Archive for June, 2014

The Greatest Genius to Have Walked on Earth

June 29, 2014

In my mind that genius is unquestionably Leonardo da Vinci. I can think of no ne else who was so creative and his genius was manifest in art, science and engineering. So when I ran across a book titled How to Think Like Leonardo Da Vinci in the National Gallery of Art, I had to purchase it. The book is by a Da Vinci scholar, Michael J. Gelb. Self Help books were unknown in Da Vinci’s time, so Gelb took the task upon himself, and he did a splendid job.

There is no way I can do justice to Da Vinci’s contribution in this post, so what I am offering is only a sample. In the realm of art his Mona Lisa and The Last Supper are recognized as two of the greatest paintings ever produced. Other famous painting include The Virgin of the Rocks, The Madonna and Child with St. Anne, The Adoration of the Magi, and St. John the Baptist. His portrait of Ginevra de’ Benci hangs in the National Gallery in Washington, D.C.

As an inventor he made plans for a flying machine, a helicopter, a parachute, an extendable ladder (still used today by fire departments), a machine for cutting threads on screws, the bicycle, an adjustable monkey wrench, a snorkel, the three-speed gear shift, . hydraulic jacks, the world’s first revolving stage, locks for a canal system, a horizontal waterwheel, folding furniture, an olive press, a number of automated musical instruments (Leonardo himself was a musician), a water-powered alarm clock, a therapeutic armchair, and a crane for clearing ditches.

Da Vinci pioneered the concept of automation. He designed many machines to save labor and increase productivity. His automated looms were portents for the Industrial Revolution.

Da Vinci was way ahead of his time as a military engineer. He made plans for the armored tank, machine guns, mortars, guided missiles, and submarines. As far as it is known, nothing he designed was ever used to injure anyone during his lifetime. He was a man of peace who found bloodshed “infinitely atrocious.” He wrote that he designed his instruments of war “to preserve the chief gift of nature, which is liberty.”

Next come his accomplishments as a scientist.

Anatomy

  • He pioneered the discipline of modern comparative anatomy.

  • He was the first to draw parts of the body in cross section.

  • He drew the most detailed and comprehensive representations of humans and horses.

  • He conducted unprecedented scientific studies of the child in the womb.

  • He was the first to make casts of the brain and the ventricles of the heart.

Botany

  • He pioneered modern botanical science.

  • He described geotropism (the gravitational attraction of the earth on some plants) ane heliotropism (the attraction of plants toward the sun).

  • He noted that the age of a tree corresponds to the number of rings in its cross section

  • He was the first to describe the system of leaf arrangements in plants.

Geology and Physics

  • He made significant discoveries about the nature of fossilization, and he was the first to document the phenomenon of soil erosion

  • His physics studies anticipated the modern disciplines of hydrostatics, optics, and mechanics.

The book is subtitled Seven Steps to Genius Every Day. However, How to Think Like Leonardo Da Vinci is an enjoyable and highly readable biography of, in my view, the greatest genius to have walked on earth

The 500th Blog Post Has Been Passed

June 25, 2014

It was passed several posts ago. I wanted to continue the sequence of posts based on Greenwood and Parasuraman’s, Nurturing the Older Brain and Mind.before making the announcement.

Just as its title indicates, this blog is dedicated to building and sustaining healthy memories. Post are divided into three main categories. Human Memory: Theory and Data includes posts on memory and cognition. The Mnemonics Techniques category includes not only traditional memory techniques but also posts on meditation and mindfulness. The Transactive Memory category has posts on how interactions with technology and our fellow human beings can foster a healthy memory.

If I had one post to recommend to read it would be “The Triangle of Well Being” Entering “The Distraction Addiction” into the search box, will lead you to posts on how not only to cope with technology, but also howto use it to your advantage. Entering “Davidson” will lead you to many posts about mindfulness, meditation, and how to develop an effective emotional style. You can find posts on memes by entering, appropriately enough,  “meme”, into the search block. You’ll also find posts on economics. You might be surprised by some of the topics you’ll find covered. Give it a try.

Nature vs. Nurture: Genetics, Environment, and Cognition

June 17, 2014

This is the title of Chapter 12 in Greenwood and Parasuman’s Nurturing the Older Brain and Mind. They begin the chapter with a quote from Rene Dubos, So Human an Animal. “Genetics and experiential factors shape the biological and behavioral manifestations of human life, but they do not suffice to account for the totatality of human nature. Man also enjoys a great degree of freedom in making decisions; he is par excellence the creature that can choose, eliminate, organize, and thereby create.”

It is unfortunate but all too often the nature vs nurture issue is regarded as a deterministic dichotomy. Behavioral geneticists have done studies, identical twins have been frequently used, to estimate topics such as how much is IQ determined by genetics and how much is determined by the environment. What these studies neglect is the interaction between genetics and the environment. Neither exists in isolation from the other. Behavior and performance are the result of the interaction between genes and the environment.

Fortunately molecular genetics provides an alternative approach to behavioral genetics. The molecular approach allows for the study of specific genes and their alleles. This research has found that a particular allele of the apolipoprotein E (APOE) gene is a major risk factor for the development of Alzheimer’s. Pay attention to the term “risk factor.” Rather than causing Alzheimer’s this particular allele increases the risk of suffering from the disease. Moreover, it is possible that age-related cognitive decline may occur only in those who possess one or two copies of this allele. It is estimated that this could include about 14% of the US population.

The weight of evidence from research on this allele suggests that this risk factor interacts with lifestyle factors. Carriers of this allele obtain a greater benefit from exercise than non-carriers for late-life cognitive functioning. This benefit is most strongly evidenced when the exercise is carried out in mid-life. Cognitive experience also confers stronger benefits on allele carriers than people who do not carrier the allele. Understand that cognitive experience benefits everyone, but it is even more beneficial for those carrying this threatening allele.

So no evidence has been found that condemns any of us to Alzheimer’s or dementia. The activities covered in Nurturing the Older Brain and Mind and the healthymemory blog should be undertaken by all of us. This advice is further underscored for those with risk factors.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2014. 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.

Modifying the Work Environment and the Home Environment

June 15, 2014


Modifying the Work Environment and the Home Environment
is another chapter in Nurturing the Older Brain and Mind by Greenwood and Parasuraman.  It covers research in the field of Human Factors and Ergonomics.  I am a longstanding member in the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society.  The field of Human Factors and Ergonomics is devoted to designing technologies and environments so that they can be used effectively and safely.  Greenwood and Parasuraman note that their coverage of the broad area of human factors and ergonomic design for older adults is limited to just a few topics, including health-care technologies aimed at older adults and assistive technologies for the home.  They do provide references for more general coverage of basic research issues in human factors and aging.  There is much research into sensory-perceptual factors and interface designs and devices to compensate for losses in both sensory and motor functions that are not provided in the book.

Assistive technologies for self-care and “aging in place” are being developed.  This is especially important because more that 90 % of older adults live in their own homes, with relatives, or in independent-living facilities.  Older adults living alone are of special concern.  Some older people  have banded together so that they can age-in-place.  They organize self-help “villages” to screen service providers (repair technicians, for example) and other direct services such as meal delivery to dues-paying members.

The proper design of these assistive technologies has special importance for the elderly.  Daily we interact with and are frustrated by poorly designed devices (and software).  This frustration is exacerbated in the elderly who may abandon the use of the technology or, worse yet, use it improperly.

The Georgia Institute of Technology has been at the forefront of research to introduce “intelligent” technologies to help older adults age in place.  They have developed what they term the “Aware Home”, which is a conventional appearing house with many sensing and computing infrastructure designed to keep older individuals safe and improving their lives.  Information can be sent to a friend or relative to keep them aware of where the individual is in the house and what they are doing.

Honeywell has developed an Independent Living Lifestyle Assistant (ILSA)to support an independently living  older person with extensive monitoring and management (including the monitoring of temperature, blood pressure, and heart rate)  and with the ability to control remotely lights, power, a thermostat, door locks, and water flow.  There are many sensitive issues implementing these systems indicating that more research needed to be done.  Overreliance and complacency are two of the problems that need to be addressed.  Continued research will yield improved systems, and technology can be employed in an a ad hoc manner.  Imagine using Skype to keep tabs regularly on an older friend or relative.   Enter “Aging in Place Technology Watch”  to learn of a large range of activities taking place in this area.  aginginplace.com offers a wide range of information and products

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2014. 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.

Combined Effects of Interventions and Preventative Actions

June 12, 2014

Combined Effects of Interventions and Preventative Actions is another chapter in Nurturing the Older Brain and Mind by Greenwood and Parasuraman.  Unfortunately, this is a very short chapter, and the reason that this is a short chapter is that very little research has been done on this topic.  This is unfortunate as the few studies that have been done suggest that there are real benefits from combined interventions.  “The general conclusion is that lifestyle factors have greater beneficial effects on cognitive aging when they are jointly experienced than when individually experienced.”   Research has found additive effects of diet, exercise, and cognitive training.  Given this, the obvious question is why additional research into these areas has not been done.  Perhaps the obvious answer is that such research is expensive.

Here I need to put on my editorial cap.    It seems to me that it would be in the interest of the retirement home community to conduct their own research on this topic.  They are the ones best situated to conduct such research.  They already provide a community setting, and there are laws requiring certain activities be offered.  I have seen the progression my mother made from independent living to assisted living, and I have vowed not to follow this same route.  There are ads out the wazoo from many retirement communities about the paradise and freedoms their communities  offer.  I have  seen only one advertisement  for a program  nurturing the aging brain and mind.  That advertisement was for Home Care Asistance, http://www.HomeCareAssistance.com,  that offers a program for keeping the mind sharp base on a Cognitive Therapeutics Method, http://www.cognitivetherapeutics.com.  Although I have no data on the effectiveness of this program, it at least offers a program.   I want to see more advertisements offering programs to keep me cognitively engaged so that I can continue to pursue a growth mindset.  Moreover, I would like to see promises of on-going research, so that I might not only benefit but would also be contributing to new approaches.

It would be in the interest of at least the higher end communities to conduct such research, to offer such programs, and to make such commitments.  Absent any compelling commitments regarding ongoing programs and future research, I would never consider setting foot in any of these communities.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2014. 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.

Cognition Enhancing Drugs

June 10, 2014

Cognition Enhancing Drugs is the title of a chapter in Nurturing the oder Brain and Mind By Greenwood and Parasuaman.  They note that “there is little doubt that estrogen protects both the brain and cognitive functioning not only in younger female animals and in women undergoing surgical menopause, but also in middle-aged women around the time of natural menopause.  Unfortunately subsequent research revealed  the health risks of initiating estrogen and progesterone use in women many years after menopause.  However, the situation is confusing as  additional research has been conflicting and the situation remains unresolved.    Greenwood and Parasuraman conclude, “We should await results from newer better-designed studies before drawing conclusions about the benefits and costs of estrogen in women.”

Greenwood and Parasuraman note that the effects of other cognitive-enhancing drugs on older people have been little studied.  Perhaps this is because research has been targeted at  developing drugs that either cure of prevent Alzheimer’s.   Drugs that have been developed only slow the progression of the disease.  To my way of thinking this is only prolonging the agony.  Moreover, there is reason to believe that a drug that cures or prevents Alzheimer’s might never be developed (See the healthy memory blog post, “The Myth of Alzheimer’s”).

Greenwood and Parasuraman find it strange that the benefits of  cholinergic agonists for benefits in young people, that cholinesterase inhibitors have been so little studied in older people.  Again, in my view, this is due to the preoccupation with finding a cure or a preventive vaccine.  Perhaps as a result of their review some attention will be turned to this approach.
Caffeine is beneficial, but with this exception there is no current compelling evidence that pharmacological agents are useful for ameliorating cognitive aging.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2014. 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 Benefits of Diet and Nutrition on Nurturing the Older Brain and Mind

June 8, 2014

This post draws heavily on the chapter on the benefits of diet and nutrition in Nurturing the Older Brain and Mind by Greenwood  and Parasuraman.  They do not conclude that there are no benefits of diet and nutrition on cognition.  Rather they are concluding that most evidence for this claim is weak.

Now there is strong evidence that dietary restriction with respect to calories consumed does confer significant benefits for cardiovascular health, but there is no strong evidence for its benefits on cognition.  We often read that what is good for the heart is good for the brain and cognition, but that is not necessarily so.  Consumption of foods containing reservaterol may confer benefits on healthy and cognition that are similar to dietary restriction.  Greenwood and Parasuraman are hesitant to make this recommendation due to the dangers of alcohol abuse.  Here your healthy memory blog post author will say that along as alcohol is not abused, there are benefits.  Indeed, moderate alcohol consumption, one or two drinks per day, has been found to have benefits on health in general.

Goodman and Parasuraman also note that the substitution of polyunsaturated fatty acids for saturated fat in the diet has convincing evidence for the human risk of heart disease, but the evidence for beneficial effects on human cognition is inconclusive.

Goodman and Parasumanan state that there is little evidence that B-vitamin supplementation has any beneficial efftext on the brain or cognition.

Well-controlled studies of the effects of specific foods, spices, herbs, and micronutients are few in number and the results are inconclusive, but there is some evidence for the benefits of antioxidants in the diet consistent with other evidence for a ole of oxidative stress in negative effects on aging.

The Benefits of Diet and Nutrition on Nurturing the Older Brain and Mind

This post draws heavily on the chapter on the benefits of diet and nutrition in Nurturing the Older Brain and Mind by Greenwood  and Parasuraman.  They do not conclude that there are no benefits of diet and nutrition on cognition.  Rather they are concluding that most evidence for this claim is weak.

Now there is strong evidence that dietary restriction with respect to calories consumed does confer significant benefits for cardiovascular health, but there is no strong evidence for its benefits on cognition.  We often read that what is good for the heart is good for the brain and cognition, but that is not necessarily so.  Consumption of foods containing reservaterol may confer benefits on healthy and cognition that are similar to dietary restriction.  Greenwood and Parasuraman are hesitant to make this recommendation due to the dangers of alcohol abuse.  Here your healthy memory blog post author will say that along as alcohol is not abused, there are benefits.  Indeed, moderate alcohol consumption, one or two drinks per day, has been found to have benefits on health in general.

Goodman and Parasuraman also note that the substitution of polyunsaturated fatty acids for saturated fat in the diet has convincing evidence for the human risk of heart disease, but the evidence for beneficial effects on human cognition is inconclusive.

Goodman and Parasumanan state that there is little evidence that B-vitamin supplementation has any beneficial efftext on the brain or cognition.

Well-controlled studies of the effects of specific foods, spices, herbs, and micronutients are few in number and the results are inconclusive, but there is some evidence for the benefits of antioxidants in the diet consistent with other evidence for a ole of oxidative stress in negative effects on aging.

The Benefits of Physical Exercise

June 5, 2014

 

This post is taken from Nurturing the Older Brain and Mind by Greenwald and Parasurman.  They write in the summary of their chapter on physical exercise, “Of the various experiential and lifestyle factors in cognitive aging, which they have reviewed in their book, physical exercise is probably the one whose effects are best understood.  They reviewed literature on non-human in addition to human subjects.  They write, “There is strong evidence that aerobic exercise can reduce and in some cases eliminate cognitive deficits associated with healthy aging.”    Exercise benefits neurogenesis and synaptic plasticity.  Neurotrophins also are produced as a result of exercise and mediate  the beneficial effects of exercise. They also note that there is a growing understanding of the neural mechanisms that underlie such benefits.  They note that the mechanisms appear to be centered on the dentate gyrus.   The dentate gyrus is important for the formation of new memories.

Although knowing the neural mechanisms of the benefits of exercise is good, many readers would like to know how much exercise is “enough.”  Unfortunately, there is little information on this topic.  All I can cite is a previous healthy memory blog post, “To Improve Your Memory, Build Your Hippocampus.”  In that study people benefited from walking briskly for 45 minutes three days a week for six months.  So there is evidence that that amount is sufficient.  So if you enjoy exercising, please do more, if you do not, try to do something of the order of 45 minutes a day for three days a week.  I have a hunch that any physical exercise one does is beneficial, but data regarding the minimum amount that is beneficial is woefully lacking.  It is good to do something you enjoy.  The feeling both doing and after a workout can be quite enjoyable.  Frankly, I find exercising easier than dieting and nutrition, to which we shall turn next.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2014. 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.

Cognitive Challenge in Youth

June 3, 2014

Although it might sound ironic, cognitive challenges in youth play an important role in Nurturing the Older Brain and Mind, which is the title of an important book by Greenwood and Parasuraman.  There has been much carefully controlled research with non-human subjects that has demonstrated this point.  This research has documented brain changes associated with cognitive enrichment.   For example, there are increases in dendritic extent, the number of dendritic spines, and in the density of synapses.  Should such changes take place in the brains of human youth, these brain changes might persist throughout adulthood and provide a defense against later loss and cognitive decline.  This might be of part the basis of the cognitive reserve that has been repeatedly discussed in the healthy memory blog.
As there are both practical and ethical problems in conducting comparable research with humans, the epidemiological evidence makes the same point.  Higher educational achievement in youth is associated with better cognitive functioning and reduced risk of Alzheimer’s later in life.   It is also associated with greater reliance on the prefrontal cortex that is important for compensatory processing. This not to say that higher educational achievement later in life is not beneficial, but rather to point out that it is preferable to start nurturing the brain while we are young.

Of course, there are many other benefits of higher educational achievement, but the nurturing of the brain is another one and an important one.  Just considering the social costs of Alzheimer’s and dementia, it is important to stress educational achievement, not only for our children and grandchildren, but for all children and young people.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2014. 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.