Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI): Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

Overview

Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is an intermediate stage between the expected cognitive decline of normal aging and the more-serious decline of dementia. It can involve problems with memory, language, thinking, and judgment that are greater than normal age-related changes.

If you have mild cognitive impairment, you may be aware that your memory or mental function has “slipped.” Your family and close friends also may notice a change. But generally these changes aren’t severe enough to significantly interfere with your day-to-day life and usual activities.

Mild cognitive impairment may increase your risk of later progressing to dementia, caused by Alzheimer’s disease or other neurological conditions. But some people with mild cognitive impairment never get worse, and a few eventually get better.

Symptoms

Your brain, like the rest of your body, changes as you grow older. Many people notice gradually increasing forgetfulness as they age. It may take longer to think of a word or to recall a person’s name.

But consistent or increasing concern about your mental performance may suggest mild cognitive impairment (MCI). Cognitive issues may go beyond what’s expected and indicate possible MCI if you experience any or all of the following:

  • You forget things more often.
  • You forget important events such as appointments or social engagements.
  • You lose your train of thought or the thread of conversations, books, or movies.
  • You feel increasingly overwhelmed by making decisions, planning steps to accomplish a task, or interpreting instructions.
  • You start to have trouble finding your way around familiar environments.
  • You become more impulsive or show increasingly poor judgment.
  • Your family and friends notice any of these changes.

If you have MCI, you may also experience:

  • Depression
  • Irritability and aggression
  • Anxiety
  • Apathy

Causes

There’s no single cause of mild cognitive impairment (MCI), just as there’s no single outcome for the disorder. Symptoms of MCI may remain stable for years, progress to Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia, or improve over time.

Current evidence indicates that MCI often, but not always, arises from a lesser degree of the same types of brain changes seen in Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia. Some of these changes have been identified in autopsy studies of people with MCI. These changes include:

  • Abnormal clumps of beta-amyloid protein (plaques) and microscopic protein clumps of tau characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease (tangles)
  • Lewy bodies, which are microscopic clumps of another protein associated with Parkinson’s disease, dementia with Lewy bodies, and some cases of Alzheimer’s disease
  • Small strokes or reduced blood flow through brain blood vessels

Brain-imaging studies show that the following changes may be associated with MCI:

  • Shrinkage of the hippocampus, a brain region important for memory
  • Enlargement of the brain’s fluid-filled spaces (ventricles)
  • Reduced use of glucose, the sugar that’s the primary source of energy for cells, in key brain regions

Risk factors

The strongest risk factors for MCI are:

  • Increasing age
  • Having a specific form of a gene known as APOE-e4, also linked to Alzheimer’s disease—though having the gene doesn’t guarantee that you’ll experience cognitive decline

Other medical conditions and lifestyle factors have been linked to an increased risk of cognitive change, including:

  • Diabetes
  • Smoking
  • High blood pressure
  • Elevated cholesterol
  • Depression
  • Lack of physical exercise
  • Infrequent participation in mentally or socially stimulating activities

Complications

People with MCI have a significantly increased risk—but not a certainty—of developing dementia. Overall, about 1 to 2 percent of older adults develop dementia every year. Among older adults with MCI, studies suggest that around 10 to 15 percent develop dementia every year.

Diagnosis

There is no specific test to confirm a diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment (MCI). Your doctor will decide whether MCI is the most likely cause of your symptoms based on the information you provide and results of various tests that can help clarify the diagnosis.

Many doctors diagnose MCI based on the following criteria developed by a panel of international experts:

  • You have problems with memory or another mental function. You may have problems with your memory, planning, following instructions, or making decisions. Your own impressions should be corroborated by someone close to you.
  • You’ve declined over time. A careful medical history reveals that your ability has declined from a higher level. This change ideally is confirmed by a family member or a close friend.
  • Your overall mental function and daily activities aren’t affected. Your medical history shows that your overall abilities and daily activities generally aren’t impaired, although specific symptoms may cause worry and inconvenience.
  • Mental status testing shows a mild level of impairment for your age and education level. Doctors often assess mental performance with a brief test such as the Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE). More-detailed neuropsychological testing may shed additional light on the degree of memory impairment, which types of memory are most affected and whether other mental skills also are impaired.
  • Your diagnosis isn’t dementia. The problems that you describe and that your doctor documents through corroborating reports, your medical history, or mental status testing aren’t severe enough to be diagnosed as Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia.

Neurological exam

As part of your physical exam, your doctor may perform some basic tests that indicate how well your brain and nervous system are working. These tests can help detect neurological signs of Parkinson’s disease, strokes, tumors, or other medical conditions that can impair your memory as well as your physical function. The neurological exam may test:

  • Reflexes
  • Eye movements
  • Walking and balance

Lab tests

Blood tests can help rule out physical problems that can affect memory, such as a vitamin B-12 deficiency or an underactive thyroid gland.

Brain imaging

Your doctor may order an MRI or CT scan to check for evidence of a brain tumor, stroke, or bleeding.

Mental status testing

Short forms of mental status testing can be done in about 10 minutes. In testing, doctors ask people to conduct several specific tasks and answer several questions, such as naming today’s date or following a written instruction.

Longer forms of neuropsychological testing can provide additional details about your mental function compared with others’ of a similar age and education level. These tests may also help identify patterns of change that offer clues about the underlying cause of your symptoms.

Treatment

Currently, no mild cognitive impairment (MCI) drugs or other treatments are specifically approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). However, MCI is an active area of research. Clinical studies are underway to shed more light on the disorder and find treatments that may improve symptoms or prevent or delay progression to dementia.

Alzheimer’s drugs

Doctors sometimes prescribe cholinesterase inhibitors, a type of drug approved for Alzheimer’s disease, for people with MCI whose main symptom is memory loss. However, cholinesterase inhibitors aren’t recommended for routine treatment of MCI.

Treating other conditions that can affect mental function

Other common conditions besides MCI can make you feel forgetful or less mentally sharp than usual. Treating these conditions can help improve your memory and overall mental function. Conditions that can affect memory include:

  • High blood pressure. People with MCI tend to be more likely to have problems with the blood vessels inside their brains. High blood pressure can worsen these problems and cause memory difficulties. Your doctor will monitor your blood pressure and recommend steps to lower it if it’s too high.
  • Depression. When you’re depressed, you often feel forgetful and mentally “foggy.” Depression is common in people with MCI. Treating depression may help improve memory, while making it easier to cope with the changes in your life.
  • Sleep apnea. In this condition, your breathing repeatedly stops and starts while you’re asleep, making it difficult to get a good night’s rest. Sleep apnea can make you feel excessively tired during the day, forgetful, and unable to concentrate. Treatment can improve these symptoms and restore alertness.

Alternative medicine

Some supplements—including vitamin E, ginkgo, and others—have been purported to help prevent or delay the progression of mild cognitive impairment. However, no supplement has shown any benefit in a clinical trial.

Preparing for an appointment

You’re likely to start by seeing your family doctor. If your doctor suspects you have cognitive changes, you may be referred to a specialist with expertise in evaluating mental function. The specialist may be a neurologist, psychiatrist, or neuropsychologist.

Because appointments can be brief and there’s often a lot to talk about, it’s good to be well-prepared. Here are some suggestions to help you get ready for your appointment and know what to expect from your doctor.

What you can do

  • Be aware of any pre-appointment restrictions. When you make your appointment, ask if you need to fast for bloodwork or if you need to do anything else to prepare for diagnostic tests.
  • Write down all of your symptoms. Your doctor will want to know details about what’s causing your concern about your memory or mental function. Make notes about some of the most important examples of forgetfulness or other lapses you want to mention. Try to remember when you first started to suspect that something might be wrong. If you think your difficulties are getting worse, be ready to explain why.
  • Take along a family member or friend, if possible. Corroboration from a relative or trusted friend can play a key role in confirming that your memory difficulties are apparent to others. Having someone along can also help you retain all the information provided during your appointment.
  • Make a list of your other medical conditions. Your doctor will want to know if you’re currently being treated for diabetes, heart disease, past strokes, or any other conditions.
  • Make a list of all your medications. Your doctor will want to know about any over-the-counter drugs, vitamins or supplements you’re taking.

Questions to ask your doctor

Because time with your doctor is limited, writing down a list of questions will help you make the most of your appointment. List your questions from most pressing to least important in case time runs out. For cognitive changes, some questions to ask your doctor include:

  • Do I have a memory problem?
  • What’s causing my difficulties?
  • What tests do I need?
  • Do I need to see a specialist? What will that cost? Will my insurance cover it?
  • Are treatments available?
  • Are there any clinical trials of experimental treatments I should consider?
  • Should I expect any long-term complications?
  • Will my new symptoms affect how I manage my other health conditions?
  • Do I need to follow any restrictions?
  • Is there a generic alternative to the medicine you’re giving me?
  • Do you have any brochures or other printed material I can take home with me? What websites do you recommend?

In addition to the questions you’ve prepared ahead of time, don’t hesitate to ask your doctor to clarify anything you don’t understand.

What to expect from your doctor

Your doctor is also likely to have questions for you. Being ready to respond may free up time to focus on any points you want to talk about in depth. Your doctor may ask:

  • What kinds of memory difficulties are you having? When did they first appear?
  • Are they steadily getting worse, or are they sometimes better and sometimes worse?
  • Do you feel any sadder or more anxious than usual?
  • Have you noticed any changes in the way you react to people or events?
  • Have you noticed any changes in how well or how long you sleep? Do you snore?
  • Do you have more energy than usual, less than usual or about the same?
  • What medications are you taking? Are you taking any vitamins or supplements?
  • Do you drink alcohol? How much?
  • What other medical conditions are you being treated for?
  • Have you noticed any trembling or trouble walking?
  • Are you having any trouble remembering your medical appointments or when to take your medication?
  • Have you had your hearing and vision tested recently?
  • Did anyone else in your family ever have memory trouble? Was anyone ever diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia?

Lifestyle and home remedies

Study results have been mixed about whether diet, exercise, or other healthy lifestyle choices can prevent or reverse cognitive decline. Regardless, these healthy choices promote good overall health and may play a role in good cognitive health.

  • Regular physical exercise has known benefits for heart health and may also help prevent or slow cognitive decline.
  • A diet low in fat and rich in fruits and vegetables is another heart-healthy choice that also may help protect cognitive health.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids also are good for the heart. Most research showing a possible benefit for cognitive health uses fish consumption as a yardstick for the amount of omega-3 fatty acids eaten.
  • Intellectual stimulation may prevent cognitive decline. Studies have shown computer use, playing games, reading books, and other intellectual activities may help preserve function and prevent cognitive decline.
  • Social engagement may make life more satisfying, and help preserve mental function and slow mental decline.
  • Memory training and other thinking (cognitive) training may help improve your function.

Updated: 2017-08-17

Publication Date: 2004-08-23

Music evokes powerful positive emotions through personal memories

University of Jyväskylä – Jyväskylän yliopisto. “Music evokes powerful positive emotions through personal memories.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 11 December 2018. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/12/181211090659.htm>.

University of Jyväskylä – Jyväskylän yliopisto. (2018, December 11). Music evokes powerful positive emotions through personal memories. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 11, 2018 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/12/181211090659.htm

University of Jyväskylä – Jyväskylän yliopisto. “Music evokes powerful positive emotions through personal memories.” ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/12/181211090659.htm (accessed December 11, 2018).

Study links frequent red meat consumption to high levels of chemical associated with heart disease

Researchers have identified another reason to limit red meat consumption: high levels of a gut-generated chemical called trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO), that also is linked to heart disease. Scientists found that people who eat a diet rich in red meat have triple the TMAO levels of those who eat a diet rich in either white meat or mostly plant-based proteins, but discontinuation of red meat eventually lowers those TMAO levels.

TMAO is a dietary byproduct that is formed by gut bacteria during digestion and is derived in part from nutrients that are abundant in red meat. While high saturated fat levels in red meat have long been known to contribute to heart disease — the leading cause of death in the United States — a growing number of studies have identified TMAO as another culprit. Until now, researchers knew little about how typical dietary patterns influence TMAO production or elimination.

The findings suggest that measuring and targeting TMAO levels — something doctors can do with a simple blood test — may be a promising new strategy for individualizing diets and helping to prevent heart disease. The study was funded largely by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), part of the National Institutes of Health. It will be published Dec. 10 in the European Heart Journal, a publication of the European Society of Cardiology.

“These findings reinforce current dietary recommendations that encourage all ages to follow a heart-healthy eating plan that limits red meat,” said Charlotte Pratt, Ph.D., the NHLBI project officer for the study and a nutrition researcher and Deputy Chief of the Clinical Applications & Prevention Branch, Division of Cardiovascular Sciences, NHLBI. “This means eating a variety of foods, including more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy foods, and plant-based protein sources such as beans and peas.”

“This study shows for the first time what a dramatic effect changing your diet has on levels of TMAO, which is increasingly linked to heart disease,” said Stanley L. Hazen, M.D., Ph.D., senior author of the study and section head of Preventive Cardiology & Rehabilitation at the Cleveland Clinic. “It suggests that you can lower your heart disease risk by lowering TMAO.”

Hazen estimated that as many as a quarter of middle-aged Americans have naturally elevated TMAO levels, which are made worse by chronic red meat consumption. However, every person’s TMAO profile appears to be different, so tracking this chemical marker, Hazen suggested, could be an important step in using personalized medicine to fight heart disease.

For the study, researchers enrolled 113 healthy men and women in a clinical trial to examine the effects of dietary protein — in the form of red meat, white meat, or non-meat sources — on TMAO production. All subjects were placed on each diet for a month in random order. When on the red meat diet, the participants consumed roughly the equivalent of about 8 ounces of steak daily, or two quarter-pound beef patties. After one month, researchers found that, on average, blood levels of TMAO in these participants tripled, compared to when they were on the diets high in either white meat or non-meat protein sources.

While all diets contained equal amounts of calories, half of the participants were also placed on high-fat versions of the three diets, and the researchers observed similar results. Thus, the effects of the protein source on TMAO levels were independent of dietary fat intake.

Importantly, the researchers discovered that the TMAO increases were reversible. When the subjects discontinued their red meat diet and moved to either a white meat or non-meat diet for another month, their TMAO levels decreased significantly.

The exact mechanisms by which TMAO affects heart disease is complex. Prior research has shown TMAO enhances cholesterol deposits into cells of the artery wall. Studies by the researchers also suggest that the chemical interacts with platelets — blood cells that are responsible for normal clotting responses — in a way that increases the risk for clot-related events such as heart attack and stroke.

TMAO measurement is currently available as a quick, simple blood test first developed by Hazen’s laboratory. In recent published studies, he and his colleagues reported development of a new class of drugs that are capable of lowering TMAO levels in the blood and reducing atherosclerosis and clotting risks in animal models, but those drugs are still experimental and not yet available to the public.

Switching to a home battery won’t help save the world from climate change

Home energy storage systems might save you money, but under current policies, they would also often increase carbon emissions. That is the conclusion reached by a team of researchers at the University of California San Diego in a study published recently in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

Conventional wisdom may suggest that these storage systems, which are essentially household batteries such as the Tesla Powerwall, could be instrumental in weaning ourselves off greenhouse gas-emitting energy sources. But deploying them today, without making fundamental policy and regulatory reforms, risks increasing emissions instead.

If residents use these systems to reduce their electricity bills, the batteries would draw energy from the grid when it is cheapest. And because utilities don’t structure how much they charge with the goal of lowering emissions, the cheapest power more often comes from power sources that emit carbon, such as coal. In addition, batteries do not operate at 100 percent efficiency: as a result, households that use them draw more power from the electric grid than they actually need.

For the systems to actually reduce greenhouse gasses, utilities need to change their tariff structures substantially to account for emissions from different power source. They would need to make energy cheaper for consumers when the grid is generating low-carbon electricity, researchers said.

The first-of-its-kind study, conducted by a research team from UC San Diego’s School of Global Policy and Strategy and Jacobs School of Engineering, modeled how residential energy storage systems would operate in the real world. The study modeled deployment across a wide range of regions, utilities and battery operation modes.

“We sought to answer: what if consumers on their own or in response to policy pressure adopt these systems? Would greenhouse gas emissions from the electric power system go down, and at what economic cost?” said lead author Oytun Babacan, a postdoctoral scholar at the School of Global Policy and Strategy.

The systems are so new that they are not in many homes. But this year saw a substantial increase in installations, with sales tripling from January to September of 2018.

When the systems are set up to operate with the goal of cutting emissions, they can indeed reduce average household emissions by 2.2 to 6.4 percent. But the monetary incentive that customers would have to receive from utilities to start using their home systems with the goal of reducing emissions is equivalent to anywhere from $180 to $5160 per metric ton of CO2.

“This is impractically high, and very high compared to other emissions reducing options that are available,” said Ryan Hanna, a postdoctoral researcher at the School of Global Policy and Strategy, who earned his Ph.D. at the Jacobs School of Engineering.

Most households adopting energy storage are likely to choose equipment vendors and operation modes that allow them to minimize electricity costs, leading to increased emissions, Babacan added.

“Thus, policymakers should be careful about assuming that decentralization will clean the electric power system, especially if it proceeds without carbon-mindful tariff reforms that aim to reduce residential energy bills and energy consumption associated CO2 emissions,” he said.

Absent tariff reform, policymakers could still encourage environmentally beneficial operation of the devices by ensuring that system developers and equipment vendors favor clean energy use by tracking and adjusting to variations in marginal emissions across the bulk grid, the authors noted.

Although the systems do not encourage cost-effective emissions control at the moment, authors were quick to note that the advantages of batteries should not be overlooked.

“There is an enormous upside to these systems in terms of flexibility and saving households money,” the authors said. “While the increase in home batteries deployment is underway, we need to work on multiple fronts to ensure that their adoption is carbon minded.”

Researchers selected 16 of the largest utilities companies in the country and dug into their tariff structure, carrying out the first systematic analysis of how much utility companies charge residential customers to forecast the economic and environmental impact of these systems, if they were to be widely deployed across the country.

Residential energy storage systems present a promising avenue for policymakers and companies such as Tesla seeking to decentralize electric power systems, reducing costs to consumers in the process.

In addition to Tesla, companies such as Evolve have invested heavily in residential energy storage systems. There also is an increasing interest in states such as New York and California to decentralize energy, both to empower consumers with greater control over their energy choices, and to create competition in a sector traditionally structured around regulated monopolies. With energy storage widely expected to play an integral role in efforts to deeply decarbonize the electric power system, organizations like the California Energy Commission are also actively advocating for their use.

Co-authors of the study include Ahmed Abdulla from the Center for Energy Research and fellow at the School of Global Policy and Strategy, Ryan Hanna, a postdoctoral scholar from the School of Global Policy and Strategy as well as professors Jan Kleissl from the Jacobs School of Engineering and David G. Victor from the School of Global Policy and Strategy

The richer the reward, the faster you’ll likely move to reach it

If you are wondering how long you personally are willing to stand in line to buy that hot new holiday gift, scientists at Johns Hopkins Medicine say the answer may be found in the biological rules governing how animals typically forage for food and other rewards.

They report that results of a new study in people affirm the theory known as “optimal foraging,” which holds that animals are innately wired to maximize the rewards they acquire based on such factors as the value of the reward itself and the time and effort spent to reach that reward. They also add to evidence that the richer the reward, the faster people will move to get it. In other words, if buying that awesome gift really matters, you’ll not only spend more, you may rush to be first in line to nab it.

A description of the study was published online Oct. 15 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Because animals that maximize optimal foraging live longer, in general, and are more ‘fit,’ traits that support such behavior are highly conserved in evolution and therefore are likely to inform human as well as other animal behavior,” says Reza Shadmehr, Ph.D., professor of biomedical engineering at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “We believe that the speed at which an animal moves to the next reward, which we call ‘vigor,’ is related to this principle in people too.”

To study vigor in people, Shadmehr and his colleagues tracked the speed and direction of eye movements among 92 people (average age 27; 51 men and 41 women) as they looked at images on a computer screen. Studying rapid eye movements between objects (motions known as “saccades”) is a frequent model for analyzing reward systems, says Shadmehr, because the sheer number of saccades — 2.5 of them per second, on average — provides an enormous amount of information about our innate preferences.

On the computer screens, the scientists displayed images of human faces (which most people prefer to focus on) as the high-value “reward” and inanimate objects, such as a door, as the less valued reward in different locations on the screen. They tracked how quickly the research participants switched their focus from one object to another and how long the object or face held their gazes.

In a subgroup of 16 of the 92 research participants, the scientists also controlled the amount of time that subjects could view an image of a person’s face. As the researchers decreased the amount of time for gazing, the participants moved their eyes, on average, more quickly between the facial images.

“For us, that experiment confirms in people our animal models of optimal foraging, which holds that when the environment is rich, animals tend to move more quickly between rewards,” says Shadmehr.

“Think of children during Halloween,” he says, “when they have a relatively short time to canvass a neighborhood known for generous candy givers. Most of them will be running, not casually strolling, from house to house.”

In another experiment with 17 of the 92 subjects, the scientists displayed two images on the screen, sometimes a face and other times an inanimate object. When the scientists displayed more faces, the participants spent less time gazing at one individual face and more time moving their eyes between the faces.

“This tells us that when the environment is rich (i.e., more faces), the participants not only moved quickly between the rewards, but spent less time focusing on each individual reward,” says Shadmehr. He says researchers have observed this phenomenon among crows on the Pacific coast that forage beaches for clams. They, like the human subjects in the computer experiments, spent energy digging for a clam, determining its size and opening it only if it was large enough to be worth the effort.

To the researchers’ surprise, Shadmehr reports, one experiment failed to match current theories of reward and effort. A group of 22 research participants was shown a series of images placed at greater distances apart on the screen, requiring more extensive eye movements to focus on each image. In other words, participants had to spend more effort to get their reward. A dot on the screen indicated where the next image would appear.

Conventional wisdom would say that, in a difficult environment, animals should conserve their efforts and move more slowly toward rewards. But the opposite happened. Research participants spent more effort to get their reward by moving their eyes twice as fast between images of any type when they were farther apart than among images that were closer together.

Shadmehr speculates that the unexpected results could be explained by understanding the variations in how some people value certain rewards. “A history of high effort to reach a reward may make that reward seem much more valuable, and we’ll spend more energy to get that reward,” says Shadmehr.

The researchers note there also are vigor differences among individuals. Some people have twice the vigor of eye movements than others. And results may vary with age and gender, as well. Shadmehr says most humans have the fastest eye movements at age 14, on average, and this speed declines with each additional decade of life.

Shadmehr notes that understanding the principles of vigor may do far more than tell us about foraging for food or trendy gifts. It may also inform scientists about conditions that link human movement and cognition, such as Parkinson’s disease, a disease of the nervous system that affects movement and memory, and depression, which is characterized by slower movement as well as sadness and other mood problems.

Shadmehr also suggests that understanding vigor could advance understanding of economic theory, essentially how we make value choices. “The way we identify preference and choice could be measured in part by measuring innate vigor,” says Shadmehr.

DHC Deep Cleansing Oil Is Top-Rated on Amazon, and Takes My Makeup Off in Under 5 Minutes

I used to be nervous about using facial oil. I worried that it would make my combination skin even more oily than when I started, or exacerbate my stubborn breakouts—something I definitely try to avoid at all costs. After learning from dermatologists that facial oils can not only help to cleanse and hydrate skin simultaneously, but also contain ingredients that may be less irritating than some traditional cleansers, I decided to give one a shot. And now I’m hooked.

DHC Deep Cleansing Oil is made with gentle ingredients like olive oil, vitamin E, and rosemary leaf oil, but was somehow still able to dissolve my waterproof mascara in less than five minutes. After adding three pumps of the oil into the dry palm of my hand per the instructions, I massaged it onto my face for 30 seconds, rinsed with warm water, and voila! My makeup totally disappeared, and I was left standing at my bathroom sink completely astonished. The best news, perhaps, is that this $25 Japanese oil is good for all skin types—from dry to oily.

There are a lot of cleansing oils on the market, but DHC’s Deep Cleansing Oil is the first one that actually made me say “wow” mid-way through washing off my makeup and the day’s impurities. To this day, I’m still mad at myself for not trying the product out sooner. Just think of all the time and energy I could have saved washing my face before! With over 2,200 customer reviews, and a 4.5-star rating on Amazon, it’s safe to say that this effective cleanser has other shoppers totally shook as well.

Tenacious and flexible goal pursuit gets older people on the move

Tenacious goal pursuit and flexible goal adjustment have been shown to help maintain psychological well-being despite age related challenges and losses. A recent study demonstrates that tenacity and flexibility are beneficial for out-of-home mobility as well.

Older people who persistently strive for their goals, but at the same time are able to adjust their goals to better correspond to current circumstances, move across a larger life-space than do their less tenacious and flexible peers. Furthermore, tenacious and flexible older persons better perceive their possibilities to participate in outdoor activities. This was observed in a study conducted at the University of Jyväskylä.

“Almost all of us have some personal goals, which guide our behavior and everyday life,” says doctoral student Sini Siltanen. “Older people have goals as well, even though they are not discussed that often.”

Tenacious persons have larger life-space

The study results highlighted the role of tenacity: those who persistently strived for their own goals had larger life-space, even in spite of poor flexibility.

“Our results indicate that persistency and the ability to adjust can function as personal resources for maintaining out-of-home mobility and participation in later life,” Siltanen says. “Moreover, it seems that while flexibility is especially important for maintaining autonomy, tenacity may be what gets older people out the door.”

The results remained consistent even when differences in older persons’ physical and cognitive abilities were taken into account. The challenges related to an individual’s own living environment and housing did not affect the results either.

“Getting out of the house and going outside increases their opportunities for physical activity, independency, and participation in valued activities,” Siltanen points out. “That means maintaining one’s life-space and autonomy in outdoor mobility in old age is essential for retaining quality of life.”

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Online game trains players how to sort waste correctly

A simple online game can teach people to more accurately sort waste — with lasting results, a new UBC study has found.

Study participants who played the game developed by UBC researchers received immediate feedback on their sorting choices. The second time they played — when feedback was no longer provided — players still improved their average accuracy from 69 per cent to 84 per cent. Even when a week passed between games, players still improved their accuracy.

As part of the study, researchers also exposed students living in university residences to the game, then monitored their waste bins. They observed both a slight reduction in contamination — defined as the presence of items that shouldn’t be in a particular bin — and an increase in compost weight.

“This immediate feedback increases recycling and composting accuracy over the longer term, both in the lab and in the field,” said Jiaying Zhao, assistant professor in UBC’s department of psychology and senior author of the study. “One of the big questions in psychology is how long do these effects last? Our biggest takeaways are the fact that immediate feedback works, and the effects last over time.

As solid waste increases rapidly, accurate sorting is becoming imperative in North American cities where the average person throws out 700-800 kilograms of solid waste each year. In the U.S., solid waste generation per capita increased 64 per cent between 1960 and 2013. One-third of landfill waste is organic and releases methane into atmosphere. Methane is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide in creating conditions for climate change.

Yu Luo, the lead author of the paper, noted that social norms and the convenience of waste-sorting bins have encouraged people to try dealing with waste properly, but even when they make the effort, they make mistakes.

To correct these mistakes, Yu developed a simple sorting game. Four squares representing waste categories appear across the top of the screen: food scraps, recyclable containers, paper, and garbage. Then a picture of a waste item appears below. Players must decide where it goes. They are told whether they were right or wrong. If they were wrong, they are told which bin was the correct choice.

Research in cognitive psychology has shown that immediate feedback helps people learn and improves their task performance. The results of the experiment bear that out.

For the field experiment, researchers spent two weeks gathering baseline data on the weight and contamination rates of bins in three UBC student residences. Then, for six weeks, they promoted their game among residents of two buildings. Afterward, they spent three weeks gathering waste data and found that sorting had improved slightly in comparison with the third building.

Zhao is encouraged by results that suggest virtual sorting can help solve a real-world problem. UBC Campus and Community Planning has already adapted her group’s research for a version of the game that is now part of orientation for first-year students, complete with leaderboards and prizes. Zhao sees no reason the idea couldn’t be applied in all residential buildings — on campus and off.

The “gamification” of waste sorting could go a long way toward reducing contamination in waste streams and reducing the volume of solid waste.

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Materials provided by University of British Columbia. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

New study finds bias against women and girls when intellectual ability is sought

A new study finds bias against both women and girls for jobs or activities requiring intellectual ability. The research underscores the pervasiveness of gender bias, held even among females, in both adults and young children.

“Despite their achievements in the classroom and the workplace, our experiments suggest that women and girls may still encounter bias in circumstances where brilliance is viewed as the key to success,” observes Andrei Cimpian, an associate professor in New York University’s Department of Psychology and the senior author of the study, which appears in the journal American Psychologist.

“Although it is intuitive to think of gender bias as an adult phenomenon, the gender imbalances currently seen in many academic and professional fields may actually be due in part to processes that unfold early in development,” adds Lin Bian, first author of the study, who was a visiting researcher at NYU and doctoral student at the University of Illinois at the time of the study and will become an assistant professor of Human Development at Cornell University in 2019.

The study, conducted at the Cognitive Development Lab at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and New York University, also included Sarah-Jane Leslie, a professor of philosophy at Princeton University.

National statistics show that the intellectual achievements of girls and women in the U.S. have matched, if not surpassed, those of boys and men. Given these realities, one might expect women and men to be treated as intellectual equals and be given the same opportunities to pursue intellectually challenging work.

However, in a series of three experiments, the researchers found evidence of consistent bias against women and girls in contexts that emphasize intellectual ability.

In two initial experiments, more than 1,150 participants (approximately 350 in one experiment and approximately 800 in another) were asked to refer individuals for a job. Half of the participants were led to believe that the job required high-level intellectual ability (e.g., “high IQ,” “superior reasoning skills,” “natural intelligence”); the other half were not. The results showed that participants were less likely to refer a woman when the job description mentioned brilliance (43.5 percent female referrals) than when it did not (50.8 percent). In other words, the odds of referring a woman (rather than a man) were 25.3 percent lower when the job description mentioned intellectual ability.

Notably, while women were more likely than men to refer females for jobs requiring intellectual ability, both women and men were less likely to refer females for these jobs than for the other jobs. That is, men and women showed comparable levels of gender bias.

The hypotheses and analysis plan for the second experiment were specified ahead of time; this process of “preregistration” increases confidence in the conclusions of a study.

In the third experiment, the researchers tested whether contexts that emphasize intellectual ability elicit gender bias among young children. In it, the researchers taught 192 children, aged 5 to 7, how to play two new team games. Half of the children were told that the games were for “really, really smart” children; the other half were not. For each game, children then selected three teammates from among six children (three boys and three girls) they did not know.

Children initially selected teammates of their own gender (that is, girls chose girls and boys chose boys), but in the third selection round they showed bias against girls, choosing girls as teammates for the “smart” game only 37.6% of the time (vs. 53.4% for the other game).

“Our studies add to our current understanding of the processes that lead to women’s underrepresentation in ‘genius fields’ — that is, fields such as physics and philosophy, in which success is generally seen as depending on high-level intellectual ability,” observes Cimpian. “Moreover, while gender bias may be becoming less common in employers’ and supervisors’ ‘public’ behavior, such as hiring or promotion decisions, in part because the possibility of bias is often explicitly discussed in these contexts, young women’s path to a successful career goes through many contexts in which people may be less guarded and — our evidence suggests — may still behave in biased ways.”

This research was supported by National Science Foundation grants BCS-1530669 and BCS-1733897 and by a Robert Larsen Grant for Research in Career Development from the University of Illinois.

The data and analysis scripts for all experiments are available on the Open Science Framework: https://osf.io/wnesy/?view_only=82be362669944547a81e5fc2c98e2222.

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Rapid genetic evolution linked to lighter skin pigmentation

Populations of indigenous people in southern Africa carry a gene that causes lighter skin, and scientists have now identified the rapid evolution of this gene in recent human history.

The gene that causes lighter skin pigmentation, SLC24A5, was introduced from eastern African to southern African populations just 2,000 years ago. Strong positive selection caused this gene to rise in frequency among some KhoeSan populations.

UC Davis anthropologist Brenna Henn and colleagues have shown that a gene for lighter skin spread rapidly among people in southern Africa in the last 2,000 years.

This is a “rare example of intense, ongoing adaptation in recent human history and is the first known example of adaptive gene flow at a pigmentation locus in humans,” according to the paper published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Dec. 10.

The findings are based on research by multiple scientists. The primary author, Meng Lin, conducted the research as a graduate student at Stony Brook University, working with anthropologist Brenna Henn, now of the University of California, Davis, Genome Center and Department of Anthropology. Lin is now a post-doctoral researcher in genetics at the University of Southern California.

In previous work, the researchers looked at pigmentation variation in two KhoeSan populations from South Africa by performing a genome-wide association analysis in about 450 individuals. They followed up on the top associated gene, SLC24A5, by simulating population histories with and without positive selection. The DNA and pigmentation sampling took place in the Northern Cape of South Africa in the southern Kalahari Desert and Richtersveld regions.

Gene plays a role in lighter skin pigmentation

Individuals who carry two copies of the lighter pigmentation gene are 14 percent lighter-skinned than the population average, the researchers said. The gene SLC24A5 plays a key role in the genetic basis of light skin pigmentation.

While light skin is often associated with European ancestry, even in South Africa, the present-day Khoekhoe and San did not experience enough recent migration to account for the frequency of the gene. Rather, strong positive selection during the past 2,000 years was the only way to explain the current distribution. The gene, which is also present in people from the Near East and eastern Africa, was probably initially brought into the region by only a small number of individuals.

The actual source of the positive selection is not clear. The researchers theorize that a shift from consuming vitamin D-rich marine animals to consuming pasture animals, or a reduction in exposure to ultraviolent rays, might have changed skin pigmentation over time.

“While the biological cause of the selective event merits further investigation, we have demonstrated an unusual rapid case of selection for lighter skin pigmentation based on a recently introduced allele less that 2,000 years ago, the first case of pigmentation adaptation from migration in humans,” the paper concludes.

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