Personal Health: News and Notes

Posted: January 23, 2012

Virtual reality-equipped bikers exercise their brains, too

Riding an exercise bike equipped with gaming features was better for the brain than riding a normal cycle, a study from Union and Skidmore Colleges found.

The study, which was published in the February issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, involved 79 people ages 58 to 99 from retirement communities who had access to an exercise bike. Forty-one of the 63 who completed the study rode a regular recumbent exercise bike an average of three times a week for three months while 38 rode a special exercise bike with a virtual reality display. The "cybercycles" were equipped with screens that enabled riders to feel as if they were on a 3-D tour and racing a ghost rider based on their last best ride.

The exergamers had better executive function when the study ended, and fewer progressed to mild cognitive impairment, often a precursor to dementia. They also had higher levels of a brain growth factor in their blood, possibly a sign that the exercise was stimulating changes in the brain.

Cay Anderson-Hanley, a Union College neuropsychologist who led the study, said cybercyclists did not exercise harder than the others, so the cognitive improvements likely were related to the experience of making decisions in a virtual environment while exercising.

- Stacey Burling

Free pamphlet on drug-abuse treatment choices is available

The National Institute on Drug Abuse has a new, free pamphlet for families struggling to choose a drug-treatment program.

The eight-page booklet, "Seeking Drug Abuse Treatment: Know What to Ask," describes the principles of care and how to evaluate a program.

The brochure recommends asking about the scientific basis for the program, how it is tailored to individual patients' needs, the usual duration of treatment, and how 12-step programs fit in.

The booklet also describes available medications and behavioral therapies, the reality of relapse, and the role of community-level support.

A copy can be ordered by calling 1-877-643-2644 or downloaded from - Marie McCullough

Gastric bypass superior to gastric banding, study finds

For obese people contemplating surgery to help them shed pounds, Swiss researchers have found that gastric bypass is associated with more rapid and more sustained weight loss than gastric banding.

The researchers note that while gastric-bypass procedures have a higher risk of early complications, banding has more long-term complications and results in more re-operations.

The study looked at 442 patients, half of whom got bypasses and half of whom got bands, and evaluated them six years later. They were matched according to age, gender, and BMI (body mass index).

The findings of Sebastien Romy of Centre Hospitalier Universitaire Vaudois in Lausanne were published online first recently by the Archives of Surgery.

At the present time, bypass surgery "seems clearly superior" to banding when treating morbidly obese patients, they concluded.

- Sandy Bauers

Dementia patients on SSRIs raise their risk of falls

Dementia patients who take a common type of antidepressant medication are more likely to fall and hurt themselves, even if they take a low dose.

That's the finding of a new study in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology. Researchers studied the use of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, SSRIs, in 248 nursing-home residents with dementia.

In patients who took a quarter of a daily dose, the risk of an injurious fall was 31 percent higher than for those who did not take the medication. At half a daily dose, the risk was 73 percent higher. Those who took a full daily dose were three times as likely to fall.

The risk was even higher for those who also took hypnotic drugs or sedatives. The average age of the study participants was 82. Of the 248 residents, 152 fell at least once during the two years that researchers studied.

- Tom Avril

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