Posts Tagged ‘Arthur Kramer’

Understanding Cognitive Enhancement

November 20, 2017

The title of this post is identical to the subtitle of an article titled “Better Minds Ahead” by Joe Dawson in the October 2017 issue of Observer, a publication of the Association for Psychological Science. The article provides a summary to the session at the Integrative Science symposium at the 2017 International Convention of Psychological Science, which was held in Vienna.

Daphne Bavelier, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Geneva, conducts research on the effects of action games. Early experiments showed vision improvements such as contrast sensitivity and visual acuity in long-time action gamers as well as experimental short-term gamers. Playing these games for as few as 30 hours per week produced these effects. Moreover, these effects persisted for months after the experiment and video-game playing ended.

Subsequent research suggested that action-game players were not just better at the skills specific to game play, such as vision, but also were better at more cognitive skills. These cognitive skills were driven, at least in part, by improved attentional control.

Other research has shown that young laparoscopic surgeons who play video games, and especially action video games, perform better in the simulators in terms of being faster and not making more errors than most season laparoscopic surgeons on the team. In these games, players must switch tasks and divide their attention. They monitors errors in skill and judgment. They must also plan goals and revise them on the fly. It appears that the combination of demands is what produces the kind of cognitive enhancements seen in relation to commercially available action games.

Arthur Kramer, the senior Vice President for Research and Graduate Education at Northeastern University, has studied the relationship between exercise and cognition for 25 years. Some of the first clues about the effects of exercise were produced by brain scans. Certain regions changed in volume in both long-term exercisers and in intervention groups. Size, white matter, and connectivity measurements all indicated that exercise has lasting effects on the brain. Exercise also seems seems to show benefits in many tests and also in several cognitive tasks. In 2003 meta-analysis of randomized control trial exercise and cognition studies, Kramer and Stanley Colcombe found that exercise positively affects cognition with an effect size of nearly half a standard deviation.

Kramer said, “Fitness interventions have been assessed in early Alzheimer’s or mild cognitive impairment patients, multiple sclerosis patients, Parkinson’s patients and in breast cancer patients. In each case, there have been benefits.”

Kramer wants to do further work trying to establish the limits of cognitive enhancement, assuming there are limits, and determining which interventions and lifestyle choices work best for different individuals.

Illini Singh, a researcher of neuroscience, ethics, and society at the University of Oxford is focused on the present and potential future use of “smart drugs.” Although there are reports about taking drugs for increased attention, focus, mood modulation, or executive function, science has yet to produce convincing evidence that most common “smart” drugs—Ritalin, Adderall, and Modafinl, provide benefits in nonclinical populations. There is a large placebo effect Singh said “what you hear most is that students say they feel more awake,” but this is because these drugs are stimulants.

HM weighs in that drugs are for clinical situations. Inevitably, there are undesirable side effects to drugs, so they should only be used as a last resort.

© 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.

Advertisements

Defying Dementia

May 4, 2017

This post is based in part on posts by Kayt Sukel with the title Defying Dementia in the Features Section of 29 April 2017 issue the New Scientist.  Katy Sukel begins, “DEMENTIA isn’t inevitable.  The human brain can stay sharp well past 100 years of life.  The brain does slow down.  (See the healthy memory blog post, “The Myth of Cognitive Decline.”)  One of the primary reasons it slows down is that it has accumulated massive amounts of data as a function of age.  And the greater the learning the greater the volume.  In addition, parts of the brain associated with memory and executive function shrink, myelin sheath around our neurons starts to erode, slowing down signaling, and arteries narrow, diminishing blood supply.  But these factors mainly affect speed.  When healthy older people are given extra time to perform cognitive tasks, the results are on par with younger folks.

When it occurs, dementia does alter the cognitive playing field.  In addition to memory, it causes issues with understanding or expressing oneself in language, problems with sensory perception, and disturbances in executive function.

The number of people with dementia might be rising, but most specialists say that is largely because more of us are living longer.  Between 1980 and 2011, the proportion of people over 65 with dementia actually dropped by 20% in England and Wales.   Between 2000 and 2012, dementia rates in that age group dropped by 24% in the US.

Kenneth Langa of the Michigan Center on the Demography of Aging said that there are two driving factors for this change:  A rise in educational attainment and better control of cardiovascular issues.  After the second world war, there was an increase in schooling that averaged out to about an extra year of education across the US population.   Research suggests that people with more education, or those who have done things like learning a new language or learning to play a musical instrument are more resilient to symptoms of dementia.  Langa says, “By challenging your brain during education, you create a more fit brain that can compensate for problems that you have as you age.  It creates a cognitive reserve that boosts the brain’s ability to work around damaged areas, and promotes more efficient processing.  As far as cardiovascular risk factors are concerned, although the prevalence of conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes as risen over the years, there also has been an increase in treatments to limit their damage.

Although there clearly are genetic factors, they tend to increase the probability of Alzheimer’s. There are no genes that directly lead to Alzheimer’s.  So, rather than be concerned about genetics, deal with lifestyle and genetic factors.  Maintaining social connections, eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, practicing good sleep habits, and pursuing intellectual changes lead to a healthy memory.

Arthur Kramer of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign says that regular exercise not only addresses risk factors such as weight and cardiovascular health, but it also increases the creation of brain cells, connections between neurons, and production of nerve growth factors and neurotransmitters.  Dr. Kramer’s research has shown that just an hour long walk a few times a week increases hippocampal growth, and certainly can make a difference.

Healthymemory blog readers should also be aware of the importance of a growth mindset and of the benefits of meditation and mindfulness.  In addition to defying dementia, they provide for a more fulfilling life.

© 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.

You Can Teach An Old Dog New Tricks

August 11, 2013

This post was motivated by an article in the New Scientist (25 May 2013, 32-35) by David Robson, “Old Schooled: Learning Like a Child is a Cinch Once You Know How.” The article begins with a story about a 36 year old who has learned more than 30 languages in addition to learning the guitar. At one time psychologists thought that some skills needed to be learned at a critical age, and that other skills became more difficult to learn as we age. That attitude has changed as new research has revealed the remarkable neuroplasticity of the human brain.

Actually, the “know how” is more of an attitude, a willingness to try new things rather than fearing failure, and the application of effort to learn. Being physically, in addition to mentally, active is also important. An earlier healthymemory blog post, “To Improve Your Memory, Build Your Hippocampus,” reviewed the research of Arthur Kramer. He has worked with senior citizens in his lab at the University of Illinois. He used a mild exercise regime, walking for 40 minutes three days a week for a year. Kramer imaged the brains of his senior citizens both before and after training. He found that the hippocampi, subcortical structures vital to new learning, had expanded. Presumably this was due to the birth of new brain cells and/or an increase in synaptic connectivity among neurons. He reported that much of the long-distance communication across the brain was restored to its former glory. Kramer said, “The senior citizen’s connectivity was equivalent to a 30-year-old’s.” There was a general cognitive boost, which included improved attention. Attention is the key to learning any new skill.

Learning new tricks is one of the best ways to build a cognitive reserve to ward off, mitigate, perhaps preclude dementia. There are resources all around you, to help you do this. Just look. And conduct searches on the internet. Check out the website, and see what it has to offer.

One of the best examples of how you are never to old to learn can be found in the book Life is So Good by George Dawson and Richard Glaubman. George Dawson, a 103-year-old grandson of a slave learned to read at age 98. Dawson reflects on his life and offers valuable lessons in living, as well as a fresh, firsthand view of America during the twentieth century. This is a truly inspirational and informative read.

© 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.