Optimizing your child’s potential — Tips from Research

Infant Playing --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

It’s hard these days to go to a restaurant to not find a toddler having his/her meal without a smart device in front of them. Even though there are parents who say they don’t allow their babies any television at all (yes, they exist!), the trend is in the other direction.

We’re not making it up. A US study reported at the 2015 Pediatric Academic Societies Annual Meeting, which surveyed 370 parents of children aged 6 months to 4 years, reported that 1 in 3 had already used a smart device before their first birthday. By their first birthday, 1 in 7 infants in the study were using a smart device for at least an hour a day. Being left to play with smart devices on their own was an experience common to the majority (70%) of the children in the study. And the data from a larger poll by Common Sense Media with 1,463 parents doesn’t really tell a different story. Along the same trends are the findings by a Childwise survey comprising 2,000 children aged 5 to 16 years that children spend more time online (on average 3 hours) than watching traditional TV.

We’re still in the process of accumulating compelling data on the long-term effects of smart devices on young children. Research suggests that children who receive more screen-time are more likely to be at risk for attention problems. But it’s not difficult to understand why one might be concerned about the impact giving infants free rein to play with a smart device. Social interactions are seen as key for children’s development whether it’s about growing their vocabulary, fostering their social skills, developing their narrative abilities, helping to structure their memory of past events, or acquiring new concepts and knowledge. As the American Academy of Pediatrics says, “a child’s brain develops rapidly during these first years, and young children learn best by interacting with people, not screens.” So more time spent on non-age-appropriate television programmes and games on a smart device means less time developing these core skills.

Which is why the expert recommendation is no screen-time at all for those who haven’t reached their 2nd birthday, and why other experts argue that children should watch videos only when they’re in their preschool years. And why Taiwan passed a law last year which curbs parent-enabled smart device usage by children under 2 years of age.

So if not mobile devices and screen-time, what then? Here are a few other ideas to help boost the development of your little one…

1. Traditional toys are better
Remember those toys? The wooden puzzle, the shape-sorter, and wood blocks with pictures. They might seem out-dated but they could be the key to boosting your baby’s cognitive development. A recent study documented how much words parents spoke when they and their 1-year-old played with electronic toys (e.g., talking phone, talking farm, baby laptop), with traditional toys, and with picture books. The researchers found that parents spoke the most with traditional toys, followed by picture books, and finally, least with the noisy toys. The reasons for this pattern aren’t clear but it might be because noisy toys which light up are exceptionally good at keeping babies occupied so in contrast, parents talk more to help keep their babies play with the quiet toys!

2. Speak more not less
Earlier studies have long established that school-readiness at the kindergarten-age predicts later school performance and academic achievements. But a new study also shows that 2-year-olds with better oral language are also more likely to learn better and have fewer behavioural problems while at kindergarten. So it pays to foster language development from a young age.

But parents often worry that introducing two languages to their child hinders their progress. The experts on bilingual research suggest that speaking in 2 languages doesn’t confuse babies nor is a one-parent-one-language policy necessary. Put simply, more speech by parents in both or either language is always a good thing.

3. Try interactive picture-book-reading
There’s plenty of research evidence to support the idea parents can boost their toddlers’ language development by reading books with them. What’s new however is the finding that it’s what parents say when they’re reading picture books that matters. Parents appear to provide more speech sounds which are helpful to their toddlers’ spoken language development during a book-reading activity than when playing with toys or puppets. So pay attention to the sounds that your baby says and respond to them!

4. Surprise your baby!
So it’s not a coincidence that babies really enjoy playing peek-a-boo with you. Previous research has already shown that babies not only pay more attention to something which surprises them than to something which is more predictable. But a recent study shows that babies pay attention to things which surprise them in order to try and “figure something out about their world“. So, showing your baby something unexpected is likely a good way to get and keep their attention!

5. Let your hair down and have fun
It turns out that babies under 2 years can judge whether we’re joking around or not. For a silly moment, we might wear a rubber chicken on our head as a joke. Or we could be pretending to wear the chicken as a hat. How babies tell which is which depends on what we say and whether there’s disbelief on our faces (which we show when we’re joking). It might seem silly, but previous studies have established a number of benefits from being funny with your kids. A 2015 study also demonstrates that 18-month-olds were more likely to remember new information from a funny situation compared to an unfunny one.

6. Avoid distracted caregiving
Responsive caregiving is another cornerstone for healthy development during infancy. This includes responding to your baby’s smiles, cooing and other vocalisations. Earlier studies have shown that not recognising signs of distress by babies and inconsistent responses by mothers towards their babies, negatively impacts their children’s later cognitive and social skills. But recent research also suggests that distracted caregiving arising from using mobile phones (e.g., whatsap) could also affect brain development in young infants.

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The early signs of dementia

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According to the 2013 Well-being of the Singapore Elderly (WiSE) study, 1 in 10 persons in Singapore aged 60 years and above has dementia, which according to the WHO definition, is a “syndrome in which there is deterioration in memory, thinking, behaviour and the ability to perform everyday activities”.

To suggest that someone with dementia “may” have memory loss, is misleading. Dementia is a condition in which people with dementia encounter problems with memory. But it is of course worth noting that the “symptoms of dementia are not limited to forgetfulness and memory loss“, as the author of this 2015 Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) Commons article points out. The ability to plan and make decisions, as well as solve problems, are other cognitive difficulties faced by someone with dementia.

Recent research efforts offer relatively quicker ways for clinicians to diagnose dementia and identify individuals at risk for dementia. According to a recent study published in 2015, researchers have developed a brief questionnaire, known as the QDRS comprising 10 items, which can accurately identify if someone has very mild, mild, moderate, or severe dementia. And a 2014 study has found a time-efficient method for identifying those at risk for dementia — through their ability to track a moving target with a computer mouse which moves in the opposite direction to what they see on the screen. Those diagnosed with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) (and who are at risk for dementia) made many more errors than the control group. A more recent study also points to the tendency for those with amyloid plaques associated with dementia to have walk at a slower pace compared to healthy peers.

But you’re concerned that you may be developing dementia. Or you’re concerned about someone you know being at risk for dementia…

So here are 3 questions to answer:

1. Have you noticed any of these early warning signs?

The local Health Promotion Board has a print-friendly fact sheet, while the local Alzheimer’s Disease Association offers a checklist and describes the stages of dementia. No? Move on to Question 2!

2. Are you aware that you have difficulties remembering things?

recent study which tracked over 2,000 individuals for 10 years reported that awareness of memory problems is a good clue as to whether they have dementia or not. In this study, those who were eventually diagnosed with dementia stopped being aware of their memory problems about 2.5 years before showing signs of dementia. So being aware that you have memory problems is actually a good thing. But read on…

3. How often do you have problems remembering things?

The US Alzheimer’s Association distinguishes behaviours which are characteristic of dementia from behaviours associated with healthy ageing in their list of early warning signs. Forgetting the names of things and/or the names of people is something that happens to most of us. Some of us experience the tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon quite often in fact. We can also be prone to forgetting appointments. But we’re usually able to retrieve these words and/or names later on, and we typically realise that we missed an appointment at a later time.

But a 2014 study also found that those who reported a change (more difficulties) in their ability to remember things were much more likely to subsequently develop dementia. So if you’re concerned that you might have cognitive issues, you can take an online assessment — Self-Administered Gerocognitive Exam or the SAGE test. But it’s also important that you consult with a medical professional if memory and thinking problems are a concern for you. 

Learning, it’s no child’s play

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Our children’s learning starts early. These days, preschoolers are not only learning the fundamentals of maths and science, they’re learning to code. Parents who advocate the role of play in children’s development are likely to find themselves a somewhat rare and endangered species. Even though there are numerous benefits to encouraging children to play. Social and communication skills are some good examples.

But let’s not get distracted. Parents want to their kids to do well in school. And we know the home environment does contribute to children’s academic achievements.

It’s also important for parents to have high expectations of their kids.

Only thing is that, well, that might not be entirely true. A study hot off the press finds that unrealistically ambitious aspirations of parents can adversely impact their children’s academic performance. The findings of this 2015 study of 12,000 US school-aged students mirror those from an earlier study conducted on 3,530 school-aged students in Germany. So apparently, unrealistically high aspiration may hinder academic performance“. And parental academic pressure appears to be leading to more and more children and teenagers experiencing chronic stressburnout, and depression.

So, what else are parents to do? Well, we can suggest a few relatively painless ways to boost your child’s performance:

1. Help them develop a homework habit 
A 2015 study finds that school-age students in Spain perform better on a standardized maths test when they complete their homework on their own and when their teachers set homework on a regular basis. In fact, these high achievers only spent 1 to 2 hours a day on their homework.

So, less is more (but only if homework is also a daily habit).

2. Encourage community and sports participation
It’s no surprise that exercise helps children learn better. Children concentrate better when they’re physically active, and their academic performance improves when they play sports. A more recent study finds that children who are lean and active perform better on cognitive tests.

But it may not just be about the physical health benefits of exercise. Even though exercise does help children sleep earlier and get better quality sleep (because tired children stay up late less, which according to a 2015 study, costs teenagers as many as 9.3 GCSE points per hour spent on youtube, TV, and computer games.

It could be that gaining better body awareness somehow helps our brains retain information better. In fact, a recent study finds that dancing not only alleviates depression, stress, fatigue, and headaches, but boosts self-esteem and self-confidence about solving everyday problems among young Swedish teenagers.

But there may be another reason why children involved in extracurricular activities in the community perform better in school. Experts argue that extracurricular opportunities work because they give children a chance to experience “a sense of accomplishing something“.

3. Eat breakfast with your kids
A 2015 study on 5,000 children 9- to 11-year-olds provides unequivocal evidence that healthy breakfasts make a difference to children’s academic performance. Having breakfast was found to be better than not having any. But having a breakfast of diary foods, cereal, fruit, and bread produced better students than a breakfast of empty calories — sweets (candy) and/or crisps (chips). And having fruit and veggies during the day was also associated with better school performance.

4. Spend time with your kids
It’s common sense. But there’s research evidence to back this one up. A 2015 study finds that successful children come from families who recognised their children’s talents early, but also helped to motivate their children to work hard at practising and improving their skills.

Conversely, another recent study finds that children’s mental well-being is associated with time pressures experienced by their parents — children whose parents have difficulties fitting everything they need to be do into their day, are more likely to have mental health concerns.

Spending time with children, especially teenagers, also helps parents understand their children’s daily experiences. As a result, their children have less likely to have behavioural problems and more likely to be better psychologically adjusted.

Autism: What have we learnt so far?

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Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder in which individuals have difficulties with social interactions and communication and a reliance for routines and/or repetitive behaviours (Read this NIH fact sheet for more information). Individuals with autism also tend to display sensory seeking behaviour and according to more recent scientific endeavours, experience high rates of gastrointestinal issues.

It’s a disorder which receives much attention in both the press and in research. But research findings, despite advancing at the pace of greyhounds chasing a bunny on the race track, don’t always accompany news stories. The public’s understanding and awareness of this disorder is still work-in-progress, even though local resources for autism has vastly improved.

Research links the use of joint attention — the ability to use gaze and gestures to share attention — to autism, but a recent study points to a more accurate red flag for autism — a social smile during joint attention. This 2014 study observes that infants at 8 months tend to look at an object of interest and then smile at the person they are interacting with, before looking back at the object of interest, during joint attention. In contrast, infants at risk for autism tend not to direct the social smile at the other person in between looking at object and at the other person.

Other research has established that individuals with autism find faces aversive, and as a result have difficulties recognising the emotions of others (more about their difficulties with empathy here). In fact, a hot-off-the-press study finds that individuals with autism focus on areas of contrast and colour of real photographs and the centre of the image, whereas those who don’t have autism look almost exclusively at faces in the same photographs. And this tendency emerges at a young age: a 2014 study observes infants at 6 months to fixate on faces when someone is speaking. In contrast, infants diagnosed with autism later look away from the eyes and mouth when someone is speaking.

Recent research has also identified two other markers useful for screening autism among children aged 9 to 12 months. A 2014 study finds that babies with a head circumference that is at or higher than the 75th percentile at 9 months and infants who fail the tonic neck reflex (also known as the head tilt reflex) are at a higher risk for autism.

With slightly older children, nonverbal screening tools may be useful. A 2015 study proposes a novel way of screening for autism: It turns out that individuals with autism don’t reduce their sniffing of unpleasant smells (and conversely increase their sniffing of pleasant ones). In contrast, their peers who don’t have autism “stop” a wiffy smell in about 305 ms. Another 2015 study finds a higher proportion of children who are subsequently diagnosed with autism among families where parents voiced concerns about their child’s sensory and motor abilities from the age of 6 months, and their child’s language and social communication abilities from the age of 12 to 15 months. So although autism cannot be diagnosed till 2 years of age, there are clear indications and red flags which are proving to be effective for screening autism at a much younger age.

Screening for autism aside, there are still no clear answers to what contributes to autism. Recent research does however indicate differences in brain structure between individuals with autism and peers who don’t have autism. Apart from differences which have been observed in the brain structures which connect the two brain hemispheres to each other, a 2014 study observes a lack of neural pruning — the process by which neural connections which we don’t use are eliminated — among children with autism (for a more in-depth discussion, read this article). Genetic factors are acknowledged to contribute to autism, but environmental factors are also considered to play an important role. Increasing evidence that the composition of gut bacteria differs in individuals with autism from that of their peers who don’t have autism, has led some to suggest that gut bacteria to be a possible contributing factor to autism. While a 2015 study definitively excludes MMR vaccines as a contributing factor to autism (read more about the study here), another 2015 study speculates that other chemicals, such as solvents and pesticides, to which expectant mothers may have exposure, can adversely affect foetal development.

Despite the mixed findings about the cause of autism, more recent research does offer some promising news about effective interventions and strategies found to be useful for helping children and adolescents with autism. Just as children who don’t have autism can be trained to enhance their ability to identify emotional expressions and young preschoolers with autism can be taught social skills, recent research demonstrates that early intervention programmes play an important role in helping children with autism improve their social skills, as well as cognitive and language abilities.

One 2012 study has reported that an intensive programme comprising 20-hours-a-week one-to-one training with interpersonal exchanges over a period of 2 years, yields improved brain responses to faces among infants with autism aged 12 to 30 months. Use of this therapeutic intervention by parents has been shown to be effective on even young infants with autism. In this 2014 study, at-risk 6-month-olds, who showed signs of autism at the start of intervention (e.g., a lack of interest in social interactions and communication), had better cognitive and language skills 12 to 30 months later. In a follow-up study of these infants, further improvements were observed after 2 years of intervention. Infants’ cognitive, communication, and adaptive skills (skills for everyday living) were observed to undergo greater improvement compared to peers with autism who attended a preschool programme and who were given speech therapy.

Other groups of researchers have also shown that parent training is also an effective way to improve the quality of social interactions between parents and infants with autism. A 2014 study has shown that teaching parents to support their children’s learning during everyday activities results in better language and social communication among toddlers with autism. In another recent study, one-year-olds with autism whose parents received coaching on how to attract their infant’s attention and interest their infant in social interaction games produced better outcomes than peers receiving community-based early intervention and monitoring. A separate 2015 study has also shown that the benefits of parent training over a period of 24 weeks to include a reduction in disruptive and aggressive behaviours among children with autism aged 3 to 7 years (Supernanny also some useful tips…). It’s evident that there are various effective therapeutic options available to families of children with autism.

Interventions which reduce the severity of children’s autistic behaviours are important. But support for families are as, if not more, important. This is particularly true for caregivers and parents of children with autism, who experience a high level of caregiving stress on a daily basis and can be at risk for caregiver burn out. Journal writing has been found to help mothers manage their stress levels, while mothers are less likely to experience depression if their partners share the burden of caregiving. But it’s often easier said than done. Respite care — which provides parents and caregivers with time off to take of themselves — can play an important role for helping parents and caregivers manage their stress. And more public awareness won’t do anybody any harm either.

World Autism Awareness Day is a few months away but there’s no time like the present to support a greater public awareness of autism.

Not happy at work? Try some different solutions

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A 2015 study finds that working long hours (specifically, 55 hours or more a week) is related to a higher risk of stroke and coronary heart disease (more details here). Another 2015 study with data from over 138,000 employees reveals a link between high stress jobs and an elevated risk of stroke. But the more worrying finding is that high job demands lead to poor mental wellbeing, according to a 2015 study of 12,000 workers in Sweden.

And the irony is that working long hours doesn’t increase productivity. So what does?Here are some other things to try:

1. Vote for a water fountain
It’s not a new age suggestion for improving fengshui at the office. Sounds which mask speech in open-plan offices can make conversations by colleagues less distracting, creating a conductive working environment. Rather than white noise, a new study indicates an advantage in using natural sounds such as flowing water. Specifically, the study finds mountain stream sounds to be most effective at masking speech sounds. When your workplace budgets for a coffee machine, why not lobby for a water fountain instead?

2. Grow these plants at the office
A 2015 study finds that taking a mini break from your computer — glancing at a rooftop flower meadow for as little as 40 seconds — boosts concentration. Other studies find that plants in the office can effect as much as a 15% productivity boost. There’s also evidence that our cognitive skills are better preserved in “green working environments” — offices with good ventilation and low levels of indoor pollutants (e.g., formaldehyde fumes from varnishes, plastics, and particleboard in office furniture). In fact, our ability to make strategic decisions and to respond to a crisis situation is enhanced in such a green office. It could be hard to make structural changes to your office building, but you could get a pot or two of Spathiphyllum (aka Peace lily) and Philodendron, both of which have been shown to absorb pollutants by NASA (yes, NASA). And a mini mid-morning break (e.g., spent watering and checking on your plants) has been shown to improve employees’ energy, boosting their productivity (here‘s the science explained)!

And if you lack green fingers, a multi-tasking bouquet of Chrysanthemums can decorate your desk and brighten your day while it cleans the air!

3. Reduce your commute time
It turns out that longer commutes to work contribute to poorer life satisfaction, according to a 2014 study. But the negative effect traffic has on our mental well-being can be mitigated by a familiar factor: Physical activity improves our life satisfaction. A 2015 study links stressful commutes (e.g., heavy traffic, road safety for cyclists, commutes above 35 minutes) to a higher risk of burnout. Opting for a shorter route (e.g., taking a direct bus rather than driving in heavy traffic to work) could be a holistic strategy for managing work stress. Other options include having access to flexible commuting arrangements, although it’s worth noting that research indicates that telecommuting is most beneficial when used in moderation.

4. Widen your social circle
Pay cuts and fewer promotion opportunities during an economic downturn apparently doesn’t automatically result in less motivated employees. It turns out that apart from having purpose at work, social connections at the workplace are a key factor which helps employees manage such challenges. It may be time to organize a group Safari Run at the Zoo and check out the cute newborn giraffe or for the Yolo Run… or try skating at the Christmas Wonderland ice rink at Gardens by the Bay in December (Admission is free!)… or plan for some chill out time at the Laneway Festival in the new year…

5. It ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it
A 2015 study shows that rudeness is contagious: individuals at the receiving end of rudeness are more likely to show rudeness to other people. In contrast, the practice of avoiding offensive language encourages creativity among teams made up of both male and female employees, according to this study about “political correct” speech. Research indicates that positive outcomes are brought about by encouraging employees to suggest ideas for improvement, rather than articulating mistakes or problems at the workplace. Yet other research shows that words of encouragement have been shown to raise productivity by as much as 20% while reducing employees’ mistakes by 40%. As the saying goes, money ain’t everything.

6. Don’t open email after work
A new study shows that we get angry when we read an email that’s negatively worded or which requires a lot of our time outside office hours. And the people who desire work-life balance are most likely to be adversely affected by such emails. Solutions to the problem include equipping employees with strategies for effective electronic communication. But training endeavours take time and require management support. In the meantime…there’s an easy way to avoid the problem — don’t read your emails!

7. Find fulfilment in your work
Employees who feel that their work is meaningful are more likely to have better mental health. Research published in 2015 supports earlier findings that emotional attachment to work is important for reducing absenteeism and enhancing productivity. Questions to ask yourself include, “Am I making good use of my strengths in my job?”, “Am I learning at my job?”, “How am I contributing at work?”…  Not getting any answers? Work through these steps from www.fastcompany.com to find enlightenment.

8. Charity begins at the workplace
Working for a good cause improves productivity as much as 30%. Not everyone wants to share their pay with proceeds to a charity. But a 2015 study finds that when individuals choose to make a lumpsum or performance-based donation to a social cause of their choosing, they’re much more conscientious at the task at hand. So providing your team with the option to donate to a good cause can help motivate and energise them.

9. Provide mental health resources
Tight deadlines and difficult working relationships aren’t the only contributing factors to burnout. A 2014 study finds that difficulties at the home front also affect employees’ mental well-being. Because “mental health in the workplace doesn’t exist in a vacuum“, it’s important that employees have access to training and counselling resources to cope with work-family conflict and parenting/relationship concerns.

 

Manage your stress for a sweeter life

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So, here are the answers to yesterday’s quiz:

1. False. Those with Type 1 diabetes have a pancreas that doesn’t produce insulin. In contrast, the pancreas of those with Type 2 diabetes does produce insulin, but their body is unable to respond to the insulin. Here are the facts.

2. False. Most people have Type 2 diabetes. Those who have Type 1 diabetes usually have the condition before the age of 35 years. And in fact, experts project as many as 1 in 2 locals having diabetes by 2050.

3. True. Regular exercise and an appropriate diet both work to improve insulin sensitivity of people with Type 2 diabetes. Find out more about how exercise helps here. According to research, the total amount of carbohydrates that we consume is important for managing blood sugar levels. Read more to understand why here. You can also find out what it means to “eat right” here.

4. False. The risk of developing heart disease for those with diabetes is 2 to 4 times higher than people who don’t have this condition, and smoking doubles this risk if you have diabetes. Read more here. A 2015 study also found that those with mild cognitive impairment were more likely to progress to dementia (which is linked to heart disease) if they also had diabetes.

5. False. People with diabetes are at a higher risk of developing kidney disease because excessive blood sugar damages the kidneys over time. In fact, studies report that about 10 to 40% of people with Type 2 diabetes will need dialysis due to kidney failure. But research also shows early screening and early treatment to be highly effective for maintaining kidney function.

6. True. In addition to excessive sweating, weight loss, and other symptoms, people with undiagnosed diabetes may notice changes and problems with their vision. Read more about these eye problems here.

7. Experts recommend a balanced diet, regular exercise, and blood sugar monitoring for keeping blood sugar levels stable, not just oral medications and/or insulin injections.

And it’s not just common sense. Research shows that exercise does reduce the risk of diabetes. A 2014 study found that people who lived “walkable neighbourhoods” — neighbourhoods where the shops and amenities were within walking distance — were less likely to develop diabetes.

Here are some practical tips for monitoring blood sugar levels.

As this ADA help sheet suggests, it’s also important to tell yourself that tracking blood sugar levels helps you evaluate how well you’re looking after yourself. Instead of berating yourself for not doing better, try these techniques for managing your emotions.

8. True. Nerve damage and/or poor circulation from excessive blood sugar are the reasons why people with diabetes may experience slower healing from cuts and sores. So it’s particularly important to take care of our feet. Read more about that here.

Did you get all 8 questions correct? Good job!

But recent research shows that a balanced diet and regular exercise aren’t the only lifestyle changes to make in order to get a better handle on one’s diabetes.  In fact, a 2015 study found that chronic stress to be a factor for developing diabetes, while another 2015 study found that people who stay awake later at night have a higher chance of developing diabetes than people who sleep earlier, even when both groups have the same amount of sleep.

So there you have it. The key to having a sweeter life (and lower levels of un-metabolised sugar in your bloodstream): Get to bed earlier and manage your stress!

Did you know?

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A recent study found that there are more younger people with Type 2 diabetes mellitus in Singapore than other countries in Asia. According to the same study, as many as 3 in 10 people have diabetes before the age of 40 years.

Even though diabetes is a condition that’s been known to us since the days when the Egyptians wrote about a “thirsty disease” on papyrus, it’s not always a well-understood condition. What do you know about diabetes? Try this quiz!

True or False?

1. If you have Type 2 diabetes, your body is unable to produce insulin.

2. Type 2 diabetes is more common than Type 1 diabetes.

3. Exercise helps insulin work better for those who have Type 2 diabetes.

4. The risk of developing heart disease for people with diabetes is the same as for those who don’t have diabetes.

5. About 1 in 10 people with diabetes will eventually develop kidney disease.

6. Blurred vision can be a sign of diabetes.

7. The only way for people with diabetes to control blood sugar levels is to take oral medications and/or have insulin injections.

8. Healing from cuts and sores can take longer for those with diabetes.

Find out the answers tomorrow for a healthy World Diabetes Day!

Source: https://www.singhealth.com.sg/…/…/Diabetes-Mellitus.aspx

Friends or a bit more than friends?

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Meeting your match through a dating channel like It’s Just Lunch may not be your cup of tea. Speed dating and online dating isn’t for everyone. And not everyone wants to go to a SDN event or is brave enough to join a Meet Up group. Talk to all those strangers? No thanks!

It’s common sense that we’ll be more likely to meet that special someone if we give ourselves opportunities to meet more people. But it can be hard to find the right context to meet new people. One way to make new friends is, of course, to get passionate about something.

You could for example, get a new hobby. As an alternative to gym-based classes like zumba, yoga, and pilates, you could get fit while making new friends during bootcamp training sessions, which are conducted at different outdoor locations across the island. Social dancing which involves spending lots and lots of time with other people, even after you finish the initial classes, like argentine tangosalsa, west coast swing, and lindy hop, can provide many opportunities to widen your social network. Learning a musical instrument like the ukelele could lead to spending more time with your newly acquired friends to jam and practise after the initial lessons. Helping out at a soup kitchen or dog shelter could bring you closer to someone with like-minded interests.

But getting a hobby which involves meeting lots of other people is only the first step. Making friends is the next step. Just like being on a first date, we sometimes need a bit of help to make friends. Here are 6 tips to help you get to know your new friends better!

1. Playing hard to get can backfire. Research finds that men view women as more attractive when women respond to them rather than take an aloof stance. In contrast, women prefer men who are less responsive. Apparently, men who show eagerness to please seem to come across as manipulative and/or desperate. So, men might want to remain mysterious…at least initially.

2. Pursue interesting conversations. Rather than asking what the other person does for a living, experts advocate asking questions which invite interesting conversations. It could be that couples respond similarly to a question like “have you ever traveled to another country alone?” (this question was a good predictor of romantic compatibility in a 2011 online dating poll), illustrating the wisdom that birds of a feather flock together. But unusual questions can make for interesting conversations and a chance to show genuine interest in the other person.

3. Practice makes perfect. Starting a conversation with someone you don’t really know can feel awkward, but research says that we can get better if we practise. One way is to find someone who’s alone at a gathering or event and begin a conversation.

4. Use humour in your interactions. But do it only if you’re funny! Research shows that the more times a man tries to be funny and the more times a woman laughs at his jokes, the more likely she is to be romantically interested.

5. Are you speaking the same language? Research suggests that interested parties speak in a similar way. The person you’re trying to make a connection with is more likely to respond positively to you if he or she is using the same kind of personal pronouns you use (e.g., “I” and “we” rather than “it” and “that”). Other research finds that we change the way we talk when speaking to someone we’ve a romantic interest in – women lower their pitch while men raise theirs. Even our gestures and facial expressions become more similar to that of the person we’re attracted to. Using the same expressions, so to speak, can be a useful hint about the other person’s interest in you!

6. Paint the town red! A 2008 study found that men were more attracted to women if they were wearing a red shirt than if the shirt was in a different colour. Sometimes, all we need is a little bit of encouragement and help in the wardrobe department! But be warned, it doesn’t work the other way around…

Are you addicted to your smart device?

I can’t concentrate on work because I’m on my smartphone.
I’d rather be on my smartphone than do other things that I’m supposed to.
I feel anxious when I don’t have my smartphone with me.
I can’t imagine not having a smartphone (even for a day).
I have repetitive strain injury because of overuse of my smartphone.
I often use my smartphone for much longer periods than I had planned to.

…are the kind of things that someone with a smartphone addiction might admit to. So say the experts. And also the kind of questions which Korean teenagers were asked in a 2013 PLOS One study about smartphone addiction.

It’s not clear whether we’re a nation addicted to smartphones. Candy crush, maybe… TV drama and youtube videos which we can watch anywhere anytime now thanks to our mega data plans and wifi hotspots, yes… Preoccupied with trying to create social envy on facebook, ok maybe.

Clearly some people think so. That’s why a bunch of Republic Poly students have come up with their own app to increase face time (thus avoiding the situation where everyone at the dinner table is busy on their own and not in a conversation).

But smartphone addictions aren’t a new type of addiction. In fact, “technology addictions actually share the same underlying mechanisms as other addictions” (Asia’s smartphone addictionBBC, 7 Sept 2015).

But if you are trying to kick the habit, you can use technology to solve your problem! Consider installing two desktop applications — Self-control and Freedom. They block your ability to surf the net for the number of hours which you’ve set aside for work. Manage your smartphone addiction with Focus Lock and Pause — two apps which lock specific apps for a customized amount of time. You can also install an app— Anti-Social — to prevent you from checking Facebook while you work. Even better, you can install Offtime which is an Android app which allows calls get through and essential apps to function while you get on with the important stuff.

And no, Facebook and Instagram aren’t essential apps.

And don’t forget to take that phone off the dinner table!

 

6 Easy Ways to Prevent Cognitive Decline

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According to a recent study, 1 in 10 people above the age of 60 years in Singapore has dementia, which is a “syndrome in which there is deterioration in memory, thinking, behaviour and the ability to perform everyday activities” (WHO).

If someone were to ask you how you can prevent dementia, you might be tempted to say that an active brain is the answer. Challenging your brain to do something difficult like learn a new language, dance, sport, or musical instrument does delay the symptoms of dementia by several years, but it may not lower your risk of dementia. A 2015 study found that those who had cognitively demanding jobs were less likely to show signs of dementia at the age of 75 years and above, and another recent study found that bilinguals were less likely to show signs of dementia compared to monolinguals, while earlier studies have already shown that learning to master something that you’re not already expert at, such as mahjong or tai chi, improves your cognitive skills if you have mild dementia.

So what causes dementia?

That’s not an easy question to answer. But research in the last decade has identified what makes it more likely for us to develop dementia.

Having diabetes increases our risk. A 12-year-long 2015 study conducted in Taiwan has found that individuals with diabetes have a higher risk of dementia, and that risk increases further with diabetes complications such as blindness and kidney failure.

But it’s not just diabetes. In fact, research shows that the factors which put us at risk for cardiovascular disease leading to heart attacks and strokes — alcohol consumption, smoking, and obesity — are also risk factors for dementia. Research shows that as many as 50% of people have dementia because of known risk factors such as physical inactivity, depression, smoking, mid-life hypertension, mid-life obesity, and diabetes.

So what lowers our risk?

The answer is exerciseOne study estimates that physical inactivity is the reason for over 20% of the population to have dementia in US, UK, and Europe, while a 2013 study found that the risk of dementia at age 85 to 94 was 60% lower for men who maintained 4 out of 5 healthy lifestyle habits (regular exercise, not smoking, a low body weight, a healthy diet, and low alcohol intake) than those without these habits (with exercise being the main cause for lowering the risk of dementia).

But what if we’re already doing all those things. We exercise the recommended number of hours a week, if not more, and we don’t smoke…our BMI is within the healthy range and our lifelong goal is pursuing a wonderful diet of fruits and vegetables.

What else can we do to prevent cognitive decline? Here are few things we can do…

1. Spend less time sitting down because a 2015 study found that the more we sat down, the higher our chance of heart disease, obesity, and diabetes (…and dementia).

2. Get a creative hobby because a recent study which followed older adults for 4 years found that those active in arts and craft were less likely to experience cognitive decline.

3. Spice up your food because a recent study found that a once-a-week intake of chilli lowered the rate of cancers, respiratory diseases, and ischemic heart disease. The authors didn’t report its effects on dementia though. Instead, spice in the form of tumeric (curcumin) has been found to be useful for repairing brain cells affected by dementia.

4. Eat leafy green vegetables because a 2015 study found that cognitive decline was slower among those who regularly ate spinach, kale, collards, and mustard greens. And go easy on the meat and cheese (Why? Read this article on the Blue Zones to learn more).

5. Increase your intake of walnuts because a new study suggests that they delay the progression of Alzheimers.

6. Incorporate eggs, bananas, dark chocolate, avocado, blueberries, and omega-3-rich foods into your diet because a collection of studies show that omega-3 fatty acids, choline, magnesium, and cocoa flavanols are among the nutrients which support brain functioning.

There are 6 easy steps to support brain functioning and delay cognitive decline, but preventing dementia requires regular exercise, a diet of vegetables, fruits, and no tobacco, good control of blood sugars, and good mental well-being. No one said it’d be easy…