Posts Tagged ‘Baby Boomers’

It Should be Life Quality Not Household Income

December 17, 2017

Being at the forefront of the baby boomers, HM becomes extremely agitated when he reads of how bad the more recent generations have it. The argument usually consists of adjustments of median income, and that this is not keeping up with previous generations. Monetary income is used to quantify life quality. This is extremely shortsighted and wrong.

Do any of these new generations wish they could have been in the good old days of the baby boomers? If they do, then they are fools. Personal computers were not available to say nothing of the internet and mobile computing. Would anyone in these new generations be willing to part with their smartphones? Medical care, automobiles, and other technologies have markedly improved.

Many baby boomers had to register for the draft and fight in the Viet Nam war. They had the privilege of possibly having their names added to the wall on the Mall. Of course, if one was wealthy, it was quite possible to find a physician who would provide the basis for a medical deferment.

Unfortunately, dollars are equated with happiness and life satisfaction. The Gross Domestic Product is the most common means of assessing life satisfaction, if not happiness. A healthy economy requires the GDP to grow. We are placed on a treadmill to continue working to buy more material goods. This is the rat race that is only occasionally mentioned.

There have been several healthy memory blog posts on the expectations HM was given when he was in elementary school. He learned that advances in technology would allow a large increase in leisure time. At that time women with children rarely worked. Now everybody is working longer hours. Why? There is a fear of technology taking away jobs. Why? Why can’t technology be used to increase leisure time and to make life more enjoyable?

A previous post, Flourishing, described what Aristotle and other wise people, both ancient and contemporary, wrote about what constitutes the good life. Rather than hedonism, the goals should be eudaemonia and ikigai, having a purpose in life other than having a job to earn money to engage in a futile effort to achieve happiness. Follow the wisdom of the Dalai Lama and go to http://joinaforce4good.org/learn.

There are metrics for Gross National Happiness that are more relevant to happiness than are gross domestic products. (Enter “Gross National Happiness” into the search block of the healthymemory blog to find relevant posts.)

© 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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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.

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.

Dental Health and Alzheimer’s

September 4, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another Study Indicating that Work Lessens Alzheimer’s Risk

August 14, 2013

The study indicated that people who delay retirement have less risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease.1 This has been a long running theme of the healthymemory blog (enter “retirement and dementia” in the search box to find relevant posts. This new study involved almost half a million people in France and was the largest study undertaken so far. As was stated in previous posts, working tends to keep people physically active, socially connected, and mentally challenged. These are all activities known to help prevent mental decline.

According to Carole Dufouil, a scientist at Inserm, the French government‘s healthy research agency who led the study and gave the results at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Boston, “For each additional year of work, the risk in getting dementia is reduced by 3.2 percent.” This is something that should be born in mind when considering retirement. A 2011 survey found that my fellow baby boomers were more afraid of losing their memory than death.2

Of course, if retirement activities keep you physically active, socially connected, and mentally challenged, the benefits of work could be pre-empted. Pursuing a second career, going back to college, or dedicating yourself to a hobby that fulfills the same beneficial activities, are other possibilities for consideration. It should also be remembered that a cure for Alzheimer’s or a vaccine to prevent Alzheimer’s do not appear to be coming over the horizon.

1Washington Post, 16 July 2013,A2. Study: Work lessens Alzheimer’s risk.

2Marx, P. (2013). Mentally Fit., The New Yorker, July 29, p.25

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

4 Ways to Fight Alzheimer’s

June 1, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

Passing 67

May 8, 2013

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

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

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

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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

April 14, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Aging and Decline: A Self-fulfilling Prophecy?

March 24, 2013

An article in the Alexandria/Arlington Local Living insert of the March 14 Washington Post titled “Getting Stronger After a Century” inspired this healthymemory blog post. This article is about a man who did not start working out until he was 98. He is now 102 and is “able to curl 40 pounds, work out vigorously on a rowing machine and deftly pluck bouncing eight-pound kettle balls from the air with the hand-eye coordination of a much younger man.” The article later states that experts say that many people don’t realize that problems they associate with old age actually are caused by poor fitness. In other words, the experts are saying that the poor fitness aging individuals experience is, in large part, a self-fulfilling prophecy. People believe that this physical decline is a natural part of aging and start declining. If people would just start exercising, they could preclude or remediate many of these problems.

I believe that the same problem occurs with respect to mental fitness. People believe that mental decline is a natural part of aging. There are data showing that the average retirement ages of countries and the age of the onset of dementia for these same countries are correlated. That is, the earlier the retirement age, the earlier the onset of dementia. It isn’t retirement per se that is responsible, but rather the decline in social interactions, cognitive activities, and challenges (problems) that result in dementia.

So if you are retired you need to keep up social interactions and cognitive activity. Use your computer and keep learning new things. Read and take classes. And you don’t want to wait until you retire to start these activities. They should be lifelong activities. Nevertheless, it is never to late to start. Consider the gentleman in the article who did not start exercising until he was 98.

As the title of this blog implies, the healthymemory blog is devoted to healthy memories. It is constantly providing new, worthwhile information for your consideration. The category of transactive memory considers how you can employ others and technology for cognitive growth and health. The mnemonic techniques category includes articles on techniques that not only improve your memory, but also provide valuable cognitive exercise. Articles on mindfulness and meditation can also be found under this category. The Human Memory: Theory and Data includes posts on this very interesting and important topic. This is a good area in which to grow cognitively.

© 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.

Early Testing For Alzheimer’s

March 20, 2013

Alzheimer’s disease often progresses slowly. In the early stages some level of mild cognitive impairment is experienced, but life proceeds as normal. Not everyone who experiences this mild cognitive impairment will progress into Alzheimer’s. They have a twelve percent chance of developing it each year. Some will never develop dementia or will develop it from causes other than Alzheimer’s disease.1

Substantial effort has gone into developing tests to identify those with mild cognitive impairment who will progress into Alzheimer’s. This is difficult as a definite diagnosis awaits finding the amyloid plaques and neurofibril tangles. Positron emission tomography (PET) scans have been done to search for amyloid plaques in the brain that may begin to appear before symptoms manifest themselves. Research has found that healthy people with these plaques in their brains are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s related dementia later in life. However, it should be remembered that although these plaques and tangles might be a necessary condition for Alzheimer’s, they are not a sufficient condition. They have been found in autopsies of people who never exhibited any symptoms. The notion is that they had a cognitive reserve that protected them from this damage.

Tests can employ PET scans and/or Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans along with analyses of brain fluid. I have seen no data regarding the accuracy of these tests with respect to hits (correct diagnosis) versus false alarms (incorrectly diagnosing progression into Alzheimer’s). Moreover, none of the current tests can help determine whether a person with early signs will progress quickly to dementia or continue to live normally for years.2

MRI’s have been successful in treating a condition that is frequently been misdiagnosed as Alzheimer’s (See the healthymemory blog post, “A Treatable Condition Misdiagnosed as Alzheimer’s). The condition is Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus and occurs when the cerebrospinal fluid that surrounds the brain is not re-absorped. It is estimated that 5% of the people diagnosed with dementia have this condition. Unlike Alzheimer’s, this condition can be corrected.

It is somewhat ironic that early testing for Alzheimer’s can be beneficial for the diagnoses of conditions other than Alzheimer’s. Currently Alzheimer’s cannot be cured. Drugs can slow the progression of the disease, but one should consider, is this simply prolonging the agony of the sufferer? When there are opportunities for participating in a test of a new treatment, one can volunteer in the spirit of contributing to science and the development of a possible cure, but realizing that there will likely be adverse events and the likelihood of a personal cure is quite low.

There is some evidence that people can actually reduce their risk of dementia by quitting smoking, living a heart-healthy lifestyle, and treating any diabetes or hypertension that might be present. The healthymemory blog would add being both cognitively and physically active; to continue to grow cognitively, and to build and maintain social relationships. Most healthymemory blog posts address these topics. I would hope that they all make, at least, some small contribution to cognitive growth.

1Wolfe, S.M. (ed) (2013) Early Testing for Alzheimer’s. Public Citizen Health Letter, February, Vol 29, No. 2. 4-5.

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

2Ibid.

The Benefits of Nondrug Therapies

March 13, 2013

This February’s Public Citizen Health Letter summarized an interesting and important study published in the September 2012 American Journal of Psychiatry. Randomized controlled trials (RCTs) are regarded as the gold standard for medical studies. The study was a meta-analysis of RCT testing of nondrug therapies involving family caregivers of patients with dementia. Dementia is caused by progressive deterioration of the brain that results in impaired cognition and memory loss. These patients are unable to perform such daily activities as dressing, washing, cooking, eating, and using the toilet. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia among the elderly and accounts for 60 to 80 percent of all cases. Currently around 4 million people in the US suffer from Alzheimer’s disease. It is estimated that by 2050, 11 million to 16 million Americans will have it.

Some of the problems occurring in advanced cases include screaming, physical aggression, arguments between patients and caregivers, repetitive questioning, wandering, depression, resistance to being helped with daily activities, paranoia, and not sleeping at night. The meta-analysis reviewed RCTs that collectively used 3279 dementia patients and their primary caregivers. The training was provided primarily to caregivers and included printed educational materials, telephone calls, individual sessions in the health care provider/office setting, group session in a classroom setting, and in-home sessions. The interventions included such skills training for caregivers as follows: managing behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia. Communicating better with care recipients. Using role playing videos modeling behavior management strategies, cognitive-behavioral interventions, vignettes, and live interviews They also involved enhancing care recipients quality of life, improving daily activities, increasing pleasant events.

The following education was provided to caregivers: Psychoeducation. Improving home care. Tailored advice and recommendations. Problem solving methods. Improving support networks. Computer-mediated automated interactive voice. Planning emergencies, legal, financial,

The following activity planning and environmental redesign were provided: Planning activities with caregiver and care recipient. Modifying care recipients physical and social environment.

Enhancing the following support caregivers: Social support. Web or telephone support. Strategies on how to access support, Family counseling.

Providing the following self-care techniques for caregivers: Health management. Stress management. Coping with change as a result care giving. Music therapy and counseling.

And the following miscellaneous items: Collaborative care with a health professional or care manager. Exercise for the care recipient.

Not all these delivery methods were used in all the studies reviewed, but many of the studies used a variety of these methods. The interventions in the different studies varied from 6 to 24 months.

For the 17 RCTs that measured outcomes in dementia patients, the analyses of the pooled data showed overall beneficial effects measured by reduction in the troublesome behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia. For the 13 RCTs that measured outcomes in the caregivers, there was a significant overall improvement in measures of stress, anxiety, depression, and quality. This is no small finding for the lot of caregivers is a difficult one and interventions that ease their discomfort are most welcome.

To fully appreciate the significance of this study one must realize that there are currently no effective drug treatments for dementia and Alzheimer’s. Although there are drugs that can slow the progression of the decline, the end remains inevitable. So there is some question as to whether these drugs are truly beneficial or are a means of prolonging the agony of both the sufferer and the caregiver.

This study also adds credence to the position of the renowned Alzheimer’s researcher, Peter J. Whitehous, Ph.D, M.D, who regards a drug cure for Alzheimer’s as being extremely unlikely. He argues for more research into nondrug therapies (See the healthymemory blog post, “The Myth of Alzheimer’s).

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

Cognitive Exercise and Aging

July 15, 2012

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

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

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

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

3Ibid.

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

Passing 66

May 23, 2012

A couple of weeks back I passed my 66th birthday. This occasion caused me to reflect on the retirement advertisements I see on TV. There is one where a couple is flying in a private plane to a lakeside villa as they view whales playing on the water. The underlying theme here is with adequate retirement funds, this is what your retirement will be; with the proper retirement plan, this can be yours.

The problem is that there are two factors critical to retirement planning that are unknown. The first is how long we will live. We might expire later today or we could live to be well into our hundreds given future medical advances. We also don’t know what will happen to our investments. The regulations that were made to our most recent financial catastrophic were fairly modest. There is also the prospect of the financial system collapsing as a result of cyberwarfare. Then there is also the prospect of a Coronal Mass Ejection wiping out all the electronic systems for over a decade. Now there is the idea of a bucket list that includes everything we want to do before expiring. This can work given adequate resources, our living long enough, and the absence of cataclysmic financial events.

My least favorite advertisement is of someone waking up on the first day of retirement joyful that they did not have to get up and that they have nothing to do. I’ll grant that person, one joyful day, perhaps two. But to live life without meaningful challenges is to increase the likelihood of dementia and to put one foot in the grave. There is a Japanese word Ikigai which roughly translated as “the reason for which we wake up in the morning” (see the Healthymemory Blog post “The Importance of Ikigai”. Countries that have lower retirement ages tend also to have lower ages for the onset of dementia. If you retire from work it is important to have activities that keep you both physically and mentally active.

A Healthymemory blog reader emailed me an article “Working 9 to 5 – at 75”1 (thank you Healthymemory Blog reader). There was a story about a 73 year old who was commuting 90 miles each way, and enjoying it. The article states that “…working well into one’s seventh decade is a scenario that has become—seemingly overnight—relatively commonplace.” Although financial pressures seemed to be the major motivating factor, they were enjoying the work they were doing. It was fulfilling. It provided Ikigai. It is also likely extending their lifespans and extending or warding off dementia.

So passing 66 is not particularly significant. I am continuing in my job. The best means of surviving a financial collapse is by having and keeping a job. More importantly, it is keeping me mentally and socially engaged, but I do need to do more physical exercise. Regardless of my employment status, I plan to stay mentally and physically active.

1http://finance.yahoo.com/news/working-9-to-5—-at-75.html

Computer Use and Cognition Across Adulthood

February 19, 2012

The results of the first national population-based investigation of the association between computer activity and cognitive performance across adulthood has been published.1 This study involved a large national sample (N = 2,671) of adults ranging from 32 to 84 years old. Cognition was assessed by telephone with the Brief Test of Adult Cognition.2 Executive function was assessed with the Stop and Go Switch Task.3 Individuals who used the computer frequently scored significantly higher than those who seldom used the computer. The variables of age, sex, education, and health status were statistically controlled so this result maintained across all these variables. Greater computer use was also associated with better executive function on a task-switching test. Again this result held up across the basic cognitive and demographic variables. So computer activity is associated with good cognitive function and executive control across adulthood and into old age. Individuals with low intellectual ability benefited even more from computer use.

Unfortunately, computer usage declines across age. Of course, the personal computer is a relatively new technology, one that was not available earlier in the lifespans of many. It is hoped that this will be less of a problem in the future for those who have had access to computer technology throughout their lives. There are issues with perceptual and motor decline as we age, and computer technology needs to accommodate them. It is not surprising that that people with lower income and less education are less likely to use computers. It would be good to develop programs for these people that provide not only ready access to computers, but also to training in their use.

And if you have a computer, use it, don’t lose cognitive functioning or executive control. The internet provides a good vehicle for cognitive growth. It includes a vast amount of transactive memory. The computer also provides a good means of interacting with your fellow humans, although it should not be the exclusive means of interacting with fellow humans.

1Tun, P.A., & Lachman, M.E. (2010). The Association Between Computer Use and Cognition Across Adulthood: Use It So You Won’t Lose It? Psychology and Aging. 25, 560-568.

2Tun, P.A., & Lachman, M.E. (2006). Telephone Assessment of Cognitive Function in Adulthood: The Brief Test of Adult Cognition by Telephone. Age and Ageing, 35, 629-632.

3Tun, P.A., & Lachman, M.E. (2008). Age Differences in Reaction Time in a National Telephone Sample of Adults: Task Complexity, Education, and Sex Matter. Developmental Psychology, 44, 1421-1429. doi:10.1037/a00128456

© 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.

Disabusing the Myth that Older People Do Not Have New Ideas

January 3, 2012

A valuable article1 by Vivek Wadhwa in the Washington Post argued against the common misconception that the best entrepreneurs are young. The article began with a quote from the venture capitalist Vinod Khosla who said, “People under 35 are the people who make change happen. People over 45 basically die in terms of new ideas.” This is a common misconception.

Wadhwa counters this misconception with research of his own. He and his research team explored the backgrounds of 652 chief executives and heads of product development in 502 successful engineering and technology companies established from 1995 to 2005. The median age of successful founders was 39. Twice as many founder were older than 50 as were younger than 25, and there were twice as many over 60 as under 20. Another researcher, Dane Stangler, analyzing Kaufman Firm Survey Data and the Kaufman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity found that the average age of U.S. Entrepreneurs is rising, and that the highest rate of entprepreneurial activity shifted to the 55 to 64 age group.

Wadhwa provided further evidence that people do not stop being creative when they reach middle age. Benjamin Franklin invented the lightning rod when he was 44, discovered, electricity at 46, helped draft the Declaration of Independence at 70, and invented bifocals after that. Henry Ford introduced the Model T when he was 45. Sam Walton built Wal-Mart in his mid-40s. Ray Kroc built McDonald’s in his early 50s. Ray Kurzweil published “The Singularity is Near” in his 50’s. Alfred Hitchcock directed “Vertigo” at 59. The architectural masterpiece, Fallingwater, was built by Frank Lloyd Wright when he was 68. Wadwha goes on to note that the most significant innovations of the highly celebrated Steve Jobs, the iMac, iTunes, iPod, iPhone, and iPad, came after he was 45.

Reader’s of the Healthymemory Blog should be aware that these examples of successful aging are due to their continuing to engage their attentional and System Two processes (See the Healthymemory Blog Posts “Review of the Washington Post’s The Aging Brain, More on Attention and Cognitive Control,”, “Passing 65,” “Memory and Aging,” and The Two System View of Cognition.” ) (Note that clicking on the hyperlinks will take you to other articles and not the Healthymemory Blog Posts.  To read the posts, enter the title in the blogs Search Box.)

1Wahwha, V. (2011). Who says the best entrepreneurs are young? Not the numbers. Washington Post, 11 December, G4.

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

The Importance of Ikigai

November 2, 2011

Ikigai is a Japanese word roughly translated as “the reason for which we wake up in the morning.” In other words, having a purpose in life. Knowing your purpose in life is important to your well being.1 Many studies have purported to show a link between some aspect of religion and better health. For example, religion has been associated with lower rates of cardiovascular disease, stroke, blood pressure, metabolic disorders, better immune functioning, improved outcomes for infections such as HIV and meningitis, and lower risk of developing cancer. Of course, it was not possible for any of these studies to be Random Controlled Trials (RCTs), where participants were randomly assigned to religious and non-religious groups. So it is possible that there is a strong element of self-selection here.

However, there are other possible reasons for these results. Religious people tend to pursue lower risk lifestyles. Churchgoers typically enjoy strong social support. And, of course, seriously ill people are less likely to attend church. However, there was recent study that tried to statistically control for these factors and concluded that “religiosity/spirituality” does have a protective effect, but only for healthy people.2 Some researchers attribute this to the placebo effect (See the Healthymemory Blog Post, “”Placebo and Nocebo Effects”). Others believe that positive emotions (See the Healthymemory Blog Post, “Optimism”) associated with “spirituality” promote beneficial physiological responses.

Still others think that what really matters is having a sense of purpose in life, whatever it might be. Presumably knowing why we are here and what is important increases our sense of control over events making them less stressful. Remember the study by Saron that was reported in the Healthymemory Blog Post, “The Benefits of Meditation.” The increase in the levels of the enzyme that repairs teleomeres correlated with an increased sense of control and an increased sense of purpose in life. The meditators were doing something they loved and provided a purpose in life.

So, it is important to have a purpose in life when you awaken in the morning. This is important throughout one’s life and is something that needs to be considered before retiring (See the Healthymemory Blog Posts, “The Second Half of Life,” and “Could the AARP Be Telling Us Not to Retire?”).

1Much of this post is based on an article, Know your purpose, by Jo Marchant in the New Scientist, 27 August 2011, p. 35.

2Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, 78, p.81.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Alzheimer’s and Transactive Memory

September 7, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

http://clinicaltrials.gov

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

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

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

What Can an Individual Do About Alzheimer’s?

September 4, 2011

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

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

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

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

“Building a higher synaptic volume of connections between neurons

Increasing cerebral blood flow

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

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

Recruiting other brain regions to perform tasks

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

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

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

“Availability of emotional support

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

Self-esteem

A sense of coherence, purpose, usefulness, and meaning

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

A sense of intimacy and belonging

A belief in something beyond oneself”3

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

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

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

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

2Pages 244-245.

3Pages 252-253.

Sigmund Freud and Alzheimer’s Disease

August 31, 2011

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

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

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

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

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.

Gone to the Annual Meeting of the APA

August 3, 2011

APA stands for the American Psychological Association. I’ll be meeting friends and colleagues and attending presentations and symposia. I hope to bring back some interesting content for the Healthymemory Blog. There will be a brief hiatus in blog postings while I attend the meeting, assimilate the material, and decompress. Then, too, I need to produce the posts.

In my absence I would remind you that there is plenty of material already on the Healthymemory Blog for your perusal. There are more than 200 posts that provide information on human memory, mnemonic techniques, and transactive memory, which includes the memories of fellow humans and the wealth of information available via technology.

The objective of this blog is to promote brain and memory health, and to maintain and grow effective cognitive functioning. The primary audience for this blog are the baby boomers. I am at the leading edge of the baby boomers, so I have a great deal of personal interest in this topic. I hope, however, that the Healthymemory Blog has general interest. I find these topics fascinating and want to share them with others of all ages. Besides, we all need to be concerned about effective memories throughout our lives, not just when we are studying in school, or later in life when we are concerned about warding off dementia. Our memories define who we are, and they are key to both a successful and a fulfilling and enjoyable life.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Second Half of Life

July 17, 2011

Gene Cohen has two medical specialties, psychiatry and gerontology. He has formulated his own depiction of the second half of life. This blog post provides a brief overview of Cohen’s depiction. It is taken from his book, The Mature Mind: The Positive Power of the Aging Brain, which I highly recommend.

According to Cohen the second half of life consists of the following four phases: Phase I is reevaluation that occurs between the mid-thirties to the mid sixties, but most frequently between the early forties to late fifties. Phase II is liberation that occurs from the mid fifties to mid seventies, but most frequently during ones late fifties to early seventies. Phase III is recapitulation that occurs from the late sixties to the nineties, but most frequently during the late sixties through the eighties. Phase IV is continuation(encore) that runs from the late seventies to the end of life. Note that these phases are overlapping and that one does not go to sleep in one phase and then wake up in the next.

It is during Phase I, reevaluation, when we confront our own mortality. Plans and actions are shaped by a quest or crisis. Fortunately there are brain changes during this phase that spur developmental intelligence, which provides the basis for wisdom.

During Phase II, liberation, the question, “If not now, when?” is frequently asked. Plans and actions are shaped by a new sense of personal freedom to say what we want and to act upon our personal needs. This is supported by new neuron formation in the information processing part of the brain that is associated with a desire for novelty. Retirement of partial retirement provides the time for us to experiment with new experiences.

During Phase III, recapitulation, we are motivated to share our wisdom. Our plans and actions are shaped by the desire to find meaning in life as we look back, reexamine and sum up. We often feel compelled to attend to unfinished business and unresolved conflicts. Phase III is supported by the bilateral involvement of our hippocampi to the recall of our personal memories.

During Phase IV, continuation (encore), plans and actions are shaped by the desire to restate and reaffirm major themes in our lives and also to explore novel variations on those themes. Our desire to live well to the very end has a positive impact on our families and communities. Changes in our amygdalae promote positive emotions and morale.

There is a Japanese word, ikigai,which means the reason we wake up in the morning. It is important that we have ikigai throughout our entire lives, right to the very end.

Cohen relates a wealth of research and personal stories that fill out his four phases of the last half of life in The Mature Mind: The Positive Power of the Aging Brain.

The PFC: Vulnerable for Both Young and Old

July 13, 2011

The Prefrontal Cortex (PFC) is an executive center housing pathways for the selection of information and higher order thinking. The PFC remains vulnerable throughout life, but particularly during the critical early life development window, the PFC does not mature until the early 20’s, and then starts to decline in old age. The Experience Corps1 provides a paradigm for addressing both these groups. At all ages, PFC-navigated social connections along with physical activity are essential components to maintaining brain health. The Experience Corps2 is a community based social engagement program. It partners seniors with local schools to promote purpose-drive involvement. Both the young, who benefit from the experience of the participating seniors, and the participating seniors benefit. Participating seniors have shown immediate short term gains in brain regions vulnerable to aging such as the PFC. Consequently, the people with the most to lose also have the most to gain from environmental enrichment.

The PFC is the newest and the largest region of the brain to evolve. The increasing importance of social behavior to human survival has been manifested in the continued growth of the PFC over the millenia. The PFC takes so long to develop because the ability to integrate multiple streams of information requires the maturation of physical, linguistic, and emotional sensory networks. Its extended development window involves maturation of networks that control attention steadily from childhood to adulthood allowing the efficient filtering of multiple streams of information.

As we age, difficulties in executive control become increasingly common. Longitudinal research has found that components of executive function decline earlier than memory in older community dwelling adults and that interventions targeting these components may delay and mitigate memory decline that leads to dementia. Studies of the aging human brain show that loss of brain volume is greater in the PFC than in the posterior areas of the cortex.

Healthy aging involves healthy behaviors that include physical activity, social supports and engagement, and cognitive activity. These activities remain important to both overall health and the prevention of cognitive decline and disability well into old age. Moreover, the effects of cumulative environmental risks can be reversed in later life (see the Healthymemory Blog Post “To Improve Your Memory, Build Your Hippocampus”).

The developmental psychologist Erik Erikson says that the third act of life represents an opportunity to use a lifetime of accumulated knowledge, the kind of knowledge that is not necessarily memorized from books, classroom lectures, or online searches, to find purpose. The Experience Corps find this purpose by working with young school children. Volunteers engage in mentoring activities including supporting children’s literacy and math skill development, assisting in school libraries and promoting positive conflict resolution. Volunteers exercise functions via collective problem solving with team members and teachers.

This research is still in progress. But the results already indicate gains for both the old and the young.

1Carlson, M.C. (2011). Promoting Healthy Meaningful Aging Through Social Involvement. Cerebrum, June. Available online at http://dana.org/news/cerebrum/detail.aspx?id=33556

2http://www.experiencecorps.org/index.cfm

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Alzheimer’s and Amyloid Plaques

July 6, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Could the AARP Be Telling Us Not to Retire?

July 3, 2011

One might think so from the title of an article in AARP The Magazine, Why Work is Good for Brain Health.1 The article reports the results of a study from the RAND Center for the Study of Aging and the University of Michigan. This study showed that cognitive performance levels drop earlier in countries that have younger retirement ages.

So what is going on here? Is the American Association for Retired People (AARP) discouraging people from retiring? First of all, it should be realized that not all of the members of the AARP are retired. Secondly, the article goes on to explain the reasons the cited research offered for the harmful effects of early retirement. One reason was that the social interactions that occur in most work places decline when someone retires. Social interaction is believed to be one of the activities that establish a “cognitive reserve.” This cognitive reserve provides a brain-backup system that allows you to function normally even when there is age-related brain damage. A decrease in mentally stimulating activities can also occur when someone retires, Mentally stimulating activities also play an important role in establishing a cognitive reserve.

So retirement should not be harmful if it is an active retirement with social engagements and mentally stimulating activities. The article cites a Japanese word, ikigai. It means “the reason for which we wake up in the morning.” In other words it is our reason for living. If our reason for living has been our career, then we need to establish a new reason for living when we retire, And this reason for living should include social engagements and mentally stimulating activities. Physical activity is also important.

With respect to mentally stimulating activities and social engagement, the Healthymemory Blog has something to offer. It is hoped that the posts themselves provide mental stimulation. Mnemonic techniques provide an activity that not only boosts memory performance, but also provide mental exercise. Transactive memory refers to memories held in the minds of our fellow humans and in technology. So social engagements that engage the memories of others is highly recommended. Technology ranges from the printed word in books or magazines to the enormous wealth of information in cyberspace. Potential transactive memory refers to all the information available in fellow humans and technology. It is overwhelming, but provides a source for cognitive growth. Available transactive memory refers to information that you know exists, but you don’t know who knows or where that information is. Accessible transactive memory refers to information that you know where to find or whom to ask. And the most important and personal information resides in your own biological memory.

1http://www.aarp.org/health/brain/info-03-2011/keeping-your-brain-plugged-in.print…. 6/19/2011.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Passing 65

May 15, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

To Improve Your Memory, Build Your Hippocampus

April 24, 2011

A previous post, “If You Do Not Like Mnemonic Techniques, Try Walking”, was a little thin given the importance of the topic. So I’ve gone to the original article1. The hippocampus is a component of the brain that is critical to memory function. Unfortunately, the hippocampus shrinks 1-2% annually in older adults without dementia, and this loss of volume increases the risk of developing cognitive impairment. This experiment was undertaken to assess whether exercise and what kind of exercise might mitigate this decline.

Participants between the ages of 55 and 80 years old were recruited, who did not have any pertinent diseases or disabilities. 120 participants were randomly assigned: half to a stretching and resistance training control group, and half to an aerobic walking group. Sessions for each group were held three times a week and lasted roughly one hour. Participants in the aerobic group started walking for ten minutes the first week and increased walking durations by five minute increments until a duration of 40 minutes was reached by week seven. Each session began and ended with approximately 5 minutes of stretching. The control group engaged in four muscle-toning exercises using dumbbells or resistance bands, two exercises designed to improve balance, one yoga sequence and one exercise of their choice. The program lasted for one year. MRIs, fitness, and short term memory were assessed before the program began, 6 months into the program, and at the end of the one-year program. Blood samples were taken at the beginning and end of the program.

Aerobic exercise (walking) increased hippocampal volume by 2%. This increase effectively reverses the expected age-related loss by 1 to 2 years. Moreover, increased hippocampal volume was positively correlated with improvements in short term memory performance. Increased hippocampal volume was also associated with greater levels of serum Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which helps support the survival of existing neurons and encourages the growth and differentiation of new neurons and synapses.

Hippocampal volume did decrease in the control group, but higher preintervention fitness partially attenuated the decline. The control group also exhibited improvement in short term memory performance.

Changes in fitness are associated with increased hippocampal volume. The aerobic exercise group showed a 7.78% improvement in maximal oxygen consumption (VO2) after intervention, whereas the stretching control group showed a 1/11% in VO2 max.

So although both exercise regimes were beneficial, the aerobic regime appeared to be more beneficial, especially with respect to its beneficial effects on hippocampal volume. Given the importance of the hippocampus to brain and memory, this finding is extremely important. Moreover, this aerobic exercise regimen was fairly mild and undemanding.

1Erickson, K.I., Voss, M.W., Prakash, R.S., Basak, C., Szabo, A., Chaddock, L., Kim, J.S., Heo, S., White, S.M., Wojcicki, T.R., Malley, E., Viera, V.J., Martin, S.A., Pence, B.D., Woods, J.A., McAuley, E., & Kramer, A.F. (2011). Exercise Training Increases Size of Hippocampus and Improves Memory. PNAS Early Edition, www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.10159550108.

A Day in the Life of Mr. and Mrs. Healthymemory

February 6, 2011

Mr. and Mrs. Healthymemory are a retired couple who are interested in memory health and stay mentally active. The following is a summary of a typical day in their lives.

They sleep in as they are careful to be sure that they get enough sleep. During breakfast the share the morning paper and discuss topics of mutual interest. They include flavonoids in their breakfast as they do with all their meals (See the Healthymemory Blog Post “Flavonoids for a Healthy Memory”). They discuss their plans for the day both to assure that they are efficient (they are not making unnecessary trips or taking routes that are time consuming) and mutually supportive (their plans fit well together). They commit both their plans to prospective memory so that each know where the other will be at what times. They use mnemonic techniques to commit their plans for the day to memory. They don’t feel a need to use technical transactive memory (to write the plans down or enter them into a Personal Digital Assistant) because they are confident that they will remember and that nothing catastrophic will result in the event that either forgets something.

Mrs. Healthymemory prepares to leave to go to the supermarket. Again she chooses not to write down a shopping list, but rather uses a mnemonic technique to commit the list to memory. Mr. Healthymemory goes to the computer to work on a history of their families. Currently, he is using geneological websites to see how far back he can trace their family histories.

Later in the morning, they take a walk before lunch, recognizing that physical health is important to a healthy memory. During lunch they converse about topics of mutual interest.

In the afternoon they meet with their separate friends. Mrs. Healthymemory meets with her book discussion group. Her group not only discusses the book, but also does research online regarding the author, critiques of the book, and about the context in which the book takes place. So in addition to reading the book, each member spends time doing research online and preparing presentations to the group.

Mr. Healthymemory is in a sports trivia group. Currently they are researching the history of baseball. Most of this research is done online. This research involves numbers in addition to names. They are especially interested in how such statistics as batting averages, home runs, complete games pitched and earned run average have changed over time and have animated discussions regarding possible reasons for these changes.

During dinner they discuss their respective days. Each makes an effort to understand some of the interests of the other in the interests of fostering mutual transactive memories. This is beneficial both to their respective memories and their relationship. They also discuss strategy for the bridge games they have planned with another couple for the evening. They have developed a fairly sophisticated bidding strategy using mnemonic techniques. Later that evening, they find that they are tired and ready for a good night’s sleep. 

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Can Early Retirement Lead to Memory Decline?

January 30, 2011

An article in the SharpBrains Blog1 noted that an article in the Journal of Economic Perspectives titled “Mental Retirement” stated that data from the United States, England and 11 other European countries suggested that the earlier people retire, the more quickly their memories decline.

Of course, the question to be asked here is “why?” A variety of possible causes come to mind. There is the social engagement and interaction that is found on most jobs. Or it could be the cognitive component of work. Or perhaps even the aerobic component of work. Or it could be the TV watching that increased subsequent to retirement.

None of these possibilities are mutually exclusive. They could all be working to different degrees depending on the job and the individual. The critical question is which of these activities have declined since retirement. So retirement per se is not the culprit, but certain changes that have resulted from the retirement.
Some people retire to second careers so that the nature and mix of the activities do not change significantly. Others become preoccupied with their hobbies and activities for which there was insufficient time to pursue when they were working. Unfortunately, others watch television and become couch potatoes and engage in minimal social activity.

The answer to the question posed in the title can be found in the title of the SharpBrains Blog Post “When Early Retirement Equals Mental Retirement and Memory Decline.” That is, if there is no mental retirement, then memory decline will be unlikely.

The Healthymemory Blog provides a means of preventing mental retirement through cognitive and social activity. Reading its blog postings provide information and data regarding human memory to include the effects of aging and the mitigation of these effects. It also provides information on mnemonic techniques, techniques specifically designed for improving memory. In addition to improving memory, these techniques provide mental exercise for both hemispheres of the brain. They also exercise creativity and recoding. Articles in the transactive memory category provide suggestions regarding how to use the internet not only to provide for mental activity, but also to achieve cognitive growth. An important component of transactive memory is social interaction. Although the Healthymemory Blog should be of special interest to baby boomers, it should have interest and value for all visitors.

1Http://www.sharpbrains.com/blog/2010/10/14/work-helps-maintain-the-brain/ When Early Retirement Equals Mental Retirement and Memory Decline by Dr. Pascale Michelon 

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

A Review of Brain Exercises and Training Induced Learning

December 1, 2010

This post in based on a review article in Psychology and Aging.1 This article notes that there are volumes of evidence that even as we age, training in specific tasks generally results in improved performance on those tasks. The problem is that most of this research indicates that improvements are specific to the task and do not generalize to measurable benefits in daily life. This does not mean that this training is worthless. It can still provide beneficial exercise to the brain. Consider doing push-ups for physical exercise. Undoubtedly, doing push ups regularly is beneficial to your health. Nevertheless, it would be difficult to find that doing them provided measurable benefits in daily life outside your exercise regime.

So providing measurable benefits in daily life, say an overall increase in the rate of learning, is a difficult goal to achieve. Yet certain programs have provided evidence to this effect, and the authors of this article sought to capture the features of these programs that lead to generalizable results. They identified the following characteristics: Task difficulty, motivation and arousal, feedback, and variability.

With respect to the characteristic of task difficulty it is important to begin with an easy level of difficulty and then gradually advance through levels of increasing task difficulty. Obviously, if the task is too difficult to begin with, people become discouraged and learning suffers. However, if people are able to accomplish the task fairly easily, then can gradually increase their skill while advancing to increasing levels of difficulty.

Perhaps it is obvious, but if people are motivated to learn, they are more likely to succeed. Arousal goes hand in hand with motivation. Aroused learners, within limits, learn faster. So tasks that are enjoyable and rewarding increase arousal levels, and so forth, and so forth.

Feedback is important so that people know that they are performing the task correctly. This also relates back to motivation, arousal, and task difficulty. When task difficulty can be accommodated, the feedback is positive, which is arousing and increases motivation. Now task difficulty can be too easy, in which case the feedback is trivial, not rewarding and does not lead to arousal and increased motivation. So task difficulty is what is termed a “Goldilocks” characteristic—not too easy and not too difficult, but just right.

Variability is the final key characteristic. The training program should exercise a wide variety of skills. It is this variability that increases the likelihood that the benefits will transfer to everyday life and learning.

Unfortunately, too many Baby Boomers and looking for the magic exercise, the magic program, or the magic vitamin or dietary supplementary to ward off the effects of aging. There is no magic exercise or pill. What is required is a range of activities and exercises to ward off the effects of aging. The Healthymemory Blog recommends such activities. Its blog posts provide a variety of mnemonic techniques (click on the category mnemonic techniques) that increase the efficiency of memory and provide mental exercises that make requirements on creativity, recoding, and both hemispheres of the brain. The Healthymemory Blog provides information on human cognition, that provide both exercise and insight into cognitive processes. Transactive memory provides for cognitive growth via the technology, the internet, books, as well as for interactions with your fellow human beings.

1Green, C.S., & Bavilier, D. (2010). Exercising Your Brain: A Review of Human Brain Plasticity and Training-Induced Learning. Psychology and Aging, 23, 692-701. 

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Efficacy of Group Memory Training for Older Adults

November 4, 2010

Given the importance of memory for successful aging, programs for improving memory that work for older adults are especially important. A recent article1 provides evidence for just such a program. The program involved the training of groups of 15 people with an average age of 67.8. The training involved the types of techniques discussed under the Mnemonic Techniques category in the Healthymemory Blog. The training consisted of ten sessions lasting 90 minutes each. Two sessions were conducted each week. Here is a synopsis of what was covered in each session.

Session 1 – Introduction to the course and instructor. Discussion of stereotypes and beliefs about memory. Attention exercises and homework assignment.

Session 2 – Explanation and exercises on the visualization technique. Application of the technique to daily life. Attention exercises and a homework assignment.

Session 3 – Visualization exercises. Explanation of the different tion of the types of memory and states. Attention exercises. Homework assignment.

Session 4 – Group comments on the application of the visualization technique in their daily lives. Visualization of text and visualization of things they were going to do (prospective memory). Homework assignment.

Session 5 – Explanation of the cognitive simulation concept. Perception, language and attention exercises. Homework assignment.

Session 6 – Cognitive simulation exercises. Homework assignments.

Session 7 – Explanation of the association exercises. Group discussion on the use and application of the technique. Homework assignment.

Session 8 – Association as a technique to remember names. Name recall exercises. Homework assignment.

Session 9 – Strategies to overcome everyday forgetfulness. Practical exercises for everyday forgetfulness. External cues. Homework assignments.

Session 10 – Review of memory types and stages. Review of true and false beliefs about memory. Participants’ comments on what they learned in the workshops.

Memory was assessed by both objective and subjective assessments. The objective memory test was the Rivermead Behavioural Memory Test (RBMT)2. This test evaluates associative memory (remembering first names, surnames, and faces), prospective memory (tasks to be performed)memory with both visual and verbal material, and topographical memory (getting around a room). The subjective memory test was the Memory Failures in Everyday Life (MFE) questionnaire.3 This was a subjective report by each individual with respect to the frequency of common memory errors.

These tests were administered three times: before the training course, just after the training course, and 6 months after that. For comparison purposes there were two control groups. A Placebo Group attended the same number of sessions, except that they were on health and did not involve memory training. A second control group simply took the two tests at the three different testing intervals.

On the RBMT scores between 0 and 3 indicate severe memory impairment, between 4 and 6 moderate memory impairment, 7 and 9 weak memory impairment, and between 10 and 12 normal memory. For the memory training group the average scores were 7.66, 9.93, and 10.84, for the Pre, Post, and 6 month tests, respectively. This improvement is impressive and continued to increase 6 months after completion of the course. The comparable scores were 7.40, 7.66, 8.78 for the Placebo Group, and 8.06, 7.60, and 7.30 for the Control Group.

For the MFE higher scores indicate more forgetting and lower scores less forgetting. The Pre, Post, and 6 month scores for the training group were 74.80, 56.26, and 50.75, respectively. These decreases in incidents of forgetfulness are impressive. The comparable scores were 67.46, 66.66, and 56.92 for the Placebo Group, and 61.33, 57.33, and 62.46 for the Control Group.

This is impressive evidence for the effectiveness of this group memory training. Benefits lasted and grew well after the end of the formal training.

1Postigo, J.M.L., Viadel, J.V.H., &b Trives, J.J.R. (2010) Efficacy of Group memory Training Method for Older Adults Based on Visualization Techniques: A Randomized, Controlled Trial with a Control Group. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 24, 956-968.

2Wilson, B.A., Cockburn, J., & Baddeley, A. (1985).The Rivermead Behavioral Memory Test. Titchfield: Thames Valley Test Company.

3Sunderlan, A., Harris, J., & Gleave, J. (1984). Memory Failures in Everyday Life Following Sever Head Injury. Journal of Clinical Neurology, 6, 127-142.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Aging and Productivity

November 1, 2010

A recent article1 on aging and scientific productivity motivated this blog post. This article should have relevance beyond academia and science. It should be relevant to all knowledge workers. And as a healthy memory is a key component of productivity, it is thought to be relevant to the Healthymemory Blog.

It was long thought that scientific productivity followed an inverted U-shaped curve. That it took time for young researchers to acquire sufficient experience and knowledge for their productivity to to reach its peak, followed by a decline as the researcher aged. Many assumed that it was aging that contributed to the decline that was mostly cognitive. However the Age Discrimination and Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), which was passed in 1986 and applied to colleges and universities in 1994 outlawed mandatory retirement. Consequently, academics could work as long as they wished. After the policy of mandatory retirement was removed 24% of faculty aged 70, 19% of faculty age 71, and 17% of faculty aged 72 retired. So many faculty opted not to retire.

It is interesting to consider why there was a mandatory retirement age in the first place. Underlying the notion of mandatory retirement was the assumption that older people were less productive and that they needed to exit from the workforce to make room for more productive younger people. Of course, if older people were indeed not less productivity, then this assumption was invalid.

To jump to the conclusion of the research article, it turns out that scientific researchers can be productive well beyond the mandatory retirement age and that the assumption was indeed invalid for academics. I would contend that it is not much of a leap to extend this conclusion to all knowledge. Indeed, it would appear to apply to all knowledgeworkers, except, perhaps, for those whose jobs have a significant physical component.

This post is not arguing against retirement. Indeed after many years of work, people have earned the right to retire. Two questions should be asked. Does the person want to retire? If the answer is “no”, and the individual is still productive, then that person should definitely not retire. If the answer is “yes”, the second question is what are you going to do in retirement. There are anecdotes of people dying shortly after they retire, or of their becoming nuisances to their spouses because they have nothing to do. Unless you have have some activity that keeps you engaged and mentally active you risk increasing the probability of cognitive decline.

1Stroebe, W. (2010). The Graying of Academia: Will It Reduce Productivity. American Psychologist, 65, 660-673.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Dementia and Mental Stimulation

September 8, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Is Dementia an Inevitable Part of Aging?

August 22, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Neuroplasticity

August 1, 2010

This blog post was inspired by the book, The Scientific American Brave New Brain.1 When I was a graduate student I learned that the brain was hardwired like a machine or a computer (which were much less common in those days). This was dogma that was not challenged. It was widely accepted and affected the way that people who suffered strokes or other brain traumas were treated. The belief was that once the damage was done, little more could be done than to teach the victim how to deal with the remaining functionality that was left. Recent research has refuted this dogma and the term neuroplasticity has become the norm. The brain is remarkably plastic or flexible. And if one part of the brain is damaged, another part of the brain can frequently take over that function. An earlier Healthymemory blog post, “Transactive Memory: An Aid to Short and Long Term Memory and to Stroke Recovery” addressed some issues regarding stroke, and subsequent posts will address it further.

Brave New Brain states that the current consensus is that “your brain is changing every second in response to the environment and mind.” The Healthymemory Blog strongly concurs. Brave New Brain also states that tomorrow you change and mold your brain as you want and need. Now here the Healthymemory Blog would argue that already today you can change and mold your brain as you want and need. Indeed, if the brain is changing every second in response to the environment and your mind, you can change and mold your brain by selecting the environment in which it operates and the manner in which your mind wakes. Presumably Brave New Brain is implying that the future will bring technology, for example chemicals or electronic means of stimulating the brain, that will facilitate your changing and molding your brain as you want and need. The prospects of this happening will be discussed in future posts, but you need to realize that today you can change and mold your brain as you want and need. True there are limitations. You might want to change your brain so that you can invent means of travel that exceed the speed of light. Nevertheless, your brain holds enormous potential that you should not overlook.

This admonition certainly applies to young people. However, it also applies to older people, including we Baby Boomers. We are not done learning. Our goal should be not only to ward off cognitive decline and dementia, but to continue to learn, create, and grow cognitively. We can change and mold our brains by choosing how we apply them. There are vast resources available in what the Healthymemory Blog terms transactive memory. Transactive memory refers to all the information that is external to your own biological brain. Included here is the information stored in the biological brains of other humans, and all the information stored in the libraries of the world, and, of course, the internet. There are three types of transactive memory. Accessible transactive memory is information that you know exists and can readily access. Available transactive memory is information that you know exists but that you cannot readily access. This is information that needs to be searched for and sought. Then there is potential transactive memory, which is all the information you have not yet discovered. You should note that the Healthymemory has a whole category of posts on transactive memory.

You should also note that there is another category of Healthymemory Blog posts on Mnemonic Techniques. Mnemonic techniques are specific strategies for learning difficult material, especially information that lacks or is deficient in inherent meaning. It is also believe that these techniques can serve as healthy mental exercises. The “Human Memory: Theory and Data” category includes posts such as this current one. As the title suggests it addresses human memory and also includes posts on common cognitive errors and how they can be avoided.

1Horstman, J. (2010). San Francisco” Jossey-Bass. 

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Brain: Past, Present, Future

July 23, 2010

There is a recently published book that I would recommend to anyone interested in the brain, cognition, neuroscience, or in how to keep their memory healthy. In other words this is a book that should interest anyone who reads the Healthymemory Blog. This is a publication from Scientific American, more specifically Scientific American Mind, titled, Brave New Brain,by Judith Horstman. The following is taken from the cover, “How Neuroscience, Brain-Machine Interfaces, Neuroimaging, Psychopharmacology, The Internet, and our Own Minds are Stimulating and Enhancing the Future of Mental Power.” This book consists of 176 pages and is an easy read.

For anyone who wants to learn where the study of the brain was, where it is now, and where it might takes us in the future, this is definitely the book. The book contains color plates of pictures of the brain, showing where the important parts are and how they look. There are also pictorial representation of neuronal and epigenetic activity. Two pages contain a chart titled “The Way We Were” contain eleven ideas ranging from stroke to consciousness with brief synopses of what was once thought, what is now thought, and what tomorrow might bring. In just these two pages one can become informed and enlightened.

This book is more than informative; it is fun, particularly the conjectures about what the future might bring. However, I would encourage readers to bring a good deal of skepticism to their consideration. I am at the leading edge (born in 1946) of the baby boomers. I have distinct memories of what we were told our future lives would be like. For example, there would be no energy problem. We would be using nuclear energy and the pesky problem of what to do with nuclear waste would have been solved. We would be flying helicopters as personal vehicles. The work week would be much shorter, and we would have many more hours of leisure and free time. I find this last prediction particularly ironic. At that time, working mothers were the exception and not the norm. Now both partners typically work and usually full time. What happened to all those leisure hours that were predicted?

Now there was one item that permeates our lives that was not predicted. That one is personal computers. If there is anything I envy most about the younger generations is their access to personal computers. I wish that my formal education had included them.

Subsequent Healthmemory Blog postings will delve somewhat deeper into the research and ideas presented in Brave New Brain. There is much there worthy of future consideration

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Dangers of Multi-Tasking

July 5, 2010

 A recent article in the AARP Magazine (“May I Have Your Attention Please,” July/August 2010, pp 28-31) stressed the dangers of multitasking. You might be surprised that such an article would appear in the AARP Magazine as multi-tasking presents dangers to all humans. The reason is that information overload is even more serious for those over 50. Katy Read, the author of the article, begins by recounting a day in which she had 49 browser tabs open on her computer. Now admittedly this is a tad extreme, but it does illustrate how bad things can get.

The article states that the average American hears, sees, or reads 34 gigabytes of information a day from the internet, radio, newspapers, and other sources. This number strikes me as being rather high. Moreover, it states that this is about 100,000 words. Now the complete works of Shakespeare total about five megabytes, which is but a small fraction of a gigabyte. Moreover, a two-hour film, when compressed, is about one to two gigabytes (See the Healthymemory Blog Post, “Cyberspace: How Much Data is Out There”, to get a feel for the quantity of data that is available). So, I find the 100,000 words estimate more plausible. The article also states that this figure has grown more than 5 percent annually since 1980, a figure I can well believe.

Our attention is limited, and we should use it wisely. Here are some tips offered in the article.

Study you habits –Ask yourself every day whether you are focusing on the right things.

Limit Your Inputs – Stick to favorite websites and TV programs and resist aimless Web and Channel surfing. Although I would agree that in general this is a good goal, it is still a good idea to give a certain amount of time and attention to new things.

Exercise Your Concentration Muscles – Focused activities such as reading an absorbing book or meditating will sharpen attention and relieve stress. (See the Healthymemory Blog Post, “The Relaxation Response” to learn more about meditating.)

Leave a Trail – When you are engaged in an activity and think of something to do or something to read that is not directly relevant to your current task, make a note to return to it later. Then continue with your task.

Get Some Air – When you take a break, unplug completely. Take a walk, meet a friend, or play with your dog. This will refresh your attention and provide better focus.

Regarding this final point, there seem to be special benefits in going to nature to restore your attentional resources (See the Healthymemory Blog Posts, “More on Restoring Attentional Resources”, and “Restoring Attentional Resources.”)

A Life that Leads to a Healthy Memory

June 7, 2010

Examples are most helpful in achieving goals. So I like to provide examples of people who lead lives that promote healthy memories. In previous blogs I’ve written about a remarkable senior citizen in his nineties, Fletcher Platt, Sr. I’ve provided his website, fletchplatt.com, not only as a valuable source of information, but also as an example of an activity that maintains and builds a healthy memory.

In the same vein I would like to introduce you to a friend of mine who is a fellow baby boomer.

We were both born in 1946 and are at the leading edge of the baby boom. When he married in 1968 he started keeping a log of the family’s activities. When children arrived he moved up to a monthly journal. Remember that this was in the time before personal computers. So this involved manual writing or using a manual typewriter. When the personal computer era arrived he transferred all this information to his PC. He also built this material by adding old photos. He found that this activity stimulated other memories. Sometime he used the internet to check the correctness of these memories to assure he was placing them in the right time period.

A few years ago he started to make a story beginning with his childhood and covering the years up till his marriage. He now has at least one page for every years since 1950. This makes sense, since he turned four in 1950 and our memories prior to age four are extremely sketchy, at best. He uses the internet to check on the things that happened during those years and this stimulates his memory further. It also increases the accuracy of his memory. He is able to check when Howdy Doody with Buffalo Bob aired, when Johnny Tremain appeared on Disneyland, etc.

So why does he do this? The simple answer is that it is enjoyable. And it is always good to capitalize on things that we enjoy that are good for us. This activity provides exercise for the brain. Memory searches trace circuits that have not been activated for a long time. These memory searches further consolidate memories. It also increases the accuracy of his memory. Not only are memories lost, our become more difficult to retrieve, over time, but they tend to drift and fill in the blanks with inaccuracies. So memories become more memorable, if you will, and in the process of consolidating these memories, the brain becomes healthier and less vulnerable to potentially damaging aging processes.

He is also transferring these internal memories to transactive memory. Transactive memory refers to the external storage of memories. This record is of interest to his family and friends. His grandchildren and his descendant of future generations will find this record interesting and worthwhile. Perhaps many centuries into the future, scholars will find this a valuable source in trying to understand how we lived and how we thought.

Baby Boomers and Healthy Memory

December 8, 2009

I was born in 1946. Hence I am at the lead of the baby boomers. I, like many others at the lead of the baby boom, are concerned about aging. For those at the tale end of the baby boomers, this concern might come later, but it will come. These concerns center around health, particular cognitive health. By cognitive health I mean the ability to think and remember clearly and to be able to learn new things. Aging can take these abilities away from us. So, to the extent possible, we need to be proactive in engaging in activities that will preserve and enhance these abilities.

That is the principle objective of this blog. To achieve this objective, this blog pursues three themes. One is to achieve an understanding of human memory and how it works. After all, if you seek to maintain something, it is important to learn something about it. Moreover, human memory is prone to failures and shortcomings. As we age, it is easy to think that these failures and shortcomings are due to aging rather than be part of normal memory processes that we have ignored until now.

The second theme deals with mnemonic techniques. Now mnemonic techniques are techniques that help us remember, so the reason for this theme should be obvious. However, the practice of these techniques can also be beneficial to brain health. These techniques require planning and they involve creativity and imagination, activities that in and of themselves should benefit brain health.

The third theme is transactive memory. Few people know about transactive memory. Transactive memory refers to memories that are stores someplace other than your own brain. So these are memories that can be stored on paper, in a computer, or on the internet. They can also be stored in other humans. Your fellow humans not only supply a means of information storage, but they also provide for social interaction, which is important for effective aging.

Please read previous posts made under each of these memory themes (categories). Please add comments and ask questions. The more input I receive from my readers, the better I can target my blog posts.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2009. 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.