Monday, April 10, 2017

Another Life in Second Life

Contributing Author: Slatan Dryke

Introduction by Slatan Dryke

Corriere della Sera (Evening Courier) is an historic Italian newspaper, founded in Milan in 1876. It is the first Italian newspaper for circulation (more than 460,000 daily printed/digital copies).

The first edition was announced by newsboys in Piazza della Scala at 9pm on Sunday, March 5, 1876. The launch took place on the first Sunday of Lent (traditionally the day the Milanese newspapers did not come out). Corriere then exploited the absence of competition; however, in order to not alienate the competitors, they donated the proceeds of the first issue to charity.

Corriere has a supplement called La Lettura (The Reading). La Lettura is the weekly insert of Corriere della Sera dedicated to the world of culture, art, books and music. Originally, La Lettura was an illustrated magazine published from 1901 to 1946. The magazine returned in 2011, as a supplement attached to the edition of the Sunday newspaper.

Virtual Ability was contacted by a journalist who was interested to know more about the group’s activities in Second Life. I am Italian, so for an easier and quicker collaboration I was placed in charge of giving all the information requested.

The following is a translation of the article which was published on March 5, 2017. The date is just a coincidence!


Another life in Second Life

by Pietro Minto * Illustration by Mirco Tangherli

"The virtual reality site appeared to have lost its relevance, but over time it has seen a new energy, thanks to disabled and chronically ill avatars."

Second Life® - it has been said for a time - is just a memory, one of the many web phenomena that had disappeared after some seasons of glory. For those who do not remember, Second Life is an online virtual world launched in 2003 and created by Linden Research Inc.®, a corporation based in San Francisco. Inside the platform anyone can create a character (avatar) and wander through, meeting other users. Anything can happen: users can get married, exchange goods and have sex. For a couple of years Second Life really seemed the medium of the future: the media were convinced, Businessweek has dedicated a cover to the phenomenon, which incidentally was proposed as the perfect synthesis between the MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game - video games where thousands of people play simultaneously the same game) and the idea of virtual reality that we all had in mind, from the eighties.

Things did not go well, though. Over time the real world forgot Second Life and moved on to the social networks and video games like World of Warcraft, virtual worlds populated by millions of users who interact online. Yet the product still exists and it is used by about 800 thousand users per month - a trifle by comparison with Facebook and Twitter, but a large enough community to contain multitudes. What few know is that in recent years Second Life has become a useful tool for many people in need.

In this virtual world, for example, there is an archipelago of five islands called Virtual Ability Island, home of a community dedicated to people who have physical or mental disabilities. A little further on we find Brigadoon Island, populated by people with Asperger's syndrome, a developmental disorder of the autistic realm that concerns social relations. Or again, a disco called Wheelies, which is the main spot for wheelchair users. Second Life has become a reference point for many people, who can live in an alternative world, whose social interactions are based on entirely different rules and procedures. Just like in World of Warcraft, where many people are playing the same game at the same time, but Second Life is not a fantasy environment: it is a 3D version of the real world.

According to research by Karen Stendal University of Molde, Norway, the virtual reality solves two of the main problems faced by people with chronic diseases and disabilities: accessibility and mobility. “Some adults with permanent disabilities,” wrote Stendal, “demonstrate communicative problems. This has an impact on the ability of these individuals to interact with others, start friendships and do their part as members of a community.”

Second Life, along with other online resources like forums and specialized blogs, proved to be a “viable inclusive force” for people normally isolated. The mobility potential of the virtual world it is clear: the movements are unlimited and without dangers, there are no barriers and there is no need for caregivers. To increase the inclusiveness, there is the possibility to change the avatar appearance and the surroundings; in Second Life, anyone can be what he wants and change the world how he wants. Virtual Ability is the largest community on the platform, operated by an American nonprofit organization that organizes activities and events both in the real and the digital worlds. Its inworld headquarters is a unique place with different structures and a walkway with billboards and information that users can click and read. The community boasts about a thousand from around the world.

La Lettura has been in contact with one of the Italian members, Slatan Dryke - one of the platform's strengths is the anonymity - he has been in Second Life since 2007; he joined the VAI group in 2011.

“I knew its excellent reputation,” he said, referring to VAI, “since I am a member of other support groups with the role of Mentor,” a guide figure for other members.

“Second Life in general, but Virtual Ability in my particular case,” adds Slatan, “helped me to reconnect with reality and my life, as a further support to the therapy that I followed to manage a form of PTSD.”

The inhabitants of this archipelago are a diverse group: “about one quarter of our members are not disabled, but they have a relative or friends with disabilities, or are female and male nurses, researchers and medical professionals.”

The other people of Virtual Ability may live with conditions of disability or discomfort that include paralysis, spasticity, depression or anxiety, Down's syndrome, autism and other sensory problems such as blindness and deafness.

Virtual Ability works closely with researchers and scientists to analyze the role that virtual reality can have in people with certain disorders.

Virtual Ability's world in between the real and the virtual: the corporation organizes two annual events open to the public, the Mental Health Symposium and the International Disability Rights Affirmation Conference, in addition to many daily events in the virtual platform.

“Some events,” explains Slatan, “are educational, while others are oriented toward entertainment, such as themed parties, trivia competitions or tours to explore other locations in the virtual world.”

VAI is also populated by parents and guardians who tell their experiences, as in the case of Shiloh's mother, a child with Down syndrome whose avatar is a grown man, photographed while watering the garden.

Into this virtual reality, the woman says, “My son has pumpkins. He learned to count to four, sometimes goes skating, he loves to flip.” Here, Shiloh can move freely, garden (something that excites him) and learn new words.

Then there is Zip's dad, a child with cerebral palsy, he joined in Second Life after watching a video on YouTube, in which a person with the same problem found a bit of serenity in the virtual world.

(Editor’s note: The journalist mistyped in the original article. The paragraph should read as follows: “Then there is Zip’s daughter, a child with cerebral palsy, who joined Second Life after watching a video on YouTube, in which she saw that a person with the same problem had found a bit of serenity in the virtual world.”)

Now, this utopian island between bits and real pain might remind one of San Junipero, an episode of the fourth season of Black Mirror, a television series on the relationship between humans and technology. There was set up a simulated world where terminally ill individuals could move to full-time, going back to their youth and experiencing a digital endless peace.

The television reference is easy considering the case of Fran Serenade, told recently by the BackChannel site, an 89-year-old lady who in Second Life has chosen to create an avatar to dance as she once loved to do in her youth.

Between fun and therapy, this platform seems to be an important resource that will improve quality of life for many people. Another study conducted by Karen Stendal has demonstrated the potential of these worlds, focusing on the relationship between the users and their avatars, which can become a strong relationship, even if it takes time to grow.

The same also happens with other avatars, representing a part of that society (the others) with which some of these people have trouble relating.

Virtual Ability is not the only group. There are over 120 support groups in Second Life, dedicated to different types of chronic diseases or disabilities, from cancer survivors to depression, from multiple sclerosis to various forms of addiction.

Now, if someone tries to tell you that Second Life no longer exists, you can allow yourself to disagree.


For additional reading:

Part of the original article in Italian, on PressReader: https://www.pressreader.com/italy/la-lettura/20170305/282162176004718

Corriere della Sera - La Lettura on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/LaLetturaCorriere/photos/pcb.1329468063780176/1329460567114259/?type=3&theater


Photo Credits:Corriere della Sera

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Humpday Hint: HUD Housing Wait List Tip

Contributing Author: Roxie Marten

Most income-based apartments managed or owned by the Department of Housing and Urban Development also known as "HUD", have a waiting list. It is not based solely on "first come first served," but there are also other requirements that set your place on the list.

One additional factor is health issues. If you have a legitimate reason to be in that particular location due to its proximity to your health care providers or to mass transit to get you to your doctor, let HUD know. You will need to have your doctor write a letter stating why he/she feels you need to be living in the place you are seeking. This may have a positive effect with your standing on the list.

This is not a golden ticket to a new place to live, but it may help you get moved in sooner.

Image Source: Pixabay

Saturday, March 11, 2017

March is Developmental Disabilities Month

Contributing Author: Alice Krueger


March is Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month. Here are some answers to common questions about Developmental Disabilities.

What are Developmental Disabilities?

The term “Developmental Disabilities” is a generic grouping that includes a range of chronic conditions detected before adulthood and which persist throughout life. These conditions cause a variety of cognitive and/or physical symptoms. They limit three or more of the following major life activities:
  • understanding and using language
  • self-care
  • self-direction
  • learning
  • movement
  • economic self-sufficiency
  • capacity for independent living
Such impairments often mean the individual with a Developmental Disability will need some level of sustained support or assistance.

Are Developmental Disabilities the same as Intellectual Disabilities?

Intellectual Disabilities are the most common type of Developmental Disability. Individuals with Intellectual Disabilities have an IQ below 70. They have difficulty with independent living and socialization because they have poor intellectual functioning and limited adaptive behavior. Intellectual functioning includes learning, solving problems and reasoning. Adaptive behavior includes everyday practical life and social skills.

What problems do persons with Intellectual Disabilities face?

Persons with Intellectual Disabilities have trouble learning, processing and remembering new information. This leads to academic difficulties. They have trouble with abstract thought and planning, and function better at the concrete directed level. They also have problems with social interactions; they have difficulty making friends, communicating, and making sound interpersonal judgments. Many have trouble with practical functions, affecting self-care or employment.

Intellectual Disabilities may be mild, moderate or severe, depending on the impact on the person’s daily life. A person with a mild level of Intellectual Disability may be able to learn to read at an elementary level, and may be able to function in social settings. About 85% of persons with Intellectual Disabilities have a mild level of impact.

What are some other types of Developmental Disabilities?

Cerebral palsy impacts a person’s muscular control, affecting movement, balance and posture. It is the most common motor disability identified in children. Cerebral palsy is not an Intellectual Disability.

Individuals with Down syndrome are born with an extra copy of the 21st chromosome in the nuclei of their cells. They have a range of limitations that may be physical or cognitive, and may cause from mild to severe impact on independent living.

Fragile X syndrome is a rare genetic condition usually found in males. It is thought to be a cause of autistic-like behaviors, ADD and other forms of Intellectual Disabilities. Physically, individuals with Fragile X syndrome are distinguished by long faces, prominent foreheads and large ears.

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) are caused by the mother drinking alcohol during pregnancy. In addition to significant learning and behavior problems, persons with FASD have characteristic facial features and low height or weight for their age.

Persons with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) may have significant communication, behavior and social difficulties; their cognitive abilities may range from severely disabled to gifted. Some people with autism spectrum disorder need support in all aspects of their daily lives; others do not.

Spina bifida is a birth defect that occurs when the spinal column fails to develop normally during pregnancy. The impact of spina bifida depends on both the position of the defect and its severity.

What are IDDs?

IDD is the abbreviation of “Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities.” Since many Developmental Disabilities involve multiple body parts and intellectual functioning, the use of the combined term IDD can be appropriate.

However it is important to note that definitions of what constitutes an IDD vary anong different service providers and authorizing legislation.

How common are Developmental Disabilities?

The prevalence of Developmental Disabilities worldwide is unknown. The National Association of Councils of Developmental Disabilities estimates that over five million people have Developmental Disabilities in the US.

The United Nations Development Program estimates that the incidence of Intellectual Disabilities worldwide is between 1-3%. They also indicate that Intellectual Disability is more common in persons living in low-income countries.

What causes Developmental Disabilities?

The different types of Developmental Disabilities have distinct causes, all related to disruptions of normal brain development. For some forms, for example Fragile X Syndrome and Down Syndrome, the cause is known to be genetic. With Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, the problem occurred during pregnancy. For other types, such as cerebral palsy, the brain damage occurred near or during birth.

Other causes of Developmental Disabilities are diseases of the pregnant mother (such as infection with Zika virus), exposure of the pregnant mother to environmental toxins (such as PCBs), early childhood illness or injury (including abuse), and poverty and cultural deprivation.

In many cases, the cause of a Developmental Disability is unknown. This is true for two-thirds of children with Intellectual Disabilities.

How are Developmental Disabilities diagnosed?

Some Developmental Disabilities can be diagnosed in utero or by physical examination at birth. The existence of a Developmental Disability in other children is suspected when childhood developmental stages, such as sitting up, walking and talking, are missed. This is followed by physical examinations and genetic tests seeking causes for the developmental delays.

What are dual diagnoses?

Many individuals with a Developmental Disability also have other physical and/or mental health issues. Due to these associated health issues, life expectancy for a person with a Developmental Disability is generally about 20 years below the national average.

People with communication difficulties might have problems explaining their health needs. Some persons with Intellectual Disabilities may need assistance recognizing the need for and obtaining health care. This can result in obesity, poor dental health, and impaired vision or hearing. Similarly, mental health issues are more common in people with Developmental Disabilities than in the general population, and are more difficult to treat.

Some specific developmental conditions result in physical health issues; for example, persons with Down syndrome often have poor cardiac function. Some persons with Developmental Disabilities display challenging behaviors such as aggression, self-injury, or stereotyped behaviors that can result in additional diagnoses.

Where can I find out more about Developmental Disabilities?

A display on Virtual Ability’s Healthinfo Island in Second Life provides additional detailed information about Developmental Disabilities. You can visit the display here:http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Healthinfo%20Island/187/181/24


Many support organizations exist at national and local levels. Consult the ones closest to you. Here are a few links to national organizations that may prove helpful:

US
American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities: https://aaidd.org/
The ARC: http://www.thearc.org/
Easter Seals: http://www.easterseals.com/
Goodwill Industries: http://www.goodwill.org/
National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities: http://nacdd.org/
National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities: https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/index.html
National Association for the Dually Diagnosed: http://thenadd.org/
University Centers for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities: http://www.aucd.org/

UK
Contact a Family: http://www.cafamily.org.uk/
Together Trust: https://www.togethertrust.org.uk/
Clear Helper (list of organizations in England): http://www.clearhelper.org/resources/cwa/sites/orgs/id/England/

Australia
Inclusion Australia: http://ncid.org.au/
Australia Federation of SPELD Associations: http://auspeld.org.au/
Australian Advisory Board on Autism Spectrum Disorders: http://www.autismadvisoryboard.org.au/

Canada
Canadian Association for Community Living: http://www.cacl.ca/about-us/definitions-terminology

International
Special Olympics: http://www.specialolympics.org/

Image Credits:
Boy with Down Syndrome: Boy with Down Syndrom, Wikimedia Commons
Healthinfo Island Display: iSkye Silverweb

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Healthinfo Island: Virtual Health Awareness Displays

Contributing Author: Gentle Heron

Not only does Virtual Ability have a vibrant, active community in Second Life® (SL), there is a sim that Virtual Ability, Inc.® owns, called Healthinfo Island. The displays are frequently updated, thanks to the efforts of community member Mook Wheeler, with themed interesting facts and information on different awareness topics.

March is Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Month
http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Healthinfo%20Island/196/156/23


Other exhibits and displays on Healthinfo Island during March:


Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month
http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Healthinfo%20Island/187/181/24

Bleeding Disorders Awareness Month
http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Healthinfo%20Island/172/154/22

Poison Prevention Week
http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Healthinfo%20Island/111/81/24

Brain Injury Awareness Month
http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Healthinfo%20Island/99/37/26

World TB Day
http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Healthinfo%20Island/51/27/28

Burn Awareness (remaining from February)
http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Healthinfo%20Island/25/24/30

What do you call people with disabilities? (remaining from February)
http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Healthinfo%20Island/21/62/32

In order to visit these displays, if you don't already have a Second Life account, you will need to download and install software on your computer. To get started, sign up for Second Life. If you have questions or need more information, you can contact Virtual Ability, Inc.

Images Credit: iSkye Silverweb



Tuesday, March 7, 2017

March is Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Month

Contributing Author: Gentle Heron


March is Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Month, and March 5-11 this year is MS Awareness Week. Here are some answers to common questions about Multiple Sclerosis.

What is Multiple Sclerosis?
Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease of the central nervous system (CNS). The central nervous system is the brain and spinal cord, but does not include the nerves that run throughout the body. Nerve cells in the CNS have fibers called axons that are coated with a fatty insulation known as myelin. The myelin insulation allows nerve messages to travel properly along the axons.

What is an Autoimmune Disease?
Autoimmune diseases occur when the body’s immunity defense system mistakes the body’s own tissues for “enemies” and destroys them. In Multiple Sclerosis, the immune system randomly attacks the myelin coating of nerve cells in the CNS. Damage to myelin leads to scars in the tissue of the brain and spinal cord. These scars or lesions disrupt transmission of nerve messages. Distorted nerve messages lead to a variety of symptoms in the body and mind.

It is these scars in nervous tissue that the disease is named for. There are numerous (multiple) scars (scleroses) seen on MRI scans when the disease has been active.

Is Multiple Sclerosis contagious or fatal?
It is important to note that MS is not fatal. It is also not contagious. Symptoms of MS can be managed medically. However, MS is a chronic progressive neurological disease for which there is no known cause or cure. It is a highly individualized disabling condition, due to the randomness of the scarring on nerves in the CNS.

What does it mean that MS is chronic and progressive?
Chronic progressive diseases persist throughout the person’s lifetime, and tend to cause more problems over time. MS follows different courses of progression in different people. Most people who are first diagnosed with MS have the relapsing-remitting form of the disease. For them, the progression is uneven. After an initial set of symptoms appear, leading to the diagnosis, the symptoms may go away entirely or may continue to be present at some level. The disappearance of the symptoms is the remission phase of MS. People with MS who are in remission may not appear to be disabled.

When the same or different symptoms reappear at a later date, that is the relapse phase of the disease. The reappearance of symptoms is also called a flare or exacerbation. It is impossible to predict when exacerbations will occur.

Over time, almost all persons with MS experience an increase in the number and/or severity of symptoms. This means the disease is progressing. In some people the progression begins or becomes steady, without the acute relapses and remission phases.

You can view an llustration at http://mymsaa.org/ms-information/overview/types/ showing the different types of Multiple Sclerosis.

How common is Multiple Sclerosis? Who gets it?
It is estimated that about 2.5 million people have MS around the globe. The prevalence of MS is approximately 90 in every 100,000 people in a population. In the US, about 400,000 people have been diagnosed with MS. Most are between the ages of 10 and 80.

Multiple Sclerosis can affect people of any age, gender or ethnicity. However, some people are at a higher risk of getting MS. Women are three times as likely to get MS as are men. Caucasians are more likely to get MS than Hispanics or blacks, and MS is rare in Asians. Persons who have a close relative with MS have an increased risk of also having MS.

The incidence of MS increases the farther north you go from the equator. In the United States, northern states (above the 37th parallel) have twice as many cases of MS as southern states. Nobody really knows why this occurs, but it may be related to lower amounts of sunlight at higher latitudes.

What causes MS?
The cause of Multiple Sclerosis remains unknown, although scientists who study the disease believe it may result from a combination of several factors. In addition to an abnormal immunological reaction, viruses or other infectious agents, inadequate vitamin D, environmental factors or genetic defects may lead to the development of MS in a susceptible person.

Is there a cure for MS? Are there treatments?
Unfortunately, since it is not known exactly what causes MS at the present time, there is no cure. However, there are two kinds of treatments.

Disease-modifying drugs, mainly available as injections, slow the progression of MS by altering the functioning of the immune system. They typically control the inflammation characteristic of the early stages of relapsing-remitting MS, and are not thought to be as effective when the disease becomes more neurodegenerative. Side effects of disease-modifying medications can be significant. While they can not cure MS, disease-modifying drugs do lower the frequency and severity of relapses and slow the development of new brain lesions in many patients.

Symptomatic treatment is available for individual problems such as spasticity, tremors, urinary incontinence, and gait abnormalities. During a relapse, steroids or other treatments are used to deal with the symptoms. Each symptomatic treatment brings additional side effects that must be taken into account in creating a treatment plan.

What is it like to have MS?
Multiple Sclerosis destroys nerve cells randomly in the brain and spinal cord. This results in highly individualized and unpredictable symptoms in the body, senses and mental capacity.

What kind of symptoms can MS cause? One of the most common physical symptoms is fatigue. A person with MS may have spasticity, tremors, muscle weakness, or impaired coordination and balance. Other physical symptoms are bladder, bowel, and sexual dysfunctions.

Sensory input is often altered with MS. A person with MS may feel numbness in various body parts, or have burning, itching, or painful sensations. Cognitive symptoms can include memory loss, inability to make decisions, depression, confusion, or difficulty finding a desired word in speech or writing.

Symptoms also can appear and disappear randomly. A person with MS may not know from day to day what capabilities he or she will have, and what difficulties he or she will need to face. The unpredictability of the disease is one of its most troubling symptoms.

How is Multiple Sclerosis diagnosed?
Diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis is not straightforward. In fact, in addition to showing that there are scars (lesions) in the central nervous system that occurred at different times, a variety of other diseases and disorders that can mimic the symptoms of MS must be ruled out before the diagnosis is confirmed. Neurologists use the detailed patient history and the results of tests such as MRIs, spinal taps and evoked potential exams in providing evidence for the diagnosis.

With no single test or combination of tests that always results in a clear diagnosis, patients are often left in limbo. It is important for persons with symptoms that might indicate MS to consult neurologists who are very familiar with MS, and to persist in seeking a correct diagnosis.

Is MS the same as MD?
No. MS stands for Multiple Sclerosis; MD is an abbreviation for Muscular Dystrophy. Although the symptoms of MS can be similar to those of MD, the diseases are completely different.

Muscular Dystrophy is a set of genetic diseases that affect muscles, not nerves. It is a rare disease, affecting mostly males. Although the causes of the various types of MD are known, there is still not a cure, although there are symptomatic treatments.

Where can I find out more about Multiple Sclerosis?
A display on Virtual Ability’s Healthinfo Island in Second Life provides additional detailed information about Multiple Sclerosis. You can visit the display here:
http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Healthinfo%20Island/196/156/23


Many support organizations exist at national and local levels. Consult the ones closest to you. Here are a few links to national organizations that may prove helpful:

US
National MS Society: http://www.nationalmssociety.org/
Multiple Sclerosis Association of America: http://mymsaa.org/
Multiple Sclerosis Foundation: https://msfocus.org/

UK
MS Trust: https://www.mstrust.org.uk/
MS Society: https://www.mssociety.org.uk/

Australia
MS Australia: https://www.msaustralia.org.au/

Canada
Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada: https://mssociety.ca/

International
MS International Federation: https://www.msif.org/

For a listing of other national organizations supporting persons with MS: http://multiple-sclerosis-research.blogspot.com/2012/12/ms-socieities.html

Monday, March 6, 2017

The "Why Not?" Attitude

Contributing Author: Slatan Dryke

During our lives, we must deal with some challenges. They may be physical or mental disabilities. In others, they are simply a lack of trust in our energy and perspective. To take up challenges can be good for personal improvement. You can do it to break down some barriers created by wrong rules and ignorance.

So why do we accept a challenge? Doing this is a means to generate the energy and the impulse to create a custom-made life. Everyone should discover or invent an "extraordinary obsession” that motivates us to create better lives for ourselves. It does not matter how complex it can be; for many people, it can be just to make some physical progress or have a positive thought.

We must find a challenge for the following reasons:

  1. Never wait for happiness, build it!
  2. Never wait for the right opportunity, cause it!
  3. Learn to do something for yourself to beautify your life, then it will be easier to do the same with others’ lives.

For many the fear of failure is stronger than the wish for success. Self-confidence becomes an attitude to develop: a small victory leads to a bigger one. Confidence is an essential outlook for good health and better quality of life.

Optimism comes from a Latin word, "optimum", that means the greater good, and in some people, it is not just an inclination but also a philosophy focused to find the better aspects, the promising opportunities in their lives.

We should learn how to develop a positive self-talk, even if it is only to think, "I cannot change my situation." Every one of us holds a continuous inner dialogue. With time, what we say to ourselves creates a strong foundation for our subconscious and it feeds into our deepest thoughts and feelings. "I am capable, I like myself, I am valiant." The subconscious reacts positively and we become better able to face the daily challenges and the future goals we want to reach.

An optimistic statement is a declaration full of emotional intensity, able to inspire the changes we want and seek. There are so many examples of people who have flipped things from a personal benefit to a global radical change: "Why not, I can do it" or "I did a lot, I cannot stop now."

So, whatever it is that you wish, whatever the challenge you set yourself to accomplish, once you have achieved it, this will be a renaissance. Every person has the desire for some renewal, small or big, while being able to have the right perception on what we are and which are our best qualities, yet also ready to accept our limitations.

You CAN change the circumstances. You CAN deal with a challenge, when you have a "why not?" attitude.

View this YouTube clip for an inspiring story about Kathrine Switzer, the first woman to enter the Boston Marathon: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fOGXvBAmTsY.

Images from the public domain: Alan Turing, Amelia Earhart, Artemisia Gentileschi, Edward Jenner, Emmeline Pankhurst.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Battling Fatigue

Contributing Author: Gentle Heron

Fatigue feels like a lower than normal amount of energy, as if your personal batteries are almost run down. There are many ways to combat this feeling of lethargy. Three changes to your daily routine will help you avoid fatigue.

  1. Avoid fast-digesting carbohydrates.
    Carbohydrates in food enter your cells as sugar, but some are faster to digest than others. Candy’s pure sugar almost immediately enters the bloodstream. This gives you a quick energy boost, but once your cells have stored away the blast of sugar, your energy level crashes. This often leaves you feeling tired or sleepy.

    Other foods, such as fibrous vegetables, take longer to break down into sugar in your digestive tract. The slow release of energy doesn’t cause the up-and-down feeling of energy from a fast-digesting carbohydrate.

    In addition to fatigue, high levels of blood sugar can lead to significant health problems such as Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and obesity.

    So find low-carb versions of your favorite high-carb dishes (try mashed cauliflower instead of mashed potatoes, for instance) and add more fiber to your meals (eat more legumes).
  2. Get enough sleep.
    Inadequate sleep, whether caused by insomnia, a disorder like sleep apnea, or simply not allowing adequate time in bed, not only makes you feel tired, but can lead to other health problems. Lack of sleep has been linked with high blood pressure, immune disorders, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and stroke.

    If the cause of your sleep deficit is a medical disorder, such as restless legs or snoring, check with your physician. If you just aren’t getting to bed soon enough, write your earlier planned bedtime in your planner. Establish a pre-sleep routine to wind down. Learn the new habit of getting enough shut eye. If you are thinking of using prescription or non-prescription sleep aids, carefully study the potential side effects.
  3. Exercise regularly.
    Exercise, even brisk walking, will help improve your health overall. You don’t need to hit the gym to use a treadmill or weight machines to reduce your risk of heart disease, increase your lifespan and strengthen your bones. Daily exercise also improves your mood, improves sleep quality, and fights fatigue.

Make these three changes in your lifestyle — better diet, adequate sleep and regular exercise — and you will soon feel peppier and less fatigued.

Images Credit: Pixabay

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Humpday Hint: Tipzzzzz for Better Sleep

Contributing Author: Gentle Heron

Most adults do not get the recommended 7 to 8 hours of high quality sleep each night. If you are sleeping more or less than the recommended amount, you are probably not functioning at full capacity. Here are some tips to help you sleep better and wake up feeling refreshed.

  • Be physically active for 30 minutes most days. Try to schedule your exercise sessions at least 3 hours before bedtime.
  • Limit caffeine in the morning and avoid it after noon. There are similar stimulants in nicotine and decongestants, so try to cut down.
  • Don’t nap within 6-8 hours of bedtime, and limit your nap to 30 minutes.
  • Eat dinner at the same time each day, and at least 2 or 3 hours before bedtime.
  • Go to bed and get up at the same times every day. Don’t sleep in or stay up late on weekends.

Sleep problems are treatable. If these tips do not improve your sleep, please talk with your healthcare provider.

Image Source: Pixabay

Monday, February 20, 2017

30 Useful Life Hacks: Volume 1

Compiled by: The Tortoise

1 Bounce batteries to see if they are good or bad. Drop them on a table from about 4 inches -- if they give one low flat bounce and fall right over, they're good. If they bounce around more than that, or bounce high, they're dead or on their way out.

2 If you want to render something you wrote effectively illegible, don't cross it out with lines. Instead, write random letters and words over your original writing.

3 To make a simple and effective cookbook holder, hook a trousers hanger over the kitchen cupboard door knob above your work surface, slip your open recipe book into its two hanger clips and voilĂ  -- a vertical recipe book display in front of your nose!

4 To chill a warm beer or bottled drink very quickly, wrap a wet paper towel around the bottle and put it in the freezer for 3 minutes.

5 Serving condiments at a BBQ? Use a muffin tin to serve 6 or more condiments at a go (depending on the size of your muffin tin), and save on the dishes. More ideas here!

6 Keep wrapping paper neat by cutting a toilet paper cardboard roll lengthwise on one side, then slipping it over the wrapping paper roll like a cuff.

7 Make ice cubes out of the same liquid they are going to be used in, such as tea, coffee, wine, etc. This will prevent your drinks from being watered down.

8 If you use your phone for a bedside alarm, you can increase its volume by putting the phone inside a cup or glass to amplify the sound.

9 To stop a pot from boiling over, place a wooden spoon across the pot's top.

10 To find small items such as earrings, cover the end of a vacuum cleaner with an old stocking and secure with a rubber band. Now the vacuum can't swallow the items.

11 Try adding a teaspoon of baking soda to the water when boiling an egg. It helps to get the shell off without fuss.

12 To cover dings on wooden furniture, rub a (shelled!) walnut on the scuff marks.

13 Another scratched furniture remedy: rub scratches with an equal amount of olive oil to vinegar, leave on for a minute and wipe off.

14 Have your car headlights gone hazy? Use toothpaste to scrub the plastic covers -- its mild abrasiveness will help make the covers clear again.

15 Use plastic bread tabs to hold your spot on a roll of tape.

16 When heating leftover food in the microwave, leave a space in the middle of the plate of food if possible. It will reheat more evenly.

17 If your car starts to overheat, turn on the heater. Cars get heat from their engines, so this helps pull the heat away. Turning on the heater will also open up a larger reservoir of water, allowing heat to dissipate into the car interior.

18 If you have a migraine, putting your hands in ice water and flexing them several times can often get rid of the migraine.

19 If you have to re-use cooking oil, cook a small piece of ginger in it first. This will remove previously instilled flavours and odours from the oil.

20 Eat an orange before working out. It will help prevent your muscles from getting sore.

21 You can use old tube-shaped containers that held stacked potato crisps to store dry spaghetti safely. Want more ideas? Look here!

22 When looking for something you've lost, it helps to scan right to left with your eyes. You'll pick up more because your brain isn't used to reading that way. Reverse this if you normally read text that goes from right to left.

23 If you need to remember something, speak it out loud. You're more likely to remember it than if you just read it silently.

24 If you use hot glue guns, daub a bit of hot glue onto the end of the glue stick and attach another glue stick to it. That way you'll have a long glue stick that won't run out at awkward moments.

25 When backing up a trailer, steer with the bottom of the steering wheel. The direction you turn the wheel is the direction the trailer will move.

26 Avoid clutter with this rule: If you bring one thing in, throw two things out.

27 Hard to open pistachio nut shells can be popped open easily by sticking a used shell in the crack and turning it like a key.

28 Get rid of motion sickness by massaging your wrist at the base of your thumb.

29 Chalk will remove grease stains on clothes. Rub the stain with chalk, then toss the item into the wash as usual.

30 Stuffing a few glow sticks into balloons before blowing them up will give you fabulous glowing coloured balloon lanterns for an evening party.

Images Source: Pixabay

Friday, February 17, 2017

Fatigue and Disability

Contributing Author: Gentle Heron

Fatigue is a common experience for almost everyone, a feeling of tiredness or exhaustion. When we over-exert, either physically or mentally, we feel fatigued. Most of us have experienced fatigue as a symptom of the flu or a cold.

If we have allowed our bodies to become de-conditioned and then try to return to normal activity levels, we are likely to experience fatigue before we get back into shape. If we become stressed, the overabundance of adrenaline, the “fight or flight” hormone, can cause body changes that use additional energy and leave us feeling fatigued.

These types of fatigue come on gradually, and all can be alleviated by a rest period after which we are back to normal functioning.

Unrelenting fatigue can be an invisible symptom of many types of disability. A diagnosis of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) immediately comes to mind as an example. Persons with CFS have extreme persistent fatigue, seemingly without identifiable cause, that is not mitigated by rest1. Perhaps as many as 80% of persons with multiple sclerosis deal with a particular type of fatigue called lassitude2, which can come on suddenly and may feel like “hitting a wall.” Fatigue can also be a side effect of various disability medications and treatments3.

Fatigue is a symptom that occurs three times as frequently in persons with disabilities as it does in the general population4. For non-disabled people, it is possible to “push through” fatigue. But with many types of disability-related fatigue, ignoring it and continuing to exert effort only makes things worse. A variety of strategies are helpful in managing the effects of disability-related fatigue. Several will be shared on this blog over the next few weeks.


References

1 Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (2015). Retrieved July 11, 2016 from http://www.cdc.gov/cfs/

2 Fatigue, National Multiple Sclerosis Society (NMSS) (n.d.). Retrieved July 11, 2016 from http://www.nationalmssociety.org/Symptoms-Diagnosis/MS-Symptoms/Fatigue

3 Fatigue, Mayo Clinic Staff (2016). Retrieved July 11, 2016 from http://www.mayoclinic.org/symptoms/fatigue/basics/definition/sym-20050894

4 Thompson, L. (2004). Functional changes affecting people aging with disabilities. In B. Kemp, & L. Mosqueda (Eds.), Aging with a disability: What the clinician needs to know, (pp. 102-128). Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Image Credit: marusya21111999, Pixabay

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Humpday Hint: De-stress the Cyborg

Contributing Author: The Tortoise

The average technology-filled 21st century urban lifestyle is not a relaxing one. Jobs come with long commutes and traffic jams. At work and at home, machines and gadgets demand constant attention. Emails, messages and texts trickle into your life in a steady, inexhaustible stream. Life is now cybernetic, with people intimately linked to smart phones, tablets, computers, laptops, game systems, GPS devices, e-books, television and all manner of consumer technology. We have become cyborgs, fused with our machines, plugged continuously into the Internet, connecting to the world and each other through a 24/7 freeway of social media platforms which include networking and blogging sites, image and video sharing sites, personal broadcasting and collaboration tools, widgets, social bookmarking and news aggregation and of course, virtual worlds and virtual reality platforms.

For many older people, consumer technology is still regarded for the most part as augmentative; that is, something that enhances a chosen lifestyle and its tasks, functioning as an 'aid' rather than a 'driver'. For the 'Generation Z' who have grown up using and being surrounded by such technology, however, 'personal tech' is a way of life. Personal technology is central to their lives, indispensable, fundamental, immediately impacting how they think, respond to, and address life situations. Gen Zers negotiate life with technology, and live through their technology. On the extreme end of this trajectory, a Gen Zer's personality and self-worth may be enmeshed in their social media and their reception -- if they get many 'likes', it gives them a 'high'. Too many 'dislikes', and they crash, damaging their self-regard. For such Gen Zers, experiencing anxiety and withdrawal symptoms when deprived of their personal technology is not uncommon.

Whether we like it or not, urban living in the 21st century has become synonymous with cybernetic lifestyles. Machines are all around us, on us, even in us, helping us, connecting us, freeing us and providing opportunities unimaginable a century ago. Yet this same sea of perpetual connectivity in which we live also generates more stress than ever before, not least because it is extremely hard to disassociate ourselves from it. To help manage stress, we need to recognise our reliance upon this human-machine connection, and to come up with ways to use it to advantage without being devoured by it.

Does This Sound Like You?

You can't live without your smart phone.
Can you remember the last time you left your phone in another room and forgot about it? Do you check it constantly for messages, or social media pings? Do you get anxious if the battery is low? When was the last time you remember leaving it off? Can't recall? Do you take your phone out the moment you have a wait on your hands, or a queue to stand in? Do you feel anxious, nervous or restless if you're in a no wi-fi or no phone signal area? If all this sounds familiar, you're on the road to connectivity addiction. Being 'connected' all the time may seem satisfying, but it can also overstimulate you. Constant stimulation is stressful for the body and mind. If you are always 'on', the body and mind does not get to rest or regenerate. This sort of stress, eventually, can lead to depression or anxiety.

TIP: Give yourself an electronic break once a week, even if for just half a day. Switch off the phone and all other electronic devices for several hours. Let your mind rest and recuperate. Be aware that if you're used to being constantly connected, you will experience some anxiety the first time you try this.

You facebook or tweet all the time.
In these days of Facebook and Twitter, people feed off and thrive on display. Part of that process involves presenting themselves in images as they wish the world to see them, in order to receive a response they hope to get, and while we are all guilty of this process to some extent, social media has transformed the politics of such performance into an addictive 'instant gratification' loop, accessible 24 hours a day. Are you constantly checking the number of 'likes' on the images you post to social media? Are you constantly thinking of what to post next on Facebook or Twitter? Are you on cloud nine when you get a high number of 'likes', but feel down or miserable when you get too many 'dislikes'? If this sounds familiar, you need to be careful you are not setting up a harmful cycle where your sense of self-worth and self-confidence is being dictated by your social media audience -- most of whom are total strangers to you.

TIP: Take a mental step back. Remember that your social media followers or readers may be, for the most part, people who do not know you. The internet is a place where anonymity lets people be as rude or contradictory as they want. Do not let their opinions govern how you feel about yourself, or how you treat yourself.

You take pictures of EVERYTHING.
The convenience of a digital camera in our phones has changed lives. Everyone can now be a photographer. We can record everything, at any time, anywhere. Precious moments can now be stored forever, with a click. Being able to record emergencies, accidents and incidents at a moment's notice are all advantages of a camera with video capacity which lives with you in your pocket. Massive memory cards allow storage of thousands of shots, without the hassle of film. Phone cameras, in the right place and the right time, have saved lives, reputations and solved crimes. Is there a downside to this? Yes, possibly. If you find yourself haphazardly taking pictures of EVERYTHING, simply as a matter of course, or from a fear of 'missing something', you may have a problem. How many of these shots do you actually access, later? Substituting the camera for your eyes actually encourages people to pay less time and attention to the things they take pictures of, as they think "not to worry, I've got pictures of it." The result is a poorer, less clear and less stable memory of the occasion. The reason, as Bastyr University psychologist Dr Diedre Clay explains, is because "[t]he lens is a veil in front of your eyes and we don't realize it's there."1

TIP: Take pictures, but enjoy the moment. If you're visiting a place or attending an exhibition, do not rush past everything, leaving the experience to your camera. Focus on things and people with your own eyes, allowing your mind and senses to store the experience and your own responses to it. Participate and soak it up.

You don't actually talk to anyone.
Do you prefer texting your friends to talking to them in person? Are you more comfortable hanging out online to meeting them in the flesh? Would you rather connect through social media than make appointments in the physical world? In this age of ultra-connectivity, we can have relationships with people without ever having to leave the bedroom. Our phones, computers and Internet connection allow us to connect with any number of social media, forums, chatrooms, daterooms and virtual worlds to talk and interact with people from all over the world -- in real time. For many people, the Internet has revolutionised their horizons of possibility, allowing access to news, knowledge, help and human connections in ways not possible for them before. Can too much of a good thing be problematic? Yes, if it is removing your ability to interact healthily and appropriately with people in the flesh. Many Gen Zers are losing (or have not acquired) the 'real life' social skills that members of a community need to maintain the health, coherency and stability of that community. Some are finding it difficult or awkward to interact with 'real' people away from the computer screen. Experiences, feelings and empathy are in danger of being 'flattened' or lessened by the 'quick grab' snapshot nature of Facebook, Twitter or phone texting.2 And while the easy anonymity of digital interaction and our own computer screens are safety shields, they can also distance us and reduce feelings of responsibility and consequence. Internet trolls and cyberbullies, for example, thrive on anonymity and the protection afforded by NON face-to-face conflict: in the physical world, they would think twice before saying the same things to someone in person.

TIP: Try to meet up with family members or friends at least once a week.

Multitasking is a way of life.
Multitasking in this day and age seems unavoidable. With machines, messages, work, friends and family needs vying for attention all the time, people have learned to multitask. We eat lunch at our work-stations, watch TV while working on the computer, answer texts while doing the dinner, watch the kids while helping others on the forums. Are we more efficient or productive? Or just more stressed, overstretched and anxious? Perhaps even feeling, as Bilbo Baggins once put it, "like butter scraped over too much bread"? The stress and wear and tear from too much multitasking can be insidious: you may find yourself anxious and nervous without knowing why. If multitasking is making you a bundle of nerves, it's time to rethink.

TIP: If at all possible, handle one task at a time, so you can focus on its details to the best of your ability. Make lists of priority jobs, and stick to the list. Instead of being distracted by five tasks all at once, pay attention to the single job at hand, enjoy the concentration, let your brain process everything comprehensively (not fleetingly), and live in the moment.

References

1 Rossi, Carey, '12 Worst Habits For Your Mental Health', Health

2 ibid.

Image Credit: Pixabay

Friday, February 3, 2017

Tips & Advice for Newcomers to Second Life, Part 1

Contributing Author: The Tortoise

We'll share a few tips for the novice Second Lifer here, in installments. Second Life® can be a delightful, useful, fun, creative, and educational environment; the tips here will help make your experience as good as can be.

Cautions & Courtesies

Some of these tips may sound a bit scary to a new or first-time Second Life resident, but keep in mind that there are many parallels in real life to Second Life; unsavory people and things exist in both worlds. Common sense and erring on the side of caution, unless you know for certain something is safe, is always prudent.

  1. Do not automatically accept friendship offers, group invites and teleport offers from people or groups you do not know. Apply the same caution in Second Life that you would in real life.
  2. Be careful about accepting items, gifts, hugs, bites, kisses, animations, etc. from people you do not know. Giving permission to a disguised offer can turn over control of your avatar to a stranger.
  3. Never click on any items you find lying about in sandboxes, no matter how interesting they look. Malicious items are often disguised and left in sandboxes to tempt newcomers. Clicking on them can give hackers access to your avatar or your account.
  4. Never give out personal information, such as passwords or account details, to anyone.
  5. Think carefully before you give out real life details to anyone, such as information about your life, person or whereabouts.
  6. There are REAL people behind every avatar. Respect that.
  7. Many people prefer to be asked first, before being hit with a friendship offer, especially from people they do not know.
  8. Respect other people's privacy and rights, even though you are in a virtual environment. For example, do not just teleport into people's houses without first asking their permission.
  9. Be considerate with text and sound gestures. Large text gestures push chat off the screen, and disrupt conversation. Also, some people use text-readers with text-based viewers in SL, and the ASCII symbols in text gestures will turn the readout into meaningless babble.
  10. Remember that many people have 'alts', or alternative accounts, in Second Life.
  11. Please do not beg for money.

A Few Tips to Help Prevent Lag

'Lag' is the effect suffered when your viewer and the Second Life environment are not performing to the best of their capacity.

Lag can be caused by these things:

  • overloaded servers
  • crowded sims
  • incorrect bandwidth and graphics settings
  • inadequate computer ability
  • interference from SL maintenance procedures
When there is lag, a primary symptom is slow response in your playing environment -- missing or slow display of chat, difficulty moving, unresponsive scripts and teleports, problems opening inventory or changing outfits, all manner of interrupted or truncated actions or commands, and other problems.

To keep lag as low as possible:

  1. Keep your viewer's graphics settings as low as possible.
  2. Keep your 'maximum bandwidth' lower rather than higher.
  3. Keep your 'draw distance' lower rather than higher.
  4. Reduce the level of detail on any slider you do not need, such as 'terrain' or 'trees'.
  5. Reduce the maximum number of particles.

All of these settings are found in Me > Preferences (If you are using the third-party viewer Firestorm, Avatar > Preferences).

The following links will show you how to adjust your settings for optimum performance:
http://wiki.secondlife.com/wiki/Lag
http://wiki.secondlife.com/wiki/How_to_reduce_lag
https://community.secondlife.com/t5/English-Knowledge-Base/How-to-improve-Viewer-performance/ta-p/1316923

Editor's Note: For those using the Firestorm viewer, a good resource about lag can be found here: http://wiki.phoenixviewer.com/lag

Images Source: Pixabay

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Humpday Hint: Tech Tip - Locating a "Lost" Cursor

Contributing Author: Alice Krueger

If you have trouble seeing, or simply have multiple windows open at once, it can be frustrating to find the cursor. Here are some tips to try.

On computers using Windows

  • Go to the classic Control Panel, then Mouse Options.
  • Under the Pointers tab, you can choose Large or Extra Large.
  • Under the Pointers Options tab, you can Display Pointer Trails to see the cursor as it moves.
  • Still in the Pointers Options tab, at the bottom, you can choose to "Show Location of Pointer When I Press the CTRL Key."
  • Remember to click OK to save your changes.

On many Macs

  • Go to Universal Access (or Accessibility) in system preferences.
  • Cick the Mouse tab, and use the Cursor Size slider to increase the size of the cursor. But you may not want a permanently larger cursor, so read on.
  • If you use a Mac, OS X, v10.4 or later, you can download the free Mouse Locator app, which circles the cursor in green when you want to find it.
  • If you have the El Capitan Mac OS, simply wiggle the mouse, and the cursor will temporarily enlarge.

Image Credit: Pixabay

Monday, January 30, 2017

Should You Get a Service Dog?

Contributing Author: Gentle Heron

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines “service dog” as a canine that has been “individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability. The task(s) performed by the dog must be directly related to the person's disability.” The dog must be trained to “take a specific action when needed to assist the person with a disability.”

The Department of Justice, which administers the ADA, gives several examples of the tasks service dogs can do. A diabetes service dog can alert its owner when blood sugar levels go out of range, either too high or too low. A depression service dog can remind its owner to take medications. An epilepsy service dog can detect the beginning of seizures and keep its owner safe until the seizure abates.

Service dogs can be trained to pick up dropped objects, assist their owners to get out of bed or remove clothing, bring requested items, open doors, and pull wheelchairs up inclines. They can also learn to stabilize people who have trouble walking. You will want to think about what a dog might be able to do to add to your quality of life.

Not considered service dogs but still covered by the ADA because of their specific training, guide dogs (sometimes called seeing eye dogs, named for one of the organizations that trains them) assist people who are blind or vision impaired, and hearing dogs assist people who are deaf or hard of hearing. Training and using a guide or hearing dog differs from that required for a service dog.

(NOTE: Dogs that provide emotional support or companionship are NOT considered service dogs under the ADA, because they are not trained for a specific task.)

Assistance Dogs International sets standards for training and using service dogs. These standards include recommended qualifications for service dog owners, although various agencies have their own requirements. In general, a service dog owner must have a neurological or physical disability affecting mobility in at least one limb, must be physically and cognitively capable of participating in training to use the dog and in taking care of the dog following training, and be in a stable living environment without other dogs.

A number of organizations in the US and worldwide train and provide service dogs. Some examples of organizations working with individuals who would benefit from having a service dog for people with mobility or other impairments are:

Obtaining a service dog is a lengthy and expensive process. There are often long waiting lists when you apply to an agency to obtain a service dog, sometimes as long as two to three years. Once your service needs are established, the dog must be trained in the behaviors it will use to support you. Most adult dogs require training of 1-2 hours a day over 6 months to 4 years to learn the necessary supportive behaviors.

Once the dog is trained for your needs, you are trained to work with the dog as a team. This takes an intense 3 to 4 weeks, often in a residential program at the organization’s training site. You must learn to work correctly with the dog, and develop a personal bond with the animal. Most programs “certify” both the dog and the trainer at completion of this team-development experience.

Obtaining a service dog can cost upwards of $30,000. Of course there are ongoing costs for feeding, medical care and general animal upkeep. The Assistance Dog United Campaign helps people who need a service dog but are not able to raise the funds themselves by providing vouchers to their extensive list of member organizations in the US and Canada.

One important consideration to remember is that animals do not have access rights – only people have access rights. In most jurisdictions, people with disabilities and their service dog partner have the legal right to go into public places normally prohibited to pet animals. Always check local laws about access for service dogs.

Images credit: Pixabay

Friday, January 27, 2017

New Research Seeks to Overcome Paralysis and Movement Disabilities

Contributing Author: The Tortoise

Three types of technology that will eventually help people with paralysis and movement disabilities to communicate more effectively, and become more independent, are currently being developed. Summaries from Science Daily follow below:


1) A brain-sensing technology which allows typing at 12 words per minute

It does not take an infinite number of monkeys to type a passage of Shakespeare. Instead, it takes a single monkey equipped with brain-sensing technology -- and a cheat sheet.

That technology, developed by Stanford Bio-X scientists Krishna Shenoy, a professor of electrical engineering at Stanford, and postdoctoral fellow Paul Nuyujukian, directly reads brain signals to drive a cursor moving over a keyboard. In an experiment conducted with monkeys, the animals were able to transcribe passages from the New York Times and Hamlet at a rate of up to 12 words per minute.

Earlier versions of the technology have already been tested successfully in people with paralysis, but the typing was slow and imprecise. This latest work tests improvements to the speed and accuracy of the technology that interprets brain signals and drives the cursor.

"Our results demonstrate that this interface may have great promise for use in people," said Nuyujukian, who will join Stanford faculty as an assistant professor of bioengineering in 2017. "It enables a typing rate sufficient for a meaningful conversation."

Full article available here: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/09/160912192945.htm


2) Monkeys 'move and feel' virtual objects using only their brains

In a first ever demonstration of a two-way interaction between a primate brain and a virtual body, two monkeys trained at the Duke University Center for Neuroengineering learned to employ brain activity alone to move an avatar hand and identify the texture of virtual objects.

"Someday in the near future, quadriplegic patients will take advantage of this technology not only to move their arms and hands and to walk again, but also to sense the texture of objects placed in their hands, or experience the nuances of the terrain on which they stroll with the help of a wearable robotic exoskeleton," said lead researcher Miguel Nicolelis, M.D., Ph.D., professor of neurobiology at Duke University Medical Center and co-director of the Duke Center for Neuroengineering.

Without moving any part of their real bodies, the monkeys used their electrical brain activity to direct the virtual hands of an avatar to the surface of virtual objects and, upon contact, were able to differentiate their textures.

Full article available here: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/10/111005131648.htm


3) Device allows paralyzed man to swipe credit card and perform other movements

New research is enabling a quadriplegic Ohio man to regain the ability to pick up objects, stir liquids and even play video games -- using his own thoughts.

Six years ago, Ian Burkhart was paralyzed in a diving accident. Today, he participates in clinical sessions during which he can grasp and swipe a credit card or play a guitar video game with his own fingers and hand. These complex functional movements are driven by his own thoughts and a prototype medical system described in a study just published in the journal Nature.

The device, called NeuroLife, was invented at Battelle, which teamed with physicians and neuroscientists from The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center to develop the research approach and perform the clinical study. Ohio State doctors identified the study participant and implanted a tiny computer chip into his brain.

The pioneering participant, Ian Burkhart, is a 24-year-old quadriplegic from Dublin, Ohio, and the first person to use this technology. The electronic neural bypass for spinal cord injuries reconnects the brain directly to muscles, allowing voluntary and functional control of a paralyzed limb by using his thoughts. The device interprets thoughts and brain signals, then bypasses his injured spinal cord and connects directly to a sleeve that stimulates the muscles that control his arm and hand.

Full article available here: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/04/160413140118.htm

Image Credit: iSkye Silverweb, with text quoted from the IBM Trainig Manual 1991

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Humpday Hint: Bird-proof Your Windows

Contributing Author: The Tortoise

You may know that cats are the major killer of wild birds (destroying almost 4 billion annually). You may not realize that the number two killer of wild birds is windows. While some migrating songbirds accidentally fly into the windows of tall buildings, over half of bird deaths occur when a bird hits the glass on shorter buildings including homes.

What can you do to prevent this? Here are three ideas.

  1. Birds fly into glass because they don’t see it as a barrier. Add some pattern on the window (decals, window film to block light and heat, even strips of tape) during prime migration periods, and the birds will recognize your windows as a danger.
  2. Song birds are afraid of birds of prey. Putting a decal of a falcon on your plate glass window, or a fake plastic owl outside, will keep some birds from a fatal crash with your glass.
  3. A pleasant way to deter these accidents is to put up a window-mounted bird feeder. Instead of flying into the glass at top speed, birds will slow down to land and peck at the food you put out for them. You still have a great view of nature unobstructed by decals, can participate in citizen science, and provide your household cats with hours of watching fun.

Image Credits:
cocoparisienne, Pixabay
Ernya, Pixabay

Monday, January 16, 2017

Three New Studies Find That 'DNA Is Not Destiny'

Contributing Author: The Tortoise

Three new studies suggest that the fate of our health is not bound irrevocably to our genetic makeup. Genetic risk has generally been viewed as unavoidable. But research is now discovering that lifestyle choices and diet can mitigate even high-risk gene variants, affect an organism's DNA gene sequence, and reduce age-related disease risk.

1 A study led by Massachusetts General Hospital investigators has found that even among people with high genetic risk of heart disease, a healthy lifestyle can cut the probability of a heart attack or similar event in half. Published in the New England Journal of Medicine on November 15, 2016, the findings will be presented at the American Heart Association (AHA) Scientific Sessions. 'The basic message of our study is that DNA is not destiny,' says Sekar Kathiresan, MD, director of the Center for Human Genetic Research at Massachusetts General Hospital. The research team analysed genetic and clinical data from more than 55,000 participants in 4 large-scale studies. Participants were assigned a genetic risk score based on whether they carried any of 50 gene variants associated with elevated heart attack risk. Four AHA defined lifestyle factors -- no current smoking, lack of obesity, physical exercise at least once a week, and a healthy dietary pattern -- were used to measure participants' level of lifestyle health. Researchers found that the presence of each healthy lifestyle factor reduced risk, and the presence of an overall favourable lifestyle could reduce the incidence of coronary events by 50 percent in participants with the highest genetic risk scores.

Read the news release here: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/11/161115122121.htm
Read the New England Journal of Medicine paper here: http://www.nejm.org/doi/10.1056/NEJMoa1605086

HEALTH TIP: Stop smoking, keep your Body Mass Index under 30, exercise regularly and eat a healthy diet.

2 Researchers from the University of Montreal have found that the makeup of a person's intestinal bacteria ecology (microbiome) -- an ecology largely determined by choice of diet -- may play an important role in determining if they will develop age-related macular degeneration (AMD) . AMD is the leading cause of irreversible blindness in the industrialised world, and is characterised by a heightened immune response, large deposits of fat debris at the back of the eye (early AMD), destruction of nerve cells, and growth of new diseased blood vessels (late form, wet AMD). Until now, data has suggested that smoking and abdominal obesity (in men) were risk factors for AMD. The researchers found that changes in the bacterial communities of the gut, such as those brought on by a diet rich in fat, cause long-term low-grade inflammation in the whole body and promote diseases such as wet AMD. 'Our study suggests that diets rich in fat alter the gut microbiome in a way that aggravates wet AMD, a vascular disease of the aging eye. Influencing the types of microbes that reside in your gut either through diet or by other means may thus affect the chances of developing AMD and progression of this blinding disease,' says Dr Przemyslaw Sapieha, a researcher in the November 15, 2016 study.

Read the news release here: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/11/161115111437.htm
Read the EMBO Molecular Medicine paper here: http://embomolmed.embopress.org/content/early/2016/11/14/emmm.201606531

HEALTH TIP: Eat less saturated fat, avoid processed foods, and consume more fruits and vegetables.

3 We are what we eat, goes the old saying. Now researchers at the University of Oxford have demonstrated that the diets of organisms can affect the DNA sequences of their genes, by studying groups of eukaryotic parasites and bacterial parasites that infect different plant or animal hosts. Dr Steven Kelly, from Oxford's Department of Plant Sciences, says: 'Organisms construct their DNA using building blocks they get from food. Our hypothesis was that the composition of this food could alter an organism's DNA. For example, could a vegetarian panda have predictable genetic differences from a meat-eating polar bear? To test this hypothesis, we picked simple groups of parasites to use as a model system. These parasites share a common ancestor but have evolved to infect different hosts and eat very different foods. We found that different levels of nitrogen in a parasite's diet contributed to changes in its DNA. Specifically, parasites with low-nitrogen, high-sugar diets had DNA sequences that used less nitrogen than parasites with nitrogen-rich, high-protein diets.' Doctoral candidate Emily Seward, from the same department, says: 'It has been unclear why very closely related organisms can look so different in their genetic makeup. So many factors...can influence the DNA sequence of an organism. But our study explains a very high percentage of these differences and provides evidence that we really are what we eat.'

Read the news release here: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/11/161115111720.htm
Read the Genome Biology paper here: http://genomebiology.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13059-016-1087-9

HEALTH TIP: As before: Eat less saturated fat, avoid processed foods, and consume more fruits and vegetables.

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