Posts Tagged ‘Myths’

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

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, 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 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Healthymemory Blog is Going on a Brief Hiatus

April 12, 2016

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

Here are some suggestion for topics to enter.

The Relaxation Revolution

Enjoy!  Grow your mindsets!  and be mindful.

More on the Myth of Cognitive Decline

July 18, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

© Douglas Griffith and, 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 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

8 Myths of Aging

October 15, 2014

This post is in keeping with the theme of recent (and past) healthymemory posts and is also in keeping with this blog’s policy of dispelling myths. It is taken from the A Place for Mom Blog, “8 Myths of Aging Dispelled.” I have had nothing but pleasant experiences with the A Place for Mom organization. They were extremely helpful in assisting me in finding an appropriate place when we moved my mom to this area. They are the source of much useful information.

Here are the 8 myths.

  1. Aging is Depressing. “Contrary to the myth that aging is depressing, many studies find that seniors are among the happiest age group. Happiness levels by age follow a U-shaped curve, with self reported levels of happiness at their lowest at age 40 growing thereafter. In addition, those who think aging is depressing also believe that it makes seniors grumpier. People who are grumpy in their younger years will likely continue to be unhappyin their later years, but similarly, good natured people continue on a happy trajectory into old age. In other words, one’s attitude comes down to their individual personality, not an age group.

  2. Aging Leads to Loneliness Though social isolation can be a problem for senior, especially those who have limited ability, lack transportation, or who have recently lost a spouse, most seniors are able to stay socially engaged. Activities and visits with friends and familiy and at places such as the local senior center or a place of worship, also help seniors stay socially active and happy.

  3. Aging Dulls Wits and Inevitably Causes Dementia. While aging can create cognitive changes, older people may perform better in certain areas of intelligence and poorer in others. For example,while seniors may have slower reaction times or solve problems slower than younger adults, “mental capabilities that depend most heavily on accumulated knowledge and experience, like setting disputes and enlarging one’s vocabulary, clearly get better over time.” writes Patricia Cohen in the New York Times. What’s more, dementia is anything but inevitable. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, only 5% of those over 65 will develop dementia.

  4. Aging Makes You Unproductive. Though retired people have left the work force, they are hardly unproductive. They contribute countless hours to activities like helping with child-rearing and volunteering, which makes an enormous difference in society. In fact, a 2013 report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that 24% of senior citizens report engaging in volunteering after retirement.

  5. Aging Makes You Less Creative. There are countless examples that dispel the myth that aging makes you less creative. In fact, many actually find their calling or achieve mastery in their later years. A great example is the immortal “Grandma Moses.” Anna Mary Robinson Moses was an ordinary woman who lived on a farm in upstate New York in the mid 1800s. After her husband passed away, Mrs. Moses (as she like to call herself) transitioned from farm work to a quieter life embroidering for fun and making delicious preserves for her now grown children. But, when arthritis made embroidering too painful, a friend suggested she try painting. Moses took to painting scenes of rural life, and even hung a few of her paintings in the local drugstore. Her paintings caught the eye of a prominent art collector who was passing through town and the rest is history. Her first one-woman art show was held in1940 when Moses was already 80-years-old. She became famous and was dubbed “Grandma Moses,” a name that stuck. She continues to paint until the age 101.

  6. Aging Makes You Unable to Adapt to New Situations. Older people who are not able to adapt to new situations, they are actually experts at adapting. By the time one has become a senior, they have had to adapt to innumerable changes and transitions in life, many of which could have certainly been challenging.. Seniors may be slower to change their opinions, but one of humanities greaters traits, adaptability, is generally retained as we grown old.

  7. Aging Erases Your Libido. Discussing the sex lives of seniors is largely taboo in our culture and has led to stereotypes that the elderly are sexless beings. This stereotype is harmful because it can cause seniors to have conflicted feelings or unnecessary guilt about their sexuality, while simultaneously causing younger people to hold misconceptions about aging and the elderly. As a state of Oregon document notes adroitly: “Research has found that sexual activity and enjoyment do not decrease with age. People with physical health, a sense of well-being and a willing partner re more likely to continue sexual relations. People who are bored with their partnes, mentall or physically tired, afraid of failure or overindulge in food or drink are unlikely to engage in sexual activity. These reasons do not differ a great deal when considering whether or no person will engage in sex at any age.”

  8. Aging Make You More Religious. Seniors have a higher rate of religious attendance than younger people, but this is a generational phenomenon rather than an aging phenomenon. If you regularly attended church growing up, you’re likely to continue to do so as you age. Today’s seniors haven’t become more religious with time. Instead they grew up in a time when more people went to church, which is whysenior re the most religious age group.

I find the way this last myth is handled amusing. It’s as if an explanation or excuse was needed to account for a higher degree of religiosity. It’s as if religion were a maladaptive practice.

I feel compelled to reiterate the healthymemory blog’s philosophy of continuing to pursue cognitive growth throughout the lifespan and not to become cognitive couch potatoes. We should continue to grow as we age. s

You Can Teach an Old Dog New Tricks

October 8, 2014

This post is based on “Old dog, new tricks” in The Scientific Guide to a Better You: New Scientist: The Collection. The saying “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” has been around for a long, long time. Too long, in fact, to hold under the new findings in science. Neurogenesis continues as long as we live, as well as the ability to learn new things.

I had long believed that there was a critical age for language acquisition. The idea was that we were designed to pick up languages naturally at an early age. However, after the onset of puberty, the task became more difficult. A study by Ellen Bialystok at York University in Toronto, Canada, disabused me of this notion. She studied US census records that detailed the linguistic skills of more than 2 million Hispanic and Chinese immigrants. If there had been a “critical period” for learning a second language in infancy should have created a sharp difference between those who changed country in early childhood and those who were uprooted in adolescence. There was no sharp difference. Rather there was a very gradual decline with age among immigrants. This could reflect differences in environment as well as adults’ rusty brain circuits. It is not that old dogs can’t learn, but rather a matter of old dogs not expending the effort to learn.

Gary Marcus, a psychologist devoted himself to learning how to play the guitar when he was 38. He wrote a book on his experience titled Guitar Zero. Initially his family laughed at him, but eventually they saw that he was that he was making progress. Typically adults are impatient when learning to play a new instrument. They do not want to put up with the frustration associated with this learning, something to which most students adapt.

Another study by Uang Zang at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis focused on the acquisition of foreign accents in adults. When the adults were given recordings that mimicked the exaggerated baby talk of cooing mothers, the adults progressed quite rapidly.

Volunteers visiting Virginia Penhune’s lab at Concordia University in Montreal learned to press keys in a certain sequence, the adult volunteers outperformed the younger volunteers.

Juggling is a challenging ask of hand-eye coordination. Nearly 1,000 volunteers from all age groups learned to juggle over six training sessions. Although the 60 to 80-year olds started slowly, they soon caught up with the 30-year-olds. At the end of the six session all adults were juggling more confidently than the 5 to 10 year olds.

Adults also tend to hamper progress with their own perfectionism, whereas children jump onto tasks while adults are agonizing over the mechanics of movement. Adults tend to conceptualize exactly what is required. Gabriele Wulf of the University of Nevada at Las Vegas says “Adults think so much more about what they are doing. Children just copy what they see.” Wulf’s work shows that we should focus on the outcome of our actions rather than on the intricacies of movement. Similarly overly rigid practice regimes can stifle long term learning. For example, it is better to shoot around the court, rather than trying to perfect a shot from a particular position. Even if one really feels compelled to do this, they should intersperse their shooting with shots from different positions on the court.

We also may have a tendency to lose confidence as we get older, and this can have a big impact on performance. In one study half the students were given a sham test on pitching a ball in which they were told that their performance was above average. They performed better on a test than a ground that had practiced but had not been given sham feedback.

One of the big problems we adults have is finding time to learn. We work, have errands and commitments to others including our families. However, babies have all the time in the world to learn. Food, drink, even their personal hygiene is taking care of for them. Gradually some obligations develop, but some of them regard learning and they still have gobs of time to learn. When we are freed of these obligations, we adults should not forget to take advantage of this additional time to learn new things and to engage in new pursuits.

To address the short amount of time that working adults have, the cognitive scientist Ed Cooke has developed a website, that works to integrate learning into the adult day and to take some of the pain out of testing.

It is also important to remember that exercise is important and the amount of exercise can be fairly modest. (See the healthymemory blog post, “To improve your memory, build you hippocampus.”)

The Myth of Cognitive Decline

February 23, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Douglas Griffith and, 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 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Dangers of MultiTasking

March 4, 2012

A common notion is that young people who have grown up with technology have effectively rewired their brains for multitasking and are proficient at multitasking. This common notion is wrong according to research.1 A group of psychologists at UCLA led by Karin Foerde conducted an experiment to determine whether multitasking impairs learning. They trained 14 participants to perform a single task, predicting the weather based on certain cues. Their brains were scanned while they did this. Their brains were also scanned while they did this task and had a secondary task added to it, keeping count of the number of high pitched auditory tones in a series of auditory tones.

The participants were able to perform both tasks, but they paid a cognitive cost when they performed both tasks. When they performed the weather task alone they used a region of the brain that enables us to apply knowledge gained to other situations when needed (System 2 processing). However, when they performed both tasks at once, they activated a part of their brain linked with habit learning (System 1 processing), The psychologist William James knew this more than one hundred years ago when he wrote that “we can’t easily do more than one thing at once, “unless the processes are very habitual.”2 So if anything surprising or unusual is encountered, it is likely to be missed.

Subsequently, a group of researchers at Stanford classified a group of participants as whether heavy or light multitaskers. They administered a series of cognitive tests, each designed to measure some aspect of distractibility to see which group handled the load better. They were surprised to find that compared to light multitaskers, the heavy multitaskers did a worse job filtering out irrelevant distractions, had a harder time ignoring irrelevant memories, and took a longer time switch from one task to another. Now both groups performed the same on tasks when there were no distractions. But it appears that the heavy multitaskers “may be sacrificing performance on the primary task to let in other sources of information.3

The problem is that people typically are not aware of this loss in performance. Other researchers4 found that people who were high in real-world multitasking not only had lower working-memory capacity, but also were more impulsive and sensation-seeking. Worse yet, they rated their own ability to multitask as higher than average. So their perceived ability and actual ability to multitask were inversely related. It appears that overconfidence rather than skill drives this proliferation of multitasking. The fear is that academic activity will receive less focused time, resulting in cursory processing of information and shoddy outcomes.

1Jaffe, E. (2012). Rewired: Cognition in the Digital Age. Observer, 25,2, 16-20. A Publication of the Association for Psychological Science.

2James, W. (1890). The Principles of Psycholog. NY: Holt.

3. Ophir, E., Nass, C., & Wagner, E.D., Cognitive Control in Media Multitaskers. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 106, 15583-15587.

4Strayer, D.L., & Watson, J.M., (2012).Supertaskers and the Multitasking Brain. Scientific American Mind, March/April, 22-29.

© Douglas Griffith and, 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 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.