Posts Tagged ‘Short-term memory’

A Bridge to Brain Power

April 15, 2015

The title to this post is the title of an article in the March 2015 AARP Bulletin by Jon Saraceno.  Don’t let the source of this article lead you to believe that Bridge is only for retirees.  Bridge is indeed a bridge to to brain power for both the young and the old.  Perhaps the best endorsement for Bridge is that both Warren Buffet and Bill Gates are passionate devotees.

Playing bridge makes demands on all your cognitive resources.  First of all, one needs to learn how to bid and to communicate with one’s partner regarding the bidding.  Once the bid is set, the declarer’s partner, called the dummy. sets down her cards so everyone can see what she had.  Given this information the declarer needs to formulate a strategy for winning the hand.  He knows what cards the opponents have and he tries to make informed guesses as to who has what cards and how the suits are divided.  The defenders, seeing only the cards in dummy, needs to formulate a strategy to defeat the bid.  The first lead from the opponents provides hint of the strategy.  Once the hand starts, everyone except the dummy needs to keep track of what cards have been played and try to estimate who has which unplayed cards.  So bridge places strong demands on both long and short term memory, on the ability to strategize, and to strategize in a dynamic environment.  To do all this one needs a strong ability to focus.  The bottom line here is that Bridge challenges our cognitive resources and helps up build and maintain healthy memories.

There are a variety of learning resources, and one can play automated games so one is not embarrassed by one’s poor play.  The American Contract Bridge League, http://www.abcl.org, has a number of programs developed to make learning how to play Bridge simple.

They have a new Learn to Play Bridge software program, a learn as you play tutorial.

Free personal computer software programs, including Learn to Play Bridge I for beginners.

Learn Bridge in a Day?..a five hour course geared for rookies

All these programs are available at the American Contract Bridge League website, http://www.abcl.org.

Once you have reached the point of not being embarrassed or have developed a thick enough skin to not be embarrassed, then you can enjoy the benefits of social interaction.  Even if you are a poor player you can likely find a group of people at a beginning level.  I was a very poor player, yet some truly good players who played bridge competitively, managed to tolerate me.

You might have noted that I used the past tense with regard to myself.  Unfortunately, I engage in many activities that are cognitively exhausting, so my cognitive resources have been too exhausted for me to play.  However, I do plan to change that in the future, perhaps after I retire from my formal job.  Bridge provides both cognitive and social exercises that promote healthy memories.

© 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.

Glial Cells and Working Memory

July 25, 2012

When I was a graduate student, glial cells presented a problem. No one seemed to know their function, yet there were so many of them. Gradually we are gaining insight into their important functions (See the Healthymemory Blog Posts, “Our Neurons Make Up only 15 Percent of our Brain Cells,” “Glial Cells and Alzheimer’s Disease,” and “Alzheimer’s and Amyloid Plaques.”) A recent study reported in Scientific American Mind1 indicates that certain types of glial cells might play a role in conscious thought. Astrocytes, a type of glia, appear to play an important role in short term or working memory.

It is well known that marijuana plays a role is disrupting short term memory. Although this might be fine for recreational uses of the drug, it can be disconcerting to those who are taking it for medical reasons to relieve pain. The experiment was done by Giovanni Marsicano of the University of Bordeaux in France and his colleagues. They removed the cannabinoid receptors that respond to marijuana’s psychoactive ingredient THC. These mice were just as poor at memorizing the location of a hidden platform in a water pool. However, when the receptors were removed from the astrocytes, the mice could find the platform just fine while on THC.

Of course, we are generalizing findings from research on mice to humans. Although one should be caution, many such generalizations have held up in the past. You can understand why research like this is difficult to perform with humans. Mariscano made the following statement: “It is likely that astrocytes have many more functions than we thought. Certainly their role in cognition is no being revealed.”

Fortunately the pain-relieving property of THC appears to work through the neurons, so it might be possible to design THC-type drugs that target neurons, and not glia, so that pain relief can be provided without the cognitive disruptions.

1Williams, R. (2012). What Marijuana Reveals About Memory. Scientific American Mind, July/August, p.10.

© 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.

Why I Write This Blog

December 15, 2010

Sometimes I ask myself this question, “Why DO I write this blog, Healthymemory.” Surely there are better ways I could spend my time. However, on December14th I came across an article1 in the Washington Post that provided justification for spending the time. Now the Washington Post is a newspaper I respect. I have been a subscriber ever since I moved to the D.C. Area twenty years ago.

But this article contained misinformation and, more egregiously, missed important information.

For example, it presented a test, which it called a measure of short-term memory. It consisted of a shopping list of twenty items each with a specified amount to purchase. First of all, this was not a test of short-term memory. Although there are technical disputes among experts, the most common example given of short-term memory is looking up a phone number and then needing to keep rehearsing it until the number is dialed. There are two features of short-term memory: it has a small capacity, and it needs to be actively rehearsed or the information will be lost. A shopping list of twenty items exceeds the capacity of short-term memory. And unless the plan is to keep rehearsing the information until all the items are purchased, more than short-term memory needs to be involved. The shopping list needs to be transferred from short-term memory to long-term memory. The article notes that it is good to know that if people practiced, they could improve their memory. Although this is good to know, it is even better to know that there are memory techniques that can greatly facilitate the recall of lists like this one. These techniques can be found under the mnemonic techniques category on the healthymemory blog (healthymemory.wordpress.com). Some specific blog posts bearing on this task are “The Method of Loci,” “The One Bun Rhyme Mnemonic,” “Remembering Numbers,” and “More on Remembering Numbers.”

There is also a test on associating names with faces. Again, the article states that it is good to know that practice tends to improve performance. But it is even better to know that there are specific techniques to enhance performance on this task. A specific blog post bearing on this task is “Remembering Names.”

For each of these tests norms are presented for different age groups. The justification for this is that we live in a competitive culture, and that we like to keep score. But what if a person falls below what is expected for a given age group? Does that person start to worry that she is beginning to suffer from Alzheimer’s or some other type of dementia?

What is completely missing from this article is the new research that has documented the remarkable plasticity of the brain, and techniques that might not only forestall the effects of aging, but might also produce memory performance that exceeds that of her performance earlier in life. This is the news that should be reported.

1Are You Acting Your Age?, Washington Post, Health & Science Section, E1, 14 December 2010.

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