IN BRIEF

The Baltimore Sun

Pets

Owning a cat may be good for heart

Cat owners are often fiercely loyal to their furry companions -- and such devotion may be rewarded in a surprising way: Owning a cat may lower one's risk of dying from a heart attack.

Nonowners appear to have a 40 percent higher risk of dying from myocardial infarction than those who have a cat, according to a study presented at the American Stroke Association's International Stroke Conference last month in New Orleans. Researchers examined the data of 4,435 people from the second National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. (Dogs didn't factor into the findings because fewer participants owned them.)

"The big question is," says lead author Dr. Adnan Qureshi, executive director of the Minnesota Stroke Institute, "is this the direct effect of having a cat or a variable of people who own cats?"

Adds Qureshi: "There isn't enough evidence to recommend [getting a cat] as a standard practice. But the flip side is that unlike other medical interventions, which have a risk and a cost associated with it, this has minimal risk and isn't as costly. There's not much harm to it."

Los Angeles Times

Medical advice

Doctors house calls come via Web

Modern technology is giving a new twist to the concept of house calls. Thanks to the Internet, some patients have the option of getting medical care from their doctor without leaving home.

At least two major national health insurers -- Aetna and Cigna -- recently started paying participating doctors for "virtual visits" with eligible patients.

Thousands of doctors nationwide have signed up to offer online appointments through a secure Web site. To check in for Web-based appointments, patients log onto the site and then answer a series of questions based on their symptoms.

The information is later viewed by their doctor, who can ask more questions if necessary and then dispense medical advice online.

The service is reserved for established patients with minor health maladies, not those facing potentially life-threatening situations, said Dr. Elliot Davidson, medical director of the Akron General Center for Family Medicine, which offers the online appointments.

McClatchy-Tribune

Stroke

Music might enhance functioning

Whether it's jazz, blues or a bracing Finnish folk song, music may do more than soothe nerves and inspire a little air guitar. It may help stroke victims recover specific verbal and cognitive functions.

In a six-month study of 60 recent victims of stroke ages 35 to 75, researchers in Finland found that exposure to music for at least one hour a day improved verbal memory by 60 percent, compared with an 18 percent improvement among participants listening to audiobooks. In addition, as reported in the journal Brain, exposure to music led to a 17 percent boost in performance on concentration tasks, such as mental subtraction.

"The study suggests that music-listening could be used as a leisure activity that might provide comfort and help cognitive recovery," says lead author Teppo Sarkamo, a doctoral student at the University of Helsinki Department of Psychology and the Helsinki Brain Research Center.

It's important to keep in mind that music alone can't work miracles, Sarkamo adds. "Music-listening should not be considered as an alternative to other active rehabilitation methods," he says. "But ... in the early recovery stage, when other rehabilitation is not yet possible, music could provide a valuable addition to the patient's care."

Los Angeles Times

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