Posts Tagged ‘Alzheimer’s disease’

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.

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Is It Smart to Be Tested for Dementia?

December 21, 2013

This blog post is derived from an article1 in the Health and Science section of the Washington Post. First of all, it is difficult to distinguish early dementia from mild cognitive impairment. These are those minor memory impairments we experience as we age. About one in five people older than 75 have such blips, and most cases never progress to dementia or Alzheimer’s. I would argue further that what are experienced as mild memory impairments might not even indicate mild cognitive impairment. We experience memory failures throughout our lives, but as we age we tend to attribute these failures as cognitive impairments that we fear will lead to dementia.

Moreover, some memory lapses that might seem to be like dementia might really be something else. Danish researchers reviewed the records of almost 900 patients thought to have dementia and found that 41% of them were in error. Alcohol abuse and depression were the most common reasons for the misdiagnoses.

Small strokes that damage the arteries in the brain can cause a type of memory loss known as vascular dementia which is not Alzheimer’s. Currently, an autopsy is the only definitive test of Alzheimer’s where the telltale amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangels are found. However, it should be realized that autopsies have been done and found these telltale indicators in individuals who never had any of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s or dementia while they were alive.

Recent tests using brain scanning can be misleading. If, after reading this blog post, you remain worried, the first step should be to see a gerontologist or neurologist specializing in dementia. The claim is that when a full evaluation is done by somebody who knows how to do it, the accuracy of the diagnosis is supposed to be in the range of 90%.

Absent these full evaluations done by specialists, routine screening tests can be quite misleading. Even with the best screening tests, about 20% of those who turn up positive for dementia don’t actually have it. Another 30% of the people who screen positive for dementia actually have only mild cognitive impairment, which won’t progress or cause them serious problems.

Moreover, there is even some question whether early diagnosis improves outcomes. It should be acknowledged that there is no cure or preventive vaccine for Alzheimer’s. All that drugs can do is to slow the progression of the disease. Here is where I part company with the experts. What is the point of prolonging the progression of the disease? To my mind, this is simply a matter of prolonging the suffering. Our medical system is not designed to give us the best medical care, but rather the most expensive medical care. There is a strong willingness to prolong suffering so doctors and drug companies can take advantage of their last opportunity to cash in!

Moreover, little is said about the concept of a cognitive reserve. The explanation for those who have the brain damage indicative of Alzheimer’s, but not the symptoms, have built of a cognitive reserve. This healthymemory blog is filled with posts and ideas on how to build a healthy memory and a cognitive reserve.

1Christie Aschwanden (2013). Just remember this: It may not be smart to get yourself tested for dementia. The Washington Post, December 17, E5.

© 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.

14-Day Brain Workout?

December 7, 2013

“14-Day Brain Workout!” is the title of an insert by Cynthia R. Green, Ph.D., to the National Geographic Complete Guide to Brain Fitness. I’ve replaced the “!” with a “?” because I am completely perplexed by the word “Day” in the title. Does she mean 14 days and your done? This insert is based on Green’s 30 Days toTotal Brain Health, which I find to be even more perplexing. Brain or memory health is a lifelong pursuit, not something that is accomplished in days. Had she substituted the “activities.” the title would be acceptable. An argument can be made that the failure to continue pursuing certain activities as we age can contribute to the development of dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Nevertheless, the healthymemory blog shall review her activities in the context of developing and maintaining a healthy memory.

Get Physical. Yes. Aerobic exercise several days a week is definitely beneficial to brain health. Just walking 45 minutes three times a week is beneficial to memory and your hippocampus (see the healthymemory blog post “To Improve Your Memory, Build Your Hippocampus”).

Tap a Tune. She write of the benefits of tapping a tune with your fingers for a few minutes a day. I really would like to see the research on which she bases this activity. I remain skeptical, particularly if it is done only a few minutes a day.

Color Your World. She encourages drawing or sketching using colored pencils. Now it is beneficial to engage in new activities, but I am skeptical if doing this only briefly will be beneficial.

Learn About Memory Loss. Here she recommends reading about Alzheimer’s. I strongly recommend reading generally about memory and how your memory works and how it fails to work. Many such posts on this topic can be found in the healthymemory blog.

Jump Some Jacks. The jacks here is in the context of jumping jacks. I would subsume this under the earlier activity of getting physical.

The Honorable Opposition. I strongly endorse this activity. This is a matter of familiarizing yourself with the opinions of others. This goes beyond brain and memory health, but also addresses the goal of being a good citizen (see the healthymemory blog post, “APS Address on The Psychological Science Behind Hyperpartisanship and What to Do About It”).

Write a Haiku. Haiku is an ancient Japanese form of verse. Although it is reasonable to think that writing poetry contributes to memory health, there is little reason to think that there is anything special about Haiku.

Take a Yoga Break. Yes. Yoga is beneficial, but there are other forms of meditation that are also beneficial (enter “meditation” into the healthymemory search box) and , “are less demanding physically.

Reorganize Your Desk. Being an inveterate slob I should recuse myself from commenting on this activity. Nevertheless, although I will admit that there are benefits to being organized, I know of no research indicating that this is beneficial to a healthy memory.

Do Something Kind. Yes, not only doing something kind but simply thinking something kind can be beneficial to health (see the healthymemory blog post “The Importance of the Vagus Nerve in Relieving Stress.”).

Learn the Symptoms of a Stroke. Yes. This is quite important. Be sure to visit the National Stroke Association website, www.stroke.org

Doodle. Here Dr. Green does cite some research. According to a study published in Applied Cognitive Psychology research participants assigned a doodling task not only did better when quizzed on what they were monitoring in a phone call, but also did 29% better than a control group on a surprise memory test.

Hug 5 People. Yes. Hugging is good. See “Do Something Good.” Just be sure that you know the 5 people that you hug.

List 10 Ways Your Brain is Great. Indeed, Your brain is great. But you not only need to appreciate it, but you also need to build and grow it continually.

All in all, the suggestions are good. I believe more emphasis should have been spent on the importance of social interactions. And I think the benefits of specific memory improving techniques should also have been included (See the “Mnemonic Techniques” category of the healthymemory blog.

© 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.

Sleep, the Brain, and Alzheimer’s

November 24, 2013

Sleep has always presented a problem for science. It is an activity in which we humans spend approximately one-third of our lives. So there must be some justification, but what is it? Dreaming is an important area of study. The healthymemory blog has a substantial number of posts on dreaming, which will not be reviewed here (to find them, enter “dreaming” into the search block of the healthymemory blog). Recent research has identified how waste materials are removed from the brain, and how this removal increases when we sleep. A healthymemory blog reader has led me to some of this research and I do thank him for his assistance.

For most of the body there is a complex system of lymphatic vessels that cleanse tissues of potentially harmful metabolic waste products, accumulations of soluble proteins and excess interstitial fluid. Unfortunately, the central nervous system lacks a lymphatic vasculature, so the problem was to identify how waste products are removed from the brain. Research by Maiken Nedergaard and her research group at the University of Rochester has appeared to have solved this problem.1 This finding is especially important as the breakdown of the brain’s innate clearance system might underlie the pathogenesis of neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Huntington’s disease, as well as ALS and chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

The research team injected fluorescent tracers into the brains of living mice, and then imaged the movement of the tracers using two-photon microscopy in real time. They were able to identify a complete anatomical pathway, which they dubbed the “glymphatic system” due to its dependence on glial cells performing a “lymphatic” cleansing of the brain interstitial fluid. (enter “glial” into the healthymemory blog search block to learn more about glial cells).

“During sleep, the cerbrospinal fluid flushed through the brain very quickly and broadly,” said Rochester neuropharmacologist Lulu Xi/”2. Another experiment revealed that sleep causes the space between cells to increase by 60%, allowing the flow to increase. When the mouse was awakened, the flow in the brain was greatly constrained.

“Brain cells shrink when we sleep, allowing fluid to enter and flush out the brain,” Nedergaard said. “It’s like opening and closing a faucet.”3 The research also found that beta-amyloid protein cleans out of the brain twice as fast in a sleeping rodent as in one who is awake.

This research once again underscores the importance of getting enough sleep. It also suggests that failures in this cleansing system might contribute to neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Huntington’s disease, as well as ALS and chronic traumatic encephalopathy. So this research opens up new research avenues for studying and, possibly curing or remediating these diseases.

2Kim, M. (2013). During sleep, the brain clears up. The Washington Post, October 20, p. A5.

3ibid.

Comments on an Article Titled Now is The Time for Young People to Face Alzheimer’s

September 18, 2013

First of all, let me state that I am in strong agreement with the title of the article. The author includes both personal experiences and statistics in the article. It begins with the story of the grandfather who has succumbed to Alzheimer’s and needs to be taken care of by the author and her mother. He requires around-the-clock care. Her grandfather is not alone as are over 5 million Americans suffering with this incurable and life-altering disease. “Symptoms usually develop slowly and get worse over time, becoming severe enough to interfere with daily tasks. Those with Alzheimer’s lose the ability to do things that were once routine. As the disease progresses, patients forget their loved ones’ faces, where they live and much more.

The stress of this disease, though, largely falls on the patient’s caregiver. An elderly adult caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s has a 60 percent chance of dying before the patient, and this past June, my family saw this firsthand. My grandma Margaret died suddenly of an aneurism after caring for her husband of 60 years. Her death left our family lamenting the stress she lived with in her final years.

Stepping into my grandmother’s shoes has been a difficult experience for my mom and me. Trying to get through normal grief is hard enough, but simultaneously caring for my grandpa challenged us on many emotional levels. Slowly but surely, time eases the pain of grieving a loved one, but there remains a hole in our heart that will never be healed.

As a 19-year-old helping to take care of an 81-year-old with Alzheimer’s, I began to reflect on how this disease will affect future lives. As of now, someone develops Alzheimer’s every 68 seconds. That’s scary enough, but by 2050 people could develop the disease every 33 seconds.

The segment of the population over age 65 is also expected to double by 2030. While the number of older folks increases, the rate of those with Alzheimer’s will also increase. Millennials like myself need to acknowledge the fact that we will become the manifestations of these horrifying statistics. The five million Americans currently with Alzheimer’s are only a third of the 15 million projected to have the disease in 2050. I’m terrified to think what life will look like for the elderly when I turn 65 in 2058, and others in my generation should share that fear.

Young people tend to have an invincibility complex, through which the health issues of the elderly are the farthest thing from their minds. With such a serious health threat to our society, millennials simply cannot afford to only think about me me me. The problem of Alzheimer’s in America grows greater by the year, and we cannot wait until 2050 to start and look for solutions.

While I help with my grandpa’s care, I hope my family’s story will help others reflect on the devastating future of Alzheimer’s. Though the statistics don’t look bright, I remain optimistic my fellow millennials will try and think more about our collective health.”1

What is conspicuously missing from this articles is what millennials can do about Alzheimer’s. And that is what the healthymemory blog is about. See previous healthymemory blog posts, “The Myth of Alzheimer’s”, and “Sigmund Freud and Alzheimer’s Disease.” The individual who discovered Alzheimer’s disease, Alois Alzheimer, had serious doubts as to whether he had discovered a disease. And there are serious doubts as to whether there will be drugs developed that can either cure of provide an immunity to a disease. Current drugs slow the progression, and, in my view, prolong the suffering.

To this point, drugs have been primarily targeting the amyloid plaque and the neurofibrillary tangles that have been found in autopsies done on sufferers of Alzheimer’s. At one time, and this is perhaps still the case, this was regarded as the only definitive diagnosis of the disease. But these same plaques and tangles have been found in autopsies of people who exhibited none of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s . The explanation for this is that these individuals have developed a cognitive reserve that protected them from exhibited the symptoms.

So what should millennials do about Alzheimer’s? The same things that everyone else should do. Maintain physical and dental health and consume a healthy diet. Engage in mental activities that build cognitive reserve. Included here are mnemonic techniques, meditation, and mindfulness. Also use technology to extend your knowledge and to communicate with others. Maintaining and growing social relationships throughout one’s life is important. But “friending” on Facebook should not be regarded as building healthy relationships. And finally, read the healthymemoryblog.

1From the article.

© 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.

Dental Health and Alzheimer’s

September 4, 2013

I never thought I would be writing about dental prophylaxes, but relevant research relating dental prophylaxes to the prevention of Alzheimer’s requires me to do so. Hence this post. A very good friend, and healthymemory blog reader, sent me the link1 to a Yahoo Health Article on how taking care of our teeth may prevent Alzheimer’s/

According to the article, there is a rapidly growing body of evidence strongly linking periodontal disease to a greatly increased risk for Alzheimer’s and possibly other types of dementia. In the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, British scientists reported finding signs of gum-disease bacteria in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. Byproducts of this bacterium, Porphyromonas gingivitis (P. gingivitas) were found in brain samples of four out of ten Alzheimer’s patients, but not in the samples from ten people of similar age without dementia. Although this sample is too small for statistical conclusions, it is suggestive.

P. gingivitis is commonly found in in people with chronic periodontal disease. It can enter the bloodstream through everyday activities such as eating, brushing, and invasive dental treatments. From there, it can potentially travel to the brain. Periodontal disease is a chronic inflammatory disease of the gums and bones supporting the teeth. It affects nearly 50% of American adults over age 30, and 70% of people age 65 or older.

In a study done in 2010 involving 152 people, researchers linked inflammed gums to greatly increased risk for cognitive impairment. The study compared mental function at ages 50 and 70 and found people with gum inflammation nine times more likely to score in the lowest category of mental function compared to those with little or no inflammation. This finding held true even when risk factors such as smoking, obesity, and tooth loss unrelated to gum disease were taken into account. Gum disease made the situation even worse for people who already had impaired cognitive function at age 50.

One theory explaining the link between oral bacteria and memory loss posits that these pathogens might generate inflammation in brain cells involved in Alzheimer’s, such as the glial cells. Dr, Bale, the medical director of the Heart Health Program at Grace Clinic in Lubbock, Texas says that”One of the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease is activated glial cells, with high levels of inflammatory molecules that lead to nerve cell damage and destruction.”

Here are Dr. Bale’s recommendation for keeping your teeth, and likely your brain, in excellent health.

  • Brush at least twice a day, in the morning and at bedtime. He also recommends using an electric tooth brush for two minutes and fluoride toothpaste.

  • Be sure to brush the back and front of each tooth, along with your gums and tongue.

  • Floss at least once a day, being sure to wrap the floss around each tooth to remove debris and bacteria. An oral irrigator , such as Waterpik, can also be helpful for cleaning between the teeth.

  • Know the symptoms of gum disease and alert your dentist if you have any of them. The leading warning sign is bleeding when you brush or floss. Others include red, puffy, or tender gums, loose teeth. Puss between your gums and teeth, and a change in your bite (how your teeth fit together), any of which should warrant a quick dental checkup.

  • Visit your dentist at least twice a year for a checkup and professional cleaning. Even if you don’t have any symptoms of gum disease, the checkup should include measuring the pockets between your teeth, which is done painlessly with a dental probe. In the early stages gum disease may not cause any obvious symptoms.

  • Avoid smoking, which greatly increases risk for gum disease.

APS Session on Cognitive Reserve

June 5, 2013

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.

4 Ways to Fight Alzheimer’s

June 1, 2013

This post is largely based on the article by Dr. Gary Small, “Four Ways to Save Yourself From Alzheimer’s Disease1. There is also a book by Dr. Small, The Alzheimer’s Prevention Program. The prospects for either a cure or a vaccine to prevent Alzheimer’s are becoming increasingly dim (see the healthymemory blog post, “An Update on the Prospect of a Cure for Alzheimer’s). However, there is much we can do to decrease significantly, if not avoid completely, the ravages of Alzheimer’s. This post outlines 4 ways to fight Alzheimer’s.

One way is to engage in physical exercise. The Mind Health Report notes that strength training can improve cognitive function and brain health. It also cites a study that found that walking briskly for just 20 minutes a day can lower the risk for Alzheimer’s. Walking 40 minutes a day, three times a week has also been shown to be beneficial (see the healthymemory blog post, “To Improve Your Memory, Build Your Hippocampus”). Walking is not the only beneficial activity. Jogging, swimming, and other activities pump oxygen and nutrients to brain cells. Try working these activities into daily routines.

Another way is to manage stress. Stress cannot be eliminated, nor should it be. But too much stress is harmful and increases the risk of Alzheimer’s. Cortisol-induced stress has produced temporary impairment in memory and recall abilities. Fortunately, stress can be managed. According to the Mind Health Report article, “…Dr. Helen Lavretsky at UCLA showed that tai chi can improve markers of inflammation in the blood. She also reported that functional MRI scans showed that meditation actually strengthens neural networks in important brain areas controlling cognition.” There are many healthymemory blog posts on meditation. Actually, meditation is a subtopic of the more encompassing concept of mindfulness. (enter “meditation” or “mindfulness” into the search block of this blog).

` A third way is to eat appropriately. From the article in The Mind Health Report: “For optimal brain performance, combine antioxidant fruits and vegetables with healthy proteins. Researchers at Columbia University have shown that when our diets emphasize proteins from fish and nuts along with fruits and vegetables, the risk of Alzheimer’s disease decreases compared with the risk from diets emphasizing read meat and butter and fewer fruits and vegetables.” For healthymemory blog posts on the benefits of diet enter “diet” into the search block.

The fourth way, and the way emphasized in the healthy memory blog,is through cognitive exercise. Mnemonic techniques are techniques that not only improve memory performance, but also provide beneficial cognitive exercise (See the healthymemory category “mnemonic techniques”). The healthymemory blog category, “Transactive Memory” has posts on how to employ technology and our fellow human beings in building and exercises our memories. Social relationships and interactions are important to a healthy memory. The “Human Memory: Theory and Data” healthymemory blog category provides posts on human memory and behavior., and neuroscience. You will note that the category is widely construed as human memory is at the bottom of all issues involving humans. All posts go to the goal of building a “cognitive reserve” to fight Alzheimer’s and dementia. It is never too early, or too late, to build this cognitive reserve.

1Small, G.D. (2013). Four Ways to Save Yourself From Alzheimer’s Disease. The Mind Health Report, May.

Healthy Memory’s 400th Post

May 21, 2013

It is difficult to believe that this is the 400th post on the healthymemory blog. These posts have covered a lot of territory. The primary focus of the healthymemory blog is memory. Memory is central to all human processes, both personal and collective. Consequently, an understanding of memory is useful, if not essential, to us as human beings. The healthymemory blog is devoted to cognitive growth. This is important both as a means to human fulfillment and for the building of a cognitive reserve. A cognitive reserve provides the best means of warding off Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Consequently, the healthymemory blog should be of primary interest to Baby Boomers, but, in fact, it should be of interest to everyone. The study of human memory is fascinating and cognitive growth should be a goal of everyone, regardless of age.

Blog posts are divided into three categories. The largest is Human Memory Theory and Data. This category includes posts on human memory and everything that human memory touches. The category mnemonic techniques includes specific techniques for improving memory. These techniques can also provide cognitive exercise to foster memory health. The topics of meditation and mindfulness are also included as both meditation and mindfulness foster healthy memories. The subtitle for the healthymemory blog is Memory Health and Technology. This includes transactive memory. Transactive memory refers to extensions of one’s own memory in technology and fellow human beings. It includes posts on how technology can be used to foster cognitive growth and how interactions with our fellow human beings are essential to memory health.

In short, there is much to read here. Older posts are not out of date. Just enter topics of interest to you in the healthymemory blog search block to find posts of interest to you. You just might be surprised.

Passing 67

May 8, 2013

What is most remarkable of reaching my 67th birthday is that I don’t feel like I’m 67. I remember when I was a child looking at my grandparents and thinking how old they look. Now that I am at my grandparents’ age, I feel the same as I did when I was young. Perhaps I am walking a tad slower. The mileage I put on my bicycle has decreased significantly, but I think this is more a matter of choice and my wanting to pursue other activities than it is a decline in my physical condition. I am fairly confident that if I put the emphasis on bicycling I could not only meet, but perhaps exceed my previous mileage. I am still working full time. Research has shown that retirement can lead to significant cognitive decline. There is a significant correlation between the mean retirement age of a country and the average age for the onset of dementia. My work keeps me cognitively active and socially engaged, two activities important to brain and memory health.

My Mom lived to be 99 and passed away six months short of her 100th birthday. Unfortunately, for the last years of her life, she was plagued by dementia. Her advice to me was not to live as long as she did. Personally, I have no interest in living after my cognitive faculties have degraded. This healthymemory blog is one indication of my desire to extend my passion for memory health to others. The immediately preceding healthymemory blog post, “How Our Mind and Brain Work” goes into some detail for building a cognitive reserve that can ward off dementia. It should be remembered that there are individuals, both living and dead, who have the signature indicators of Alzheimer’s, neurofibrillary tangles and amyloid plaques, who never evidence the behavioral symptoms of Alzheimer’s. It is believe that these individuals had built up cognitive reserves. Stine-Morrow’s Dumbledore Hypothesis is that there is a tendency to rely upon old ways of thinking as we age and to, effectively, cognitively coast as we age. I should act that proper diet, exercise, and being socially engaged, are also important, and there are healthymemory blog posts on these topics.

There are also blog posts on “Passing 65,” and “Passing 66”, if you want to see my perspective over the years.

© 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.

How Our Brain and Mind Work

May 5, 2013

Aristotle and his contemporaries believed that the mind resided in the heart. It was Hippocrates who argued that the brain is responsible for thought, sensation, emotion, and cognition. However, it took almost 2500 years for the next major advance. At the beginning of the 20th century the Spanish anatomist Santiago Ramon y Cajal identified the neuron as the building block of the brain. He identified different types of neurons and advanced the “connectionist” view that it was the connections and communications among the neurons that characterized the activities of the brain.

There are four basic types of neurons. Sensory neurons transmit signals from the brain to the rest of the body. Motor neurons send signals to parts of the body to direct movement, such as muscles. Interneurons provide connections between other neurons, Pyramidal neurons are involved in many areas of cognition.

The connectionist network is amazing. There are about 100 billion neurons in our brains. Each has about 1000 synapses connecting with other neurons. So there are about 100 trillion interconnections in our brain. Our brains are remarkably flexible. This plasticity is due to a special class of neurotransmitter that serve as “neuromodulators.” These neuromodulators “…alter the amount of other neurotransmitters released at the synapse and the degree to which the neurons respond to incoming signals. Some of these changes help to fine tune brain activity in response to immediate events, while others rewire the brain in the long term, which is thought to explain how memories are stored.

Many neuromodulators act on just a few neurons, but some can penetrate through large swathes of brain tissue creating sweeping changes. Nitric oxide, for example, is so small (the 10th smallest molecule in the known universe, in fact) that it can easily spread away from the neuron at its source. It alters receptive neurons by changing the amount of neurotransmitter released by each nerve impulse, kicking off the changes that are necessary for memory formulation in the hippocampus.”1

Much of this brain activity takes place outside our conscious awareness. According to Kahneman’s Two Process View of Human Cognition, there are two basic systems for processing information. information in a dynamic environment. System 1 is named Intuition. System 1 is very fast, employs parallel processing, and appears to be automatic and effortless. They are so fast that they are executed, for the most part, outside conscious awareness. Emotions and feelings are also part of System 1. Learning is associative and slow. For something to become a System 1 process requires much repetition and practice. Activities such as walking, driving, and conversation are primarily System 1 processes. They occur rapidly and with little apparent effort. We would not have survived if we could not do these types of processes rapidly. But this speed of processing is purchased at a cost, the possibility of errors, biases, and illusions. Without System 1, we would not have survived as a species. But this fast processing speed has its costs, which sometimes lead to errors.

System 2 is named Reasoning. It is controlled processing that is slow, serial, and effortful. It is also flexible. This is what we commonly think of as conscious thought. One of the roles of System 2 is to monitor System 1 for processing errors, but System 2 is slow and System 1 is fast, so errors to slip through. System 2 can be thought of as thinking. If you know your multiplication tables, if I ask you what is 6 time 7, you’ll respond 42 without really thinking about it. But if I ask you to multiply 67 times 42 you would find it difficult to compute in your head, and would most likely use a calculator or use paper and pencil (which are examples of transactive memory). This multiplication requires System 2 processing without, or most likely with, technological aids.

System 1 requires little or no effort. System 2 requires effort. It is not only faster, but also less demanding to rely on System 1 processes. Consider the following question.

A bat and a ball cost $1.10

The bat costs $1.00 more than the ball.

How much does the ball cost?

The number that quickly comes to mind is 10 cents. But if you take the time and exert the mental effort you will note that the cost would be $1.20 (10 cents for the ball and $1.10 for the bat). If you do the math, which takes a little algebra, you will find that the ball costs 5 cents (the bat costing a $1.00 more than the ball would be $1.05 and $1.05 and $0.05 is $1.10). System 2 must be engaged to get the correct answer. This question has been asked of several thousand college students. More that 50% of the students at Harvard, MIT, and Princeton gave the wrong, System 1, answer. At less selective universities more than 80% of the students gave the wrong answer. Good students tend to be suspicious of a question that is too easy!

So what happens to the brain as we age? The psychologist Dr. Stine-Morrow has an interesting hypothesis about cognitive aging.2 She argues that choice in how cognitive effort, attention, is allocated may be an essential determinant of cognitive change over the life span.  So relying too much on our System 1 processes could increase our risk of suffering dementia. New experiences and new learning call upon our System 2 processes as do any problems that require active thinking. The neurofibrillary tangles and amyloid plaques that define Alzheimer’s Disease have been found in both living and dead individuals who never showed any symptoms of the disease. They evidenced no cognitive impairment. The notion is that they had built a cognitive reserve that protected them from the disease.

So what might this cognitive reserve be? It is reasonable to believe that it consisted of rich interconnections in the brains of these individuals. The brain is remarkably plastic, so even when the plaques and tangles were present, apparently the interconnections were rerouted around them.

So how can someone build up this cognitive reserve? Lifelong learning, continuing to learn throughout one’s lifetime is key. Challenging the mind with tasks that require attention is important. It is also important to revisit those old memory circuits laid down years ago. Trying to remember all acquaintances and events can reactivate those circuits. Sometimes it will be difficult to recall these memories. Nevertheless, your unconscious mind will continue searching after your conscious mind has given up. All of a sudden, seemingly out of nowhere it will just pop into your mind. Trivia games and games such as Jeopardy can be fun and potentially beneficial to a healthy memory. Reminiscing can also be beneficial provided the reminiscing is not always about the same old memories.

The healthymemory blog is devoted to building a cognitive reserve. The Mnemonic Techniques Category provides blog on mnemonic techniques that not only improve memory, but also provide cognitive exercise. Blog posts on meditation and mindfulness can also be found here. The Transactive Memory Category provided information on how technology and your fellow humans can foster memory health. The Human Memory: Theory and Data includes posts on memory and related topics bearing on a healthy memory.

1O’Shea, M. (2013). The Human Brain. New Scientist Instant Expert 31.

2Stine-Morrow, A. L. (2008).  The Dumbledore Hypothesis of Cognitive Aging.  Current Directions in Psychological Science, 16, 295-299.

© 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.

An Update on the Prospect of a Cure for Alzheimer’s

April 17, 2013

A recent article provides an update on the prospect of a cure for Alzheimer’s.1 Here are some quotes from the article, attributed to neuropsychologist Peter J. Snyder, “There’s not going to be a single magic bullet… This isn’t a disease, but a syndrome with multiple etiologies.” Long time readers of the healthymemory blog might remember that Alzheimer himself was doubtful that this was a disease. His employment situation motivated him to make that argument (see the healthymemory blog post, “Sigmoid Freud and Alzheimer’s Disease”).

Previous healthymemory blog posts have made the point that autopsies of individuals who had never shown signs of Alzheimer’s were found to have substantial buildups of amyloid plaque and neurofibrillary tangles. That led me to conclude that the amyloid plaque and neurofibrillary tangles might be a necessary, but not a sufficient cause of Alzheimer’s. However, recent imaging studies have shown that about 30 percent of healthy adults who never develop Alzheimer’s have fairly substantial plaque buildups. A less common occurrence is people who have classic symptoms of Alzheimer’s but no amyloid in the brain. Consequently I have come to the conclusion that amyloid plaque and neurofibrillary tangles are neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for Alzheimer’s.

It is important to note that large portion of the research on Alzheimer’s was targeted at this amyloid plaque and neurofibrillary tangles. This is an indication of how far off the mark this research has been. The conclusion reached by Snyder is that a cure for Alzheimer’s is not within reach. However, he argues that “If we can slow the progression by just five years, we can cut the cost of Alzheimer’s to society by 2050 by almost 50 percent. It’s an attainable goal.’

I would like to see the logic and the computations regarding this last statement. Won’t slowing the progression increase the duration of the disease and hence the costs? For myself, I have no interest in a treatment that will prolong the disease, prolong my agony.

There is the new Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Technologies (BRAIN). I am wildly enthusiastic about this project, and I am confident that much will be learned. However, I fear that it has been oversold with respect to cures for brain diseases and brain injuries. I hope I am wrong, but I am afraid that I am not.

And for you Baby Boomers , a cure is unlikely. Start building your cognitive reserve by following recommendation in the healthymemory blog and in similar publications. If you have not already, start building a healthy memory and a cognitive reserve (if you don’t know what a cognitive reserve is enter “cognitive reserve” into the search block of the healthymemory blog).

1Voelker, R. (2013) The pre-Alzheimer’s Brain. Monitor on Psychology, March, 46-49.

© 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.

Alzheimer’s is the Most Expensive Malady in the United States

April 14, 2013

According to a recent Rand Study reported in the New England Journal of Medicine, Alzheimer’s is the most expensive malady in the United States, costing somewhere from $157 billion to $215 billion per year. This makes it more expensive than heart disease and cancer, the two biggest killers, but as patients ultimately die from Alzheimer’s, this is a matter of how the books are kept. It is not the drugs nor other medical treatments that is the biggest cost of Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia, but the care that is needed to get mentally impaired people through daily life. Dementia’s direct costs, including medicines and nursing homes, are $109 billion in 2010 dollars.

According to the RAND study, nearly 15% of people aged 71 or older have dementia. That is about 3.8 million people. It is estimated that by 2040 the number will balloon to 9.1 million people. According to Dr. Richard J. Hodes, the director of the National Institute on Aging, “ I don’t know of any other disease predicting such a huge increase. And as we have the baby boomer group maturing, there are going to be more older people with fewer children to be informal caregivers for them, which is going to intensify the problem even more.”

The prospects of a cure are remote and drug treatments promise only to delay the progression of the disease. 74 to 84 percent of the costs involves helping patients in nursing homes or at home manage the most basic activities of life as they become increasingly impaired cognitively and then physically. A case of dementia costs from $41,000 to $56,000 a year. The projection is that the total costs of dementia care will more than double by 2040, to a range of $379 billion to $511 billion. They ranged from $159 billion to $215 billion in 2010. It is estimated that 22 percent of the people aged 71 and older (about 5.4 million) have mild cognitive impairment. This means that the level of cognitive impairment is mild and does not reach the threshold for dementia. About 12% of these people develop dementia each year.

The preceding solely concerns the economics of dementia. The personal loss is tragic. A lifelong of learning and experiences increasingly slip from memory. Friends and family members might not be recognized. Eventually, the self is lost, and the person does not remember who he or she is or whether he or she is a he or a she.

The best hope an individual has of avoiding or mitigating this loss is to live a healthy lifestyle, not only physically, but also cognitively, and to build a cognitive reserve. Research has shown that there are individuals with plaque and neurofibril tangles who have not exhibited symptoms of dementia. The healthymemory blog is dedicated to helping individuals build this cognitive reserve.

© 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.

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.

Sleep and a Healthy Memory

December 12, 2012

The Health & Science Section of the Washington Post included a piece of sleep1. Sleep is so important to a healthy memory that I feel compelled to relay the contents of that article to you. Our brains are active throughout the four stages of sleep, which are:

Stage 1: Falling asleep, which is characterized by Beta waves.

Stage 2: Light sleep, which is characterized by Alpha waves.

Stage 3: Deepest sleep, which is characterized by Theta waves.

Stage 4: Rapid Eye Movement (REM), which is characterized by Delta waves.

Memory and learning is impaired. The hippocampus is critical in transferring information into long term storage. Losing two hours of sleep in a single night can impair this information transfer. REM sleep is especially important because that appears to be when the brain filters out irrelevant information.

Missing a few hours sleep can result in accidents. This can produce “local sleep,” in which parts of the brain nod off while a person is nominally awake. One study found that middle school and high school athletes who slept eight or more hours each night were 60% less likely to be injured playing sports than those who slept less.

People who sleep four hours or less a night spend a lower percentage of time in Stage 2 and REM sleep. Consequently, they feel hungrier, crave more sweet and salty foods, and consume more calories than those who sleep longer. This makes them more susceptible to obesity and diabetes.

A study involving mice found that when Alzheimer’s plaques began to build in their brains, their sleep was disrupted. This suggests that poor sleep might be one of the first signs of the disease. It has also been found that connections between areas of a network in the brain used in daydreaming and introspection are disrupted in people who are chronically sleepy during the day. Alzheimer’s damages the same network, so these shaky connections might signal a susceptibility to the disease.

So, get a good night’s sleep. It is refreshing and will keep your memory healthy.

1Berkowitz B., & Cuadra, A. (2012). The Rest of the Story on Sleep. Washington Post, Health & Science, e2, December 4.

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.

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.

Astrocytes and Alzheimer’s

October 14, 2012

Astrocytes are star shaped glial cells found in the brain and the spinal cord. An interesting article1 explains how these astrocytes could possibly prevent or provide a cure for Alzheimer’s. It is thought that these astrocytes make up a large percentage of the brain and have an important role supporting neurons to include clearing the beta-amyloid plaques associated with Alzheimer’s. It was recently shown that cells in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s “senesce.” This mechanism stops them from dividing and starts them on a path of destruction.

It is generally believed that cell senescence evolved to protect us from cancer. Cells can accumulate DNA damage as they age and they senesce to avoid incorrect division that can lead to cancer. The benefit of senescence over self-destruction is that it sends out a call to the immune system to destroy nearby cells that might also be affected. If the damaged cell is not killed, it goes on pumping out inflammatory proteins, which can cause damage thought to underlie age related ailments such as Alzheimer’s.

To provide some empirical data, brain slices were taken from cadavers. Slices were taken from fetuses, from people aged 35 to 50, and from people aged between 78 and 90.  The healthy brains from adults over 35 had six to eight times more senescent cells than those taken from fetuses. Cells from corpses who had had Alzheimer’s had more of these cells than their Alzheimer-free pairs of similar age. About 30 percent of the of the astrocytes seem to have senesced, a figure that was 10 percent higher in those with Alzheimer’s.

The theory is that the plaques and aging astrocytes get caught in a vicious cycle.  As the astrocytes senesce, they are less able to perform their plaque cleaning duties, and the accumulation of plaques drives more cells to senesce.2 If the astrocytes could be kept young, they could clear the plaque. The problem with preventing senescence is that it could increase the risk of cancer. Another approach is to get rid of the senescent cells. Research using mice has found that a technique for removing all of the senescent cells in a mouse prevented the onset of a range of age-related disorders. If this technique can be adapted for humans and the senescent cells can be cleared, then Alzheimer;s could probably be cleared.

Another approach might be to stop senescing brain cells from secreting their inflammatory brew. They have been found a compound that suppresses the secretions of senescent cells in the laboratory. That needs to be transitioned and tested with humans.

This work is quite promising. However, it should be remembered that beta-amyloid plaque might be a necessary condition, but it is not a sufficient condition for the onset of Alzheimer’s. There have been autopsies done of individuals whose brains were plagued by beta-amyloid plaque who had never shown any of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s when they were alive.

It is thought that keeping cognitively and physically active, and continuing to grow cognitively as we age builds up a cognitive reserve that resists or offsets these physical symptoms.

1Hamzelou, J. (2012). Why Alzheimer’s Hits Older Brains. New Scientist, 29 September, 6-7.

2Bhat, R., Crowe, E.P., Bitto, A. , Moh, M., Katsetos, C.D., Garcia, F.U., Johnson, F.B., Trojanski, J.Q., Sell, C., Torres, C. (2012). Astrocyte Senescence as a Component of Alzheimer;s Disease. PloS, doi.org/jdz.

© 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.

SuperAgers with a Super Memory

October 3, 2012

In a recent experiment1 SuperAgers were defined as individuals over 80 with episodic memory performance at least as good as normative values for 50- to 65-year olds. The performance of these SuperAgers was compared to two cognitively normal cohorts: age-matched elderly and 50- to 65-year olds. The brains of all three groups were compared using cortical morphometry.

With respect to memory performance, the SuperAgers performed better than both control groups (but the difference between the SuperAgers and the middle-age controls was not statistically significant, p>0.05). The sample consisted of 12 SuperAgers, 10 elderly controls, and 14 middle-age controls. The elderly control group performed significantly worse than the other two groups.

With respect to whole-brain cortical thickness elderly controls exhibited significant atrophy in the older cohort compared against the middle-aged controls in multiple regions across the frontal, parietal, and occipital lobes, including medial temporal regions important for memory. However, the whole brain cortical thickness analysis comparing the SuperAgers with the middle-aged controls did not reveal significant atrophy in the SuperAgers.

With respect to the thickness of the Anterior Cingulate Cortex, the thickness of the SuperAgers was higher than both the Elderly Controls and the Middle-Aged Controls. Somewhat surprisingly, only the difference between the SuperAgers and the Middle-Aged controls was statistically significant (p<0.05). However, the likelihood of achieving statistical significance increases as sample size increases. Research has indicated that the cingulate constitutes a critical site of transmodel integration related to episodic memory, spatial attention, cognitive control, and motivational modulation. It is unclear whether the SuperAgers were born with a particularly thick cortex or whether they resisted cortical change over time.

The relationship between brain and memory is an interesting one. The notion that more brain equates to more memory is fairly common, but this finding needs to be placed in context. Alzheimer’s cannot be diagnosed conclusively until an autopsy has been done. The key signatures for the diagnosis are amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles. But these same signatures have been found in autopsies of people WHO HAD SHOWN NO SYMPTOMS OF ALZHEIMER’S WHEN THEY WERE ALIVE! So it would appear that these amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles are a necessary, but not a sufficient condition for Alzheimer’s.

I remember reading an article when I was in graduate school about someone who had hydroencephalocele, which is more commonly called “water in the brain.” As a result of this condition, this individual had only about 10% of the normal volume of cortex. Yet this person led a normal life and earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in mathematics!

The plasticity of the brain is truly remarkable. Healthymemory believes that this plasticity is fostered by cognitive exercise and cognitive challenges. So, stay cognitively active and seek cognitive growth!

1Harrison, T.M., Weintraub, S., Mesulam, M.-M, & Rogalski, E. (2012). Superior Memory and Higher Cortical Volumes in Unusually Successful Aging, Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society, 18, 1-5.

© 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.

Type 3 Diabetes and Dementia

September 9, 2012

Type 1 diabetes usually occurs in children when an autoimmune response destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas such that the body can no longer regulate levels of blood sugar. Insulin therapy is required. Type 2 diabetes, the most common type of diabetes, occurs when the pancreas either does not produce enough insulin or the muscle, liver, and fat cells ignore the insulin and fail to remove such excess sugar from the blood. High insulin levels and high blood sugar raises the risk of heart disease, stroke, blindness, nerve damage, and amputation. Being overweight increases the risk of Type 2 diabetes. Type 3 diabetes1, coined by Suzanne de la Monte, refers to the condition when brain tissue becomes resistant to insulin. This is similar to Type 2 diabetes, but the brain is injured.

Here’s the proposed toxic cycle. A high-sugar high-fat diet leads to higher levels of insulin in the brain. The high levels of insulin block the enzyme that normally eats the beta amyloid protein. It is this amyloid protein that leads to plaque buildup which is one of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. These beta amyloid proteins amass in toxic quantities. Neurons become resistant to the effects of insulin. Beta amyloid protein blocks insulin receptors on neurons. The neurons make greater quantities of beta amyloid protein. Eventually insulin production becomes exhausted and drops off This leads to brain damage and dementia. Now insulin can offset beta amyloid damage by blocking its landing site on neurons. Otherwise the cell is more vulnerable to damage.

According to the New Scientist article, a variety of animal studies have supported this explanation. The article also cites two studies involving humans. One of them involves human cadavers. Steven Arnold of the University of Pennsylvania bathed various tissue samples in insulin to see how they would react. Neurons from cadavers of those who had had Alzheimer’s barely reacted at all, but the neurons from cadavers who had not had Alzheimer’s seemed to spring back to life.

Research with living humans is investigating whether a boost of insulin might improve symptoms of those with Alzheimer’s. They used a device that delivers insulin deep into the nose, where it then travels to the brain. A four month study involving 104 people found that the treatment resulted in the recall of more details of stories, longer attention spans, more interest in their hobbies and being better able to care for themselves. The treatment also improved the glucose metabolism in their brains.

There is ample evidence that a healthy diet fosters a healthy memory. However, it should be remembered that although amyloid plaque might be a necessary condition for Alzheimer’s, it is not a sufficient condition. There have been autopsies of people whose brain’s were in sad shape due to the buildup of amyloid plaque, but who had not exhibited any symptoms of Alzheimer’s while they were alive. So the buildup of a cognitive reserve through healthy cognitive activities throughout one’s lifetime is quite important. One of the primary goals of the healthymemory blog is to provide guidance on these healthy cognitive activities.

1Trivedi, B. (2012). Eat Your Way to Dementia, New Scientist, 1 September, 32-37.

© 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 Benefits of Speaking a Second Language

August 29, 2012

According to an article in the New Scientist1 speaking a second language can change everything from problem-solving skills to personality. It is like having two brains or being two people. Of course, there are the obvious benefits of knowing a second language. You can converse and write to people who speak the language as well as understand what they say and read. You don’t need to rely on translations or sub-titles. It definitely enhances visits to places where the language is spoken (or in one of the many areas of the United States where the language is spoken).

But the benefits go beyond this and foster a healthy memory and enhanced cognitive skills. These benefits are enhancements of the brain’s executive system. They increase the ability to focus attention and block out irrelevant information. And they also enhance the ability to switch between tasks, to multi-task. And as we all are painfully aware, the need to multi-task has increased with the advent of new technology.

A study was done of 184 people diagnosed with dementia. Half of these people were bilingual. The symptoms of dementia started to appear in bilingual people four years later than their monolingual peers.2 Another study was done with a further sample of 200 people showing signs of Alzheimer’s disease. This time they found a five-year delay in the onset of symptoms in the bilingual patients.3 These data support the notion of a cognitive reserve built up as a result of the bilingualism that delays the onset of dementia or Alzheimer’s. It is quite possible that for some people, bilingualism might reduce the risk of dementia or Alzheimer’s to zero.

So if you are already bilingual, congratulations. You are blessed. But if you do not know a second language, you can still learn. Language learning provides ideal mental exercise. And there are plenty of resources available to help you learn another language. One resource is the Healthymemory Blog (see “More on Recoding: Learning Foreign and Strange Vocabulary Words”).

1de Lange, C. (2012), My Two Minds. New Scientist, 5 May, 31-33.

2Neuropsychologia, 45, p. 459.

3Neurology, 75, p. 1726

© 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.

Glial Cells and Working Memory

July 25, 2012

When I was a graduate student, glial cells presented a problem. No one seemed to know their function, yet there were so many of them. Gradually we are gaining insight into their important functions (See the Healthymemory Blog Posts, “Our Neurons Make Up only 15 Percent of our Brain Cells,” “Glial Cells and Alzheimer’s Disease,” and “Alzheimer’s and Amyloid Plaques.”) A recent study reported in Scientific American Mind1 indicates that certain types of glial cells might play a role in conscious thought. Astrocytes, a type of glia, appear to play an important role in short term or working memory.

It is well known that marijuana plays a role is disrupting short term memory. Although this might be fine for recreational uses of the drug, it can be disconcerting to those who are taking it for medical reasons to relieve pain. The experiment was done by Giovanni Marsicano of the University of Bordeaux in France and his colleagues. They removed the cannabinoid receptors that respond to marijuana’s psychoactive ingredient THC. These mice were just as poor at memorizing the location of a hidden platform in a water pool. However, when the receptors were removed from the astrocytes, the mice could find the platform just fine while on THC.

Of course, we are generalizing findings from research on mice to humans. Although one should be caution, many such generalizations have held up in the past. You can understand why research like this is difficult to perform with humans. Mariscano made the following statement: “It is likely that astrocytes have many more functions than we thought. Certainly their role in cognition is no being revealed.”

Fortunately the pain-relieving property of THC appears to work through the neurons, so it might be possible to design THC-type drugs that target neurons, and not glia, so that pain relief can be provided without the cognitive disruptions.

1Williams, R. (2012). What Marijuana Reveals About Memory. Scientific American Mind, July/August, p.10.

© 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.

Cognitive Exercise and Aging

July 15, 2012

There is evidence that training older adults in memory, processing speed, and reasoning skills produces substantial improvements in these skills. Moreover, these skills maintain over a number of years.1 Studies of retirement also provide additional evidence that cognitive exercise slows down the process of intellectual decay. Episodic memory is the memory of personal events. It is among the first cognitive abilities to show a decline with age. A study of the effects of retirement on episodic memory was conducted.2 It was conducted with two groups of men: one aged 50 to 54 and one aged 60-64. Twelve nations were ranked in terms of the persistence of employment into old age. If the percentage of men still working dropped by 90% from the 50 to 54 age group to the 60 to 64 age group (Austria and France) there was a 15% decline in episodic memory. If the percentage still working dropped by 25% (United States and Sweden) the decline was only 7%.

There is also correlational evidence from a study in the United Kingdom showing that an extra year of work is associated with a delay in the onset of Alzheimer’s on average by six weeks.3 These are just a few studies from a body of research showing that cognitive exercise builds a cognitive reserve that that delays the onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s. The Healthymemory Blog respects this defensive position, but advocates an offensive rather than a defensive approach in which the goal is to continue to grow and enhance cognition as we grow older.

1Ball, K., Berch, D.B., Heimers, D.F., Jobe, J.B., Leveck, M.D. Marsiske, M.,…Willis, S.L. (2002). Effects of cognitive training interventions with older adults. A randomized controlled trial. JAMA: Journal of the American Medical Association, 288, 2271-2281. doi:10.1001/jama.288.18.2271.

2Adam, S., Bonsang, E., Germain, S., & Perelman, S. (2007). Retirement and Cognitive Reserve: A Stochastic Frontier Approach to Survey Data (CREPP Working Paper 2007/04). Liege, Belgium: Centre de Recherche on Economie et de la Population..

3Ibid.

© 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 Exploitation of Patients with Alzheimer’s Disease

June 17, 2012

The Outrage of the Month published in the Public Citizen Health Letter1 begins “For the second time in less than two years, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) at the behest of companies seeking to exploit the large market for Alzheimer’s Disease has approved a product with little proven benefit and documented risks.” According to the article, the earlier of these unwarranted FDA approvals occurred in July 2010 when the FDA approved a new high-dose version of the top selling Alzheimer’s drug Aricept 23. The article states that the agency approved the drug over the objections of most of its own scientists who argued that the drug did not improve overall functioning, but caused considerably more side effects than the older, lower does version of the drug.

According to the article, the most current example is the dye Amyvid that is injected into patients with possible Alzheimer’s disease and on the basis of a brain scan is used to detect amyloid plaque in the brains of such patients. Although amyloid plaque is found in the autopsies of those who have died from Alzheimer’s disease, it can also be found in individuals who never evidenced any symptoms of the disease. This test is inaccurate. It has been found to detect plaque in some patients who do not have Alzheimer’s disease and failed to detect the plaque in some patients who have the disease. Nevertheless, the dye is a financial boon for the drug manufacturer as was Aricept 23.

It is important to realize that there is no drug that cures Alzheimer’s disease. Some drugs have been shown to slow the progression of the disease. A friend of mine has a father-in-law who is suffering from Alzheimer’s and is undergoing expensive drug treatments. His father-in-law has no idea who is son-in-law is or even who himself is. This raises an interesting question. Are these drug treatments enhancing life or delaying the release from suffering that death provides? I stress that this is a question for each individual to decide.

See the Healthymemory Blog post “The Myth of Alzheimer’s” that reviews the book written by Peter J. Whitehous, M.D. Ph.D. Whitehouse is a renowned researcher into drugs for the treatment of Alzheimer’s. He has given up on there being a drug to cure the disease and is researching other methods for coping with dementia. He does not believe that Alzheimer’s is a distinct disease, but is rather a manifestation of dementia. It is interesting to note that the founder of Alzheimer’s disease, Alois Alzheimer, never was convinced that it was a distinct disease.

It should be realized that this is just another instance of the problem with medical care in the United States. Hardly anyone in the United States receives the best medical treatment. The plight of the uninsured is well known, but few realize that those at the other end of the treatment spectrum, those who receive treatment in the most expensive health care system in the world, are also ill-served. People at this end are grossly overmedicated and undergo unneccesary costly operations. See the book, Worried Sick: A Prescription for Health in an Overtreated America,” by Nortin M. Hadler, M.D.

1May 2012, 28, 5. Sidney M. Wolfe, M.D. (ed).

© 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.

Age-Proof Your Brain

February 15, 2012

Age-Proof Your Brain: 10 Easy Ways to Keep Your Mind Fit Forever is a recent article in AARP The Magazine.1 Articles like this are summarized periodically in the healthymemory blog. There are many, many things you can do to age proof your brain, but articles like these are helpful in suggesting a manageable handful from which to choose (“31 Ways to Get Smarter in 2012” was a similar posting earlier this year). Some of the ways presented in the AARP article do not readily fall into specific healthymemory blog categories, although most have been mentioned in passing in healthymemory blog posts.

Finding your purpose is a general recommendation strongly endorsed by the healthymemory blog. The AARP article cites a study done at the Rush University Medical Center of more than 950 older adults. The study ran for seven years and it was found that participants who approached life with clear intentions and goals at the start of the study were less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease over the following seven years.

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is implicit, but not usually specifically mentioned in healthymemory blog posts. It is important to Reduce your risks. Chronic health conditions, such as diabetes, obesity, and hypertension are associated with dementia. Diabetes approximately doubles the risk of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. So it is important to follow doctor’s orders regarding diet, exercise and taking prescribed medications on schedule.

It is important to Check for vitamin deficiences. Vitamin deficiences, especially vitamin B12 can also affect brain vitality. Research from Rush University Medical Center found that older adults at risk of vitamin B12 deficiencies, had smaller brains and scored lowest on tests measuring thinking, reasoning and memory.

Diet is another topic discussed infrequently in the healthymemory blog, but as the AARP article notes “Your brain enjoys spices as much as your taste buds do. Herbs and spices such as black pepper, cinnamon, oregano, basil, parsley, ginger and vanilla are high in antioxidants.” Antioxidants are important to brain health. Curcumin, an active ingredient in turmeric is common in Indian curries. Indians have a lower incidence of Alzheimer’s. One theory is that curcumin bonds to amyloid plaques that accumulate in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s. Animal studies have shown that curcumin reduces amyloid plaques and lowers inflammation levels. A study with humans found that people who ate curried foods often had higher scores on standard cognitive tests.

Another diet recommendation is to Eat like a Greek. The Mediterranean Diet rich in fish, vegetables, fruit, nuts, and beans reduced Alzheimer’s risk by 34 to 48 percent in a study done by Columbia University. Omega-3 fatty acids in fish are important in heart health and are suspected of also being important for brain health. Generally speaking, what is healthy for the heart is healthy for the brain.

Exercise is another activity that is good for both heart and brain. According to the AARP article, higher exercise levels can reduce dementia risk by 30 to 40 percent compared to low activity levels. People who exercise regularly also tend to have better cognition and memory than inactive people. Exercise helps your hippocampi, subdcortical memory structures well known to readers of the healthymemory blog (See the Healthymemory Blog post, “To Improve Your Memory, Build Your Hippocampus, and do a search using the term “Hippocampus”.) Experts recommend 150 minutes a week of moderate activity, although as little as 15 minutes of exercise three times a week can be helpful. So Get moving.

And Pump some iron. Older women participating in a yearlong weight-training program did 13 percent better on tests of cognitive function that did a group of women who did balance and toning exercises. According to Tereas Liu-Ambrose, “Resistance training may increase the levels of growth factors in the brain such as IGFI, which nourish and protect nerve cells.”

Say “Omm” refers to meditation. Meditation techniques can usually be found under the healthymemory blog post category “Mnemonic Techniques.” The AARP article discusses a study of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR). MBSR involves focusing one’s attention on sensations, feelings, and states of mindfulness. This has been shown to reduce harmful stress hormones. At the end of an eight week study MRI scans of participants’ brains showed that the density of gray matter in the hippocampus increased significantly in the MBSR group, compared to a control group. Studies have found that other types of meditation have also been beneficial. Search the healthymemory blog on “meditation” to find related healthymemory blog posts.

The remaining two recommendations fall under the healthymemory blog category “Ttansactive Memory.” Get a (social) life means interact with your fellow human beings for a healthy memory. The AARP articles mentions a University of Michigan Study in which research participants did better on tests of short-term memory after just 10 minutes of conversation with another person. There are two types of transactive memory. One type refers to the memories of our fellow humans, and the practice of seeking them out and swapping information between our swapping memories is beneficial.

Seek out new skills can involve both types of transactive memory: human and technological. So learning new things from our fellow humans, as well as from periodicals, books, and the internet is beneficial to our brains and our memories. The important point is to continue to grow cognitively and to not just do things that you routinely do.

1http://www.aarp.org/health/brain-health/info-01-2012/boost-brain-health.html

What Can Pharmacology Offer for a Healthy Memory?

February 1, 2012

For some people, the answer might be everything, or given time, everything. They believe that pharmacology will eventually provide a cure and/or a preventative to Alzheimer’s and dementia, and that it will enhance cognitive performance so that we can learn more and master more difficult subjects. This is to say nothing about the eventual beneficial effects to the economy and society. A recent article1 has motivated this blogger to post some cautionary remarks. It should be remembered that our cognitive abilities are the product of evolution. A common misconception is that evolution produces optimal results. No, evolution satisfices, that is provides a satisfactory solution to environmental challenges. These solutions involve trade-offs. For example, a woman’s pelvis is the sized so that it can both support bipedalism and the large cranium of an emerging baby.

Although our cognitive abilities might not be optimal, they have been shaped by evolution. We have two systems for processing information, System 1, which is fast, and System 2 which is slow but more thorough (See the Healthymemory Blog Post, “The Two System View of Cognition”and “Thinking Fast and Slow). Without System 1 we would have become extinct a long time ago. But without System 2 both our cognitive and cultural achievements would be extremely limited. One way of thinking about trade-offs is to think of an inverted U. Initially more of a factor is beneficial. However, at some point (the apex of the inverted U) more of this factor is causing losses someplace else.

Robert Bjork has suggested that there is a symbiosis of forgetting, remembering, and learning.2 John Anderson has written an entire book3 documenting how human cognition has been shaped to deal with the environment in an effective manner. Luria’s famous book, The Mind of a Mnemonist, about an individual referred to as “S” who had a phenomenal memory and earned his living by giving performances using his fantastic memory, had too much of a good thing. For example, he had difficulty remembering faces, which appeared to him as changing patterns. Research has also indicated that savant-like abilities such as S‘s can be induced in normal participants by turning off particular functional areas of the brain via repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation.4

There are also individual differences determining whether pharmacology will be beneficial. Individuals of normal or above-average cognitive ability often show negligible improvements or even decrements in performance from certain drugs. One study5 found that modafinal improved performance only among individuals with lower IQs. In another study6, low-performing individuals showed enhanced performance, but high-performing individuals showed reduced performance after taking amphetamines. Inverted U shaped dose-response curves are quite common.7

This is not to say that there is no role for pharmacology in fostering a healthy memory. Clearly in the preceding examples low-performing individuals were showing benefits. But more is not necessarily better. Long term side effects of medication must also be considered.

1Hills, T. & Hertwig, R. (2011). Why Aren’t We Smarter Already: Evolutionary Trade-Offs and Cognitive Enhancements. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 20:373. http://cdp.sagepub.com/content/20/6/373

2Bjork, R.A. (2011). On the Symbiosis of Forgetting, Remembering, and Learning. In A.S. Benjamin (Ed.) Successful Remembering and Successful Forgetting: A Festschrift in Honor of Robert A. Bjork. (pp 1-22). London, England:Psychology Press.

3Anderson, J.R., (1990). The Adaptive Character of Thought. Psychology Press.

4Snyder, A. (2009). Explaining and Inducing Savant Skills: Privileged Access to Lower Level Less Processed Information. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, 364, 1399-1405.

5Randall, D.C. Shneerson, J.M., & File, S.E. (2005) . Cognitive Effects of Modafinil in Student
Volunteers May Depend on IQ. Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior, 82, 133-139.

6Farah, M.J., Haimm, C., Sankoorika, G., & Chatterjee (2009). When We Enhance Cognition with Adderall, Do We Sacrifice Creativity? A Preliminary Study. Psychopharmacology, 202, 541-547.

7Cools, R., & Robbins, T.W. (2004). Chemistry of the Adaptive Mind. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society London, A, 362, 2871-2888.

© 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.

Explicit and Implicit Memory

October 5, 2011

When we normally think of memory, we are thinking of explicit memory. Memory techniques and most of the posts on memory in this blog are concerned with explicit memory. Implicit memory refers to memory that occurs without your consciousness awareness. Implicit memory covers a wide range of activities. Classical conditioning, habit learning, emotional memory, procedural and motor memory typically are implicit. So implicit memory involves both maladaptive behaviors, such as bad habits and addiction, but it is also involved in the development of optimal strategies in skill acquisition. Implicit learning could also be helpful for amnesiacs and Alzheimer’s patients.1

Theorists have wondered why we have two types of memory. Although theorists wonder about this, it is nice to have a type of memory that requires little or no consciousness. Although consciousness might not be required, trials or repetitions are required. For example, classical conditioning in which a conditioned stimulus, say a bell, is paired with an unconditioned stimulus, say food, before the sound of the bell alone will cause you, or a dog, to salivate. Similarly habits take repetitions to develop, and procedural and motor skills can take a great deal of practice to perfect. On the other hand, emotions, depending on the strength of the emotion, can be learned quite rapidly.

I think it is obvious why we have explicit memory. Explicit memory involves consciousness. Had we only implicit memory we would be acting like Zombies, behaving and learning with little or no understanding as to why. So it is understandable that most educational practices and most of the Healthymemory Blog posts involve explicit memory. But we should be thankful for these implicit memory processes. Consider how burdensome it would be if all memories were explicit.

We do need to learn more about implicit memory. Much athletic and artistic performance is a matter of practicing to the point where skills become automatic. Usually performance falters when the performer or athlete starts to think about what they are doing. Implicit memory also offers a path into the memories of those for whom explicit memory has been lost such as Alzheimer’s patients and other suffering from traumas to the medial temporal lobes.

1Much of this blog post is taken from an article by David W.L. Wu. Implicit Memory: How It Works and Why We Need It. The Joournal of Young Investigators, Vol. 22, Issue, 1, July 2011.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2011. 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 Few Words of Caution to My Fellow Baby Boomers

September 14, 2011

Although I enjoy writing the Healthymemory Blog, I am usually disappointed when I view the number of visits to what I regard as important posts. For example, the preceding posts on Alzheimer’s has not drawn the number of readers that I think these posts deserved. As a psychologist, I understand why these posts are not popular, but I am disappointed nevertheless. People are optimists, so they avoid unpleasant topics. Consider the situation in which we find ourselves. Issues regarding the environment, energy, and the national debt are ignored. People blame politicians, but we should not forget that it is these same people who elected these politicians. Politicians pander to voters by glossing over these issues and being optimistic; voters then vote for them.

Alzheimer’s is not a pleasant topic. The prospect of spending our golden years being unable to recall our past, where we are living, and barely remembering who we are. The Myth of Alzheimer’s is written by one of the foremost experts on Alzheimer’s. He warns us that a magic pill or cure is unlikely to be found, but he provides us with activities that can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s. These posts should be of interest to a large number of baby boomers. Even if you are engaging in these risk reduction activities, you probably know fellow baby boomers who are not. Why not sent these posts to those people? And please keep reading the Healthymemory Blog so I can try to keep you up to date.

The Healthymemory Blog is dedicated to these activities. There are many from which to choose. It is important to choose activities that are enjoyable to do. In many ways these activities are similar to physical activity. Sometime I do not feel like going on a bike ride, but after doing so I feel exhilirated and am very glad that I went. I think you will find a similar result for some of the cognitive exercises presented in this blog.

Alzheimer’s and Transactive Memory

September 7, 2011

According to the authors of The Myth of Alzheimer’s,technology and social interaction play an important role in mitigating its risk.1 Readers of the Healthymemory Blog should know that transactive memory includes the information stored in technological devices and in our fellow human beings. Hence transactive memory plays an important role in reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s. Technology ranges from the simple book to the vast area of cyberspace. Dr. Whitehouse jokingly refers to the book as a multi-neurotransmitter lexical enhancement device. Both giving and receiving information from our fellow human beings is a healthy means of social interaction.

The remainder of this blog post lists online resources provided in The Myth of Alzheimer’s.

www.eldercare.gov provides information on community organizations offering programs that stimulate, thought, discussion, and personal connections.

www.themythofalzheimers.com is an online community that shares stories of dementia. The hope is that it will foster acknowledgment of the complexity and multiplicity of the many narratives of dementia and the stories of individual lives which make them up and that this will diminish the tyranny of dementia.

www.storycoprs.net records the life histories of elders and stores them in the Library of Congress.

www.duplexplanet.com is a site designed to portray the stories of elders who are in decline.

www.memorybridge.com is the site of an organization with a mission to foster intergenerational communication and facilitate relationships between younger persons and people with dementia

www.storycenter.org is the website of a nonprofit organization that assists young people and older adults in using tools of digital media to craft, record, share, and value stories of individuals and communities in ways that improve all our lives

www.elderssharethearts.org is a web site that affirms the role of elders as bearers of history and culture by using the power of the arts to transmit stories and life experiences throughout communities

www.alz.org is the website of the Alzheimer’s Association. There is a network of local chapters that provide education and support for people diagnosed with AD, their families, and caregivers. Chapters offer referrals to local resources and services, and sponsor support groups and educational programs. The site also offers online and print publications

http://adcs.ucsd.edu is the website of the Alzheimer’s Disease Cooperative Study (ADCS) which is the result of a cooperative agreement between the National Institute of Aging and the University of California at San Diego to advance the research in the development of drugs to treat AD

www.nia.nih.gov/alzheimers is the website of the Alzheimer’s Disease Education and Referral (ADEAR) Center. It provides information on AD, caregiving, fact sheets and reports on research findings, a database of clinical trials, reading lists, and the Progress Report on Alzheimer’s Disease. It also provides referrals to local AD resources

www.caps4caregivers.org is the website for the Children of Aging Parents, a nonprofit organization that provides information and referrals for nursing homes, retirement communities, elder-law attorneys, adult-day-care centers, and state and county agencies. It also provides fact sheets on various topics, a bi-monthly newsletter, conferences and workshops, support group referrals and a speaker’s bureau

www.caregiver.org is the website for the Family Caregiver Alliance (FCA), a non-profit organizatin that offers support services for those caring for adults with AD, stroke, traumatic brain injuries, and other cognitive disorders. They also publish and Information Clearninghouse for FCA publications

www.nhpco.org is the website for the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO), a nonprofit organization working to enhance the quality of life for individuals who are terminally ill and advocating for people in the final stage of life. They provide information and referral to local hospice services. The provide information on many topics including how to evaluate hospice services

www.nia.nih.gov is the website for the governments lead agency for research on AD. It offers information on health and aging, including an Age Page series, and the NIA Exercise Kit, which countains and eighty page exercise guide

www.nlm.nih.gov is the website for the National Library of Medicine, the world’s largest medicl library with six million items (and growing), including books, journals, technical reports, manuscripts, microfilms, photographs, and images. A large searchable health informationo database of biomedical journals called MEDLINE/PubMed is accessible via the internet. A service called MEDLINEplus links the public to general information about AD and caregiving, plus many other sources of consumer health information. A searchable clinical trials database is located at

http://clinicaltrials.gov

www.wellspouse.org is the website of the Well Spouse Foundation, a nonprofit organizatin providing support to spouses and partners of the chronically ill and/or disabled. It maintains support groups, publishes a bimonthly newsletter, and helps organize letter writing program to help members deal with the effects of isolation.

1Whitehouse, P.J., & George, D. (2008). The Myth of Alzheimer’s. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2011. 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.

What Can an Individual Do About Alzheimer’s?

September 4, 2011

According to the authors of They Myth of Alzheimer’s1, Alzheimer’s is not a disease but rather a conglomeration of debilitating effects that can occur during aging. They offer a prescription for successful aging across the life span. This blog post cannot do their prescription justice, but can only hit the main points.

They go into a good deal of detail about diet. Perhaps the best way to summarize their recommendations is to say what is good for the heart is good for the brain. So dietary recommendations for the heart also pertain to the brain. The same can be said for exercise. Exercise benefits both the heart and the brain.

Keeping stress to a minimum is another recommendation. Of course, stress is a part of modern life, so it is real and needs to be addressed. Physical exercise reduces stress. Walking, particularly in nature, is beneficial (see the Healthymemory Blog posts “Taking Advantage of Nature to Build a Healthy Memory,” “Restoring Attentional Resources,” and “More on Restoring Attentional Resources”). Yoga and Tai Chi are helpful, as are most types of meditation (See Healthymemory Blog posts, “Change Your Brain by Transforming Your Mind,” “Does Meditation Promote a Healthy Memory?” “Costly Gadgets or Software Are Not Required for a Healthy Memory,” “The Relaxation Response,”, and “Intensive Meditation Training Increases the Ability to Sustain Attention.” ). Avoiding individuals who are annoying or argumentative can also be helpful in reducing stress.

Remember that autopsies of people who showed no indication of cognitive decline revealed the same amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles that would confirm a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. The most common explanation for these individuals is that they had built up cognitive reserves during their lifetime. The brain can use this reserve capacity to respond to damage that might occur from aging. These are the possible mechanisms offered by the authors.

“Building a higher synaptic volume of connections between neurons

Increasing cerebral blood flow

Developing resistance to the neurotoxic effects of excess levels of hormones like cortisol and other glucocorticoids

Promoting resistance against the depletion of neurotransmitters such as acetylcholine and dopamine, which occur with age

Recruiting other brain regions to perform tasks

Increasing cerebral flow and metabolism and conferring greater resistance to the neurotoxic effects of environmental toxins”2

The obvious question is how to accomplish this. Formal education is one answer. The higher the level of education, the greater the resistance to Alzheimer’s. Fortunately, returning to school is not required. Consider the following list of helpful activities: learning a new language, learning to play an instrument, playing board and card games, engaging in intellectually stimulating conversations, reading intellectually challenging books, picking up a new skill, keeping a notebook, or starting an online blog. This list is by no means exhaustive, but you should get the idea.

Building and maintaining social relationships is also beneficial to a healthy mind. The authors provide the following list of psychosocial benefits:

“Availability of emotional support

A source of information, guidance, and advice, diversion from the stresses of life and the day-to-day travails of aging

Self-esteem

A sense of coherence, purpose, usefulness, and meaning

An increased propensity to take care of yourself and seek out professionl help

A sense of intimacy and belonging

A belief in something beyond oneself”3

Depending on the job and profession, staying employed can also be beneficial. Research has found that countries with lower retirement ages also have lower ages for the onset of dementia (See the following Healthymemory Blog Posts, “Could the AARP Be Telling Us Not to Retire,” “Passing 65,” “Can Early Retirement Lead to Memory Decline,” and “Aging and Productivity.”). Retirement is not necessarily bad, provided that post-retirement activities provide the same mental and social stimulation that was provided in the workplace.

The importance of an optimistic or positive outlook is also important (See the Healthymemory Blog Post, “Positive Psychology”).

In short, the selection of the appropriate activities you pursue during your lifetime is the best means of reducing the risk of dementia. And you are never to old to start.

1Whitehouse, P.J., & George, D. (2008). The Myth of Alzheimer’s. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

2Pages 244-245.

3Pages 252-253.

Sigmund Freud and Alzheimer’s Disease

August 31, 2011

No, the psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud did not have Alzheimer’s Disease. And, to the best of my knowledge, he knew of neither Alzheimer’s disease nor its founder, Alois Alzheimer. But according to at least one knowledgeable source1, Freud might have played an inadvertent role in Alzheimer’s being declared a disease. Alois Alzheimer was deeply conflicted about this issue. Clearly his patient was cognitively impaired. But was his patient suffering from a unique disease or was this just another manifestation of the many symptoms of dementia?

Alzheimer was offered a position in the laboratory of Emil Kraepelin. Emil Kraepelin was one of the most prominent psychiatrists of the era as was Sigmund Freud. However, the differed drastically in their approaches to psychiatry. Kraepelin was strongly of the opinion that psychiatry should be physically based just as the other medical specialties. However, at that time, Freud was all the rage with his psychological approach. Kraepelin wanted to move the emphasis in psychiatry back to a physical basis. Terming Alzheimer’s a disease, put it in the same category as tuberculosis and influenza. He was not claiming that mental diseases were necessarily infectious and transferable, but rather that they had a physical basis. As Alzheimer was an employee of Kraepelin, this might have played some role in it being declared a disease.

Some might wonder whether this is an important distinction. It is, as it affects the approaches taken. If it is a distinct disease, then it has a distinct diagnosis, and perhaps a distinct cure or treatment. If it is just another manifestation of dementia, then the question remains as to what is being treated. The best single predictor of whether a person will come down with Alzheimer’s is the person’s age. So Alzheimer’s is a product of aging, although it is not a necessary result of aging, as many age without suffering from the dementia known as Alzheimer’s. But the best predictor is not found in the genetics of an individual, although some people are more susceptible than others, but in age. Whether a person’s cognitive impairment can be diagnosed confidently must await an autopsy and the presence of amyloid plaque and neurofibrillary tangles. But autopsies have been performed on people who had amyloid plaque and neurofibrillary tangles, yet never showed any evidence of cognitive impairment while living. So what is Alzheimer’s? Fortunately we can take actions to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s. Identifying these actions is one of the principal objectives of the Healthymemory Blog.

1Whitehouse, P.J., & George, D. (2008). The Myth of Alzheimer’s. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Reducing the Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease: Knowns and Unknowns

August 10, 2011

This title was the title of an invited address at the 2011 Meeting of the American Psychological Association (APA). The address was delivered by Dr Margaret Katz who is a professor of psychology, gerontology, and preventive medicine at the University of Southern California, where she directs the education core of the USC Alzheimer Disease Research Center. She is also the foreign adjunct professor in the Department of Medical Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden.

The projections are that, unless there is signficant progress in prevention by 2040, there will be about twelve million people in the United States suffering from Alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s accounts for about two-thirds of the cases of dementia. There is a genetic component contributing to the risk of getting Alzheimer’s, but the degree of that risk is still under research. In any case, the genetic risk factor is not something that any individual can control, so the remainder of this post will be focused on activities that reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s.

Diabetes and obesity are risk factors that increase the probability for Alzheimer’s. Depression, stress, neuroticism, and tooth loss also increase the probability of Alzheimer’s. However, there are many activities that can reduce the probability of Alzheimer’s

The higher the level of education, the lower the risk of Alzheimer’s. So returning to school and increasing one’s level of education might be an option to consider. It can also lead to a job with more occupational complexity (see below).

Cognitive engagement, that is engaging in activities that require the use of the mind. The Healthymemory Blog is devoted to increasing cognitive engagement. Mnemonic techniques are activities that engage one’s creativity, recoding abilities, imaging abilities, and also involves both hemispheres of the brain.

Occupational complexity refers to the cognitive and social demands of a job. To the extent that your occupation is complex, your risk factor is reduced.

Diet is important. The diet that is good for your heart is also good for reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s.

Light or regular physical exercise reduces risk.

Social engagement also reduces the risk for Alzheimer’s. Transactive memory involves other human beings and can lead to greater social engagement and the lowering of the risk for Alzheimer’s.
These activities also tend to lead to an increase in cognitive reserve. This refers to a reserve that retards the onset of Alzheimer’s. However, once Alzheimer’s sets in, the rate of decline is much faster. Although this might seem like bad feature, it can be interpreted that should you get Alzheimer’s and have this cognitive reserve, the amount of time suffering from the disease should be less.

The conclusion of Dr . Gatz’s presentation was that there should be a lifetime commitment to brain health. The Healthymemory Blog strongly concurs.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2011. 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.

Why Would Alzheimer’s Patients Perform Better on a Memory Test?

July 27, 2011

A recent study by Mickael Laisney and his colleagues that was summarized in the APS Observer1 replicated certain paradoxical results and provided an interesting explanation for the paradox. They studied the word-recognition abilities of 16 Alzheimer’s patients and eight patients with semantic dementia. Their performance was compared against healthy patients not suffering from these disorders. The patients were shown pairs of words in succession and were asked to indicate whether they recognized the second word in each pair. There is an effect known as semantic priming whereby a word is recognized more quickly (“zebra” for example) if they had recently seen a related word (“giraffe”). Patients in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease exhibit a paradoxical “hyperpriming” effect whereby they show a more pronounced priming effect than do normal control subjects. So why should people suffering from a memory disease perform better on a memory test than people not suffering from this disease?

Laisney and his colleagues offered an explanation regarding why these patients perform better. They showed that the first elements of semantic memory to deteriorate were the distinguishing characteristics of a concept such as the stripes of a zebra or the long neck of a giraffe. Once these distinguishing characteristics are lost, zebras and giraffes become generic four-legged mammals. So the concepts become more related and the priming effect increases during the early stages of the disease. As the disease advances, this hyperpriming effect disappears.

This is an interesting effect and explanation that does provide some insight into the progress of the loss of memory in Alzheimer’s and semantic dementia. However, it should be understood that this is not a test for Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s should be diagnosed by a professional, both to increase the accuracy of the diagnosis and to begin a regimen for treating the disease.

1“When the Zebra Loses Its Stripes” APS Observer February 2011, 7.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2011. 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.

Alzheimer’s and Amyloid Plaques

July 6, 2011

Much research is being done to develop tests for the early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease. But conclusive diagnosis must await death and an autopsy. Amyloid plaques are the defining characteristic of Alzheimer’s Disease.1 But these require an autopsy to observe. Virtually everyone with the ailment has these plaques present in their brain. Thus, the presence of amyloid plaques appears to be a necessary condition for the disease. However, their presence is not a sufficient condition. There are people whose autopsies find that their brains are ravaged by amyloid plaques, yet they never exhibited any signs of cognitive impairment.

So the question is are the amyloid plaques the cause of Alzheimer’s or are they a symptom? An earlier Healthymemory Blog Post, “Glial Cells and Alzheimer’s Disease”, discussed the possible role that glial cells play. In spite of a large amount of research, we still don’t know what causes Alzheimer’s. Nevertheless, drugs have been developed. To this point, no drug has been found to cure or stop the progression of Alzheimer’s, but there are drugs that slow the progression of Alzheimer’s. A friend of mine told me about his father-in-law who suffers from Alzheimer’s. The father-in-law’s disease has progressed to the point where he does not remember who his son-in-law is. He no longer remembers who he himself is. Still he receives expensive drugs that will slow his death as well as slow his release from his miserable state.

Much work is also being done to develop tests that can diagnose Alzheimer’s early. The hope is that early diagnosis will enable early treatment which will either cure Alzheimer’s or reduce the progression of the disease to a crawl. But, there are no treatments yet. Personally, I have no interest in taking a test that will inform me I have an incurable condition. I do, however, applaud those who take tests and participate in experimental trials of drugs with the hope that they will lead to a successful treatment.

It should be remembered that all tests are flawed and produce false alarms. That is they can inform you that you have the condition, when in fact you do not. Also remember the cases discussed above in which brains that are ravaged with amyloid plaques belonged to people who exhibited no evidence of cognitive decline. How can this be? The most prominent theory is that these people had a cognitive reserve that either prevented the occurrence of the disease or slowed its progression to the point where it was not noticeable. These cognitive reserves are thought to be the result of people who stayed mentally active. Leading a healthy lifestyle is also important. So the path I am following is to build up this cognitive reserve. The Healthymemory Blog is devoted to activities and information that should be helpful in building this cognitive reserve.

1Weir, K. (2011). Memory keepers. Monitor on Psychology, June, 32-35.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2011. 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.

Bilingualism

June 29, 2011

A recent article1 extolled the benefits of bilingualism. It stated that recent research found that it can enhance multitasking (by helping you focus) and stave off Alzheimer’s. Although the research was based on lifelong bilinguals, it stated that scientists say that late-life learning can exercise your mind and help you maintain cognitive function. The Healthymemory Blog agrees.

In addition to the benefits of mental exercise and the learning of new information, there is the benefit of meeting new people and broadening social networks, activities in and of themselves that promote healthy memories. The article relates the story of a 59 year old man who decided to learn Arabaic. Two years later he now Skypes with a new friend who lives in Egypt.

The article notes that 48 percent of Rosetta Stone’s customers are 50 plus. So Baby Boomers are availing themselves of technology to learn new languages. Learning a new language in and of itself is a demanding activity with promises of cognitive enhancement. But there are associated activities that also can be beneficial. Learning about new cultures is one. The benefits of meeting new people has already been mentioned. But there is also the prospect of travel in which you would be able to communicate with the people you are visiting in their own language.

The Healthymemory Blog provides many suggestions for mental growth and enhancement. Mnemonics techniques include one broad category. There is also cybertechnology that offers the possibility not only of cognitive growth through the learning of new material, but also through meeting new people and the resultant social interactions. In the aggregate the recommendations and suggesitons of the Healthymemory Blog are overwhelming. They are way more than a single individual could pursue. These offering are made in the spirit of a menu offered at a restaurant. There is way more there than could be enjoyed even after many visits to the restaurant. So it is a matter of picking and choosing a sample you find enjoyable. It is in this spirit that the offerings of the Healthymemory Blog are made.

Please continue reading even after you have filled your plate. The posts are short and can be quickly enjoyed. New material is constantly being offered, so it is good to review, learn something new, and perhaps change the selections on your plate. So consider subscribing so you never miss a post.

1Wooldrige, L.Q. (2011). Say Hello to a Second Language., AARP The Magazine, July/August, 14.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2011. 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.

Passing 65

May 15, 2011

Just recently I passed my 65 birthday. Being at the forefront of the Baby Boomers, many more will soon be passing this milestone. For those who are younger, let me warn you how quickly this age descends upon you.

But what exactly is the significance of reaching 65? At one time it indicated that you were eligible for full Social Security Benefits, but not for us Baby Boomers. For us that age has been increased to 66. It also was the traditional age for retirement. Some people were forced to retire when they reached this age. So this meant leaving the productive workforce and beginning the pursuit of leisure activities.

But the significance of reaching 65 has changed and it involves more than the year increase in the required age to receive full Social Security Benefits. There are a variety of reasons for this change. One is demographic. People are living longer. This, in turn, has financial consequences. As people live longer a greater burden is placed on Social Security. A greater burden is also placed on the individual as Social Security Benefits were intended as a safety net and not as a guarantee for a comfortable retirement. So the retiree is confronted with the dilemma of how quickly to spend down whatever has been saved for retirement. There is the risk of outliving one’s money. There is also the risk of outliving the ability to enjoy one’s retirement nest egg. Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia have the prospect not only of outliving one’s ability to enjoy retirement, but also of outliving one’s ability to understand what is going on or even one’s personal identity. That is, the risk of outliving one’s memory.

My Mom is living in an assisted living facility. I visit her a couple of times each week. For the past several years I’ve watched her cognitive decline. Once we were able to enjoy watching television programs together. We were able to watch both sporting events and stories. I saw her ability to understand both the sporting events and stories slip away. When I gave her a Mother’s Day card, she thought she needed to sign it and send it on to her Mom. Now my Mom will be 99 in a couple of months, yet she thought that her mother was still alive. She confuses me with my brother who passed away some time ago. And I know that it is only a matter of time before she will no longer either recognize me or confuse me with my brother.

My primary objective is to die with my cognitive facilities intact. The psychologist Stine-Morrow has an interesting hypothesis about cognitive aging.1 She argues that choice in how cognitive effort, attention, is allocated may be an essential determinant of cognitive change over the life span. .  Stine-Morrow argues that cognitive effort can directly impact cognitive change in the form of attentional engagement and indirectly as it alters neuronal changes that give rise to component capabilities.  Her ideas coincide nicely with those of Michael Merzenich, Ph.D., a professor at the Keck Center for Integrative Neuroscienses at the University of California at San Diego.  In turn, Dr. Merzenich’s ideas fit nicely with Kahneman’s Two System Theory (see blog post, “The Two System View of Cognition”). System One processes are effortful and require attention.  System Two processes, which are the product of learning and experience, are relatively effortless.   The older an individual is, the more developed are those System Two processes that facilitate cognition.  Consequently, there is a great temptation to rely upon these System Two processes and become a creature of habit.  Merzenich and the Stine-Morrow Hypothesis warn against relying too heavily on System Two Processes.  Effortful engagement of System One processes can be beneficial in warding off cognitive decline.  System One processes are engaged whenever we try or learn new things.  Thus engaging in new activities and in new areas of knowledge can be quite beneficial. 

Consequently, I am continuing to work and I plan on continuing to work as long as possible. My primary reason for working is that it forces me to use my System One processes and to learn and understand new concepts. Although I make use of my System Two processes that have developed over the years, I continue to learn new topics, new activities, and to meet new people. Yes, social engagement is critical to maintaining and growing a healthy memory. I also try to grow cognitively outside of work. This Healthymemory Blog is just one of those activities. I also engage in physical exercise and mental exercise. I try to maintain a positive attitude. I also try to watch my diet, although this item is engaged with less enthusiasm.  

1Stine-Morrow, A.L.  (2008).  The Dumbledore Hypothesis of Cognitive Aging.  Current Directions in Psychological Science, 16,  295-299.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2011. 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.

 

Glial Cells and Alzheimer’s Disease

May 8, 2011

A preceding post (“Our Neurons Make Up Only 15 Percent of Out Brain Cells”) highlighted the importance of glial cells to brain function. It was based on an article1 in Scientific American Mind, on which this current blog post is also based. The discoverer of Alzheimer’s Disease, Alos Alzheimer noted that microglia surround the amyloid plaques that are the hallmark of the disease. Recent research suggests that microglia become weaker with age and begin to degenerate. This atrophy can be seen under a microscope. In aged brain tissue, senescent microglia become fragmented and lose many of their cellular branches.

One more sign of microglial involvement can be found in the way Alzheimer’s courses through the brain. Damage spreads in a predetermined manner. It begins near the hippocampus and eventually reaches the frontal context. Microglial deneneration follows the same pattern but precedes the advance of neuronal degeneration, Alzheimer and most experts had presumed that microglial degeneration was a response to neuron degeneration. This new research suggests that the senescence is a cause of Alzheimer’s dementia. The hope is that once researchers learn why microglia become senescent with in some people but not in others, new treatments for Alzheimer’s could be developed.

It is also interesting to note the path of progression of the disease. It begins near the hippocampus, a cortical structure critical to memory. Memory loss can be an early indicator of Alzheimer’s. The disease then progresses through the cortex to the frontal cortex. So more memory loss occurs as more cortex is destroyed. The frontal cortex is where most planning occurs. It plays an important role in focal attention. The executive functions of the frontal lobes include the ability to recognize future consequences from current actions, to choose between good and bad actions, to override and suppress unacceptable social actions, and determine similarities and differences between things and events. In short, it is key to higher mental functions.

1Fields, D.R. (2011). The Hidden Brain. Scientific American Mind. May/June, 53-59.

Our Neurons Make Up Only 15 Percent of Our Brain Cells

May 4, 2011

So what makes up the rest of our brain cells—glial cells. When I was a graduate student no one had a good idea what glial cells did. Glia comes from the Greek word for glue, so the best bet was the glial cells helped hold the brain together. An article1 in Scientific American Mind brought me up to date and demonstrated how woefully ignorant we were at that time. There are different types of glial cells. Astrocytes ferry nutrients and waste and mediate neuronal communication. Oligodendrocytes coat axons with insulating mylein, boosting signal speeds. Microglia fight infection and promote repair.

Previously, the neuron doctrine governed our understanding of the brain. According to the neuron doctrine all information in the nervous system is transmitted by electrical impulses over networks of neurons linked through synaptic connections. Recent research has demonstrated that some bypasses neurons completely, and flows without electricity through networks of glial cells. It has shown the role of glial cells in information processing and learning, as well as in neurological disorders and psychiatric illness.

In contrast to neurons, which communicate serially across chains of synapses, glia broadcast their signals widely throughout the brain, similar to cell phones, In contrast to the rapid communication throughout neural networks, the chemical communication of glia is very slow and spreads like a tidal wave through neural tissue at a pace of seconds or tens of seconds.

New brain imaging techniques have shown that after having engaged in such activities as learning to play a musical instrument, to read, or to juggle, structural changes occur in brain areas that control these cognitive functions. What is remarkable is that changes are seen in regions whee there are no complete neurons. These are “white matter” areas that are formed from bundles of axons coated with myelin, a white electrical insulator. All theories of learning had held that it is solely by strengthening synaptic connections is how learning occurs. As there are few synapses in while matter, clearly something else is happening that involves glial cells.

With respect to neurological and psychological illnesses, glial cells have been found to play a role. Alzheimer’s Disease is one of these illnesses, but the discussion of Alzheimer’s and glial cells will be postponed to a subsequent post. Glial cells account for the mystery of why spinal cord injury results in permanent paralysis. Proteins in the myelin insulation that oligodendrocytes wrap around axons stop injured axons from sprouting and repairing damaged circuits. Chronic pain is the result of microglia do not stop releasing the substances that promote the healing processes after healing is complete. Consequently, sensitivity to pain continues after healing is complete.

It is not surprising that glia play a central role in neurological disease as astrocytes and microglia are first responders to disease. Compulsive behavior, schizophrenia, and depression might all have there roots in the glial cells. Epilepsy is also regarded as a prime-candidate for glial-based therapeutics.

1Fields, D.R. (2011). The Hidden Brain. Scientific American Mind. May/June, 53-59.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2011. 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.

Walking and a Healthy Memory

February 2, 2011

The Health Day Newsletter contained an article1 summarizing a news release from the November 29, 2010 meeting of the Radiological Society of North America. The research suggests that walking about five miles a week may help slow the progression of cognitive illness among seniors already suffering from mild forms of cognitive impairment or Alzheimer’s Disease. The research also indicated that walking just six miles a week can help prevent the onset of disease.

Two appealing features leap out at me from this news. First is the cost. Walking costs nothing (unless you choose walking shoes or consider the minimal wear placed on shoes). Secondly, this is a reasonable regimen. Six miles is not excessively demanding, particularly when you consider that it can be spread out over an entire week.

3-D MRI scans were done to measure brain volume. After accounting for age, gender, body-fat composition, head size, and education, it was found that the more the individual engaged in physical activity, the larger the brain volume. Greater brain volume is a sign of a lower degree of brain cell death as well as general brain health. Cognitive tests were also administered and these also indicated improved cognitive performance in healthy individuals and lower losses in cognitive performance for those who already had begun to decline cognitively.

Physical activity improves blood flow to the brain, changes neurotransmitters, and improves cardiac function. It also lessens the risk of obesity, improves insulin resistance and lowers the risk of diabetes, and lowers blood pressure, All of these things are risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease.

Clearly the Healthymemory Blog endorses physical activity in addition to the mental activities advocated in this blog. These include mnemonic techniques and transactive memory. Transactive memory entails cognitive growth via technology and our fellow human beings.

1Regular Walking May Slow Decline of Alzheimer;s, http://consumer;healthday.com/Article.asp?AID=646656

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2011. 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.

Dementia and Mental Stimulation

September 8, 2010

A recent article in The Economist1 presented a report on the benefits of mental stimulation in warding off dementia such as Alzheimer’s Disease. The research was lead by Robert Wilson of the University of Chicago. Research participants were asked how frequently they engaged in cognitively stimulating activities such as reading newspapers, books, and magazines. They were also asked how frequently they played challenging games like chess and visited museums. They also included watching television and listening to radio, which are typically not regarded as mentally stimulating activities. Then they followed these participants to learn what developed. They found that frequent activity of this sort seemed to slow the rate of cognitive decline. But they also found that in those who did develop Alzheimer’s Disease the decline was more rapid. This they regarded as bad news.

A number of points need to be made about this study. Most importantly, it should not be regarded as conclusive. More definitive studies will be done, and I would not be surprised if more specific types of mental activity were found that actually did ward off Alzheimer’s. But even if we take these results at face value, they provide strong evidence for the benefits of mental activity. From my perspective, even what they term as bad news, that the decline after Alzheimer’s is more precipitous, I regard as beneficial. Were I to suffer from Alzheimer’s, I would want my suffering to be as short as possible.

The Healthymemory Blog is dedicated to promoting mental activity not only to preclude or ward off mental decline, but also to provide cognitive enrichment. Although the primary audience for this blog is comprised of baby boomers, all should benefit. There are three basic categories of blog posts. The first category, Human Memory: Theory and Data, provides information on how memory works and how cognition both functions and malfunctions. Tips are provided on how to avoid common information processing errors. I find the field of human memory very interesting and I use this category to share my interests.

The second category is on mnemonic techniques. Mnemonic techniques are specific strategies for enhancing memory. In addition to enhancing memory, they also provide mental exercise. It does not appear that this type of mental stimulation was included in the Rush research. When you access this category it is important that blog post are ordered from most recent to the oldest. For this category in particular, it should be more beneficial to read them from the bottom up.

The third category is transactive memory. Transactive memory refers to external sources of information. These external sources can be found in either fellow humans or in technology. Although the newspapers, books, and magazines used in the Rush study are included, no uses of the internet were mentioned. The Healthymemory Blog believes that the internet provides resources for both mental stimulation and cognitive growth.

So mental stimulation should be regarded not only as a defensive mechanism to prevent or ward off mental decline, but also as an offensive, proactive practice to promote cognitive growth to lead to a richer and more fulfilling life.

1Brain Gain.(2010). September 4-10th p. 88.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2010. 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.

Is Dementia an Inevitable Part of Aging?

August 22, 2010

This blog post is another in the series inspired by the book, The Scientific American Brave New Brain.1 That book presents a table contrasting the way the brain once was regarded, the way it is presently regarded, and some conjectures about what tomorrow might hold. According to Brave New Brain in the past, Alzheimer’s Disease and loss of brain function were regarded as inevitable parts of aging. Although the awareness of the widespread plague of Alzheimer’s Disease is relatively knew, many if not most people regarded the loss of brain function as a normal part of aging. It was thought that just as the body wears out, the brain wears out.

According to Brave New Brain today it is believed that “active brains retain more function than inactive ones, even to some very elderly people.” Even as parts of the brain decline, the neuroplasticity of the brain results in the enlisting of other parts of the brain to compensate for this decline. The Healthymemory Blog post “HAROLD” discussed this compensation. An important part of the current belief is that active brains retain more function than inactive ones. That is, inactive brains do decline as a result of aging. So here the old belief maintains. If you are passive and mentally inactive you can expect to lose brain function. The brain is analogous to the body: use it or lose it.

According to Brave New Brain, in the future Alzheimer’s disease is reversible and curable in many cases. Let us hope that this is also true for other forms of senile dementia. The question is how far into the future will this be the case. Are all of us baby boomers safe. I’m afraid that already some of us baby boomers have succumbed. Will the tale end of the baby boomers be safe? Let’s hope that cures and effective treatments will be developed as soon as possible. Otherwise the effects will be truly devasting.

The good news is that we do have a fighting chance. Active brains retain more function than inactive ones. Although there is no absolute guarantee that an active brain will not succumb Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia, but the odds of succumbing are decreased by staying mentally acted. Moreover, you have the option of increasing your mental activity. Even if a cure for dementia were found, and let us up that there will be a cure, keeping mentally active and growing cognitively are still worthy goals on their own. They should result in a richer, fuller life.

The Healthymemory Blog is devoted to promoting healthy mental activity. It has three themes. One is the provision of knowledge about how memory works and how it fails to work. And it offers remedies for these failures. The blog posts are found in the Memory: Theory and Data category. Another theme is the use of mnemonic techniques. These posts are found, appropriately enough, under the category of mnemonic techniques. These techniques not only provide a means of improving memory, but also provide exercise that keeps the brain active. It is recommended to start at the beginning, bottom of this category as techniques become more difficult as you advance upwards. The third theme is Transactive Memory. Blog posts under this category provide suggestions for using technology and other people not only to maintain cognitive health, but also to foster and extend cognitive growth well into old age.

1Horstman, J. (2010). San FranciscoJossey-Bass.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2010. 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.