Scientists at Seattle Children’s Research Institute describe the neuroscience behind gratitude and how kids learn it.
What happens in our brains and bodies when we feel gratitude? We get a fuzzy feeling when we give thanks or receive it because we did something nice. But why does gratitude feel good? And how can families teach kids to express this sentiment?
Dr. Susan Ferguson, a neuroscientist at the Center for Integrative Brain Research at Seattle Children’s Research Institute, says the feeling of gratitude activates several parts of the brain. The ventral tegmental area is a part of the brain associated with reward and motivation. The hypothalamus is associated with basic tasks such as eating, sleeping, hormone secretion and stress. The septum is associated with bonding. When we feel and express thanks, these parts of the brain light up.
“Research shows that gratitude is linked with feelings of reward, improved sleep and decreased depression and anxiety,” Ferguson said. “There are measurable benefits to mental health and interpersonal relationships when humans feel gratitude.” Read full post »
Bailey Moser, age 5
Neurosurgeons at Seattle Children’s Hospital have long suspected that epilepsy patients who have surgery earlier in life have better outcomes than those that wait. Now they have data to confirm their instincts.
In a study recently published in the Journal of Neurosurgery Pediatrics, lead author Dr. Hillary Shurtleff, neuropsychologist and investigator at Seattle Children’s Research Institute Center for Integrative Brain Research, found that early surgical treatment of focal seizures – those that affect only one area of the brain – in preschool aged children is highly beneficial. The results showed that surgery can reduce the amount of seizures and the number of medications patients are on while helping improve intelligence outcomes. Read full post »
The Marvin family
Imagine living every day of your life waiting for your child to have their next seizure. This is often the reality for parents of children with intractable epilepsy – a chronic form of epilepsy that can’t be controlled by medications alone. Every moment is plagued by uncertainty, and the world quickly becomes a place filled with barriers where hope and opportunity used to be.
This scenario is something with which James Marvin and his wife Joana are all too familiar. When their daughter, Charlotte, was diagnosed with epilepsy after having her first seizure at just 14 months old, this became their family’s world.
“We called it ‘the antagonist,’” said Marvin. “Charlotte would usually have a seizure every couple of days, but any time she was stressed, tired or sick, the antagonist would come out. It was so difficult to live our lives just waiting for the other shoe to drop, and there was no end in sight.”
That was, until five years later when they traveled 3,000 miles from their home in Virginia, to seek treatment at Seattle Children’s Hospital that held the promise of ending Charlotte’s seizures, hopefully for good.
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Dr. Jeff Ojemann with his dad, Dr. George Ojemann.
For Dr. Jeff Ojemann, chief of the Neurosurgery Division and director of epilepsy surgery at Seattle Children’s, neuroscience is not just a passion – it’s the family business. His father, Dr. George Ojemann, was also a neurosurgeon and a national pioneer in the treatment of epilepsy.
As we near Father’s Day, we asked Ojemann about his dad and how their relationship influenced his career choice. Read full post »
Being the mother of a pediatric stroke survivor, I am thrilled that this month marks Pediatric Stroke Awareness Month in Washington state. As a nation, we have supported efforts of increasing awareness of stroke in general, however, pediatric stroke has received little awareness or research to date. Here we share our story in hopes of increasing awareness among the community, advocating for more resources and support for children and their families who have been impacted by stroke, and to provide hope to families starting out on this journey that our children can overcome vast obstacles.
Addison Hyatt survived a pediatric stroke at birth
Contrary to what most people believe, stroke is a potential risk for everyone, including children and teens. Stroke occurs at the highest rate in the first year of life, and is most common between the 28th week of pregnancy up until one month after birth. Approximately one in 1,600 to 4,000 newborns have a stroke each year. For children age 1 to 18, stroke occurs in 11 out of 100,000 kids and teens. I share this information not to create alarm, but rather to spread awareness. Pediatric stroke is often thought of as extremely rare; sadly it is not. I know far too well that it’s real, and we encourage other parents to understand its signs, symptoms and treatment options. Read full post »
Sage Taylor was born with a severe malformation in the right hemisphere of her brain – a condition that caused her to have hundreds of tiny “micro” seizures every day. Here, mom Sam Rosen reflects on their leap of faith with a neurosurgeon at Seattle Children’s and how Sage’s life took a dramatic turn for the better.
Sage Taylor, now 9 years old, came to Seattle Children’s soon after she was born because she was having hundreds of tiny seizures each day.
In October 2005 my husband Don Taylor and I were blessed with a second daughter. All prenatal tests were normal and my delivery was easy. She was perfect, though more restless than our older daughter and not as good of a sleeper.
Three weeks after Sage came into the world, I was taking a post-partum class for new moms. The nurse instructor took me aside and encouraged me to take Sage to Seattle Children’s as soon as possible for an EEG – a test that measures and records the brain’s electrical activity. She explained she thought Sage had a very slight jerkiness of movement in her arms and legs that might not be normal.
And so began our journey with the incredible doctors and nurses at Seattle Children’s. Read full post »
Erik Twede was just 3 years old when he was diagnosed with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a fatal genetic disorder that causes progressive muscle weakness.
The day doctors told Karen Twede her son Erik had Duchenne muscular dystrophy, she went straight home and searched for the mysterious illness in her medical dictionary. She read: “A progressive muscle disease in which there is gradual weakening and wasting of the muscles. There is no cure.”
“My breath caught in my throat,” Twede said. “It was a terrifying reality to accept.”
Thankfully, several clinical research studies being offered at Seattle Children’s Research Institute are giving hope to parents facing the same devastating diagnosis.
The studies, led by Dr. Susan Apkon, director, Seattle Children’s Department of Rehabilitation Medicine and an investigator in the research institute’s Center for Clinical and Translational Research, offer promise to better treat, or even cure, Duchenne, through the use of new therapies with fewer side effects.
“When I meet with patients with Duchenne and their families today, we have a very different conversation than we might have had 10 years ago,” Apkon said. “Today I ask my patients ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ because I believe in their future. I’ve been able to look ahead and see the research being done nationally and internationally and there seem to be treatments on the horizon.” Read full post »
While many people with epilepsy live a full life, some die abruptly without warning or other clear medical cause due to a devastating phenomenon called sudden unexpected death in epilepsy (SUDEP). SUDEP is the most common cause of death in those with severe forms of epilepsy where seizures cannot be controlled with treatment, but what causes this tragic event remains unclear.
Franck Kalume, PhD, and other researchers at Seattle Children’s Research Institute are working to change this.
“Having a family member unexpectedly pass away from this – without any explantation as to why – is extremely devastating,” said Kalume, who lost his nephew to SUDEP. “Even though this condition has been around since the dawn of time, it is only in the recent decades that there’s been a substantial increased interest in SUDEP research and in raising awareness about its risk. I hope that we will be able to make a life changing impact by furthering our knowledge of the physiological mechanisms of SUDEP and finding ways to prevent it.”
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In honor of World Down Syndrome Day, Melanie Harrington shares excerpts from her blog, Our Journey Through Life – a rich chronicle of a baby’s fighting spirit and a mother’s courage to walk “the road less traveled” and arrive a better person.
May 2012: Our world changes forever
We get the call we’ve been dreading: the baby boy I’ve been carrying for 15 weeks has Down syndrome. What?! How can this be? I’ve done everything right. I don’t drink, smoke, take medicine or eat foods I’m not supposed to eat. Why me? Why us? I am mad, sad, anxious and confused. Will we be able to love this baby? What does his future hold? Bullying, dependence, frustration? And, what does my 2-year-old son Cody’s future hold? Constant defending? Jealousy?
I’m feeling very un-mommy-like thoughts that I never thought I could feel about my unborn baby. Can I handle this? Can my husband, Chuck? Will our marriage survive? Right now, I don’t know the answer to these questions.
My doctor refers us to a genetic counselor for more testing. I don’t really gel with the first counselor, so she refers me to Seattle Children’s Genetic Counseling Clinic. This counselor immediately puts me at ease and I like her honesty. I also see Dr. Margaret Adam, who is wonderful and gives me lots of helpful information. Dr. Adam reassures me that Down syndrome can affect any family – one out of every 800 babies born in the U.S. has the condition.
June 2012: Grief…then acceptance
I still feel out of control – so desperate to understand what is really happening. I go to sleep and wake up not remembering if the diagnosis is a dream or real, then I remember. We cry a lot and worry all the time. We grieve for the child we thought we were having and we don’t know if we can ever come to terms with the child we are having.
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Nicky, right, before he went to his prom this year.
Over the past two years, 17-year-old Nicky Richens’ life has transformed. He has found independence and a sense of freedom that he has never before known thanks to a small, discrete device called a phrenic nerve stimulator.
Nicky was born with congenital central hypoventilation syndrome (CCHS), a rare disorder that affects the autonomic nervous system and causes kids to essentially forget to breathe. Those that have this condition require 24-hour ventilatory support. The phrenic nerve stimulator, or pacer, can be concealed underneath clothes, provides up to 16 hours/day of breathing support and allows patients to be fully mobile.
“Pacers enable kids to get the health benefits of constant, proper oxygenation and ventilation without looking different or being restricted by it, which is huge in the life of a child,” said Maida Chen, MD, director of Seattle Children’s Hospital’s Pediatric Sleep Disorders Center. “With pacers, kids go on to have very meaningful lives because they are healthier, they feel better and they are free to participate in their life.”
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