Health Highlights: Aug. 12, 2014

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

Robin Williams, Comedian, Film Star, Dead at 63

Robin Williams, a star comedian who could also move audiences deeply with the convincing power of his dramatic acting, died Monday of an apparent suicide.

He was 63.

The Academy Award-winning actor, who was found dead shortly after noon in his home near San Francisco, had been battling severe depression, according to his publicist. In July, Williams had returned to a 12-step treatment program that he said he needed after 18 months of nonstop work, the Associated Press reported. After suffering a relapse from drinking in 2006, he had also sought treatment, the wire service said.

"This morning, I lost my husband and my best friend, while the world lost one of its most beloved artists and beautiful human beings. I am utterly heartbroken," Williams' wife, Susan Schneider, said in a statement. "On behalf of Robin's family, we are asking for privacy during our time of profound grief. As he is remembered, it is our hope the focus will not be on Robin's death, but on the countless moments of joy and laughter he gave to millions."

Although his manic, brilliant brand of comedy was his signature talent, Williams tackled many dramatic roles, including ones in "Awakenings," "Dead Poets Society" and "What Dreams May Come." He won an Academy Award for his role as a therapist in the film "Good Will Hunting," and captured three Golden Globes, for "Good Morning, Vietnam," "Mrs. Doubtfire" and "The Fisher King."

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Music Training Might Boost Kids' Reading, Language Skills

New research suggests that when kids learn a musical instrument, they might get an added bonus: Enhanced reading and language skills.

The study, presented at the recent annual meeting of the American Psychological Association, found that 9- and 10-year-old kids who were taught music had better reading scores versus those who didn't get the lessons.

In the study, a team led by Dr. Nina Kraus of Northwestern University in Chicago tracked academic outcomes for children in lower-income neighborhoods in Chicago and Los Angeles.

Kids who got music lessons five or more hours per week didn't experience any decline in reading test scores -- something typically expected for many children in poorer areas, the BBC reported.

The researchers also tracked the children's brain activity and found that after two years of music training, children seemed better at distinguishing one sound from another, even when there was background noise.

"While more-affluent students do better in school than children from lower-income backgrounds, we are finding that musical training can alter the nervous system to create a better learner and help offset this academic gap," Kraus told the BBC.

Posted: August 2014


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