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.
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).
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
First-ever study to measure high-density lipoprotein particle numbers in spinal fluid led by Keck School of Medicine of USC
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.”
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).
“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.”
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.
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.
Grampa, when you finish that puzzle please slip on your walking shoes and step outside.
A lot of senior citizens are doing Sudoku puzzles and crosswords to ‘exercise their brains’ and slow the aging process. These puzzles can be fun, and they do build puzzle-solving skills which are long-lasting. They are not even half the battle against aging, though.
“Unless the activities that you’re practicing span a broad spectrum of abilities, then there is not a proven general benefit to these mental fitness programs. So, the idea that any single brain exercise program late in life can act as a quick fix for general mental function is almost entirely faith-based,” Professor Wang said in our post on physical exercise vs mental exercise.
Walking, on the other hand, boosts blood flow to the brain. Medicine.net reported that moderate aerobic exercise helps boost blood flow to the brain. Continue reading →
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.
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.
Study indicates this method could be a new approach to treating a variety of severe mental illnesses.
Researchers show it is possible to improve specific human brain functions related to self-control and mental flexibility by merging artificial intelligence with targeted electrical brain stimulation.
In a pilot human study, researchers from the University of Minnesota Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital show it is possible to improve specific human brain functions related to self-control and mental flexibility by merging artificial intelligence with targeted electrical brain stimulation.
Alik Widge, MD, PhD, an assistant professor of psychiatry and member of the Medical Discovery Team on Addiction at the U of M Medical School, is the senior author of the research published in Nature Biomedical Engineering. The findings come from a human study conducted at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston among 12 patients undergoing brain surgery for epilepsy — a procedure that places hundreds of tiny electrodes throughout the brain to record its activity and identify where seizures originate.
The living brain is constantly producing regular rhythmic patterns of activity, which can be compared to musical notes. Scientists at the University of Birmingham in the UK, and the University of Maryland School of Dentistry in the U.S., have successfully demonstrated that one particularly prevalent pattern of brain activity, called alpha waves, strongly relates to the body’s susceptibility or resilience to pain.
Alpha waves oscillate between 8-14 Hz, with the peak frequency varying across individuals. The researchers demonstrated how a measurement of an individual’s alpha wave frequency can be used as a reliable pain indicator.
The study, led by graduate student Andrew Furman and published in the journal Cerebral Cortex, suggests that these alpha waves could be used to help clinicians understand how susceptible a patient to experience severe pain post-surgery.
A new analysis published in the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest (PSPI), however, reveals that even though a more extensive formal education forestalls the more obvious signs of age-related cognitive deficits, it does not lessen the rate of aging-related cognitive declines. Instead, people who have gone further in school attain, on average, a higher level of cognitive function in early and middle adult adulthood, so the initial effects of cognitive aging are initially less obvious and the most severe impairments manifest later than they otherwise would have.
“The total amount of formal education that people receive is related to their average levels of cognitive functioning throughout adulthood,” said Elliot M. Tucker-Drob, a researcher with the University of Texas, Austin, and coauthor on the paper. “However, it is not appreciably related to their rates of aging-related cognitive declines.”Continue reading →
Must confess that before encountering this item on Lutein, in the Tufts Health & Nutrition Letter, I was ignorant of it.
Lutein is just one of the more than 600 phytochemicals in the carotenoid family. These compounds are pigments that give plants their orange, yellow, and red hues, but they are more than just good looking: carotenoids, including lutein, have antioxidant and other health-promoting properties. “What makes lutein unique among the carotenoids is that it is selectively taken up into the eye and the brain,” says Elizabeth Johnson, a former scientist with the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging.
Eye Health: Lutein is not considered an essential nutrient; there is no evidence you will die without it. But as Americans are living longer, they are experiencing more age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and cataracts, the two major causes of visual impairment in the U.S. It is much better to prevent rather than treat these diseases, and research on lutein demonstrates that diet could help. “The eye is very vulnerable to oxidative stress because it is constantly bombarded by the sun’s rays,” says Johnson. “Lutein and its isomer zeaxanthin are concentrated in the lens of the eye and the macula of the retina, where their antioxidant effects may help to prevent damage.” Continue reading →
Cognitive decline is a major concern of the aging population. Already, Alzheimer’s disease affects approximately 5.4 million Americans and 30 million people globally. Without effective prevention and treatment, the prospects for the future are bleak. By 2050, it is estimated that 160 million people globally will have the disease, including 13 million Americans, leading to potential bankruptcy of the Medicare system. Unlike several other chronic illnesses, Alzheimer’s disease is on the rise–recent estimates suggest that Alzheimer’s disease has become the third leading cause of death in the United States behind cardiovascular disease and cancer. Since its first description over 100 years ago, Alzheimer’s disease has been without effective treatment.
While researchers continue to seek out a cure, it is becoming clear that there are effective treatment options. More and more research supports the conclusion that Alzheimer’s disease is not a disease of only Beta Amyloid plaques and Tao tangles but a complex and systemic disease. In this study of patients with varying levels of cognitive decline, it is demonstrated how a precision and personalized approach results in either stabilization or improvement in memory.
Affirmativ Health sought to determine whether a comprehensive and personalized program, designed to mitigate risk factors of Alzheimer’s disease could improve cognitive and metabolic function in individuals experiencing cognitive decline. Findings provided evidence that this approach can improve risk factor scores and stabilize cognitive function.