APS Session on Cognitive Reserve

The title of the session was “Cognitive Reserve in Aging: Can Leisure Activities Increase Neuroplasticity?” and was chaired by Brenda-Hanna-Piaddy of the Emory School of Medicine. The first presentation was by Sara Lazar of the Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard University, and was titled, “Can Meditation and Yoga Slow Aging”. She was speaking of mindfulness meditation (on which you can find many healthymemory blog posts) and practitioners of Yoga that is strong on meditation and weak on strenuous positions. Practitioners excelled at a wide variety of cognitive tests, and performance on these cognitive tasks as they aged declined much more slowly than non-practitioners. Measures of the brain, such as cortical thickness, increases in white and gray matter, and the hippocampi, which are critical for memory, were larger than non-practitioners and decline less with aging. Now these people had been practicing for 30 or more years for at least five times per week. Be reassured that you don’t need to practice for this long for meditation to be beneficial. Every little bit helps, but the sooner one starts and the more one practices, the more benefits will be reaped. But it is never too late to begin.

Something I have never seen regards the question of how may victims of dementia or Alzheimer’s can be found among Buddhists Monks and other practitioners of meditation. Are there any? If so, is there data on the rate of incidence. If anyone knows the answer, or where to find the answer, please leave a comment. It will be much appreciated.

Chandramalika Bask, of the University of Texas at Dallas, gave a presentation on the benefits of video games. Apparently the beneficial video games are strategy games, not shooter games. These are real time strategy games that involve a number of tasks and the need to switch between and prioritize tasks. The benefits of playing these games were manifest in both cognitive tasks and in measures of the brain. They clearly slowed cognitive decline. One of the pluses of video games is that they are fun and people continue to play them. People are less likely to stick to regimes of meditation or physical exercise.

Brenda-Hanna-Piaddy made a presentation on the Neural Networks Subserving Enhanced Condition in Older Musicians. Her study involved 140 amateur musicians and non musicians with ages ranging from 59-83. The amateur musicians were divided into two groups, those with from 1 to 9 years of experience, and those with 10 or more years experience. A subset of 24 in these groups underwent fMRIs. The bottom line was that as assessed by cognitive tests and brain imaging, there were clear advantages for the musicians, and the more musical experience, the better. The bottom line was that music is a viable model for cognitive stimulation. Again, I would like to know the incidence of dementia and Alzheimer’s among retired musicians and aging amateurs. The current goal seems to be is reducing the onset of dementia. It should be realized that conscientious researchers tend to be conservative and do not want to over promise. But I am certain that there are individuals who live to be very old with limited or no cognitive decline. Articles about people who live to be quite old are frequently seen. My question is what is their cognitive status?

The final presentation was by Denise Park of the University of Texas at Dallas. Her presentation was on the relative benefits of active versus passive social interactions. Although social interactions are generally regarded as beneficial to memory health, the question here was whether the nature of the group would be more beneficial. So there were three groups with productive goals that involved learning something novel. One involved quilting, one involved photography, and one involved both with the time split 50/50 between the two groups. There were three receptive groups made to be as comparable as possible to the three active groups except that their activities involved nothing novel. The fMRI images indicated brain benefits fot the three productive groups. With respect to cognitive performance, the photo group showed improved verbal memory, the Quilting group showed improved cognitive control, and the group that involved both, showed improvements in both verbal memory and executive control.

All these studies are interesting and worthwhile, but I would like to see some retrospective studies in which people of advanced age who were still mentally sharp were studied. Retrospective studies are not very popular because their results are ambiguous. Even if the individuals accounts of his life are accurate, it is still possible that there is some unknown gene or combination of genes responsible for his mental alacrity. I feel that such research would still be informative and such life stories would also be inspirational and could provide good models for people to follow. Web searches on retrospective studies of dementia have not been successful. Again, if you know of any such studies, please comment.

© 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.

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