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A Portable, Dry EEG Could Change the Way We Monitor Brain Activity

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A new high-tech headset could make analyzing brain activity feasible even outside the lab. Developed by alumni of the University of California, San Diego through a company called Cognionics, the dry, portable system makes it easier to take electroencephalograms (EEGs)—tests used to diagnose epilepsy and other neurological disorders and study brain activity. 

Normally, getting an EEG is a messy, wet process. In order to get a high-quality reading on what’s going on in your head, dozens of nodes are attached to different places around your scalp, often with the help of conductive gel or paste. 

However, researchers working on the Cognionics headset claim it’s just as accurate as a traditional EEG, without the gels or wires. They document their findings in a new study in IEEE Transactions on Biomedical Engineering. 

Their elastic headgear is embedded with 64 flexible, spider-like sensors that can read brain waves through your hair. It’s certainly not something you’d hit the runway in, but it could feasibly be something you could use at home. You could drive in it, play video games, or perform low-level exercises. 

Traditional EEGs are near-impossible to take out of the laboratory setting, because they require hooking up a patient to a machine and gluing electrodes to precise locations on their scalp. More portable consumer systems are not terribly accurate, but if we can only see how brains work in a research lab, there’s only so much we can learn. It’s difficult to replicate real-world results in an artificial setting where patients are stressed out or can’t move. An accurate EEG system that can be used while the patient is going throughout their day would be a boon to neurology research. 

“This is going to take neuroimaging to the next level by deploying on a much larger scale,” Mike Yu Chi, the study’s lead author, said in a press release. “You will be able to work in subjects’ homes. You can put this on someone driving.”

[h/t: Psy Post]

All images courtesy UCSD

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Brain Training Could Help Combat Hearing Loss, Study Suggests
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Contrary to what you might think, the hearing loss that accompanies getting older isn't entirely about your ears. Studies have found that as people get older, the parts of their brain that process speech slow down, and it becomes especially difficult to isolate one voice in a noisy environment. New research suggests there may be a way to help older people hear better: brain training.

The Verge reports that a new double-blind study published in Current Biology suggests that a video game could help older people improve their hearing ability. Though the study was too small to be conclusive, the results are notable in the wake of several large studies in the past few years that found that the brain-training games on apps like Luminosity don't improve cognitive skills in the real world. Most research on brain training games has found that while you might get better at the game, you probably won't be able to translate that skill to your real life.

In the current study, the researchers recruited 24 older adults, all of whom were long-term hearing-aid users, for eight weeks of video game training. The average age was 70. Musical training has been associated with stronger audio perception, so half of the participants were asked to play a game that asked them to identify subtle changes in tones—like you would hear in a piece of music—in order to piece together a puzzle, and the other half played a placebo game designed to test their memory. In the former, as the levels got more difficult, the background noise got louder. The researchers compare the task to a violinist tuning out the rest of the orchestra in order to listen to just their own instrument.

After eight weeks of playing their respective games around three-and-a-half hours a week, the group that played the placebo memory game didn't perform any better on a speech perception test that asked participants to identify sentences or words amid competing voices. But those who played the tone-changing puzzle game saw significant improvement in their ability to process speech in noise conditions close to what you'd hear in an average restaurant. The tone puzzle group were able to accurately identify 25 percent more words against loud background noise than before their training.

The training was more successful for some participants than others, and since this is only one small study, it's possible that as this kind of research progresses, researchers might find a more effective game design for this purpose. But the study shows that in specific instances, brain training games can benefit users. This kind of game can't eliminate the need for hearing aids, but it can help improve speech recognition in situations where hearing aids often fail (e.g., when there is more than one voice speaking). However, once the participants stopped playing the game for a few months, their gains disappeared, indicating that it would have to be a regular practice.

[h/t The Verge]

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Need to Calm Yourself Down? Try This Military-Approved Breathing Technique
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Whether you’re dealing with co-worker chaos or pressure to perform on a project, it’s difficult to excel at work when you're extremely stressed. Can’t escape the office? Take a cue from real-life soldiers and try a technique called tactical breathing—also known as combat breathing, four-count breathing, and diaphragmatic breathing—to lower your heart rate and regain control of your breath.

“It’s one you can use when things are blowing up around you”—both literally and figuratively—“and you need to be able to stay calm,” explains clinical psychologist Belisa Vranich, who demonstrates a version of tactical breathing in Tech Insider’s video below.

Vranich is the author of 2016’s Breathe: The Simple, Revolutionary 14-Day Program to Improve your Mental and Physical Health. Watch, learn, and—of course—inhale and exhale along with her until you feel zen enough to salvage the remainder of your workday.

[h/t Business Insider]

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