Category Archives: brain health

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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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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Leg exercise critical to brain and nervous system health – Study

Groundbreaking research shows that neurological health depends as much on signals sent by the body’s large, leg muscles to the brain as it does on directives from the brain to the muscles. Published in Frontiers in Neuroscience, the study fundamentally alters brain and nervous system medicine—giving doctors new clues as to why patients with motor neuron disease, multiple sclerosis, spinal muscular atrophy and other neurological diseases often rapidly decline when their movement becomes limited.

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“Our study supports the notion that people who are unable to do load-bearing exercises—such as patients who are bed-ridden, or even astronauts on extended travel—not only lose muscle mass, but their body chemistry is altered at the cellular level and even their nervous system is adversely impacted,” says Dr. Raffaella Adami from the Università degli Studi di Milano, Italy. Continue reading

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Connecting the Dots Between Physical and Emotional Health

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I have written time and again about the connection between exercise and the brain. Here is a further connection between our emotions and our bodies.

Tony

Our Better Health

There’s a link between your emotional health and your physical well-being, so take time to nurture both.

To be completely healthy, you should take care not only of your physical health, but your emotional health, too. If one is neglected, the other will suffer.

What’s the Connection Between Emotional and Physical Health?

There’s a physical connection between what the mind is thinking and those parts of the brain that control bodily functions. According to Charles Goodstein, MD, a clinical professor of psychiatry at New York University’s Langone School of Medicine in New York City, the brain is intimately connected to our endocrine system, which secretes hormones that can have a powerful influence on your emotional health. “Thoughts and feelings as they are generated within the mind [can influence] the outpouring of hormones from the endocrine system, which in effect control much of what goes on within the body,” says Dr…

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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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Can Laughter Make Our Lives Better?

I think part of living a long and healthy life includes a good amount of humor. At least that certainly is true in my case. Here is a study on various aspects of humor in different situations.

Researchers report humor can be good in certain situation, but its effectiveness depends on your end goals.

Why do humorous dating profiles get more right swipes? Can being funny help solve problems? Is laughter really the best medicine?

Humor and the “good life” seem to go hand-in-hand. Funny people seem to move effortlessly through the world. Business articles and gurus prescribe humor as a key to effective workplace performance. The website for the African country of Eritrea even describes humor as “a tremendous resource for surmounting problems, enhancing your relationships, and supporting both physical and emotional health.”

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Humor appreciation does not always improve utilitarian outcomes, such as decision-making or health.

“Humor, Comedy and Consumer Behavior,” a paper by Caleb Warren, assistant professor of marketing in the UA Eller College of Management; Adam Barsky of the University of Melbourne; and A. Peter McGraw of the University of Colorado’s Leeds School of Business, looks beyond advertising to highlight how and when humor helps people reach their goals. Continue reading

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Physical Activity May Influence the Health of Future Offspring

It just keeps getting better. The mantra of my blog is eat less; move more; live longer. That has always referred to yourself, present and future, mind and body. Now comes a fascinating study from Germany that suggests that the exercise you do today may well influence the health of your future offspring. What could be better than that?

Physical and mental exercise is not only beneficial for your own brain, but can also affect the learning ability of future offspring – at least in mice. This particular form of inheritance is mediated by certain RNA molecules that influence gene activity. These molecules accumulate in both the brain and germ cells following physical and mental activity.

Prof. André Fischer and colleagues from the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE) in Göttingen and Munich and the University Medical Center Göttingen (UMG) report these findings in the journal Cell Reports.

 

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It is known that physical activity and cognitive training also improve learning ability in humans. However, it is not so easy to study in humans whether learning ability can be inherited epigenetically. NeuroscienceNews.com image is in the public domain.

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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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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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How music and rhythm impact our brains – Study

As regular readers know I am a music lover with a wide range of tastes. One of my favorite aspects of bike riding is the bluetooth speaker on my water bottle that lets me listen to the tunes on my iPhone as I pedal along. When my daughter, now 23 years old, was a toddler, I remember watching music videos with her and enjoying – The wheels on the bus go round and round … – too many times to count. That and numerous other tunes provided a regular source of engagement and enjoyment for her. At the time it just seemed like a fun thing to share with her. But, it seems she was getting a lot more out of it than I knew, according to a study presented at the Cognitive Neuroscience Society (CNS) meeting in Boston.

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A universal sign of motherhood is the lullaby. The world over, mothers sing to their babies, whether Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, their favorite song from the radio, or even random notes. This universality makes the simple lullaby a great window into the human mind. In a new study, cognitive neuroscientists found that lullabies soothe both moms and babies simultaneously, while play songs increase babies’ attention and displays of positive emotion toward their mothers.

The behavioral implications of music are vast, says Laura Cirelli of the University of Toronto Mississauga, who presented the new work on maternal singing at the 25th meeting of the Cognitive Neuroscience Society. “Infant brains must be able to track auditory events in a predictive manner to make sense of music,” she explains, and many complex things are going on in their brains to make that possible.

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You don’t have to lose cognitive function while aging – Study

With Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia on both sides of my family, I can’t tell you how good it makes me feel to run across studies like this that say the wheels don’t have to come off your mental functions as you age.

Gradual and variable change in mental functions that occurs naturally as people age, not as part of a neurological disease such as Alzheimer’s disease, is one of the most challenging health issues encountered by older adults, says a report from the Institute of Medicine. The aging process affects the brain just like any other part of the body. Known as “cognitive aging,” the type and rate of change can vary widely among individuals. Some will experience very few, if any, effects, while others may experience changes in their memory, speed of processing information, problem solving, learning, and decision-making abilities. The committee that carried out the study and wrote the report proposed three top actions individuals can take to help maintain optimal cognitive function with age.

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“Changes in mental functions and capabilities are a part of aging and occur with everyone,” said committee chair Dan G. Blazer, the J.P. Gibbons Professor of Psychiatry Emeritus at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C. “The extent and nature of these changes vary widely and are gradual, and aging can have both positive and negative effects on cognition. Wisdom and knowledge can increase with age, while memory and attention can decline.”

Aging can affect cognitive abilities needed to perform daily tasks, such as driving, following recipes, adhering to medication schedules, and paying bills, the committee said. As they get older, individuals of all ages should take the following three steps to help promote cognitive health:

Be physically active.
Reduce and manage cardiovascular disease risk factors, including high blood pressure, diabetes, and smoking.
Regularly discuss and review health conditions and medications that might influence cognitive health with a health care professional. A number of medications can have a negative effect — temporary or long term –on cognitive function when used alone or in combination with other medication.

Other actions that may promote cognitive health: Continue reading

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Can Exercise Help Me Learn?

“Exercise helps you to learn on three levels: first, it optimizes your mind-set to improve alertness, attention and motivation; second, it prepares and encourages nerve cells to bind to one another, which is the cellular basis for logging in new information; and third, it spurs the development of new nerve cells from stem cells in the hippocampus,” so says Spark, the revolutionary new science of exercise and the brain. Author John J. Ratey, M.D., is a clinical associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. Besides, Spark, he also wrote A User’s Guide to the Brain among other books.

The hippocampus plays a major role in the consolidation of information from long term memory and short term memory. So, clearly, exercise plays an important role for seniors who are concerned about their memory failing in their latter years.

One distinction needs to be made here. You can’t learn difficult material while you are exercising because blood is shunted away from the prefrontal cortex and this hampers your executive function. Dr. Ratey quotes a study of college students who were working out on treadmills and exercise bikes at a high rate. They performed poorly on tests of complex learning. “However blood flow shifts back almost immediately after you finish exercising, and this is the perfect time to focus on a project that demands sharp thinking and complex analysis.”

He enumerates an experiment that was done on 40 adults aged 50 to 64. They were asked to do one 35 minute treadmill session at either 60 percent or 70 percent of maximum heart rate. Afterwards, they were asked to list alternative uses for common objects, like a newspaper. It is used for reading, but can be used to wrap fish, line a bird cage, etc. Half of the group watched a movie and the other half exercised. They were tested three times, before the session, immediately after the session and then 20 minutes later. The results of the movie watchers showed no change, but the runners improved their processing speed and cognitive flexibility after just one session. “Cognitive flexibility is an important executive function that reflects our ability to shift thinking and to produce a steady flow of creative thoughts and answers as opposed to a regurgitation of the usual responses. The trait correlates with high performance levels in intellectually demanding jobs.” The doctor recommends going for a short, intense run at lunchtime ahead of an important brain-storming session at work.

spark-book I have enjoyed Dr. Ratey’s book and recommend it to readers of the blog. You can get a look at the book on the Amazon website and purchase it from there if you like it.

As regular readers know, I lost an aunt to Alzheimer’s and my mother suffered from dementia in her final years. I am a total believer in this exercise-learning hypothesis. If I don’t ride my bike every day, I manage a five mile walk, climb 30 flights of stairs, or take a trip to the health club. I ain’t sittin’ around doin’ nothin’.

I have repeated the phrase, Use it or Lose it time and again in this blog. In this case, using the body promotes healthy mental processes as well as good physical results.

Tony

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