Category Archives: Recent Posts

In honour of Tu BiShvat, we are sharing this delicious recipe of Barley Mushroom Soup which incorporates two of the shivas haminim, barley and olives. Enjoy this warming and tasty soup together with your family and loved ones during the cold winter evenings.



¼ C Olive Oil

1 Large Onion

1 Bay Leaf

1 Garlic Cube

2 T Flour

1 Pound Fresh Mushrooms – Sliced

8 C Water

2 Carrots – Diced

1 Stalk Celery – Diced

3/4 C Barley

Salt And Pepper


Sauté onion with garlic and bay leaf until tender. Add mushrooms and sauté until onions are translucent. Push vegetables to the side, add the flour and stir until smooth. Gradually add the water, vegetables, and barley and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 1.5 hours. Season with salt and pepper. Remove bay leaf before serving.


Check out some of our delicious latke recipes for Chanukkah. Click on the image below to enlarge the recipes.


We are delighted to present the new online home of Bikur Cholim of Toronto. Our new website was designed to allow easy access to information about our services, as well as provide a convenient way to apply to become a Bikur Cholim volunteer and to donate to our cause. Please take a few moments to look around. We hope you enjoy!

At 101, Frank Iacono still plays the violin. The concertmaster for the Providence Civic Orchestra of Senior Citizens in Rhode Island, he particularly enjoys playing polkas and jigs.

“It keeps my mind active, and it gives me a lot of pleasure,” Iacono said.

The orchestra’s executive director and co-founder, Vito Saritelli, said Iacono is extremely sharp for his age.

“Music has played a good part of his longevity,” said his wife, Mary Iacono, 94. “We’re blessed that we’re both in good health.”

As scientists race to figure out how to promote healthy aging of the brain, and prevent dementia, their preliminary advice for senior citizens has become a chorus of voices: “Stay active! Have hobbies! Be socially engaged!”

Playing music, for some people, is a natural answer to all of those recommendations. Frank Iacono, for instance, has been playing violin since he was 13 — just because he loves it.

But does music playing in particular stave off dementia? What about just listening to music? How many years do you need to engage in music before it benefits your brain?

Early research suggests keeping the brain active — such as by speaking two languages — may hold back dementia symptoms by up to five years. Scientists are hoping to find that the same is true for music playing, said Brenda Hanna-Pladdy, assistant professor of neurology at Emory University, who studies cognitive functioning among musicians

“If you can delay the presentation (of dementia) by five years, then you add an extra five years of functioning to an individual at the end of the life span,” she said. “In terms of fiscal cost and everything, that’s actually quite a lot.”

Source: CNN

Hanging out with your grandparents might not only boosts their moods — new research suggests it may also bring psychological benefits to you as well.

A new study shows that a good relationship between grandparents and their adult grandchildren was linked to fewer depression symptoms for both elderly and young adults. The closer the bond, the more anti-depressive benefits were observed.

“The greater emotional support grandparents and adult grandchildren received from one another, the better their psychological health,” Sara M. Moorman, an assistant professor in the department of sociology and the Institute on Aging at Boston College, said in a press release.

Moorman and her team presented the data at the 108th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association in New York. The research is considered preliminary since it hasn’t been published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Other studies have shown that older men and women who do not have close contact with their family and friends had a 26 percent higher death risk over a seven-year period compared to those who were more social. The increased risk was still observed even if the person did not consider themselves to be lonely.

The new study involved 376 grandparents and 340 grandchildren, and tracked them from 1985 through 2004. The average grandparent was born in 1917 and the average grandchild was born in 1964, making them 77 and 31-years-old at the midway point of the study, respectively.

The researchers also discovered that grandparents who received “tangible support” but were unable to reciprocate with a grandchild had the most increases in depressive symptoms over time. Tangible support could be something as little as a car trip to the store or giving some money to help with living expenses.

In contrast, grandparents who were able to both give and receive tangible support to a grandchild had the fewest symptoms of depression overall.

That finding suggests just helping your grandparents get around may not be enough to provide the boost in wellbeing seen in those who have close relationships with their adult children.

“Most of us have been raised to believe that the way to show respect to older family members is to be solicitous and to take care of their every need,” Moorman said. “But all people benefit from feeling needed, worthwhile, and independent. In other words, let granddad write you a check on your birthday, even if he’s on Social Security and you’ve held a real job for years now.”

Receiving or giving tangible support ,specifically, did not seem to have an effect on depression rates in the grandchildren.

Moorman said that people should focus on fostering healthy relationships not only within the immediate family but with their extended family members. In addition, grandchildren shouldn’t turn down a gift from their grandparents because it may make older people feel better.

“There’s a saying, ‘It’s better to give than to receive.’ Our results support that folk wisdom if a grandparent gets help, but can’t give it, he or she feels badly. Grandparents expect to be able to help their grandchildren, even when their grandchildren are grown, and it’s frustrating and depressing for them to instead be dependent on their grandchildren,” Moorman explained.

Read original article here.

When it comes to children’s protests about their bedtimes, parents shouldn’t give in. Research suggests that not going to bed at the same time every night may be harmful to the developing brain.

The National Sleep Foundation says that preschoolers between 3 to 5 years old need 11 to 13 hours of sleep, while kids up to the age of 12 need 10 to 11 hours of sleep.

“Early child development has profound influences on health and well-being across the life course,” study author Amanda Sacker, professor of lifecourse studies at University College London, said to HealthDay. “Therefore, reduced or disrupted sleep — especially if it occurs at key times in development — could have important impacts on health throughout life.”

The new research, which was published July 8 in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, looked at 11,000 children in the U.K. Their families were asked about bedtimes and other routines when their kids were 3, 5 and 7 years old. At the age of 7, the children were also given a test to measure their math and reading skills, and special awareness.

The 3-year-olds were found to have the most irregular bedtimes, with 20 percent of them going to bed at different hours each night. By the age of 7, the children were tucked in between 7:30 and 8:30 P.M. for the most part.

The tests revealed that girls who had irregular bedtimes at the age of 7 were more likely to have lower scores on all three cognitive measures than those who had regular bedtimes. Sleeping patterns did not affect the test scores for boys at this age, however.

Looking further into the findings, if a child had an irregular bedtime at the age of 5, it didn’t seem to affect his or her test scores at a later age. However, both boys and girls who weren’t sleeping at the same time every night at the age of 3 had lower scores in reading, math and spacial awareness.

In addition, girls who had irregular bedtimes at 3, 5 and 7 had significantly lower reading, math and spatial-awareness scores than those who had regular bedtimes throughout childhood. For boys, just having irregular bedtimes at any two of those age markers was linked to lower testing.

The researchers said that sleep may play a big role in the brains “plasticity,” or its ability to learn and store new information. Bad sleep patterns earlier in life may set people up for problems later down the road. They also believe that the evidence shows that 3 might be a crucial age for mental development.

“Age three seems to be where you see the largest effect and that is a concern,” Sacker pointed out to the Guardian.

“If a child is having irregular bedtimes at a young age, they’re not synthesising all the information around them at that age, and they’ve got a harder job to do when they are older. It sets them off on a more difficult path,” she added.

But, Dr. Robert Scott-Jupp of the Royal College of Pediatrics and Child Health told the BBC that people shouldn’t assume less sleep leads to less-smart children.

“At first glance, this research might seem to suggest that less sleep makes children less intelligent, however, it is clearly more complicated than that,” he said. “While it’s likely that social and biological brain development factors are inter-related in a complex way, in my opinion, for schoolchildren to perform their best, they should all, whatever their background, get a good night’s sleep.”

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Volunteering is often recommended for older adults looking to become more active in their communities, but are there health benefits as well?   It does according to Stephanie Brown and her colleagues.   Brown, an associate professor at Stony Brook University’s Center for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care and Bioethics, has been at the forefront of research examining the psychosocial benefits of volunteering, especially for older adults.

Though volunteering can cover a wide variety of ways that people can help others,  the most typical way that people become volunteers is through formal volunteer agencies or organizations.    The nature of the cause, whether it focuses on specific people or the community at large, tends not to matter as much as the spirit of volunteering itself.

The actual percentage of people who donate time to volunteer organizations tends to remain relatively stable.   According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 64.5 million people volunteered through or for an organization at least once in 2012 (26.5 per cent of the total U.S. population).   Though women tend to be more likely to volunteer than men across all age groups, the overall volunteer rate tends to taper off as people grow older with people between 35 and 44 being most likely to volunteer.

Still, volunteers come from all segments of society and all ages and their unpaid labour easily runs into billions of hours each year.   But what are the benefits of volunteering, especially for older volunteers?     According to Stephanie Brown and her colleagues, evolutionary psychology suggests that helping behaviour can have definite benefits which improve the psychological and physical well-being of the helper as well as the ones being helped.

Based on previous research, Brown and her colleagues have shown that providing assistance to other people helps manage stress, provide greater relationship satisfaction, reduced the depression resulting from loss of a spouse, and can even reduce risk of mortality.    Though the relationship between volunteering and mortality  appears strong even when medical history is considered, the question of why volunteers live longer than non-volunteers is still unanswered.    Is there a minimum amount of volunteering older adults needed to get the health benefits or is there a direct relationship between number of hours spent volunteering and improved health?    For that matter, can spending too much time volunteering be counterproductive?

Two  hypotheses have been suggested to help explain the  health benefits that can result from volunteering.   According to thecompensatory hypothesis, older individuals with fewer resources, i.e. social and community ties,  are more likely to get health benefits from volunteering.  In other words, individuals who are lonelier due to lack of significant relationships in their lives can use volunteering to provide them with the support network they might otherwise lack.   In thecomplementary hypothesis however, volunteering complements the resources that older adults already have.   For that reason, people with already strong social support networks (family, friends, community ties) can use volunteering to reinforce these networks which helps them live longer.

In a new study which was recently reported in Psychology and Aging,  researchers at Stony Brook and Arizona State University carried out a meta-analysis of previous research studies looking at volunteering and mortality.    Through direct analysis of previous findings, Stephanie Brown and her colleagues were able to test the relationship between volunteering and mortality across different subsamples (whether volunteers had strong or weak social support networks) as well as the influence of other moderating variables such as medical history.

A total of fourteen studies were used of which nine were based in the United States with the other studies being from Israel and Taiwan.    The age of volunteers ranged from 55 to 75 with an average age of 66.   Using extensive statistical analysis, the researchers concluded that:

  • Even when medical history, age, socioeconomic status, social support network, marital status, and physical/emotional health were taken into consideration, volunteering appears to reduce risk of death by 25 percent.
  • Religious involvement appears to boost the link between volunteering and mortality risk.    This may be due to the increased resources from religion-based activities which can complement the health benefits of volunteering
  • There are also wide variations between different studies so the question of whether high levels of volunteering can be counterproductive in terms of the health of older volunteers has yet to be answered.

While these results are encouraging,  Brown and her fellow researchers stress that there are a number of limitations that need to be considered before concluding that volunteering helps people live longer.   First of all, there is the usual warning that correlation does not equal causation.   To find out whether there is a real causal relationship at work,, better experimental studies would have to be carried out to look at moderator variables such as number of hours spent volunteering.

Also, even if a clear causal relationship was established, the question ofwhy volunteering helps people live longer would have to be answered.    Based on evolutionary biology and attachment theory,  Brown et al have proposed a “caregiving system” model linking prosocial behaviour with mortality.     According to the model, helping behaviour leads to feelings of perceived usefulness and competence as well as providing social integration and support.   This, in turn, leads to positive emotions and a sense of reward which improves the volunteer’s ability to regulate stress.   Considering the role that stress plays on the immune system, the caregiving system model proposes that older volunteers are potentially better able to resist disease and can live longer as a result.    Drawing on animal models of parenting and human neuroimaging studies of parents interacting with children, the model also proposes that the helping motivation activates neural circuits linked to parenting.   Hormones such as oxytocin and progesterone are released as a result which regulate stress.

The caregiving system model also proposes that the health benefits resulting from helping behaviour have two important limitations.   First of all, the helper has to have resources available to provide help.   Overworked volunteers are usually too stressed to get real health benefits from helping people.   That’s why having volunteers take care of themselves is an important part of any organized activity, both to prevent burnout and to ensure that the quality of care they provide isn’t compromised.   Also, the need for help has to be genuine.   This means that there has to be a trusting relationship between the helper and the one being helped.  If there is any sense that the volunteer is being exploited or abused, the benefit isn’t there.

Is organizational volunteering, i.e., volunteering as part of a larger organization such as the American Red Cross, the best way to gain health benefits from helping others?   Unfortunately, while most helping behaviour occurs in less formal ways, such as caring for family members or friends, research examining the health benefits involved is still limited.   Most studies tend to focus on the people needing help instead of providing it, except for when helping behaviour leads to burnout.    For that matter, even caring for pets can provide important health benefitsincluding reduced depression, lower blood pressure and better coping with stress, many of the same benefits seen in volunteering.

Learning more about the complex relationship between helping behaviour and health will likely provide important information about how to keep older adults healthy longer.   In the meantime, volunteering appears to be a definite win-win scenario, both in terms of the value it provides to other people as well as the medical and emotional benefits of helping others.

Ironically, while volunteering has been shown to have clear medical benefits for older adults, we are already seeing a critical shortage of volunteers which is likely to get worse in the years to come.    As the baby boom generation grows older, there will certainly be more people in need, especially with new dementia cases.  The demand for volunteers, whether through formal organizations or acting on their own, will be acute.    People who wish to get involved have far more opportunities to help than they did in the past.  Along with the traditional volunteering route, there has also been a rise in online volunteer opportunities.   More research is still needed to find out whether online helping can provide the same health benefits as face-to-face volunteer opportunities though.

So what does all this mean in terms of new health policies for older adults?  In addition to helping older adults remain mentally and physically active, especially after retirement, encouraging people to become volunteers could fill a critical need for helpers that is being felt in most health fields.   Although volunteering is probably not a one-size-fits-all solution for all older adults, learning more about how helping behaviour is  linked to the aging process may provide critical benefits in the years to come.

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“If you’re happy and you know it…” Researchers have studied how “positive psychology” impacts gene expression in humans.

Steven Cole from UCLA led a team who examined the human genome – some 21,000 genes – in light of two different classifications of happiness:

  • Eudaimonic well-being – the type of happiness associated with having “a deep sense of purpose and meaning in life”
  • Hedonic well-being – the type of happiness associated with unmitigated self-gratification.

The researchers assessed 80 healthy adults for hedonic and eudaimonic well-being, and they took into account potential negative psychological and behavioral elements. They then drew blood from the participants and mapped the varying biological effects of either hedonic or eudaimonic well-being, using a gene-expression profile known as conserved transcriptional response to adversity (CTRA).

The CTRA is a shift associated with an increase of inflammation and a decrease in antiviral activities with the genes. This response, notes Steven Cole, probably evolved to aid the immune system in the wake of changing patterns, such as microbial threats accompanying shifting socio-environmental conditions – for example, social conflict and contact.

The study showed that people who had high levels of eudaimonic well-being had low levels of inflammatory gene expression and exhibited a strong expression of antiviral and antibody genes.

The opposite was true for people who had high levels of hedonic well-being – giving high inflammation and low antiviral/antibody expression.

Questions asked by the researchers to determine each kind of happiness, included, for eudaimonic well-being:

  • How often did you feel that your life has a sense of direction or meaning to it?
  • How often did you feel that you had something to contribute to society?
  • How often did you feel that you belonged to a community/social group?

Questions for hedonic well-being included:

  • How often did you feel happy?
  • How often did you feel interested in life?
  • How often did you feel satisfied?

How genes react to the good, the bad and the ugly

Steven Cole and his team have been studying how the human genome reacts to negative psychology, including stress, misery and fear, for the last 10 years.

He notes that “in contemporary society and our very different environment, chronic activation by social or symbolic threats can promote inflammation and cause cardiovascular, neurodegenerative and other diseases, and can impair resistance to viral infections.”

This recent study, which was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences is the first of its kind to study positive psychology effects on gene expression.

Although the study participants with eudaimonic well-being had positive gene profiles in their immune cells and those with hedonic well-being had more adverse profiles, Cole notes that both groups did not feel any different.

Both groups had similar levels of positivity but their genomes responded quite differently.

Cole adds:

“What this study tells us is that doing good and feeling good have very different effects on the human genome, even though they generate similar levels of positive emotion.

Apparently, the human genome is much more sensitive to different ways of achieving happiness than are conscious minds.”

A recent study located a happiness gene, which researchers say affects people’s satisfaction with life.

Read original article at

Compared with those who did not have to endure it, men who survived the Holocaust have a longer life expectancy, according to researchers from the University of Haifa in Israel and Leiden University in the Netherlands.

The study, recently published in PLOS ONE, is the first of its kind to analyze the entire Jewish Polish population that fled to Israelbefore and after World War II.

Researchers from both universities worked together to study data from the National Insurance Institute of Israel on 55,220 Polish immigrants. They compared two groups of immigrants who were aged between 4 and 20 years in 1939:

  • Pre-World War II, before 1939 (regular immigrants)
  • Post-World War II, from 1945 to 1950 (Holocaust survivors).

Results show that the survivors’ life expectancy was 6.5 months longer than that of the immigrants who came to Israel before World War II.

When the researchers looked specifically at differences between men and women, they discovered no major difference in life expectancy between female survivors and regular immigrants. The differences in the male populations, conversely, were compelling: male Holocaust survivors lived an average of 14 months longer than the regular male immigrants.

Defying expectations

The researchers note that previous studies, which showed links between traumatic experiences and shorter life expectancy, compelled them to examine lifespan for Holocaust survivors.

Professor Avi Sagi-Schwartz from Haifa University says:

“Holocaust survivors not only suffered grave psychosocial trauma but also famine,malnutrition, and lack of hygienic and medical facilities, leading us to believe these damaged their later health and reduced life expectancy.

Surprisingly, our findings teach us of the strength and resilience of the human spirit.”

Two explanations for the findings are offered by the researchers.

The first is that the “post-traumatic growth” phenomenon – through which survivors had to face traumatic experiences and psychological distress – ultimately encouraged them to develop personal skills and gain new insights, leading to a deeper appreciation for life.

The second involves “differential mortality.” In effect, the people who were “vulnerable to life-threatening conditions” were more likely to die during the Holocaust. The survivors who got through the trauma may have done so because of genetic, physical or psychological factors, which may have prepared them to live to an old age.

The authors conclude that their findings “highlight the importance of public health policies providing socio-emotional and medical support for individuals who managed to survive atrocious circumstances.”

See original article at

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