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News From the World of Medicine

A back pain myth debunked, the new way to detect Alzheimer's, and more from the latest health news and research.

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Back Pain Myth

Grandpa was wrong — stormy skies didn’t make his lower back ache. Australian researchers studied 993 primary care patients for a year, comparing the weather when patients noticed acute back pain with weather reports for a week and a month before the onset of pain. Patients commonly believe weather affects back pain, but the study showed that painful episodes were not associated with factors such as temperature and precipitation. 

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A Microwave That Counts Calories?

Someday you might pop your plate into a countertop gadget and press Count instead of Cook. General Electric Global Research has developed a prototype that emits enough microwave energy to estimate calories in food — without heating it up. Microwaves have different signatures when they travel through fat, carbs, or water, which could allow this technology to calculate how much of each is in your food. Researchers hope to release a counting device in the next few years.

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Eyes: A Window to Alzheimer’s Disease

Researchers used special technology to examine participants’ retinas for deposits of amyloid beta, found in plaques that build up in the brain and contribute to degeneration in Alzheimer’s patients. Based on participants’ PET brain scans, researchers found that amyloid levels in the eye correlated with those in the brain. This means a simple eye exam may detect Alzheimer’s decades before patients have symptoms and could help monitor disease progression.

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When Optimism Backfires

People with low self-esteem don’t want a pep talk during hard times, according to a new study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. In a series of experiments with young adults, researchers discovered that participants with low self-esteem found “positive reframing” — encouraging people to see the glass as half full — far less helpful than did people with high self-esteem. Participants with low self-esteem preferred supporters who just acknowledged that their situation was difficult.

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Blame Parents for Teens’ Distracted Driving

Parents can distract their driving teens, even when they’re not in the vehicle. In a recent study of more than 400 teens presented at an American Psychological Association meeting, 53 percent of those who talked on the phone while driving said they did so to chat with parents. Others said they used phones on the road because they saw their parents do so. Ask your kids if they are driving when they call or text. Tell them to get in touch when they’re off the road.

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Screens to Eliminate Reading Glasses

UC Berkeley, MIT, and Microsoft researchers recently introduced a prototype that can make a digital screen correct a user’s vision. A filter is clipped onto a phone, tablet, or other device, and the user downloads software to input his or her individual prescription. The filter then interacts with the screen to re-create the corrected vision that glasses would offer. The inventors estimate that the technology could be on the market within about five years. They expect the filter would be available for less than $20, and the software would cost just a few dollars. 

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Why Older Adults Are Early Birds

In a recent study in the journal Psychology and Aging, researchers gave young adults (ages 19 to 30) and older adults (ages 60 to 82) memory tests paired with unrelated words and photos at different times of the day. Young adults had a zero percent distraction rate regardless of the time. Older adults had an 11 percent distraction rate in the afternoon, while those tested in the morning had only a 7 percent distraction rate. The difference is big enough to make early hours optimal for seniors to tackle difficult tasks like doing taxes.

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Music Can Make You Mighty Strong

Researchers from Northwestern and Columbia Universities and France found that people who listened to bass-heavy music reported feeling more powerful than those who listened to the same tunes with a reduced bass level. They also generated more power-related words in a word-completion task. Deep bass sounds are associated with dominance (think James Earl Jones as Darth Vader).

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest