Tag Archives: brain health

Brain injuries from concussions still evident decades later

Concussions are the most common form of mild brain injury, affecting over 42 million people worldwide annually. Their long-term risks — especially for athletes and members of the military — are well documented, with studies showing possible connections to neurodegenerative conditions like chronic traumatic encephalopathy and Alzheimer’s disease.

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The immediate effects of a concussion are well known, such as alterations in the brain’s structure and activity seen soon after injury. In addition to symptoms like headaches and light sensitivity, a concussion often causes difficulty concentrating or trouble processing new information that can linger for a few weeks before clearing up. But less is understood about how a concussion from earlier in our lives can impact the brain and cognitive health as we age.

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Music and your brain

AS a guy who has a bluetooth speaker on his bike’s water bottle, I don’t need anyone to tell me to enjoy music. But, in case you do ….

Music has been with us since ancient times. It has framed the cultures, rituals and celebrations of our lives. It’s a universal language that brings people together. Now, researchers are discovering the reasons why music can have such a profound impact on our brains and bodies.

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AARP convened the Global Council on Brain Health (GCBH) in February of 2020 to explore the impact of music on brain health. Each year, GCBH reviews research to give older adults the best possible advice for maintaining brain health.  Let’s review some of their findings and recommendations for engaging in music to improve brain health.

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Caffeine and Your Brain – NIH

A hot cup of coffee or tea is a highlight of the morning for some people. It can make you feel awake and alert. Caffeine is the chemical that causes these sensations. But does caffeine have other effects on the brain?

Caffeine is found naturally in tea and coffee. But it is added to energy drinks and many types of soda. It’s even put in some snack foods and medications. More than eight out of 10 adults in the U.S. consume caffeine in some form.

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So how does caffeine wake you up? Your body naturally produces a chemical called adenosine. It builds up in your body during the day.

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Poor cognitive performance predicts later impairment in daily living activities

Subtle differences in cognition may help identify individuals at risk for becoming dependent years later upon others to complete daily activities, such as managing medications or finances and other essential activities.

Writing in the September 29, 2020 online issue of the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine, with colleagues elsewhere, linked poorer cognitive performance in a single testing with subsequent greater risk for impaired daily life activities nearly a decade later.

The study involved a diverse but understudied cohort of Latinos living in the United States. Outcomes were most severe for individuals 70 years and older, but gender and ethnic background, such as Mexican or Puerto Rican, were not significant differentiators. The authors said the findings in sum highlight the need for early preventive care across Latinos and Latinas of various backgrounds.

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Coming soon – A simple blood test for diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease

By now I think everybody reading this blog knows about my family’s connection to Alzheimer’s and dementia. So,it should come as no surprise that I am thrilled to pass on this latest info from the Alzheimer’s Prevention Registry.

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A promising new blood test for Alzheimer’s disease is now on the horizon.  The newly reported test proved to be just as reliable as more invasive and costly tests at detecting Alzheimer’s and may even be able to detect the disease as long as 20 years prior to symptoms.  This is an exciting new development that could make detecting the disease much easier and speed up enrollment in clinical trials.

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Brain waves used to predict future pain sensitivity

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.

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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.

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Schooling critical for cognitive health throughout life

Investing time in education in childhood and early adulthood expands career opportunities and provides progressively higher salaries. It also conveys certain benefits to health and longevity.

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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

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Lutein for the Eyes (and the Brain) – Tufts

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.

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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

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Memory loss reversed or abated in those with cognitive decline

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.

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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.

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Regular physical activity to enhance cognition in children who need it most

A common school-age stereotype is that smart kids are unathletic. However, as a recent study lead by Associate Professor Keita Kamijo at the University of Tsukuba and Assistant Professor Toru Ishihara at Kobe University shows that physical activity is linked to better cognitive ability, which is in turn related to academic performance in school.

Understanding the effects of physical activity on cognition has been difficult for several reasons. “Previous studies looked at the issue too broadly,” explains Professor Kamijo, “When we broke down the data, we were able to see that physical activity helps children the most if they start out with poor executive function.”

Relationship between baseline performance and pre–post changes in cognitive performance, illustrating the group × baseline performance interaction.

Executive functions refer to three types of cognitive skills. The first is the ability to suppress impulses and inhibit reflex-like behaviors or habits. To assess this ability, children were asked to indicate the color in which words like “red” and “blue” were displayed on a computer screen. This is easy when the words and colors match (“red” displayed in red font), but often requires inhibition of a reflex response when they don’t (“red” displayed in blue font). The second skill is the ability to hold information in working memory and process it. This was evaluated by testing how well children could remember strings of letters that vary in length. The third cognitive skill is mental flexibility. This was measured by asking children to frequently switch the rules for categorizing colored circles and squares from shape-based to color-based.

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Genes, cardiovascular health factor into dementia risk

Genes and cardiovascular health each contribute in an additive way to a person’s risk of dementia, U.S. researchers including Sudha Seshadri, MD, and Claudia Satizabal, PhD, of The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UT Health San Antonio) reported July 20 in the journal Neurology.

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The study was conducted in 1,211 participants in the Framingham Heart Study and involved collaborators from Boston University.

Participants with a high genetic risk score based on common genetic variants, including having an allele called apolipoprotein E (APOE) ε4, were at a 2.6-fold higher risk of developing dementia than subjects who had a low risk score and did not carry the APOE ε4 allele.

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Center for BrainHealth advances understanding of brain connectivity in cannabis users

Researchers at Center for BrainHealth®, part of The University of Texas at Dallas, recently examined underlying brain networks in long-term cannabis users to identify patterns of brain connectivity when the users crave or have a desire to consume cannabis. While regional brain activation and static connectivity in response to cravings have been studied before, fluctuations in brain network connectivity had not yet been examined in cannabis users. The findings from this study will help support the development of better treatment strategies for cannabis dependence.

The study was published in the journal of Human Brain Mapping (May 2020) by researchers Francesca Filbey, PhD, professor and director of cognitive neuroscience research of addictive disorders at Center for BrainHealth, Hye Bin Yoo, PhD and Blake Edward Moya.

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Light drinking may protect brain function

For the record, I have never had a drinking problem. At my worst, I would down a couple of beers at a meal and maybe an after dinner something. So, I don’t want to be giving an excuse to someone who is on the cusp of a drinking problem with this study.

Light to moderate drinking may preserve brain function in older age, according to a new study from the University of Georgia.

The study examined the link between alcohol consumption and changes in cognitive function over time among middle-aged and older adults in the U.S.

“We know there are some older people who believe that drinking a little wine everyday could maintain a good cognitive condition,” said lead author Ruiyuan Zhang, a doctoral student at UGA’s College of Public Health.

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Seniors share fewer memories as they tack on years

By the time people reach a certain age, they’ve accumulated enough life experience to have plenty of stories to tell about life “back in their day.”

However, a new study suggests that the older a person is, the less likely they are to share memories of their past experiences. And when they do share memories, they don’t describe them in as much detail as younger people do.

The results of the study, conducted by researchers at the University of Arizona and published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, echo previous findings from lab-based research suggesting that memory sharing declines with age.

The UArizona study came to the conclusion in a new way: by “eavesdropping” on older adults’ conversations “in the wild.”

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Our ability to focus may falter after eating one meal high in saturated fat

Fatty food may feel like a friend during these troubled times, but new research suggests that eating just one meal high in saturated fat can hinder our ability to concentrate — not great news for people whose diets have gone south while they’re working at home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The study compared how 51 women performed on a test of their attention after they ate either a meal high in saturated fat or the same meal made with sunflower oil, which is high in unsaturated fat.

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‘Where are my keys?’ and other memory-based choices probed in the brain

Most of us know that feeling of trying to retrieve a memory that does not come right away. You might be watching a romantic comedy featuring that famous character actor who always plays the best friend and find yourself unable to recall her name (it’s Judy Greer). While memory retrieval has been the subject of countless animal studies and other neuroimaging work in humans, exactly how the process works — and how we make decisions based on memories — has remained unclear.

In a new study published in the June 26 issue of the journal Science, a collaborative team of neuroscientists from Caltech and Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles has identified different sets of individual neurons responsible for memory-based decision-making, a hallmark of the human brain’s flexibility.

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