen to get the information I need to see the next patient in a pediatric office. As I traverse the various and varied screens I usually am exposed to too much data and not enough information. It is clear to most of my colleagues and our staff that Epic is chiefly designed as an “optimizer of insurance reimbursement”; probably one reason that large hospital systems and their associated physician networks buy it. A recent Epic “upgrade” was so devoid of any upgrade in clinical relevance that it did nothing to dissuade our view of it as a “reimbursement optimization tool”.

One of Dr. Gawande’s insight as to why doctors have some much trouble liking the new way of computer documentation of everything is that computers do not handle “surprises” very well. In seeking a diagnosis and determining treatment, not all doctor’s questions and certainly not all patients’ answers can be accurately recorded with a simple click in a box. The computer thrives on all those clicks in all those boxes. Doctors do not. We often meander around in our conversations with a patient guided by chance comments or even subtle physical clues. If we elicit a “surprise” we can pursue it much more intelligently and enlightening than the computer can document it. In Gawande’s words computer programs are “brittle, bureaucratic, inflexible, designed for large data bases, rule-based, inflexible, and very difficult to adapt”; in short, unable to handle “surprises” easily. 

Defenders of Epic view their efforts as optimization of the medical care process – “reconfiguring various functions according to feedback from users.” An Epic VP labeled that as the “Revenge of the Ancillaries”. The “users” of an MRI or a X-ray request from a doctor are radiology techs or radiology department secretaries.  The questions they want answered may have little clinical importance but have multiplied within the computer screen requisition that now requires more data entry, more reading, and more in-the-box clicking by the doctor. Some computer programs allow the doctor to delegate ordering tasks, some don’t, and some, like Epic, allow delegating some tasks but not for others. Doctors who are now embracing the delegation of tasks by hiring nurse practitioners and physician assistants are confronting computer programs which are restricting delegation.

Studies have documented that doctors spend two hours in front of a computer for every one hour in front of a patient. In response a new “delegated person”, a medical scribe, has been hired by some doctors. A medical scribe is a non-physician that observes the doctor-patient visit and enters information into the computer freeing the doctor up to maximize the face-to-face patient interaction. (In Quality Management, aka Quality Assurance or Performance Improvement, we call this a “work around” – a human adaptation to bypass a problem in a operating system.)

The Clinical Director of the Partners Epic system defends its as being “for the patients, not the doctors.” Patients gain more access to their medical records like their lab test results, their medications, summary of their visits, and increased opportunity for communication with their physicians. Patient access to their medical record is via a “patient portal”; often touted as a successful way to build a practice and be a modern practitioner. Unfortunately the patient portal has not been the slam dunk it was expected to be. It certainly has not been in our pediatric practice. “Why Are Patient Portals Such Duds?” and other recent reviews describe some of both doctor and patient barriers to their adoption.

The Clinical Director of Partners Epic takes the long view that patients will eventually use the EMR as currently hoped and hyped. We shall see, and in the meantime I hope that fewer practicing primary care doctors experience “burn out” and that fewer new medical school graduates shun primary care practice.

References:
1. New Yorker Magazine, November 12, 2018, Atul Gawande


Vol. 203 November 15, 2018 Recent Updates

November 15, 2018

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Unsafe Toys for Christmas 2018
World Against Toys Causing Harm or W.A.T.C.H. has just released its 5th annual list of “worst toys for the holiday season” picked for their potential cause of choking, eye injury, or other safety hazard. In 2016 there were 240,000 toy-related injuries. During 2014 to 2016 there were 35 toy-related deaths. The top ten worst toys this year include:

  • Nickelodeon Nella Princess Sleeptime Pet Pillow – choking and suffocation (“DO NOT USE IN CRIB”)
  • Nerf Praxis Blaster- “rapid fire” projectiles could cause eye injuries
  • Marvel Black Panther Slash Claw – “it can actually slash”
  • Power Range Ninja Superstar Blade – “plastic chain saw that can actually cut”
  • Cabbage Patch Dance Time Doll – choking (Is nothing sacred?!)
  • Stomp Ultra Rocket – “fires up to 200 ft. in the air if not stopped by an eye”

Lower Your Prostate Cancer Risk by Riding a Bicycle
Men who did long-term vigorous exercise like biking, swimming, or running had a 25-30% less chance of developing advanced or lethal prostatic cancer. Exercise even lowered the risk for those men who have a specific genetic subtype of prostatic cancer seen in half of the deaths. “The influence of insulin, growth factors, and other metabolic factors” is thought to be the link between exercise and the lower risk according to this Harvard School of Public Health study of 49,000 healthy men between 1986 and 2012.

Many Nutritional Supplements Include Contaminants
Half of U.S, adults take some sort of nutritional supplements spending about $30 billion annually, and the FDA is prohibited by law to evaluate supplements for safety or efficacy PRIOR to marketing. The FDA can issue post-marketing warnings about adulterants. One study from 2007 to 2016 identified 776 supplements, mostly for sexual enhancements, weight loss, or muscle building, with either adverse events or consumer complaints,. Of the 28 products that had received two or more “FDA warnings” 19 continued to be sold. In another study of 21 supplements with “FDA warnings” because of one or more unapproved stimulants, 12 were still available in 2007 and 9 of the 12 still contained the same stimulants. Q.E.D.; FDA warnings have little effect in protecting consumers from potentially harmful effects of contaminants in nutritional supplements.

Does Drinking More Water Reduce Bladder Infections in Women?
Yes, if they had 3 or more bladder infections in the previous year and are drinking LESS than the recommended 1500 ml. (4 water bottles) a day. If they doubled the amount of water to 3000 ml. (8 water bottles) a day the reoccurrence of a bladder infection is reduced from 3.2 a year to 1.7 a year (at least in Bulgarian women). If they were already drinking over the 1500 ml. minimum a day increasing the amount had no effect on recurrence. [All the U.S. women I know, at least in Barnstable county, take a bottle of water with them when they’re just going to the post office.]

One-half of Obese Adolescents Started Being Overweight When 3 – 5 Years Old (at least in 50,000 healthy German children)
Most of the children who were obese at age 6 were obese as adolescents. Rates of obesity were higher in children with overweight or obese mothers. “It is an ominous sign that the number of American children with the most recalcitrant forms of obesity has increased progressively during the past 10 years.” This study suggests that physicians should start nutritional counseling if exaggerated weight gain occurs after age 2! (NEJM October 4, 2018)

Do Not Use Infant Walkers
Despite the fact that the American Academy of Pediatrics has long called for infant walkers to be banned in the U.S. as they are in Canada, infant walkers are still sold here. An average of 9,000 infants a year under 15 months of age are treated in our ERs with head or neck injuries when infant walkers go down household stairs with an infant in them. The AAP says that “there is no advantage of the walker to the infant and parents should not use them.”

A Chilling Aftermath of Our Latest Gun Violence
A friend of mine has a brother who worships at that Pittsburgh synagogue. He was not there for the October massacre, but sat Shemira (literally a bodyguard) for a member who was. After Shemira the brother called my friend to say that he had bought a gun and obtained a carry permit. My friend was incredulous, and asked him, “When are YOU going to carry a gun?” His brother’s answer, “Only when I pray”.

A Prayer for Our Times
The mid-term elections are over, but the political hyperbole and acrimony, especially from the President to the press, is not. On Veterans’ Day we sang “America the Beautiful” in church, and I was struck by the relevance of the unappreciated second verse:

“America! America! mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control, thy liberty in law.”

Have a Happy Thanksgiving.


Vol. 202 November 1, 2018 Happy Halloween

November 1, 2018

Hub thumbnail 2015 It is the day after Halloween, so I wanted to write a scary blog, and I couldn’t think of anything scarier than a massacre of 11 praying people by someone with an semi-automatic assault rifle.

The Valentine’s Day Massacre of 1929 (only 7 dead)  resulted in a 1934 law restricting the sale, registering the owner (including fingerprints), limiting the transport, and  setting up a federal government record of Tommy guns.  The whole process of buying a Tommy gun took about 4 months.   The law (it was not a ban) worked for Tommy guns. They became too expensive, too scarce, and too much of a hassle to own, and they have  disappeared from our everyday life. Maybe that law happened because a majority of people regarded the Chicago mobsters as criminals.

So why not pass effective federal restrictions on the sale and ownership of assault rifles? Let’s acknowledge that people who use them to kill other people are just criminals.  Lets stop all the noise and emotional overlay about the shooter’s motives and background. Just call him “a criminal” and restrict access for future criminals to his weapon of choice. Such assault rifle restrictions (not a ban) might, at least, successfully reduce the body count for any one particular future rampage. There are plenty of other kinds of guns around that the mentally deranged, political extremist, terrorist, or even just a ticked-off jilted lover can use, so no one’s constitutional right will be abridged.

On the other hand, the October 2018 Philadelphia synagogue massacre somehow doesn’t seem all that scary. After all, we have had similar massacres in night clubs, Southern churches, rock concerts, movie theaters, and elementary schools. Some of us may have kind of “gotten used to it”. Sort of like that old story of the frog sitting in a pot of water getting hotter and hotter on the stove burner, and the frog, not sensing the heat increase by degrees, just sits there until he is boiled up.

By Degrees” is a song written by Mark Erelli that relates that “frog in hot water” story to our epidemic of gun violence. Other famous singer-songwriters, Rosanne Cash, Sheryl Crow, Josh Ritter, Lori McKenna, and Anais Mitchell join him in singing it. Gabby Giffords: Courage to Fight Gun Violence is helping to distribute it as a digital copy. You can go to www.bydegreessong.com to download it while you watch a video of the lyrics. All of the $4.69 and any additional money you wish to donate goes directly to the Gabby Giffords fund.

Go to the By Degrees website, and click the “GET THE SONG” button. This will take you to Giffords’ Act Blue donation page, where you can pay any amount you like for the song, and you will immediately receive a thank you email with a link to download the track.

BY DEGREES by Mark Erelli
When I take a look around me sometimes I wish I was blind
Feels like something sacred’s dying, one headline at a time
I can’t tear myself away, no I just stare in disbelief
You can learn to live with anything when it happens by degrees

I’ve seen every head bowed down as if lost in private prayer
I’ve seen the phones in every hand, seen the long and vacant stares of souls gone numb,
thumbing through each ceaseless, changing feed
You can learn to live with anything when it happens by degrees

I’ve seen talking heads shout back and forth across some great divide
Against a map of red and blue, points of view so cut and dried
But when you look into the mirror what color country do you see?
Where you can learn to live with anything when it happens by degrees

I’ve seen the flags at half-staff as the nation mourned and moaned
I’ve seen the stars and bars a-flyin’ proud above the state house dome
For the Charleston nine we sing “I once was blind, but now I see”
We can learn to live with anything when it happens by degrees

I’ve seen little hands on little shoulders, children in a line
I’ve seen them led away from school as the shots rang out inside
And I thought something had to change but somehow it’s become routine
We can learn to live with anything when it happens by degrees

I’ve seen sadness seep into my heart, each day a little more
This darkness growing so familiar, I can’t recall what came before
My children’s faces filled with questions, looking up expectantly
And I don’t know what to tell them
I can’t bring myself to tell them
That you can learn to live with anything when it happens by degrees.

As Mark says, “I am under no illusions that my song will solve the problem of gun violence. But I have seen what doing nothing does and want to do something. I’m a songwriter and musician, so I did the only thing I knew how to do, as good as I could do it. I appreciate your support and urge you do what you can to support the cause against gun violence.

AND DON’T FORGET TO VOTE!


Vol. 201 October 15, 2018 Medical Facts and Fantasies?

October 15, 2018

Hub thumbnail 2015A baby aspirin a day does not necessarily keep the doctor away.
Daily low dose (81 mg. or a baby tablet) aspirin protects you from having your SECOND heart attack, not your first one. Another recent study confirmed that aspirin gives no such protection to someone who has a normal heart history. A baby aspirin is of NO benefit for primary cardiovascular disease prevention. (Despite these repeated studies many of us continue on our merry way of taking a daily baby aspirin in hopes of preventing “the big one.” )

Ritalin is apparently better than nothing . . . and lots of other things.
ADHD (Attention-Deficit-Hyperactivity-Disorder) in school children is not helped much by non-drug therapy. A 2011 review of 54 studies showed little lasting effectiveness of neurofeedback, child behavioral training, parent training, cognitive behavioral (“talk”) therapy, dietary changes, or herbal and Omega fatty acid supplements when compared to the usual psychostimulant drugs like Ritalin. (This lack of evidence of any benefits from non-drug treatment of this common condition is disappointing. The reviewers themselves call for additional studies.)

There’s An App For It – Among things that your smartphone can do are:

  • Record and transmit a electrocardiogram of your heart rate and rhythm.
  • Ask questions to determine whether you are slipping into a depression, and send a text message to your therapist.
  • Have a trained counselor call you within an hour of you opening up a bluetooth equipped HIV self-test kit to interpret the results for you.
  • Adjust the volume and sound characteristics of the hearing aid in your ear.
  • Operate an automatic pill dispenser filled with your daily medications.
  • Give you a “text neck”. The 60 degree angle of your neck as you text puts about 60 pounds of strain on your spine. (That’s the equivalent of 4 bowling balls).
  • Measure, record, and transmit your blood pressure or blood glucose level.
  • Give you an inaccurate pulse oximetry reading if using a non-FDA approved monitoring app. (In fact, the FDA faced with the existence of about 400,000 health and wellness apps has decided to review 20 apps a year that are directly related to gathering and transmitting clinical data. – FitBits are not included in that category)

Got your flu shot yet?
This year the CDC is recommending the quadrivalent flu vaccine for everyone over 6 months old who does not have a medical contraindication. No particular vaccine brand is recommended over the others. People with egg allergies can safely receive any of the vaccines. ( The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is pouring money into research efforts to reduce the potential effects of one of their greatest fear, another flu pandemic.)

Parents know best.
Children sleep better if fed earlier in life. Official pediatric policy used be to start solids at 6 months. Many parents think that starting at 3 months causes longer sleep periods and less sleep problems. A study of 1300 breast-fed infants in England and Wales showed that the parents are right. Duh! (Pediatricians used to recommend starting certain solid foods at even a later age because of potential food allergies. That is no longer true.)

The “other shoe” on probiotics.
The current wisdom that “probiotics are harmless and can benefit everyone” is not necessarily true. The exploding volume of research on our “microbiome” (the bacteria in our intestines) reveals that the bacterial mix in our intestines is unique to each individual (like a fingerprint) and is “good” for us in its natural state. Probiotics can change that mix, and one study shows that some of us have guts that are not only “resistant” to probiotics, but that alteration of our natural mix by probiotics could delay recovery from some illnesses.

Why your visit to your doctor’s office isn’t the same as the “old days”.
It is estimated that a typical primary care physician needs 22 hours a day to address all of the preventive, acute, and chronic needs of an average patient panel of 2,500 patients. This includes all of the insurance-prescribed, electronically embedded (in the electronic medical record – EMR) quality measures tied to the reimbursement of the physician. (This is one reason we patients are filling out more questionnaires, clicking on more boxes on a screen, and spending more time with nurse practitioners and physician assistants when we go to the doctor’s office. “The doc can’t do it all any more.”)

Watch out. More un-immunized children are on their way to school.
A 2017 CDC telephone survey indicates that about 100,000 children in the U.S. born in 2015 and 2016 have not received vaccination against the 14 disease for which shots are recommended. This is an increase from a similar study of children born in 2011.

Too fat? Just take a pill. . . A new kind of pill.
A capsule with a long thin plastic tube is swallowed by the patient. Once in the stomach air is pushed down the thin plastic tube, the capsule expands into a balloon filling 1/3 of the stomach, the patient has sensation of having a full stomach, and the thin tube breaks off and is withdrawn. In about three months the stomach balloon disintegrates, deflates, and is passed out in the stool. It has been approved in Europe and is being tested in the U.S. hoping for FDA approval in 2020. Another start-up company is hoping that their capsule filled with gel that expands in the stomach juices and accomplishes the same thing will also be approved. ( The gel-filled capsule is a bit of deja vu for me. As a chubby pre-teen trying to lose weight, I remember taking a tablespoon of “weight-loss powder” a half-hour before a meal, waiting to let it expand in my stomach, and feeling less hungry  so I ate less. I forget its name, but I do clearly remember the time I was in a particular hurry, ate too soon after the dose, and promptly emptied my over-filling stomach onto my shoes.)

A timely tip for women.
With all the surprise disclosures of “good men” exhibiting past sexual harassment acts and even sexual assaults, how can a woman feel confident that the man she is with is not the aggressive type? A recent study suggests you can just look at his hands. The shorter the index finger is compared to the ring finger, the more aggressive the man may be. This is from a study of 300 Canadian men and women. No correlation of personality to finger lengths was found in women. Researchers associate this finding with “the amount of testosterone that babies are exposed to in utero”. ( Or could it be related to being born North of the 49th parallel?! )


Vol. 200 October 1, 2018 “Memories Are Made Of This” (apologies to Dean Martin)

October 1, 2018

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The man [or woman] with a clear conscience probably has a poor memory. ~Author Unknown

 

 

He said. She said. Which one has the correct memory? That’s a very good question . . . and there are a variety of answers.

Before the memory is made, of course, perception has to occur. As the police, lawyers, and judges know, perceptions of the same event can vary considerably between witnesses. Much has been written about the unreliability and inaccuracy of eyewitnesses to a crime. Extreme stress during a criminal act, presence of weapons, brief time durations, racial disparities, and lack of significant physical characteristics are some of the causes of much different perceptions. But some of it is due to how our brain works.

As an example of perceptual differences in viewing even non-stressful events click here and watch a video of an attentiveness test. It is a variation of the famous 1999 “Invisible Gorilla” perception test.

In the recent confirmation hearing of a Supreme Court judge dominating our current media only the two principals will be telling their story. Since he denies the event as described by her, and no eyewitness is available, we are back to the reliability of memories.

Memories are thought to be reconstructed like a puzzle rather than being played back like a videotape. Other people questioning the memory, challenging details, asking for repeated retelling (as in the “telephone” party game), or unintentionally giving non-verbal clues can actually alter how the puzzle is reconstructed. Police line-ups as a way of identifying criminals has long thought to be rife with such errors.

False memories have intentionally been created in experiments where researchers present to a number of adults four stories of their own early childhood. Three are true memories. The false story contains some true, irrelevant, but known to the reader, details provided by relatives. Each adult is asked to add any other details they can remember to the stories. In the end one-third of the adults believed that the false memory was true. In follow-up interviews 25% still felt that the false memory was true. This, of course, was a highly structured, experimental manipulation not easily mimicked in real life, but it shows that false memories can be created by outside influences.

Mitchell Garabedian, the lawyer that represented victims of Catholic clergy sexual abuse feels that victims often come forward because they feel obligated to for the sake of others. He also notes that both persons believe wholeheartedly that their memory is true, so that both will appear to be equally credible. (1)  This suggests that lie detector test results are irrelevant to characterizing memories as either true or false.

The debate about whether recovered memory in child abuse cases is false or true flared to a peak in the 1990’s. “Recent debates between differing schools of scientific thought, fueled by the media and by lay organizations with varied political agendas, have left the public confused and misinformed regarding the nature of traumatic memories” – ( this was writtenin in 1994!)  In an effort to reconcile the differences of scientific opinion of recovery memory in child abuse cases, a national symposium of all kinds of experts with all kinds of theories was convened in 2012. It did not produce a consensus, but it did produce a 255 page book that you are welcome to read.  (Full disclosure by my true memory: I did not read the whole thing)

“Emotional arousal appears to increase the likelihood of memory consolidation during the retention (storage) stage of memory (the process of creating a permanent record of information). A number of studies show that over time, memories for neutral stimuli decrease but memories for arousing stimuli remain the same or improve. Others have discovered that memory enhancements for emotional information tend to be greater after longer delays than after relatively short ones. This delayed effect is consistent with the proposal that emotionally arousing memories are more likely to be converted into a relatively permanent trace, whereas memories for non-arousing events are more vulnerable to disruption. Several studies have demonstrated that the presentation of emotionally arousing stimuli (compared to neutral stimuli) results in enhanced memory for central details (details central to the appearance or meaning of the emotional stimuli) and impaired memory for peripheral details.  A few studies have even found that emotionally arousing stimuli enhance memory only after a delay.”

We know from PTSD studies that traumatic memories can be either haunting or forgotten. Traumatic memories that are a single event, involve an adult victim, and receive validation and support are more apt to be retained as a “continuous memory”. (i.e.; a rape, assault) Trauma that is repetitive, involving a child victim, and is followed by denial and secrecy is more apt to produce “disassociation/amnesia” (i.e.; incest, abuse, torture).

After reading this you may still be uncertain about who has the correct memory, as well as being undecided about whether the Senate Judicial Committee hearing was a kangaroo court or not. “A kangaroo court is a judicial tribunal or assembly that blatantly disregards recognized standards of law or justice, and often carries little or no official standing in the territory within which it resides. The term may also apply to a court held by a legitimate judicial authority who intentionally disregards the court’s legal or ethical obligations. A kangaroo court is often held to give the appearance of a fair and just trial, even though the verdict has in reality already been decided before the trial has begun. This could be because of the biases of the decision-maker, or because the structure and operation of the forum result in an inferior brand of adjudication.”

HAVE A NICE DAY! If you do, please make sure to remember it.

References:
1. Boston Globe, Sept 23, 2018, B2, Steve Annear

 


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