New Research Suggests Watching TV is Linked to Memory Problems in Older Adults

iStock.com/BakiBG
iStock.com/BakiBG

Television has always been a hypnotic diversion, and the rise of streaming content has made passing hours in front of the set easier than ever. But all of that tube time might have consequences later in life. According to new research published in Scientific Reports, the more TV older adults watched, the greater the potential for lower scores on verbal memory tests.

The data was drawn from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing, a long-term examination of UK participants aged 50 and older that solicits information on health and lifestyle habits. The study, conducted by researchers at University College London, looked at the self-reported television viewing habits of 3590 adults in 2008 and 2009. These subjects also took a brief verbal memory test that prompted them to recall 10 common words that had just been recited to them. They were asked to repeat the words both immediately and after a brief delay. Semantic fluency was also tested, with subjects asked to offer words in a given subject, like animals, in under a minute.

The process was then repeated six years later. Participants who watched more than 3.5 hours of television daily had worse scores on the verbal memory test than those who watched less. Researchers also found that as television viewing went up, scores went down. This, the study suggests, is enough to link TV watching with cognitive decline.

Because sedentary behavior by itself was not found to correlate with the lowered memory scores, it may not be the physical passivity of viewing that’s at fault. The paper’s authors note that television promotes an alert brain, but not necessarily a focused one. Other screen-based stimuli like video games may be better for preserving or enhancing cognition. Researchers also theorized the potential for TV-induced stress to affect recall. Violent scenes can induce concern or worry on the part of the viewer, which can in turn prompt a release of glucocorticoids, or stress hormones. Chronically high levels of glucocorticoids can result in memory impairment, among other issues.

It may also be that television itself isn’t damaging, but that it simply takes away time that could be spent on more neurologically nourishing activities like games, puzzles, or reading. It’s also possible that adults facing cognitive issues are more likely to spend their time with a remote in hand. What’s not debatable is that watching television is largely an idle activity for the brain—something to think about the next time you binge.

[h/t Science News]

A Simple Skin Swab Could Soon Identify People at Risk for Parkinson's

iStock.com/stevanovicigor
iStock.com/stevanovicigor

More than 200 years have passed since physician James Parkinson first identified the degenerative neurological disorder that bears his name. Over five million people worldwide suffer from Parkinson’s disease, a neurological condition characterized by muscle tremors and other symptoms. Diagnosis is based on those symptoms rather than blood tests, brain imaging, or any other laboratory evidence.

Now, science may be close to a simple and non-invasive method for diagnosing the disease based on a waxy substance called sebum, which people secrete through their skin. And it’s thanks to a woman with the unique ability to sniff out differences in the sebum of those with Parkinson's—years before a diagnosis can be made.

The Guardian describes how researchers at the University of Manchester partnered with a nurse named Joy Milne, a "super smeller" who can detect a unique odor emanating from Parkinson's patients that is unnoticeable to most people. Working with Tilo Kunath, a neurobiologist at Edinburgh University, Milne and the researchers pinpointed the strongest odor coming from the patients' upper backs, where sebum-emitting pores are concentrated.

For a new study in the journal ACS Central Science, the researchers analyzed skin swabs from 64 Parkinson's and non-Parkinson's subjects and found that three substances—eicosane, hippuric acid, and octadecanal—were present in higher concentrations in the Parkinson’s patients. One substance, perillic aldehyde, was lower. Milne confirmed that these swabs bore the distinct, musky odor associated with Parkinson’s patients.

Researchers also found no difference between patients who took drugs to control symptoms and those who did not, meaning that drug metabolites had no influence on the odor or compounds.

The next step will be to swab a a much larger cohort of Parkinson’s patients and healthy volunteers to see if the results are consistent and reliable. If these compounds are able to accurately identify Parkinson’s, researchers are optimistic that it could lead to earlier diagnosis and more effective interventions.

[h/t The Guardian]

World’s Oldest Stored Sperm Has Produced Some Healthy Baby Sheep

A stock photo of a lamb
A stock photo of a lamb
iStock.com/ananaline

It’s not every day that you stumble across a 50-year-old batch of frozen sheep sperm. So when Australian researchers rediscovered a wriggly little time capsule that had been left behind by an earlier researcher, they did the obvious: they tried to create some lambs. As Smithsonian reports, they pulled it off, too.

The semen, which came from several prize rams, had been frozen in 1968 by Dr. Steve Salamon, a sheep researcher from the University of Sydney. After bringing the sample out of storage, researchers thawed it out and conducted a few lab tests. They determined that its viability and DNA integrity were still intact, so they decided to put it to the ultimate test: Would it get a sheep pregnant? The sperm was artificially inseminated into 56 Merino ewes, and lo and behold, 34 of them became pregnant and gave birth to healthy lambs.

Of course, this experiment wasn’t just for fun. They wanted to test whether decades-old sperm—frozen in liquid nitrogen at -320°F—would still be viable for breeding purposes. Remarkably, the older sperm had a slightly higher pregnancy rate (61 percent) than sheep sperm that had been frozen for 12 months and used to impregnate ewes in a different experiment (in that case, the success rate was 59 percent).

“We believe this is the oldest viable stored semen of any species in the world and definitely the oldest sperm used to produce offspring,” researcher Dr. Jessica Rickard said in a statement.

Researchers say this experiment also lets them assess the genetic progress of selective breeding over the last five decades. “In that time, we’ve been trying to make better, more productive sheep [for the wool industry],” associate professor Simon de Graaf said. “This gives us a resource to benchmark and compare.”

[h/t Smithsonian]

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