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The Dizziness and Dementia Connection

NEUROLOGY

Johns Hopkins researchers are looking into another possible cause of dementia: rapid drops in blood pressure that reduce blood flow to the brain.

Feeling dizzy or nauseated is a clue that it’s happening to you, but a lot of people don’t notice any symptoms, says Andreea Rawlings, a postdoctoral researcher in epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

“When you change position from lying flat or sitting to standing, gravity shifts blood away from the chest, causing blood pressure to fall, which can reduce blood flow to organs such as the brain,” says Rawlings, adding that, “Usually your body has a number of compensatory mechanisms to account for this.”

But if any of these mechanisms fail, reduced blood flow to the brain may occur, resulting in dizziness, lightheadedness, fatigue, or nausea. The technical term for this experience is orthostatic hypotension. Some common causes are diabetes, anemia, and dehydration, as well as beta blockers and diuretics used to treat high blood pressure.

While a lot of us fall into those categories, the study isn’t your cue to panic. Rather it’s one more piece of the puzzle that bears further exploration. “Identifying risk factors for cognitive decline and dementia is important for understanding disease progression, and being able to identify those most at risk gives us possible strategies for prevention and intervention,” Rawlings says.

Answering Phone Anxiety

MENTAL HEALTH

When the phone rings, do you freeze? Do you avoid answering? You’re not alone. The telephone can trigger something that looks like social anxiety disorder. Call it Phone Anxiety. While not an official psychological disorder, the symptoms—accelerated heart rate, sweating, nausea, and panic—are real, says Johns Hopkins psychologist Alison Papadakis, who has seen patients with such symptoms. “People fear phone calls, so they avoid them,” she says. “That avoidance behavior temporarily reduces their fear but also prevents them from learning that they can have a positive experience on the phone.”

Papadakis suggests facing your fears to help you learn to make new associations with the phone. Before dialing, try a relaxation technique like deep breathing. Consider your expectations. “Tell yourself that ‘no one expects me to have all the answers on a moment’s notice,’” she says. You can also practice techniques for answering incoming calls. “Sometimes knowing that there’s a strategy to handle the situation might allow you to relax enough to handle it in the moment,” she says.

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Chelsea Beck

Not Missing the Plot

LEARNING

Try perusing a paper on particle physics or a mathematical treatise if that’s not your field of study. Sure, you can read the words, but the main concepts may evade you.

For some living with autism, this jarring disconnect between reading fluency and comprehension is common, according to Emily Coderre, a postdoctoral fellow in neurology at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

Coderre’s research, though, offers signs of hope that with time, some autistic adults may develop work-arounds to this comprehension breakdown, similar to how someone with dyslexia employs decoding skills to anatomize a word or chapter.

She says that as children on the autism spectrum grow older, they may develop their own strategies to compensate. For example, when given a story to read, they could look for cue words that indicate main points, like “therefore” or “as a result,” or try extra-hard to relate what they’re reading to their own experience. “If we can figure out what types of strategies are useful in helping individuals overcome challenges with reading comprehension, then we can try to train those strategies using targeted interventions,” Coderre says.

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Skip Sterling

The Power of Positivity

ATTITUDE

Are you a glass-half-full kind of person? Here’s heartwarming news: Johns Hopkins researchers found that people with a family history of heart disease who also had a positive outlook were one-third less likely to have a heart attack or other cardiovascular event within five to 25 years than those with a more negative outlook. What if you need a positivity boost? Try socializing with
cheery friends and co-workers; research hints that these kinds of relationships with brightside types can make you feel better, too.

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