Category Archives: aging brain

Dementia can be caused by hypertension – Study

A new study in Cardiovascular Research, published by Oxford University Press, indicates that patients with high blood pressure are at a higher risk of developing dementia. This research also shows (for the first time) that an MRI can be used to detect very early signatures of neurological damage in people with high blood pressure, before any symptoms of dementia occur.

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Photo by David Cassolato on Pexels.com

High blood pressure is a chronic condition that causes progressive organ damage. It is well known that the vast majority of cases of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia are not due to genetic predisposition but rather to chronic exposure to vascular risk factors.

The clinical approach to treatment of dementia patients usually starts only after symptoms are clearly evident. However, it has becoming increasingly clear that when signs of brain damage are manifest, it may be too late to reverse the neurodegenerative process. Physicians still lack procedures for assessing progression markers that could reveal pre-symptomatic alterations and identify patients at risk of developing dementia.

Researchers screened subjects admitted at the Regional Excellence Hypertension Center of the Italian Society of Hypertension in the Department of Angiocardioneurology and Translational Medicine of the I.R.C.C.S, Neuromed, in Italy. Researchers recruited people aged 40 to 65, compliant to give written informed consent and with the possibility to perform a dedicated 3 Tesla MRI scan. Continue reading

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Mindfulness meditation and relaxation response have different effects on brain function – Study

 

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There are two widely used meditation-based stress reduction courses. One is based on the relaxation response – first described by Herb Benson, MD, director emeritus of the MGH-based Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine – which focuses on eliciting a physiologic state of deep rest, the opposite of the “fight or flight” stress response. The other is Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, of the University of Massachusetts Medical School, which emphasizes a particular, non-judgmental attitude termed “mindfulness” as key to stress reduction. Although both interventions are based on meditation, the scientific philosophies and meditative traditions upon which each is founded are different, and these differences are reflected in the instructions and exercises taught to patients.

“If the hypotheses proposed by the programs’ creators are in fact correct, they imply that these programs promote wellness through different mechanisms of action,” says Sara Lazar, PhD, of the MGH Psychiatric Neuroscience Research Program, senior author of the current report and assistant professor of Psychology at Harvard Medical School. “Such a finding would suggest that these programs could potentially have different effects on disease.”

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5 Ways Technology is Altering our Brains

I am an old man by any standards and while I consider myself comfortable on an Apple  computer, I am not a big texter, Facebooker, or social-media maven in general. I do indulge in Google Plus. Nonetheless, I can not deny that the younger folks I encounter do seem to spend an inordinate amount of time looking at their cell phone screens. This piece from Samuel Merritt University fascinated me.

Technology is changing our brains as well as our lives. If you’re reading this, it’s likely that you’re staring into a screen. Our inability to look away from our tablets, smartphones and social networking platforms is changing the way we process information and perceive the world, according to Adam Alter, author of the new book “Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked.”

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In one Gallup Panel survey, 52 percent of smartphone owners reported checking their mobile devices a few times an hour or more. Data confirms that young people are even more wired: More than seven in 10 young smartphone users check their device a few times an hour or more often, and 22 percent admit to looking at it every few minutes.

The digital age is transforming our behavior when we limit our communication to 140 characters and use emojis to express our emotions. When we’re bored, we simply reach for our gadgets. Continue reading

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How Much Exercise is Needed to Help Improve Thinking Skills?

Eat less; move more; live longer remains the mantra of this blog. Herewith another example of the value of the move more element. We all want to live longer, but that has little meaning if we don’t have a fully functional brain to power us through. I talk about the value of exercise regularly here. Now we have a study that quantifies the amount of movement relevant to benefit our brain.

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We know that exercise may help improve thinking skills. But how much exercise? And for how long?

To find the answers, researchers led by Joyce Gomes-Osman, Ph.D., PT, assistant professor of clinical physical therapy and neurology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, reviewed all of the studies in which older adults were asked to exercise for at least four weeks and then take tests of thinking and memory skills. Their results were compared to those of people who did not start a new exercise routine. The review was published in the May 30 online issue of Neurology Clinical Practice, an official journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

The researchers found that people who exercised an average of at least 52 hours over about six months for about an hour each session may improve their thinking skills. In contrast, people who exercised for an average of 34 hours over the same time period did not show any improvement in their thinking skills. Continue reading

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Researchers Reverse Cognitive Impairment in Mice with Dementia

If you have been reading this blog for a while you are aware that I have a particular focus on the brain afflictions – dementia and its move common manifestation, Alzheimer’s. Three members on both sides of my family suffered from a form of dementia. While there is no cure or preventative for Alzheimer’s, it seems that exercise is our best chance of possessing a functioning brain in our old age. Hence, my focus on movement of every kind. Now, it seems that we may be getting a new arrow in our quiver to fight mental illness.

Researchers report tau pathology can be reversed in Alzheimer’s patients with the help of a drug. Their study reveals reversing tau pathology in mouse models of dementia resulted in a reversal of cognitive deficits in spatial learning.

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Compared with untreated animals, tau mice that had received zileuton performed significantly better on the tests. Their superior performance suggested a successful reversal of memory deficiency. NeuroscienceNews.com image is in the public domain.

Reversing memory deficits and impairments in spatial learning is a major goal in the field of dementia research. A lack of knowledge about cellular pathways critical to the development of dementia, however, has stood in the way of significant clinical advance. But now, researchers at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University (LKSOM) are breaking through that barrier. They show, for the first time in an animal model, that tau pathology – the second-most important lesion in the brain in patients with Alzheimer’s disease – can be reversed by a drug.

 “We show that we can intervene after disease is established and pharmacologically rescue mice that have tau-induced memory deficits,” explained senior investigator Domenico Praticò, MD, Scott Richards North Star Foundation Chair for Alzheimer’s Research, Professor in the Departments of Pharmacology and Microbiology, and Director of the Alzheimer’s Center at Temple at LKSOM. The study, published online in the journal Molecular Neurobiology, raises new hope for human patients affected by dementia. Continue reading

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Active Social Life May Preserve Memory and Slow Brain Aging

Eat less; move more; live longer remains the mantra of this blog. However, according to this latest study from Ohio State University – interact with friends more – might also be added.

A new study reveals a positive link between socializing, improved memory and a reduced rate of brain aging in mice. Mice who were housed in pairs showed less sings of inflammation and tissue erosion in the hippocampus, researchers report.

New research from The Ohio State University found that mice housed in groups had better memories and healthier brains than animals that lived in pairs.

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The discovery bolsters a body of research in humans and animals that supports the role of social connections in preserving the mind and improving quality of life, said lead researcher Elizabeth Kirby, an assistant professor of behavioral neuroscience and member of the Center for Chronic Brain Injury at Ohio State.

“Our research suggests that merely having a larger social network can positively influence the aging brain,” said Kirby, who is a member of the Neurological Institute at Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center. Her research appears in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience.

“We know that in humans there’s a strong correlation between cognitive health and social connections, but we don’t know if it’s having a group of friends that’s protecting people or if it’s that people with declining brain health withdraw from their human connections,” Kirby said.

This study was designed to answer that hard-to-crack question with an animal model.

Some mice lived in pairs, which Kirby refers to as the “old-couple model.” Others were housed for three months with six other roommates, a scenario that allows for “pretty complex interactions.”

The mice were 15 months to 18 months old during the experiment – a time of significant natural memory decline in the rodent lifespan.

“It’s like mouse post-retirement age. If they drove, they’d be forgetting where the keys are or where they parked the car more often,” Kirby said.

In tests of memory, the group-housed mice fared better.

One test challenged the mice to recognize that a toy, such as a plastic car, had moved to a new location. A mouse with good brain health will gravitate toward the novelty of something that has been relocated.

“With the pair-housed mice, they had no idea that the object had moved. The group-housed mice were much better at remembering what they’d seen before and went to the toy in a new location, ignoring another toy that had not moved,” Kirby said.

In another common maze-based memory test, mice are placed on a well-lit round table with holes, some of which lead to escape hatches. Their natural tendency is to look for the dark, unexposed and “safe” escape routes.

Both groups of mice improved their escape-route search strategies with practice – but the research team was struck by the differences in the groups’ response to repeated tests, Kirby said.

The “couples” mice didn’t get faster at the test when it was repeated over the course of a day.

“But over the course of many days, they developed a serial-searching strategy where they checked every hole as quickly as possible. It’d be like walking as quickly as possible through each row of a parking lot to look for your car rather than trying to remember where your car actually is and walk to that spot,” Kirby said.

The group-housed mice improved with each trial, though.

“They seemed to try to memorize where the escape hatches are and walk to them directly, which is the behavior we see in healthy young mice,” Kirby said. “And that tells us that they’re using the hippocampus, an area of the brain that is really important for good memory function.”

The serial searching employed by the pair-housed mice is simpler, easier and doesn’t use that part of the brain, she said.

In humans, mice and many other animals, brain function in the hippocampus markedly declines with age, even in the absence of dementia. Exercise and social ties are known to preserve memory in this region in people, Kirby said.

After the housing experiment, the researchers examined the brain tissue of the mice and found increased inflammation in the pair-housed mice – biological evidence of eroded cognitive health.

“The group-housed mice had fewer signs of this inflammation, meaning that their brains didn’t look as ‘old’ as those that lived in pairs,” Kirby said.

The researchers also looked for evidence of new neuron growth in the hippocampus and found no differences between the groups.

Previous research in this area has primarily focused on mice that have highly enriched environments with lots of toys and opportunities for exercise and compared them with mice without as much to do.

This study goes further by showcasing differences that appear to be due to socialization alone, Kirby said. Future research should explore the molecular explanations for the connection between socialization and improved memory and brain health, she said.

Kirby said that people who are aging would do well to consider how their choices about where to live might impact their ability to be social.

“Something as basic as how long it takes to drive or walk to a friend’s house can make a big difference as we get older,” she said.

“A lot of people end up isolated not by choice, but by circumstance. ‘Over the river and through the woods’ might be fun for the kids, but it’s probably not so great for Grandma,” Kirby said.

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Nouns slow down our speech – Study

As a senior (with dementia in his family tree) who often finds himself searching for words, I was fascinated by this study. Mental glitches can be scary. It’s nice to find out that there isn’t  anything wrong with your brain.

Speakers hesitate or make brief pauses filled with sounds like “uh” or “uhm” mostly before nouns. Such slow-down effects are far less frequent before verbs, as UZH researchers working together with an international team have now discovered by looking at examples from different languages.

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When we speak, we unconsciously pronounce some words more slowly than others, and sometimes we make brief pauses or throw in meaningless sounds like “uhm”. Such slow-down effects provide key evidence on how our brains process language. They point to difficulties when planning the utterance of a specific word. Continue reading

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Higher aerobic fitness associated with better word production skills in healthy seniors

Here we have more good news on the exercise/brain front. Eat less; move more; live longer really works on all levels it seems.

Healthy older people who exercise regularly are less inclined to struggle to find words to express themselves, research led by the University of Birmingham has discovered.

Researchers found that older adults’ aerobic fitness levels are directly related to the incidence of age-related language failures such as ‘tip-of-the-tongue’ states.

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The research, published in Scientific Reports, is the first of its kind to investigate the relationship between aerobic fitness levels and temporary cognitive lapses, such as not having a word come to mind when speaking – known as a ‘tip-of-the-tongue’ state.

People in a tip-of-the-tongue state have a strong conviction that they know a word, but are unable to produce it, and this phenomena occurs more frequently as we grow older. Continue reading

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Bad habits that can hurt your brain – Web MD

I find myself writing something every week on how exercise benefits the brain as well as the body. I hope you are getting yours regularly. The other side of the coin includes actions we do or omit on a regular basis that harm our body as well as our brain. Here are some from WebMD.

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Not surprisingly, their first is not getting enough sleep. ” … lack of sleep may be a cause of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. It’s best to have regular sleeping hours. If you have trouble with sleep, avoid alcohol, caffeine, and electronics in the evening, and start a soothing bedtime ritual.”

I feel strongly about getting enough sleep. Check out my Page – How important is a good night’s sleep? for lots more details. Continue reading

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Stronger people have healthier brains – Study

Herewith another log on the fire. Eat less; move more; live longer remains the mantra here. I was aware of the brain benefits of aerobic exercise, now, it seems that strength training also contributes.

A study of nearly half a million people has revealed that muscular strength, measured by hand grip, is an indication of how healthy our brains are.

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Dr. Joseph Firth, an Honorary Research Fellow at The University of Manchester and Research Fellow at NICM Health Research Institute at Western Sydney University, crunched the numbers using UK Biobank data.

Using data from the 475,397 participants from all around the U.K., the new study showed that on average, stronger people performed better across every test of brain functioning used. Continue reading

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Sitting is Bad for Your Brain, Not Just Your Heart or Metabolism

It’s been a couple of years now since I first learned the dangers of prolonged sitting. Someone even called ‘sitting the new smoking.‘ I thought that might have been excessive – might have been. However, this new information from UCLA researchers certainly adds resonance to the problem for seniors.

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Sitting too much is linked to changes in a section of the brain that is critical for memory, according to a preliminary study by UCLA researchers of middle-aged and older adults.

Studies show that too much sitting, like smoking, increases the risk of heart disease, diabetes and premature death. Researchers at UCLA wanted to see how sedentary behavior influences brain health, especially regions of the brain that are critical to memory formation.

METHOD

UCLA researchers recruited 35 people ages 45 to 75 and asked about their physical activity levels and the average number of hours per day they spent sitting over the previous week. Each person had a high-resolution MRI scan, which provides a detailed look at the medial temporal lobe, or MTL, a brain region involved in the formation of new memories.

The researchers found that sedentary behavior is a significant predictor of thinning of the MTL and that physical activity, even at high levels, is insufficient to offset the harmful effects of sitting for extended periods.

This study does not prove that too much sitting causes thinner brain structures, but instead that more hours spent sitting are associated with thinner regions, researchers said. In addition, the researchers focused on the hours spent sitting, but did not ask participants if they took breaks during this time.

The researchers next hope to follow a group of people for a longer duration to determine if sitting causes the thinning and what role gender, race, and weight might play in brain health related to sitting.

IMPACT

MTL thinning can be a precursor to cognitive decline and dementia in middle-aged and older adults. Reducing sedentary behavior may be a possible target for interventions designed to improve brain health in people at risk for Alzheimer’s disease, researchers said.

Please check out my Page – Do you know the dangers of too much sitting? for more details on the common practice.

Tony

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Diet, exercise and brain training counter cognitive decline

This is wonderful news. I love everything about it. My blog is based on exactly these principles. Eat intelligently and get your exercise and your brain will benefit in your declining years. Well done!

A comprehensive program providing older people at risk of dementia with healthy eating guidance, exercise, brain training, and management of metabolic and vascular risk factors appears to slow down cognitive decline, according to the first ever randomized controlled trial of its kind, published in The Lancet.

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In the Finnish Geriatric Intervention Study to Prevent Cognitive Impairment and Disability (FINGER) study, researchers led by Professor Miia Kivipelto from the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden, National Institute for Health and Welfare in Helsinki, and University of Eastern Finland, assessed the effects on brain function of a comprehensive intervention aimed at addressing some of the most important risk factors for age-related dementia, such as high body-mass index and heart health. Continue reading

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Alzheimer’s Disease Redefined

Researchers have published a new study framework that defines Alzheimer’s disease by brain changes, not symptoms.

“NIA-AA Research Framework: Towards a Biological Definition of Alzheimer’s Disease” was published in the April 2018 issue of Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association. First author Clifford R. Jack, Jr., M.D., of Mayo Clinic Rochester, MN and colleagues propose shifting the definition of Alzheimer’s disease in living people – for use in research – from the current one, based on cognitive changes and behavioral symptoms with biomarker confirmation, to a strictly biological construct. This represents a major evolution in how we think about Alzheimer’s.

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In 2011, the Alzheimer’s Association (AA) and the National Institute on Aging (NIA) at the U.S. National Institutes of Health convened experts to update the diagnostic guidelines for Alzheimer’s disease. NeuroscienceNews.com image is in the public domain.

Understanding and effectively treating Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias may be the most difficult challenge for the medical/scientific community this century. The field has experienced monumental challenges developing new and effective drug therapies, not the least of which was the discovery that – until recently – clinical trials were conducted where up to 30% of participants did not have the Alzheimer’s disease-related brain change targeted by the experimental drug. Continue reading

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Even Old Brains Can Make New Neurons, Study

In research published in the journal Cell Stem Cell, scientists at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons present the most definitive evidence to date that the human brain makes new neurons throughout life.

Previous studies of animal brains have led many neuroscientists to conclude that the capacity for neurogenesis, or the production of new neurons, declines with age and virtually ceases in the mature brain. “In mice, researchers have shown that neurogenesis drops pretty dramatically after middle age,” said the study’s lead author Maura Boldrini, MD, PhD, a research scientist in psychiatry and a member of the Columbia Stem Cell Initiative. A recent study of human brains was also unable to find new neurons in adult brains.

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A neural stem cell in the brain. Image: Maura Boldrini / Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons.

The brain’s hippocampus, which is responsible for memory and learning, has been a major focus of studies on neurogenesis and stem cell biology. Although neuroimaging studies of humans show that continued growth in this structure occurs in adulthood, many scientists have argued that this represents existing neurons growing larger, or an expansion of blood vessels or other internal support structures, rather than the addition of new neurons. To address the question, investigators dissected and examined a representative sample of human hippocampi from healthy people of different ages after they died. Continue reading

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6 Steps to sharpen your brain – Harvard

At the risk of repeating myself I have had three cases of dementia/Alzheimer’s Disease in my family. They occurred on both my mother’s and father’s side, so I am totally paying attention to anything that might help to preserve my cognitive powers. I turned 78 in January. Here is Harvard Healthbeat on the subject.

Everyone has the occasional “senior moment.” Maybe you’ve gone into the kitchen and can’t remember why, or can’t recall a familiar name during a conversation. Memory lapses can occur at any age, but aging alone is generally not a cause of cognitive decline. When significant memory loss occurs among older people, it is generally not due to aging but to organic disorders, brain injury, or neurological illness.

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Studies have shown that you can help prevent cognitive decline and reduce the risk of dementia with some basic good health habits:

  • staying physically active
  • getting enough sleep
  • not smoking
  • having good social connections
  • limiting alcohol to one drink a day
  • eating a balanced diet low in saturated and trans fats.

Certain health conditions that can impair cognitive skills include diabetes, high blood pressure, sleep apnea, depression, and hypothyroidism. If you have any of these health issues, you can help protect your memory by following your doctor’s advice carefully.

Memory changes can be frustrating, but the good news is that, thanks to decades of research, you can learn how to get your mind active. There are various strategies we can use to protect and improve memory. Here are several you might try.

1. Keep learning

A higher level of education is associated with better mental functioning in old age. Experts think that advanced education may help keep memory strong by getting a person into the habit of being mentally active. Challenging your brain with mental exercise is believed to activate processes that help maintain individual brain cells and stimulate communication among them. Many people have jobs that keep them mentally active, but pursuing a hobby, learning a new skill, or volunteering for a project at work that involves a skill you don’t usually use can function the same way and help improve memory. Continue reading

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Do Sleep Habits Change for Seniors?

With 10,000 baby boomers becoming 65 every day, the question of sleep becomes highly relevant. The Washington Post says, “Scientists have also discovered the role of telomeres in aging. These are caps on the ends of strands of DNA that protect a cell’s genetic material when it divides. But they get a little shorter with each division, and once they get too short, a cell can no longer function normally. Older people have shorter telomeres, but so do people with high stress and poor sleep habits.”

First of all the myth that seniors need less sleep is – a myth. Dr. Michael W. Smith of WebMD offers the following definitive answer, “As children and adolescents, we need more sleep than we do as young adults. But by our senior years, we need the same seven to nine hours a night we did as teens.” 
On the other hand, the nature and quality of sleep does change as we age.

sleep_puppy_iStock_000015227531MediumHrayr P. Attarian, MD, in a talk before Northwestern Memorial Hospital’s Healthy Transitions Program® said that although we get less sleep as we age, we need the same amount. Older people take slightly longer to fall asleep than younger ones. Also, sleep efficiency falls as we age. The 18 to 30 year olds have 95 percent sleep efficiency; 31 to 40 year olds enjoy 88 percent sleep efficiency; 41 to 50 year olds have 85 percent sleep efficiency and 51 to 70 year olds are down to 80 percent sleep efficiency.

So the bottom line seems to be seniors need as much asleep as ever, but they have a harder time achieving it.

Medications play a part in senior sleep habits, too. As we age we often need more medications to get us through the day and night. Dr. Attarian warned about Tylenol and Advil PM specifically. He said that they worsen prostate conditions in men and that they impair reflexes in both sexes into the next day.

To read further on sleep, check out my page How Important is a good night’s sleep.

Tony

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