Category Archives: brain function

Teeth brushing may fight Alzheimer’s

As a person with no less than three cases of Alzheimer’s/dementia in his family, I have serious interest in anything relating to maintaining brain health and function. So, I was most interested in this item from the University of Bergen.

You don’t only avoid holes in your teeth by keeping good oral hygiene, researchers at the University of Bergen have discovered a clear connection between gum disease and Alzheimer’s disease.

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The researchers have determined that gum disease (gingivitis) plays a decisive role in whether a person develops Alzheimer’s or not.

“We discovered DNA-based proof that the bacteria causing gingivitis can move from the mouth to the brain,” says researcher Piotr Mydel at Broegelmanns Research Laboratory, Department of Clinical Science, University of Bergen (UiB).

The bacteria produces a protein that destroys nerve cells in the brain, which in turn leads to loss of memory and ultimately, Alzheimer’s. Continue reading

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Reaching and grasping — Learning fine motor coordination changes the brain

When we train the reaching for and grasping of objects, we also train our brain. In other words, this action brings about changes in the connections of a certain neuronal population in the red nucleus, a region of the midbrain. Researchers at the University of Basel’s Biozentrum have discovered this group of nerve cells in the red nucleus. They have also shown how fine motor tasks promote plastic reorganization of this brain region. The results of the study have been published recently in Nature Communications.

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Simply grasping a coffee cup needs fine motor coordination with the highest precision. This required performance of the brain is an ability that can also be learned and trained. Prof. Kelly Tan’s research group at the Biozentrum, University of Basel, has investigated the red nucleus, a region of the midbrain that controls fine motor movement, and identified a new population of nerve cells which changes when fine motor coordination is trained. The more that grasping is practiced, the more the connections between the neurons of this group of nerve cells are strengthened. Continue reading

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What about teen cannabis use – Study

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About one in five Canadian adolescents uses cannabis (19% of Canadians aged 15-19), and its recent legalization across the country warrants investigation into the consequence of this use on the developing brain. Adolescence is associated with the maturation of cognitive functions, such as working memory, decision-making, and impulsivity control. This is a highly vulnerable period for the development of the brain as it represents a critical period wherein regulatory connection between higher-order regions of the cortex and emotional processing circuits deeper inside the brain are established. It is a period of strong remodeling, making adolescents highly vulnerable to drug-related developmental disturbances. Research presented by Canadian neuroscientists Patricia Conrod, Steven Laviolette, Iris Balodis and Jibran Khokhar at the 2019 Canadian Neuroscience Meeting in Toronto on May 25 featured recent discoveries on the effects of cannabis on the adolescent brain.

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Researchers Define Alzheimer’s-like Brain Disorder

As regular readers know, I have a history of Alzheimer’s Disease or some form of dementia on both sides of my family, so I entertain a strong interest in the subject, particularly since I am a senior citizen.

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A brain disorder that mimics symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease has been defined with recommended diagnostic criteria and guidelines for advancing future research on the condition. Researchers at Rush University Medical Center and scientists from several National Institutes of Health-funded institutions, in collaboration with international peers, described the newly named pathway to dementia, limbic-predominant age-related TDP-43 encephalopathy, or LATE, in a report published today in the journal Brain.

“We proposed a new name to increase recognition and research for this common cause of dementia, the symptoms of which mimic Alzheimer’s dementia but is not caused by plaques and tangles (the buildup of beta amyloid proteins that Alzheimer’s produces). Rather, LATE dementia is caused by deposits of a protein called TDP-43 in the brain,” said Dr. Julie Schneider, senior author of the Brain paper and associate director of the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center. Continue reading

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Tufts on brain food

The science of whether some dietary choices can be considered brain food or not continues to unfold.

Given long time-frames of conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, it’s challenging to prove any cause and effect relationship between specific foods and brain health. Most such associations are drawn from observational studies, in which people who eat more or less of a certain food are assessed over time for cognitive changes.

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It’s obviously difficult to feed a group of study participants lots of, say, blueberries for several years in order to test their brain health at the end; that’s why clinical trials of so-called brain foods have largely depended on animal tests.

Nonetheless, some foods tend to stand out from the pages and pages of research results as most likely being protective for brain health. Continue reading

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Is it possible to supercharge memories back to life? – BU Study

As a 79 year old bike rider, I know how much I am counting on exercise to keep my brain intact as I age. So, I was nothing less than amazed to run across the Boston University (BU) study on electrically stimulating brain function in seniors.

BU brain scientist shows electrostimulation can restore a 70-year-old’s working memory to that of a 20-year-old.

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As you read the words stretched across this page, your brain is doing something magnificent. Each sentence lingers in your mind for a fleeting moment, the letters melding into a symphony of neural signals. These intricate electrical rhythms form the language of the brain, a language we have only begun to understand within the last century.

Rob Reinhart, an assistant professor of psychological and brain sciences at Boston University, says we’ve reached a point where we not only understand this language—we can speak it and harness it to enhance the functioning of the mind. In a groundbreaking study published April 2019 in Nature Neuroscience, Reinhart and BU doctoral researcher John Nguyen demonstrate that electrostimulation can improve the working memory of people in their 70s so that their performance on memory tasks is indistinguishable from that of 20-year-olds.

Reinhart and Nguyen’s research targets working memory—the part of the mind where consciousness lives, the part that is active whenever we make decisions, reason, recall our grocery lists, and (hopefully) remember where we left our keys. Working memory starts to decline in our late 20s and early 30s, Reinhart explains, as certain areas of the brain gradually become disconnected and uncoordinated. By the time we reach our 60s and 70s, these neural circuits have deteriorated enough that many of us experience noticeable cognitive difficulties, even in the absence of dementias like Alzheimer’s disease. Continue reading

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Brain health connects to heart health – CDC

Eat less; move more; live longer is the mantra here. Apparently, it also leads to think better, too. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) seems to think so.

Did you know that the health of your brain and your heart are connected? By keeping your heart healthy, you also lower your risk for brain problems such as stroke and dementia. Learn more about the connection between the heart and brain and steps to take to keep both healthy.

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Heart disease, stroke, and vascular dementia are preventable. Take steps to reduce your risk.

 

  • Control your blood pressure. High blood pressure is a leading cause of heart disease and stroke. Over time, high blood pressure puts too much stress on blood vessels. Scientists now know that having uncontrolled high blood pressure in midlife also raises your risk for dementia later in life. Know your numbers by getting your blood pressure checked regularly. If your blood pressure is high, work with your doctor, nurse, or health care team to manage it. One way to manage your blood pressure is to take your medicines as prescribed. Learn more ways to manage blood pressure.
  • Eat healthy foods and limit alcohol. Eat plenty of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and low-fat dairy, and include seafood rich in omega-3 fatty acids (such as salmon) each week. Limit foods with added sugars and saturated fats, and lower your sodium (salt) intake. If you drink alcohol, drink in moderation. Drinking too much alcohol raises blood pressure, which can lead to stroke and increase the risk of some kinds of heart disease.
  • Get diabetes under control. Diabetes causes high blood sugar, which can damage blood vessels and nerves. This damage raises the risk for heart disease, stroke, and dementia.
  • Don’t smoke. Smoking damages blood vessels and makes blood more likely to clot, which can lead to heart disease and stroke. Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States. If you don’t smoke, don’t start. If you do smoke, learn how to quit.
  • Stay active. Lack of physical activity can lead to high blood pressure and obesity. Most Americans don’t meet guidelines of getting at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week. Find ways to get your heart pumping for at least 150 minutes per week. Take the stairs, schedule a walk at lunch, or do jumping jacks during commercial breaks. Learn more about how to get enough physical activity.

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Neuroplasticity – one brainy word

Since I had that nice infographic on the brain yesterday, I thought this one on brain function might be a useful follow-up.

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If you are interested in reading more about that wonderful organ inside your head, feel free to check out my Page – Important facts about your brain (and exercise benefits)

Tony

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Physics explains why time flies as we age

Time flies when you’re having fun. As an old timer, I have responded countless times that “Time flies even when you’re not having fun.” So I was most gratified to find this research on exactly that.

A Duke University researcher has a new explanation for why those endless days of childhood seemed to last so much longer than they do now–physics.

According to Adrian Bejan, the J.A. Jones Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Duke, this apparent temporal discrepancy can be blamed on the ever-slowing speed at which images are obtained and processed by the human brain as the body ages.

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The end result is that, because older people are viewing fewer new images in the same amount of actual time, it seems to them as though time is passing more quickly. 

The theory was published online on March 18 in the journal European Review. Continue reading

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Keeping active in middle age may be tied to lower risk of dementia – Study

In the nearly 10 years of writing this blog I have come to believe that use it or lose it is an unassailable law of the body. And what applies to the body often carries over to the brain. As I have mentioned previously, my family has dementia in general and Alzheimer’s in particular on both sides, so keeping a clear head really resonates with me.

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My dog and me out for a ride. I am a little past middle age in the picture, but you get the idea.

Keeping physically and mentally active in middle age may be tied to a lower risk of developing dementia decades later, according to a study published in the medical journal Neurology. Mental activities included reading, playing instruments, singing in a choir, visiting concerts, gardening, doing needlework or attending religious services.

“These results indicate that these activities in middle age may play a role in preventing dementia in old age and preserving cognitive health,” said study author Jenna Najar, MD, from Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg.

“It’s exciting as these are activities that people can incorporate into their lives pretty easily and without a lot of expense.” Continue reading

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Emergency and Urgent Hospitalizations Linked to Accelerated Cognitive Decline in Seniors

My interest in cognition and cognitive decline, particularly in seniors brought me to this amazing study. I think it may give further import to the idea of maintaining a physically  active life into our senior years,

Emergency and urgent hospitalizations are associated with an increased rate of cognitive decline in older adults, report researchers at Rush University Medical Center. Results of their study, published in the Jan. 11, 2019, online issue of Neurology shows that hospitalization may be a more of a major risk factor for long-term cognitive decline in older adults than previously recognized.

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“We found that those who have non-elective (emergency or urgent) hospitalizations and who have not previously been diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease had a rapid decline in cognitive function (i.e., thinking abilities) compared to the pre-hospital rates,” said Bryan James, PhD, an epidemiologist and in the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center and an assistant professor in the Rush Department of Internal Medicine. “By comparison, people who were never hospitalized and those who had elective hospitalizations did not experience the drastic decline in cognitive function.” Continue reading

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Regular exercise changes the brain – Harvard

Eat less; move more; live longer remains the mantra of this blog. It is good to learn from Harvard, no less, that moving more also helps to keep our brain intact and functioning.

There are plenty of good reasons to be physically active. Big ones include reducing the odds of developing heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. Maybe you want to lose weight, lower your blood pressure, prevent depression, or just look better. Here’s another one, which especially applies to those of us (including me) experiencing the brain fog that comes with age: exercise changes the brain in ways that protect memory and thinking skills.

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In a study done at the University of British Columbia, researchers found that regular aerobic exercise, the kind that gets your heart and your sweat glands pumping, appears to boost the size of the hippocampus, the brain area involved in verbal memory and learning. Resistance training, balance and muscle toning exercises did not have the same results.

The finding comes at a critical time. Researchers say one new case of dementia is detected every four seconds globally. They estimate that by the year 2050, more than 115 million people will have dementia worldwide. Continue reading

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Drawing is Better than Writing for Memory Retention – Study

Regular readers know that I am a senior citizen, turning 79 next month. My family has a history of dementia in general and Alzheimer’s Disease in particular. SO, I am interested in anything that affects the brain and relates to brain function. This study at the University of Waterloo captured my attention.

Researchers report older adults who take up drawing are better able to retain new information than those who write notes.Source: University of Waterloo.

Older adults who take up drawing could enhance their memory, according to a new study.

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As part of a series of studies, the researchers asked both young people and older adults to do a variety of memory-encoding techniques and then tested their recall. NeuroscienceNews.com image is in the public domain.

Researchers from the University of Waterloo found that even if people weren’t good at it, drawing, as a method to help retain new information, was better than re-writing notes, visualization exercises or passively looking at images. Continue reading

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Yoga breathing exercises can sharpen your mind – Study

Breath-focused meditation and yogic breathing practices have numerous known cognitive benefits, including increased ability to focus, decreased mind wandering, improved arousal levels, more positive emotions, decreased emotional reactivity, along with many others. To date, however, no direct neurophysiological link between respiration and cognition has been suggested.

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The research shows for the first time that breathing – a key element of meditation and mindfulness practices – directly affects the levels of a natural chemical messenger in the brain called noradrenaline. This chemical messenger is released when we are challenged, curious, exercised, focused or emotionally aroused, and, if produced at the right levels, helps the brain grow new connections, like a brain fertilizer. The way we breathe, in other words, directly affects the chemistry of our brains in a way that can enhance our attention and improve our brain health.

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Eyes provide new lens for Alzheimer’s screening

At the risk of repeating myself I have a strong interest in any form of dementia and especially Alzheimer’s Disease as I have had at least three close family members succumb – and I am a senior citizen.  the folowing is from the University of Washington School of Medicine.

Alzheimer’s disease is difficult to diagnose as well as treat,  but researchers now have a promising new screening tool using the window to the brain:  the eye.

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A study of 3,877 randomly selected patients found a significant link between three degenerative eye diseases – age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma – and Alzheimer’s disease.

The results offer physicians a new way to detect  those at higher risk of this disorder, which causes memory loss and other symptoms of cognitive decline. Continue reading

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Alzheimer’s Genetically Linked to Cardiovascular Disease – Study

Studying DNA from more than 1.5 million people, an international team of researchers — led by Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and the University of California, San Francisco — has identified points of DNA that increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and also heighten the risk for Alzheimer’s disease, according to an article in Neuroscience News.

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Scientists have long been aware of connections between variations of the APOE gene, which is involved in cholesterol and lipid metabolism, and Alzheimer’s disease. That gene is known to double the risk for Alzheimer’s disease in some patients and increase risk by up to 12 times in others. But in the new study, the researchers identified other DNA points that also appear to be involved both in cardiovascular disease risk and the risk for Alzheimer’s. Continue reading

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