Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

Spinal Decompression Therapy FAQs

December 30th, 2019

Neck and back pain are unfortunate issues that most of us experience at some point in our lives. Our bodies are, after all, flesh and blood, and we often forget how much we put them through on a daily basis. Americans spend over 50 billion dollars every year on pain management, which includes everything from MRIs to pain medications. It’s safe to say that people are trying whatever they can to improve the quality of their lives. But who wants to deal with the pain, baggage, and potential problems that can result from surgery or taking narcotics?

Fortunately, there is another option available. Spinal Decompression Therapy has exploded throughout the chiropractic world over the last decade as more and more chiropractors are implementing the treatment into their services. Why? Because it works. We’ve broken down the top questions and concerns and debunked a few myths so you can familiarize yourself with a new potential option to treat your pain.

What Is Spinal Decompression Therapy?

Spinal Decompression Therapy (SDT) is a method of gently decompressing or stretching the spine. The spine itself is not actually the main focus through this procedure – that is the intervertebral discs. Through stretching, space is created between each vertebrae to relieve pressure and give the intervertebral discs room to correct themselves.

What Are Intervertebral Discs?

Intervertebral discs are gel-like cushions that sit between each vertebrae of the spine. Their purposes are to hold the vertebrae together, absorb shock, and protect the spinal nerves. When these discs are damaged or injured, they can cause severe pain and discomfort. They also can bulge or break off, which puts pressure on the surrounding nerves.

What Can Spinal Decompression Therapy Treat?

Spinal Decompression Therapy can treat:

  • Spinal Radiculopathy – A condition due to a compressed nerve in the spine that can cause pain, numbness, tingling, or weakness of the nerve. It is most common in the neck and lower back.
  • Myelopathy – A nervous system disorder that affects the spinal cord.
  • Claudication – A common symptom of lumbar spinal stenosis which causes inflammation of the nerves emerging from the spinal cord.
  • Bulging, Degenerating, or Herniated Discs – A condition where the soft center of a spinal disk pushes through a crack in the tough exterior casing. It can irritate nearby nerves and result in pain, numbness, or weakness in an arm or leg.
  • Sciatica – Pain radiating along the sciatic nerve, which runs down one or both legs from the lower back. It primarily occurs when a herniated disk or bone spur in the spine presses on the nerve and usually only affects one side of the body.
  • Spinal Stenosis – A narrowing of the spaces within the spine, which can put pressure on the nerves. It occurs most often in the neck and lower back.

What Is the Recovery Time for Spinal Decompression Therapy Surgery?

Spinal Decompression Therapy is non-surgical and non-invasive, so there is no surgery recovery time. As a therapy, SDT takes place over time and is not a solution that can be completed in a single visit.

How Long Does Spinal Decompression Therapy Take?

The length of time and number of visits you’ll need to schedule will be different for each individual based off of your specific circumstances and physical needs. On average, most people need to attend between 15 to 30 separate sessions. Each SDT session usually lasts between 30 to 45 minutes.

What Equipment Is Used?

Chiropractors who follow the most recent advances in industry standards use state of the art equipment, such as the Accu-SPINA table, to perform Spinal Decompression Therapy. The Accu-SPINA system was developed by physicians and scientists to help combat neck and back pain that is unresponsive to other therapies. Clinical trials performed with the Accu-SPINA system revealed that 86% of participants experienced symptoms of pain relief.

Where Can I Find Spinal Decompression Near Me?

An experienced chiropractor in your area that has successfully completed the Spinal Decompression Therapy training and certification program can help bring you relief through Spinal Decompression Therapy.

When Should I Try Spinal Decompression Therapy?

If you’re experiencing neck and back pain and have not had any relief or progress with other kinds of therapies, Spinal Decompression Therapy may be your next option. Whether you’ve been battling chronic pain for years or have just recently been involved in an auto accident, Spinal Decompression Therapy is an option at any time in your recovery process. Don’t hesitate to see an SDT trained and certified chiropractor as soon as possible since it is possible for many injuries our bodies sustain to not make themselves known right away and worsen over time. Also keep in mind that if you’ve been in an auto accident, you only have 14 days from the date of the accident to seek medical care and have it covered by your personal injury protection insurance.

Simple Technology for Advanced Treatment

November 4th, 2019

The image many people form when thinking of medical researchers at work is one of serious men and women using sophisticated technology to investigate treatments and cures for diseases. But in some cases, these professionals use simple, everyday devices to combat people’s disorders and manage their symptoms.

A recent study, published in Nature Biomedical Engineering on August 5, reported on a new wireless device that regulates neural circuits in the brain using a tiny implant controlled by a simple smartphone. The researchers say this device speeds up efforts to uncover various brain disorders including Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, addiction, depression and pain.

The wireless device enables consistent chemical and optical nerve stimulation, which targets specific brain cells. Previous methods to achieve this effect involved the use of rigid metal tubes and optical fibers to deliver the drugs and light. This method limited the subject’s movement due to the physical connections to bulky equipment. It also often led to lesions in the brain’s soft tissue over time, making that method unsuitable for long-term use.

But this new approach uses large, Lego-like replaceable drug cartridges and powerful Bluetooth-enabled low-energy. This method allows for the targeting of specific nerve cells in the brain for prolonged periods without the limits of a physical connection to equipment or the risk of brain lesions.

Controlled by a simple user interface on a smartphone, researchers using this device can easily trigger any specific combination or the precise sequence of light and drug delivery without being inside a laboratory. And because it can be used for long periods, the device may contribute to uncovering the basis of many neuropsychiatric diseases.

Last year, scientists from the Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology in South Korea reported on advances in technology using wireless communication and portable devices for diabetes monitoring. Their study results were published in the January 2018 issue of Scientific Advances.

The researchers studied a new technology involving a smart soft contact lens capable of monitoring blood glucose levels in tear fluid, as well as other relevant physiological data in real-time. This data can then be used to facilitate disease management.

Previous attempts at using contact lenses for this purpose came under criticism because the material used was too opaque and rigid, and could potentially damage the eyes. The research team in South Korea addressed these concerns by placing the operational components around the edge of the lens away from the pupil.

The new contact lens that was developed is equipped with sensors that can detect blood glucose changes in the tears, as well as other biomarkers typically found in the blood. These biomarkers include cholesterol, sodium ion and potassium ion levels, offering additional disease monitoring possibilities.

The study researchers note that the contact lens collects tears for measuring glucose changes from those created by normal activities such as blinking. As a result, invasive collection methods, such as finger sticks to collect blood for testing, are avoided. The goal of the new technology is to increase patient compliance with regular blood glucose monitoring.

Other noninvasive methods for measuring blood glucose levels in people with diabetes are also being studied. One study is looking at a technology that measures blood glucose by placing a device near the eye. This technique uses a novel biochemical sensor embedded on a small hydrogel disk. The disk is inserted below the patient’s conjunctiva during a simple, painless procedure performed by an ophthalmologist.

The chemical in the disk reacts with blood glucose in the interstitial fluid below the conjunctiva and emits fluorescent light that is quantified by a special photometer device. This device is placed in front of the person’s eve. It can record blood glucose results in less than 20 seconds.

Another noninvasive device uses occlusion spectroscopy measurements to determine blood glucose measurements. It involves placing a ring-shaped probe around the person’s finger and applying gentle pressure. This pressure temporarily stops blood flow, and optical elements in the device’s sensor perform a sensitive measurement of the light transmitted through the finger.

In one study, measurements taken using this device were compared with measurements taken using invasive methods, and this device proved comparable. Tests showed this device to be a painless and accurate alternative to invasive methods such as finger sticks for continuous glucose monitoring in patients with diabetes.


Gaming: Medical Disorder or Not?

September 15th, 2019

There’s no debate about it. Internet and video games are popular in this country. A Pew survey found that 97 percent of teen boys and 83 percent of teen girls play games on some type of device. And it’s not just kids. A research study estimates that about 160 million American adults play internet-based games.

It’s definitely easy to get caught up in the games, but is playing too much a disease or addiction? That question is up for debate.

In May  2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) officially recognized gaming addiction as a disease. Last year, the organization agreed to include gaming disorder, which includes internet and video gaming, as a condition in its International Classification of Diseases (ICD) 11th Edition.

The ICD serves as the international standard for diagnosing and treating health conditions. It’s used by health care professionals across the globe. The WHO based its decision to include gaming disorder in the ICD on available research and a consensus among a group of international experts in the field.

The ICD describes people with gaming disorder as having a “pattern of gaming behavior characterized by impaired control,” that also involves prioritizing gaming over other daily responsibilities, including school, work and social appointments. If you ignore activities necessary to maintaining good physical and emotional health, you’ve got a problem.

In the US, health care professionals follow the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fifth Edition (DSM-5). That’s the bible for American mental health practitioners.

The DSM-5, published in 2013, doesn’t recognize gaming disorder as a condition, but it did list internet gaming disorder in a section recommending conditions for further research. The DSM-5  notes that internet gaming must cause “significant impairment or distress” in several aspects of a person’s life. It proposes a set of symptoms that includes:

  • Preoccupation with gaming
  • Withdrawal symptoms when gaming is taken away or not available
  • The need to spend more time gaming to satisfy the urge
  • Giving up other activities, loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed
  • Having jeopardized or lost a job or relationship due to gaming
  • Inability to reduce gaming or unsuccessful attempts to quit
  • Deceiving others about the amount of time spent gaming
  • Using gaming to relieve negative moods, such as guilt or hopelessness

According to the DSM-5, a person must have five or more of these symptoms within a year to be diagnosed with internet gaming disorder.

But not all experts agree that gaming, internet or otherwise, should be considered a disorder. Some argue that gaming can’t be separated out from general screen overuse, which includes social media use as well. Others suggest that intense gaming is a symptom of another disorder such as anxiety, depression or ADHD.

There’s research to back that up. One study found that children who had problems with video games were more likely to also have a diagnosis of ADHD or autism spectrum. Those who struggled with social media use often also struggled with depression or anxiety.

One group of specialists recommends referring to problems with gaming as a habit rather than a disorder or addiction. They explain that people feel more empowered to change the behavior of a habit.

These specialists also argue that labeling someone an “addict” and saying they have a chronic disease can have lasting consequences on that person’s life and self-esteem. This is especially true for teens who are in the process of forming their identities.

Whatever you call it, overdoing it on the games to the point of ignoring everything else is not okay. If that’s you and you can’t stop, seek a qualified professional’s help to reduce your urge to play and modify your behavior. Don’t be afraid and don’t wait. Get your life back now!

St. Petersburg Surgeon Performs First 3D-Printed Finger Bone Operation in the United States

August 6th, 2019

Three dimensional, or 3D, printing has had many notable software and technology advances in recent years, and one of the more notable implementations in that progression was recently engineered by a St. Petersburg surgeon.

Dr. Daniel Penello, a surgeon with Alexander Orthopedic Associates, became the first doctor to use a 3D printer to replace a finger bone after a welder named Robert Smith lost virtually all use of his middle finger when a steel beam fell on it and crushed it at work.

While Smith was making the difficult decision of what, precisely, to do with his crushed finger (i.e., leave it uncared for or have it amputated), Dr. Penello contacted Additive Orthopaedics, a 3D printing company that develops advanced orthopedic devices, to see if employees there could create the software and technology necessary to perform the first-of-its-kind procedure.

Additive Orthopaedics responded by obtaining a CT scan of Smith’s opposite uninjured middle finger from Dr. Penello. From that it manufactured a replacement part made of a surgical grade metal that contains a rough inner surface that allows it to attach firmly to the existing bone.

While Additive Orthopaedics worked its magic, Dr. Penello began the long process (five months) of gathering and mastering the precise information he needed to successfully perform the procedure.

Dr. Penello explained to a writer that “my primary concern was our ability to develop an implant that would fit anatomically, while being strong enough to withstand the tremendous forces that it would be exposed to during any pinching, gripping, or lifting activities.”

The surgery was performed this past spring, and Dr. Penello deemed it a success as Smith is now doing physical therapy to regain complete usage of both the rejuvenated finger and his hand.

The successful surgery and the ongoing work at Additive Orthopaedics suggests 3D printing may soon impact the medical field in a far greater way, particularly in the area of custom implants, which could become more affordable through this process.

“I picture a 3D printer, sitting at the hospital, and when someone comes into the hospital with a broken wrist, someone will go to the printer and type it in,” Dr. Penello told the Tampa Bay Business Journal. “Almost like ‘Star Trek,’ where they type in what they need.” Image courtesy of Tampa Bay Business Journal

That Dr. Penello performed the inaugural 3D printed finger bone operation – at least the first known in the United States – should not come as a surprise to anyone. In an interview in February for “Becker’s Spine Review,” he told a writer:

“I am most excited about the emerging trend of additive manufacturing (commonly known as 3D printing) in the development of patient-matched devices and superior implants. … The additive manufacturing process has the ability to develop custom implants and patient-specific jigs and targeting devices in a much more cost-effective and scalable way.”

Dr. Penello, who is board certified in both Canada and the United States, graduated from the medical school of the University of Toronto in Canada, and later worked at the Cleveland Clinic, is well known in his profession.

He has a YouTube video telling viewers of his professional experiences that includes an explanation of how his life vocation was influenced by his father “who sustained a pretty tragic injury in the right hand (that) really altered the course of his life. It led me to the career of my dreams because I love hand surgery.”


Don’t be a Tech Neck

September 4th, 2018

A YouTube video showing people walking into everything from doors and walls to cars and fountains while looking down at their cell phones has drawn hundreds of thousands of online views and at least that many laughs.

The potential for injury stemming from staring at your cell phone is no laughing matter, however, and the dangers extend beyond the possibility of stumbling or falling as a result of simply not paying attention to what you’re doing while on your phone.

Staring down at your cell phone for extended periods of time can also lead to some painfully serious medical conditions, including a few that are tied exclusively to the simple way in which most of us typically look at our cell phones.

Tech Neck, Text Neck and the Smart Phone Slump are some of the names of these conditions, and they are all byproducts of the stresses that are placed on our head, neck and shoulders when we assume this seemingly standard posture.

For most, that posture includes simply looking down, but a study conducted by, Dr. Kenneth K Hansraj, the chief of spine surgery at New York Spine Surgery and Rehabilitation Medicine, found that the stress created by that posture is significant.

For example, when we stand upright and hold our head in the neutral or straight-up position, 10-12 pounds of force is placed on the neck and cervical spine. That force increases dramatically, however, with every degree with which we tilt the head forward.

By tilting the head forward just 15 degrees, the force on the neck muscles and cervical spine more than doubles to 27 pounds. At 30 degrees of tilt the force increases to 40 pounds and at 60 degrees, where the chin is nearest the chest, the force is 60 pounds.

Stay in that position long enough or assume it often enough as cell-phone users often do and the resulting damage to those areas of the body can include intermittent or constant neck, shoulder and back pain and headaches.

For some, these symptoms are so severe that a doctor’s care is required to correct them. Others may be able to correct them by doing a few simple home exercises such as placing your hands behind your head, opening your elbows wide and looking upward.

As is often the case, though, the best remedy is prevention. With that in mind here are five simple tips – courtesy of – to follow that can help you prevent Tech Neck, Text Neck, Smart Phone Slump and other related problems.

  1. Set time limits.Limit the amount of time and frequency that you use your device. If you have to use it for an extended period of time, take breaks. Develop a habit of taking a three-minute break for every 15-20 minutes you use your device. Change your posture and move around.
  2. Set automatic reminders.Utilize an automatic alarm with your smart device reminding you to take a time out. For those of you that have wearable devices these can be set to remind you to break, such as the iWatch which can tap you every 15-20 minutes.
  3. Use a tablet holder.Purchase a holder to elevate your device to significantly reduce the amount of neck flexion and forward positioning. Try to keep the device as close to eye-level as possible. This is a great tool to reduce Tech Neck.
  4. Sit in a chair with a headrest.Switch to a chair with a headrest and make sure to keep the back of your head in contact with the headrest while using your tablet, phone or laptop. Keeping the back of your head flush against the headrest will ensure that you’re not looking down with your neck flexed forward.
  5. Use pain as a warning.If you’re experiencing neck pain between the shoulder blades, numbness or tingling in the arms or frequent headaches there may be a more serious issue going on. Pay attention to these warning signs and act quickly to make changes to reduce or eliminate any head-forward posture that is straining your neck.

Remote Control

July 15th, 2018

Minimally invasive robotically assisted heart procedure proves effective.

Adam* describes himself as a fitness fanatic. The 55-year-old retired Naval officer works out at the gym at least five days a week and usually gets in a jog of at least five miles every other day.

He’s in excellent physical condition for a man his age, which is why he thought something must be wrong when he suddenly found himself out of breath midway through the 30 minutes it usually takes him to mow his lawn.

After taking the advice of his general practitioner and visiting a heart specialist, Adam was surprised to learn that he was suffering from mitral valve disease, which is the most common form of heart valve disease in the United States.

Nearly half a million patients are admitted to a hospital each year as a result of some form of mitral valve disease.  In turn, those visits result in approximately 40,000 Americans – most of them 50 or younger – undergoing surgery for the malady.

One of four heart valves, the mitral valve is the one that allows the blood received from the lungs to flow from the left atrium, also known as the upper chamber of the heart, to the left ventricle, or lower chamber of the heart.

What Adam learned upon his visit was that he was suffering from mitral valve regurgitation, a condition in which the mitral valve fails to close tightly when the left ventricle contracts. This failure results in a leakage or backward flow of blood through the valve.

When this leakage occurs, blood flows through the valve in both directions, causing an increase in the volume of blood in the valve as well as an increase in pressure in the atrium. This, in turn, increases the pressure in the veins leading from the lungs to the heart.

In mild cases of mitral regurgitation, sufferers may not feel any symptoms at all. In more severe cases, however, the lack of efficient blood flow can cause palpitations and may leave sufferers feeling tired and short of breath the way Adam did.

For years, the primary treatment for mitral valve regurgitation was a surgery designed to repair or replace the valve that required the surgeon to access the affected area by sawing the sternum in half, spreading the ribs and operating through the front of the chest.

As a result of advances in medical technology, however, surgeons can now perform the same operation remotely with the aid of a small camera and thin robotic arms that are fed into the body through a series of small incisions on the right side of the chest.

While the surgeon works at a computer console that provides complete control of the movement of the robotic arms, the camera provides a clear, three-dimensional view of the mitral valve and its surroundings.

Like traditional mitral valve surgery, the robotically assisted version requires general anesthesia and the use of heart-lung bypass machines to perform the functions of those organs during the procedure. It provides several advantages, however.

In addition to alleviating the need to break or cut the breastbone, the advantages of robotically assisted mitral valve surgery include less blood loss, less post-operative patient pain, less scarring and a shorter recovery time than with traditional surgery.

And research shows that robotically assisted mitral valve surgery is just as successful as the traditional option. In an NYU Langone study of 1,000 patients who had the minimally invasive surgery, their long-term clinical outcomes were equivalent to those achieved by patients who had a traditional sternotomy.DaVinci Robot Heart Valve

Adam is among those who can attest to the fact that the robotically assisted surgery works. He opted for that approach after he was told of his condition and says now that the surgery has given him a new lease on life.

“When I was told I needed to have heart surgery I wasn’t just shocked, I was scared,’’ Adam says. “Along with the concern I had for my general overall health, I was worried about the long layoff that I thought I’d be facing after surgery.

“But I was in the hospital for only two days with this new surgery and within a month of leaving, I was back working out and going through my normal routine. If had been forced to have the traditional surgery, it might have been months before I was active again.”

Need New Hip Joint?

July 9th, 2018

Positioning system makes replacement surgery more precise.

The number of Americans having hip replacement surgery has grown steadily over the past eighteen years. It’s estimated that this year, more than 300,000 people will undergo the procedure, up from 138,000 in 2000. The procedure, fortunately, has matured as well.

A recent advancement to hip replacement surgery was the release and FDA approval of a technology that helps surgeons determine the most accurate alignment of the replacement implants. This technology is the optimized positioning system or OPS™.

The inspiration behind OPS is the fact that no two people move the same way, and this can make a significant impact on the proper positioning of the hip implants. OPS is designed to account for the differences. It tailors the implant placement to each patient.

OPS factors in that no two people move the same way.

The hip joint has two essential parts, the ball and the socket. The ball of the joint is the head of the femur, or thigh bone. The socket, or acetabulum, is a concave depression in the pelvis, in which the ball sits. The ball and socket are the parts that are replaced during surgery and must be positioned appropriately for the best outcome.

To get the proper position, hip replacement surgery using OPS begins long before the procedure is performed. An extensive preoperative evaluation is first performed to determine how the patient’s femur, pelvis and spine work together during routine daily activities. This evaluation provides a specific functional simulation of the patient’s movement.

This information is essential to achieving optimum results during surgery. If the implants aren’t positioned precisely during surgery, there’s a greater risk for complications such as premature wear, implant loosening and dislocation, as well as nerve impingement.

The preoperative evaluation also includes imaging such as x-rays and CT scans to generate pictures of how the patient’s hip moves in three dimensions. The imaging captures the anatomical geometry around the person’s hip joint.

Using all of the information gathered from the preoperative evaluation, surgeons create exact 3-D models of the patients’ anatomy. They then use these models as guides to optimize implant position during the hip replacement procedure.

The preoperative evaluation is the first step in the hip replacement using OPS process. The second step is using the system during the procedure itself. During surgery, the 3-D model, which is unique to each patient, is combined with a laser guidance system. Surgeons match up the laser points to ensure the optimized plan is accurately recreated during surgery.

Need for OPS

The most common reason for needing hip replacement surgery with OPS is deterioration of the hip joint from arthritis. The most common type of arthritis is osteoarthritis, also known as “wear and tear” arthritis. Osteoarthritis generally develops with age. It’s estimated that more than 28 million Americans suffer from the disorder.

Osteoarthritis can develop in any joint in the body, but it most often affects weight-bearing joints such as knees and hips. The hip is one of the largest joints in the body, and like other joints, its surfaces are covered with a smooth cushioning material called articular cartilage. This cartilage enables the bones to slide over one another more easily.

Joints also contain another cushioning substance called synovial fluid. This fluid lubricates the joint cartilage and aids in movement. With osteoarthritis, the articular cartilage begins to wear away, and the synovial fluid begins to thin out. This results in the bones of the joint rubbing together without cushioning. Damaged bone may also start to grow. These resulting growths are called bone spurs.

All of the damage to the hip joint is degenerative; it gets worse over time. It also causes pain, swelling and other symptoms that get progressively more intense. Additional symptoms of osteoarthritis include tenderness around the hip, limited range of motion, a grating sensation with movement and difficulty walking.

The doctor can generally diagnose osteoarthritis through a complete history and physical exam. The doctor will confirm the findings with an x-ray of the patient’s hip.

Treatment for osteoarthritis generally begins with lifestyle modifications, such as switching from high-impact activities to lower-impact activities and losing weight. Other conservative treatments include doing physical therapy, using support such as a cane when walking and taking anti-inflammatory and/or pain medications.

If conservative treatments fail to relieve symptoms, the doctor may suggest surgery. Surgical options include hip resurfacing and total hip replacement.

Screen Time Sensibilities

June 3rd, 2018

There is a big debate in this country and others over the effect of screen time on our kids. Some experts say the constant use of tech devices has a negative impact, while others argue tech use has many benefits. My thought is that the use of smartphones, tablets, laptops and more has both. Use just has to be moderated. Let’s look at both sides of the issue before deciding what to do.

The ran a great article detailing how this country, especially its parents, are divided on the issue of screen time. In the article, author Lauren Smiley relates how research on screen time with various tech device is actually very limited. Smiley notes further that studies that have been done came to mixed conclusions.

According to The Verge article, some researchers liken the results of using today’s tech with results we already know about, those of an older, well studied technology, TV. Of course, TV watching in excess has been linked to obesity, poorer school performance, social and language delays, sleeping problems and difficulties within the family dynamic.

Some studies link high levels of screen time to mental health problems, including higher rates of depression and anxiety. The results of another study, released in January, backed that up. This study showed that teens who get a lot of screen time are less happy and less satisfied with their lives. The study was a large national survey of eighth, 10th and 12th graders conducted annually since 2012, the year smartphones reached the 50 percent concentration point in the US.

The January study found that adolescents’ psychological wellbeing decreased the higher the number of screen hours. In addition, the teens’ correlation between happiness and screen activities was negative, while the correlation between happiness and non-screen activities, such as sports and person-to-person interaction, was positive.

A little older study, in 2015 in the UK, recorded the tech use activities of more than 800 14-year-olds. They then analyzed these students two years later using the UK’s standard secondary education testing protocol. The study results found that those kids spending an extra hour a day on screens earned 9.3 fewer points on the test, the equivalent of dropping a grade in two subjects.

The results of the January study were not all anti-screen time. The researchers found that teenagers who get a small amount of screen time, between one and five hours a week, are happier than those who get none at all. The happiest teens, they say, are those who are above average at face-to-face social interaction and below average in social media use.

There are other positive arguments made by the defenders of technology. For one, students have access to more information than ever before. Instead of having to trek to the library to do research, they have a library of information at their fingertips. They can find what they need in less than ten seconds. As a result, our kids are learning more and getting smarter.

Not only does technology make getting information easier, it makes learning more fun. Our kids are spending time online, and they’re learning at the same time. The tech devises are just another way of taking in information. Kids using them don’t even see it as learning; they view it as having fun. The new tech fills in the knowledge gaps.

Defenders argue against those who say the tech devices are acting as a crutch to our younger generation by making so much information available to them in an instant. Defenders say by looking something up, the kids have no choice but to absorb what they’re reading and actually learn it. They’re passively learning.

The question everyone seems focused on is how much screen time is appropriate for kids, and there are no distinct rules to follow. This leaves parents to decide how much screen time their children can have each day. There are a few general thoughts on the subject to take into consideration.

For one, a Harvard clinical psychologist and school consultant studied the impact of digital technology on infant brain development. She concluded there is no productive role for technology in the life of a baby under two years. Others agree with this assessment.

In 2016, the American Academy of Pediatrics released its updated guidelines, suggesting no screens before age 18 months, with the exception of video chatting with family members. They also suggest kids ages two to five should be limited to one hour a day with exceptions for educational programming. They leave it up to the parents to limit screen time for kids over five.

Tech Advisor, a company in the UK, agrees with the AAP’s guideline for children under two and those two to five. They go further, however, and recommend kids five through 18 get no more than two hours of screen time per day. This does not include time at school if their school uses tablets for student education or for homework. It includes leisure activities on tech devices.

Any parent will tell you it’s a constant battle getting their kids, particularly teens, to give up their tech devices, especially their smartphones. But common sense suggests you balance your kids’ screen time with screen-free activities. Here are a few tips for a sensible screen time plan for your family:

  • Check access and availability. Don’t let your kids have TVs, computers or any other device with a screen in their bedrooms.
  • Set rules. Set screen time protocols for your family, and create media-free zones in your home.
  • Explain the reasons for limiting screen time. Discuss the dangers of excessive screen time with your children. They’ll be more open to limits if the dangers are clearly pointed out.
  • Be a role model. Set the example. Limit your own use of computers and smartphones. Your kids won’t be willing to reduce their time on tech devices if you’re constantly using yours.
  • Take breaks. Screen time often leads to over-stimulation. Have your kids take breaks to calm down their brains.
  • No screens before bedtime. Most screens use LCDs that emit a blue light that inhibits sleep and the circadian rhythm. Leave an hour or so after screen use before bedtime.

There are more tips on the second page of this article, as well as some ideas for alternatives to screen time. There are no hard-and-fast rules about screen time, but there are a few guidelines. Still, it’s up to you to decide how much screen time your kids get each day. Use your best judgment.

Stimulating the Brain

November 14th, 2017

There’s good news and bad news about Parkinson’s disease, the neurodegenerative disorder that affects movement. The bad news is that an estimated seven to ten million people worldwide have it, and that number is growing with the aging population. The good news is there might be a new, noninvasive way to treat it.

Treatment for Parkinson’s, as well as other movement disorders such as essential tremor, rigidity, stiffness and walking problems, are generally initially treated with medications. These medications target cells in the brain that make the chemicals that help cells pass along messages telling the body to move. Many people respond to this therapy.

For years, when people were at the point their disorder did not respond to medicines, or it began interfering with daily activities, they had few good options. Then in 2002, the FDA approved a procedure called deep brain stimulation (DBS) as a therapy for advanced Parkinson’s disease. After that, its use in thousands of patients in the US and Europe prompted studies of the treatment in earlier stages of the disease as well.

DBS is a surgical procedure that blocks nerve signals in targeted areas of the brain, which are generally identified using MRI or CT imaging. During DBS, a battery-operated medical device, similar to a pacemaker, is implanted to deliver electrical stimulation to the specific brain areas to control movement and other Parkinson’s symptoms.

The DBS system has three components, including the lead, which is a thin, insulated wire that is inserted through a small opening in the skull and implanted in the brain. The extension is another insulated wire that is passed under the skin of the head, neck and shoulder and connects the lead to the third component, the neurostimulator. That is the battery pack, and it is usually implanted under the skin near the collarbone or in the abdomen.

DBS has proven very effective in helping to reduce symptoms and medication use, as well as increase patients’ quality of life. However, DBS surgery has risks, including infection, stroke, cranial bleeding and other complications. Then in June, researchers at MIT announced they developed a new, noninvasive method for deep brain stimulation.

The MIT researchers, in collaboration with investigators at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and the IT’IS Foundation, have developed a method to stimulate regions deep in the brain using electrodes placed on the scalp. This approach could make DBS less risky, less expensive and more accessible to patients.

The approach involves generating two high-frequency electrical currents using the electrodes on the scalp. These currents are too fast for the brain cells, or neurons, to respond to. However, the two currents interfere with one another, and when they intersect, deep in the brain, they essentially cancel out all but a small, low-frequency current. This current can influence the neurons’ response, while the high-frequency current has no effect on surrounding tissue.

Using the electrodes this way, researchers can target the areas they want deep inside the brain, without affecting any other brain structures. Also, without having to move the electrodes, they can direct the location of the stimulation by altering the currents. They can stimulate the brain for treatment or research.

The new method has shown promise in mice, and researchers have started testing the strategy on people without disorders to see if it works on human brains. A clinician at Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School said if those testing results are promising, he would collaborate with the MIT team to evaluate the technique for treatment of another disorder, epilepsy.

The pulses of electricity delivered by DBS can improve the quality of life for people with Parkinson’s disease. They can also be used to treat those with obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression and other psychiatric disorders that fail to respond to medication. This noninvasive approach to DBS could help more people enjoy that improvement.

Focused Distraction

October 7th, 2017

Photo from istockphoto.comRecently, my sister and I went out for breakfast and noted how many people in the restaurant had their heads buried in their cell phones. Even babies and toddlers had phones and tablets and were staring at images on the screens. If there was any conversation at those tables, it was about something heard or seen on the phone.

This is not an unusual occurrence. According to a 2017 survey by the American Psychological Association (APA), more than 65 percent of American adults – and 90 percent of 18 to 29-year-olds – use social media. Facebook and Instagram are particularly popular, with more than 2 billion users signing on every month.

Talk about popular – a typical teen, age 13 to 17, sends more than 3,400 texts every month. This equates to seven texts every waking hour. Of course, when a teen is in the middle of a text conversation, that number is even higher.

Social media is a magnificent tool. It makes a lifetime of possibilities available at the press of a key. There are many benefits to social media. It makes the world a much smaller place and communication much easier to accomplish.

For one thing, social media expands access to education and health care. Teachers and doctors no longer have to be in the same room as their students and patients, expanding availability to more people at more convenient times and locations. Research on school topics and health issues is quick and easy. People just need to learn which sites are credible sources of information and which aren’t.

Other benefits of social media include easier banking and bill paying, introduction to new products and services, greater communication with friends and family members, and faster response in times of emergency or disaster.

But if you’re spending all your time on social media, what’s happening to your interaction with people and your relationships? If you can get all the information you need on your phone, are you actually learning and retaining anything? If you’re walking down the street or driving while texting or talking on the phone, are you really paying attention to what’s going on around you?

We know family relationships suffer. Of the respondents to the APA survey, 45 percent said technology makes them feel “disconnected from their families even when they’re together.” That’s only the tip of the iceberg. Other studies have shown that kids who spend long hours on social media don’t learn facial and body language cues, making them less able to communicate face-to-face with others.

Education expands with social media, but it also suffers. In a study published in 2016, 89 percent of student studied said the biggest disadvantage of social media in the classroom was they don’t pay attention and therefore miss instructions and important information.

Also, because students use shortcuts and letters for words on social media, they don’t develop a facility in proper spelling and grammar in written communication. It can also make it difficult for people who don’t use technology as often to understand the context of a message. And because there’s so much “noise” on social media, it’s hard for people to retain what they see and read.

If you think you can do two things at the same time, like driving and talking on the phone, think again. True multitasking is a myth. Neuroscience has proven the brain can’t actually perform two activities at once. Instead, it quickly toggles from one thing to the other. The brain works fast, but it still takes it a few beats to change focus, and that’s when mistakes and accidents can happen.

So, go ahead and take advantage of social media, but use it wisely!

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