*The following is excerpted from an online article posted on EurekAlert.
A number of studies have shown how playing video games can lead to structural changes in the brain, including increasing the size of some regions, or to functional changes, such as activating the areas responsible for attention or visual-spatial skills. New research from the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC) has gone further to show how cognitive changes can take place even years after people stop playing.
This is one of the conclusions from the article published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. The study involved 27 people between the ages of 18 and 40 with and without any kind of experience with video gaming.
"People who were avid gamers before adolescence, despite no longer playing, performed better with the working memory tasks, which require mentally holding and manipulating information to get a result," said Marc Palaus, who has a Ph.D. from the UOC.
The results show that people without experience of playing video games as a child did not benefit from improvements in processing and inhibiting irrelevant stimuli. Indeed, they were slower than those who had played games as children, which matched what had been seen in earlier studies.
Likewise, "people who played regularly as children performed better from the outset in processing 3D objects, although these differences were mitigated after the period of training in video gaming when both groups showed similar levels," said Palaus.
The study lasted a month and the researchers analyzed participants' cognitive skills, including working memory, at three points: before starting the training in video gaming, at the end of the training, and fifteen days later. The video game used was Nintendo's Super Mario 64.
According to Palaus, "Video games are a perfect recipe for strengthening our cognitive skills, almost without our noticing." Nonetheless, he stressed that these improvements only have a limited effect on the performance of other activities not linked to video gaming, as is the case with most cognitive training.
*The following is excerpted from an online article posted on HealthDay.
Are infected-but-healthy children major "silent spreaders" of the new coronavirus? New research out of northern Italy, once a COVID-19 hotspot, suggests they might not be.
Rigorous COVID-19 testing of children and adults admitted to a hospital in Milan for reasons other than coronavirus found that just over 1% of kids tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, compared to more than 9% of adults.
That suggests a very low rate of asymptomatic infection among children, and does "not support the hypothesis that children are at higher risk of carrying SARS-CoV-2 asymptomatically than adults," the researchers reported in the online edition of JAMA Pediatrics.
One U.S. expert in infectious disease found the report encouraging.
"Since the start of the pandemic it has been very difficult to determine what the actual role of children in the spread of the virus is," said Dr. Amesh Adalja, senior scholar at the Center for Health Security at Johns Hopkins University, in Baltimore.
"It is becoming clear that they do not amplify this virus the way they do influenza when it comes to community spread," Adalja said.
In the new study, physicians led by Dr. Carlo Agostoni, of the Ca'Granda Foundation Maggiore Polyclinic Hospital in Milan, conducted two sets of nasal swab tests, up to two days apart, on 214 newly admitted patients.
Eighty-three of these new admissions were children and 131 were adults. All were admitted to the hospital in March and April, at the height of northern Italy's COVID-19 outbreak. However, all of the patients were admitted for reasons unconnected to COVID-19, and none had shown any symptoms of the illness.
So how many were secretly carrying the virus nonetheless? Based on the swab tests, only 1.2% of the pediatric patients turned up positive for infection, compared to 9.2% of adults.
*The following is excerpted from an online article posted on Science Alert.
The dangers of staring directly into laser pointers are well documented, but an unfortunate incident involving a teenager from Ohio serves as a sobering reminder of just how little it takes to cause permanent damage to your eyes and vision.
In a recent medical report, physicians document the case of the anonymous teen, who stared directly into a laser pointer for several seconds while playing a 'shooting game' with his friends.
The device used was a laser pointer toy intended for exercising pets. While devices like this are often advertised as being low-power lasers, that's not always the case, and mounting evidence of retinal damage caused by such pointers suggests the risk is growing, researchers say, even though people might not be aware of it.
"Though commonly believed to be safe, even brief laser-pointer exposure to the eye can lead to permanent vision loss, with children being particularly at risk," the team, led by first author and medical student Carol Vitellas from Ohio State University (OSU) explained in the report.
Sadly, that's exactly what happened to the teen in this case. Despite only looking at the laser directly for a matter of seconds, immediately afterward he experienced a form of vision loss for several minutes, after describing the initial visual effect as a bright light.
Five months after the incident, the boy, experiencing ongoing blurred vision and partial vision loss in his right eye, went to see OSU ophthalmologist Frederick Davidorf.
Using a high-resolution optical scanning system, Davidorf saw first-hand the damage done to the boy's retinas, where entire regions of light-sensitive photoreceptors cells (aka rods and cones) had been "blasted away" by the laser, as Davidorf puts it. "There's just nothing left there," Davidorf said. "The affected areas are devoid of cones."
The boy was diagnosed with macular laser burns in both eyes, given no other confounding conditions could explain the vision loss he was experiencing.
The teen had his eyes scanned with the ophthalmoscope on two occasions, at 11 and then 20 months after the injury was sustained. During the interim, the researchers observed a slight decrease in the size of the lesions. "It's never going to fully heal," Davidorf said. "There will always be scarring there."
The findings were reported in Retinal Cases & Brief Reports.