TIME neuroscience

A Drug Has Been Found That Reverses a Precursor to Alzheimer’s

Researchers now want to proceed to substantial clinical trials

Researchers at John Hopkins University have found that low doses of a drug more commonly used to treat epilepsy can reverse a condition that increases the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

According to statements issued Wednesday, the epilepsy drug, called antiepileptic levetiracetam, calms hyperactivity in the brain — a well-documented symptom of people with amnestic mild cognitive impairment, which is a condition that heightens the possibility of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

The team, lead by neuroscientist Michela Gallagher, now wants to pursue substantial clinical trials.

“What we want to discover now, is whether treatment over a longer time will prevent further cognitive decline and delay or stop progression to Alzheimer’s dementia,” Gallagher said.

The researchers studied 84 people with an average age of 70. Participants received various doses of the drug, as well as a placebo, and the scientists used imaging technology to map brain activity.

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

This Is Where Young People Are More Likely to Commit Suicide

Gun ownership may be affecting youth suicide rates, study finds

Young people who live in rural areas kill themselves at twice the rate as youth who live in cities, according to a new study in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

There aren’t clear-cut explanations for suicide, but geographical differences seem to play a role, the researchers found. People who live in rural areas have less access to mental-health services, more stigma surrounding help-seeking and freer access to guns than their urban counterparts.

The study, which looked at data from more than 66,000 young people ages 10 to 24 who died by suicide in the U.S., found that the gap between the urban and rural suicide rates grew significantly from 1996 to 2010.

About half of the people in the sample used a firearm to end their lives, followed by a third who died by suffocation. In rural communities, young people were more likely to use a gun — no coincidence, according to the study authors, since suicide rates in urban communities dropped alongside a decline in urban gun ownership.

Geography may partially explain the difference between rural and urban suicide rates, according to the study. Mental-health services can be harder to access in rural areas; more than half of rural communities in the U.S. don’t have a local mental-health worker like a psychiatrist or psychologist. Those who do have access to mental-health resources may be reluctant to use them because of stigma, and self-reliance is often seen as virtue in rural communities, the study says. Remote locations also mean smaller social networks and fewer people to rely on providing help. High unemployment and flailing economies have also depressed small towns.

MORE: Suicide Rate for Young Women Rises in U.S.

An editorial accompanying the study by Frederick Rivara, M.D., professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington, acknowledges that political forces make tougher gun laws unlikely. He argues instead for storing weapons safely. Various safe storage methods, including trigger locks and gun safes, can reduce the risk of suicide by as much as 70%, Rivara writes.

“The problem of suicide and the issue of firearms are very complex public health concerns,” writes Rivara. “But, in the United States, they also appear to be integrally linked and demand our attention.”

TIME Sex/Relationships

Divorce More Likely When Wife Gets Seriously Ill, Study Finds

'Life-or-death experiences may cause people to re-evaluate what’s important in their lives'

A marriage is more likely to end in divorce when a wife is seriously ill, according to a new study.

The study, published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, found that a marriage was 6% more likely to end in divorce when a wife was diagnosed with serious illness than in marriages where the wife remained healthy. The study looked at data from more than 2,700 marriages with at least one partner over the age of 50. A husband’s illness did not affect the chances of divorce.

The study did not explain how illness may have led to divorce, but lead author Amelia Karraker said that illness can stress a marriage in many ways.

“Life-or-death experiences may cause people to re-evaluate what’s important in their lives,” said Karraker, an assistant professor at Iowa State University. “It could be that women are saying, ‘You’re doing a bad job of caring for me,’ ‘I’m not happy with this,’ or ‘I wasn’t happy with the relationship to begin with.’”

Nearly a third of the marriages evaluated ended in divorce while nearly a quarter ended in the death of one spouse.

TIME Research

Suicide Rate for Young Women Rises in U.S.

But young men are still three times more likely to commit suicide than women

The suicide rate among young women has risen in the U.S., leading to an overall uptick in cases, despite a falling number for young men taking their own lives.

A weekly report issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) analyzed data from 1994 to 2012 and found the suicide rate of women ages 10 to 24 years old rose from 2.7 to 3.2 cases per 100,000. Additionally, the report says there has been a significant climb of suicides since 2007 when measured across all genders.

However, young men are still three times more likely to commit suicide than women. The rate fell from 15.7 to 11.9 per 100,000 in 1994. Furthermore, since 2007 the suicide rate also increased after a significant decrease between 1994 and 2007.

The CDC reported that 17% of high school students have seriously considered suicide, and 8% have attempted to kill themselves more than once.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: March 4

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. We’re measuring family poverty wrong. We should measure access to opportunity to find out what’s really working.

By the Annie E. Casey Foundation

2. Anxiety, depression and more: “Four to five times more” high school athletes struggle with mental health issues than concussions.

By Gary Mihoces in USA Today

3. They provide social order and an economic structure. What if prison gangs actually make life better behind bars?

By Shannon Mizzi in Wilson Quarterly

4. Scientists have released the genetic sequence of the 2014 Ebola virus to crowdsource solutions to future outbreaks.

By Fathom Information Design

5. If new technology really cut jobs, we’d all be out of work by now.

By Walter Isaacson in the Aspen Journal of Ideas

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME animals

Quiz: Is Your Dog Crazy?

Take this quiz and find out

A dog’s brain and your brain have very similar chemistry and many similar structures. It stands to reason they work in more or less the same way—and break down the same way too. More and more, behavioral veterinarians are diagnosing problems as diverse as depression, anger, dementia and post-traumatic stress disorder in dogs. As with humans, treatment involves behavioral therapy and sometimes even drugs. But first you have to know if a problem exists at all. Here are some of the symptoms veterinarians consider in making a diagnosis.

 

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

How Facebook Is Helping Suicidal People

Facebook will offer suicide prevention resources to users posting troubling messages

Facebook is going to give timelier help to users who post updates suggesting thoughts of suicide, the company announced on Wednesday.

According to a Facebook post written by Product Manager Rob Boyle and Safety Specialist Nicole Staubli, a trained team will review reports of posts that appear to be suicidal and if necessary send the poster notifications with suicide prevention resources, such as a connection to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline hotline.

The Facebook support posts are expected to look something like this:

Facebook-Suicide-Prevention-hotline-posts
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They also will contact the person reporting the posts, providing them with options to call or message the potentially suicidal friend, or to also seek the advice of a trained professional.

The new approach is an update on a clunkier system, implemented in 2011, that required users to upload links and screenshots to the official Facebook suicide prevention page.

For the project, Facebook worked with suicide prevention organizations Forefront: Innovations in Suicide Prevention, Now Matters Now, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and Save.org.

The company was clear that the update was not a replacement for local emergency services.

TIME Oscars

These Four Policy Issues Got Our Attention at the Oscars

Hollywood is never shy about sharing its thoughts on politics, especially on Oscar night. But after the acceptance speeches fade, what happens next? Here’s a look at the status of several issues raised at the Academy Awards ceremony Sunday night.

Patricia Arquette, “Boyhood,” on Equal Pay

The issue: The Pew Research Center estimates that women earn 84 percent of what men earn, though the gender pay gap has narrowed since the 1980s. This is the rare issue that also affects Hollywood. The 10 highest-paid actors were paid $419 million in 2013 while their female counterparts earned $226 million, barely half as much.

What Arquette said: “To every woman who gave birth to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else’s equal rights. It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women in the United States of America.”

The outlook: Legislation introduced last year would have made it illegal for companies to retaliate against employees who share how much they make, a key step in ensuring men and women are paid equally. It failed to pass the Senate and is dead in the current Republican Congress. Some states, such as Vermont, are tackling the issue, however.

Common and John Legend, “Selma,” on Racial Justice in the U.S.

The issue: Racial disparities persist decades after the events depicted in Selma. In their acceptance speech, singers John Legend and Common highlighted two: the high rate of incarceration among black men and changes in voting rights laws, such as requirements that voters show government ID at polling stations.

What Legend said: “We know that the Voting Rights Act that they fought for 50 years ago is being compromised right now in this country today. We know that right now, the struggle for freedom and justice is real. We live in the most incarcerated country in the world. There are more black men under correctional control today then were under slavery in 1850.”

The outlook: Protests over how police have handled black male suspects have given the cause momentum. The Eric Garner case helped inspire New York City officials to begin to rethink their approach to policing. Activists on the left and right are coming together to push for reforms to the criminal justice system, though voting rights legislation isn’t going anywhere in Congress.

Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu, “Birdman,” on Immigration Reform

The issue: Immigration reform has been a hot button political issue for years. Millions of undocumented immigrants live in the U.S. and there’s widespread disagreement about how they should be addressed.

What Iñarritu said: “I want to dedicate this award for my fellow Mexicans, the ones who live in Mexico. I pray that we can build the government that we deserve. And the ones living in this country who are part of the latest generation of immigrants in this country, I just pray that they can be treated with the same dignity and respect of the ones who come before and built this incredible nation.”

The outlook: Immigration reform is a thorny issue, and legislators in Washington repeatedly have had trouble finding common ground. President Obama took action on his own, taking executive actions providing temporary legal status to millions of immigrants. Still, those actions remain contested in court and Congress isn’t likely to do much on this issue.

Ellen Goosenberg Kent and Dana Perry, “Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1,” on Veteran Suicide

The issue: Twenty-two veterans commit suicide everyday — a rate that more than double the rate in the general population. While the Veterans Affairs Department provides mental health services, mental health experts say many the veteran culture makes many hesitant to take advantage of the resources.

What Kent said: “This immense and incredible honor goes to the veterans and their families who are brave enough to ask for help.” What Perry said: “I want to dedicate this to my son Evan Perry, we lost him to suicide, we should talk about suicide out loud.”

The outlook: President Obama recently signed the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act, which creates an outreach system for veterans suffering from mental health issues and provides financial incentives to encourage psychiatric doctors to treat veterans. The law is a good start, but activists working to stem suicide say the issue requires more attention.

TIME People

Why Some Blamed Poetry for Sylvia Plath’s Death

Grave Of Sylvia Plath
Amy T. Zielinski—Getty Images A photograph of Sylvia Plath (1932 - 1963) on her grave at St Thomas a Beckett churchyard, Heptonstall, West Yorkshire, May 5, 2011.

Feb. 11, 1963: Sylvia Plath commits suicide

What drove Sylvia Plath to her death was painfully clear to her psychiatrist: clinical depression. But after the acclaimed poet, just 30 years old, committed suicide on this day, Feb. 11, in 1963, her friends, fans, and biographers were eager to blame the tragedy instead on a flesh-and-blood villain.

There were several contenders to choose from. The most obvious was her estranged husband, the poet Ted Hughes, who had recently abandoned Plath and their two young children to run off with his mistress. The fact that his mistress committed suicide six years later, just as Plath had done — by putting her head in an oven and turning on the gas — underlined his guilt in the eyes of the Daily Mail and many others.

TIME took the Freudian approach, and in its review of the poetry collection Plath produced in her final months alive, points its finger at her father, “an intellectual tyrant” who was a professor of entomology at Boston University. (In true Freudian style, it also implicated Plath’s mother, “a metallic New England schoolmarm.”)

TIME offered as evidence a scathing centerpiece of Plath’s final collection, Ariel, a poem that ends, “daddy, you bastard, I’m through.” “‘Daddy’ was its title; its subject was her morbid love-hatred of her father; its style was as brutal as a truncheon,” the review notes. “What is more, ‘Daddy’ was merely the first jet of flame from a literary dragon who in the last months of her life breathed a burning river of bale across the literary landscape.”

It’s possible, of course, that Plath’s parents played a subtler role in her death, by giving her the genetic makeup that predisposed her to depression — or as the Daily Mail suggests, less subtly, a “suicide gene.” If so, it may have been passed down to another generation. Plath’s son, Nicholas Hughes, who was barely a year old when she died, also committed suicide, at 47, following a lifelong battle with depression.

Depression aside, some saw poetry as the weapon at work in Plath’s undoing — among them Plath, who wrote, “The blood jet is poetry; There is no stopping it.” In the months leading up to her death, she wrote feverishly, hemorrhaging words, barely sleeping. “Most of the night she wrote ‘like a woman on fire’ — two, three, six complete poems night after night,” TIME attested. “Her fire was black and its name was hatred. Her words were hard and small like missiles, and they were flung with flat force.”

The poet Robert Lowell, Plath’s onetime teacher, concurred. In his preface to her poetry collection, he writes that Plath’s poems “play Russian roulette with six cartridges in the cylinder.”

Read TIME’s first review of The Bell Jar, here in the TIME Vault: Lady Lazarus

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