Posts Tagged ‘Alzheimer’s’

Brain Training Games in Perspective

July 23, 2017

In the July 11, 2017 issue of the Washington Post there was an article by Jenna Gallegos titled “Brain training games fail to deliver exceptional cognitive boost, study finds”. This article summarized a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience in which 128 young adults were tested for mental performance after playing either Luminosity brain-training games or regular video games for 10 weeks. Researchers saw no evidence that commercial brain training games lead to improvements in memory, decision-making, sustained attention, or ability to switch between mental tasks.

So what can do these results mean? Luminosity might want to work on developing games that will show improvements in mental performance when compared against regular video games. Suppose that either the current study had or a future study will show improvements in mental performance when compared to regular video games. Although these results would be positive, they would not prove that playing them warded off dementia.

It is already known that cognitive activity does decrease the likelihood of dementia, and that cognitive activity can produce a cognitive reserve such that even when the defining characteristics of Alzheimer’s, the amyloid plaque and neurofibrillary tangles, appear dementia might be delayed or forestalled altogether. After all, there have been autopsies performed on people whose brains were plagued with amyloid plaque and neurofibrillary tangles who never exhibited any cognitive or behavioral symptoms of the disease.

The healthy memory blog has warned against waiting for drugs that prevent or cure Alzheimer’s (see the healthy memory blog post, “The Myth of Alzheimer’s). The healthy memory blog does recommend a healthy lifestyle that features growth mindsets for continually learning and meditation and mindfulness. Social activities are also an important part of this healthy lifestyle.

HM also argues that it is not just mental activity, but the type of mental activity that is important. Here it is important to understand the different types of cognitive activity Daniel Kahneman described in his book “Thinking Fast and Slow.”

System 1 is named Intuition. System 1 is very fast, employs parallel processing, and appears to be automatic and effortless. This processing is so fast that it is 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 2 process much repetition and practice is required. 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.
System 2 is named Reasoning. It is controlled processing that is slow, serial, and effortful. It is also flexible. This is what we commonly regard as thinking. 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 do slip through. Learning, particularly the early stages, are largely a System 2 process.

System 1 processing occurs rapidly over frequently travelled pathways in the brain. However, System 2 processing involves traveling over many pathways, some which are little used to find supporting, refuting, or conflicting information, or in establishing new links for learning

It is HM’s conjecture that it is System 2 processing that is most beneficial to healthy memories, the formation of a cognitive reserve, and the forestalling or prevention of dementia.

So what types of experiments could test this hypothesis. Here are two possibilities;

One hypothesis is that voters who voted for Trump engaged primarily, if not exclusively ,in System 1 processing. and are more likely to suffer from dementia. Many, if not most, decisions were based on emotions, which are System 1 processes. Other decisions where based on religion or party affiliation. So these people were essentially just following orders. Even if people gave an answer such as jobs or the economy, did they bother to think critically how Trump promised to accomplish his promises, or were they just placing blind faith in Trump?

So the argument here is that voters who did not vote for Trump engaged in System 2 processing that kept them from making the error of voting for Trump. Consequently, they have healthier memories and are less likely to safer from dementia.

Another hypothesis is that viewers of Fox News are more likely to suffer from demential. Fox’s “Fair and Balanced” news is accomplished by presenting news that appeals to existing biases and beliefs. This enables Fox viewers to use System 1 processes almost exclusively and to avoid or minimize System 2 thinking.

But what about viewers who do not view Fox news? As they receive a wider range of views in the news coverage, some, but not all, of the news will require System 2 processing. In other words, these viewers will need to think more, which might well assist in building a cognitive reserve and warding off dementia.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

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The Brain Starts to Eat Itself After Chronic Sleep Deprivation

June 30, 2017

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Andy Coghlan in the News & Technology section of the May 27, 2017 issue of the New Scientist. Michele Belles of the Marche Polytechnic University in Italy says the chronic sleep deprivation could explain why a chronic lack of sleep puts people at his age of Alzheimer’s disease and other neurological disorders.

The brain cells that destroy and digest worn-out cells and debris go into overdrive in mice that are chronically sleep deprived. Although this might b beneficial in the short term, clearing potentially harmful debris and rebuilding worn circuitry might protect health connections. But when this continues in the long term it destroys healthy brain material.

The researchers specifically looked at glial cells, which serve as the brain’s housekeeping system. Previous research had found that a gene that regulates the activity of these cells is more active after a period of sleep deprivation. One type pf glial cell called an astrocyte, removes unnecessary synapses in the brain to remodel its wiring. Another type of cell, called a microglial cell, prowls the brain for damaged cells and debris.

The research suggest that sleep loss can trigger astrocytes to start breaking down more of the brain’s connections and their debris. Bells says, “We show for the first time that portions of synapses are literally eaten by astrocytes because of sleep loss.

The researcher found that microglial cells were more active after chronic sleep deprivation (Journal of Neuroscience, 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3981-16.2017). Excessive microglial activity has been linked to a range of brain disorders. Bells says, “We already know that sustained microglial activation has been observed in Alzheimer’s and other forms of neurodegeneration.

This research could explain why a lack of sleep seems to make people more vulnerable to developing such dementias.

It is still not clear whether getting more sleep could protect the brain or rescue if from the effects of a few sleepless nights. The researchers plan to investigate how long the effects of sleep deprivation last.

To learn more about the effects of sleep deprivation, enter “sleep deprivation” into the search block of the healthymemory blog.dem

 

Life on Purpose (Ikigai)

February 27, 2017

The title of this post is the title of a book by Dr. Victor Stretcher.  Its subtitle is “How Living for What Matters Most Changes Everything.”  This book was referenced previously in the healthy memory blog post, “Ikigai Cuts the Risk of Alzheimer’s in Half.”  Although Dr. Strecher never uses “Ikigai”  HM will continue to use it because it is concise, captures the meaning precisely, and has been used previously in this blog.

Dr. Strecher asks the reader to consider if purpose (Ikigai) were a drug.  “So let’s imagine a drug that was shown to add years to your life; reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke; reduce you risk of Alzheimer’s disease b more than half;  help you relax during the day and sleep better at night;  double your chances of staying drug- and alcohol-free after treatment; activate your natural killer cells;  diminish your inflammatory cells; increase your good cholesterol and repair your DNA.  What if this imaginary dog reduced hospital stays so much tat it put a dent in the national health-care crisis?  Oh, and as a bonus, gave you better sex?”

Your response might well be what kind of snake-oil is this.  However, there is empirical research backing these claims.  The difficulty is that this is not a pill.  It is a matter of lifestyle governed by Ikigai, having a meaningful purpose in life.  Reading this book is interesting.  However, achieving the results cited in the previous paragraph requires a lifestyle and a manner of thinking.  Dr. Strecher’s book provides guidance on how to do this.  Many healthy memory posts will be based on this work, but they can only scratch the surface.

THE MEMORY ILLUSION

January 26, 2017

“THE MEMORY ILLUSION” is the title of a book by psychologist Julia Shaw, Ph.D.   The subtitle is “Remembering, Forgetting and the Science of False Memory.  This is an outstanding book on a very important topic that is well-written by an excellent author, one that is strongly recommend reading by HM.  Due to the importance of this topic, many posts  will be written based on the book.

There are many misconceptions regarding human memory.   This book is devoted to correcting the most egregious of these misconceptions.  People tend to think of memory in a very limited sense.  It’s thought of as something you need during tests, and as something that fails you when you can’t recall a name.  But readers of the healthy memory blog should know that memory is central to all cognition and to our very being.

Consider someone in the last stages of Alzheimer’s.  That person no longer remembers who he is, what he did during his life, his immediate  family and, of course, his friends.  Absent memory there is no you-ness.

There are different types of memory.  Semantic memories are our knowledge about the world.  Procedural memory is about how different procedures are performed such as riding a bike.  Autobiographical memory is about ourselves, and episodic memory is about the specific events or episodes that occurred during our lifetimes.

There is also something important regarding both how our memories work and how to make them work better.  This is called metamemory.   We need to be aware of how our memories fail, so we do not fall victim to them, and so that we can compensate for their failures and shortcomings.

As Dr. Shaw writes, “Any event, no matter how important, emotional or traumatic it may seem, can be forgotten, misremembered, or even entirely fictitious.”

As she also writes, “Due to our psychological and physiological configuration all of us can come to confidently and vividly remember entire events that never actually took place.”

And as she continues,  “The Memory Illusion” will explain the fundamental principles of our memories, diving into the biological reasons we forget and remember.  It will explain how our social environments play a pivotal role in the way we experience and remember the world.  It will explain how self-concept shapes, and is shaped by our memories.  It will explain the role of the media and education in our misunderstanding of the things we think memory is capable of.  And it will look in detail at some of the most fascinating, sometimes almost unbelievable, errors, alterations and misapprehensions our memories can be subject to.”

Reading a Novel Affects the Connectivity in the Brain

December 11, 2016

This post is based on an article in BRAIN CONNECTIVITY, Volume 3, Number 6,
DOI:  10.1089/brain.2013.0166 titled “Short and Long-Term Effects of a Novel on Connectivity in the Brain.”

This study used fMRI recording resting states both before and after reading a novel.   The novel was “Pompeii: A Novel” by Robert Fawcett.  Nineteen participants read this novel over a nine day period.  Resting-state  networks (RSNs) were assessed before and after reading on each of the nine days.  Baseline RSNs were taken five days before the experiment proper and for 5 days after the conclusion of the novel.

On the days after the reading, significant increases in connectivity  were centered on hubs in the left angular/supramarginal gyri and right posterior temporal gyri.  These hubs correspond to regions previously associated with perspective taking and story comprehension, and the changes exhibited a time course that decayed rapidly after the completion of the novel.  Long-term changes in connectivity, which persisted for several days after the reading, were observed in the bilateral somatosensory cortex, suggesting a potential mechanism for “embodied semantics.”  What the authors are referring to in embodied semantics is that the body is responding emotionally to the reading.

What HM finds most interesting about this study is that it provides data showing the
changes that take place in the brain as the result of reading.  This can be regarded as “cognitive exercise” that activates brain circuits and System 2 processing building a cognitive reserve decreasing the likelihood of Alzheimer’s and dementia.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. 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-deprived Drivers are as Dangerous as Drunk Drivers

December 9, 2016

This post is based on an article by Ashley Halsey III titled “Sleep-deprived drivers have plenty in common with drunk drivers, on page A2 of the 7 December 2016 edition of the Washington Post.  Her article is based on a report by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety released 6 December.   According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about 35% of people get fewer than the needed seven hours of sleep, and 12% say that they sleep for five hours or less.

Previous research by the AAA Foundation found that 21% of fatal crashes involved a sleep-deprived driver.  This new report uses data from the National Motor Vehicle’s Crash Causation Survey to asses how much driving ability decreases based on the lack of sleep.  The executive director of the foundation, David Yang, says that the new research shows that a driver who has slept for less than five hours has a crash risk comparable to someone driving drunk.  The report says that those who slept for less than 4 of the past 24 hours had an 11.5% higher risk of getting into a crash; drivers who slept 4-5 hours had a 4.3% higher risk; 5-7 hours had a 1.9% higher risk; and 6-7 hours had a 1.3% higher risk.  The following caveat is added to these results:  “The study may underestimate the risk of driving while sleep-deprived, because data on crashes that occurred between midnight and 6 a.m. were not available, and other studies have shown that the effects of sleep deprivation…are greatest during the morning hours.”

Tom Calcagni of AAA’s Mid-Atlantic Office said, “The crash risk associated with having slept less than 4 hours is comparable to the crash risk associated with a blood-alcohol content of roughly .12 to .15.  The legal limit is .08.

So add driving while being sleepy to the other activities you should not do while driving:  texting and talking on the phone regardless of whether your hands are free or not, and drunk driving.

The importance of sleep to health in general should not be underestimated.  Our brains are very active while we sleep, consolidating memories and cleaning up junk in the brain.  By failing to get enough sleep we are effectively damaging our brains.  This damage might eventually lead to dementia and Alzheimer’s.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. 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.

System 2 Processing for Building a Cognitive Reserve

November 14, 2016

The immediately preceding post suggested a mechanism for building a cognitive reserve to decrease the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Although it is frequently said that Alzheimer’s disease cannot be prevented or cured, there have been autopsies done of people whose brains had  defining amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles required for a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, but who never exhibited any of the behavioral or cognitive symptoms.  So there have been individuals who had Alzheimer’s, but who never knew that they had the disease!  The explanation for these individuals is that they had built up a cognitive reserve.

The healthy memory post “Cognitive Activity and the Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease” summarizes a study in which reported cognitive activity was the best predictor of a decreased risk for Alzheimer’s.  This finding held even when the factors of educational level and job prestige were statistically controlled.  The post “How Cognitive Activity Decreases the Risk of Alzheimer’s”  proposed a mechanism to identify how cognitive activity decreases the risk of Alzheimer’s.

Our brains are working constantly even when we sleep.  So how can the type of cognitive activity that builds this cognitive reserve be identified?  This explanation depends upon understanding Kahneman’s Two Process Theory of Cognition.  This theory was expanded upon in Kahneman’s best selling book, “Thinking Fast and Slow.”  System 1 is fast and is called intuition.  System 1 needs to be fast so we can process language and make the fast decisions we need to make everyday.  System 1 is also the seat of our emotions.  System 2 is called reasoning and corresponds loosely to what we mean by thinking.  System 2 requires mental effort and our attentional processes.  Stanovich has elaborated System 2 in the development of a more comprehensive intelligence quotient.  But for our purposes, this discussion included Stanovich’s concept as it involves even more thinking and attentional processes.

System 1 is fast because it uses defaults to expedite processing with minimal cognitive resources.  Whenever we read or hear something that corresponds to our beliefs or expectations only System 1 is involved.  However, one of the responsibilities of System 2 is to monitor System 1  processes to check for erroneous processing.  Whenever we hear or read something that does not correspond to our beliefs, there is an identifiable response in the brain, which signals the initiation of System 2 processes.  System 2 can decide to curtail further processing and to move on, or to engage in a more thorough process of memory search, checking for logical contradictions, and so on.  All of this is thinking and requires cognitive effort.

Similarly when we are learning new information or a skill, System 2 is engaged.  This is why learning can be frustrating and demanding.  System 2 stays engaged until learning begins and then gradually disengages until it becomes an almost automatic System 1 process.  This learning is a matter of engaging different parts of the brain, establishing new neural pathways.  It is also likely that old neural pathways are  reactivated.

So System 2 processing establishes new neural pathways and reactivates related previous neural pathways.  So regardless of what happens with respect to amyloid plaque or neurofibrillary tangles, the brain remains healthy and our memories remain healthy and can continue to grow cognitively..

When we are doing System 1 processing our brains are effectively on cruise control.  When we are doing System 2 processing we are engaged in cognitively effortful processing and are thinking.  But is there a way to identify System 2 processing?  Does System 2 processing have a signature?

It is possible that there is. Research has been done in which statements are played to research participants while their brains are being monitored.  When a statement is presented with which a subject disagrees, there is a noticeable response.  Perhaps this response could be used as a signature for System 2.

Even if this works, there is an implementation problem,  How would this be done?  It might be possible to evaluate different cognitive processes with respect to the amount of effortful processing.  This could be an area of research that would generate a large volume of research papers with the concomitant reward of faculty tenure.

Perhaps a simpler way would be to compare Trump Voters against those who did not vote for Trump.  The respective samples would be monitored to see how many suffered from Alzheimer’s at what ages.  For HM, the only conceivable way that individuals could vote for Trump would be to do very little, if any, System 2 processing regarding him.

A related approach would be to compare viewers of Fox news  against a control sample who did not watch Fox news.  Both groups would be tracked to see who fell ill with Alzheimer’s at what age.  The appeal of Fox news is that it is designed to cater to the biases of viewers and to minimize any disturbing or conflicting news.  It can be viewed in cruise control rarely, if ever, having to engage in System 2 processing.  This is probably why Fox news is so popular—it requires little, if any, cognitive effort.  On the other hand those poor viewers of unbalanced news have to engage in System 2 processes to ascertain credibility levels for their news.  The  prediction would be for higher and earlier incidences of Alzheimer’s for Fox News viewers.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. 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 Cognitive Activity Decreases the Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease

November 12, 2016

This explanation depends upon understanding Kahneman’s Two Process Theory of Cognition.  This theory was expanded upon in Kahneman’s best selling book, “Thinking Fast and Slow.”  System 1 is fast and is called intuition.  System 1 needs to be fast so we can process language and make the fast decisions we need to make everyday.  System 1 is also the seat of our emotions.  System 2 is called reasoning and corresponds loosely to what we mean by thinking.  System 2 requires mental effort and requires our attentional processes.  Stanovich has elaborated System 2 in the development of a more comprehensive intelligence quotient.  But for our purposes, this discussion includes Stanovich’s concept as it involves even more thinking and attentional processes.

System 1 is fast because it uses defaults to expedite processing with minimal cognitive resources.  Whenever we read or hear something that corresponds to our beliefs or expectations only System 1 is involved.  However, one of the responsibilities of System 2 is to monitor System 1 processes to check for erroneous processing.  Whenever we hear or read something that does not correspond to our beliefs, there is an identifiable response in the brain, which signals the initiation of System 2 processes.  System 2 can decide to curtail further processing and to move on, or to engage in a more thorough process of memory search, checking for logical contradictions, and so on.  All of this is thinking and requires cognitive effort.

Similarly when we are learning new information or a skill, System 2 is engaged.  This is why learning can be frustrating and demanding.  System 2 stays engaged until learning begins and then gradually disengages until it becomes an almost automatic System 1 process.  This learning is a matter of engaging different parts of the brain, establishing new neural pathways.  It is also likely that old neural pathways are  reactivated.

So System 2 processing establishes new neural pathways and reactivates related previous neural pathways.  So regardless of what happens with respect to amyloid plaque or neurofibrillary tangles, the brain remains healthy and our memories remain healthy and continue to grow.

This explains the cognitive reserve, which is the explanation of why there are individuals whose brains are filled with amyloid plaque and neurofibrillary tangles but who never exhibit any of the cognitive or behavioral symptoms.  Cognitive activity keeps the necessary pathways open and continues to find new ones.

However, absent sufficient activity the amyloid plaque and neurofibrillary tangles gradually destroy the brains ability to function.

The reason the healthy memory blog recommends growth mindsets is to promote this cognitive activity.  This quote by the humorist Art Buchwald is appropriate here.
“To remain mentally sharp, you have to deal with familiar things in novel ways. But most important of all, you have to have a sense of curiosity. If interest and curiosity stop coming automatically to you, then you’re in trouble, no matter how young or old you are.”

The healthy memory blog also strongly recommends meditation and mindfulness.  There are two reasons for this recommendation.  One is to promote emotional control and affective communications with others.  The second reason is to increase our focus and to gain control over our attention.  Our minds rarely stop.  Meditation helps us gain control of our attention.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. 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 Activity and Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease

November 9, 2016

The title of this post is identical to the titled of an article by Robert S. Wilson and David A. Bennet in “Current Directions in Psychological Science”, 2003, 87-91.  HM expresses his sincere apology for not reviewing this article earlier as it is central to the theme and purpose of the healthy memory blog.  HM is also livid that he has not seen this article frequently cited.

Wilson and Bennett begin their article by noting that the idea that frequent intellectual activity might help one’s mental faculties in old age predated the Roman empire.  Then they begin their review.  The examine three issues bearing upon cognitive activity and the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.  They first consider whether cognitive activity accounts for the association between education and occupational attainment and risk of Alzheimer’s disease.  They next address the behavioral mechanisms underlying the association.  Then they discus neurobiological mechanisms underlying the association.

They found that cognitive activity did decrease the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.  What is especially interesting is that even when educational level and occupational prestige were controlled for statistically, cognitive activity appeared to be the primary factor bearing upon decreased risk for Alzheimer’s disease.

As for the behavioral mechanisms reducing the risk for Alzheimer’s disease, they note that cognitively active people begin old age with better cognitive skills than less cognitively active people and these skills might be less subject to decline.  They cite two studies that support these contentions.

They address the benefits of cognitive training programs, but note that these benefits appear to be specific to the skill(s) that were trained.  They also cite studies that have found that frequency of cognitive activity, but not of physical activity is related to risk of Alzheimer’s disease.  Cognitive activity appears to be primarily associated with reduced decline in processing skills like perceptual speed and working memory.  These skills are involved in nearly all kinds of intellectual activity, so it makes sense that they would  benefit the most from the frequency of such activity.

Regarding neurobiological  mechanisms underlying the association, they discuss two possibilities.  The first is that cognitive activity directly slows the build up of the neuritic plaques and neurofibrillary tangles  that define the disease.  The second is that cognitive activity  affects the risk of Alzheimers by affecting the development or maintenance of the interconnected neural systems that underlie different forms of cognition.

The data clearly indicate that the second explanation regarding the benefits of cognitive activity is accurate.  A given amount of Alzheimer’s disease pathology was associated with less cognitive impairment in a person with more education than in a person with less education.  In other words these data suggest that variables related to education, or variables related to education such as cognitive activity affect the risk of cognitive impairment and dementia by somehow enhancing the brain’s capacity to tolerate Alzheimer/s disease pathology.

In their conclusion they write, “Because few identifiable  risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease have been identified, this area of research has important public-health implications.  Much remains to be learned, however.”

A central questions is when during the life span is cognitive activity important.  HM encourages everyone to be cognitively active, but can it start too late to be beneficial.  Absent the necessary research, the answer should be that it is never too late.  But a larger question is why is there so little research activity on this topic.  The cynical, but HM believes accurate, answer is that money is in drug treatments targeted at the defining physical symptoms, and that cognitive activity is painful and will be avoided by large numbers of people.

Perhaps these findings were not available when this paper was written, but the study makes no mention of the research that has found the brains of cadavers full of the defining plaques and tangles of the disease, whose owners of the brains never exhibited any of the behavioral or cognitive symptoms of the disease when they were alive.

The statement is frequently made that there is no current cure for Alzheimer’s.  That cure is being sought in the prevention or curing of the physical symptoms.  Although there might not be a cure, there does appear to be an effective method of precluding the cognitive and behavioral manifestations—cognitive activity.

And that is why the healthy memory blog places such heavy emphasis on growth mindsets.  Mnemonic techniques is one of the blogs categories.  Mnemonic techniques, in addition to improving memory are ideal types of cognitive activity.  Mental imagery is central to many of these techniques, so they involve both hemispheres of the brain.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. 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.

Computers in Our Brains

August 25, 2016

This post is based primarily on an article by Elizabeth Dworkin in the 17 April 2106 issue of the Washington Post titled “Putting a computer in your brain is no longer science fiction.”  It describe the research done by Silicon technology entrepreneur Bryan Johnson at his company Kernel, website is kernel.com.  It does not appear that Johnson has already put a computer into the brain, but rather is in the process of designing a computer to put into the brain.  The article also cites work by biomedical researcher Theodore Berger who has worked on a chip-assisted hippocampus for rats.  This work has yet to advance to humans.  And it probably will be many years before any fruits from this research will be realized.

This post is filed under transactive memory, which included posts on using external technology to build a healthy memory.  Now work is progressing on moving computer technology inside the brain.  Of course, anything that assists memory health will be welcomed.

An interesting conjecture is how this new technology would be used.  The statistics reported in the immediately preceding post made HM wonder to what extent people were making use of the biological memory they had.  It may be that when some people age their cognitive activity decreases.  And it may be that this failure to use it that is the primary cause of dementia.  This appears to be even more likely when there is evidence that people who have the defining physical features of Alzheimer’s never show any of the behavioral or cognitive symptoms.

So a reasonable question is how many people would benefit from computer implants?  It would be surprising if no one benefited, but it is not a forgone conclusion that everyone would benefit.  Some people might shut down cognitively even given a computer enhancements.  Of course, this is just a conjecture by HM.

HM would hope that people would still engage in the activities advocated by HM, to include growth mindsets, meditation, and mindfulness, in addition to general practices for personal health.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. 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.

Healthy Memory (HM) Sincerely Apologizes

August 7, 2016

For not strongly recommending  “The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness:  How to Optimize Brain Health and Performance at Any Age” by Alvaro Fernandez, Elkhonon Goldberg, Ph.D., and Pascale Michelon, Ph.D.  The healthy memory blog reviews many books and bases posts on excerpts from many books, but HM does not believe that he has ever written that it is imperative to have a book.  The apology is for not recommending this book earlier as the second edition was published in 2015.

It is imperative because every human being has a brain.  And for most of us, it is our most important organ.  Even if you are like Woody Allen, it should be at least your second most important organ.  Perhaps you are young and think that you can put off your concern about your brain until later in life. Yet a poll asking respondents to rank the brain functions that are important for thriving personally and professionally in the 21st Century found the top three to be
Ability to handle stressful situations
Concentration power to avoid distractions
Being able to recognize and manage one’s emotions

All of the above are brain functions and are extensively treated in the Guide.   Moreover, as you will find out, everything in the Guide is important to building a cognitive reserve. The following paragraph explains what is meant by a cognitive reserve.

The common caveat is that there is no cure for Alzheimer’s.  This is true with regarding to the defining characteristics of Alzheimer’s, the amyloid plaque and the neurofibril tangles.  But in 1989 Robert Katzmann and his colleagues described 10 cases of cognitively normal older adults who, at death, were found to have advanced Alzheimer’s disease pathology in their brains.  The researchers hypothesized that the cognitive and behavioral symptoms of Alzheimer’s did not manifest themselves because they had more neurons, more connections between them,   The notion is that by having this “reserve” of neurons and abilities can offset the losses caused by Alzheimer’s and other dementias so that the brain can tolerate progressive brain pathology without demonstrating failure.

Another possible explanation that is rarely, if ever, offered is that neuroplasticity enables the brain to withstand serious insult and damage by rewiring and relearning.  There is ample evidence that the brain does so to heal itself against other insults and injuries.  It should also be noted that these hypotheses are not mutually exclusive.

Nevertheless, there is reason to think that many people have had the defining features of Alzheimer’s, but died never knowing that they had the disease.  See the healthy memory blog post “Alzheimer’s and a Cognitive Reserve” to learn about the research that Dr. Bennet has been conducting and the database he has been keeping on this topic.

The Guide begins by describing the brain, its organization, how it changes throughout life and lifelong neuroplasticity.  It encourages the reader to be a coach and not a patient, and not to outsource one’s brain.  The role of physical exercise and the kinds of exercise that are most beneficial are reviewed.  The roles of food and drink are discussed.  It discusses the benefits of mental challenge, investing in your cognitive or brain reserve, the lifelong effects of cognitive exercise, the roles of education and occupation as well as leisure activities to build a brain reserve.  The importance of social engagement is discussed as well as the types of social engagement that are most beneficial.   A chapter is devoted to managing stress and building resilience.  Meditation is discussed under this topic.  Brain cross-training is discussed and the final chapter is titled “How to Be Your Own Brain Fitness Coach.”

This entire area of research is advancing very quickly, so I encourage you go to
sharpbrains.com to get the latest news and findings.  There is a free newsletter to which you can subscribe.  You can also purchase the Guide to Brain Fitness at this website.

But please do no forget HM.  He shall continue to do his best at writing posts relevant to memory health and closely related topics that open minds.  Open minds are healthy minds.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. 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.

Ten Brain and Brain Health Myths

May 22, 2016

These myths are copied directly from the SharpBrains website because these are common myths that need to be corrected.  This is an extremely good website with much information on brain and brain health sharpbrains.com

Top 10 brain and brain health myths, debunked:

Myth 1. Genes deter­mine the fate of our brains.
Fact: Life­long brain plas­tic­ity means that our lifestyles and behaviors play a significant role in how our brains (and therefore our minds) evolve physically and functionally as we get older.

Myth 2. We are what we eat.
Fact: We are what we do, think, and feel, much more than what we eat. (Even if, yes, nutrition plays a role)

Myth 3. Med­ica­tion is the main hope for brain health and enhance­ment.
Fact: Non-invasive inter­ven­tions such as aerobic exercise and meditation can have com­pa­ra­ble and more durable benefits, and free of side effects.

Myth 4. There’s nothing we can do to beat Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive decline.
Fact: While nothing has been proven to prevent the pathology of Alzheimer’s disease, there is abundant research showing we can delay the onset of symptoms for years.

Myth 5. There is only one “it” in “Use it or Lose it”.
Fact: The brain presents many neural circuits supporting a variety of important cognitive, emotional, and executive functions. Not just one. (Which is one of the reasons we should stop thinking about magic pills and silver bullets)

Myth 6. Intervention XYZ can help reverse your brain age 10, 20, or 30 years.
Fact: The concept of “brain age” is a fic­tion. Some brain functions tend to improve, and some to decline, as we get older. Nothing can be said to “reverse brain age” in a general sense.

Myth 7. There is a scientific consensus that brain training doesn’t work.
Fact: A group of scientists did issue such a statement, which was promptly contradicted by a larger group of scientists. Consensus…that is certainly not. Brain training, when it meets certain conditions, has been shown to transfer into real-world outcomes.

Myth 8. Brain training is primarily about videogames.
Fact: Evidence-based brain training includes some forms of med­i­ta­tion, cog­ni­tive ther­apy, cog­ni­tive training, and bio/neurofeedback. Interactive media such as videogames can make those interventions more engaging and scalable, but it is important to distinguish the means from the end, as obviously not all videogames are the same.

Myth 9. Heart health equals brain health.
Fact: While heart health contributes significantly to brain health, and vice versa, the heart and the brain are separate organs, with their respective functions and relevant interventions. What we need is to pay much more systematic attention to brain health, so it can advance as much as cardiovascular health already has.

Myth 10. As long as my brain is working fine, why should I even pay attention to it?
Fact: For the same reasons you add gas to your car, and change the oil regularly– so that it works well, and for a long period of time.

The only response Healthymemory would quibble with concerns Myth 4.
Myth 4. There’s nothing we can do to beat Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive decline.
Fact: While nothing has been proven to prevent the pathology of Alzheimer’s disease, there is abundant research showing we can delay the onset of symptoms for years.
Although it is true that nothing has been proven that the pathology of Alzheimer’s Disease can be prevented, proof is a very high standard.  And it would be very difficult if not impossible to present an iron clad proof.  Nevertheless, Alzheimer’s is by no means inevitable and there have been many people whose brains were wracked with the amyloid plaque and neurofibril tangles that constitute the definitive diagnosis who never exhibited any of the cognitive or behavioral symptoms.  It is said that these people had built up a cognitive reserve.  So the advice of the healthy memory blog is to strive to build this cognitive reserve.  Moreover, it is quite possible that although the physical indicators of Alzheimer’s cannot be prevented, the neuroplasticity off the brain might preclude any cognitive or behavioral symptoms.  It is these symptoms that are of primarily importance.  Neuroplasticity is likely the result of maintaining a healthy and active mind along with physical health and mindfulness.

There is also a myth that there are drugs that slow Alzheimer’s.  This myth was debunked by Thomas E. Finucane, a professor of Medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in a note in the April 30, 2016 Washington Post titled “Drugs don’t (yet) slow Alzheimer’s.”  To quote from this note, “The Food and Drug Administration required package insert for cholinesterase inhibitors comes to a different conclusion: “There is no evidence that donepezil (Aricept) alters the course of the underlying dementing process.”

The National Institutes of Health conference on Minimal Cognitive Impairment came to the same conclusion.

Belief that drugs can slow the progression of dementia is carefully cultivated by Big Pharma, but scientists do not believe that currently available drugs have any effect on the underlying brain disease.”

If you read the healthy memory blog post “The Myth of Alzheimer’s” you will find that Peter J. Whitehouse, M.D., Ph.D. does not believe that either a medical cure or a medical vaccination will be developed.  Dr. Whitehouse worked for many years  to find such a drug.  Moreover, research in this field is quite lucrative.  Nevertheless, Dr. Whitehouse believes that this is a dead end.  His currently research involves working with people who have Alzheimers’s.  Given neuroplasticity and some remarkable treatments for some severely debilitating conditions.  See the healthy memory blog post, “The Latest Discoveries in Neuroplasticity.”  For more details see the books by Dr. Norman Doidge, “The Brain’s Way of Healing:  Remarkable Discoveries and Recoveries from the Frontiers of Neuroplasticity.  This is the sequel to his earlier book, The Brain That Changes Itself.  In the view of Healthymemory, this approach is more likely to yield results that looking for the silver bullet.  Of course, the best means of maintaining a healthy memory  is to have a growth mindset and meditation.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2015. 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.

Healthy Memory Revisited

April 21, 2016

As the healthy memory blog is coming back from a hiatus, it might be a good time to review its themes.  The first theme is the importance of having a growth mindset.  There are many healthy memory posts on this topic.  Basically it is a matter of wanting to learn and in believing that you can learn.  So a positive attitude is essential along with a desire to learn.  Having a growth mindset is important not only to having a healthy memory,  but also to living a fulfilling life.

Currently there is much concern about the ravages and costs of Alzheimer’s Disease.  An enormous amount of research is going on to develop drugs that will prevent or cure the disease.  These drugs target the amyloid plaque and neurofibrillary tangles that provide the signatures for an accurate diagnosis of this disease.  To this point, the few drugs that have been approved only slow the progression of the disease.  And some knowledgeable people believe that drugs will never be developed that actually prevent or cure the disease (se the healthy memory blog, “The Myth of Alzheimer’s).

A common assertion is that Alzheimer’s cannot be  prevented.  This statement is true if it is referring to the amyloid plaque or neurofibrillary tangles that are needed for a definitive diagnosis.  What is not usually mentioned is that many autopsies have been done on deceased individuals whose brains are wreaked with these neurofibrillary tangles and amyloid plaques, but who never had any of the behavioral or cognitive manifestations of Alzheimer’s.  Whether these people would have ever exhibited any of the behavioral of cognitive symptoms of Alzheimer’s if they had lived longer will never be known.  The explanation offered for these people is that they had built up a cognitive reserve that prevented the cognitive and behavioral symptoms.  So even though they had the defining neurological substrates of the disease, there were no behavioral of cognitive manifestations.

The healthy memory blog asserts that having and using a growth mindset is key to developing this cognitive reserve.  Of course, exercise and a healthy lifestyle is important.  I find it ironic that physical exercise is always cited as beneficial, but rarely, if ever, the exercise of the most relevant organ, the brain.  Using a growth mindset exercises the brain.  I believe that certain computer games can be useful, along with playing bridge or doing crossword puzzles.  But a healthy memory mindset involves continuing to learn as long as one lives.  Be aware that new neurons continue to be created throughout one’s lifespan. but these new neurons quickly die unless they are engaged.  Engaging with one’s fellow humans as well as with technology (this is transactive memory ) is also essential.

An important part of a growth mindset is understanding how cognition works.  This is the second theme of the healthy memory blog, Human Memory:  Theory and Data. It is important to understand that we have no direct knowledge of the external world, as naive realists believe.  Rather we develop mental models of the external world.  The role of memory is more that one of storing information.  Memory takes in information and constructs models.  The purpose of memory is actually one of time travel.  It is using information from the past and models constructed from that information to predict the future.  Sometimes mental simulations are run to decide among different courses of action.

Another important concept is that of Noble Prize winning psychologist, Daniel Kahenman.  He has identified two processing systems.  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.  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.Kahneman

When new information is encountered, by default, it is believed.  Without this default, our learning would be dangerously slow.  However, whenever the brain encounters information that contradicts what we know, the brain responds and System 2 is activated.  System 2 requires attention and mental effort.  The easiest route is to discard or ignore discordant information.  This is the route chosen by the cognitive miser, who is not willing to expend the effort.  In the long run, the cognitive miser route leads to hardening of the categories, where we do not challenge and remain constant to our beliefs.  Of course, questioning everything would be maladaptive, so this must be done selectively.  But growth mindsets require heavy System 2 processing and the selective reexamination of prevailing beliefs.

Kahneman has identified biases that develop to help us better deal with processing limitations, but which are biases nevertheless.  Our memories also are highly fallible.  Unfortunately, the confidence we exhibit is usually unreliable.  We are flawed information processors and need to always be aware of these flaws and limitations

The mind is constrained by a limited attentional capacity.  The brain remains active 24 hours a day, even when we sleep.  The vast majority of the brain’s processing is unconscious.  Once we try fail to recall something or fail to solve a problem, our unconscious mind will keep working on it, and the solution can pop into our minds unsummoned at a later time.

We need to learn to focus and control this attentional capacity.  This is where mindfulness and meditation become important and they constitute the third theme of the healthy memory blog.  .  There are many posts on mindfulness and meditation, some of which can be found under the category of mnemonic techniques.  Mindfulness and meditation are essential not only to a healthy memory, but also to a heathy body.  Meditation has even be shown to have beneficial epigenetic effects (see the healthy memory blog, “The Genetic Breakthrough—Your Ultimate Mind Body Connection”).

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2015. 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 Healthymemory Blog is Going on a Brief Hiatus

April 12, 2016

Nevertheless, there is plenty to read here.  To find posts of interest to you enter the subject or title into the healthy memory blog search block.  If you do not see the search block, then enter “healthymemory.wordpress.com” into your browser.

Here are some suggestion for topics to enter.

myth
mindset
The Relaxation Revolution
Kahneman
Davidson
Stanovich
Dehaene
mindfulness
meditation

Enjoy!  Grow your mindsets!  and be mindful.

The Relevance of Consciousness and the Brain to a Healthy Memory

April 9, 2016

I hope it is already clear why the previous eight posts have been devoted to Stanislas Dehaene’s “Consciousness and the Brain:  Deciphering How the Brain Codes our Thoughts,” but, nevertheless, I shall briefly elaborate here.  Simply put, using our conscious mind effectively is key to a healthy memory.  One of the primary goals of meditation (for example, the relaxation response), is to gain control of our attention rather than either ignoring our brains’s potential, or letting our brains run wild.

Growth mindsets encourage us to use the global workspace of our brains, to think and to learn new information and skills.  This activates those neurons in the prefrontal cortex with the long axons reaching far into different parts of the brains.  I strongly believe that this activity strongly promotes brain health.  It is likely that it is largely responsible for the cognitive reserve that is cited as the reason that the autopsies of many individuals reveal the neurillary fibers and amyloid plaques that provide a definitive diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, yet these individuals never indicated any of the behavioral or cognitive symptoms of Alzheimer’s.

It is clear that there is enormous activity of the brain, but we can gain access to only a small percentage of this activity.  So how can we increase the probability that our unconscious minds are functioning productively?  A good way of thinking about this is that our conscious mind is, or should be, the chief executive of our brain.  Think of the brain as an enormous enterprise that we supervise.  The unconscious mind uses what we think about consciously as a guide to at least some of its unconscious activity.  A good example of this is when we try to remember a name  or a word, but successful retrieval fails (remember the distinction between available and accessible memories).  It is not unusual that many hours, sometimes even a day a more later, the desired item pops into consciousness.  So even though you gave up trying to remember, your unconscious brain kept working on this task.  My favorite problem solving technique is incubation.  This is done when you give your mind a rest and stop working on the problem.  Although your conscious mind has stopped working, your unconscious mind perseveres, and the solution seems to pop into your mind unsummoned.  There are documented cases of important discoveries that have been made in this manner.  Thee are probably many more that have not been discovered or articulated.

So meditate to achieve better control over your consciousness.  Also pursue a growth mindset.  Review previously acquired knowledge and continue to pursue new knowledge.  Also give your unconscious mind something to mull over, such as a problem to solve, or an apparently lost memory to recover.  As was mentioned in a previous healthy memory blog post, with the exception of the most trivial decisions, it is best to allow time for your conscious mind to run simulations and reveal unrecognized problems (see the healthy memory blog post, “Let Me Think it Over).

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2015. 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 Are the Consequences of Having Only Half a Brain?

December 28, 2015

We actually have the answer to this question as the result of the unfortunate circumstance in which a young girl found herself (this can be found in Eagleman’s “The Brain”).  As a result of the damaging consequences from a disease she was suffering, it was necessary to remove an entire half of her brain.   And what were the consequences from this surgery,  She is weak on one side of her body, but otherwise she’s essentially indistinguishable from other children.  She has no problems understanding language, music, math, and stories.  She’s good in school and participates in sports.

When I was a graduate student I remember reading a study about a man who has a result of hydrocephalus had only 10% of the volume of a normal cortex.  Nevertheless, he not only was able to lead a normal life, but earned an bachelor’s degree in mathematics.  Should anyone no a reference for this study, please comment.  It was in the early 1970s and in the journal Science, I believe.

Then there is the research described in the books by Doidge (enter Doidge in this blog’s search block).  Neuroplasticity as reflected in the brain’s ability to heal itself is truly phenomenal.  There are frequent mentions of individuals whose autopsies indicated that they had the defining neurofibril tangles and amyloid plaque that defines Alzheimer’s, yet never exhibited any symptoms or cognitive deficits of the disease.  This finding has been accounted for by saying that these individuals had a cognitive reserve that overcame these potential debilitating characteristics.  So the recommendation of the healthy memory blog is to undertake a lifestyle that not only prevents Alzheimer’s, but also leads to a more satisfying life.

It seems that most of the research on Alzheimer’s is aimed at detecting the plaque or tangles early, identify relevant genes, sor in slowing the growth of these features.  I would appreciate some work that attempts to capitalize on the brain’s neuroplasticity.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2015. 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 to Develop a Healthy Memory

December 22, 2015

I get the sense that many who read the healthy memory blog are disappointed that advice is not provided on exactly what to do for a healthy memory.   If a vaccine to either prevent or cure Alzheimer’s and dementia is not in the offing, what specifically should they do.  Is there a diet that will save them?  Will physical exercise suffice, and if so, how much?  What online games do they need to play or what specific cognitive exercises need to be done and for how long?

Hints to some of these question can be found, but no definitive answers.  The reason that no definitive answers can be found is that there are no definitive answers.  The two big themes of this blog are to develop growth mindsets and to practice meditation.  Although diet and physical exercise do play a role, growth mindsets and meditation are key in my view.  The healthy memory blog presents many ideas as to how to pursue growth mindsets and meditation, as well as posts that are provided to help one think about different ideas.

No guarantees can be provided that dementia cannot be prevented.  But I strongly believe that not only reading, but pursuing some of the ideas in the healthy memory blog will greatly reduce one’s risks.  They also provide some guidance on leading a more satisfactory life.  Accordingly, the healthy memory blog should be of interest to people of all ages.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Happy Thanksgiving 2015!

November 25, 2015

If you have read the preceding four healthy memory blog posts, you should be well aware of how wondrous the brain is and how even more wonderful are the memories we have due to our access to this wondrous organ.  Thanksgiving is an ideal time to express thankfulness for our memories.

The best way of expressing this thankfulness is by adopting a growth mindset and to maintain this mindset throughout our lives.  To maintain a healthy memory it is important  not only to use our memories, but also to grow our memories.  Remember those individuals who despite having brains wracked with the defining neurofibril tangles and amyloid plaques of Alzheimer’s never exhibited any of the behavioral or cognitive symptoms of Alzheimer’s.  Presumably these individuals have built a cognitive reserve as a result of growing their memories.

Mindfulness and meditation also are important for a healthy memory.  They reduce stress and increase our control of our attentional resources.  They also provide the basis for more effective interpersonal relations, which are also important for memory health.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2015. 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 Review of The Brain

November 12, 2015

The Brain is a book by David Eagleman.  The subtitle is “The Story of You.”  I gave the book 5 stars in my review on Amazon.  I wrote, “Anyone with a brain should read this book.  (Knowing) how the brain works is essential for the individual.  It also provides the basis for more effective government.”

The brain is the most important organ of the body (even though Woody Allen said it was his second favorite organ).  It informs us who we are.  Growing the brain provides us with additional knowledge and know how.  This much should be obvious.  However, when I see the problems we have, many of them are due to a lack of knowledge as to how our brain works.  That is what I meant by writing, “provides the basis for more effective government.

Eagleman writes, “Your brain is a relentless shapeshifter, constantly rewriting its own circuitry—and because your experiences are unique, so are the vast detailed patterns in your neural networks.  Because they continue to change your whole life, your identity is a moving target;  it never reaches an endpoint.  Eagleman explains how the brain develops and why the teen brain is set up to take risks.  Moving from childhood into adolescence, the brain shows an increasing response to rewards in areas related to pleasure seeking such as the nucleus accumbens.  In deems this activity is as high as in adults but activity in the orbitofrontal cortex, which is important  for executive decision making, attention, and simulating future experiences, is still about the same in teens as it is in children.  In fact, the prefrontal cortex, which is important for executive decisions, dos not mature until the mide-twenties, which provides adequate time for ruining our lives.  The brain continues to change physically as we learn new skills and information and memories themselves change each time they are summoned.  Memories are highly fallible and can be easily changed, which are facts not generally recognized by courts of law.

Eagleman includes a study of nuns who are willing to provide their brains for study after they die.  The nuns are tested while they are living and then autopsies are provided after they die.  They have found brains that are wracked by the defining neurofibril tangles and amyloid plaques of Alzheimer’s, but these  nuns never exhibited any of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s and remained mentally sharp until they died.  The nuns are not unique, other autopsies on other populations have resulted in similar findings.  The nuns interacted with each other, they had growth mindsets, and the meditated with prayer, presumably continuing to develop a cognitive reserve.  Yet Alzheimer’s research is focused on finding drugs to destroy or inhibit the growth of these physical symptoms as well as tests to detect the early development of these symptoms.  There are no drugs that can cure Alzheimer’s, and there are knowledgeable scientists who believe that there never will be such drugs (See the healthy memory blog post “The Myth of Alzheimer’s).  All that drugs can do is to slow the progress of Alzheimer’s.  In my view all this does is to prolong the suffering.

People need to understand that reality is an illusion.  True there is a real physical world, but we learn of this world via our senses, which are used to build up mental models.  Moreover, each of us has different views of this world, one that changes, or should change with experience and learning.  People who fail to understand this are naive realists, and one of the reasons for the problems of the world is the existence of these naive realists.  Eagleman explains how this learning takes place.   He notes that the brain is like a city.  When one looks at a city one sees buildings, roads, structures and so forth, but to find out where businesses are and how the city actually functions, it is due to interactions of different parts of the city.  The same is true of the brain.  It is a complicated structure that operates by intercommunicates among the different elements.  Most of these intercommunicates are unconscious, but some raise to he level of consciousness.

It is interesting to note that the visual system has some connections that feed forward and others that feed backwards.  What makes this interesting is that the ratio of connections feeding backward are ten times those of feeding forward.  This provides a strong indication how much we know bears on what we actually see.  Expectations weigh heavily on what we see.

Our brain is a storyteller.  It serves us narratives that bear on what we believe.  Ascertaining truth usually entails the critical thinking about different narratives.

We are unaware of the vast majority of the activity in our brains.  It remains below our level of consciousness, so one may well ask, who is in control.  A good way of thinking about this is to regard our consciousness as an executive office that makes important decisions.  There are some who believe that our conscious minds are only along for the ride, but I am not one of them (see the healthy memory blog post, “Free Will”).

The healthy memory blog argues that the memory is a device for time travel and Eagleman agrees.  It is a device that travels back to the past to plan for the future.  This involves generating scenarios for what might happen in the future.  The same parts of the brain that are involved in remembering are used in imaging alternative  futures.

Eagleman writes,”Although we typically feel independent, each of our brains operates in a rich web of interactions with one another—so much that we can plausibly look at the accomplishments of our species as the deeds of a single, shifting mega-organism.”  A subsequent healthy memory blog post will expound more on this topic.

The final chapter is titled “Who Will We Be?” and addresses the possibility of our transcending our biological selves.  This is an interesting chapter, but we might be constrained by our limited levels of attention.  We can only consciously attend to several items at once.  We become skilled or fluent via many hours of practice.  Can this bottleneck be transcended?  This question is key to the answer to the question of whether we can transcend our biological selves.

There is a PBS series based on this book, that I strongly recommend.  I recommend both reading the book at watching the series multiple times.  Understanding our brains is of paramount importance.

Humans as Superorganisms

July 31, 2015

This is the first part of a title, “Humans as Superorganisms:  How Microbes, Viruses, Imprinted Genes and Other Selfish Entities Shape Our Behavior” by Peter Kramer and Paola Bressan of the Department of General Psychology, University of Padua, Italy.  It was published in Perspectives on Psychological Science, 10, 2015, 464-481.  The only other article in this general area in the healthy memory blog is “You Have Two Brains.”  That blog barely touched this topic.  The authors note that psychologists and psychiatrists tend to be little aware of the science in this area, although they should be.  I believe that the general public is even less aware.  The objective of this blog post is to increase awareness somewhat.  As you will see, it is definitely relevant.

Let us begin with brain microbes, the most instructive of the lot is Toxoplasma gondii.   Sooner or later this brain microbe will infect about half or even most of us with potentially serious consequences for our mental health.  Eating meat undercooked is by far the most typical, though not the only way of contracting this parasite.  The infection rate is about 10% to countries with religions that promote vegetarianism, to 50% in some developed European countries, and over 70% in some parts of Africa and Latin America.  The adverse consequences of this microbe are potentially reckless behavior, depression, bipolar and obsessive-compulsive disorders.  It raises the probability of developing schizophrenia 2.7 times and is the largest known single risk factor, larger than any of the currently known genetic and environmental ones.

Gut microbes are for the most part beneficial.  This is fortunate as there are so many of them.  The human gastrointestinal tract houses up to 100 trillion microorganisms, belonging to more than 7,000 strains:  collectively, these contain 10 times the number of human cells and 100 times as many genes as our genome.  Each of us harbors at least 160 bacterial species, many of which are shared among us but in different proportions.  It is estimated that the gastrointestinal tract contains at least 500 million neurons, it is not surprising that gut microbiota and the brain communicate to each other.  Research has found that ingesting probiotics (microorganisms whose consumption provides health benefits, typically bifidobacteria and lactobacilli) that can mitigate some mood disturbances.  One recent study went beyond self reports showed that probiotics modify healthy women’s brain activity in regions that control processing emotion and sensation, dampening reactions to facial  expressions of anger and fear.  These same brain regions are involved in anxiety disorders.  When more research is done in this area, it is likely that more benefits will be found.

Brain viruses work both ways.  Some viruses exploit humans, but humans are also able to exploit some viruses.  Viruses exploit humans via our genes. For example, cytomegalovirus is a herpes virus that infects a majority of the world’s population.  The infection is usually benign, but not always.  It one large study this was not the case for 15% of the subjects who carried a particular variant of a gene involved in the stabilization of neuronal connections and in synaptic plasticity essential to learning and memory.  In the carriers of this gene variant, maternal cytomegalovirus infection increased fivefold the probability of developing schizophrenia.
We humans have begun to parasitize our parasites.  Some viruses are modified in the laboratory and then used to infect people to treat various genetic conditions, including those that affect the brain.  In one study 16 patients with Parkinson’s disease had a modified virus, containing genes that modulate the neurotransmitter GABA, injected into their brain. Relative to a control group of 21 patients who had received a sham injection, the motor ability of the experimental group improved by about 10%—a modest, but promising start.  In another study, patients with Alzheimer’s were treated with the help of a modified leukemia retrovirus that reduced degeneration.  The retrovirus contained genes that induced infected cells to produce nerve growth factor; cells infected in vitro were then implanted into the patient’s brain, in a specific area  that promotes cortical plasticity and memory.

Evidence is mounting that cells can be modified by the invasion of selfish entities that are not microorganisms or viruses.  These foreign cells come from another human person.  This topic becomes fairly technical, which will preclude further elaboration in this post.  This is also the case with the topic of imprinted genes. Just be aware that all of us carry genes originally designed to produce viruses.

So there is much to be learned.  Although there is much to be worried about, there is room for optimism and hope of new means of treatment,

How Do People Circumvent Amyloid Plaque and Neurofibrillary Tangles

July 28, 2015

As has been mentioned in previous healthy memory blog posts, autopsies have found corpses whose brains have been wreaked with amyloid plaque and neurofibrillary tangles, yet who never exhibited any symptoms or behaviors indicating Alzheimer’s.  Yet it is these very substances that provide for a definitive diagnosis of Alzheimer’s.  So at best they are a necessary, but not a sufficient, condition for Alzheimer’s.  See the healthy memory blog post, “The Myth of Alzheimer’s” to learn whether this is actually a disease and whether a drug solution to this problem is possible.  Unfortunately, the money is in the drugs, so that’s where the effort is concentrated.

The explanation offered is that these people with the substances defining the disease, but without the symptoms of the disease, have build up a cognitive reserve.  In other words their brains have a reserve to draw upon that allow them to circumvent the symptoms of the disease.  This is very likely true and this provides strong evidence that we should start early and continue to build this cognitive reserve throughout our lives.

However, I believe that something else is at work, and I believe that is neuroplasticity.  Neuroplasticity refers the ability for the nervous to rebuild and repair itself.  The existence of neuroplasticity is a fairly new finding.  When I was a graduate student the dogma was that neural damage could not be repaired, and this dogma remained in effect until fairly recently.

To learn more about neuroplasticity enter “neuroplasticity” into the healthy memory blog search box.  I wish more research would be put into the preventive and curative effects of neuoplasticity.  As you’ll see if you read or reread “The Myth of Alzheimer’s,” some knowledgeable people do not believe that a drug cure is possible, but that there are other effective avenues to pursue regarding Alzheimer’s or dementia.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2015. 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.

Loneliness and Dementia

July 27, 2015

The article on which the immediately preceding healthy memory post was based, by Fredrick Kunkle of the Washington Post (July 21, Section A, “Too much TV could raise the risk of Alzheimer’s,” ) also reported a study on how loneliness can increase the likelihood of dementia.  This study was done by Nancy C. Donovan, an associate psychiatrist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School.  Donovan and her team traced 8311 adults in the U.S. Healthy and Retirement Study from 1998 to 2010.  The research participants were 65 and older and were given biennial assessments of their perception of loneliness using a questionnaire.  The researchers examined the participants’ cognitive performance and factored in their health status, sociodemographic status and social network characteristics.

The researchers found that the loneliest people, about 17% of the participants, experienced the most accelerated decline in cognitive performance.  The scores of these people fell 20% faster than those who did not report being lonely.  Donovan concluded that “loneliness is a form of suffering in older people that is prevalent but undetected and untreated in medical practice.  Second, loneliness has consequences.  Our work work shows that loneliness, like depression, is associated with accelerated cognitive decline in older Americans.  The finding is important because it opens up new approaches for preventing and treating Alzheimer’s Disease.”

Ideas for Increasing or Decreasing Your Risk for Alzheimer’s

July 25, 2015

An article by Fredrick Kunkle of the Washington Post (July 21, Section A), “Too much TV could raise the risk of Alzheimer’s, study suggests,”  provides ideas for both increasing or decreasing your risk for Alzheimer’s.  It summarizes the results of research done at the Northern California Institute for Research and Education.  The study tracked people  enrolled in the Coronary Artery Risk Development Study for 25 years beginning in young adulthood.    Their exercise and TV viewing habits were evaluated using questionnaires three times during the course of 25 years.  Low physical activity was defined as burning fewer than 300 calories in a 50-minute session three times a week, which by at least one measure is about 300 calories less than the equivalent of playing a round of golf while riding in a golf cart (See the healthymemory blog post, “Too Improve Your Memory, Build Your Hippocampus”).  A high amount of television watching was defined as more than four hours a day.  About 17 percent reported low physical activity, and about 11 percent qualified as heavy TV viewers.  3 percent reported both.

An analysis of the results showed that people who watch a lot television had a 1.5 percent higher risk of performing worse on cognitive tests compared with those who watched less television. Compared with participants with high physical activity and low television viewing, a relatively sedentary individual who exercises little and spends a lot of time in front of the television will be two times more likely to perform more poorly on cognitive tests in midlife.

You should note that the effects of television viewing are much lower than the effects of exercise.  It might be that not all television programs are bad.  True, it is likely that many are, but there are some programs that are cognitively challenging and educational, that is they likely benefit brain and memory health.

These results suggest that sedentary habits set early in life can perhaps have an impact on one’s dementia risk in midlife and later.  One of the researchers, Yaffe, said, “What’s is happening at one’s midlife is setting the stage for what’s happening over the next 20 or 30 years.”  Yet less than half the nation meets recommended exercise standards.   More that 28 million baby boomers are projected to develop Alzheimer’s by 2050.

So how does one increase risk for Alzheimer’s?  Do little or no exercise and much indiscriminate TV viewing.

How does one decrease risk for Alzheimer’s?  Exercise at least a moderate amount and be judicious in your television viewing.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

More on the Myth of Cognitive Decline

July 18, 2015

This post builds on an earlier healthy memory blog post, “The Myth of Cognitive Decline.”  That post summarized research in which simulations indicated that the slow down in processing by older adults could be accounted for by the vastly increased amount of information they have managed to store.  The fact that crystalized intelligence, which is learned knowledge, continues to increase as we age supports this view.  Simply put, there is much more information to sift through, hence the processing appears to be slower.  However, in reviewing the research there are other factors contributing to this myth.

There is research on how the brain changes as we age.  However, autopsies have found many individuals whose brains were wracked with the amyloid plaque and neurofibrillary tangles that are taken as the definitive diagnosis for Alzheimer’s, yet showed no behavioral or cognitive indicators of Alzheimer’s when they were alive.  Consequently, data on changes in the brain should be taken with a grain of salt.

What I find interesting are data indicating that some of the data pointing to poorer memory performance by the elderly are due to stereotypes of the elderly that are believed by the elderly.  This is research showing that the elderly show evidence of memory decline when they think the study is about age differences and memory, but the decline is absent when they think that the study has nothing to do with aging (See the healthy memory blog post, “REDIRECT:  Range of Applications”).  So some of the myth of cognitive aging might be due to the elderly themselves believing in stereotypes about aging.

There is also research showing that, although the elderly know of memory strategies to help them remember, they do not use these strategies because they entail the expenditure of cognitive effort.  That is, they are cognitively lazy.  Unfortunately, this cognitive laziness can foster cognitive decline.  This is where the notion “use it or lose it”  applies.  Similarly, physical decline can be accelerated by laziness and the failure to exercise.

So to reiterate a constant message of the healthy memory blog, it is important to stay cognitively, physically, and socially active throughout one’s lifetime.  Moreover, one should not delay these habits until one advances in age.  They provide a prescription for living a healthy, productive, and enjoyable life.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2015. 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.

BABES: New Hope for Alzheimer’s

July 15, 2015

BABES, which stands for Beating Alzheimer’s By Embracing Science (BABES), is an organization founded by a registered nurse, Jamie Tyrone, who found out that she carries a gene that gives her a 91% chance of developing Alzheimer’s around age 65.  This account is taken from an article in the July 5th Washington Post by Franklin Kunkle title “Alzheimer’s spurs the fearful to change their lives to delay it.”

Jamie decided to fight back.  She exercised.  She changed her diet.  She began taking nutritional supplements, including fish oil, vitamin D, vitamin B12, curcumin, turmeric, and an antioxidant called CoQ10.  She started meditating and working mind-bending puzzles, such as Brain HQ.  She joined a health clinic whose regimen is shaped by a UCLA medical study on lifestyle changes that can reverse memory loss in people with symptoms of dementia.  And she started the nonprofit group BABES, to raise money and awareness about dementia.  I hope this money will also be used for assessing and documenting the effectiveness of these practices.

A Harris Poll found that worries about Alzheimer’s crosses all generations;  more than 75% of millennials, Generation Xers and baby boomers worry about what will happen to their memory as they age.  It would have been interesting to find out what these individuals are doing about it.  Just worrying?  Hoping that a drug will be found to prevent or cure Alzheimer’s?  Or taking action such as advocated by BABES and the healthy memory blog.?

According to the Alzheimer’s Association more than 5 million people are living with Alzheimer’s, and as the population ages, the number of cases is expected to increase to 13.5 million by 2050.  The risks for Alzheimer’s  can also be overstated, especially for early onset forms of dementia.  Unless one has a genetic predisposition, Alzheimer.s strikes the majority of people after they reach the age of 65, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.  A history of high bloom pressure, diabetes, smoking, obesity, or cardiovascular problems increases the risk of  dementia.

The article notes that aging itself is the biggest risk factor:  the longer you live, the more likely you are to develop Alzheimer’s  or another form of dementia.  Although this is true, the fundamental question is why aging is a risk factor.  True, there is neurological decline, but is this a factor?  A significant fact not mentioned in the article is that there have been autopsies of people who exhibited no symptoms of Alzheimer’s, yet whose brains were wracked with the amyloid plaque and neurofibrillary tangles that provide the definitive diagnosis of Alzheimer’s.

I think a more significant fact is that are activity levels, both cognitive and physical, tend to decline as we age.  It is likely that these are primary factors in dementia.  Programs such as BABES and activities such as those recommended in the healthymemory blog are likely preventive.   They foster both mental and physical activity. The Washington Post article hopes that these activities will likely delay but not necessarily prevent Alzheimer’s.  This is a guarded scientific statement.  In life there are no guarantees.  Yet many manage to pass away before suffering from demential.  See the healthy memory blog post, “The Myth of Alzheimer’s.”   This is the title of a book whose is author was a researcher who was reaping large financial rewards looking for drug treatments to fend of the amyloid plaque and neurofibril tangles.  He came to the conclusion that these research efforts were futile, that although there was dementia, and he is conducting research on coping with dementia, Alzheimer’s is not a disease.  It should also be realized that Alois Alzheimer, after whom the disease is named, was never convinced that it was a disease.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2015. 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 Shields Protecting Against Dementia

April 22, 2015

This post is based largely on “Cognitive Shields” by Andrew Merluzzi in the .  Psychological Science Observer (February 2015, 21-28).   There have been many previous Healthymemory blog posts about autopsies of people who have exhibited no symptoms of Alzheimer’s while alive, but who nevertheless have the so-called amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles which provide the definitive basis for diagnosing the disease.  Now I have a percentage to place on this statement.  About a third of post-mortem brains with the telltale features of dementia—protein tangles or miniature strokes-came from people who never exhibited symptoms during life.

The explanation that has been offered for this is that certain individuals might build buffers over their lifetimes called cognitive reserve.  This post provides information on research on the cognitive shields that build this cognitive reserve.  Actively engaging the brain can boost older adult’s recall power.  One experiment randomly more than 200 adults (ages 60-90) to engage in a particular type of activity for 15 hours a week over the course of three months.  Some activities required significant cognitive investment such as digital photography or quilting.  The other participants engaged in more leisurely activities such as listening to classical music or completing word puzzles.  At the end of the experiment participants who engaged in digital photography or quilting showed a significant improvement in memory compared to the leisurely activity participants.

Another experiment  recruited 16 older adults to play a video game called “Neuroracer.”   Participants attempted to drive a car down a virtual road, keeping constant speed and lane position.  As they were doing this they also had to pay attention to sporadically appearing shapes, pressing a button whenever they observed a green circle.  The game became more difficult as performance improved.  The comparison group played an easier version of the game where they had to drive or pay attention to shapes, but not simultaneously.  The group who played the more difficult version of the game scored better on unrelated cognitive tests. Brain imaging with an EEG revealed noticeable differences at the neural level.  Participants who played the difficult version of the game  showed more coherent activation patterns in cognitive control networks including the prefrontal cortex.  These cognitive gains were still apparent six months later.

Physical exercise is also important as it increases the flow of oxygen to the brain.  See the healthy memory blog post “To Improve Your Memory, Build Your Hippocampus” (use the healthy memory blog search box).

Another study investigated whether exercise can induce neuroprotective effects for people who have a genetic risk for Alzheimer’s.  One hundred older adults many who carried the APOE gene which increases the risk of Alzheimer’s were studied.  The participants explained their normal exercise habits and had their brains scanned twice over a period of 18 months.  It was found that exercise was critically important for the at risk group with the APOE gene.  People with this gene who didn’t exercise exhibited a 3% decrease in hippocampal volume over time.  Those carrying the gene who did incorporate exercise into their lives—more than 15 minutes of moderate exercise at least three days a week—didn’t show any decreases in hippocampal volume.  The conjectures for this result are that staying active might reduce inflammation in the brain and promote neural growth in the hippocampus building  up cognitive and brain reserve.

Research has also found that bilingual older adults have more robust white matter then monolingual adults.  This suggests that the myelin on axons in these her bundles is more intact, which would help  to buffer against age-related changes in the size and structure of the brain.  Sone also argue that it might never be too late to learn another language.  But this does take commitment.

There are many more healthy memory blog posts on the cognitive reserve and the benefits of both cognitive and physical exercise.  It is important that this information be disseminated.  People should know that they need not be passive victims of dementia, nor should they wait for a medical treatment or vaccine to treat or prevent Alzheimer’s.  To a large exert we control our own fates and should take action.

Another Example of Misdiagnosis of Dementia

March 18, 2015

A previous healthy memory blog post, “A Treatable Condition Misdiagnosed as Alzheimer’s,”  discusses a case as being untreatable Alzheimer’s when the true diagnosis was normal pressure hydrocephalus (NPH).  An article in the March 5, 2015 Health and Science of the Washington Post, by Roni Caryn Rabin titled “Mom developed dementia:  after ten years she got better” motivated me to write this post about this often overlooked diagnosis, and because the article points to  problems in the medical system of the United States.  Even though her mother was a retired psychiatrist, and even though her mother’s mother had suffered from the same malady, it took ten years for the correct diagnosis to be made followed by successful surgery that remedied the condition.

Her symptoms were gait problems with resultant falling.  Her gait tripped her up.  It became uneven.  She was unsteady and the slightest incline threw her off stride.  Sometimes she quickened her pace involuntarily, and she sometimes bent over and then straightened back up.

She went to doctor after doctor telling them that she wanted a diagnosis telling them that she is convinced that it is something organic and that it has an underlying organic cause. Remember that this is a physician, a retired psychiatrist, speaking to other physicians.  She went to an orthopedic surgeon who said that she had stenosis, or narrowing of the open spaces of the spine, and recommended surgery.  She underwent a complicated potentially back operation, and seemed to be walking more smoothly afterward.  But this lasted for only a few months.

Her mother’s dementia  had been caused by normal pressure hydrocephalus (NPH), which is a buildup of cerebrospinal in that brain that causes difficulty walking, urinary incontinence, and cognitive loss.  Her mother floated the idea that she might ave NPH. She hoped that that would be the case because today it can often be treated by implanting a small shunt into the brain to drain off excess fluid.  Nevertheless, she had difficulty convincing her fellow physicians that her diagnosis was correct.  Eventually the correct diagnosis was made and her condition was remedied by the operation.  In total, it took ten years to correct her condition.

Now if it takes a knowledgeable physician with the correct diagnosis ten years to be successful, what are the chances for us laypeople???

Still Alice?

February 14, 2015

Still Alice is the popular film about an esteemed university professor who is struck with early onset Alzheimer’s.  She has everything: talented daughters, a loving husband who is also on the faculty of Columbia University, along with her brilliant career.  We watch as her memory gradually slips away.  She is no longer capable of serving as a university professor.  She sets up a series of tests for herself on her personal computer.  She leaves instructions to herself on the computer as to how to commit suicide should she fail these tests.  Her disease progresses until she is no longer able to find the bathroom in her home.   She does not commit suicide.  Instead she joins an Alzheimer’s Support Group and gives a presentation that in spite of her difficulties, she will continue to soldier on, that she is still Alice.  At the end of the film, her daughters are taking turns caring for her, as her husband has moved to a new job.  It is here that the movie ends.

But what if the movie had continued to follow the likely course of her disease?  It is likely that it is only a matter of time until she will no longer recognize her daughters, or that she will remember that she even had daughters.  Eventually, she might get to the point where she does not know who she is and holds no memories of the life of Alice.  Then the question becomes, is she still Alice?

One might ask that if someone who does everything right with respect to a healthy mind and brain can end up succumbing to Alzheimer’s, what’s the point in following advice from the healthy memory blog?  There is also the suggestion that Alice had a genetic predisposition to the disease.  It is important to understand, that although a genetic predisposition can increase the likelihood of succumbing to Alzheimer’s, the relationship is not deterministic.  That is, people can be found with the gene who do not succumb to Alzheimer’s.  So we return to the question as to why something like this could happen to someone as golden as Alice?  We must always remember that nothing in life is guaranteed.  We can do what we can to achieve success and to avoid problems, but there is always an element of chance that it involved.  So the best we can do is work to achieved favorable odds, while remembering that there are no guarantees.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2015. 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.

Food for a Healthy Memory

January 24, 2015

When I saw the lead article in the Washington Post Health & Science Section (6 Jan 2015) by Bonnie Berkowitz and Laura Stanton titled “Food for thought: Is your brain missing something?” I felt obligated to pass it on to my healthymemory blog readers. The neuroscience professor Gay Wenk, author of Your Brain on Food: How Chemicals Control Your Thoughts and Feelings, notes “Our brains need certain nutrients to keep us happy, focused, and functioning at our best. But moderation is key, and gobbling more of a particular nutrient helps only if you are making up for a deficiency.” Now on to substances that are good for the brain.

Antioxidants are important because they delay cognitive decline by neutralizing free radicals, which are by products of our oxygen guzzling metabolism that damage cells by causing inflammation. People who exercise a lot tend to eat more and breathe more heavily, which results in more free radicals. Flavonoids, one type of antioxidant, improve blood flow to the brain and enhance its ability to form memories, especially in conjunction with exercise. Antioxidants can be found in colorful vegetables and fruits, red wine, cocoa, calf and beef liver.

Caffeine seems to protect the brain, although scientists are not sure exactly how. Caffeine is found in coffee, many kinds of tea, cocoa, many sodas, and dark chocolate.

Omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory and an important component of brain cell membranes. A deficiency has been linked to brain disorders such as depression. Correcting a deficiency can boost the brain’s plasticity enhancing cognition and learning. Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in salmon, tuna and other fatty fish, plants such as flaxseed, walnuts and other nuts.

Tryptophan is an amino acid used to make seratonin, an essential mood-regulating neurotransmitter. The brain can’t store tryptophan, so we need to get a regular supply from protein in our diets. Tryptophan is found in eggs, nuts, spinach, meat, fish, and poultry.

Curcumin has anti-inflammatory properties. It is found in the spice turmeric and seems to protect the brain against Alzheimer’s and possibly Parkinson’s disease. Turmeric has been used in Asian herbal remedies for centuries to treat inflammatory diseases such as arthritis. Curcumin is also a powerful anti-oxidant. Curry and sine mustards contain, and turmeric can be added to many foods. My wife uses it and it is delicious.

B vitamins, folate, or folic acid is needed to keep the enzymes related to energy metabolism humming alone. If a woman is deficient, additional folate may improve memory and ease depression. Studies indicate it may also help protect the brain from dementia. It is found in fatty fish, mushrooms, fortified products, milk, soy milk, cereal grains, orange juice, spinach, and yeast.

Shortly after reading the Washington Post article I received the January 7th Scientific American article, “Get the New Skinny on Dietary Fat.” It included the following quote from David Perlmutter, the author of Grain Brain. “The brain thrives on a fat-rich, low carbohydrate diet, which is unfortunately relatively uncommon in human populations today.” Mayo Clinic researchers showed that individuals favoring carbohydrates in their diets had a remarkable 89 percent increased risk for developing dementia as contrasted to those whose diets contained the most fat. Having the highest levels of fat consumption was actually found to be associated with an incredible 44 percent reduction in the risk for developing dementia.”

The article goes on to state that certain types of fats are more beneficial than others. “Good” fats include monounsaturated fats, found abundantly in olive oil, peanut oil, hazelnuts, avocados, pumpkin seads, and polyunsturated fats (omega 3 and omega 6), which are found in flaxseed oil, chia seeds, marine algae oil and walnuts.

Olivia Okereke of Brigham & Women’s Hospital tested how different types of fats affect cognition and memory in women. Over the course of four years she found that women who consumed high amounts of monounsaturated fats had better overall cognitive function and memory. Similar findings resulted from a study by researchers in Laval University in Quebec. They found that diets high in monounsaturated fats increased the production and release of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which is critical for learning and memory. The loss of acetylcholine production in the brain has been associated with Alzheimer’s.

Although canola oil, which is high in monounsaturated fats in its natural form, is often hydrogenated so that it can stay fresh longer in processed foods. Partially hydrogenated foods, also known as Trans fats, were shown to be detrimental to memory in a University of California at San Diego study. According to Beatrice Golomb, “Trans fats increase the shelf life of the food, but reduce the shelf life of the person.”

The article concludes by noting that “a well-rounded diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables may still may be the best way to stay healthy. But it’s good to know that a little fat here and there won’t kill you. In fact, it might well help you live a healthier, more productive life.”

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2015. 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.

You Are Not Prisoner of Your DNA

November 8, 2014

Unfortunately, the belief that we are prisoners to our own DNA is used as a cop out from personal responsibility. It is also the first key thing that Dr. Dharma Sing Khaisa, who is the Founding President and Medical Director of the Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation, would like every person to understand about his/her own brain, thinks that is commonly misunderstood. The second key thing is, “You can improve your brain function, regardless of your age and stage in life. He is an MD who has been working in this area for more than 20 years, and he says that he is more excited than ever about the possibilities for enhanced mental performance and brain longevity for everyone.

When he started his research he discovered that chronic stress , via release from the adrenal glands, kills brain cells by the thousands in the hippocampus, which is critical to memory performance. He realized that this could lead to Alzheimer’s Disease and other problems. He also knew from his own research and personal experience that lifestyle modifications, especially including yoga and meditation could remedy that. He is continuing his research looking into the integrative approach to the preventon of Alzheimer’s. He is especially interested in continuing to explore the multiple positive benefits of a simple brain-enhancing yoga meditation exercise called Kirtan Kriya, or KK.

He believes that it is important to champion the belief that lifestyle can influence brain fitness and to encourage people to make their brain health their top priority. Personally, he remembers to put his brain health first. He practices yoga and meditation every day, has a serious work out regimen five times a week, and watches his diet. As for mental exercise, he writes songs and plays music, which is also great fun.

This post reiterates the goals of the healthymemory blog, which is important to do periodically.

The following URL is the reference for this blog post.

http://sharpbrains.com/blog/2014/09/30/dr-dharma-singh-khalsa-alzheimers-research-prevention-foundation-youre-not-a-prisoner-of-your-dna/

A Phrase That Should Be Considered Obscene

October 12, 2014

That phrase is “senior moment.” First of all, it is an instance of ageism, which is just as pernicious as racism or any of the other “isms.” But more importantly, it is inaccurate. Regular readers of the healthymemory blog post, should have immediately recognized this inaccuracy. This topic has been broached in many posts. Consider only the immediately preceding post, “You Can Teach an Old Dog New Tricks, “ and an earlier post “The Myth of Cognitive Decline. New neurons are continually being generated as we age, and the brain is rewiring itself to account for changes as we age. Any apparent slowness or difficulty in retrieving information is due to the massive amounts of information storage and learning that has occurred during these additional years.

Unfortunately, sometimes this phrase is used as a polite excuse for being slow to recall. Perhaps a substitute phrase should be “due to extreme amounts of information (or perhaps, wisdom, depending how strongly one wishes to push it) there has been a delay in accessing this information. I’ll get back with you when it becomes available.”

The worse use of the phrase is when it becomes a belief. It is easy to think that cognitive decline is inevitable and to accept it. Not only does such a belief become a self-fulfilling prophecy, but it accelerates the rate of any decline. We do experience physical decline, but to use any noticeable decline as an excuse for giving up physical activity just increases the rate of decline. We must push ourselves to continue activities as we age.

Similarly, we must not decrease cognitive activities or avoid cognitive challenges as we age. There is reason to believe that we can not only slow the decline, but that we can also continue cognitive growth as we age. We must remain cognitively and socially active as we age and not beg off with the excuse of “senior moments.”

Remember that autopsies have revealed brains wracked with the neurofibril tangles and amyloid plaques that are regarded as the signatures for Alzheimer’s, but whose owners never evidenced any symptoms of Alzheimer’s when they were alive.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Insight, Contradictions, and Alzheimer’s Research

September 28, 2014

The preceding post discussed contradictions as a strategy for achieving insight. It has bothered me for quite some time that the majority of research into Alzheimer’s has been targeting the tau tangles and beta-amyloid plaques. But research has revealed that people whose brains are scared with tau tangles and beta-amyloid plaques have shown no cognitive or behavioral indications of Alzheimer’s. This has been called resilient cognition and has been attributed to individuals who have built up a cognitive reserve and whose brains have adapted to the physiological changes. Why has this contradiction been ignored and research has continued to be focused on eliminating the tau tangles and amyloid-plaque?

New research reported in the July 16th Washington Post by Fredrick Kunkle has found a new protein TDP-43, a TAR DNA binding protein. This protein had been discovered by researchers in the Mayo Clinic who are studying prefrontal lobe dementia and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Fortunately these researchers turned their attention on Alzheimer’s. They found that 57% of the cadavers with Alzheimer’s had TDP-43 in their brains. After controlling for other variables including beta-amyloid and tau deposits, age, and genetic risk, cadavers with the TDP-43 protein were ten times as likely to be severely cognitively impaired at death as those without the TDP-43 deposits. Those with TDP-43 also had faster rates of brain tissue loss over time than those without TDP-43.

So perhaps this contradiction can finally be recognized and research be retargeted at TDP-43, the effects of which are unambiguous. Meanwhile we should all stay cognitively, physically, and socially active, being mindful to keep our memories healthy and to continue our cognitive growth.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Combined Effects of Interventions and Preventative Actions

June 12, 2014

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

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

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

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Cognition Enhancing Drugs

June 10, 2014

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

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

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

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

A Neurocognitive Framework for Ameliorating Cognitive Aging

May 31, 2014

This post is taken from a chapter with the same name, “Ameliorating Cognitive Aging:  A Neurocognitive Framework”  in the book Nurturing the Older Brain and Mind  by Greenwood and Parasuraman.  Brain aging needs to be dealt with.  There is cortical shrinkage and there are white matter changes.  The shrinkage and white matter changes have a small effect on cognitive performance.  Neurotransmitter  dysfunction is a matter of more concern.  Then there are genetic factors.  First of all there is the genotype, then the gene expression from this genotype.  Although some individuals suffer from a genetic predisposition to dementia, these are not deterministic, but rather predispositions.  That is, given such and such experiences or external factors, the likelihood of dementia increases.  Then there are epigenetics, which determine how the genes are actuated.  Epigenetics are affected  by lifestyle and experiential factors such that favorable factors can enhance the probability of favorable genetic readouts.

Turning to the lifestyle and experiential factors, education, exercise, diet, learning and training, and combinations of these factors enhance the likelihood of good cognitive performance throughout one’s lifespan.   More details on these individual factors will be provided in subsequent healthymemory blog posts.

Then there is the matter of neuronal plasticity that includes neurogenesis, synaptogenesis, dendritic arborization, and network reorganization.   An example of network reorganization is the greater use of both hemispheres as we age.  When I was a graduate student I was taught that our nervous system was fixed and could not be modified when damaged or was damaged to aging.  Fortunately, what I was taught as a graduate student has been found to be woefully in error.  These processes can occur well into old age.  But they need to be activated by new learning and experiences for them to occur.

Next there is cognitive plasticity.  Top-down processing strategies can be used to make better use of our accumulated knowledge.  Then there are our well-developed prefrontal lobes for effective executive functioning.

I have often written of the importance of building a cognitive reserve.  Although advice was provided as to how to build one’s cognitive reserve, Greenwood and Parasuraman have provided the first neurocognitive framework to explain how this occurs.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

An Important Book for All to Read

May 26, 2014

And that book is Nurturing the Older Brain and Mind by Pamela M. Greenwood and Raja Parasuraman of George Mason University.  The book is an extensive review of the literature on the older brain and mind in general, and on Alzheimer’s and dementia, in particular.  Although younger people might think this book is only for us BabyBoomers that would be WRONG WRONG WRONG!  First of all, the magnitude of the problem must be considered.  As people age the probability of suffering  Alzheimer’s increases and with aging populations it will soon reach epidemic proportions.  Hopes for drug cures or preventative vaccines are slim (see the healthy memory blog posts, “The Myth of Alzheimer’s” and “Sigmund Freud and Alzheimer’s Disease”).   Moreover actions you take now can reduce the likelihood of suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia.  If you have parents, there are things they can do to reduce the likelihood of suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia.  And if you have children, there are things that both you and your children can do to reduce the likelihood of Alzheimer’s and dementia.  These “activities” or “things” are described in Nurturing the Older Brain and Mind.

Greenwood and Parasuraman note that although the brain might age, cognitive aging is neither universal nor inevitable.  Most individuals do not show a decline in cognitive functioning in old age, even though the probability of suffering such a cognitive decline increases as we age.  Moreover it has been noted in many healthymemory blog posts that there are many individuals who do not suffer cognitive decline in spite of the tell-tale amyloid plaque and neurofibril tangles of Alzheimer’s.  The only explanation of this fact has been that these people have developed a cognitive reserve.  Greenwood and Parasuraman present a neurocognitive framework to describe how this might be done.

Nurtuiing the Older Brain and Mind is a  scholarly work of the highest order reviewing an extensive research literature on the topic including both human and non-human species.  Nevertheless, I believe that it is written on a level where it should be accessible to the general reader.  Even if it takes a bit of a reach for the general reader, it is a reach well worth taking.  Although the healthymemory blog will draw heavily on this work, there is no way I can even hope of doing it justice.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

The only criticism I have of this work is that it does not address mindfulness, although I do understand why it was not addressed.  Part of the reason can be found in the immediately preceding blog post on random controlled trials or random clinical trials (RCTs).  The researchers do not regard the research on mindfulness as being significantly “rigorous.”  I remember when I was a graduate student there was a debate on whether we humans can control our autonomic nervous systems with out minds (heart rate, for example).  Now there were people in the east who were highly trained meditators who were able to do this.  Nevertheless, most psychologists would not accept this conclusion unless they could train someone to do it in a psychological laboratory.  They regarded these meditators as using some sort of “trick.”  Well the same thing has been said of mnemonic techniques, but these mnemonic techniques not only enhance memory, but also reveal important insights into how memory works.  Similarly mindfulness research will provide practical insights into how we can control our minds and our bodies.  These skills will be central not only to preserving cognitive functioning, but also to enhancing cognitive functioning.   I predict that mindfulness will play an increasingly strong role in nurturing the older brain and mind.

REST, Epigenesis, Neuroplasticity, Cognitive Reserve, & Alzheimer’s

April 8, 2014

The March 19 Washington Post published an article written by Angela Zimm, “Fetal brain protein reactivates in old age, may fight dementia.” The research was conducted by scientists at Harvard University and published in the journal Nature. It reported that a protein called REST is depleted in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s. It was found at a level three times as high in people who did not experience dementia even when their brains had indications of the disease. According to Yanker, a professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School in Boston, “There’s a long-standing puzzle in neurology why a large percentage of the aging population when they die have enough abnormalities in the brain to classify as Alzheimer’s, though they don’t develop the dementia.”
This is a rarely publicized fact about Alzheimer’s, that there are many people who do not exhibit the symptoms of dementia even though their brains at autopsy are found to have the so-called tell tale neurofibrillary tangles and amyloid plaques. These are the only signs that allow a conclusive diagnosis of Alzheimer’s . So it appears that these tangles and plaques might be a necessary, but not a sufficient condition for Alzheimer’s disease. Most research on Alzheimer’s has been on attacking the tangles and plaques.
The only explanation that has been offered is that the people with the tangles and plaques, but not Alzheimer’s have built up a cognitive reserve to fend off this disease. Indeed, this is one of the exhortations of the healthymemory blog, to build up a cognitive reserve/. However, what has been lacking to this point is an explanation as to how this cognitive reserve is built up. The process of epigenesis is one possible mechanism for the release and maintenance of the REST protein. Possible mechanisms for building a cognitive reserve can be found in the healthymemory blog, “What is Neuroplasticity and How Does it Work”, and include, in addition to epigenesis, synaptogenesis, myleinogenesis, and neurogenesis. The healthymemory blog post, “Supporting Neuroplasticity” lists some specific practices that could aid in building a cognitive reserve.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Myth of Cognitive Decline

February 23, 2014

“The Myth of Cognitive Decline: Non-Linear Dynamics of Lifelong Learning”1 is certainly one of the most important scientific articles I have read in recent years. Contrary to the commonly accepted notion that cognitive information processing capabilities decline across adulthood, the article makes a compelling argument that older adults’ changing performance reflects memory search demands, which increase as experience grows.

This argument is based on a series of simulations that show how the performance patterns observed across adulthood emerge naturally in learning models as additional knowledge is acquired. The simulations identify greater variation in the cognitive performance of older adults, and also predict that older adults show greater sensitivity to fine-grained differences in the properties of test stimuli than younger adults. In other words, the results indicate that older adults’ performance on cognitive tests reflects the predictable consequences of learning on information processing and not cognitive decline.

Simply put, the more information we have as we age can slow down the retrieval of information and make it more difficult to distinguish differences among items in memory. Here it is wise to revisit the distinction between information availability and information accessibility. Information can be available in memory, but we simply cannot access it. Many times we know we know something, but simply cannot recall it. These are the cases when information is available but not accessible. Frequently, I try to recall some piece of information, say an actor’s name, but just can’t seem to locate it. Sometimes I shall challenge my wife and see if she remembers. Sometimes she does, and sometimes she doesn’t. Sometimes she will come up with a partial cue that leads to the desired memory. I try to resist the temptation to Googling it in these situations as I think these attempts at retrieval aid keeping the memory healthy.  They force us to revisit infrequently visited memory circuits. What is interesting is that long after I have consciously given up the search and resisted Googling it, the desired memory will suddenly pop into mind. This might occur the next day, perhaps even several days later. This is a good example of how a long latency might be mistakenly interpreted as a memory loss.

One might argue that these conclusions are based on simulations rather than on human experiments. Research into this topic is currently underway using humans. The problem with using human participants to research this problem is that it is difficult to control or estimate important variables. In these cases, simulations can actually provide more accurate answers.

There is the observation that cognitive decline really kicks in around 60 or 70. What is the basis for this observation? How can it be explained? Here is the explanation taken directly from the Ramscar article on p. 34: “If a common environmental change like retirement was to systematically reduce the variety of contexts people encounter in their lives, learning theory predicts that the amount of contextual information they learn will drop further, as the background rates of cues in the remaining contexts rise (Kruschke,2 Ramscar et al3). It follows from this that if people were to increasingly spend time in environments where any cues have high background rates already (family homes), any effects arising from their cumulative experience of learning to ignore task irrelevant contextual (background) cues will be exacerbated . In other words because discriminative learning by its very nature reduces sensitivity to everyday context, retirement is likely to make memories harder to individuate and more confusable, absent any “cognitive declines,” simply because retirement is likely to decrease contextual variety at exactly the time when the organization of older adults’ memories needs it most.”

In other words, as you have read in previous healthymemory blog posts, retirement can foster cognitive decline. So retirements need to be active, so that people can continue to grow cognitively and have social engagements in varying contexts. Obviously I am biased, but I think that reading the healthymemory blog and following some of its practices provides a good start.

It is certainly true that there can be pathologies that cause cognitive decline. Unfortunately, what is the normal performance of what are truly healthy memories can be misinterpreted as cognitive decline.

1Ramscar, M., Hendrix, P., Shaoul, C., Milin, P., & Bayan, H. (2014). Topics in Cognitive Science, 6, 5-42.

2Krushke, J.J. (1996). Base Rates in Category Learning. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, & Cognition. 22, 3-26 .

3Ramscar, M., Dye, M., & Klein, J. (2013). Childrean value informativity over logic in word learning, Psychological Science, 24, 1017-1023.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

There Will Be A Brief Hiatus in New Posts on the Healthymemory Blog

February 6, 2014

Not that you should notice. There are well over 450 posts here. That should be plenty to read, ponder, and practice. As its title, suggests this blog is devoted to the development and growth of healthy memories. You can find techniques for improving memory and controlling attention. In addition to specific memory techniques, there are posts on meditation and mindfulness. Posts in the category of transactive memory discuss how technology and interactions with our fellow humans contribute to memory health and help us grow our memories. There are also many posts on human memory and information processing. Mental growth and development should be a goal we work towards our entire lives. The earlier this is started, the better, but it is never too late. The development of a cognitive reserve is one of the best measures one can take to avoid Alzheimer’s and dementia. Use the blog’s search box to search for topics of personal interest. You will likely be pleasantly surprised by what you can find.

Good News About Alzheimer’s and Dementia

January 28, 2014

About two-thirds of dementia cases are caused by Alzheimer’s. The next most common form is vascular dementia, which is caused by deterioration of the brain’s blood vessels and often involving minor strokes. There are some other subtypes and an increasing belief that dementia at very old ages typically involves different forms of disease. Good news about Alzheimer’s and dementia. How can this be? Well, according to research1 reported in the New Scientist, there is some good news.

The good news comes from two studies published in the medical journal, The Lancet. One study compared two surveys of dementia numbers in the United Kingdom done 20 years apart. A 1994 study led to the conclusion that there were about 650,000 people with the condition. Given the increase in average age of the population over the intervening years, using exactly the same tests and definitions, should have found 900,000 people dementia, but the count came up over 200,000 people short.

The other study examined the health of two groups of Danish people in their mid-90s, born a decade apart in 1905 and 1915. Although the two groups had similar physical health, those born in 1915 markedly outperformed the earlier group in cognitive tests. This second group was not stronger, but they were smarter.

So how can this be? The conjecture is that long term trends of rising prosperity, education, and better health are good for the brain. Special attention should be paid to higher education levels. They support the notion of a cognitive reserve that keeps the brain functioning at a high level despite mild physical deterioration.

These results, while good, should not be misinterpreted. Alzheimer’s and dementia still represent significant threats that need to be addressed. The good news is a relative one. That is, matters are not as bad as they were thought to be, but they are still pretty bad.

Moreover, the conjecture as to why there has been this improvement, points to activities and practices advocated by the healthymemory blog. Good physical health and diet are definitely important. The recommended diet is the heart healthy, or Mediterranean diet, rich in fruit and vegetables, with plenty of fish and not too much red meat or high calorie junk food. An unfortunate trend which is working against this good trend is the increase in obesity with the concomitant increase in diabetes. Some have spoken of Alzheimer’s as being a form of brain diabetes.

It should be understood that formal education is not required to build a cognitive reserve. An effort to grow the mind continually by having new experiences, learning new things through reading, technology and by interacting with fellow humans all serve to build a cognitive reserve. The healthymemory blog is dedicated to these activities.

1Drew, L. (2014). Down with dementia. New Scientist, 11 january, 32-35.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Complexity of the Brain and Neuroimaging

January 14, 2014

This blog post is based on the book Brainwashed: The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience by Sally Satel and Scott O. Lillenfeld. Please bear with me as this is the second post that I’ve written based on a source viewed on my Kindle.

The notion that a specific area in the brain is solely responsible for a given mental function is intuitively appealing, and it would definitely simplify matters. Unfortunately that is rarely the case. Mental activities do not map neatly onto discrete brain regions. At one time a specific area of the brain, Broca’s area was believed to be the brain’s one and only language-production center. Subsequent research has found it to be one of the key nodes, or convergence centers, for the pathways that process language. Similarly, there is no one designated site in charge of speech comprehension as it also relies on patterns of connectivity across multiple brain regions. “Although neuroscientists regard a few cortical regions as being highly specialized for particular operations—such as the perception of faces, places, body parts, ascribing mental states to others (“theory of mind”) and processing visually presented words—most neural real estate is zoned for mixed-use development.”1 This is most fortunate as the brain can rewire itself and allows the newly discovered remarkable plasticity of the brain. So when the brain is damaged it can rewire itself to regain its lost functionality. This rewiring might partially account for those individuals whose autopsies revealed the neurofibrillary tangles and amyloid plaques of Alzheimer’s, but who never exhibited the symptoms. People who are born blind are able to use their visual cortex to perceive touch and learn to read braille letters.

This complexity of the brain should be kept in mind both when viewing images and when reading reports that draw conclusions from neuroimages. As will be seen many reports are overstated, incorrect, or only partially correct.

1Satel, S. & Lillenfold, S.L. (2013) Brainwashed: The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience

© 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.

What Einstein’s Brain Tells Us

November 19, 2013

Fortunately Einstein’s heirs allowed for the removal of his brain for study after his demise. As the title of the Washington Post Article indicates “Einstein’s brain was more connected than most. His large corpus callosum, which helps the left and right hemispheres work together, is part of what made the physicist so creative, researchers say.”1 The corpus callosum runs nearly the full length of the brain from behind the forehead to the nape of the neck. Its dense network of neural fibers carries electrical signals between the two hemispheres that make brain regions with very different functions work together.

Peter U. Tse is a neuroscientist at Dartmouth College who studies the underpinnings of artistic, scientific, and mathematical creativity. He argues that “the ways in which we use our brains – and the consistency with which we do so – may matter more as we age.” “He noted that, while Einstein’s brain was much better connected than those of similarly aged men, it was not so different than those of young and healthy controls.”

“That might reflect the fact that Einstein continue to exercise his brain strenuously, forestalling much of the atrophy that comes with age.”

Although we are not Einsteins, it is the continuing theme of the healthmemory blog that we need to continue to exercise our brains strenuously.

1(2013) Healy, M. The Washingtonpost, 13 October, A4.

© 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.

Another Quiz

July 3, 2013

There will be a brief hiatus in new postings to the healthymemory blog. I believe that there are already sufficient postings (more than 400) to interest readers in the interim. Here is a quiz, should you wish to challenge yourself. Remember the search block on this blog when you are looking for topics of interest or trying to finds answers to the quiz. There is also an earlier quiz, enter “quiz” into the search block, should you want to test yourself further.

  1. What are the five supermemes that threaten the collapse of civilization according to Costa

2.

3

4

5.

      1. What is the importance of ikiga?

      2. What is the best means of preventing or mitigating dementia?

      3. What is crystalized intelligence?

      4. What is the distinction between System 1 and System 2 processing?

      5. What is a paraprosdokian?

      6. What is meant by mindfulness?

      7. What is hyperpartisanship and how can it be reduced?

      8. How can transactive memory aid prospective memory?

      9. What is the relationship between meditation and attention?

      10. Why is attention important?

      11. What is the One Bun Rhyme Mnemonic?

      12. How can you remember historical dates and appointments?

      13. What are the differences between Congressman Tim Ryan and Congressman Paul Ryan?

        1. Can false memories be implanted in memory?

        2. Why is speaking on a cell phone with your hands free still dangerous?

        3. What is the relationship between the average retirement age of a country and the onset of dementia?

        4. What tragedy has resulted from a failure in prospective memory?

        5. What is the Distinctiveness Heuristic?

        6. How does incubation relate to creativity?

        7. How can you boost your brain?

        8. What memory technique was developed by Pierre Herigone”

New Approaches to Alzheimer’s Disease

October 17, 2012

Between 1998 and 2011, 101 experimental treatments for Alzheimer’s were scrapped. Only three drugs made it to market, and they do not cure Alzheimer’s, they merely slow it down. Treatments that target the obvious hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease are the sticky plaques that clog up people’s brains. Two of the largest trials of treatments to attack these plaques failed. So it appears that other approaches are needed that focus on other earlier events. The immediately preceding post outlined one of these new approaches. Another article1 described new trials that are focusing on protecting synapses. Synapses are the gaps across which neurons communicate.

Bryostatin 1 is a cancer drug that has been shown to boost an enzyme, PKC episilon. This enzyme both helps form synapses and protects them against plaque. A trial that will test this drug in people with Alzheimer’s is about to begin.

Patricia Salinas and her colleagues at University College in London have shown that soluble beta-amyloid raises concentration of a synapse destroying enzyme called Dkk1. When the enzyme was blocked in cultures of brain cells, synapses remained intact. Potentially this could provide a way to protect the aging brain.

Gary Landreth and his team at Case Western University have found that another cancer drug, bexarotene, got rid of half the plaques within three days in an experiment using mice. The drug also reduced levels of beta-amyloid and the animals rapidly recovered their cognitive abilities.

The Healthymemory blog always takes pains to note that although these amyloid plaques appear to be a necessary condition, they do not appear to be a sufficient condition for Alzheimer’s. There have been autopsies of individuals whose brains all show conspicuous signs of Alzheimer’s, yet these individuals never evidenced any of its symptoms when they were alive. The explanation offered for this finding is that these people had built up a cognitive reserve during their lifetimes. The healthymemory blog is a strong advocate of building this cognitive reserve through cognitive exercise (e.g.,mnemonic techniques), and by remaining cognitively active and engaging in cognitive growth throughout one’s entire life.

1Hamzelou, J., (2012). A New Direction. New Scientist, 29 September, p. 7.

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

iPads for Those Suffering from Dementia

August 4, 2012

When I was looking for an assisted living facility for my Mom, I found A Place for Mom to be quite helpful. The following post is taken from the Blog on the A Place for Mom Website, http://www.aplaceformom.com/blog/9-reasons-why-ipads-are-good-for-memory-care-residents/

According to the post the director of the Health Central Park Nursing Home, Judy Skelton, “It came to us as a happy accident. What started out as one resident’s curiosity turned into something that is helping them spell, track items, make choices and read words. It’s amazing.” Mice and other control devices sometimes present problems for elders, but they find the touch pad technology easy to use, and, what I found somewhat surprising, easy to navigate. Here are nine reasons why iPads enhance the lives of seniors:

1. They’re lightweight and carry like a book.

2. They interact with residents, provide excitement and open-up a new means of communication to those who can’t express themselves in the way they desire.

3. They can monitor an elderly person’s movements, habits, temperature in their home and remind them when to take their pills.

4. Their music and music library options help to trigger memories of the past through songs of their youth and family years.

5. They encourage socialization among residents with their games, varying apps, reading and Internet search features.

6. There are apps to help encourage mobility. For example, one app shows videos of animated figures performing activities of daily living such as climbing stairs. This help patients picture themselves doing these tasks, and even mimic the behaviors.

7. Computer access allows residents more frequent contact with their children and grandchildren of the Internet generation.

8. Email updates and downloaded photos are now pride of place in residents’ rooms.

9. They encourage residents to create simple graphics and pictures and exercise their creativity.

In short, they

help improve motor skills

provide memory stimulation and cognitive function

create a positive impact on the interaction of those with dementia

More formal studies are underway, but the initial informal studies are quite positive.

A Call to Us Baby Boomers

September 11, 2011

Dr. Whitehouse is one of us; he is a Baby Boomer. In The Myth of Alzheimer’s he issues a call to action for us Baby Boomers.1 As an extra incentive, he states that studies have shown that engaging in politics and keeping apprised of world events may be protective against cognitive loss.

He recommends that we encourage our local politicians to make life-span aging a priority issue. To argue for a more equitable distribution between funding for the “cure” and for “care.’ Currently most of the funding goes for the search for a cure, and in Dr. Whitehouse’s informed opinion, a cure is a long way off if one is ever found. Federal and state labor policies should help expand the pool of front-line caregivers. Youth apprenticeship programs can be created in nursing homes and assisted-living facilities in which high school students can experience hands-on learning in the workplace in conjunction with classroom instruction and to have mentored on-the-job learning in an eldercare setting. These programs can provide up-and-coming workers with the skills and competencies they will need to care for the growing number of elders in our society and provide them with the knowledge, insight, and real-world experience they will need to take care of us in the future.

He also recommends that we e-mail the leaders of our local Alzheimer’s disease chapters and express the belief that money raised for AD should be invested in care and prevention, and not just in the race for a cure that might never be forthcoming. Investing in caregiving creates a compassionate infrastructure in our communities that can last for generations. Investing in prevention allows more of us living longer with clearer minds. Children are included to ensure that they are provided a good start in their development.

We need to think about the communities of the future that will emerge to care for our elderly. Creative living arrangements such as co-ops for the elderly, inter-generational living spaces, environmentally sound assisted-living facilities that promote cognitive stimulation and inclusion in community need serious consideration. The following is a direct quote, “I am not sure we want or can afford too much institutional care for the frail elderly. If we can break down the barriers between those with dementing conditions and the healthy, and the young and other old, perhaps we can create living arrangements where people help each other across the cognitive and ageing divides. Cooperative group arrangements supported by architectural and environmental design may allow groups of mutually halping and helpful people to survive and thrive through cooperation arrangements. We are entering a challenging era as a human species. But humans are the most adaptable beings on the planet and I hope that we can rise to the challenges of the twenty-first century.2

We Baby Boomers can considered ourselves “called.”

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

2Pages 277-278.

The Myth of Alzheimer’s

August 28, 2011

The Myth of Alzheimer’s by Peter J. Whitehouse, M.D., Ph.D. and Daniel George, M.Sc. is an important book. The myth is that Alzheimer’s is a single disease, and that a drug will be developed that serves as a silver bullet and eradicate Alzheimer’s. Whitehouse is no crackpot. He knows whereof he speaks. Note that he has a Ph.D and an M.D. Although he is now working as a clinician, he spent many years at the forefront of research on drugs to mitigate or eradicate Alzheimer’s disease (AD). He was a prominent researcher who was well funded and promoted by drug companies. When he became convinced that a cure for Alzheimer’s was not forthcoming, he turned his efforts to treatment.

Note that a definitive diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, even with today’s brain imaging technology cannot be made while the patient is living. It must await the autopsy of the individual. The presence of amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles would confirm a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. The problem is that autopsies of people who have shown no indications of cognitive impairments have also shown the presence of amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles. Most drug treatments have been targeted to remove or mitigate these amyloid plaques or neurofibrillary tangles. Although some drug treatments have been able to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s in some people, these drugs typically have side effects and cannot prevent its progression. In some cases they just slow the occurrence of death, which prevents release from this degraded state. In an interesting history of the disease it becomes clear that its founder, Alois Alzheimer, had doubts that this was a distinct disease and that scientific competition forced Alzheimer’s employer to convince Alzheimer to call it a distinct disease.

The thesis of the book is best captured from the following excerpt from page 220, …”It is unlikely that there will ever be a panacea for brain aging and baby boomers should not rely on extraordinary advancements being made in their lifetimes besides the promises of the AD empire that make their way into our headlines. Our attention must begin shifting from mythical cure to hard-earned prevention, from expecting a symptomatic treatment for AD to choosing behaviors that may delay the effects “of cognitve decline over the course of our lives.” Many, if not most, of the behaviors he discusses have been mentioned and advocated in the Healthymemory Blog.

The book provides a superb tutorial on the history of AD from its unassuming beginnings to the development of an AD Empire. It reviews the science underlying AD and the role of genetics in AD. It discusses past and present treatments for AD. It explains how to identify someone who might need a prescription for memory loss, and how to prepare for a doctor’s visit. It presents a new model for living with brain aging as well as a prescription for successful aging across the life span. An epilogue is titled “Thinking Like a Mountain: The Future of Aging.”

This is an important and interesting book for everyone, but especially for us Baby Boomers.

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.

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