Tuesday, January 31, 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.

Images credit: Pixabay

Friday, January 13, 2017

6 Body Fat Fighting Facts We Don't Know About

Contributing Author: The Tortoise

Dr Zoe Williams of the 'Obesity: Outsmart Your Fat' BBC programme enlightens us about 6 body fat facts most of us probably do not know. Read on for her 6 eye-opening everyday tips to win your fight against fat.

#1 The body needs enough sleep
Dr Williams says: "If you don't get enough shut eye, this can cause your metabolism to slow down, as your body tries to conserve energy. And also trigger the release of the hormone cortisol, which makes you more likely to eat foods that are high in fat and sugar."
#2 Move every 20 minutes
Dr Williams says: "The muscles, when active, produce a very clever enzyme called lipoprotein lipase, and this enzyme actually breaks down your fat. If you sit for 20 minutes or longer, then that switches off. So you just have to get up and move, to switch it on again."
#3 Thirst or hunger?
Dr Williams says: "The brain can sometimes misinterpret thirst for hunger, so by drinking plenty of water and staying hydrated, you reduce the risk of reaching for the snacks."
#4 The after-meal walk
Dr Williams says: "After you eat, whenever you can, try and build in a brisk stroll for about 15 minutes.This can help to normalise blood sugar levels for up to three hours afterwards. And if you can't manage 15 minutes, then 10 minutes or even just 5 can give you some of the benefits."
#5 Stress feeds fat
Dr Williams says: "Thousands of years ago, a stressful situation would normally mean you were being chased or having to fight. Our bodies haven't changed much since then, but our environment has. Most of us these days deal with a stressful situation sitting at our desk, but our bodies still think we need to replenish those calories, even though we probably don't."
#6 The 7-minute full on
Dr Williams says: "Sometimes, the last thing you want to do is go to the gym. But you don't always have to. You can do a 7-minute high-intensity workout at home, and not only will you burn fat during the workout, your body will keep burning fat for 24 hours afterward."


Williams, Zoe, 'Nine ways to outsmart your fat', BBC

Images Credit: Pixabay

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Humpday Hint: If You Simply Must Have a Midmorning Snack

Contributing Author: Gentle Heron

We’ve all heard that if we’re dieting or simply watching our weight, it’s best to avoid snacking in the morning unless you’re absolutely hungry. (Try distracting yourself with a drink of water or a stick of sugar-free gum.) Research indicates that there is a connection between snacking between breakfast and lunch and slower weight loss in some dieters1.

If you absolutely must snack mid-morning, limit yourself to a single piece of fruit to keep calories below 100. A banana or pear has about 100 calories, an orange has 60, and a peach has 40 calories. Dried fruit also works, but the portions have to be smaller: 8 dried apricot halves, 3 dates or prunes, 2 Tablespoons dried cherries, or 1 Tablespoon of raisins. Fruit is a good snack choice because it also contributes dietary fiber.

1 Kong, A., Beresford, S. A., Alfano, C. M., Foster-Schubert, K. E., Neuhouser, M. L., Johnson, D. B., et al. (2011). Associations between snacking and weight loss and nutrient intake among postmenopausal overweight to obese women in a dietary weight-loss intervention. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 111(12), 1898-1903.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Shellfish and Seafood Allergies

Contributing Author: Alice Krueger

The last time I ate shrimp tempura was 20 years ago. Suddenly, and surprisingly, my lips started to swell, my face to get itchy, and my heart to pound. I had developed a shellfish allergy. I have not dared to try to eat shellfish since that day.

Shellfish include shrimp, lobster, crab, clams, scallops, mussels and squid. Finned fish (such as salmon, cod, tuna and catfish) are grouped with shellfish as seafood. Shrimp are the type of shellfish that most commonly cause an allergic reaction. Not everyone who is allergic to shellfish is also allergic to finned fish, and vice versa.

Shellfish or seafood allergies can be life-threatening. The victim’s body reacts to proteins in the shellfish or seafood and causes a sudden anaphylactic reaction. Minor reactions can be skin rashes and itchiness. More severe reactions can lead to low blood pressure, asthma, or swelling of the throat so severe that breathing is difficult. Severe anaphylactic reactions must be treated in the emergency room.

Many myths exist about shellfish and seafood allergies. Let’s look at some of them.

Myth: Shellfish allergies begin in childhood.
Fact: Allergic reactions can occur at any age, and the initial occurrence can be severe. Unfortunately, people do not generally outgrow allergies to shellfish, and it is not unusual for someone to be allergic to many kinds of shellfish.
Myth: It’s the iodine people are allergic to.
Fact: Although shellfish and seafood contain iodine, that is not what causes allergies. It is specific proteins in the shrimp or codfish, called allergens for the reaction they cause.
Myth: You can’t have a CT (computerized tomography) scan because you’ll be allergic to the contrast dye.
Fact: The content of the contrast dye used in CT scans is not related to the allergens in shellfish. Although some people do have a reaction to contrast dye, it is unrelated to allergies to shellfish or seafood.
Myth: Avoid foods that contain carrageenan.
Fact: Carrageenan is a food addiive made from a type of algae or seaweed. It is common in dairy products and other household items. It is not associated with seafood allergies.
Myth: You have to actually eat the seafood to get an allergic reaction.
Fact: The allergens in seafood can be transmitted in steam from cooking fish or shellfish, and can cause an allergic reaction in those who are sensitive. This is why people who are severely allergic to shellfish or seafood must avoid restaurants where it can be smelled.


For information about shellfish allergies: Types of Food Allergy: Shellfish Allergy, American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology

For information on seafood allergies: Seafood Allergies Common for Adults, WebMD

Image Credit: Morguefile

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Humpday Hint: One SMART Goal Instead of Failed Resolutions

Contributing Author: Gentle Heron

For many people, New Year Resolutions just don’t work to help them make necessary or desired life changes. Instead, try making a SMART goal. A SMART goal is:

  • Specific: Write down in detail what you are striving for and what it will look like when you achieve it.
  • Measurable: Document how you will know when you’ve achieved the goal, and the subgoals along the way.
  • Achievable: Create a step-by-step plan of how you will work toward the goal.
  • Realistic: Be honest with yourself. Can you really reach this goal?
  • Time-framed: Make a timeline. Put intermediate steps and daily activities in your calendar.

One goal at a time is all you need to impact your quality of life. Just be sure it’s a SMART goal.