ALS patients: Keep the Ice Bucket Challenge flowing

ALS patients: Keep the Ice Bucket Challenge flowing

 

Rock Lititz Ice Bucket Challenge 1

Richard Hertzler

Rock Lititz General Manager Andrea Shirk, left, and Rock Lititz Studio Manager, Sarah Zeitler, get doused with ice water outside the new Rock Lititz building. (Richard Hertzler/Staff)

Posted: Sunday, August 17, 2014 8:00 am

By RYAN MELLON | Staff Writer

Chantelle Delaney and five of her family members simultaneously dumped frigid ice water on their heads this week.

It’s the latest trend to take social media by storm.

You dump a bucket of ice water on your head and post a video of it on social media sites, challenge your friends to do the same within 24 hours and use the hashtag #IceBucketChallenge to help spread the word and raise funds for ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

It’s working.

Nationally, between July 29 and Aug. 14, the ALS Association has received $9.5 million from donors.

That’s six times more than the $1.6 million raised during the same time frame last year, according to Tony Heyl, director of communications for the ALS Association Greater Philadelphia Chapter.

About 185,000 donors had never contributed to the association before, he said.

Heyl said the association is poised to hit the $10 million mark by the end of the weekend.

The deal is, if you don’t take the challenge, you’re supposed to donate $100 to ALS.

Some participants are bending the original rules, telling their friends to donate an amount within their means even if they decide to douse themselves in ice water.

Some are participating but not making a donation. That may seem contrary to the spirit of the challenge, and may lead some people to dismiss it as yet another example of slacktivism, or ineffectual social media activism.

If you ask the ALS Association and those living with the disease, the challenge is more than just a social media phenomenon or a way to get a couple of “likes” on Facebook.

“We won’t get anyone to donate if they’ve never heard of the disease,” said Ted Harada, an ALS patient and 1989 graduate of Manheim Township.

Harada, who now lives in Georgia and is an advocate for ALS, is benefiting from research as he undergoes an experimental stem cell treatment as a possible cure for the disease.

So far, for Harada, the treatment is working, giving him hope for the future.

He hopes the ice bucket challenge continues to make similar treatments possible.

“(ALS) comes in, it takes a family by storm, it kills the person and then there are no survivors so there is no growing demographic out there to tell the story of ALS,” Harada said. “I feel like for the first time ever, the story of ALS is being told. Finally, people are going to understand this universally fatal disease.”

Harada said officials with the Georgia chapter of the ALS Association, where he sits on the board, said the influx of money from the ice bucket challenge craze will be used for research.

“At the end of the day, what we all want is a chance at life,” Harada said. “That hope is only going to be brought to fruition through research.”

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, more commonly referred to as ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a neurodegenerative disorder that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. It can take away a person’s ability to walk, speak and even breathe.

It has a 100-percent fatality rate.

Chantelle Delaney, whose cousin, Karen Delaney, battles Lou Gehrig’s disease, said she was skeptical of the challenge when it was initiated by former Boston College baseball player and ALS patient Pete Frates.

“My fear was people were just going to dump ice water and nothing was going to happen,” Delaney, of Willow Street, said. “But with the amount of coverage it’s getting, if one out of every five people researches it and learns something about it, that’s worth it right there.”

Delaney said the ice bucket challenge became a family event as her cousin and other family members dumped the chilly water together.

The challenge has caught the attention of professional athletes like Roy Halladay, who challenged Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr., politicians including New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and celebrities like host of The Tonight Show, Jimmy Fallon.

Locally, at the Rock Lititz Studio, Clair Global and Tait Towers have been motivated by a friend of the company who has ALS to take the challenge.

Each company will be making an individual donation, according to Rock Lititz studio manager Sarah Zeitler.

Heyl said most people who have doused themselves have also chosen to donate and, at the ALS Association Greater Philadelphia chapter team numbers for awareness walks and other events are on the rise.

That gets Harada excited for the future as he said he has lost sleep since the craze took over social media.

“I’m pumped about it. I’m a very energetic guy and I feed off this type of stuff,” Harada said. “Now we have to capitalize on it, take advantage of this awareness and leverage it to a long term awareness program.”

6 Science-Backed Methods To Improve Your Memory

6 Science-Backed Methods To Improve Your Memory

You’ve heard the memory-boosting advice and tried all the tricks. Check out these surprising ways your memory can be better, backed up with science.

We’ve looked at a few different strategies to help remember the names of people you meet, but there’s lots to say about memory.

It turns out that science is continually finding new connections between simple things we can do every day and an improvement in our general memory capacity.

Memory is a complicated process that’s made up of a few different brain activities. Here’s a simplified version to help us understand how the process takes place:

Creating a memory

Our brain sends signals in a particular pattern associated with the event we’re experiencing and creates connections between our neurons, called synapses.

Consolidating the memory

If we didn’t do anything further, that memory would fall right out of our heads again. Consolidation is the process of committing it to long-term memory so we can recall it later. A lot of this process happens while we’re sleeping, as our brains recreate that same pattern of brain activity to strengthen the synapses we created earlier.

Recalling the memory

This is what most of us think of when we talk about memory, or especially memory loss. Recalling the memory is easier if it’s been strengthened over time, and each time we do so, we run through that same pattern of brain activity again, making it a little stronger.

Memory loss is a normal part of aging, but that doesn’t mean we can’t take action to slow it down a little. Let’s take a look at some of the ways research has found to keep our memories around as long as possible.

1. Meditate to improve your working memory

Working memory, which is a bit like the brain’s notepad, is where new information is held temporarily. When you learn someone’s name or hear the address of a place you’re going to, you hang on to those details in working memory until you’re done with them. If they’re not useful anymore, you let go of them entirely. If they are, you commit them to long-term memory where they can be strengthened and recalled later.

Working memory is something we use every day, and it makes our lives a lot easier when it’s stronger. For most adults, the maximum we can hold in our working memory is about seven items, but if you’re not quite using your working memory to its max capacity, meditation is one thing you can try to strengthen it.

Research has shown that participants with no experience in mindfulness meditation can improve their memory recall in just eight weeks. Meditation, with its power to help us concentrate, has also been shown to improve improve standardized test scores and working memory abilities after just two weeks.

Why does meditation benefit memory? It’s somewhat counterintuitive. During meditation, our brains stop processing information as actively as they normally would.

In the image below you can see how the beta waves (shown in bright colors on the left), which indicate that our brains are processing information, are dramatically reduced during meditation (on the right).

2. Drink coffee to improve your memory consolidation

Whether caffeine can improve memory if taken before learning something new is debatable. Most research has found little-to-no effect from ingesting caffeine prior to creating new memories. One recent study, however, found that taking a caffeine pill after a learning task actually improved memory recall up to 24 hours later.

Participants memorized a set of images, and were later tested by viewing the same images (targets), similar images (lures) and completely different images (foils). The task was to pick out which were the exact pictures they had memorized, without being tricked by the lures which were very similar. This is a process called pattern separation, which, according to the researchers, reflects a “deeper level of memory retention.”

The researchers in this study focused on the effects of caffeine on memory consolidation: the process of strengthening the memories we’ve created. This is why they believe there were effects when caffeine was ingested after the learning task, rather than before.

3. Eat berries for better long-term memory

Another diet-related effect on memory is the mounting research that eating berries can help to stave off memory decline.

A study from the University of Reading and the Peninsula Medical School found that supplementing a normal diet with blueberries for twelve weeks improved performance on spatial working memory tasks. The effects started just three weeks in and continued for the length of the study.

A long-term berry study that tested the memory of female nurses who were over 70 years old found that those who had regularly eaten at least two servings of strawberries or blueberries each week had a moderate reduction in memory decline. (The effects of strawberries might be debatable, though, since that study was partly funded by the California Strawberry Commission and another study focusing on strawberries suggested that you’d need to eat roughly 10 pounds of strawberries per day to see any effect).

More research is needed in this area, but science is getting closer to understanding how berries might affect our brains. In particular, blueberries are known for being high in flavanoids, which appear to strengthen existing connections in the brain. That could explain why they’re beneficial for long-term memory.

4. Exercise to improve your memory recall

Studies in both rat and human brains have shown that regular exercise can improve memory recall. Fitness in older adults has even been proven to slow the decline of memory without the aid of continued regular exercise.

In particular, studies shown that regular exercise can improve spatial memory, so it’s not necessarily a way to improve all kinds of memory recall.

Of course, the benefits of exercise are numerous, but for the brain in particular, regular exercise has been shown to improve cognitive abilities beyond memory. So if you’re looking for a way to stay sharp mentally, taking a walk could be the answer. See how a quick walk ignites the brain in the scan below:

5. Chew gum to make stronger memories

Another easy method to try that could improve your memory is chewing gum while you learn new things. There’s been some contradictory research around this topic, so it’s not a solid bet, but a study published last year showed that participants who completed a memory recall task were more accurate and had higher reaction times if they chewed gum during the study.

One reason that chewing gum might affect our memory recall is that it increases activity in the hippocampus, an important area of the brain for memory. It’s still unclear why this happens, though.

Another theory focuses on the increase of oxygen from chewing gum, which can help with focus and attention. This could mean we’re creating stronger connections in the brain as we learn new things while chewing gum. One study found that participants who chewed gum during learning and memory tests had higher heart rate levels than control groups, which can also lead to more oxygen flowing to the brain.

6. Sleep more to consolidate your memories

Sleep has proven to be one of the most important elements in having a good memory. Since sleep is when most of our memory consolidation process occurs, it makes sense that without enough sleep we’re going to struggle to remember the things we’ve learned. Even a short nap can improve your memory recall.

In one study, participants memorized illustrated cards to test their memory strength. After memorizing a set of cards, they had a 40-minute break wherein one group napped, and the other stayed awake. After the break, both groups were tested on their memory of the cards – the group who had napped performed better:

Much to the surprise of the researchers, the sleep group performed significantly better, retaining on average 85 percent of the patterns, compared to 60 percent for those who had remained awake.

Apparently, napping actually helps our brain to solidify memories:

Research indicates that when memory is first recorded in the brain–in the hippocampus, to be specific–it’s still “fragile” and easily forgotten, especially if the brain is asked to memorize more things. Napping, it seems, pushes memories to the neocortex, the brain’s “more permanent storage,” preventing them from being “overwritten.”

Not only is sleep after learning a critical part of the memory creation process, but sleep before learning something new is important as well. Research has found that sleep deprivation can affect our ability to commit new things to memory and consolidate any new memories we create.

Have you tried any of these methods for improving your memory? What works best for you? Let us know in the comments.

This article originally appeared on Buffer and is reprinted with permission.

[Image: Flickr user Kamoteus (A New Beginning)]

The Beauty-Happiness Connection

The Beauty-Happiness Connection

By ​Cody C. Delistraty

Le Déjeuner,” an early painting by Claude Monet, isn’t particularly remarkable when compared to some of his other works. His “Les Nymphéas” series, for instance, includes nearly 250 large-scale oil paintings of the water lilies at his flower garden in Giverny. From his Thames-facing room in London’s Savoy Hotel and from a terrace at Saint Thomas’ Hospital across the river, Monet also painted his famous “Série des Parlements de Londres”—nearly 100 versions of the Houses of Parliament, playing with reflections, perspectives, shadows, and color schemes.

But “Le Déjeuner” is a simple painting. It depicts lunch at a country home. There is a silver teapot, a glass, and a bowl of fruit on the table. A child sits on the ground nearby. A woman in a white dress glides past in the background. The painting merely shows a slice of a bourgeois family’s afternoon.

Yet it is beautiful for its very mundaneness. The usually humdrum act of taking lunch is elevated  because it is rendered with detail, because it is frozen in a grand tableau.

Beauty tends to feel like something that must be found in special places—parks and museums, galleries and exotic cities. Lunch is not a place one would normally think to look. But finding beauty in normal activities can bring deep happiness to life, studies show.

In a paper titled, “Untangling What Makes Cities Livable: Happiness in Five Cities,” Abraham Goldberg, a professor at University of South Carolina Upstate, and his team conducted a statistical analysis of happiness in New York City, London, Paris, Toronto, and Berlin. They analyzed earlier Gallup happiness surveys and collected their own data, and found that people’s happiness was coming from an unexpected place.

The usual markers of happiness are colloquially known as the “Big Seven”: wealth (especially compared to those around you), family relationships, career, friends, health, freedom, and personal values, as outlined by London School of Economics professor Richard Layard in Happiness: Lessons from a New Science. According to the Goldberg study, however, what makes people happiest isn’t even in the Big Seven. Instead, happiness is most easily attained by living in an aesthetically beautiful city. The things people were constantly surrounded by—lovely architecture, history, green spaces, cobblestone streets—had the greatest effect on their happiness. The cumulative positive effects of daily beauty worked subtly but strongly.

In an attempt to measure this daily happiness, George MacKerron, now a lecturer at the University of Sussex, created an iPhone application called Mappiness when he was a graduate student at the London School of Economics. More than 45,000 people now use it, and the concept is simple: The app beeps twice a day and asks a series of questions, such as: How happy are you feeling? How awake do you feel? How relaxed are you? Then it asks another set of questions question to contextualize your situation: Who are you with? Are you inside or outside? As you’re answering these questions, the app tags your location via GPS, and the whole process only takes about 20 seconds. Deceptively simple, the answers to these questions provide a lot of information on happiness. The times that people recorded the highest levels of happiness and life satisfaction were during sexually intimate moments (on a date, kissing, or having sex) and during exercise (when endorphins are being released).

But the next three types of moments where people recorded the highest levels of happiness were all related to beauty: when at the theater, ballet, or a concert; at a museum or an art exhibit; and while doing an artistic activity (e.g. painting, fiction writing, sewing). Even sexually intimate moments could be argued to be rooted in beauty: Presumably, people think their partners are beautiful.

But what about beauty links it to happiness?

In The Architecture of Happiness, Alain de Botton weighs the feeling of walking into an “ugly” McDonalds in the Westminster area of London compared to the feeling of entering the “beautiful” Westminster Cathedral across the street. He says that because of the harsh lighting, the plastic furniture, and the cacophonous color scheme (all those bright yellows and reds), one tends to feel immediately “anxious” in the McDonalds.

What one feels in the Westminster Cathedral, however, is a calmness brought on by a series of architectural and artistic decisions: the muted colors (greys and bleak reds), the romantic yellow lighting that bursts out onto Victoria Street, the intricate mosaics, and the vaulted ceilings. Although the Westminster Cathedral has the same principle elements of architecture as the McDonald’s—windows, doors, floors, ceilings, and seats—the cathedral helps people to relax and reflect, where the fast food restaurant causes one to feel stressed and hurried.

It seems part of humans’ appreciation of beauty is because it is able to conjure the feelings we tend to associate with happiness: calmness, a connection to history or the divine, wealth, time for reflection and appreciation, and, perhaps surprisingly, hope.

“Beauty manifests a hope that life would be better if the object of beauty were part of it,” writes Princeton philosopher Alexander Nehamas in Only a Promise of Happiness: The Place of Beauty in a World of Art.

He weighs both sides, writing, “We may discover misery in pursuit of beauty, or find that beauty offers no more than a tantalizing promise of happiness. But if beauty is always dangerous, it is also a pressing human concern that we must seek to understand, and not suppress.”

The most common explanation for the connection between happiness and beauty is based on economics and evolution. In one study, a Yale professor of economics found that being beautiful adds to one’s overall life happiness by a ratio of about one to 10, so that participants deemed beautiful by a standardized Western beauty scale gained one increment of happiness for every 10 increments of beauty that they were ranked above the average. The reason for this, the paper concludes, is that prettier people tend to make more money, and it is this financial leg up that affords beautiful people great happiness. From an evolutionary standpoint, beauty can make us happy because attractiveness implies health, which in turn implies strong reproductive capabilities, which allows us to attract more successful mates.

People’s physical beauty can help with dating and often it spells a path to economic success. But the beauty around us—the sky-high nave of the Westminister Cathedral, the ability to appreciate a simple lunch—offers hope that life can inch closer to perfection.

“So long as we find anything beautiful, we feel that we have not yet exhausted what [life] has to offer,” writes Nehamas. “That forward-looking element is … inseparable from the judgment of beauty.”

Beauty often starts with something small. For the participants in the Goldberg study, it is about the appearance of a city; in the Monet painting, it is the appreciation of eating in the countryside; for Plato and many other philosophers, beauty is about achieving knowledge. But just because beauty can begin with the appreciation of colors, cuisine, and colonnades does not make it a superficial pursuit. As the 18th-century French writer Stendhal wrote, “Beauty is the promise of happiness.”

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/08/the-beauty-happiness-connection/375678/