Does Having Kids Make You Happy?

1Research has found that having children is terrible for quality of life—but the truth about what parenthood means for happiness is a lot more complicated.

Few choices are more important than whether to have children, and psychologists and other social scientists have worked to figure out what having kids means for happiness. Some of the most prominent scholars in the field have argued that if you want to be happy, it’s best to be childless. Others have pushed back, pointing out that a lot depends on who you are and where you live. But a bigger question is also at play: What if the rewards of having children are different from, and deeper than, happiness?

The early research is decisive: Having kids is bad for quality of life. In one study, the psychologist Daniel Kahneman and his colleagues asked about 900 employed women to report, at the end of each day, every one of their activities and how happy they were when they did them. They recalled being with their children as less enjoyable than many other activities, such as watching TV, shopping, or preparing food.

Other studies find that when a child is born, parents experience a decrease in happiness that doesn’t go away for a long time, in addition to a drop in marital satisfaction that doesn’t usually recover until the children leave the house. As the Harvard professor Dan Gilbert puts it, “The only symptom of empty nest syndrome is nonstop smiling.”

After all, having children, particularly when they are young, involves financial struggle, sleep deprivation, and stress. For mothers, there is also in many cases the physical strain of pregnancy and breastfeeding. And children can turn a cheerful and loving romantic partnership into a zero-sum battle over who gets to sleep and work and who doesn’t.

As the Atlantic staff writer Jennifer Senior notes in her book, All Joy and No Fun, children provoke a couple’s most frequent arguments—“more than money, more than work, more than in-laws, more than annoying personal habits, communication styles, leisure activities, commitment issues, bothersome friends, sex.” Someone who doesn’t understand this is welcome to spend a full day with an angry 2-year-old (or a sullen 15-year-old); they’ll find out what she means soon enough.

Read: It isn’t the kids. It’s the cost of raising them.

Children make some happy and others miserable; the rest fall somewhere in between—it depends, among other factors, on how old you are, whether you are a mother or a father, and where you live. But a deep puzzle remains: Many people would have had happier lives and marriages had they chosen not to have kids—yet they still describe parenthood as the “best thing they’ve ever done.” Why don’t we regret having children more?

One possibility is a phenomenon called memory distortion. When we think about our past experiences, we tend to remember the peaks and forget the mundane awfulness in between. Senior frames it like this: “Our experiencing selves tell researchers that we prefer doing the dishes—or napping, or shopping, or answering emails—to spending time with our kids … But our remembering selves tell researchers that no one—and nothing—provides us with so much joy as our children.

It may not be the happiness we live day to day, but it’s the happiness we think about, the happiness we summon and remember, the stuff that makes up our life-tales.” These are plausible-enough ideas, and I don’t reject them. But other theories about why people don’t regret parenthood actually have nothing to do with happiness—at least not in a simple sense.

One involves attachment. Most parents love their children, and it would seem terrible to admit that you would be better off if someone you loved didn’t exist. More than that, you genuinely prefer a world with your kids in it. This can put parents in the interesting predicament of desiring a state that doesn’t make them as happy as the alternative. In his book Midlife, the MIT professor Kieran Setiya expands on this point.

Modifying an example from the philosopher Derek Parfit, he asks readers to imagine a situation in which, if you and your partner were to conceive a child before a certain time, the child would have a serious, though not fatal, medical problem, such as chronic joint pain. If you wait, the child will be healthy. For whatever reason, you choose not to wait. You love your child and, though he suffers, he is happy to be alive. Do you regret your decision?

Read: How adult children affect their mother’s happiness

That’s a complicated question. Of course it would have been easier to have a kid without this condition. But if you’d waited, you’d have a different child, and this baby (then boy, then man) whom you love wouldn’t exist. It was a mistake, yes, but perhaps a mistake that you don’t regret. The attachment we have to an individual can supersede an overall decrease in our quality of life, and so the love we usually have toward our children means that our choice to bring them into existence has value above and beyond whatever effect they have on our happiness.

This relates to a second point, which is that there’s more to life than happiness. When I say that raising my sons is the best thing I’ve ever done, I’m not saying that they gave me pleasure in any simple day-to-day sense, and I’m not saying that they were good for my marriage. I’m talking about something deeper, having to do with satisfaction, purpose, and meaning. It’s not just me.

When you ask people about their life’s meaning and purpose, parents say that their lives have more meaning than those of nonparents. A study by the social psychologist Roy Baumeister and his colleagues found that the more time people spent taking care of children, the more meaningful they said their life was—even though they reported that their life was no happier.

Raising children, then, has an uncertain connection to pleasure but may connect to other aspects of a life well lived, satisfying our hunger for attachment, and for meaning and purpose. The writer Zadie Smith puts it better than I ever could, describing having a child as a “strange admixture of terror, pain, and delight.” Smith, echoing the thoughts of everyone else who has seriously considered these issues, points out the risk of close attachments:

“Isn’t it bad enough that the beloved, with whom you have experienced genuine joy, will eventually be lost to you? Why add to this nightmare the child, whose loss, if it ever happened, would mean nothing less than your total annihilation?” But this annihilation reflects the extraordinary value of such attachments; as the author Julian Barnes writes of grief, quoting a friend, “It hurts just as much as it is worth.”

By Paul Bloom

Source: Does Having Kids Make You Happy? – The Atlantic

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More Contents:

. “A review of the relationship among parenting practices, parenting styles, and adolescent school achievement” (PDF). Educational Psychology Review. 17

 “Parenting Style as a Moderator of Associations Between Maternal Disciplinary Strategies and Child Well-Being”

“The Influence of Parenting Style on Academic Achievement and Career Path”Day, Nicholas (10 April 2013). “Parental ethnotheories and how parents in America differ from parents everywhere else”. Slate. Retrieved 19 April 2013.[verification needed]

“The Terrible Twos Explained – Safe Kids (UK)”Kenneth R. Ginsburg. “The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds” (PDF). American Academy of Pediatrics. Archived from the origina

How To Retrain Your Frazzled Brain and Find Your Focus Again

Are you finding it harder than ever to concentrate? Don’t panic: these simple exercises will help you get your attention .

Picture your day before you started to read this article. What did you do? In every single moment – getting out of bed, turning on a tap, flicking the kettle switch – your brain was blasted with information. Each second, the eyes will give the brain the equivalent of 10m bits (binary digits) of data. The ears will take in an orchestra of sound waves. Then there’s our thoughts: the average person, researchers estimate, will have more than 6,000 a day. To get anything done, we have to filter out most of this data. We have to focus.

Focusing has felt particularly tough during the pandemic. Books are left half-read; eyes wander away from Zoom calls; conversations stall. My inability to concentrate on anything – work, reading, cleaning, cooking – without being distracted over the past 18 months has felt, at times, farcical.

The good news? We can learn to focus better, but we need to think about attention differently. It is not something we can just choose to do. We have to train the brain like a muscle. Specifically, with short bursts of daily exercises.

Dr Amishi Jha is a professor of cognitive and behavioural neuroscience at the University of Miami and an expert in the science of attention. She has written a book called Peak Mind: Find Your Focus, Own Your Attention, Invest 12 Minutes a Day, a four-week training programme based on her research showing how simple mindfulness exercises carried out by people with high-demand jobs, such as soldiers, elite athletes and emergency medics, improve many aspects of cognitive and emotional health, including strengthening our attention.

‘Working memory is like a mental whiteboard with disappearing ink,’ says Dr Amishi Jha. Illustration: Nathalie Lees/The Guardian

When I first opened Peak Mind, I set a timer to see how long it would take me to feel the pull of social media. Three minutes in, I check Twitter. I tell Jha this and she erupts with laughter. “Oh, that’s fantastic,” she says.

I tell her this distractibility has made me anxious. She nods patiently. “There is nothing wrong with your attention, even if you feel more distracted right now. That is a healthy response to your current situation. To think otherwise is just false,” she says. “We’re in a crisis because our attention works so well. It’s doing exactly what it was designed to do: respond powerfully to certain stimuli.”

Stress is one of the biggest obstacles to focusing, says Jha. In a high-alert state, we often start ruminating and catastrophising. We get stuck in “loops of doom” or imagined scenarios. This mode impacts our “working memory”: the amount of information that can be held in our minds and used for a task. For example, choosing the words to put together in an email, or reading a page in a book.

“Working memory is like a mental whiteboard with disappearing ink,” says Jha. When that whiteboard is full of thoughts, feelings and images relating to what’s making us stressed, there is no room for new information. We might start blanking, zoning out or snapping at our partners, then feel guilty, which makes focusing even harder.

The first step to better focus is accepting a key truth: you cannot just decide to have unfettered attention

Jha began thinking differently about mindfulness when she experienced her own “crisis of attention” (“a blaring, unrelenting onslaught of mental chatter,” she writes) that reduced her ability to feel present with her small children.

So she came up with some simple practices “that exercise the brain in ways that it is prone to being weakened”. These short bursts of mindfulness training each day can help us notice the traffic of our thoughts and urges, and develop what Jha calls the “mental muscle” to observe, rather than act.

I admit that I am sceptical. Even as a trainee psychotherapist (with a vested interest in learning to be present) I find it hard to believe that something so stark, that we can do by ourselves, can help focus a mind that feels scrambled by multiple lockdowns, political divisiveness or economic uncertainty.

I start by setting a timer for three minutes each day, instead of the recommended 12 – a smaller “dose”, encouraged by Jha, to get used to it. The first exercise involves sitting upright, closing your eyes and focusing on where your breathing feels most prominent, usually in the chest or diaphragm. Direct your focus here like a beam and notice when thoughts or sensations pull it away: a memory bubbling up; a reminder that you need to reply to a text; an itch. The point is noticing when the “flashlight” moves, then moving it back. That’s it.

From the beginning, this flashlight image is one of the most useful mindfulness tools I’ve used. After three days, I start to notice when I am being pulled away from trying to focus on something (reading is trickiest for me). I am noticing when my focus is ruptured, which feels new.

The first step to better focus is accepting a key truth, says Jha: you cannot just decide to have unfettered attention. You have to practise. “The notion of an unwavering mind is a fantasy,” she says. The problem is that we now have far more sources of distraction. We are not just recipients of content, but willing participants. Despite how often we are encouraged to “unplug” from our devices, we cannot outwit the algorithms designed by armies of software engineers, statisticians and psychologists.

More unsettling is how we need our phones to rescue us from our phones. The global mindfulness meditation apps market size is expected to reach over $4.2bn by 2027. But in stepping back and learning why our attention can feel so slippery – rather than reaching for another attention-sucking app – perhaps we can assuage some of the difficult emotions associated with being distracted.

In week two, Jha introduces the “body scan”. Using the flashlight to move through the body, from toes to scalp, you are encouraged to notice what physical sensations are there. Whenever the mind wanders, return it to the area of the body where the attention was before the wandering.

Even in three-minute bursts, my mind fizzes with words, people, places and feelings. I tell Jha that I have to move my flashlight back so many times, I wonder if it will ever feel easier. “You’re doing great!” she says. “You have introduced something new and it can take time to get used to it. But know that it will get better.”

After a fortnight of doing the exercises, I notice that being able to carve a little sliver of space between myself and the contents of my mind means I am able to divert my attention back to what I need to do more easily. The body scan exercise has given me a new awareness of how distracted I am by physical sensations (a cramp; a gurgle; an itch). It is hard to explain how significant this layer of awareness is unless you’ve tried it.

I am going to carry on with the exercises, with a view to building up to the 12-minute daily dose, because something is shifting in my relationship with my thoughts. I begin another book after I finish Jha’s and reset my timer. It takes me 23 minutes to open Twitter. That’s progress.

Attention, please: five ways to focus better

1 Pay attention to your breath, and where on your body you feel it most: direct your focus like a beam of light. Do this for three minutes a day, for a week.

2 Integrate this technique into everyday life – for example, brushing your teeth. If you’re thinking about your to-do list as you’re scrubbing, bring the light back. Focus on the sensations.

3 A lot of people report that their mind is “too busy.” Your job is not to stop it – your job is to exist with it, and to place your attention back where you want it.

4 Ignore “mindfulness myths”: you are not “clearing your mind.” This is an active mental workout.

5 There is no “blissed-out” state you are aiming to experience; in fact, the whole point is to be more present to the moment.

By: Eleanor Morgan

Source: https://www.theguardian.com/

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Further reading

This Is What Long COVID Feels Like Fatigue Dizziness Brain Fog and Muscle Spasms

When the novel coronavirus began to spread across the world in February 2020, Freya Sawbridge was caught in a bind. The 27-year-old was living in Scotland, but when businesses and borders began to close she packed up and flew home to Auckland, New Zealand. On arrival, she felt feverish and couldn’t smell or taste food.

In those early months of COVID-19, every new symptom made global headlines. Freya got tested and the result came back positive. Panic began to set in.  “I was in the first wave,” she says.

“There weren’t many people that had had it by that stage, so I knew no-one could tell me anything about it, no-one could offer me any real guidance because it was a new disease.

“No-one can tell you anything about it or when it might end. You’re just existing in the unknown.”

Freya found herself on a vicious merry-go-round of symptoms — fever, sore throat, dizziness, muscle spasms, numbness, chest pains and fatigue. The symptoms kept coming around and around and around.

After 12 days, she stabilised, but four days later the pains returned with a vengeance. It would be a sign of things to come. Freya would relapse five more times over the next six months.

“Each relapse, the depth of it would last about 10 days and then I would take about four or five days emerging from it, have about two or three symptom-free days before another relapse would kick off,” Freya says. “The symptoms would come and then dissipate…

“I’d have a fever for an hour, a sore throat for four hours, then dizziness for two hours, then I was OK for an hour.

“…it was just a cycle like that.”

By April 2020, “long COVID” was being mentioned in Facebook support groups. It’s not an official medical term; it was coined out of necessity by the public. It’s sometimes also referred to as long-haul COVID, chronic COVID and post-acute sequelae of COVID-19 (PASC).

Exactly what constitutes long COVID remains extremely broad. Earlier this month, the World Health Organization released its clinical case definition of what it calls ‘post COVID-19 condition’, which affects people at least two months after a COVID-19 infection with symptoms that “cannot be explained by an alternative diagnosis”.

For Freya, symptoms like chest pain and a sore throat were manageable, but the dizziness and “brain pain” she experienced were debilitating. “It’s as if there was like a mini person in my brain and he was scraping my whole brain with a rake, it was just pain,” Freya says.

“And then it would feel like it would flip on itself continuously and so it makes it really hard to sleep because you’re lying there and it feels like your brain is doing somersaults and then it’s also spinning.”

The memory loss was especially unnerving. “Heaps of people say, ‘Oh, I get that and I’m young,’ but it just feels different… you’d be mid-sentence and then completely forget what you’re talking about.”

Doctors couldn’t give Freya any clarity about what was happening to her because the reality was no-one knew enough about COVID-19.

The hardest was month four, when Freya ended up in hospital from her long COVID symptoms. In a journal entry dated August 24, 2020, she wrote: “Must stay hopeful. Must believe I will get better.” After so many relapses, she had fallen into a depression filled with grief, for her healthy body and her old life.

To this day, we still know very little about long COVID, including just how many people it affects.

Various studies over the past 18 months estimate long COVID can affect anywhere from 2.3 per cent to 76 per cent of COVID-19 cases. It’s important to remember these studies vary in method, with some tracking only hospitalised cases and some relying on self-reported surveys.

A comprehensive study by the University of NSW places the figure at around 5 per cent. Researchers tracked 94 per cent of all COVID-19 cases in NSW from January to May 2020. Of the 3,000 people surveyed, 4.8 per cent still had symptoms after three months.

The uncertainty doesn’t end there. We also have no idea why long COVID hits certain people, but not others. It’s been likened to a kind of “Russian roulette”.

Studies have consistently found long COVID to be more prevalent in women, older people and those with underlying conditions, but there’s evidence to indicate children are capable of developing long COVID too.

Being young and fit is no guarantee you’re safe either, and nor is having a minor initial COVID case. The longer-term symptoms can strike even those who had few initial symptoms.

Those with long COVID report a constellation of symptoms including fatigue, dizziness, shortness of breath, brain fog, memory loss, loss of taste and smell, numbness, muscle spasms and irritable bowels.

One of Australia’s leading researchers in the area, Professor Gail Matthews, says long COVID is likely a spectrum of different pathologies.

Dr Matthews is the Head of Infectious Diseases at St Vincent’s Hospital and Head of the Therapeutic Vaccine and Research Program at the Kirby Institute at UNSW. She says the issue of long COVID will be huge on a global scale and it’s crucial to understand it better.

One theory is that COVID-19 can trigger the immune system to behave in an abnormal way, releasing cytokines that can make you feel unwell with fatigue and other symptoms.

Another is that there could be some elements of the virus — called antigen persistence — somewhere in the body that continues to trigger an ongoing activation in the immune system.

There’s also early evidence that vaccination might help reduce or even prevent long-term symptoms. Freya stopped relapsing around month seven, although her senses of taste and smell still haven’t fully recovered. She says rest was a big part of her recovery.

“Other people, if they don’t have parental support, or they have to work because they’ve got no savings, or they can’t rely on their parents, or they have young kids — I have no idea how they got through it, because it would have been impossible in my eyes,” Freya says.

Judy Li is in an impossible situation. An all-encompassing fatigue has taken hold of her mind and body, stripping away her ability to work, parent or plan for the future.

The 37-year-old got COVID-19 in March 2020 while an inpatient at a Melbourne hospital. She had been struggling after giving birth to her second child and was getting the help she needed.

Despite her anxieties, Judy’s case was very mild and it wasn’t until three months later when her three-year-old brought a bug home from day care that she realised something was wrong.

As day-care bugs so often do, it ripped through the young family. “It felt like I hit a brick wall, I was a lot worse than everyone else,” Judy says.

“It wasn’t the usual symptoms… I was just really lethargic, really fatigued and I remember at about the three-week mark of having those symptoms, that kind of fatigue, I thought, ‘this isn’t right, this is a bit odd.’”

Her fatigue is not like being tired, it’s a different kind of exhaustion, a severe lack of energy that doesn’t replenish after sleep.

“This is like something you feel in your limbs; you feel like they’re really heavy, they’ve got this kind of, I wouldn’t say ouch-kind of pain, but it’s sort of an achiness to your limbs,” she says.

The fatigue comes and goes, but Judy has noticed it can flare up when she gets sick or when she expends herself physically or mentally.

One of the worst episodes came after an eight-hour trip to Canberra for Christmas to visit her in-laws. “I woke up and I was completely paralysed,” Judy says. Distressed, in tears, she could only call out to her partner for help.

“I just did not have the strength to move my limbs and I kept trying and trying and trying and eventually he helped me up. “I sort of dragged my arm up, I could barely hold a glass of water and he’d help me to drink out of it. If I had to go to the toilet, he had to basically carry me.”

This fatigue has derailed Judy’s life because when it sets in, she never knows how long it’s going to last or whether it will go away.  It makes work and parenting impossible. Judy’s two young children don’t understand what’s wrong with mum or why she can’t get out of bed.

“When the kids are crying at home, I can’t go and soothe them,” she says.

“This is not a lack of motivation, it’s like I want to get up and I want to go to my children.

“I want to get up, I’ve got work I need to do. I want to get up and even go get something to eat, I’m hungry, but I can’t actually tell my body to move in that way.”

Fatigue or post-exertional malaise is one of the most common symptoms of long COVID, but it’s also a very common symptom in myalgic encephalomyelitis or chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS), a biological disease affecting an estimated 250,000 Australians.

There are striking similarities between long COVID and ME/CFS. Both can cause symptoms such as fatigue, dizziness, memory loss or ‘brain fog’, and irritable bowel, and both are likely to encompass a range of different pathologies.

ME/CFS is usually triggered by a viral infection — ebola, dengue fever, glandular fever, epstein barr, ross river virus, SARS and even the more common influenza have all left trails of chronically ill people in their wake.

Experts have even questioned whether long COVID could be ME/CFS by another name, although the jury is still out on that theory. ME/CFS has been around for decades but we still don’t know much about it.

Australian advocacy groups desperately want to see more research and support to help people with this chronic illness navigate medical, financial and accommodation services. They also say doctors need better education to diagnose and treat the condition early on.

Bronwyn Caldwell knows what it’s like to live with a condition that no-one understands or knows how to treat. She’s lived with ME/CFS for 20 years, ever since a suspected case of glandular fever in her 20s.

The 46-year-old from South Australia is adamant the early advice from her doctor to rest was the reason her condition didn’t immediately worsen. She was able to work part-time as a brewer up until 2013 but a relapse has left her mostly bed-bound.

Bronwyn considers herself lucky — her illness was validated by doctors and family, she doesn’t have cognitive difficulties and isn’t in pain. But her voice begins to break when mentioning that most people with ME/CFS face stigma that they’re being lazy or faking their illness.

“I can’t imagine what it’s really like to have everyone in your life say you’re just being lazy, because the reality is all of us beat ourselves up to that all the time,” she says.

A 2018 study published in the Journal of Health Psychology looking at links between people with chronic illness and suicidal ideation found stigma, misunderstanding and unwarranted advice exacerbates patients’ feelings of overall hopelessness.

Long COVID is creating a cohort of people vulnerable to the same thing, and Judy herself has sometimes wondered whether her family would be better off without her (which, of course, it wouldn’t).

“I honestly go through periods where I wish COVID had killed me instead of just left me with this, this big burden,” she says. With no sick leave left, Judy has had to take unpaid time off work.

It’s a big blow for the high-earning, career-driven project manager who took pride in handling stressful situations and juggling multiple tasks. These days, her mind doesn’t work like it used to.

“It’s just little things like struggling to find the word that I just knew… I would know… sorry… like being able to construct sentences,” she says with an ironic laugh.

“I can try to read something but it just seems like I have to read it over and over and over again. “I frequently walk into a room and can’t remember why, when I would put something down, seriously, two minutes later I have no idea where it is. “I just feel like I’m losing my mind.”

In the COVID-ravaged UK, daily cases peaked at more than 68,000 and daily deaths at more than 1,300. It’s a situation few in Australia — where we have enjoyed long periods of little-to-no community transmission — can fully appreciate.

Adam Attia was living in London through most of 2020 and says it was almost rare if you hadn’t had COVID-19. “I’ve known of people that had given it to their parents and it killed their parents,” the 30-year-old Australian says. “People that we knew on our street had passed away.”

So one day around August, when Adam couldn’t taste the wasabi on his sushi, he immediately knew what was wrong. “I just started to go through the kitchen for things like garlic — I had a whole garlic, I couldn’t taste anything. I ate a lemon like an apple and couldn’t taste a thing.

“I ate ginger like a cannibal, like I ate it with all of the bumps and things on it and couldn’t taste a thing.”

But Adam’s infection was mild and he spent his 10-day isolation staying active. Life went on as normal until three months later, after a trip to Croatia. On the flight back to London, somewhere above Germany, Adam felt an excruciating pain in his stomach. He felt like he was going to vomit, he couldn’t breathe and his head began to spin.

The flight crew didn’t know what to do, contemplating an emergency landing in Berlin while Adam desperately sucked air from a vent they’d given to help him breathe.

The flight managed to land in London and Adam was escorted off the plane. At the hospital, doctors ran tests for internal bleeding and signs of reflux or gastritis but they all turned up empty.

In the weeks and months after that flight, as little as two hours of work would leave Adam shattered and disorientated.

His symptoms are like dominoes. Exhaustion leads to stomach pain, which leads to nausea, faintness and breathlessness.

Adam has learned to manage his symptoms and as soon as he feels the exhaustion creeping in he takes an anti-nausea pill, uses the asthma puffer he now has to carry with him and finds somewhere to lie down.

He ended up moving back to Australia to sort out his health issues, but it wasn’t until a doctor at St George Hospital in Sydney mentioned Adam’s symptoms could be an effect of COVID-19 that he twigged.

“Is it from COVID? Look, I could be shooting in the dark, I don’t actually know,” Adam says. “But what I do know is I didn’t have these [symptoms] before COVID, so I guess it’s more of an educated guess.”

Much about long COVID remains exactly that. More research is needed to really know what’s going on.

The US and UK have allocated billions of dollars into research and set up long COVID clinics to help patients find the right treatment. The Australian government has provided $15 million for research grants into the long-term health effects of COVID-19 and the nation’s vaccination efforts through the Medical Research Future Fund.

As Australia moves beyond lockdowns towards a future where most Australians are vaccinated, borders are open and COVID-19 is actively spreading through communities, this research will be crucial in our understanding of the long-term health issues and the impact on individuals, families, workplaces and the economy.

For now, Dr Matthews says the biggest take-home is that we don’t know who is or isn’t susceptible to long COVID.

“One of the biggest messages is that it’s very hard to know who this will strike.”

Health officials in Victoria have already highlighted the plight of long COVID patients as part of their drive to encourage more people to get vaccinated, as experts say it probably can prevent long COVID.

Dr Matthews says it’s important Australia recognises long COVID as a real issue and makes sure there is appropriate support to help people.

“Even if it’s just an understanding that this condition exists, and recognition that it exists, as opposed to expecting these people to return to full health,” she says.

But until we know more, those like Freya, Judy and Adam won’t have the closure of knowing exactly what’s happened to them.

“It’s hard to wrap your head around,” Judy says, “to say this is potentially a life sentence”. “There’s no defining this is as bad as it gets, you know?  “This is just the big mystery question mark.”

By:  Emily Sakzewski, Georgina Piper, and Colin Gourlay

Source: This is what long COVID feels like — fatigue, dizziness, brain fog and muscle spasms – ABC News

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How Vision Loss Can Affect the Brain

A growing body of evidence suggests that when older people’s brains have to work harder to see, declines in language, memory, attention and more could follow.

Medical practice tends to divide its clients — you and me — into specialties defined by body parts: ophthalmology, neurology, gastroenterology, psychiatry and the like. But in fact, the human body doesn’t function in silos. Rather, it works as an integrated whole, and what goes awry in one part of the body can affect several others.

I’ve written about the potential harm of hearing loss to brain health, as well as to the health of our bones, hearts and emotional well-being. Untreated hearing loss can increase the risk of dementia. Even those with slightly less than perfect hearing can have measurable cognitive deficits.

Now, a growing body of research is demonstrating that vision loss can affect the brain’s function, too. As with hearing, if the brain has to work extra hard to make sense of what our eyes see, it can take a toll on cognitive function.

The latest study, published in JAMA Network Open in July, followed 1,202 men and women aged 60 to 94 for an average of nearly seven years. All were part of the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging, and had vision and cognition tests every one to four years between 2003 and 2019.

The researchers found that those who scored poorly on initial tests of visual acuity — how well, for example, they could see the letters on an eye chart from a given distance — were more likely to have cognitive decline over time, including deficits in language, memory, attention and the ability to identify and locate objects in space.

Other vision issues, like with depth perception and the ability to see contrasts, also had deleterious effects on cognitive ability. The lead researcher, Bonnielin Swenor, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Wilmer Eye Institute, said that the new study “adds to mounting longitudinal data showing that vision impairment can lead to cognitive decline in older adults.”

Lest you think that the relationship is reversed — that cognitive decline impairs vision — another study that Dr. Swenor participated in showed that when both functions were considered, vision impairment was two times more likely to affect cognitive decline than the other way around.

This study, published in 2018 in JAMA Ophthalmology and led by Diane Zheng from the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, included 2,520 community-dwelling adults ages 65 to 84, whose vision and cognitive function were periodically tested. She and her co-authors concluded that maintaining good vision as one ages may be an effective way to minimize the decline in cognitive function in older adults.

“When people have vision loss, they change the way they live their lives. They decrease their physical activity and they decrease their social activity, both of which are so important for maintaining a healthy brain,” Dr. Swenor said. “It puts them on a fast tack to cognitive decline.”

But identifying and correcting vision loss early on can help, Dr. Zheng said. She suggested regular eye checkups — at least once every two years, and more often if you have diabetes, glaucoma or other conditions that may damage vision. “Make sure you can see well through your glasses,” she urged.

There are “vision impairments that glasses won’t fix,” Dr. Swenor said, like age-related macular degeneration and glaucoma. Retinal disease began to compromise Dr. Swenor’s vision in her mid-20s. Those with problems like hers can benefit from something called low vision rehabilitation, a sort of physical therapy for the eyes that helps visually impaired people adapt to common situations and help them function better in society.

Dr. Swenor, for instance, can see objects in a high-contrast situation, like a black cat against a white fence, but has trouble seeing the difference between similar colors. She can’t pour white milk into a white mug without spilling it, for example. Her solution: Use a dark-colored mug. Finding such accommodations is an ongoing task, but it enables her to continue to function well professionally and socially.

Society, too, needs to help people with visual impairment function safely outside the home. Most things in hospitals are white, for example, which creates safety hazards for people with diminished contrast sensitivity. As a driver of 50 years, I’ve noticed that road barriers that used to be the same color as the road surface are now more often rendered in high contrast colors like orange or yellow, which undoubtedly reduces crashes even for people who can see perfectly.

“We need to create a more inclusive society that accommodates people with vision impairment,” Dr. Swenor said.

People who have trouble with depth perception can also incorporate helpful design features into the home. Placing colored strips on stair risers, varying textures of furniture and color-coding objects can all improve the ability to navigate safely. People who can no longer read books may also listen to audiobooks, podcasts or music instead, Dr. Swenor said.

The link between visual impairment and cognitive impairment “is not a doomsday message,” she added. “There are many ways to foster brain health for people with vision loss.”

Step one may be getting a Medicare extension bill through congress, which in turn might prompt private insurers to also cover vision care and rehabilitation. The Democrats’ current proposal to extend Medicare benefits to cover vision care would more than pay for itself in the long run by diminishing already-covered medical costs for cognitive and physical decline.

Case in point: The cost of a single hip replacement resulting from a vision-impaired fall would exceed the cost of many hundreds of eye exams and needed vision corrections.

Portrait of Jane E. Brody

Source: How Vision Loss Can Affect the Brain – The New York Times

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Branch retinal vein occlusion

Giant-Cell Arteritis and Polymyalgia Rheumatica

A review of central retinal artery occlusion: clinical presentation and management

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Swimming Gives Your Brain a Boost But Scientists Don’t Know Yet Why It’s Better Than other Aerobic Activities

It’s no secret that aerobic exercise can help stave off some of the ravages of aging. But a growing body of research suggests that swimming might provide a unique boost to brain health.

Regular swimming has been shown to improve memory, cognitive function, immune response and mood. Swimming may also help repair damage from stress and forge new neural connections in the brain.

But scientists are still trying to unravel how and why swimming, in particular, produces these brain-enhancing effects.

As a neurobiologist trained in brain physiology, a fitness enthusiast and a mom, I spend hours at the local pool during the summer. It’s not unusual to see children gleefully splashing and swimming while their parents sunbathe at a distance – and I’ve been one of those parents observing from the poolside plenty of times. But if more adults recognized the cognitive and mental health benefits of swimming, they might be more inclined to jump in the pool alongside their kids.

Until the 1960s, scientists believed that the number of neurons and synaptic connections in the human brain were finite and that, once damaged, these brain cells could not be replaced. But that idea was debunked as researchers began to see ample evidence for the birth of neurons, or neurogenesis, in adult brains of humans and other animals.

Now, there is clear evidence that aerobic exercise can contribute to neurogenesis and play a key role in helping to reverse or repair damage to neurons and their connections in both mammals and fish.

Research shows that one of the key ways these changes occur in response to exercise is through increased levels of a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor. The neural plasticity, or ability of the brain to change, that this protein stimulates has been shown to boost cognitive function, including learning and memory.

Studies in people have found a strong relationship between concentrations of brain-derived neurotrophic factor circulating in the brain and an increase in the size of the hippocampus, the brain region responsible for learning and memory. Increased levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor have also been shown to sharpen cognitive performance and to help reduce anxiety and depression. In contrast, researchers have observed mood disorders in patients with lower concentrations of brain-derived neurotrophic factor.

Aerobic exercise also promotes the release of specific chemical messengers called neurotransmitters. One of these is serotonin, which – when present at increased levels – is known to reduce depression and anxiety and improve mood.

In studies in fish, scientists have observed changes in genes responsible for increasing brain-derived neurotrophic factor levels as well as enhanced development of the dendritic spines – protrusions on the dendrites, or elongated portions of nerve cells – after eight weeks of exercise compared with controls. This complements studies in mammals where brain-derived neurotrophic factor is known to increase neuronal spine density. These changes have been shown to contribute to improved memory, mood and enhanced cognition in mammals. The greater spine density helps neurons build new connections and send more signals to other nerve cells. With the repetition of signals, connections can become stronger.

But what’s special about swimming?

Researchers don’t yet know what swimming’s secret sauce might be. But they’re getting closer to understanding it.

Swimming has long been recognized for its cardiovascular benefits. Because swimming involves all of the major muscle groups, the heart has to work hard, which increases blood flow throughout the body. This leads to the creation of new blood vessels, a process called angiogenesis. The greater blood flow can also lead to a large release of endorphins – hormones that act as a natural pain reducer throughout the body. This surge brings about the sense of euphoria that often follows exercise.

Most of the research to understand how swimming affects the brain has been done in rats. Rats are a good lab model because of their genetic and anatomic similarity to humans.

In one study in rats, swimming was shown to stimulate brain pathways that suppress inflammation in the hippocampus and inhibit apoptosis, or cell death. The study also showed that swimming can help support neuron survival and reduce the cognitive impacts of aging. Although researchers do not yet have a way to visualize apoptosis and neuronal survival in people, they do observe similar cognitive outcomes.

One of the more enticing questions is how, specifically, swimming enhances short- and long-term memory. To pinpoint how long the beneficial effects may last, researchers trained rats to swim for 60 minutes daily for five days per week. The team then tested the rats’ memory by having them swim through a radial arm water maze containing six arms, including one with a hidden platform.

Rats got six attempts to swim freely and find the hidden platform. After just seven days of swim training, researchers saw improvements in both short- and long-term memories, based on a reduction in the errors rats made each day. The researchers suggested that this boost in cognitive function could provide a basis for using swimming as a way to repair learning and memory damage caused by neuropsychiatric diseases in humans.

Although the leap from studies in rats to humans is substantial, research in people is producing similar results that suggest a clear cognitive benefit from swimming across all ages. For instance, in one study looking at the impact of swimming on mental acuity in the elderly, researchers concluded that swimmers had improved mental speed and attention compared with nonswimmers. However, this study is limited in its research design, since participants were not randomized and thus those who were swimmers prior to the study may have had an unfair edge.

Another study compared cognition between land-based athletes and swimmers in the young adult age range. While water immersion itself did not make a difference, the researchers found that 20 minutes of moderate-intensity breaststroke swimming improved cognitive function in both groups.

Kids get a boost from swimming too

The brain-enhancing benefits from swimming appear to also boost learning in children.

Another research group recently looked at the link between physical activity and how children learn new vocabulary words. Researchers taught children age 6-12 the names of unfamiliar objects. Then they tested their accuracy at recognizing those words after doing three activities: coloring (resting activity), swimming (aerobic activity) and a CrossFit-like exercise (anaerobic activity) for three minutes.

They found that children’s accuracy was much higher for words learned following swimming compared with coloring and CrossFit, which resulted in the same level of recall. This shows a clear cognitive benefit from swimming versus anaerobic exercise, though the study does not compare swimming with other aerobic exercises. These findings imply that swimming for even short periods of time is highly beneficial to young, developing brains.

The details of the time or laps required, the style of swim and what cognitive adaptations and pathways are activated by swimming are still being worked out. But neuroscientists are getting much closer to putting all the clues together.

For centuries, people have been in search of a fountain of youth. Swimming just might be the closest we can get.

By:

Source: Swimming gives your brain a boost – but scientists don’t know yet why it’s better than other aerobic activities

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