Health Scan: Study shows depressed people see the world differently

Trauma can affect offspring even before conception; nail in sports shoes is risky.

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May 23, 2009 22:05
4 minute read.
Health Scan: Study shows depressed people see the world differently

woman depression 88. (photo credit: )

Depression doesn't make brown eyes blue, but it can change visual perception, according to Tel Aviv University researchers. A team headed by Dr. Uri Polat of TAU's Goldschleger Eye Institute compared the visual perception of healthy people to those hospitalized for depression. The clinically depressed lacked the ability to fill in parts of a picture when those parts were missing or faint. "Vision is processed in the brain, and we already know that depression affects cognitive functioning," says Polat. The new results linking depression to eyesight could result in a new tool to accurately diagnose depression." To investigate the effects of depression on visual perception, he developed a test that let him assess "the filling-in process" that a healthy mind performs when looking at objects. The researchers asked 27 control subjects and 32 patients hospitalized for depression to look at identical images and report what they saw. The control subjects were able to "see" missing parts, while the depressed ones were not. "We see with our brain, not with our eyes; the eye is only the tool," says Polat, who studied the brain activity of subjects during the experiment. He found unusual patterns emerging: The brain activity of depressed people looked different from that of the control group. He and his team are now looking at ways to turn brain signals into an objective tool, both in diagnostics and for monitoring the course of treatment. Visual perception tests might give psychiatrists a better way to diagnose depression. Currently there is no non-biased test to assess whether someone is clinically depressed. Diagnostic questionnaires can produce inaccurate results, denying patients medication or hospitalization. The study may also assist psychiatrists in monitoring the effects of anti-depressants such as Prozac; it could take days instead of the six weeks it now requires to know whether a medication is suitable. The team have decided to develop an EEG (electroencephalograph) test that could be used to scan brain activity for the signature signs of depression. Such a standardized tool could save the healthcare system a great deal of money in costs resulting from misdiagnosis, and would give depressed people peace of mind, says Polat. "Knowing the severity of one's condition could help a depressed patient decide when to medicate, and then to know whether the medication is working. It could also help psychiatrists better understand depression in children, and in people who have multiple dysfunctions that prevent them from communicating their feelings, he said. TRAUMA CAN AFFECT OFFSPRING EVEN BEFORE CONCEPTION When a mother has been exposed to trauma before becoming pregnant, it can affect the behavior of her offspring - at least when rats are involved. This was just published in Developmental Psychology by researchers at the University of Haifa. Trauma experienced by females during pregnancy - whether rodents or women - has been shown to affect offspring. But until now, events before conception have not been shown to influence children. Prof. Micah Leshem and Alice Schahar-Dadon, in cooperation with Prof. Jay Schulkin of the Georgetown University Medical School, are the first to show such connections. Rats, chosen because they are very social animals with brain activity similar to those of people, were divided into three groups. One underwent a series of activities that caused stress about two weeks before mating; a second group were stressed for a week immediately after mating; while a third group didn't undergo any stress. When the rats' offspring reached adulthood at 60 days, their social and emotional behaviors - especially anxiety and depression - were studied. The researchers found that trauma suffered before conception had a variety of effects, depending on whether the offspring were male or female, and in which group the mothers had been. The offspring of rats that had been traumatized were significantly less social than the offspring of non-traumatized mothers. The trauma groups' offspring spent less time with each other and did not interact as much as the offspring of the control group. Female offspring showed more anxiety than males. Females whose mothers conceived right after being exposed to stress were more stressed than the other rats. "We all know that smoking harms a fetus, so one should not smoke during pregnancy. Our study shows that even traumas experienced by the mother that are not connected to the pregnancy influences a child's development," Leshem concluded. NAIL IN SPORTS SHOES IS RISKY Anyone who steps on a nail or other metal object that causes bleeding should go to the nearest hospital emergency room, according to Dr. Baruch Gonen, head of the pediatric emergency department at Kaplan Medical Center in Rehovot. Shoes, especially sneakers or sports shoes, may carry virulent Pseudonomas bacteria that can cause chronic infection of the bone, and require surgical removal of infected tissue and even amputation. A six-year-old boy, Ido Afriat of Rehovot, was brought to the emergency room last week after stepping on a nail while collecting wood for a Lag Ba'omer bonfire. He was bleeding heavily. As Pseudonomas is often resistant to antibiotics, two were given intravenously. He was treated and kept in hospital for five days until doctors were sure he had recovered.


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