Archive for November, 2012

What Can Be Done About Older Drivers?

November 28, 2012

This current blog post reminded me of my dear senior citizen colleague, Fletcher Platt, Sr. Although Fletch had retired from the auto industry and had played an important role in placing seat belts in autos and in establishing a center for research into safe driving, he had become concerned about whether he could still drive safely. We continued to communicate about this and other topics. Eventually my wife and I had the privilege of visiting him at his retirement home a couple of times. He established, maintained, and constantly upgraded a website I wrote about in this blog (see the healthymemory blog posts, “An Interesting and Inspirational Website,” “A Life That Leads to a Healthy Memory,” and “Transactive Memory: An Important Concept Not to Be Overlooked”). Unfortunately his website is gone with his passing, but I know he would have been much interested in this post.

When number of miles driven is equated, elderly drivers have higher crash rates than all other drivers, with the exception of teenagers. Moreover, drivers older than 70 are over involved in right-of-way crashes primarily at intersections where hazards typically emerge from the side of the driver’s vehicle. A wide variety of causes have been proposed to include:

diminished cognitive abilities such as the narrowing of the drivers’ useful field of view.

a loss of ability to attend selectively to what is important.

poor judgment of vehicle speed

diminished physical abilities that interfere with ability to control their vehicle

failure to turn their heads

older drivers scan at intersections less effectively than do younger experienced drivers.

Pollatsek, Romoser, and Fisher1 conducted research to determine whether scanning itself, in the absence of distractions and other traffic, was also a problem. To address this question they used two groups of drivers as research participants using driving simulators. A group of drivers over 70 and a control group of experienced drivers aged 25-55. The difference in scanning behavior occurred in the scenario in which the driver first has to stop at a stop sign and then go straight through the intersection. The critical threat region here is the two seconds before the driver entered the intersection and the one second after the driver entered (when the driver still might have been able to avoid a crash). It was during this critical period when the older drivers did not look around as much as the younger drivers. After they left the intersection and at less hazardous intersections, both groups looked around equally. The conclusion the researchers reached was that the older drivers had simply fallen into a bad habit.

Of course, the critical question here is whether anything can be done about this. Accordingly, the researchers examined the effect of training. The driving behavior of one group was recorded by three cameras that were placed in their cars. The research involved two other groups. One was a control group that was given no training. Another control group was given 30 to 40 minutes of instruction that included coaching about where to look at intersections and why less careful scanning was an important cause of crashes for elderly drivers. The group that had had their driving behavior recorded was shown the video of their driving behavior in addition to receiving the 30 to 40 minute block of instruction. At the end of this training the group given both the training and the video feedback reached a level of driving performance that was indistinguishable from the performance of younger experienced drivers.

Apparently, the feedback on their individual driving performance was critical. It is likely that the group that received only the instruction concluded that they knew and did that and that the training was not necessary. Feedback was required to show the drivers that they had fallen into a bad habit and needed to correct it.

As far as losses in the ability to divide attention, in peripheral vision, visual working memory, in visual processing and in the useful field of view, there are computer-based courses to rebuild and enhance these skills. Some of these can be found at www.PositScience.com.

As for the question posed in the title of this article. Develop training programs for the elderly and train them.

1Pollatsek, A., Romoser, M.R.E., & Fisher, D.L. (2012). Current Directions in Psychological Science, 21, 3-7.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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Successful Strategies for Compromise

November 25, 2012

Compromise is key to a wide range of human interactions, from a marriage between two individuals, to legislative bodies, to negotiations among nation states. A recent article1 summarized empirical research into effective strategies for successful compromises. One effective strategy is perspective-taking, that is seeing the world through another viewpoint. Another strategy is to try to empathize with the party with whom you are negotiating. 152 participants played the role of either the buyer or seller in the sale of a gas station. Prior to the negotiation half the buyers were told to focus on the feelings and emotions of the seller (the empathy group), whereas the other half were told to consider what the seller was thinking (the perspective-taking group). The deal was complicated because the buyer’s maximum allowed expenditure was less than the seller’s minimum acceptable sale price. The optimal agreement here was for the seller to accept a lower price for the station in exchange for future monetary considerations, such as a guarantee of employment for the seller. The perspective-takers were much more successful in striking a compromise. About 76 percent of this group reached the ideal solution compared with 54 percent of the empathizers. In another study over the terms of employment, perspective-takers were able to achieve strong outcomes for both sides, whereas empathizers produced deals that hurt their own interests. Other research has discovered that you need not be naturally fair-minded to consider the opposing viewpoint. Even gentle reminders about perspective-taking can be enough to lessen the problems of a selfish mindset.

Another study gathered a coed sample of participants for an experimental negotiation that simulated a divorce settlement. The goal was to determine an equitable distribution of nine items. Some of the participants were told to be egoistic and to work toward the best personal outcome. Half of these participants were also told to consider the other person’s perspective during the deal. The results indicated that egoistic participants who used the the perspective-taking strategy had fewer impasses and also ended up with higher quality group outcomes.

Optimism, anticipating a successful outcome to the negotiation, is also an important factor. One experimental negotiation involved Israeli participants and a Palistinian research confederate. The negotiation involved the funding allocation for a security fence between Israeli and Palestinian communities. Half the Israeli negotiators told just to do their best to reach an agreement. The other half were given the same instruction, but were also told that every other team of negotiators had been able to achieve a successful agreement. The Palestinian negotiator, a confederate of the experiments, made the same starting and counter offers to each Israeli negotiator. About 82 percent of the Israeli negotiators given the positive expectation were able to achieve a successful negotiation, whereas only 34 percent of the control group, the ones just told to reach an agreement, achieved a successful outcome.

Unfortunately, this effect of optimism does not bode well for the outcome of negotiations that have been going on for many years without success. But in any case, negotiators have to be motivated and be willing to compromise for negotiations to succeed.

The Congress in the United States has been at loggerheads for quite some time. If compromises are not made, there is the real risk that the country will fall off a financial cliff. Unfortunately, there are many members of congress who refuse to compromise and have signed pledges refusing to perform certain acts. These congressmen are anathema to a democracy. All legislators need to compromise otherwise democratic governments collapse. The public blames congress, although it is the public that ultimately is to blame, either for not voting or for voting for candidates who do not compromise.

1Jaffe, E. (2012). Give and Take: Empirical Strategies for Compromise. Obsewrver, October 2012, 25,8, pp. 9-11.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Happy Thanksgiving 2012!

November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving from the Healthymemory Blog! The purpose of this holiday is to remind us to be thankful. Each of us has something to be thankful for. Many of us are fortunate enough to have much to be thankful for. We should not forget to be thankful for our memories. They provide our identity and a machine for time travel. We can travel to times before we were born using our memories and our imagination. And we can travel into the future. Our memories enable us to use what we have experienced and learned in the past to plan for and deal with the future. They provide the basis for imagination and creativity.

So we need to do everything we can to foster and develop our memories. They will provide the basis for a more successful, fulfilling, and enjoyable life. The goal of the Healthymemory Blog is to help us foster and develop our memories. See the immediately preceding post, “Memory in Old Age: Different from Memory in the Young?” Regardless of our ages, we can build cognitive reserves that can diminish or ward off the prospects of Alzheimer’s and dementia.

As internet users there is something for which we can all be thankful, and that is a new search engine, duckduckgo.com. DuckDuckGo does not track users, so no record is kept of your searches or the links you click. Consequently, the search results are cleaner and absent the large amount of sales and promotional results. I, for one, am truly thankful. Please provide your personal comments.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content

 

Memory in Old Age: Different from Memory in the Young?

November 18, 2012

This blog post was motivated by an article in Scientific American Mind, “Memory in Old Age: Not a Lost Cause.”1 The article notes that older people retain their vocabulary, their knowledge about the world, how to perform routine tasks, but become worse at recalling recent events, short-term memory, and prospective memory (remembering to do things). While all this is correct, it is also the case that memory failures in older people are attributed to their age. They are referred to as senior moments and are sometime taken as warnings of incipient Alzheimer’s Disease. It should be remembered that memory failures are common at all ages and that while there is some decline in memory, not all memory failures in the elderly are attributable to aging.

The article provides techniques for remedying and mitigating these losses. They describe a variety of mnemonic techniques, which has its own category of posts in this blog, and external aids, which are referred to in this blog as transactive memory. These techniques are thoroughly covered in the Healthymemory Blog. You can also do a search on Prospective Memory. Of special relevance is the Healthymemory Blog post, “Prospective Memory and Technology.” The Scientific American Mind article also mentions the importance of physical and cognitive activity, recommendations you will also find in the Healthymemory Blog. The beneficial effects of nature, meditation, and social engagement were omitted from the Mind article, but are topics found in the Healthymemory Blog.

What strikes me is that these techniques benefit everyone, not just elderly. We should not wait until we reach old age, start becoming sensitized to our memory failures, fearful of Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia, before using these techniques and improving our memories and cognitive performance. These techniques should be introduced, as appropriate, beginning at home and in pre-school, throughout our formal education, and be part of a process of lifetime learning.

Most everyone has become knowledgeable and fearful of the amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles of Alzheimer’s. A final diagnosis of Alzheimer’s awaits an autopsy confirming the presence of these plaques and tangles. What is not well known is that their have been autopsies of cadavers whose brains had these amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles, but who had not exhibited any of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s while they were living. The explanation for this finding is that these people had built up a cognitive reserve that enabled them to overcome these physical manifestations of Alzheimer’s. So whatever your age, if you have not started yet, START BUILDING YOUR COGNITIVE RESERVE!

1Arkowitz, H. , & Lilienfeld, S.O., (2012). Memory in Old Age: Not a Lost Cause, Scientific American Mind, November/December, 72-73.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

A Treatable Condition Misdiagnosed as Alzheimer’s

November 14, 2012

I came across an article1 in Parade magazine that motivated this post. There is a condition, Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus (NPH), that is frequently misdiagnosed as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, or Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. Worse yet, sometimes it is attributable to aging. This is a tragedy because NPH is treatable. The most distinguishing feature of NPH is a disturbed gait while walking. Memory losses and a loss of bladder control are other symptoms. These symptoms occur gradually. NPH occurs when the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) surrounding the brain fails to be reabsorbed. Treatment for NPH involves the surgical implantation of a shunt in the brain to drain excess CSF into the abdomen where it can be reabsorbed.

Although this disease can occur at any age, it is more prevalent in the elderly. The Hydrocephalus Association estimates that at least 350,000 Americans, and 5 percent of people with dementia, have the condition. Mark Luciano, M.D., the director at Cleveland Clinic says that about 30 percent of his NPH patients were originally told that they had Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s.

In the case of Jimmy Nowell that was discussed in the Parade article, one specialist diagnosed his condition as Parkinson’s. Another specialist diagnosed it as Alzheimer’s. Had Nowell and his wife stopped at this point, his conditioned would have worsened until he died. Unless an autopsy had been taken, everyone would have thought he had died of Alzheimer’s. If an autopsy had been done they would have discovered that the distinctive plaque and neurofibril tangles were missing and would have been pondering as to what killed him. Fortunately they found a neurologist who correctly diagnosed the condition when he took an MRI and compared it to an MRI taken several years earlier. His treatment was successful.

I confess my ignorance of NPH until reading the Parade article. I had mistakenly thought that I was fairly familiar with the literature in the Alzheimer’s area. Unfortunately, I am not alone in my ignorance as it is apparently shared by too many in the medical community. Please spread the word regarding NPH, so that people suffering from the condition mistakenly think they have or are misdiagnosed with another condition. NPH is a condition that can be successfully treated.

 

1Chen, J. (2012). What If Grandpa Doesn’t Really Have Alzheimer’s? Parade, November 11, p.22

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Truth Decay

November 11, 2012

Truth Decay is the title of an intriguing and important article in the New Scientist.1 The author writes that when his grandfather was in dental school he learned that there were 48 chromosomes in a human cell. This was regarded as an established fact. But in 1956 Joe Hin Tjio and Albert Levan discovered using an improved and more accurate technique that there were only 46 chromosomes in a human cell.

It is the nature of science that facts change. Scientometrics is the field that studies how these facts change. The rate of change will likely surprise you. Thierry Poynard and his colleagues measured the churning of facts in two medical fields in which they specialized. Cirrhosis and hepatitis are two liver diseases. They took almost 500 articles in these fields from over a period of 50 years and gave them to a panel of experts to review. Each expert needed to rate each paper as to whether it was factual, out-of-date, or disproved.2 They discovered that 45 years after publication, 50% of journal articles had effectively decayed. They concluded that these articles had a 45 year “half-life.” Another study came to the same conclusion in a review of studies on surgery.3

The above studies were extremely pain-staking to conduct, so another method is used, and that is how long it takes for researchers to stop citing the average paper in the field. This technique is not as good as the failure to cite a paper does not necessarily indicate that the findings of the paper are no longer true. It could be that there are more recent and up to date papers, or that the journal’s focus has moved on to other topics. Nevertheless, this technique does provide an approximation. A study of Physical Review journals found that the half-life in physics is about 10 years.4 Half-lives also vary as a function of publication formats for different fields. In a study of scholarly books, physics has a different half-life (13.7 years), economics (9.4 years), which is longer than half lives of mathematics, psychology, and history.5 However, in journal articles, as opposed to scholarly books, the frontiers of hard science are overturned more rapidly than the frontiers of the social sciences.

The estimates of half lives and the rates of turn over in different publications and in different fields, although interesting, are not the main point here. The main point is that facts change and they change rapidly. For many years the Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) was strongly recommended for all men over a certain age. Now it is only recommended for high risk groups and even then, only after consulting with their physician. I have been through many different ideal food groups in my life. At one time dairy products were supposed to be nature’s most perfect food. At another time the US had four basic food groups. Then there was a food pyramid that underwent multiple changes. Now there are five food groups. Advice on the consumption of fatty foods, carbohydrates and many other things change.

The purpose of this blog post is not to discredit science. At any given time, science provides the best facts for that time. But science is in constant flux, and what is factual today might not be factual at some future date. So remember that some of what you learned during your formal education might not be true today. This underscores the importance of lifelong learning, and lifelong learning fosters healthy memories.

1Arbesman, S. (2012). Truth Decay. New Scientist, 22 September, 37-39.

2Annals of Internal Medicine, Vol 136, p.888).

3The Lancet, vol 350, p.1752.

4Arxiv.org/abs/physics/0407137.

5College and Research Libraries, vol 69, p 356.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Value of Openness

November 7, 2012

The prevailing opinion in personality theory is that there are five majority personality traits: agreeableness, extraversion, neuroticism, openness, and conscientiousness. Openness measures cognitive flexibility and the willingness to entertain novel ideas. According to a brief article1 summarizing recent research in this area, the linchpin for Openness being associated to a longer, healthier life is creativity. Creative thinking reduces stress. Creative people likely see stresses more as challenges that they can overcome rather than as obstacles that they can’t overcome. Another, and perhaps the most central reason, is that creativity draws on a variety of neural networks within the brain. A study conducted at Yale University correlated openness with the robustness of white matter, which supports connections between neurons in different parts of the brain. Nicholas Turiano of the University of Rochester Medical Center says “Individuals high in creativity maintain the integrity of their neural networks even into old age.” He further states, “Keeping the brain healthy may be one of the most important aspects of aging successfully—a fact shown by creative persons living longer…”

I would extrapolate from these results and also conclude that creative individuals are also less likely to suffer from Alzheimer’s and dementia. Some people might still hold to the old theory that personality traits are fixed and cannot be changed. I challenge that view. Current ideas regarding neuroplasticity inform us that we can change our brains and our behaviors. So we can work to be more open and creative. I would refer you to the healthymemory blog post “Creativity: Turn Your Prefrontal Down, Then Up” to learn more about creativity and how you can foster your own creativity.

1Rodriguez, T. (2012). Open Mind, Longer Life, Scientific American Mind, September/October, 18.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Six Tips for Improving Your Memory

November 4, 2012

These tips were taken from an article, “Master Your Memory,” in the New Scientist.1

      1. Hit the Sweet Spot. The sweet spot referred to here is the most effective means of remembering information that you want to remember. This topic is covered quite thoroughly in the Healthymemory Blog (see the category on mnemonic techniques). In addition to specific mnemonic techniques, it is good to space the study of material rather than cramming. Also important is testing yourself (see the Healthymemory Blog posts, “The Benefits of Testing,” “To Get It Right, Get It Wrong First!,” and “Trying to Recall Benefits a Healthy Memory.”). I’ve thought that the difference between students who get As and Bs, and students who get Cs, Ds, and Fs, is that the former recall the highlighted portions of their texts whereas the latter simply read them.
      2. Limber up. A bit of exercise can offer immediate benefits to anyone trying to learn new material. Exercise seems to increase mental alertness. One study found that students taking a 10-minute walk found it much easier to learn of list of 30 nouns when compared to a group who just sat around. Short, intense bursts of exercise appear to be more effective. In one experiment students learning a new vocabulary performed better if they studied after two 3-minute runs as compared to a 40-minute gentle jog. They believe that the exercise encouraged the release of neurotransmitters involved in forming new connections among brain cells.
      3. Make a gesture. It is easier to learn abstract concepts if they can be related to simple physical sensations. A variety of experiments have found that acting out an idea with relevant hand gestures can improve later recall, whether the subject is the new vocabulary of a foreign language or the rules of physics.
      4. Engage your nose. The French novelist Marcel Proust could write pages inspired by a remembered odor. Reminiscing about the good old days and recalling whole events from our past has been linked to a raft of benefits and can combat loneliness and feelings of angst. One way to assist in releasing these memories is by using odors. Andy Warhol used to keep an organized library of perfumes, each associated with a specific period of his life. Sniffing particular bottle would bring back a flood of memories associated with that odor. Research has supported the validity of Warhol’s approach for others. Odors do tend to trigger particular emotional memories such as the excitement of a birthday. They are also good at retrieving childhood memories.
      5. Oil the cogs. Diet can be helpful, and I think you can anticipate what is going to follow. Avoid high-sugar fast foods that seem to encourage the build-up of protein plaques characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease. Now diets full of flavonoids (see the Healthymemory Blog posts, “Flavonoids for a Healthy Memory,” and “31 Ways to Get Smarter in 2012”) are good for us. Flavonoids are found in blueberries, strawberries, and omega-3 fatty acids. These are found in oily fish and olive oil. They seem to stave off cognitive decline by a few years as a result of the antioxidants protecting the brain cells from an early death perhaps.
      6. Learn to forget (or rather how not to remember). There might be ways of stopping fresh memories of painful events from being consolidated into long term storage. One study asked participants to watch a disturbing video before asking them to engage in various activities. Participants who played the video game Tetris experienced fewer flash backs to the disturbing as compared to the participants who took the general knowledge quiz. It is thought that the game made greater demands on attentional resources that reduced the processing of the disturbing film. Playing relaxing music after an event that you would rather forget also seems to help. Perhaps it takes the sting out of the negative feelings that cause these events to stick in our minds.

1Jarret, C. (2012). Master Your Memory. New Scientist, 6 October, p. 42-43.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.