Posts Tagged ‘Cognitive reserve’

Brain Training Games in Perspective

July 23, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

System 1 is named Intuition. System 1 is very fast, employs parallel processing, and appears to be automatic and effortless. This processing is so fast that it is executed, for the most part, outside conscious awareness. Emotions and feelings are also part of System 1. Learning is associative and slow. For something to become a System 2 process much repetition and practice is required. Activities such as walking, driving, and conversation are primarily System 1 processes. They occur rapidly and with little apparent effort. We would not have survived if we could not do these types of processes rapidly. But this speed of processing is purchased at a cost, the possibility of errors, biases, and illusions.
System 2 is named Reasoning. It is controlled processing that is slow, serial, and effortful. It is also flexible. This is what we commonly regard as thinking. One of the roles of System 2 is to monitor System 1 for processing errors, but System 2 is slow and System 1 is fast, so errors do slip through. Learning, particularly the early stages, are largely a System 2 process.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

This is the 1,000th Healthymemory Post

June 3, 2017

As the title attests this blog is dedicated to healthy memories. The blog’s subtitle is Memory health and technology. Here technology refers to transactive memory, which is information that is stored outside our individual biological memories. So transactive memory refers to information stored in the memories of our fellow humans as well as in technology. Technology ranges from paper to computers to the world wide web. Transactive memory provides the means for memory growth which underlies memory health. This blog also addresses the negative aspects of transactive memory which range from erroneous information to outright lies. As several posts have indicated, lies on the internet have become a highly profitable business.

The early days of this blog featured many posts on memory techniques under the category mnemonic techniques. Memory techniques specifically improve memory performance while also affording healthy exercise for the brain. If you are unfamiliar with these techniques you might want to peruse and try out some techniques. Practically all known techniques have been posted, so that is why you need to view older posts. For a while meditation and mindfulness was discussed under the memory techniques category, but they have mostly been moved to Human Memory: Theory and Data. Although these techniques are important and beneficial to memory, they are not commonly regarded as mnemonic techniques.

One of the most important posts in this blog is “The Myth of Alzheimer’s.” “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.

What constitutes a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s is the presence of amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles. However, there are people who are living with these defining features, but who do not have the behavioral or cognitive symptoms of Alzheimer’s. People have died with these Alzheimer features who never knew that they had the disease.

Research indicates that a healthy lifestyle, social activity, and cognitive activity greatly decrease the prospect of suffering any cognitive or behavioral symptoms of Alzheimer’s. The explanation offered for those with the physical characteristics but no cognitive or behavioral symptoms of Alzheimer’s is that they have built up a cognitive reserve.
The healthy memory blog strongly recommends a growth mindset, meditation and mindfulness as being extremely important in thwarting dementia. Central to a growth mindset is to continue learning till the end of one’s life. Beyond thwarting dementia, these activities provide the basis for a fulfilling life.

The vast majority of posts do not deal directly with Alzheimer’s and dementia. This is an exciting era for cognitive neuroscience and this blog endeavors to keep the reader up to date on much of this research. Of course, using technology to foster a growth mindset remains an important topic, and the problem of lies and misinformation being spread by technology is always a concern to the healthymemory blog.

© 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.

An Infuriating Article About Alzheimer’s

February 11, 2017

And that article is “After many disappointments, the search for Alzheimer’s drugs is more urgent than ever by Melissa Bailey in the Health Section of the 7 February 2017 issue of the Washington Post.  Regular readers of the healthy memory blog should understand why HM is infuriated.  See the healthy memory post, “The Myth of Alzheimer’s.”  The senior author of this book is Peter J. Whitehouse, M.D., Ph.D..  Dr. Whitehouse conducted research for many years into drugs for Alzheimer’s.  He came to the conclusion that effective drugs would never be found, and that research should be concentrated on activities that would prevent, mitigate, or help people suffering with Alzheimer’s.  He remains quite confident that a drug research is a dead end.  Yet it continues.

The reason for this is  money.  Money is in the drugs.  It is especially infuriating that the government is funding this research.  Congress funds this research because it has the appearance of dealing with a serious problem. However, in the highly unlikely case that drugs are found, the drug companies would charge exorbitant fees for them.  Remember that the United States is the only advanced country that does not control drug costs, so perhaps the adjective “advanced” is incorrect.

This drug research is targeted at the neurofibrillary plaque and neurofibril tangles that are the defining symptoms of Alzheimer’s.  Research on the protein tau, is conducted for its role in creating tangles in the brain.  Anti-amyloid drugs  will not work.  Yet there have been many people who have these defining symptoms, but who never exhibit any of the cognitive or behavioral symptoms of Alzheimer’s.  Many people have died, mentally sharp, not knowing that they had Alzheimer’s disease.  By far this is the most significant fact about Alzheimer’s that is rarely, if ever, mentioned.  Apparently, Melissa Bailey, the author of this article, is oblivious of this fact.

The explanation offered for these individuals who have the physical markers, but none of the behavioral symptoms, is that they have built up a cognitive reserve.  Cognitive activity along with a healthy lifestyle greatly decrease the probability of cognitive symptoms.  Just having a purpose in life reduces the risk of cognitive decline by half (see the Healthymemory blog post, “Ikigai Cuts the Risk of Alzheimer’s in Half”).

Consequently the healthy memory blog strongly recommends growth mindsets throughout one’s life.  Becoming a cognitive couch potato greatly increases the risk of Alzheimer’s (enter “Stupidity Pandemic” into the healthy memory blog) to learn more about these risks.

Although there is a widespread use of technology, this technology is used in a superficial manner (see the healthy memory blog post “Notes on Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age”).  One of the best examples of this is the woman was asked what she thought of “Obamacare”?  She was against it, but when asked what she thought of “The Affordable Care Act,” she thought that was a good idea.

Given the stupidity pandemic and little critical thinking, the incidence of Alzheimer’s will likely increase.  And drugs will not come to the rescue.  People need to start thinking, thinking with purpose, and thinking more deeply.

© 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.

What Constitutes Proof that Alzheimer’s or Dementia Could be Cured or Prevented?

January 4, 2017

Two excellent questions for consideration.  The first question, what constitutes a cure can be easily answered, that is the administration of operations or medications that would eliminate the affliction.  Currently, the only medications for Alzheimer’s do not cure the disease, but rather slow the progression.  One can question whether this prolongs meaningful or enjoyable life, or merely prolongs suffering.  This is a question for individuals to decide.
With respect to Alzheimer’s, there are many individuals who died with the defining features of the disease—neurofibrillary tangles and amyloid plaque, but who never exhibited any of the behavioral or cognitive characteristics of the disease.  Apparently there were many people who died not knowing that they had the disease.  So for these individuals, at least, the debilitating features of the disease had been prevented.  The only explanation that has been provided for this prevention is that they had built up a cognitive reserve during their lifetimes, by using their brains.  This is the justification for advocating growth mindsets.  But there are other factors such as being socially active, which also requires the use of one’s mind.

The only way of trying to determine the factors fostering prevention is through longitudinal studies.  There are two longitudinal investigation—the Religious Orders Study and the Rush Memory and Aging Project, which have enrolled more than 3200 older adults across the United States.  This studies are being led by David A. Bennet at the Rush Alzheimer’s  Disease Center in Chicago.  The volunteers enter these studies dementia-free, anywhere from their mid-50s to their 100’s and agree to hours of testing each year.  They all have agreed to undergo autopsies once they have died.  Here are the two primary findings that have emerged from these investigations.

Virtually all brains in old age contain some pathological signs of Alzheimer’s disease, but only some people suffer any symptoms as a result.  Those who do not develop dementia appear to have greater cognitive reserve to fall back on.

Choices we make throughout life, from learning a second language or studying music in childhood to finding purpose and remaining physical, intellectually, an socially active in retirement can build cognitive reserve and dramatically reduce the risk of dementia.

It is hoped that growth mindsets capture the general nature of intellectual activity.  Mindfulness and meditation foster greater control over one’s cognitive activity and lead to better control over one’s emotions and enhance personal interactions.  The healthy memory blog certainly endorses physical activity and a healthy lifestyle which includes, obviously, a healthy diet.

Regarding the defining characteristics of Alzheimer’s, the neurofibrillary tangles and amyloid plaque, seem to have little or no effect on individuals who have built up this cognitive reserve.  And there has been little success in the development of drugs to treat these physical symptoms.  One of the foremost experts in this area, Peter J. Whitehouse, M.D., Ph.D, who is the senior author of “The Myth of Alzheimer’s”  does not think that successful medications will ever be developed.

Perhaps one of the best resources on the extensive research that has been done in the area can be found in the book, “Nurturing the Older Brain and Mind” by Pamela M. Greenwood and Raja Parasuraman.

Dr. Michael Merzenich has been called “the father of brain plasticity,” and the co-founder of Scientific Learning and Posit Science.  You can go to brainhq.com
and find brain training exercises.  These exercises can be helpful, but by themselves cannot be regarded as providing a cognitive reserve.  Building a cognitive reserve requires a lifestyle devoted to cognitive and physical health.  Dr. Merzenich also has an interesting book, “Soft-Wired:  How the New Science of Brain Plasticity Can Change Your Life.”

Research reviewed by Norman Doidge, M.D.  has documented the extreme plasticity of the brain.  It is truly plastic in its ability to recover from severe injury.   His research is documented in two books,”The Brain that Changes Itself” and The Brain’s Way of Healing:  Remarkable Discoveries and Recoveries from the Frontiers of Neuroplasticity.”

HM would like to see extensive research done on individuals suffering from Alzheimer’s who apparently failed to build up this cognitive reserve.  What level of recovery might be achieved through exercises designed to recover lost capacity?  And at what level of dementia might individuals still be recoverable?  HM believes that money spent on this research would be more valuable that the extensive work that is being done on drug treatments that are likely to be doomed to failure.  Unfortunately, the money is in potential drug sales.

There have been many previous HM posts on these topics.  Enter “Bennet,”  “Whitehouse,”  “Parasuraman,”  “Merzenich,”  “Doidge,”  “The Relaxation Response Update,’ and  “Mindfulness” to find them.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Reading a Novel Affects the Connectivity in the Brain

December 11, 2016

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

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

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

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

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

System 2 Processing for Building a Cognitive Reserve

November 14, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

How Cognitive Activity Decreases the Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease

November 12, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Mindfulness and Alzheimer’s

October 15, 2016

This post is taken in part from “Siddhartha’s Brain”  by James Kingsland.  There is evidence that one of the benefits of mindfulness is to slow age-related cognitive decline and perhaps even protect against Alzheimer’s Disease.  Deposits of beta-amyloid, the protein plaques that are characteristic of the disease are concentrated in the default mode network.  This includes its principal hub, the posterior cingulate cortex, and the medial temporal lobe, where structures such as the hippocampus create and store long-term memories.  When people are not focused but performing an externally directed task, the parts of the brain that become active closely match the areas most vulnerable to the damage associated with Alzheimer’s.  Animal research, using mice genetically engineer to develop amyloid plaques, built up exclusively in areas of high nerve activity.

So, in theory, not just mindfulness but any pastime that hold’s the mind’s eye steady and stops attention from wondering, whether it’s a sport  solving puzzles, math, reading, studying, or the mindfulness awareness of everyday activities cultivated by meditation, will give the brain’s default mode network a break and make it less likely that amyloid plaque will accumulate.

Although this is good news, readers of the healthy memory blog should be aware that people have died with the defining physical symptoms, the neurofibril tangles and amyloid plaque, without knowing that they have had the disease.  That is they never evidenced any of the behavioral or cognitive symptoms of he disease.  The explanation for these people is that through the way they used their brains during their lifetimes they built up a cognitive reserve.  The healthy memory blog promotes activities that should build up a cognitive reserve.

Kingsland notes that there is preliminary evidence that meditation can slow or even reverse age-related brain degeneration, helping to maintain the thickness of the cortex and prevent loss of gray matter (nerve cell bodies) and white mater (merve fibers or “axons”.  The reference for this is
Luders, E.  (2014) “Exploring Age-Related Brain Degeneration in Meditation Practioners,”  Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 1307:82-88.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Healthy Memory (HM) Sincerely Apologizes

August 7, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Ten Brain and Brain Health Myths

May 22, 2016

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

Top 10 brain and brain health myths, debunked:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Healthy Memory Revisited

April 21, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

Another important concept is that of Noble Prize winning psychologist, Daniel Kahenman.  He has identified two processing systems.  System 1 is named Intuition. System 1 is very fast, employs parallel processing, and appears to be automatic and effortless. They are so fast that they are executed, for the most part, outside conscious awareness. Emotions and feelings are also part of System 1.  System 2 is named Reasoning. It is controlled processing that is slow, serial, and effortful. It is also flexible. This is what we commonly think of as conscious thought. One of the roles of System 2 is to monitor System 1 for processing errors, but System 2 is slow and System 1 is fast, so errors to slip through. System 2 can be thought of as thinking.Kahneman

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Thanksgiving 2015!

November 25, 2015

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

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

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

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

A Review of The Brain

November 12, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Importance of a Growth Mindset

October 13, 2015

According to the psychologist Carol Dweck in Mindset:  The New Psychology of Success, there are two types of mindsets:  fixed and growth.  People with a fixed mindset believe that we are who we are, and abilities can only be revealed, not created and developed.  They say things like “I’m bad in math” and see that as a fixed feature like being female or left-handed (and as we know, even these features can be changed).  The problem with this mindset is that it has serious consequences because a person who thinks they are poor at math will remain poor at math and won’t try hard to improve; they believe this would be pointless.  Whatever potential these people have will not be realized if they think that these skills are immutable.

However, people with growth mindsets believe that skills can be developed if they are worked at.  The growth mindset is the true mindset, that allow for personal development.  Fixed mindsets are erroneous mindsets that preclude further development.

Dweck has conducted experiments that illustrate and provide insight into this difference.  In one experiment she gave relatively easy experiments to fifth graders, which they enjoyed. Then she gave the children harder puzzles. Some children suddenly lost interest and declined an offer to take the puzzles home.  Other children loved the harder puzzles more than the easy ones and wanted to know how they could get more of these puzzles.  Dweck noted that the difference between the two groups was not “puzzle-solving talent.”  Among the equally adept children, some were turned off by the tougher challenge while others were intrigued.  They key factor was mindset.

In another experiment Dweck found that even when the fixed-minded try, they don’t get as much from the experience as those who believe they can grow.  She scanned the brains of volunteers as they answered hard questions, then were told whether  their answers were right or wrong and given information that could help them improve.  The scans showed that volunteers with a fixed mindset were fully engaged when they were told whether their answers were right or wrong, but that’s all they apparently cared about.  Information that could help them improve their answers didn’t engage them.  Even when they’d  gotten an answer wrong, they were not interested in what the right answer was.  Only people with a growth mindset paid close attention  to information that could stretch their knowledge.  For them, learning was a top priority.

Having a growth mindset is important for building and maintaining a healthy memory.  Having a growth mindset is even more important as we grow older.  See the healthy memory blog posts (yes, there are two of them) “You Can Teach an Old Dog New Tricks.  Having a growth mindset will build a cognitive reserve and assist in warding off dementia.

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

How Do People Circumvent Amyloid Plaque and Neurofibrillary Tangles

July 28, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

Cognitive Shields Protecting Against Dementia

April 22, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There Will Be Another Brief Hiatus in New Posts

February 1, 2015

Nevertheless with more than 550 Healthymemory Blog posts I think there is sufficient reading material.  If I had to recommend one blog post to read it would be “The Myth of Cognitive Decline.”  This can be found by entering this title in the search box of the healthy memory blog.  This search block can be used to identify blog posts on the following topics.

Posts based on whom I regard as the most important cognitive psychologists:  Nobel Prize Winner Kahneman, plus Stanovich and Davidson.  There are posts on the important topics of attention and cognitive reserve.  Other topics of potential interest are The Flynn Effect, mindfulness, meditation, memory champs, contemplative computing, behavioral economics, dementia, and Alzheimer’s.

Of course, you are encouraged to enter any of your favorite topics into the healthymemory blog search block

Enjoy.  I shall return.

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

Nature vs. Nurture: Genetics, Environment, and Cognition

June 17, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Neurocognitive Framework for Ameliorating Cognitive Aging

May 31, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

Passing 68

May 6, 2014

I am 68 today, and I am still gainfully employed.  Although I could retire, the reason that I’m not retired is that my foremost goal is to have a healthy memory.  Data show a correlation between the age of retirement and the age of onset for Alzheimer’s.  The reason for this is that my job has me engage in the activities that foster the building of a cognitive reserve.  For more information on the cognitive reserve go to the healthy memory blog post “REST, Epigenesis, Neuroplasticity, Cognitive Reserve, and Alzheimer’s.”  Moreover, there is also the incentive of a paycheck.  And I still have the satisfaction of contributing to society.

The only factor that would make me consider moving from my current job was if there was a different position or activity in which I thought I could make a larger contribution to society.  I shall extend every effort to continue to be cognitively, socially, and physically engaged.  As long as I live I shall have a growth mindset.

Unfortunately, there is a downside to aging.  My parents, my brother, and all my aunts and uncles have passed away.  I have also lost contact with most of my cousins.  I had been planning on attending my 50th High School Class Reunion this June, but four of my closest friends in that class have already passed away.  I fear that attending this reunion would be too painful.

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

 

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

April 8, 2014

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

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

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

February 6, 2014

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

Good News About Alzheimer’s and Dementia

January 28, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is It Smart to Be Tested for Dementia?

December 21, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 18, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1From the article.

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

APS Session on Cognitive Reserve

June 5, 2013

The title of the session was “Cognitive Reserve in Aging: Can Leisure Activities Increase Neuroplasticity?” and was chaired by Brenda-Hanna-Piaddy of the Emory School of Medicine. The first presentation was by Sara Lazar of the Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard University, and was titled, “Can Meditation and Yoga Slow Aging”. She was speaking of mindfulness meditation (on which you can find many healthymemory blog posts) and practitioners of Yoga that is strong on meditation and weak on strenuous positions. Practitioners excelled at a wide variety of cognitive tests, and performance on these cognitive tasks as they aged declined much more slowly than non-practitioners. Measures of the brain, such as cortical thickness, increases in white and gray matter, and the hippocampi, which are critical for memory, were larger than non-practitioners and decline less with aging. Now these people had been practicing for 30 or more years for at least five times per week. Be reassured that you don’t need to practice for this long for meditation to be beneficial. Every little bit helps, but the sooner one starts and the more one practices, the more benefits will be reaped. But it is never too late to begin.

Something I have never seen regards the question of how may victims of dementia or Alzheimer’s can be found among Buddhists Monks and other practitioners of meditation. Are there any? If so, is there data on the rate of incidence. If anyone knows the answer, or where to find the answer, please leave a comment. It will be much appreciated.

Chandramalika Bask, of the University of Texas at Dallas, gave a presentation on the benefits of video games. Apparently the beneficial video games are strategy games, not shooter games. These are real time strategy games that involve a number of tasks and the need to switch between and prioritize tasks. The benefits of playing these games were manifest in both cognitive tasks and in measures of the brain. They clearly slowed cognitive decline. One of the pluses of video games is that they are fun and people continue to play them. People are less likely to stick to regimes of meditation or physical exercise.

Brenda-Hanna-Piaddy made a presentation on the Neural Networks Subserving Enhanced Condition in Older Musicians. Her study involved 140 amateur musicians and non musicians with ages ranging from 59-83. The amateur musicians were divided into two groups, those with from 1 to 9 years of experience, and those with 10 or more years experience. A subset of 24 in these groups underwent fMRIs. The bottom line was that as assessed by cognitive tests and brain imaging, there were clear advantages for the musicians, and the more musical experience, the better. The bottom line was that music is a viable model for cognitive stimulation. Again, I would like to know the incidence of dementia and Alzheimer’s among retired musicians and aging amateurs. The current goal seems to be is reducing the onset of dementia. It should be realized that conscientious researchers tend to be conservative and do not want to over promise. But I am certain that there are individuals who live to be very old with limited or no cognitive decline. Articles about people who live to be quite old are frequently seen. My question is what is their cognitive status?

The final presentation was by Denise Park of the University of Texas at Dallas. Her presentation was on the relative benefits of active versus passive social interactions. Although social interactions are generally regarded as beneficial to memory health, the question here was whether the nature of the group would be more beneficial. So there were three groups with productive goals that involved learning something novel. One involved quilting, one involved photography, and one involved both with the time split 50/50 between the two groups. There were three receptive groups made to be as comparable as possible to the three active groups except that their activities involved nothing novel. The fMRI images indicated brain benefits fot the three productive groups. With respect to cognitive performance, the photo group showed improved verbal memory, the Quilting group showed improved cognitive control, and the group that involved both, showed improvements in both verbal memory and executive control.

All these studies are interesting and worthwhile, but I would like to see some retrospective studies in which people of advanced age who were still mentally sharp were studied. Retrospective studies are not very popular because their results are ambiguous. Even if the individuals accounts of his life are accurate, it is still possible that there is some unknown gene or combination of genes responsible for his mental alacrity. I feel that such research would still be informative and such life stories would also be inspirational and could provide good models for people to follow. Web searches on retrospective studies of dementia have not been successful. Again, if you know of any such studies, please comment.

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

Healthy Memory’s 400th Post

May 21, 2013

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

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

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

How Our Brain and Mind Work

May 5, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A bat and a ball cost $1.10

The bat costs $1.00 more than the ball.

How much does the ball cost?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Antidote for Worry

April 21, 2013

First of all, worry is important. Worry is important so that you pay your taxes, save money, eat a proper diet, exercise, both physically and cognitively, and build a cognitive reserve. But uncontrolled worry leads to unhealthy rumination and unhappiness. What is the point of worrying about something that is out of your control? You are likely to suffer more anticipating the event than the event itself. Control what you can control, and try not to worry about the rest.

Of course, that is easier said that done. Here meditation can help. 1 There are two extremes of meditation. At one end of the meditation continuum you focus your attention on one thing, for example, your breath or a word or phrase. At the other end of the continuum there is open monitoring to a broad awareness of sensations and surroundings. Thoughts are allowed to freely pass through the mind without evaluation. The absence of evaluation is what is important. If what is worrying you passes through your consciousness without causing worry or discomfort, that is okay. But if you evaluate these thoughts so that they cause you to worry, then this is counterproductive.

What is recommended is to find a midpoint between these two extremes. Let your mind run free until it hits a worrying thought, in which case you redirect your thoughts to something pleasant. Perhaps it sounds too simple to say that you can be happy just by thinking happy thoughts, but it is true. Just smiling can improve your mode. But remember not to lose contact with reality completely.

Let me just add that my Ph.D. is in cognitive psychology. I am neither a clinical nor counseling psychologist.

1To find more blog posts about mediation enter “meditation,” “mindfulness,” or “Davidson” into the healthymemory search box

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

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

April 17, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Memory in Old Age: Different from Memory in the Young?

November 18, 2012

This blog post was motivated by an article in Scientific American Mind, “Memory in Old Age: Not a Lost Cause.”1 The article notes that older people retain their vocabulary, their knowledge about the world, how to perform routine tasks, but become worse at recalling recent events, short-term memory, and prospective memory (remembering to do things). While all this is correct, it is also the case that memory failures in older people are attributed to their age. They are referred to as senior moments and are sometime taken as warnings of incipient Alzheimer’s Disease. It should be remembered that memory failures are common at all ages and that while there is some decline in memory, not all memory failures in the elderly are attributable to aging.

The article provides techniques for remedying and mitigating these losses. They describe a variety of mnemonic techniques, which has its own category of posts in this blog, and external aids, which are referred to in this blog as transactive memory. These techniques are thoroughly covered in the Healthymemory Blog. You can also do a search on Prospective Memory. Of special relevance is the Healthymemory Blog post, “Prospective Memory and Technology.” The Scientific American Mind article also mentions the importance of physical and cognitive activity, recommendations you will also find in the Healthymemory Blog. The beneficial effects of nature, meditation, and social engagement were omitted from the Mind article, but are topics found in the Healthymemory Blog.

What strikes me is that these techniques benefit everyone, not just elderly. We should not wait until we reach old age, start becoming sensitized to our memory failures, fearful of Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia, before using these techniques and improving our memories and cognitive performance. These techniques should be introduced, as appropriate, beginning at home and in pre-school, throughout our formal education, and be part of a process of lifetime learning.

Most everyone has become knowledgeable and fearful of the amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles of Alzheimer’s. A final diagnosis of Alzheimer’s awaits an autopsy confirming the presence of these plaques and tangles. What is not well known is that their have been autopsies of cadavers whose brains had these amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles, but who had not exhibited any of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s while they were living. The explanation for this finding is that these people had built up a cognitive reserve that enabled them to overcome these physical manifestations of Alzheimer’s. So whatever your age, if you have not started yet, START BUILDING YOUR COGNITIVE RESERVE!

1Arkowitz, H. , & Lilienfeld, S.O., (2012). Memory in Old Age: Not a Lost Cause, Scientific American Mind, November/December, 72-73.

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

New Approaches to Alzheimer’s Disease

October 17, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Astrocytes and Alzheimer’s

October 14, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.