Why TV may delay kids' learning to talk

Pediatricians have long recommended no television at all for children under 2, the theory being that screen time delays language development.

A new study suggests why this might be the case: When the tube is on, adults talk a lot less. Same goes for the kids, according to the paper in the current Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

Researchers fitted 329 children with small digital recorders and monitored the sounds in their environment for eight full-day sessions, on average. For every hour the TV was on, the adult caregivers spoke 770 fewer words. (The typical adult speaks 941 words per hour.)

Likewise, when the TV was on, the number of child "vocalizations" dropped 15 percent, said lead author Dimitri A. Christakis, director of the Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development at Seattle Children's Research Institute. A vocalization was defined as a segment of "meaningful child speech" - including non-word babbling but not including cries. The kids in the study ranged in age from 2 months to 48 months. - Tom Avril

Colon cancer patients can ease skin problems

Colon cancer patients can reduce skin problems caused by key chemotherapy drugs simply by using skin-protective products before starting cancer treatment, a Thomas Jefferson University study shows.

Skin toxicities including dermatitis, pustules, rashes and hair and nail changes affect about 90 percent of colon cancer patients who receive panitumumab (brand name Vectibix) or cetuximab (Erbitux).

The researchers compared 48 patients who received skin therapies a day before and during six weeks of chemotherapy with 47 patients whose skin was treated only after problems developed. The skin products included moisturizers, sunscreen, topical steroids and an oral antibiotic.

About 29 percent of preemptively treated patients suffered significant skin problems, compared with 62 percent in the other group.

The study, presented last week at the American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting in Orlando, also found quality of life improved with preemptive skin treatment.

- Marie McCullough

Videos can help choose end-of-life care

With all the options available in modern medicine, making decisions can be a challenge - particularly for elderly people trying to plan in advance for possible end-of-life care choices.

Showing people videos of others with a potential medical condition, in this case dementia, can help people choose, according to a controlled study of 200 patients age 65 and older at three Boston clinics published online at bmj.com.

Half of the participants listened to a description of advanced dementia followed by a video of a patient with the condition, while the others just heard a description. Those who saw the video were more likely to choose comfort care to relieve their symptoms without lifesaving efforts. They also were more likely to stick with their decision at follow-up interviews six weeks later.

"Education of patients using video decision support tools can improve their comprehension of disease states such as advanced dementia that are difficult to envision solely with words," the researchers concluded.

- Josh Goldstein

Hearing aids purchased with scanty research

Many hearing-impaired people do inadequate research before spending thousands of dollars - often not reimbursed by insurance - for hearing aids, according to a Consumer Reports investigation that found frequent mismatches between patients and the products they bought.

The report is based on three sets of data: Researchers followed a dozen people as they shopped for and used hearing aids over six months. Laboratory workers tested 44 aids. And the magazine surveyed 1,100 people who had purchased hearing aids within the previous three years.

Independent audiologists who checked the dozen new aids found that two-thirds amplified too much or too little. Yet more than 70 percent of respondents to the national survey said they were highly satisfied with their purchases, a discrepancy that suggests they were so pleased with the improvement that they didn't realize it could be greater, the researchers said.

The authors recommended that people considering hearing aids first go to Veterans Affairs facilities or to audiologists who work for ear, nose and throat doctors.

The full report, including a step-by-step guide to purchasing hearing aids, is in the July issue of the magazine and is posted at www.consumerreportshealth.org.

- Don Sapatkin