Real life earthquake simulator to treat disaster trauma

As an intriguing follow-up to our recent story on using virtual reality to treat battle-related PTSD, BBC News is reporting on a relatively low-tech solution for earthquake-related PTSD – a house on a shaking platform.

The research, led by Dr Metin Basoglu, has just been published in the journal Psychological Medicine and reports that the simulator was used to effectively treat earthquake survivors in Turkey.

One component of psychology treatments for anxiety disorders, including PTSD, involves safely introducing the person to the anxiety-inducing situation in a gradual and controlled manner so they can habituate to the stress.

This is obviously easier for trauma caused by dogs or cars than it is for earthquakes or war, and so researchers are starting to develop novel ways of simulating these conditions.

This is an excerpt from the research paper on how the simulator was used:

The earthquake simulator consisted of a small furnished house based on a shake table that could simulate earthquake tremors on nine intensity levels. The participants controlled the tremors (using a mobile control switch), stopping or starting it whenever they wanted to, and increasing the intensity whenever they felt ready for it. If the participant’s anxiety related more to the tremors, they were asked to focus on this sensation and the sight and sound of the moving objects. If their distress related more to re-experiencing trauma events, they were encouraged to talk about these events to facilitate imaginal exposure. The session was terminated when the survivors felt in complete control of their distress or fear.

What’s great about Basoglu’s method is that it could be easily and cheaply used in areas hit by earthquakes, even if the affected doesn’t have access to high technology.

It is even conceivable that hand operated version of the ‘earthquake’ simulator could be built.

Link to BBC News story “Simulator ‘conquers quake stress'”.
Link to summary of research paper on PubMed.

Autism across cultures

NPR has recently broadcast a short interview with anthropologist Roy Richard Grinker who discusses how autism is understood in different cultures and across the world.

Grinker has written a book called Unstrange Minds (ISBN 0465027636) which was inspired both by his daughter, who has been diagnosed with autism, and his travels across the world to discover how people with autism exist within different cultures.

The book’s website is well worth visiting as it has a number of excerpts as well as some additional material and photos.

Link to NPR page with Grinker interview audio.
Link to website of Unstrange Minds.

Diagnosing and treating childhood

Psychiatrist Edward Hume has created uploaded a spoof paper on the the ‘etiology and treatment of childhood’, satirising the growing enthusiasm for diagnosing children with psychiatric disorders.

The paper was written by Jordan Smoller and published in the humorous book called Oral sadism and the vegetarian personality (ISBN 0345347005).

Childhood is a syndrome which has only recently begun to receive serious attention from clinicians. The syndrome itself, however, is not at all recent. As early as the 8th century, the Persian historian Kidnom made references to “short, noisy creatures,” who may well have been what we now call “children.” The treatment of children, however, was unknown until this century, when so-called “child psychologists” and “child psychiatrists” became common. Despite this history of clinical neglect, it has been estimated that well over half of all Americans alive today have experienced childhood directly (Suess, 1983). In fact, the actual numbers are probably much higher, since these data are based on self-reports which may be subject to social desirability biases and retrospective distortion.

Link to spoof paper (thanks for the correction Blar!).

UK’s Ministry of Defence researching parapsychology

According to BBC News news story, a Ministry of Defence report shows that the UK government agency carried out tests to see if participants could demonstrate the psychic ability of ‘remote viewing‘ in 2002.

The document was obtained under the Freedom of Information Act and reportedly outlines experiments to test whether participants could ‘see’ information hidden in envelopes.

During the study, commercial researchers were contracted at a cost of £18,000 to test them to see if psychic ability existed and could be used for defence purposes.

Some 28% of those tested managed a close guess at the contents of the envelopes, which included pictures of a knife, Mother Teresa and an “Asian individual”.

The MOD joins a long list of government agencies from around the world who have reportedly investigated psychic abilities.

The most famous supposedly being the CIA’s remote viewing experiments from the 1970s.

Link to BBC News story ‘MoD defends psychic powers study’.
Link to more from The Scotsman.

The cutting edge of Parkinson’s Disease

BBC Radio 4’s medical programme Case Notes recently had a special on Parkinson’s Disease which explored the condition and the work on the latest treatments – including brain surgery and cell transplants.

Parkinson’s Disease is heavily linked to the loss of dopamine neurons in the nigrostriatal pathway in the brain (there’s a good diagram here).

This causes movements difficulties (including slowness of movement, stiffness and tremor) as well as cognitive difficulties which can impair reasoning, concentration and memory.

Because the disorder is linked to the loss of cells in quite a focused area of the brain, it is been the subject of much interest by medical researchers wanting to ‘replace’ these cells by implanting stem cells into affected brain area with the hope that they’ll turn into new dopamine neurons.

So far, the trials have shown mixed results, although the research is still in the early stages.

Because of the use of stem cells, Parkinson’s Disease has become a political battleground, especially in the USA, where stem cell research is considered much more controversial than in other parts of the world.

Link to Case Notes on Parkinson’s Disease (with audio).
Link to NIH information on Parkinson’s Disease.

2007-02-23 Spike activity

Quick links from the past week in mind and brain news:

Schizophrenia could be ‘evolution of the intellect’ according to genetic study looking at how traits linked to the disorder may be beneficial in some instances.

“Why do men ignore nagging wives? It’s all science”. The sexism is optional it seems.

Cognitive Daily looks at research suggesting that video gamers make better surgeons.

In light of the case of a 4-year-old American girl who died from prescribed psychiatric medication, the Boston Globe questions the trend for diagnosing infants with bipolar disorder.

There’s been some fantastic neuropsychology videos on Channel N recently.

BBC News reports on a recent discovery of new brain cell growth in adult human brains.

The 2007 USA Memory Championships kick off in a couple of weeks.

SciAm reports that the ‘largest ever’ autism study identifies two promising genetic factors in the condition.

Developing Intelligence looks at how children develop prospective memory – the memory for remembering to do things in the future.