Brain scans may help predict treatment response for depression

Some one in five patients drop out of mental health-care treatment, often because their first treatment didn’t work. Is there a way to predict what will?

A growing number of psychologists and other scientists are using MRI, fMRI and PET on a quest to find out. Although it’s still in the very early stages, their research suggests that clinicians may one day be able to match patients to effective treatments and ease symptoms faster by using information from brain imaging, along with other biomarkers such as DNA and hormone levels.

“It’s possible that within our lifetimes you will go to your doctor’s office, give blood, and if it’s not prohibitively expensive, get an fMRI,” says Gabriel Dichter, PhD, an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of North Carolina. “We accept it as part of standard care of neurology and cancer care, so why not for mental health?” Read more

Smart lighting may ease Alzheimer’s symptoms and help teens sleep

Mariana Figueiro wlth her blue light table.
Mariana Figueiro wlth her blue light table.

As evening approaches in the dementia ward at the Albany County Nursing Home, patients’ irritability and confusion rises. Come nighttime, many residents have problems sleeping — wandering, wheeling or perhaps falling in the halls.

So two years ago, health researchers installed what the home’s nurse manager Karen Pitcher calls “the miracle table,” a repurposed flat screen TV that emits a bluish-white light. They gathered residents around it at mealtimes, and allowed them to congregate there whenever they pleased from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. The goal was to help stimulate the residents’ circadian rhythms — the hormones that ebb and flow according to light and other signals — and help correct the sleep disorders that are all too common among the ward’s elderly patients, especially those with dementia.

The miracle table worked some wonders. What happened wasn’t a complete reversal of symptoms, but was significant nonetheless for many patients. Read more

Great expectations: New research is leading to an understanding of how placebos work

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For decades, placebo response was generally seen as “an uninteresting source of noise that interfered with pharmacological research,” says Bret Rutherford, MD, assistant professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University. But these days, scientists are studying placebos as a psychobiological phenomenon and the placebo response as a potentially important part of the success of many medical treatments. Read more