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Blame the Brain for the Hearing Loss That Comes With Aging

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The reason why older people typically can’t hear very well has very little to do with the functional capabilities of their ears, Co.Exist reports. Instead, as a recent study in the Journal of Neurophysiology (freely available here) investigates, it has more to do with how the brain processes sound, and how that ability deteriorates as we age.

Researchers at the University of Maryland, College Park report that the deterioration is due to aging’s effect on the brain’s midbrain (associated with hearing as well as vision and motor control) and cortex (associated with thought and language). The study examined 17 younger adults and 15 older people with no signs of dementia. They were asked to listen to an audiobook while another narrated audiobook played in the background.

When trying to distinguish between the voices of two different speakers, the midbrains of older adults don't respond as strongly as those of younger people. The older adults' brains couldn’t encode the auditory signals as well, and they took longer to process speech, especially when there were two competing voices. The older brain appears to be less capable of picking out one sound out of many.

However, their cortex actually reconstructed the amplitude of the speech they heard in the brain with greater accuracy—an exaggerated response, which may reveal why older people need to pay more attention to process the noise of people talking. As the study's abstract notes, this response suggests "an age-related over (or inefficient) use of cognitive resources that may explain their difficulty in processing speech targets while trying to ignore interfering noise."

So the next time you encounter an older individual who is hard of hearing, don’t bother trying to speak louder. It won’t help them hear you any better. Instead, move your conversation to a place with less background noise.

[h/t Co.Exist]
 
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The Surprising Link Between Language and Depression
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Skim through the poems of Sylvia Plath, the lyrics of Kurt Cobain, or posts on an internet forum dedicated to depression, and you'll probably start to see some commonalities. That's because there's a particular way that people with clinical depression communicate, whether they're speaking or writing, and psychologists believe they now understand the link between the two.

According to a recent study published in Clinical Psychological Science, there are certain "markers" in a person's parlance that may point to symptoms of clinical depression. Researchers used automated text analysis methods to comb through large quantities of posts in 63 internet forums with more than 6400 members, searching for certain words and phrases. They also noted average sentence length, grammatical patterns, and other factors.

What researchers found was that a person's use (or overuse) of first-person pronouns can provide some insight into the state of their mental health. People with clinical depression tend to use more first-person singular pronouns, such as "I" and "me," and fewer third-person pronouns, like "they," "he," or "she." As Mohammed Al-Mosaiwi, a Ph.D. candidate in psychology at the University of Reading and the head of the study, writes in a post for IFL Science:

"This pattern of pronoun use suggests people with depression are more focused on themselves, and less connected with others. Researchers have reported that pronouns are actually more reliable in identifying depression than negative emotion words."

What remains unclear, though, is whether people who are more focused on themselves tend to depression, or if depression turns a person's focus on themselves. Perhaps unsurprisingly, people with depression also use more negative descriptors, like "lonely" and "miserable."

But, Al-Mosaiwi notes, it's hardly the most important clue when using language to assess clinical depression. Far better indicators, he says, are the presence of "absolutist words" in a person's speech or writing, such as "always," "constantly," and "completely." When overused, they tend to indicate that someone has a "black-and-white view of the world," Al-Mosaiwi says. An analysis of posts on different internet forums found that absolutist words were 50 percent more prevalent on anxiety and depression forums, and 80 percent more prevalent on suicidal ideation forums.

Researchers hope these types of classifications, supported by computerized methods, will prove more and more beneficial in a clinical setting.

[h/t IFL Science]

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Just 5 Alcoholic Drinks a Week Could Shorten Your Lifespan
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Wine lovers were elated when a scientific study last year suggested that drinking a glass of wine a day could help them live longer. Now a new study, published in The Lancet, finds that having more than 100 grams of alcohol a week (the amount in about five glasses of wine or pints of beer) could be detrimental to your health.

Researchers from the University of Cambridge and the British Heart Foundation studied the health data of nearly 600,000 drinkers in 19 countries and found that five to 10 alcoholic drinks a week (yes, red wine included) could shave six months off the life of a 40-year-old.

The penalty is even more severe for those who have 10 to 15 drinks a week (shortening a person’s life by one to two years), and those who imbibe more than 18 drinks a week could lose four to five years of their lives. In other words, your lifespan could be shortened by half an hour for every drink over the daily recommended limit, according to The Guardian, making it just as risky as smoking.

"The paper estimates a 40-year-old drinking four units a day above the guidelines [the equivalent of drinking three glasses of wine in a night] has roughly two years' lower life expectancy, which is around a 20th of their remaining life," David Spiegelhalter, a statistician at the University of Cambridge who was not involved with the study, tells The Guardian. "This works out at about an hour per day. So it's as if each unit above guidelines is taking, on average, about 15 minutes of life, about the same as a cigarette."

[h/t The Guardian]

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