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Childhood disadvantage ‘has consequences on the brain’

A new investigation has shone a light on the lifelong effects a disadvantaged childhood can have on the brain.

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The research adds to the growing body of data that suggests actions in early years can have huge consequences for brain development

The study revealed that children who recorded the highest level of deprivation generally suffered worse cognitive and mental health outcomes.

Through looking at a number of brain scans researchers could see the levels of brain activity in each child and found lower amounts of circuitry in those who scored the worst.

Rather than solely looking at income levels, those involved in the study also considered a variety of factors that may be putting a child at disadvantage, such as pollution, crime, and access to lower-quality education and healthcare.

After each child was scored on this, the researchers then looked at their MRI scans to measure how well each region of the brain is connected to one another.

This functional connectivity was lower in those classed as disadvantaged, being reduced both between and within several brain networks.

The findings could have potential policy implications, with those involved calling for a shift away from attempting to change family-focused factors to more community-centred initiatives.

Divyangana Rakesh, co-author of the study, said: “Our findings suggest that growing up in a disadvantaged neighborhood indeed impacts the brain.

“Importantly, however, findings suggest that providing children with better home and school environments where they feel supported, receive positive feedback, and have opportunities to engage in different activities, can offset some of the negative effects of neighborhood disadvantage on children’s brain development.”

Researchers said the purpose of the study was to discover how any form of disadvantage at an early age can impact all aspects of brain development, with over 7,500 children aged 9-10 involved.

A number of other research projects have explored similar areas, but the use of MRI imaging has proven this connection.

Scientists from the Université de Montréal looked at how aggressive parenting can also impact this development, finding a link between this and smaller brain structures.

NR Times also covered research from the University of Birmingham which shows cognitive issues such as a short attention span in adolescents can lead to mental health issues in their teenage years.

The study was published by analytics firm Elsevier in Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging.

Cameron Carter, editor of the publication, said of the study: “These remarkable results show that improvements in the home and school environments can mitigate against the otherwise deleterious effects of growing up in a disadvantaged setting, providing a powerful message for the importance of public policies that provide more support at home and at school.”

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Flu vaccinations to become compulsory for care staff?

Plans to introduce mandatory flu jabs could be “one step too far” for an already under-pressure sector, leaders warn

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The introduction of compulsory flu vaccinations for care home staff could be “one step too far” for a sector already battling a recruitment crisis amidst the ongoing impact of COVID-19, leading professionals in the industry have told NR Times. 

The Government is currently consulting with key bodies in health and social care over whether to introduce a statutory requirement for vaccination against flu as a condition of employment for frontline workers. 

This follows the move to make COVID-19 double vaccination compulsory, which some forecasters predict could see up to 30 per cent of social care workers leave their roles in a sector already struggling to meet the soaring demand for its services, with an existing and growing shortfall of at least 80,000 staff nationally.

The consultation, which concludes next week, is likely to be met with “fury and outrage” by care operators, many of whom have battled to stay afloat over the past 18 months with mounting staffing and financial challenges. 

SAGE has advised that the combination of flu and COVID-19 could make this winter more of a threat than ever before to the most vulnerable people, particularly those in specialist care environments, and that vaccination is a tool in preventing the transmission of both.

In its consultation paper, titled ‘Making vaccination a condition of deployment in the health and wider social care sector’, the Department of Health and Social care says that flu vaccine uptake among social care workers in care homes was around 33 per cent last year – including 48 per cent for those directly employed and 36 per cent for those employed through an agency – which is significantly lower than uptake of the COVID-19 vaccine.

But for operators already under pressure to meet the needs of their residents while losing staff over the COVID-19 vaccination issue, the worry is that more leaving the profession over the compulsory flu jab may tip the balance. 

One senior figure in a care operator, who wished to remain anonymous, told NR Times: “This is one step too far, particularly so soon after we’ve been forced to lose good people because of the COVID vaccination. 

“Smaller operators are struggling to stay afloat. We’re doing all we can but these are very difficult times. People say we’re through the worst, and in some ways that is true, but the staffing situation is getting worse. By forcing more people out of the sector, the future is very worrying.” 

Paul TM Smith – consultant to Renal Health Ltd and a leading name in specialist care, who is also part of the Royal College of Nursing’s older people’s forum – confirmed to NR Times that the RCN was invited to be part of the consultation. 

“The recent report from MPs (Coronavirus: lessons learned to date) highlighted many failures in the Government’s handling of COVID, but also showed the success of the vaccination programme. There is absolute terror at the prospect of a fourth or fifth wave of COVID, particularly as we come into flu season,” he says. 

“So, given that, I can understand where this approach by the Government comes from – but the situation with the COVID vaccinations has been rushed through and care homes now risk being hit again. And I can’t see it being a one-off for this year, as COVID isn’t going away. 

“I think there will be fury when this becomes known, there will be outrage from many. I worry this could be one vaccination too far and I’d be hesitant to say I’m 100 per cent convinced a policy around compulsory flu vaccinations for staff would be a good thing.

“We’ve seen that clinical advice and political action can be poles apart, and the Government aren’t bound to take that advice. The implications for the sector need to be fully considered.”

While many social care workers will qualify for free flu jabs, not all will, and a lack of clarity also exists over who would have to fund compulsory vaccinations. 

“If it starts costing people to be vaccinated, people who are on low pay working in very challenging conditions, then it becomes a levy. And if this falls to operators, up to 85 per cent of whom are very small operations, this will be a very significant expense for them at a time when they can’t afford any more financial pressures,” says Paul. 

The care home operator adds: “For any care staff in our homes who didn’t qualify for a free flu vaccination, I couldn’t possibly allow them to pay; but then that’s yet another outlay for us. I would hope there may be some Government support there, and that they appreciate how under pressure we really are.”

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Long COVID symptoms ‘typically last up to six months’

Research shows more than half of people with COVID-19 will go on to experience long-term Long COVID symptoms

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More than half of the 236million people who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 worldwide since December 2019 will experience Long COVID symptoms up to six months after the initial virus, new research has revealed. 

During their illnesses, many patients with COVID-19 experience symptoms such as tiredness, difficulty breathing, chest pain, sore joints and loss of taste or smell.

But its impacts, both mentally and physically, can extend into a range of further debilitating issues which can last for months – which the research team at Penn State College of Medicine saying their study findings should leave governments, healthcare organisations and public health professionals in no doubt over the scale of COVID-19 survivors who will need care for a variety of psychological and physical symptoms.

Until recently, few studies have evaluated patients’ health after recovering from the Coronavirus. To better understand the short- and long-term health effects of the virus, the researchers examined worldwide studies involving unvaccinated patients who recovered from COVID-19.

According to the findings, adults, as well as children, can experience several adverse health issues for six months or longer after recovering from COVID-19.

The researchers conducted a systematic review of 57 reports that included data from 250,351 unvaccinated adults and children who were diagnosed with COVID-19 from December 2019 through to March 2021. 

The researchers analyzed patients’ health post-COVID during three intervals at one month (short-term), two to five months (intermediate-term) and six or more months (long-term).

According to the findings, survivors experienced an array of residual health issues associated with COVID-19. Generally, these complications affected a patient’s general wellbeing, mobility or organ systems. 

Overall, one in two survivors experienced long-term COVID manifestations and the rates remained largely constant from one month through to six or more months after their initial illness.

Issues with general wellbeing, mobility, neurological impacts and mental health disorders all featured heavily in the long-term symptoms. 

“These findings confirm what many health care workers and COVID-19 survivors have been claiming, namely, that adverse health effects from COVID-19 can linger,” said co-lead investigator Vernon Chinchilli, chair of the Department of Public Health Sciences. 

“Although previous studies have examined the prevalence of Long COVID symptoms among patients, this study examined a larger population, including people in high-, middle- and low-income countries, and examined many more symptoms. Therefore, we believe our findings are quite robust given the available data.”

“The burden of poor health in COVID-19 survivors is overwhelming,” said co-lead investigator Dr. Paddy Ssentongo, assistant professor at the Penn State Center for Neural Engineering. 

“Among these are the mental health disorders. One’s battle with COVID doesn’t end with recovery from the acute infection. Vaccination is our best ally to prevent getting sick from COVID-19 and to reduce the chance of Long COVID even in the presence of a breakthrough infection.”

The mechanisms by which COVID-19 causes lingering symptoms in survivors are not fully understood. These symptoms could result from immune-system overdrive triggered by the virus, lingering infection, reinfection or an increased production of autoantibodies. 

According to the researchers, early intervention will be critical for improving the quality of life for many COVID-19 survivors. They said that in the years ahead, healthcare providers will likely see an influx of patients with psychiatric and cognitive problems, such as depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder, who were otherwise healthy before their COVID-19 infection. 

Based on these findings, healthcare providers should plan and allocate resources accordingly in order to effectively monitor and treat these conditions, the team said. 

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A Chance for Life extends neurorehab in the North

The move will extend the range of patient services in the area and improves patient journeys

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Neurological physiotherapy provider Neurocare Physiotherapy now falls under the umbrella of complex case management and rehabilitation specialist A Chance for Life. 

The move extends the range of patient services in the North and improves patient journeys, too.

There is an inevitable challenge for any organisation delivering neuro rehab. With such a wide range of conditions to treat, it can be difficult for any organisation to build a pool of expertise large and diverse enough to service them all.

But Louise Chance, founder of A Chance for Life Ltd, the specialist in rehabilitation support work, case management, physiotherapy, occupational therapy and medico-legal reporting, has found a solution to that challenge.

Louise has combined her team’s capabilities with those of Lancashire-based Neurocare Physiotherapy. 

For almost two decades, Neurocare Physiotherapy has treated patients across the North West of England for neurological conditions such as stroke, multiple sclerosis (MS), Parkinson’s, foot drop, head injury and other disorders.

For much of that time, A Chance for Life has worked in a similar space from its base in Penrith, providing support for clients who often have a variety of social, physical, mental and vocational needs.

Louise saw an opportunity to bring the two organisations together: “We saw that what we do and where we do it dovetails nicely.

“Being able to expand the range of care we offer across the North of England and Southern Scotland is so important, because it means our clients can access more of the support they need from a single source.”

Get in touch to find out more on 01768 891709.

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