Category Archives: aging brain

Healthy older people show greater mental well-being but poorer cognition than younger adults

The young and old could learn a thing or two from each other, at least when it comes to mental health and cognition.

In a new study, published September 12, 2022 in Psychology and Aging, researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine found that healthy older adults show greater mental well-being but poorer cognitive performance than younger adults. The underlying neural mechanisms may inspire new interventions to promote healthy brain function.

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The study sampled 62 healthy younger adults in their 20s and 54 healthy older adults above age 60. Researchers evaluated participants’ mental health, surveying symptoms of anxiety, depression, loneliness and overall mental well-being. Participants also performed several cognitively demanding tasks while their brain activity was measured using electroencephalography (EEG).

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Dynamic mental illness indicators caught by advanced AI in brain imaging

New research by Georgia State University’s TReNDS Center may lead to early diagnosis of devastating conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, schizophrenia and autism—in time to help prevent and more easily treat these disorders. In a new study published in Scientific Reports a team of seven scientists from Georgia State built a sophisticated computer program that was able to comb through massive amounts of brain imaging data and discover novel patterns linked to mental health conditions. The brain imaging data came from scans using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which measures dynamic brain activity by detecting tiny changes in blood flow.

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“We built artificial intelligence models to interpret the large amounts of information from fMRI,” said Sergey Plis, associate professor of computer science and neuroscience at Georgia State, and lead author on the study.

He compared this kind of dynamic imaging to a movie—as opposed to a snapshot such as an x-ray or, the more common structural MRI—and noted “the available data is so much larger, so much richer than a blood test or a regular MRI. But that’s the challenge—that huge amount of data is hard to interpret.”

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Brain changes that enable fine visual discrimination learning

Our visual perception of the world is often thought of as relatively stable. However, like all of our cognitive functions, visual processing is shaped by our experiences. During both development and adulthood, learning can alter visual perception. For example, improved visual discrimination of similar patterns is a learned skill critical for reading. In a new research study published in Current Biology, scientists have now discovered the neuronal changes that occur during learning to improve discrimination of closely related visual images.

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This study, led by first author Dr. Joseph Schumacher and senior author Dr. David Fitzpatrick at the Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience, establishes a transformative approach to studying perceptual learning in the brain. Researchers imaged the activity of large numbers of single neurons over days to track the changes that occur while a visual discrimination task is learned, performing these experiments in a novel animal model, the tree shrew.

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Thyroid Problems Linked to Increased Risk of Dementia

Older people with hypothyroidism, also called underactive thyroid, may be at increased risk of developing dementia, according to a study published in the July 6, 2022, online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology. The risk of developing dementia was even higher for people whose thyroid condition required thyroid hormone replacement medication.

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Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland doesn’t make enough thyroid hormones. This can slow metabolism. Symptoms include feeling tired, weight gain and sensitivity to cold.

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Why is music good for the brain? – Harvard

Can music really affect your well-being, learning, cognitive function, quality of life, and even happiness, asks Harvard Health Publishing in a recent blog post. I have to confess that as a daily bike rider who plays music on a blue tooth speaker while riding, I was very happy to learn this.

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A recent survey on music and brain health conducted by AARP revealed some interesting findings about the impact of music on cognitive and emotional well-being:

  • Music listeners had higher scores for mental well-being and slightly reduced levels of anxiety and depression compared to people overall.
  • Of survey respondents who currently go to musical performances, 69% rated their brain health as “excellent” or “very good,” compared to 58% for those who went in the past and 52% for those who never attended.
  • Of those who reported often being exposed to music as a child, 68% rated their ability to learn new things as “excellent” or “very good,” compared to 50% of those who were not exposed to music.
  • Active musical engagement, including those over age 50, was associated with higher rates of happiness and good cognitive function.
  • Adults with no early music exposure but who currently engage in some music appreciation show above average mental well-being scores.

Let’s take a closer look at this study

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How exercise benefits the brain

The following infographic from Scientific American demonstrates how exercise benefits the brain.

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Too Much Self-confidence Can Endanger Health of seniors

Older people who overestimate their health go to the doctor less often. This can have serious consequences for their health, for example, when illnesses are detected too late. By contrast, people who think they are sicker than they actually are visit the doctor more often. This is what a new study by Sonja Spitzer from the Institute for Demography at the University of Vienna and Mujaheed Shaikh from the Hertie School in Berlin found based on data from over 80,000 Europeans aged 50 and older. The results were published in The Journal of the Economics of Aging.

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Our confidence affects our behavior. People who overestimate their abilities earn more, invest their money differently, and are more likely to be leaders. But they also act riskier, have more accidents, and live less healthy by drinking more alcohol, eating less healthily, and sleeping too little.

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Risk Factors for Dementia May Vary with Age

Which vascular risk factors are associated with the risk of developing dementia may vary with age. A new study shows that among people around age 55, the risk of developing dementia over the next 10 years was increased in those with diabetes and high blood pressure.

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For people around 65 years old, the risk was higher in those with heart disease, and for those in their 70s, diabetes and stroke. For 80-year-olds, the risk of developing dementia was increased in those with diabetes and a history of stroke, while taking blood pressure medications decreased the risk.

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Poor eyesight unfairly mistaken for brain decline

Millions of older people with poor vision are at risk of being misdiagnosed with mild cognitive impairments, according to a new study by the University of South Australia.

Cognitive tests that rely on vision-dependent tasks could be skewing results in up to a quarter of people aged over 50 who have undiagnosed visual problems such as cataracts or age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

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Age-related macular degeneration is a leading cause of vision loss for older people. It doesn’t cause complete vision loss, but severely impacts people’s ability to read, drive, cook, and even recognise faces. It has no bearing on cognition.

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MSU research could lead to new Alzheimer’s treatments

Working with tiny bacteria, Michigan State University researchers led by Lee Kroos have made a discovery that could have big implications for biology. 

The researchers revealed a new way that nature can inhibit or switch off important proteins known as intramembrane proteases — pronounced “pro tea aces” — which the team reported April 26th in the journal eLife.

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Although the Spartans made this finding using a model organism, a microbe known as Bacillus subtilis, this type of protein is highly conserved, which is how evolutionary biologists say, “it’s everywhere.” 

These types of proteases are found in organisms that span the kingdoms of life, from single-celled bacteria to people. In fact, the first intramembrane protease was discovered in humans in 1997 and perhaps the best-known member of this family, named gamma-secretase, is implicated in Alzheimer’s disease. 

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“Good cholesterol’ particles may have a role in Alzheimer’s prevention

First-ever study to measure high-density lipoprotein particle numbers in spinal fluid led by Keck School of Medicine of USC

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Medical guidelines meant to reduce risk for heart disease focus on levels of cholesterol in the blood, including low-density lipoproteins (LDL), labeled “bad cholesterol,” and high-density lipoproteins (HDL), labeled as “good.” Now, a new study suggests an important connection between good cholesterol particles in cerebrospinal fluid and brain health as well.

Researchers at the Keck School of Medicine of USC took samples of cerebrospinal fluid from people aged 60 and older and measured the amount of small HDL particles in each sample. The team found that a higher number of these particles in the fluid is associated with two key indicators that the particles might have a protective effect against Alzheimer’s disease.

One indicator is better performance on cognitive tests. The other indicator is higher circulating levels in the cerebrospinal fluid of a particular peptide — like a protein, but smaller — called amyloid beta 42. Although that peptide contributes to Alzheimer’s disease when it misfolds and clumps onto neurons, an increased concentration circulating around the brain and spine is actually linked to lower risk for the disease.

“This study represents the first time that small HDL particles in the brain have been counted,” said Hussein Yassine, M.D., an associate professor of medicine and neurology at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. “They may be involved with the clearance and excretion of the peptides that form the amyloid plaques we see in Alzheimer’s disease, so we speculate that there could be a role for these small HDL particles in prevention.”

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What about ‘senior moments?’

Merriam Webster defines a senior moment as follows an instance of momentary forgetfulness or confusion that is attributed to the aging process.

For the record, senior moments are not restricted to senior citizens. Everyone gets them. However, they are more troubling to us seniors. Younger people just think it is funny forgetting something momentarily. Older folks are scared spitless because they fear they have Alzheimer’s.

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As a SuperAger, I have to go in to Northwestern University for about a two hour battery of tests every year to measure my brain functions including memory. Mine was last week.

Our local hospital had a program called Healthy Transitions for folks over 55. It explained aspects of aging and what we could do to prepare the coming changesin our bodies – physical and mental. I attended numerous presentations, but the ones that were standing room only had to do with cognitive decline. It was clear to me that everyone ‘of a certain age’ is concerned about their brain functioning into old age.

One of the questions I was asked at the SuperAger test was whether my memory seemed to have declined or was it the same as 10 years ago. I said that I honestly couldn’t say. What I could say was that I had developed certain techniques that helped me to ‘not forget’- or have senior moments.

The first technique concerns, for example, forgetting where I put my keys. I don’t ever forget because I always put my keys on my dresser. I never throw them carelessly on the counter, or the table or whatever surface is handy when I come home. That is a recipe for disaster. When I come in from riding my bike, the first thing I do is to take my keys out of my back pocket and go put them on my dresser. Then I finish with my transitioning into being home, or showering, etc. Because of that technique I always know where my keys are.

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Scientists discover genetic variants that speed up and slow down brain aging

Researchers from a USC-led consortium have discovered 15 “hot spots” in the genome that either speed up brain aging or slow it down — a finding that could provide new drug targets to resist developmental delays, Alzheimer’s disease and other degenerative brain disorders, according to the University of Southern California (USC).

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The research appeared online in Nature Neuroscience.

“The big game-changer here is discovering locations on the chromosome that speed up or slow down brain aging in worldwide populations. These can quickly become new drug targets,” said Paul Thompson of USC, a lead author on the study and the co-founder and director of the ENIGMA Consortium. “Through our AI4AD [Artificial Intelligence for Alzheimer’s Disease] initiative we even have a genome-guided drug repurposing program to target these and find new and existing drugs that help us age better.”

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Cognitive decline key factor in predicting life expectancy in Alzheimer’s

Cognitive decline is the biggest factor in determining how long patients with Alzheimer’s Disease will live after being diagnosed, according to a new study from researchers at UT Southwestern. The findings, published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, are a first step that could help health care providers provide reliable prediction and planning assistance for patients with Alzheimer’s disease and their families.

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Using a National Alzheimer’s Coordinating Center dataset on 764 autopsy-confirmed cases, C. Munro Cullum, Ph.D., Professor of Psychiatry, Neurology, and Neurological Surgery, and first author Jeffrey Schaffert, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow in clinical neuropsychology at UT Southwestern, identified seven factors that helped predict life expectancy variances among participants. These factors are the most predictive of how many years of life remain after diagnosis.

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How to Maintain a Sharp Brain as you age – Harvard

Health Secrets of a SuperAger

Although all of us senior citizens have our ‘moments,’ recent studies have shown that we can retain our mental clarity by following some basic habits of good health.

Harvard Medical School lists a number of habits that can cut into our chances of suffering from dementia in our old age. They include staying physically active, getting enough sleep, not smoking, having good social connections, limiting alcohol to one drink a day, and eating a balanced diet low in saturated and trans fats.

In addition, they point out several health conditions that can impair cognitive skills, including diabetes, high blood pressure, sleep apnea, depression, hypothyroidism, and high LDL (bad) cholesterol. If you suffer from any of these, they recommend that you follow your doctor’s advice.

They list six strategies that Harvard offers to protect and sharpen our memory and our minds.

1. Keep learning
According to experts challenging your brain with…

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Quantum brains sensors could spot dementia

New highly sensitive quantum sensors for the brain may in the future be able to identify brain diseases such as dementia, ALS and Parkinson’s, by spotting a slowing in the speed at which signals travel across the brain. The research findings from a paper led by University of Sussex quantum physicists are published in Scientific Reports journal.

The quantum scanners being developed by the scientists can detect the magnetic fields generated when neurons fire.  Measuring moment-to-moment changes in the brain, they track the speed at which signals move across the brain.  This time-element is important because it means a patient could be scanned twice several months apart to check whether the activity in their brain is slowing down. Such slowing can be a sign of Alzheimer’s or other diseases of the brain.

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In this way, the technology introduces a new method to spot bio-markers of early health problems.

Aikaterini Gialopsou, a doctoral researcher in the School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences at the University of Sussex and Brighton and Sussex Medical School is the lead author on the paper. She says of the discovery:

 “We’ve shown for the first time that quantum sensors can produce highly accurate results in terms of both space and time. While other teams have shown the benefits in terms of locating signals in the brain, this is the first time that quantum sensors have proved to be so accurate in terms of the timing of signals too.

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