Monday, September 24, 2012

Managing Stress

Set Worries Down

The instructor of a stress management class walked into the room holding out a half glass of water. Everyone in the class thought they knew what was coming: “Is the glass half full or half empty?”

But the instructor surprised the students by asking with a smile, “How heavy do you think this glass of water is?”  People called out answers ranging from 6 ounces to 20 ounces.

The teacher replied, “It changes.  It depends on how long I hold it—the absolute weight doesn’t matter.  If I hold it a minute, it is light.  If I hold it an hour, it is heavy and I will have an ache in my arm.  If I hold it for a day, it will be too heavy to lift and I will drop it. 

“It seems the longer I hold it, the heavier it becomes.  If, however, I set it down when it feels heavy and rest a while, I have the strength to hold it again.

“It is the same way with stress,” she said.  “If we carry our burdens all the time, sooner or later, the burden becomes too heavy and we won’t be able to carry on.

“Just like with the glass of water, you have to put down your burdens for a while and rest before shouldering them again.  When you are refreshed, you will be able to take up the burden, stronger again.”

So, put aside your burdens whenever you can; they will still be there after you have rested and you will be able to carry on as strong as ever.

This article was originally published in Pathways Residential Care Journal - Issue 4.  To download this issue in PDF format, or past issues, visit our newsletter archives online at

Monday, September 17, 2012

Old Person Smell

Is there really such a thing as “old people smell,” or is it in your imagination when you visit seniors who look right at home among their antiques?  A recent study says young people really can identify such a smell, and old men smell the best.


Just how do you go about proving this?  Johan Lundström and his colleagues at the Monell Chemical Sense Center in Philadelphia collected the underarm scents of people in three age groups: 20-30 years old, 45-55 years old and people 75-95 years old.  Then they had other young people (ages 20-30) sniff the armpit pads.

Collecting Scents

The researchers had the participants wear the same T-shirt to bed for five nights.  The shirts and sheets had been washed with scent-free detergent and the participants washed with scent-free soap every night.  They also agreed not to smoke, drink alcohol or eat foods that are known to cause body odors. Special pads were sewn into the underarms of the T-shirts to collect their body’s scent.


The people doing the sniffing rated the pads on pleasantness and intensity and had to guess which of two odors came from older participants.  Then they were instructed to label all of the armpit pads by age category. 

Although they had trouble distinguishing between the young and middle aged people’s pads, they were able to correctly determine which came from old people more often than would be randomly expected.  Evaluators used words such as “earthy” and “mild, like stale water” to describe the odors of older people.

“These elderly odors were very distinct and easy to group together,” says Lundström.  The study found that the armpit pads from old men were rated the most pleasant, especially compared with middle-aged men, although the odors from old women were rated behind those of middle-aged women.

Lundström and his colleagues concluded that if you associate the scent of old people with something negative, it is likely to have more to do with context than the actual odor.

The study was reported online May 30, 2012 in PLoS ONE.

This article was originally published in Pathways Residential Care Journal - Issue 4.  To download this issue in PDF format, or past issues, visit our newsletter archives online at

Monday, September 10, 2012

Romance Reduces Pain

New Love

The dizzy stage of early romantic love seems to reduce the sensation of physical pain.  So say the results of research at Stanford University School of Medicine.  The participants reported significantly lower levels of pain when looking at pictures of their beloved than when viewing photos of friends.

“Love engages very deep primitive reward systems that directly impact on our overall experience of pain,” says researcher Sean Mackey, whose team looked at the effects of romantic feelings on pain.

Fifteen students, aged 19-21, who were in the first nine months of a romantic relationship and described themselves as “intensely in love” were recruited for the experiment.  They were instructed to bring a photo of their sweetheart as well as one of a good-looking acquaintance of the same sex as the sweetheart.

While sitting in an MRI scanner to record their brain activity, the students held a block whose temperature could be controlled to cause high, moderate or no pain.  Their pain ratings were noted while focusing on the picture of their loved one, the acquaintance, and a word-puzzle distraction.

Both the photos of romantic partners and the distraction puzzle reduced pain by nearly identical amounts.  But the students had significantly less pain relief when looking at the photos of the attractive acquaintance.

Although the sweetheart photos and word puzzles both provided relief, they worked in different parts of the brain.  The part of the brain activated by love was the brain’s reward center which is also activated by chocolate and drugs like cocaine.

It turns out that the writers of all those romantic songs and poems were right—love truly is a powerful thing.

This article was originally published in Pathways & Partners - Issue 25.  To download this issue in PDF format, or past issues, visit our newsletter archives online at

Monday, September 3, 2012

Benefits of Dogs

Healthier Living

Most people know that people who own dogs live longer, have lower blood pressure, less anxiety and better immune systems.  They also have more social interactions, Alzheimer’s patients with dogs in the home have fewer outbursts and men with dogs have lower triglycerides and cholesterol.  These are the scientific conclusions of research about family pets that can be easily found. 

But there are even more benefits and some of them are pretty astounding.  Dogs are being trained to assist in the medical field.  For instance, dogs can be trained to sniff out low blood sugar in diabetics, picking up odors beyond human capacity.  Dogs can also be taught to prod the diabetic with a cold nose, fetch a blood glucose testing equipment or press a phone button that calls 911.

It could be scent or it could be a subtle change in behavior, but some dogs are able to sense a seizure coming on as much as 30 minutes before it occurs.  This means the dog may be able to alert the person, go for help, move objects out of the way and lay down next the person during the seizure.

More and more people with post traumatic stress disorders, such as soldiers returning from war zones, are benefiting from dogs as companions because they can they can ease anxiety in a number of ways.

Dogs also have the remarkable ability to detect certain kinds of cancers.  One example is being able to reveal the presence of bladder or prostate cancer cells in urine.  Some researchers have shown that dogs can recognize lung and breast cancers by smelling the patient’s breath, and they can spot melanoma by licking a person’s skin.

A dog’s brain may be only one tenth the size of a human’s, but his nose more than makes up for it: dogs have 40 times as many scent receptors as humans.  It is truer than ever that dogs really are man’s best friend. 

References: My Health News Daily; Web MD.

This article was originally published in Pathways Residential Care Journal - Issue 4.  To download this issue in PDF format, or past issues, visit our newsletter archives online at