Year in Healthcare Ideas (Excerpts from the NY Times List)

Tuesday, December 11th, 2007
This post was written by Melanie Matthews

I always look forward to the annual New York Times Magazine “Year in Ideas” issue, which appeared on Sunday. Of the 70 ideas presented this year, at least seven have direct applications for health coaches, disease managers and caregivers:

Alzheimers’ 50-Question Telephone Screening

This year, researchers completed work on a 50-question telephone quiz to help them identify Alzheimer’s patients long before they exhibit typical symptoms. Such a quiz may soon become part of regular medical care.

The Appendix Rationale

For years, the appendix got no respect. Doctors regarded it as nothing but a source of trouble: It didn’t seem to do anything, and it sometimes got infected and required an emergency removal. Plus, nobody ever suffered from not having an appendix. So human biologists assumed that the tiny, worm-shaped organ is vestigial — a shrunken remainder of some organ our ancestors required. In a word: Useless.

Now that old theory has been upended. In a December issue of The Journal of Theoretical Biology, a group of scientists announce they have solved the riddle of the appendix.

Hope Can Be Worse Than Hopelessness

People often display a remarkable ability to adapt to adversity, bouncing back to their usual levels of happiness despite extreme hardships. But people don’t always rebound, and scientists have long wondered what factors might account for the difference. In a talk at Harvard in September, a team of researchers suggested that one obstacle to emotional recovery, oddly enough, is hope — the belief that your current hardship is temporary.

Mindful Exercise

Simply by telling 44 hotel maids that what they did each day involved some serious exercise, the Harvard psychologist Ellen Langer and Alia J. Crum, a student, were apparently able to lower the women’s blood pressure, shave pounds off their bodies and improve their body-fat and “waist to hip” ratios. Self-awareness, it seems, was the women’s elliptical trainer.

Quitting Can Be Good for You

But new research suggests that success — or more specifically, the persistence required to achieve hard-to-reach goals — may not be worth it. In a paper published in the September issue of the journal Psychological Science, Gregory Miller of the University of British Columbia and Carsten Wrosch of Concordia University found that teenage girls who are unable to disengage themselves from trying to attain hard-to-reach goals exhibited increased levels of the inflammatory molecule C-reactive protein (C.R.P.), which in adults is linked with diabetes, heart disease and early aging.

Right to Medical Self-Defense

Citing the concept of “medical self-defense,” U.C.L.A. law professor Eugene Volokh contended that a dying American should have the right to buy any drug that has passed the F.D.A.’s preliminary safety tests. Currently, the F.D.A. insists that most terminally ill patients await, like everyone else, full proof of a drug’s safety and efficacy.

Two Birds with One Stone Resistance

To kill two birds with one stone — what could be better? But it turns out that if you have just one goal in mind, chances are you’ll actually be less inclined to take a path that also happens to serve other goals. Foolishly, you’ll resist the more advantageous approach…What happens, the researchers showed through other studies, is that connecting one tool or method to multiple goals weakens the mental association between that means and any one goal. Take jogging, for instance. Participants in one study were informed that jogging both strengthens muscles and increases the body’s level of oxygen. But after the researchers subliminally reinforced the participants’ association between jogging and one of those goals — strengthening muscles — participants irrationally deemed jogging less effective for boosting oxygen.

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