Archive for March, 2013

The “Now” is Really the “Then”

March 31, 2013

The “Now” is a key concept in mindfulness with the objective of staying present in the “now.” As will be mentioned later in this post, the objective is good, but it is misnamed. Our information processing limitations are such that we can never be present in the “now.” It takes about 0.1 seconds to read data out of our sensory stores. Further processing is then required before the data becomes information that we can understand. So all we know is history, although an extremely small portion of it is very recent history. We use our memories to predict and cope with the future. One of the most remarkable athletic feats is hitting a ball with a bat. The ball is arriving quickly, sometimes extremely fast. The projection of where that ball will be and how we are going to meet it with a bat requires literally a split second decision based on past information that has just recently arrived. Very few people seem to be aware of these delays that preclude us from being precisely in the “now.” This is of particular concern to me as there does not seem to be an awareness among many of the drivers how long it will take them to react should they need to take action. Even if one is devoting full attention to responding to a signal, that decision cannot be immediate. When one is scanning the highway and thinking the car will have traveled considerable distance before one can react. This time is further increased when one is on a cell phone.

We use this historical information stored in our memories to cope with the external world. We build models of the world to project ourselves into the future and try to predict it. I once knew a physicist who was disturbed that light could be both a wave (having frequencies) and a particle (photons). As a psychologist this never bothered me. There are models in our minds. Different models can be better suited for understanding different phenomena. This is the case with light. I don’t believe that we, as corporal beings, can ever experience the external world directly, but only via the models we develop in our minds,

In mindfulness what is really meant by being in the “now” is being in control of our attention. Our brains remain active 24 hours a day, and I doubt absent any pathology that there is any time that our minds our not filled with something. The exercises one performs to be “mindful” involve controlling one’s attention. There are a wide variety of meditation techniques to do this. At one extreme is the focusing and maintaining attention on a single action, breath, word, or phrase. It is very important to be able to focus attention processing at certain times. At the other extreme, meditation involves letting thoughts flow through our minds unedited. The goal here is to bypass filters or information processing biases that cause us to reject certain thoughts or ideas. Insight and creativity are critically dependent on both these types of attention (See the healthymemory blog post, “Creativity: Turn Your Prefrontal Cortex Down, Then Up”).

Although I am a strong proponent of mindfulness and many of its practices, I am a bit put off by some of the terms that are used.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2013. 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.

Advertisements

Mind vs. Brain

March 27, 2013

The first issue of the new publication, Mindfulness, features a column by Sharon Begley having the same title as this blog post. Her article motivated this current post. Scientists seem to be reluctant to talk about mind in a scientific context. Cartesian dualism is no longer in vogue. Neuroscience is the new kid on the block capturing fascinating images of the brain in action. The brain constitutes solid science; the mind remains somewhat questionable. There is a consensus that the mind is an emergent phenomenon emerging from the brain. However, the status of the mind remains questionable.

What is overlooked is that the neuroscience would be meaningless absent the mind. Images could be collected of the brain in action, but there would be no way of knowing what they mean. The typical brain imaging paradigm involves instructing people to do something and see what images emerge. That something is resident in the minds of both the experimental participants and the scientists doing the experiment. Otherwise the entire exercise would be meaningless.

The law of parsimony plays an important role in science. All things being equal, the simplest explanation is the best. So the simplest explanation is that the brain engenders activity which we interpret as the mind. This explanation assumes that the mind is epiphenomenal. In other words, it serves as a movie we passively observe and experience as mind. It is important to realize that parsimony can be overdone. The notion is that the explanation that should be chosen is the one that is simplest that still explains the most.

The first question to ask about the mind, is why is it there? Even if it is an epiphenomenon, why does it exist? Evolutionary explanations like to include reasons why things involved. So one should think that if the mind exists, there should be a reason for it. In my view the reason is for it to act on the brain. The entire notion of mindfulness is that the mind can act upon the brain, and there is ample evidence to accept this notion. Moreover, there is a pragmatic argument. Consider two individuals. One is a practitioner of mindfulness and engages in practices to control her emotions and to improve her cognitive function. The other believes that her mind is an epiphenomenon and that her brain will determine what happens. Which one do you think will be happier and more successful?

© 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.

Aging and Decline: A Self-fulfilling Prophecy?

March 24, 2013

An article in the Alexandria/Arlington Local Living insert of the March 14 Washington Post titled “Getting Stronger After a Century” inspired this healthymemory blog post. This article is about a man who did not start working out until he was 98. He is now 102 and is “able to curl 40 pounds, work out vigorously on a rowing machine and deftly pluck bouncing eight-pound kettle balls from the air with the hand-eye coordination of a much younger man.” The article later states that experts say that many people don’t realize that problems they associate with old age actually are caused by poor fitness. In other words, the experts are saying that the poor fitness aging individuals experience is, in large part, a self-fulfilling prophecy. People believe that this physical decline is a natural part of aging and start declining. If people would just start exercising, they could preclude or remediate many of these problems.

I believe that the same problem occurs with respect to mental fitness. People believe that mental decline is a natural part of aging. There are data showing that the average retirement ages of countries and the age of the onset of dementia for these same countries are correlated. That is, the earlier the retirement age, the earlier the onset of dementia. It isn’t retirement per se that is responsible, but rather the decline in social interactions, cognitive activities, and challenges (problems) that result in dementia.

So if you are retired you need to keep up social interactions and cognitive activity. Use your computer and keep learning new things. Read and take classes. And you don’t want to wait until you retire to start these activities. They should be lifelong activities. Nevertheless, it is never to late to start. Consider the gentleman in the article who did not start exercising until he was 98.

As the title of this blog implies, the healthymemory blog is devoted to healthy memories. It is constantly providing new, worthwhile information for your consideration. The category of transactive memory considers how you can employ others and technology for cognitive growth and health. The mnemonic techniques category includes articles on techniques that not only improve your memory, but also provide valuable cognitive exercise. Articles on mindfulness and meditation can also be found under this category. The Human Memory: Theory and Data includes posts on this very interesting and important topic. This is a good area in which to grow cognitively.

© 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.

Early Testing For Alzheimer’s

March 20, 2013

Alzheimer’s disease often progresses slowly. In the early stages some level of mild cognitive impairment is experienced, but life proceeds as normal. Not everyone who experiences this mild cognitive impairment will progress into Alzheimer’s. They have a twelve percent chance of developing it each year. Some will never develop dementia or will develop it from causes other than Alzheimer’s disease.1

Substantial effort has gone into developing tests to identify those with mild cognitive impairment who will progress into Alzheimer’s. This is difficult as a definite diagnosis awaits finding the amyloid plaques and neurofibril tangles. Positron emission tomography (PET) scans have been done to search for amyloid plaques in the brain that may begin to appear before symptoms manifest themselves. Research has found that healthy people with these plaques in their brains are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s related dementia later in life. However, it should be remembered that although these plaques and tangles might be a necessary condition for Alzheimer’s, they are not a sufficient condition. They have been found in autopsies of people who never exhibited any symptoms. The notion is that they had a cognitive reserve that protected them from this damage.

Tests can employ PET scans and/or Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans along with analyses of brain fluid. I have seen no data regarding the accuracy of these tests with respect to hits (correct diagnosis) versus false alarms (incorrectly diagnosing progression into Alzheimer’s). Moreover, none of the current tests can help determine whether a person with early signs will progress quickly to dementia or continue to live normally for years.2

MRI’s have been successful in treating a condition that is frequently been misdiagnosed as Alzheimer’s (See the healthymemory blog post, “A Treatable Condition Misdiagnosed as Alzheimer’s). The condition is Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus and occurs when the cerebrospinal fluid that surrounds the brain is not re-absorped. It is estimated that 5% of the people diagnosed with dementia have this condition. Unlike Alzheimer’s, this condition can be corrected.

It is somewhat ironic that early testing for Alzheimer’s can be beneficial for the diagnoses of conditions other than Alzheimer’s. Currently Alzheimer’s cannot be cured. Drugs can slow the progression of the disease, but one should consider, is this simply prolonging the agony of the sufferer? When there are opportunities for participating in a test of a new treatment, one can volunteer in the spirit of contributing to science and the development of a possible cure, but realizing that there will likely be adverse events and the likelihood of a personal cure is quite low.

There is some evidence that people can actually reduce their risk of dementia by quitting smoking, living a heart-healthy lifestyle, and treating any diabetes or hypertension that might be present. The healthymemory blog would add being both cognitively and physically active; to continue to grow cognitively, and to build and maintain social relationships. Most healthymemory blog posts address these topics. I would hope that they all make, at least, some small contribution to cognitive growth.

1Wolfe, S.M. (ed) (2013) Early Testing for Alzheimer’s. Public Citizen Health Letter, February, Vol 29, No. 2. 4-5.

© 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.

2Ibid.

Innovative Alzheimer’s Therapies

March 17, 2013

The follow information comes from “A Place for Mom Newsletter.” When I was looking for a place for my Mom, I found this organization to be quite helpful. And I found this information in their newsletter both interesting and potentially useful.

Customized iPads have been provided to the residents of some memory care communities. Special apps provide reminders to residents needing prompting. The iPads include puzzles that exercise the minds of the residents and games that improve dexterity. Simple properly designed puzzles and games are engrossing and promote a sense of mastery. They provide the satisfying feeling you get when you accomplish a task that is neither too easy, nor too hard.

Art therapy has also been found to be helpful. Art therapy involves both viewing and creating art. There is an organization, Artz, http://www.artistsforalzheimers.org/,which promotes art therapy for Alzheimer patients. In 2005, under the guidance of Dr. John Ziesel, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York instituted an after-hours program for people with Alzheimer’s and other dementias called “Meet Me at MoMA.” Dr Ziesel says that out therapy brings out the best in dementia sufferers, “If you met this people when they lived on an an ordinary day, you simply would not see them being this articulate and assured.” Subsequently dozens of other museums have implemented similar programs which proponents claim have benefits that last beyond therapy sessions.

Storytelling has also been found to be beneficial. Timeslips is a new dementia therapy program that involves showing a photo to a therapy group and asking members to make up a story based on the image. The states goal of the Timeslips program is to “inspire people with dementia to hone and share the gifts of their imaginations.” It also give memory impaired people an opportunity to socialize and be creatitive without having the pressure to remember.

It has also been found that light therapy that simply involves brightening room lights during the day may benefit elders with Alzheimer’s and other kinds of dementia. A study reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that bright lighting improves mood and cognition in older people with memory disorders. A study at Wayne State University sugested that more intensive light therapy using UV light might also be beneficial. This involves sessions sitting by a special, full-spectrum light.

There is also a therapy known as favorite food therapy. Called a “comfort centered approach” it allow residents practically anything (excluding foods that could be harmful) that brings them comfort, from chocolate toa small bedtime drink. This has been found to reduce medication requirements.

Understand that there still is no cure for Alzheimer’s. These therapies reduce symptons and make life more comfortable for sufferers. It is the view of the healthymemory blog that mental exercise may help ward off Alzheimer’s and other dementias. It appears that mental exercise can also reduce symptoms and increase the quality of those who have already been struck by the dementia.

The Benefits of Nondrug Therapies

March 13, 2013

This February’s Public Citizen Health Letter summarized an interesting and important study published in the September 2012 American Journal of Psychiatry. Randomized controlled trials (RCTs) are regarded as the gold standard for medical studies. The study was a meta-analysis of RCT testing of nondrug therapies involving family caregivers of patients with dementia. Dementia is caused by progressive deterioration of the brain that results in impaired cognition and memory loss. These patients are unable to perform such daily activities as dressing, washing, cooking, eating, and using the toilet. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia among the elderly and accounts for 60 to 80 percent of all cases. Currently around 4 million people in the US suffer from Alzheimer’s disease. It is estimated that by 2050, 11 million to 16 million Americans will have it.

Some of the problems occurring in advanced cases include screaming, physical aggression, arguments between patients and caregivers, repetitive questioning, wandering, depression, resistance to being helped with daily activities, paranoia, and not sleeping at night. The meta-analysis reviewed RCTs that collectively used 3279 dementia patients and their primary caregivers. The training was provided primarily to caregivers and included printed educational materials, telephone calls, individual sessions in the health care provider/office setting, group session in a classroom setting, and in-home sessions. The interventions included such skills training for caregivers as follows: managing behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia. Communicating better with care recipients. Using role playing videos modeling behavior management strategies, cognitive-behavioral interventions, vignettes, and live interviews They also involved enhancing care recipients quality of life, improving daily activities, increasing pleasant events.

The following education was provided to caregivers: Psychoeducation. Improving home care. Tailored advice and recommendations. Problem solving methods. Improving support networks. Computer-mediated automated interactive voice. Planning emergencies, legal, financial,

The following activity planning and environmental redesign were provided: Planning activities with caregiver and care recipient. Modifying care recipients physical and social environment.

Enhancing the following support caregivers: Social support. Web or telephone support. Strategies on how to access support, Family counseling.

Providing the following self-care techniques for caregivers: Health management. Stress management. Coping with change as a result care giving. Music therapy and counseling.

And the following miscellaneous items: Collaborative care with a health professional or care manager. Exercise for the care recipient.

Not all these delivery methods were used in all the studies reviewed, but many of the studies used a variety of these methods. The interventions in the different studies varied from 6 to 24 months.

For the 17 RCTs that measured outcomes in dementia patients, the analyses of the pooled data showed overall beneficial effects measured by reduction in the troublesome behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia. For the 13 RCTs that measured outcomes in the caregivers, there was a significant overall improvement in measures of stress, anxiety, depression, and quality. This is no small finding for the lot of caregivers is a difficult one and interventions that ease their discomfort are most welcome.

To fully appreciate the significance of this study one must realize that there are currently no effective drug treatments for dementia and Alzheimer’s. Although there are drugs that can slow the progression of the decline, the end remains inevitable. So there is some question as to whether these drugs are truly beneficial or are a means of prolonging the agony of both the sufferer and the caregiver.

This study also adds credence to the position of the renowned Alzheimer’s researcher, Peter J. Whitehous, Ph.D, M.D, who regards a drug cure for Alzheimer’s as being extremely unlikely. He argues for more research into nondrug therapies (See the healthymemory blog post, “The Myth of Alzheimer’s).

© 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.

Hunger, Caffeine, Cognition

March 11, 2013

How are these three words related? All three are related to the word adenosine. Adenosine is a molecule that is produced by the brain’s metabolism, during cognitive activity, and when we are hungry. The drug caffeine blocks the effects of adenosine. When I am hungry, I find thinking difficult. This would explain why. In both cases, I am feeling the effects of adenosine. Caffeine assists me in putting off eating. When I have been doing a great deal of cognitive effort, I am feeling the effects of adenosine. Caffeine is a drug that restores mental energy by blocking the effects of adenosine.

There are other ways of refreshing our brains. Exercise, even brief amounts of exercise, can be restorative. Meditation is another route to refreshing our brains as is taking a nap. When going the drug route, however, caffeine is quite effective.

© 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.

Using Our Minds to Control Our Eating

March 9, 2013

Obesity is a worldwide problem now, and dieting is a personal problem for many of us. It appears that both evolution and the food industry has conspired to make us desire fattening foods. Consequently, dieting is difficult. Are there any good techniques for controlling our eating? The answer is, yes. One of these techniques is our mind. Mindfulness can help us control our eating.

An experiment1 investigated whether eating lunch mindfully, in contrast to eating with distractions or no particular focus, reduced later snack intake. Twenty-nine female undergraduates either ate a fixed lunch while (1) focusing on the sensory characteristics of the food as they ate (food focus group), (2) reading a newspaper article about food (food thoughts control group), or (3) in the absence of any secondary task (neutral control group). Later in the afternoon cookie intake was measured as well as rated vividness of memory for lunch. Participants in the food focus group ate significantly fewer cookies that participants in both the food thoughts control group or the neutral control group. Rated appetite before the snack session was lower in the food focus group than in the other two groups. Their rated vividness of their memory of lunch was higher in the food focus group. The rated vividness of lunch memory was negatively correlated with snack intake.

This study strongly suggests that memory plays an important role in appetite control. Paying attention to food while eating enhances this meal memory.

So to control our appetites we should not eat while we are either watching television or reading. Moreover, if we concentrate on the meal and the enjoyment of the meal, our subsequent hunger and desire for snacks will lessen. Conversation remains an open issue. Conversation typically slows down our consumption of food, but if it takes our minds off what we are eating, it might be problematic. Perhaps its best to work comments about the meal into our conversations.

1Higgs, S., & Donohoe, J.E. (2011). Focusing on food during lunch enhances lunch memory and decreases later snack intake. Appetite, Aug57(1):202-6. Doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2011.04.016. Epib2011 May4.

© 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.

Doing Two Things at Once is NOT Better

March 6, 2013

I feel compelled to write this post because of blaring commercials claiming that doing two things at once is better. The healthymemory blog has many posts on the effects of multi-tasking (enter “multi-tasking” into the search block of the blog). Out attentional capacity is limited, such that when we try to do two tasks, the performance on one or both tasks usually suffers. Moreover, the switching between tasks involves attentional costs.

Now it might be true that we enjoy doing two things at once because we want to talk and watch television at the same time. And it is definitely true that there are times when we are required to do two things at once. Nevertheles, there are cognitive costs to doing two things at once. We can both perform and enjoy an activity more when we are devoting all our attention to it than when we multi-task. We might want to read or study at the same time we are watching television, but the efficiency of the reading or study will suffer.

We also need to realize that we can jeopardize ourselves and others when we multi-tasking. Texting and driving has received a lot of deserved adverse publicity. Unfortunately using a phone while driving has not received as much adverse publicity. There is also a misconception, that it is the hands that present a problem while driving and using the phone. Consequently there are hands-free laws on the books in many places. These laws accomplish little or nothing. It is the attentional demands of using a phone while driving that presents the danger. Research has indicated that driving performance while on the phone is equivalent to driving with a blood alcohol content of 0.08%, the most common standard for driving under the influence (DUI).

Another myth is that youngsters who have grown up with technology can multi-task without costs. Evolution is slow and insufficient time has passed for this to be the case. Moreover, research has found that this is not true. It was found that even students at the Massachusetts of Technology (MIT), who thought that they could multi-task without costs, were proven to be wrong.

The argument here is not to ever multi-task. Sometimes multi-tasking is convenient or enjoyable. There are other times when multi-tasking is required. But we must all be aware that multi-tasking does involve costs, and that we should never place ourselves or others in danger.

© 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.

More on Avoiding Collapse

March 3, 2013

Preceding posts have been on Costa’s The Watchman’s Rattle: A Radical New Theory of Collapse. The immediately preceding post has been on Insight, a cognitive capability that Costa believes could prevent collapse. This post expands on that theme. Insight is closely related to creativity, and there have been many healthymemory blog posts on creativity (just enter creativity into the Search Box on the healthymemory blog).

The central thesis of Costa’s The Watchman’s Rattle: A Radical New Theory of Collapse is that societies collapse as a result of beliefs not keeping up with facts. She writes of five supermemes that threaten civilization. They are: Irrational Opposition, The Personalization of Blame, Counterfeit Correlation, Silo Thinking, and Extreme Economics. These supermemes result in defective cognitive processes and unhealthy memories. We need to be aware of them in both ourselves and others. When appropriate, challenge others you find fostering these supermemes. The reality is that the solutions to the vast majority of our problems exist, but these supermemes operate to prevent their implementation.

These supermemes are types of unhealthy memories. And they are unhealthy memories that threaten civilization. They need to be stamped out.

Transactive memory is one of the major topics of the healthymemory blog. There are two types of transactive memory. One is technological, and includes conventional technology, paper publications, and modern technology of electronic publication and communication. Many of the solutions can be found there as well as the technology for collaborations and discussions that lead to these solutions. Our rapidly changing and increasingly complex societies requires collaboration and team efforts to reach solution. Social interactions are important to maintaining a healthy memory, and interactions among many, many healthy memories are what is needed not only for our civilization to survive, but also for our species to survive.

In addition to the supermemes, one of the risks is the amount of misinformation that is available. What is particularly alarming is that there is ample evidence of concerted efforts by vested interests to disseminate misinformation (See the healthymemory blog post, “The Origins of Misinformation). This willful manufacture of mistaken beliefs has earned its own term, “agnogenesis.” The comic strip Doonesbury introduced an online service, myFacts, that would provide you with facts that would support anything you believed or wanted to support. Although Doonesbury is a comic strip it is portraying a parody of an underlying reality. One needs to be on the alert for these efforts.

There is an increasing realization that being cognitively active is important not only to reduce or preclude the effects of dementia as we age, but also to allow us to participate effectively in our complex society. Costa writes of businesses, analogous to gyms and health centers designed for our bodies, that are set up like exercise facilities, but the exercises and workouts are designed to sharpen our minds. The digital brain health market is expanding at a rapid rate. Just enter “Healthy Memory” into a search site such as duckduckgo.com to find a wealth of resources (enter Healthy Memory Blog to find the current blog). Brain fitness will also return a wealth of sites. Many of these sites are commercial, but others are free. Readers who have found worthwhile sites are encouraged to enter these sites and their reviews as comments to this post.

© 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.