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New Activity Tracker, New You?


If you've resolved to sit less and move more, you may have invested in a high-tech activity tracker.  But do these devices actually motivate us to be more physically active?  Maybe, but it seems the jury is still out.

Sit Less, Move More
Healthy Aging Spotlight10

Electrical Stimulation for Paraplegics Holds Promise for Stroke Victims

Thursday April 10, 2014

A new study this week revealing that four paraplegic men were able to perform voluntary movements with their legs using an electrical stimulation device may eventually help older adults suffering paralysis from stroke or spinal cord injury.

The research, published online in the journal Brain, involved four men in their twenties who'd all been paralyzed for at least two years.  After electrodes were implanted just beneath the skin along the spinal cord, an electrical charge could be generated using a small wireless hand-held device, about the size of a TV remote.

Initially, the men were able to move their legs slightly, and with intensive physiotherapy to strengthen the muscles, have eventually been able to lift their legs and flex their knees and ankles on command.  No weight-bearing movements such as standing or walking have yet been possible.

Researcher and director of the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation's NeuroRecovery Network Susan Harkema tells me that her team's discovery offers a viable alternative to the notion that nerve cells need to be revived and grown for spinal cord injury recovery.

"The vast majority of the current research - maybe 95% or more - is going into nerve regeneration.  While there have been significant advances in that area, our study shows that even below the site of the spinal cord injury, nerve cells may still be functioning years after the accident.  The spinal cord plays a bigger role in coordinating movement than we've ever thought, and we're learning that it may be as adaptable as the brain."

Harkema says that in the case of paralysis from stroke, more of the neurological system may be intact and ready to work than previously thought.  She believes that discovering how to get electrical impulses to those undamaged areas is an important new challenge to help stroke patients, and also for older people injured through falls or other accidents.

Research from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine published in the Journal of Neurotrauma in early 2014 found that falls among older adults now constitute the most common cause of spinal cord injuries, overtaking car accidents as a contributing factor. While we usually cite the mortality rate after a hip fracture, a spinal cord injury also carries serious risks to health, mobility and longevity of older adults.


Read more:


Claudia A Angeli, V Reggie Edgerton, Yury P Gerasimenko, and Susan J Harkema. "Altering Spinal Cord Excitability Enables Voluntary Movements After Chronic Complete Paralysis in Humans." Brain 2014. doi: 10.1093/brain/awu038.

Shalini Selvarajah, Edward R. Hammond, Adil H. Haide et al. "The Burden of Acute Traumatic Spinal Cord Injury Among Adults in the United States: An Update." Journal of Neurotrauma 31:228-238 (February 1, 2014).

Nerve Stimulation Trial Launched for Tinnitus Treatment

Monday March 31, 2014

Getty tinnitus

Peter Dazeley / Getty Images

The US National Institutes of Health (NIH) are recruiting participants who suffer from tinnitus, as part of a small clinical trial to assess a treatment to reduce or eliminate the sometimes debilitating condition.

Tinnitus is a persistent ringing or hissing in the ears, and tends to be more prevalent with age. Along with many other changes the body undergoes with time, cumulative damage to hearing can result in a faulty neural pathway, resulting in hearing sounds that do not exist. Tinnitus can manifest as chirping, clicking, or roaring sounds - all of which can impede concentration and sleep.

The new study will assess the effectiveness of a technique which aims to "reboot" the way the brain perceives sound at certain frequencies. The procedure uses vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) and was developed by researchers from the University of Texas at Dallas and a medical device firm MicroTransponder.  The trial will be based in four locations:  the University of Texas at Dallas, the University at Buffalo (SUNY), Buffalo; and the University of Iowa, Iowa City, with a fourth site to be announced in the near future.

You can read more about the technology, in my article Is There a Cure for Tinnitus?.

For more information, see the study's website here.


"NIH announces recruitment for clinical trial to test new tinnitus treatment device." Press release dated March 6, 2014.

Migraine Headband Approved by FDA Already in Canada and Europe

Tuesday March 18, 2014

A battery-operated device which aims to prevent the severe pain of migraine headaches has been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but it has already amassed a following in some European countries and Canada.

The Cefaly -a headband which attaches to a self-adhesive electrode onto the forehead - is designed to deliver mild electrical impulses through the skin to the trigeminal nerve, thought to be a neurological player in migraines.

It's the first device ever to be approved by the FDA to prevent migraines, and will require a prescription in that country.  In Canada no medical prescription is required, a factor prompting some Americans to order the Cefaly online from their northern neighbor.

Will it prevent migraines, or make them less intense for you?  Hard to say.  A satisfaction survey of more than 2,300 users in France, Belgium and Switzerland revealed that only 53.4% of respondents would purchase their own device for continued use.  And while a small study conducted in Belgium showed people using the Cefaly benefited from "significantly fewer" days of migraine pain (requiring less medication), the headaches which did occur were not less intense as reported by the subjects.

Still, in a world where it's tough to avoid migraine triggers, and not all remedies work all of the time, many adults battling these debilitating headaches might feel that anything is worth a try.

Read my full article

Can You Unplug?

Friday March 7, 2014


It may be harder than it sounds: from sundown today to sundown tomorrow, the organizers of the National Day of Unplugging urge you to disconnect, detach, and generally extract yourself from the electronics which rule our daily lives.

In an age of hyperconnectivity, more people are attempting to find some peace away from their tablets, laptops and smartphones.  Multi-tasking to the extreme, beleaguered employees are finding themselves anxious and stressed, rather than flush with the extra leisure time these technological devices were supposed to bring.

An antidote to this fractured attention?  Mindfulness meditation - a simple but profound practice which encourages us to simply observe our thoughts in the moment, and accept our current frame of mind.  Even brief periods of so-called mindfulness can help you calm down and be less reactive to the emotions triggered by the aggressive driver behind you, or the slow-moving clerk at the grocery checkout.

Stress is a major reason that baby boomers rank lower on the health scale than their parents' generation did, at the same age, despite our current knowledge about fitness, healthy lifestyle and anti-aging diet rules.  Mindfulness training may offer a hedge against the dangers of ongoing stress, by offering a "mini-vacation" for your psyche.

It's enough of a health concern that corporations like General Mills are adopting mindfulness programs for their employees to reduce stress, absenteeism, and improve productivity and creativity, according to a cover story in last month's Time magazine.

Unplugging is one route; why not try it for a day?  If you've only got a few minutes, here's a mini-meditation to sample.  See if it wins you over! (Hint: it may even help you live longer).

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