By Darius Tahir
In the fall of 2012, Nick Valilis was diagnosed with leukemia just as he was starting medical school. In treatment he found it difficult to remember to take his medications at the proper time and in the right order.
“He struggled handling the sheer complexity,” said Rahul Jain, Valilis' classmate at Duke University. “He went from no meds to 10 meds a day. How is an 85-year-old cancer patient supposed to handle that same regimen?”
Since then, Jain, Valilis and a few other Duke classmates have formed a startup company called TowerView Health with the goal of making it easier for patients to manage their medication regimens. Jain is CEO of the company, which was incorporated last year; Valilis is chief medical officer. They are about to launch a clinical trial, in partnership with Independence Blue Cross and Penn Medicine in Philadelphia, to test whether their technological solution helps patients understand and comply with their drug regimens.
That could be an important innovation. Poor medication adherence is estimated to cause as much as $290 billion a year in higher U.S. medical costs, as well as a big chunk of medication-related hospital admissions.
TowerView has developed software and hardware that reminds patients and their clinicians about medication schedules, and warns them when a patient is falling off track.
Dr. Ron Brooks, senior medical director for clinical services at Independence Blue Cross, said he thinks TowerView's solution is a notable improvement over previous medication-adherence technology. “Most of the apps I've seen are reminder apps,” he said. “It might remind you to take a medication, but you have to input that you actually take it. There's no closing of the loop.” By contrast, TowerView automatically provides reminders and tracking, with the opportunity for clinician follow-up.
Here's how TowerView's system works. When clinicians prescribe drugs and develop a medications schedule for a patient, the scrips and schedule are sent to a mail-order pharmacy that has partnered with TowerView. The pharmacy splits the medications into the scheduled dosages on a prescription-drug tray. The tray is labeled with the schedule and sent to the patient, who places the tray into an electronic pillbox, which senses when pills are taken out of each tray compartment.
The pillbox sensors communicate with connected software through a cellular radio when patients have taken their pills and when it's time to remind them—either through a text message, phone call or the pillbox lighting up—that they've missed a dose. The system also compiles information for providers about the patient's history of missed doses, enabling the provider to personally follow up with the patient.
But some question whether tech solutions are the most effective way to improve medication adherence. A 2013 literature review in the Journal of the American Pharmacists Association identified nearly 160 medication-adherence apps and found poor-quality research evidence supporting their use.
Experts say it's not clear whether apps and devices can address the underlying reasons why patients don't comply with their drug regimens. For instance, patients simply might not like taking their drugs because of side effects or other issues. “I'd wager that improved adherence—and a range of other health benefits—are ultimately more likely to be achieved not by clever apps and wireless gadgets, but rather by an empathetic physician who understands, listens and is trusted by her patients,” Dr. David Shaywitz, chief medical officer at DNAnexus, a network for sharing genomic data, recently wrote.
Jain doesn't disagree. He notes that his firm's system empowers empathetic clinicians to provide better care. “This solution allows more of a communication element,” he said. “We'll be able to understand why patients don't take their meds.”
That system soon will be put to the test in a randomized clinical trial. TowerView and Independence Blue Cross are enrolling 150 diabetic patients who are noncompliant with their medication regimens; half of those participants will receive usual care. The goal is to improve compliance by at least 10% over six months.
If it works, Jain and his company hope to sell the product to insurers and integrated healthcare providers working under risk-based contracts. The idea is that patients' improved adherence will reduce providers' hospitalization and other costs and boost their financial performance.
When Canadian science graduate Christopher Charles visited Cambodia six years ago, he discovered that anemia was a huge public health problem. Almost half of the population is iron deficient. Instead of bright, bouncing children, Dr Charles found many were small and weak with slow mental development.
But one little fish is changing all that.
The standard solution - iron supplements or tablets to increase iron intake - isn't working. The tablets are neither affordable nor widely available, and because of the side-effects, people don't like taking them.
Enter: The Iron Fish.
Dr Charles' invention, shaped like a fish - which is a symbol of luck in Cambodian culture - releases iron at the right concentration while cooking. One Lucky Iron Fish can provide an entire family with up to 75% of their daily iron intake for up to 5 years.
It’s a simple, affordable, and effective solution anyone can use.
"Boil up water or soup with the iron fish for at least 10 minutes," says Dr Charles. "You can then take it out. Now add a little lemon juice which is important for the absorption of the iron."
According to their website, after 9 months of using the Lucky Iron Fish every day, researches saw a 50% decrease in the incidence of clinical iron deficiency anemia, and an increase in users' iron levels.
And this is just the beginning.
By Kimberly Yam
A toy company is taking a step in the right direction.
After parents of children with disabilities called for more diversity in kids' toys through social media campaign, Toy Like Me, MakieLab, a 3-D-printing toy company based in London, announced last week that it will help make that a reality.
Inspired by pictures on the Toy Like Me Facebook page of "hand-modified toys" with canes, wheelchairs and other additions parents made to reflect their kids' disabilities, the company has begun designing inclusive accessories, like hearing aids and walking aids, to go with their 3-D-printed, customizable "Makies" dolls
The first wave of products has been produced and is ready to hit the online store, a press release indicated.
The company is also testing made-to-order facial birthmark accessories, and is working on a toy wheelchair, a k-frame walker and a longer cane, according to Buzzfeed.
The dolls themselves cost around $115.
MakieLab Chief Technology Officer Matthew Wiggins said that the company's unique doll-making process, which is done through 3-D printing and without mass production, allows Makies to be create more inclusive toys.
"It’s fantastic that our supercharged design and manufacturing process means we can respond to a need that’s not met by traditional toy companies," he said in a statement.
Other toymakers have also been making an effort to create products that reflect real people. Last year, artist and researcher Nickolay Lamm released the "Lammily" dolls-- a line of dolls that are realistically proportioned. The toys have measurements that represent the average 19-year-old American girl and come with a set of stickers to add marks to the dolls, including acne and stretch marks.
"It can show that you don't have to be perfect," one girl said in reaction to the dolls, in a video about the product.
A small study by researchers at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center found that a workplace mindfulness-based intervention reduced stress levels of employees exposed to a highly stressful occupational environment, according to a news release.
Members of a surgical ICU at the academic medical center were randomized to a stress-reduction intervention or a control group. The eight-week group intervention included mindfulness, gentle stretching, yoga, meditation and music therapy in the workplace. Psychological and biological markers of stress were measured one week before and one week after the intervention to see if these coping strategies would help reduce stress and burnout among participants.
Results of this study, published in the April 2015 issue of Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, showed levels of the chemical salivary alpha amylase, were significantly decreased from the first to second assessments in the intervention group. The control group showed no changes. Chronic stress and stress reactivity have been found associated with increased levels of salivary alpha amylase, according to the release. Psychological components of stress and burnout were measured using well-established self-report questionnaires. “Our study shows that this type of mindfulness-based intervention in the workplace could decrease stress levels and the risk of burnout,” one of the study’s authors, Maryanna Klatt, PhD, associate clinical professor in the department of family medicine at Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center, said in the release. “What’s stressful about the work environment is never going to change. But what we were interested in changing was the nursing personnel’s reaction to those stresses.”
Klatt said salivary alpha amylase, which is a biomarker of the sympathetic nervous system activation, was reduced by 40% in the intervention group.
Klatt, who is a trained mindfulness and certified yoga instructor, developed and led the mindfulness-based intervention for 32 participants in the workplace setting. At baseline, participants scored the level of stress of their work at 7.15 on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the most stressful. The levels of work stress did not change between the first and second set of assessments, but their reaction to the work stress did change, according to the release.
When stress is part of the work environment, it is often difficult to control and can negatively affect employees’ health and ability to function, lead author Anne-Marie Duchemin, PhD, research scientist and associate professor adjunct in the department of psychiatry and behavioral health at Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center, said in the release. “People who are subjected to chronic stress often will exhibit symptoms of irritability, nervousness, feeling overwhelmed; have difficulty concentrating or remembering; or having changes in appetite, sleep, heart rate and blood pressure,” Duchemin said ih the release. “Although work-related stress often cannot be eliminated, effective coping strategies may help decrease its harmful effects.”
The study was funded in part by the OSU Harding Behavioral Health Stress, Trauma and Resilience Program, part of Ohio State’s Neurological Institute.
Gary Morley and Lisa Cohen
Every time she competes in a race, she knows she'll collapse in a sobbing heap at the finish line.
Unable to feel her legs, she'll crumple into the arms of her athletics coaches. Ice-cold water will be applied to calm the misfiring nerve fibers blazing beneath her numb skin.
The teenager has gone through this post-race trauma for the past five years since being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
"Every day that I run, it might be my last day -- I could easily wake up tomorrow and not be able to move," the 19-year-old American tells CNN's Human to Hero series.
"My initial MS attack caused lesions and scarring on my brain and my spine that affects the areas that are in control of how I feel my legs. So when I am overheated the symptoms reappear because my neurones start misfiring more.
"You can never really get used to the lack of feeling and the change of sensation, no matter how long you go through it. Every time it is still a bit of a shock and it's scary -- it freaks me out a little bit."
After five to 10 minutes she's able to get back on her feet again and start walking around, albeit a little stiffly as feeling slowly returns to her lower body.
It sounds like a nightmare ordeal that would put anyone off an athletics career, but Montgomery is determined to pursue her running dream.
She's actually faster now than before her diagnosis -- which, she says, was a painfully long and uncertain process following an accident playing soccer, falling hard on her neck and tailbone.
"It was really scary. I was so young. Most people with MS aren't diagnosed until their mid to late 20s, 30s. There wasn't anybody my age to relate to and understand what I was going through," she recalls.
"It took so long to get back results and we were ruling things out and leaving MS as the last option. For a while they thought maybe it was cancer."
When the diagnosis finally came, it sent Montgomery into a spiral of anger, depression and denial.
She avoided confronting the issue with her parents -- Keith, a salesman, and mom Alysia, recently qualified as a nurse -- and younger sister Courtney.
"I tried to pretend I wasn't sick or anything -- I wanted to go on with life as normal as possible," Kayla says.
"Nobody at school knew, and we were not allowed to talk about it at home. I just avoided it at all costs, and that actually made it a lot harder.
"The first couple of years after my diagnosis were impossibly hard -- I was so alone and still really scared. It was definitely a darker time in my life."
Running has proved to be her salvation. After a short break, in which she received treatment that made the numbness temporary, Montgomery decided she was going to make use of her legs while she still could -- despite knowing that exertion would bring back the symptoms.
"I wasn't amazing by any means but I was eighth on the team, so if somebody got hurt then I was there! And I wanted to be there if they needed me, so I trained so hard all the time and that definitely helped to deal with the things I wouldn't talk about," she says.
Montgomery's determination to succeed won her the North Carolina high school state title in the 3,200 meters last year, as she ran the 21st fastest time in the U.S.
She was team captain at Mount Tabor High School, setting several age-group records, and also excelled off the track in cross-country.
Now a freshman on an athletics scholarship at Nashville's Lipscomb University, she is studying molecular biology and has dreams of becoming a forensic scientist.
But before a career in CSI beckons, Montgomery is making the most of her chance to run for the college team.
"Racing is one of the greatest feelings in the world. I love it," she says.
"Long-distance running is my favorite ... you have to have so much stamina, strength and determination. I like to push myself to my limits for as long as I can."
One of the big challenges is staying on her feet during a race. If she gets knocked over or falls, which sometimes happens, then it's difficult to get up again -- especially in the later stages.
"If it is a track meet you can't grab on to something, whereas cross country there might be a tree close by that you can pull yourself up on," Montgomery explains.
"It all depends on when I fall as to how it will affect the outcome of my race."
Montgomery trains three hours a day, six days a week, covering 60-75 miles.
Without being able to judge pace through her legs, she has learned a new way to run, by focusing on the movement of her arms.
The hard work is paying off. Lipscomb is a Division One university in NCAA competitions, giving her an elite platform on which to impress.
It's a long way from those early high-school days when she asked her coach, mentor and "second father" Patrick Cromwell about her chances of running at college level.
"He said, 'I don't know, you might be lucky if you can be a walk-on.' I was like, 'Well I'll show you, I'm going to run in college and not only that I'm going to run for a D1 school.' And I am!
"Lipscomb is one of the best, it's really awesome to achieve that once really far-fetched dream."
Montgomery was actively recruited by Lipscomb, the first school to contact her -- others also rang "but a lot of them never called back" after she explained her condition.
"They made me feel so welcome," she says of her first visit to Lipscomb's campus. "They all knew my situation and it didn't bother them, and they didn't acknowledge it or ignore it either. It was exactly what I was looking for."
Her debut collegiate cross-country season was a steep learning curve, but Montgomery helped Lipscomb win a fourth successive conference championship in November, placing 13th overall and seventh in her team in the 5 km race.
On the track, she was sixth in the 10,000 meters last weekend as Lipscomb's women's team finished third at the Atlantic Sun championships in Florida, its best result at the event -- and a continuation of its rapid improvement since Bill Taylor, who recruited Montgomery, took over the athletics program in 2007.
She says the coach has given her the confidence to keep pushing herself, having taken a chance on her even though he realizes she may not be able to fulfill the four years of her scholarship if her condition gets worse.
"I keep running because it makes me happy," Montgomery says. "It makes me feel whole and safe, just because I know as long as I am running and still moving, I am still OK."
A California cat named Vanilla Bean with a congenital heart defect got a rare chance at another life.
A team of doctors who usually treat humans came together with a veterinarian to operate on the 1-year-old Burmese cat. Blood was pooling in Vanilla Bean's heart, causing a chamber to grow larger. The defect is also found in children.
Untreated, it would lead to congestive heart failure.
A technique to correct the problem in a cat had reportedly been done only once before, by University of California, Davis veterinarian Josh Stern -- the same vet who operated on Vanilla Bean, the Sacramento Bee reports ( http://bit.ly/1PKsLYp ).
"I needed a human cardiology team to help guide me on this case," said Stern in a news release from the UC Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital. "It's so uncommon in cats. It's uncommon in children also, but they've certainly seen more cases of this than I have."
Stern teamed up with cardiologists from the UC Davis Medical Center and other vets to open the cat's chest and place catheters and balloons within Vanilla Bean's heart.
The operation was successful. Vanilla Bean lost a lot of blood, but transfusions were ready from the school's large veterinary blood bank.
The blood loss caused kidney injury, but the cat was able to go home eight days after surgery. After a four-month recuperation, an exam showed that the cat is no longer in congestive heart failure.
Stern said he expects Vanilla Bean to make a complete recovery.
Written by David McNamee
A new, first-of-its-kind infographic published in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Preventing Chronic Disease journal maps the most 'distinctive' causes of deaths across all states in the US.
The map presents 2001-10 data on causes of death within individual states that were statistically more significant than the national averages, drawn from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) own "Underlying Cause of Death" file, which is accessible through the WONDER (Wide-ranging Online Data for Epidemiologic Research) website.
The largest number of deaths in the map from a single condition were the 37,292 deaths from atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease in Michigan. The fewest were 11 deaths from "acute and rapidly progressive nephritic and nephrotic syndrome" in Montana.
The numbers of death from discrete illnesses varied across states. For example, 15,000 HIV-related deaths were recorded in Florida during the study period, 679 deaths from tuberculosis in Texas, and 22 people died from syphilis in Louisiana.
The most distinctive causes of death in New York were from gonorrhea and chlamydia, and the state also had the highest number of deaths from infection of female reproductive organs - mostly as a result of untreated sexually transmitted diseases.
According to the researchers behind the map, some of the findings make "intuitive sense," such as the high numbers of death from influenza in northern states, or pneumoconiosis (black lung disease) in states where coal is mined. However, some of the other findings are less easily explained, such as the deaths from septicemia in New Jersey.
What are the strengths and limitations of the map?
The map only presents one distinctive cause of death for each state, all of which were significantly higher than the national rate. However, many other causes of death that were also significantly higher than national rates were not mapped.
Another limitation of the map is that it has a predisposition toward exhibiting rare causes of death. For instance, in 22 of the states, the total number of deaths mapped was under 100.
"These limitations are characteristic of maps generally and are why these maps are best regarded as snapshots and not comprehensive statistical summaries," explain the researchers, Francis P. Boscoe, of the New York State Cancer Registry, and Eva Pradhan, of the New York State Department of Health.
Boscoe and Pradhan say that the map has been "a robust conversation starter" - generating hypotheses that they consider would not have occurred had the data been formatted in "an equivalent tabular representation." They add:
"Although chronic disease prevention efforts should continue to emphasize the most common conditions, an outlier map such as this one should also be of interest to public health professionals, particularly insofar as it highlights nonstandard cause-of-death certification practices within and between states that can potentially be addressed through education and training."
By KAREN BARROW
Elisabeth Bing, who helped lead a natural childbirth movement that revolutionized how babies were born in the United States, died on Friday at her home in Manhattan. She was 100.
Her death was confirmed by her son, Peter.
Ms. Bing taught women and their spouses to make informed childbirth choices for more than 50 years. (“We don’t call it natural childbirth, but educated childbirth,” she once said.)
She began her crusade at a time when hospital rooms were often cold and impersonal, women in labor were heavily sedated and men were expected to remain in the waiting room, pacing.
Ms. Bing pushed for change. She worked directly with obstetricians, introducing them to the so-called natural childbirth methods developed by Dr. Fernand Lamaze, which incorporated relaxation techniques in lieu of anesthesia and enabled a mother to see her child coming into the world.
Along with Marjorie Karmel, Ms. Bing helped found Lamaze International, a nonprofit educational organization.
She became known as “the mother of Lamaze,” championing the technique in her book “Six Practical Lessons for an Easier Childbirth” (1967) and on the lecture and television talk-show circuits.
Today, Lamaze and other natural childbirth methods are commonplace in delivery rooms, and Lamaze classes, with their emphasis on breathing techniques, are attended by an estimated quarter of all mothers-to-be in the United States and their spouses each year.
For years Ms. Bing led classes in hospitals and in a studio in her apartment building on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, where she kept a collection of pre-Columbian and later Native American fertility figurines.
Ms. Bing preferred the term “prepared childbirth” to “natural childbirth” because, she said, her goal was not to eschew drugs altogether but to empower women to make informed decisions. Her mantra was “Awake and alert,” and she saw such a birth as a transformative event in a woman’s life.
“It’s an experience that never leaves you,” she told The New York Times in 2000. “It needs absolute concentration; it takes up your whole being. And you learn to use your body correctly in a situation of stress.”
There was one secret she seldom shared, however: Her own experience giving birth to her son, Peter, was decidedly unnatural. As Randi Hutter Epstein reported in her book “Get Me Out: A History of Childbirth From the Garden of Eden to the Sperm Bank” (2010), she continually asked her doctor, “Is my baby all right? Is my baby all right,” until the doctor said he could not concentrate with her chatter and gave her laughing gas and an epidural.
“I got everything I raged against,” Ms. Bing told Ms. Epstein. “I had the works.”
Elisabeth Dorothea Koenigsberger was born in a suburb of Berlin on July 8, 1914. Her parents, of Jewish descent, had converted to Protestantism years before her birth, but the family nevertheless felt the virulent anti-Semitism sweeping Germany before World War II. She was kicked out of a university two days into her freshman year, and two of her brothers — a historian and an architect — could not find work because of their Jewish background, she told The Journal of Perinatal Education in 2000.
After Ms. Bing’s father died in 1932, the family left the country; most members settled in England, while one sister moved to Illinois. In London, Ms. Bing studied to become a physical therapist and began work at a hospital. Mostly she helped patients with paralysis, multiple sclerosis and broken bones, but every morning she also visited the maternity ward, to give massages to new mothers and help them exercise. At the time, women were not allowed out of bed for as many as 10 days after giving birth.
She became interested in natural childbirth in 1942 when a patient handed her Dr. Grantly Dick-Read’s influential book “Revelation of Childbirth,” published that year (and later titled “Childbirth Without Fear”). Dick-Read proposed that pain during childbirth was caused by fear, and that a woman could avoid anesthesia by following a series of relaxation techniques aimed at reducing that fear.
Ms. Bing became intrigued and hoped to train with Dick-Read in the north of England, but with the war on and travel all but impossible, she began her own independent study. She read as much as she could and observed obstetricians and their patients — heavily anesthetized women who, she saw, had little control over the birth of their children.
“What I saw I disliked intensely,” she said in her interview with the perinatal journal. “I thought there must be better ways.”
Ms. Bing, who drove an ambulance during the war, began pursuing her interest in natural childbirth after 1949, when she moved to Jacksonville, Ill., to be with her sister, who had recently married. There, while working with handicapped children, Ms. Bing met an obstetrician who, she discovered, knew very little about natural childbirth. Resolving to champion the techniques, she began approaching obstetricians and having them send patients to her for one-on-one classes.
Ms. Bing had planned to return to England in about a year and was on her way back when she stopped in New York to visit friends. There she met Fred Max Bing, an exporter’s agent, and decided to stay. The two were married in 1951.
Besides her son, Ms. Bing is survived by a granddaughter. Her husband died in 1984.
In New York, Ms. Bing again started giving private childbirth education classes. They caught the attention of Dr. Alan Guttmacher, the chief of obstetrics at Mount Sinai Hospital, which had opened its first maternity ward in 1951. He asked her to teach a formal class there.
In her search for other childbirth alternatives, Ms. Bing began to learn about the psychoprophylactic method developed in the mid-1950s by Lamaze, a French obstetrician. Lamaze refined Dick-Read’s approach by incorporating breathing exercises he had observed in the Soviet Union, where anesthesia was a luxury poor women in labor could scarcely afford.
In 1960, Ms. Bing, by then a clinical assistant professor at New York Medical College, and Ms. Karmel founded the American Society for Psychoprophylaxis in Obstetrics, known today as Lamaze International.
Ms. Karmel, an American, had become a natural-childbirth crusader after seeking out Lamaze in Paris to help her deliver her first child, and her best-selling book, “Thank You, Dr. Lamaze” (1959), largely introduced the method to Americans and drew Ms. Bing’s attention.
(In the late 1950s, Ms. Bing had persuaded Ms. Karmel to smuggle into the United States an explicit French educational film, “Naissance,” depicting a woman giving natural birth. When New York City hospitals and the 92nd Street Y refused to show it in prenatal classes — they considered it obscene — the two women held a private screening at Ms. Karmel’s home on the Upper East Side. Ms. Karmel died of breast cancer in 1964.
At the heart of the methods the women promoted was the idea of family teamwork, with the father helping the mother by coaching her in responding to her contractions with breathing exercises and massaging her back, and being present during the delivery.
But in her book, Ms. Bing cautioned, “You certainly must not feel any guilt or sense of failure if you require some medication, or if you experience discomfort or pain.”
Some obstetricians were skeptical of the methods and thought Ms. Bing, not being a physician, was ill qualified to be instructing patients. But the natural-childbirth movement found a receptive public. Women coming of age in the 1960s embraced the idea of taking a more active role in childbirth and wanted fathers to participate more as well.
“It was a tremendous cultural revolution that changed obstetrics entirely,” Ms. Bing said in an interview in 1988.
Ms. Bing was modest about her role in the movement. “It wasn’t really a movement by Lamaze or Read or me,” she told the Disney-owned website Family.com. “It was a consumer movement. The time was ripe. The public doubted everything their parents had done.”
But she rejoiced in the outcome. “We are not being tied down anymore,” she said in 2000. “We’re not lying flat on our backs with our legs in the air, shaved like a baby. You can give birth in any position you like. The father, or anybody else, can be there. We fought for years on end for that. And now it’s commonplace. We’ve got it all.”
Lamaze, himself, did not acknowledge Ms. Bing, never responding to her requests for an interview even though she had made his name part of the American vernacular. During their only meeting, at a lunch in New York, he directed all his comments to a male obstetrician at the table.
“I’ve never thought of myself as someone with a legacy of any kind,” Ms. Bing said in an interview at an Upper West Side cafe. “I hope I have made women aware that they have choices, they can get to know their body and trust their body.”
“If my ideas supported feminist ideas,” she continued, “well, that’s all right. But I’ve never been politically active.”
Written by Catharine Paddock PhD
A new study that offers insights into early language development suggests babies prefer listening to other babies rather than adults as they get ready to produce their own speech sounds.
The study, led by McGill University in Canada and published in the journal Developmental Science, observed the reactions of infants aged from 4-6 months who were not yet attempting speech, as they listened to baby-like and adult-like sounds produced by a voice synthesizer.
They found when the vowel sounds the babies listened to sounded more baby-like (for instance, higher pitch), the infants paid attention longer than when the sounds had more adult-like vocal properties.
Previous studies have shown that children at this age are more attracted to vocal sounds with a higher voice pitch, the authors note in their paper.
The team says the finding is important because being attracted to infant speech sounds may be a key step in babies being able to find their own voice - it may help to kick-start the process of learning how to talk.
They say the discovery increases our understanding of the complex link between speech perception and speech production in young infants.
It may also lead to new ways to help hearing-impaired children who may be struggling to develop language skills, they note.
Baby-like sounds held infants' attention nearly 42% longer
For the study, the team used a voice synthesizer to create a set of vowel sounds that mimicked either the voice of a baby or the voice of a woman.
They then ran a series of experiments where they played the vowel sounds one at a time to the babies as they sat on their mother's lap and listened. They measured the length of time each vowel sound held the infants' attention.
The results showed that, on average, baby-like sounds held the infants' attention nearly 42% longer than the adult-like sounds.
The researchers note that this finding is unlikely to be a result of the babies having a particular preference for a familiar sound because they were not yet producing those sounds themselves - they were not yet part of their everyday experience.
Some of the infants showed their interest in other ways. For example, when they listened to the adult sounds, their faces remained fairly passive and neutral. In contrast, when they heard the baby-like sounds, they became more animated, moved their mouths and smiled.
The following video shows how one of the infants - baby Camille, who is not yet babbling herself - reacts to the various sounds. Every time she looks away, the sound is replaced by another. Her reactions show which sounds she seems to like the most.
Babies need to 'find their own voice'
The researchers say maybe the babies recognized that the baby-like sounds were more like sounds they could make themselves - despite not having heard them before.
The findings may also explain the instinct some people have when they automatically speak to infants in baby-like, high-pitched tones, says senior author Linda Polka, a professor in McGill's School of Communication Disorders, who adds:
"As adults, we use language to communicate. But when a young infant starts to make speech sounds, it often has more to do with exploring than with communicating."
Prof. Polka says babies often try speaking when they are on their own, without eye contact or interaction with others. She explains:
"That's because to learn how to speak babies need to spend lots of time moving their mouths and vocal cords to understand the kind of sounds they can make themselves. They need, quite literally, to 'find their own voice.'"
Funds for the study came from the Natural Sciences Engineering and Research Council.
Meanwhile, parents and schools looking for ways to encourage children to eat more healthily may be interested in a study carried out among kindergarten through sixth-grade students at an inner-city school in Cincinnati, OH. There, researchers discovered that children found healthy food more appealing when linked to smiley faces and other small incentives. The low-cost intervention led to a 62% rise in vegetable purchases and a 20% rise in fruit purchases.
While studying to become a paralegal and working as a temp, Symphonie Dawson kept feeling sick. She found out it was because she was pregnant.
Living with her mom and two siblings near Dallas, Dawson, then 23, worried about what to expect during pregnancy and what giving birth would be like. She also didn't know how she would juggle having a baby with being in school.
At a prenatal visit she learned about a group that offers help for first-time mothers-to-be called the Nurse-Family Partnership. A registered nurse named Ashley Bradley began to visit Dawson at home every week to talk with her about her hopes and fears about pregnancy and parenthood.
Bradley helped Dawson sign up for the Women, Infants and Children Program, which provides nutritional assistance to low-income pregnant women and children. They talked about what to expect every month during pregnancy and watched videos about giving birth. After her son Andrew was born in December 2013, Bradley helped Dawson figure out how to manage her time so she wouldn't fall behind at school.
Dawson graduated with a bachelor's degree in early May. She's looking forward to spending time with Andrew and finding a paralegal job. She and Andrew's father recently became engaged.
Ashley Bradley will keep visiting Dawson until Andrew turns 2.
"Ashley's always been such a great help," Dawson says. "Whenever I have a question like what he should be doing at this age, she has the answers."
Home-visiting programs that help low-income, first-time mothers have been around for decades. Lately, however, they're attracting new fans. They appeal to people of all political stripes because the good ones manage to help families improve their lives and reduce government spending at the same time.
In 2010, the Affordable Care Act created the Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting program and provided $1.5 billion in funding for evidence-based home visits. As a result, there are now 17 home visiting models approved by the Department of Health and Human Services, and Congress reauthorized the program in April with $800 million for the next two years.
The Nurse-Family Partnership that helped Dawson is one of the largest and best-studied programs. Decades of research into how families fare after participating in it have documented reductions in the use of social programs such as Medicaid and food stamps, reductions in child abuse and neglect, better pregnancy outcomes for mothers and better language development and academic performance by their children.
"Seeing follow-up studies 15 years out with enduring outcomes, that's what really gave policymakers comfort," says Karen Howard, vice president for early childhood policy at First Focus, an advocacy group.
But others say the requirements for evidence-based programs are too lenient, and that only a handful of the approved models have as strong a track record as that of the Nurse-Family Partnership.
"If the evidence requirement stays as it is, almost any program will be able to qualify," says Jon Baron, vice president for of evidence-based policy at the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, which supports initiatives that encourage policymakers to make decisions based on data and other reliable evidence. "It threatens to derail the program."