Tag Archives: aging brain

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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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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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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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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How Do We Lose Memory? A STEP at a Time

Summary: A new study reports increased levels of STEP in the hippocampus is linked to mild cognitive impairment.

 

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In mice, rats, monkeys, and people, aging can take its toll on cognitive function. A new study by researchers at Yale and Université de Montréal reveal there is a common denominator to the decline in all of these species — an increase in the level of the molecule striatal-enriched phosphatase, or STEP.

Increased levels of STEP in the hippocampus, a brain structure crucial to the formation of memory, were found in memory-impaired mice and rats, aged rhesus monkeys, and people suffering from mild cognitive impairment, the researchers report March 22 in the journal Current Biology.

High levels of STEP have also been reported in brains of Alzheimer’s patients, the authors note. STEP appears to play a key role in memory consolidation, but too much of it seems to be a bad thing. Young mice and rats with elevated levels of STEP perform more poorly on maze and other memory tests than their peers, and older animals in which STEP is inhibited perform more like young mice.

The scientists hypothesize that as we age we lose ability of to degrade STEP, leading to an unhealthy build up.

“The obvious follow up is to look for STEP inhibitors that will work in people,” said co-corresponding author Paul Lombroso, the Elizabeth Mears and House Jameson Professor in the Child Study Center and professor of neuroscience and of psychiatry.

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Mis-remembering vs. forgetting – Seniors Study

As a 78-year-old concerned about his cognitive facilities remaining intact, this Penn State study caught my attention.

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Older adults often complain about forgetting, but Penn State psychologists suggest that another problem may be mis-remembering.

In a study, the researchers found that as people age, they may be more likely to rely on a type of memory — called schematic memory — that helps them remember the gist of an event, but not necessarily the details. This inability to remember details, though, could lead to difficulty in distinguishing between a memory of something that really happened and something that a person thought happened, but did not — a false memory.

Continue reading

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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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Alzheimer’s in the family – What next? – Harvard

Dementia affects the person diagnosed but also raises fears for siblings and children. Here are the facts.

I have three cases of Alzheimer’s/dementia on both sides of my family, including mother, aunt and grandfather. So, I am extremely sensitive to any information on the subject of cognition and aging. One of the aspects of Alzheimer’s that few people consider, until a loved one becomes afflicted, is that the relatives and people who care about the person suffer greatly as they see a person they loved deteriorate mentally and physically before their eyes. It also raises the specter of – what about me? Will I get it, too?

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Here is a good no nonsense discussion from Harvard Men’s Health Watch.

Alzheimer’s disease represents a personal health crisis, but it’s also a family concern. What does it mean for your children or siblings if you are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s? What does it mean for you if a close relative develops the condition?

“People think that if their dad or aunt or uncle had Alzheimer’s disease, they are doomed. But, no, that’s not true,” says Dr. Gad Marshall, assistant professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School. “Even though family history adds to the overall risk, age still usually trumps it quite a bit. It means your risk is higher, but it’s not that much higher, if you consider the absolute numbers.”

Family history by the numbers

Studies of family history say that if you have a close relative who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease—the most common form of dementia in older adults—your risk increases by about 30%. This is a relative risk increase, meaning a 30% hike in your existing risk. Continue reading

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Age Matters Behind the Wheel – but Not How You Might Expect

As an admitted ‘old guy,’ I have to admit I have my own opinions about the drivers I encounter around me. I have to confess surprise at the results of this study.

A UCLA study explored the relationship between new drivers’ skills and four factors. Instructors from a Los Angeles driving school rated students’ driving skills on a scale of 1 to 4, and the researchers analyzed the results based on these variables:

 

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New female drivers rated their confidence lower than new male drivers, but instructors scored them the same.

Age: Among males, the older the student, the worse his driving skills score. Male teens scored 36 percent higher on driving skills than men in their 20s. The same pattern did not hold true for women. Continue reading

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Dim light dims our brains – Study

Regular readers know I do a lot of work on the brain, my brain. Family members have suffered from both Alzheimer’s and dementia. At the age of 78, I want to continue enjoying my life and mental capacity.

Now comes Michigan State University with info on how light affects our mental functioning.

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Spending too much time in dimly lit rooms and offices may actually change the brain’s structure and hurt one’s ability to remember and learn, indicates groundbreaking research by Michigan State University neuroscientists.

The researchers studied the brains of Nile grass rats (which, like humans, are diurnal and sleep at night) after exposing them to dim and bright light for four weeks. The rodents exposed to dim light lost about 30 percent of capacity in the hippocampus, a critical brain region for learning and memory, and performed poorly on a spatial task they had trained on previously.

The rats exposed to bright light, on the other hand, showed significant improvement on the spatial task. Further, when the rodents that had been exposed to dim light were then exposed to bright light for four weeks (after a month-long break), their brain capacity – and performance on the task – recovered fully.

The study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, is the first to show that changes in environmental light, in a range normally experienced by humans, leads to structural changes in the brain. Americans, on average, spend about 90 percent of their time indoors, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Continue reading

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Some insights into weight and aging – Web MD

I love these WebMD quizzes. I thought this was a particularly germane one for us.

There are only nine questions, but I want to offer a couple of sample. You can take the quiz here.

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I only missed a couple (wheew!). Since I have been writing this blog for nearly 10 years, I expected to crush it.

Here are a couple of examples:

True or False – Thinner is better as you get older. Unlike the majority of our lives, things change as we age. The answer is, “You want to be healthy, not frail. For older adults, what matters most is how active you are and whether you can do all your everyday activities. While it’s important to stay at a healthy weight, how much of your weight ”

I thought that was an excellent insight which many people would not know.

True or False. Gaining weight is a fact of aging. This one is also not obvious. “You can keep your weight steady as you age. It does get harder, but it’s possible. Those corners you cut when you were younger (huge portions, happy hours, little to no exercise)? You can’t   But age doesn’t have to equal weight gain.”

I must admit that the statement, You can’t get away with them anymore, is, I think, no secret to any of us over 50.

Tony

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Send your brain a Valentine

We are sending our loved ones greetings cards and chocolates next week. Let’s not forget that two pound organ in our heads that keeps the show on the road. 

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Here are 10 tips from the Alzheimer’s Association to help protect your brain from decline  as you age. Please don’t wait till you are in your 60’s to start thinking about your brain health. The sooner your pay attention to it the better off you will be. 
1 Break a sweat
Engage in regular cardiovascular exercise that elevates your heart rate and increases blood flow to the brain and body. Several studies have found an association between physical activity and reduced risk of cognitive decline.

I write about exercise and the brain regularly. Check out my Page – Important facts about your brain (and exercise benefits) to learn more about this. 

2 Hit the books
Formal education in any stage of life will help reduce your risk of cognitive decline and dementia. For example, take a class at a local college, community center or online. Continue reading

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