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Everyone Knows Memory Fails as You Age. But Everyone Is Wrong

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The Light Illuminated Your Eyes

Neuroscientist Daniel Levitin writes in The New York Times:

Short-term memory contains the contents of your thoughts right now, including what you intend to do in the next few seconds. It’s doing some mental arithmetic, thinking about what you’ll say next in a conversation or walking to the hall closet with the intention of getting a pair of gloves.
Short-term memory is easily disturbed or disrupted. It depends on your actively paying attention to the items that are in the “next thing to do” file in your mind. You do this by thinking about them, perhaps repeating them over and over again (“I’m going to the closet to get gloves”). But any distraction — a new thought, someone asking you a question, the telephone ringing — can disrupt short-term memory. Our ability to automatically restore the contents of the short-term memory declines slightly with every decade after 30.

But age is not the major factor so commonly assumed. I’ve been teaching undergraduates for my entire career and I can attest that even 20-year-olds make short-term memory errors — loads of them. They walk into the wrong classroom; they show up to exams without the requisite No. 2 pencil; they forget something I just said two minutes before. These are similar to the kinds of things 70-year-olds do.

In the absence of brain disease, even the oldest older adults show little or no cognitive or memory decline beyond age 85 and 90, as shown in a 2018 study. Memory impairment is not inevitable.

Some aspects of memory actually get better as we age. For instance, our ability to extract patterns, regularities and to make accurate predictions improves over time because we’ve had more experience. (This is why computers need to be shown tens of thousands of pictures of traffic lights or cats in order to be able to recognize them). If you’re going to get an X-ray, you want a 70-year-old radiologist reading it, not a 30-year-old one

(click here to continue reading Opinion | Everyone Knows Memory Fails as You Age. But Everyone Is Wrong. – The New York Times.)

Good to know as my brain and yours continues to age. Our brains might be slightly more crowded with experience, thus it might take a bit longer to access some memory, but it isn’t due to the brain deteriorating. My spelling is as poor as it ever was, more due to utilizing the crutch of computer spell-check than my brain turning to mush because I drink wine.

Vintage Light Bulb

Written by Seth Anderson

January 14th, 2020 at 8:48 am

Posted in science

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How Exercise May Keep Alzheimer’s at Bay

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Sharpening Stones and Walking On Coals
Sharpening Stones and Walking On Coals

Cautiously encouraging is better than despair, no?

Alzheimer’s disease, with its inexorable loss of memory and self, understandably alarms most of us. This is especially so since, at the moment, there are no cures for the condition and few promising drug treatments. But a cautiously encouraging new study from The Archives of Neurology suggests that for some people, a daily walk or jog could alter the risk of developing Alzheimer’s or change the course of the disease if it begins.

For the experiment, researchers at Washington University in St. Louis recruited 201 adults, ages 45 to 88, who were part of a continuing study at the university’s Knight Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center. Some of the participants had a family history of Alzheimer’s, but none, as the study began, showed clinical symptoms of the disease. They performed well on tests of memory and thinking. “They were, as far as we could determine, cognitively normal,” says Denise Head, an associate professor of psychology at Washington University who led the study.

The volunteers had not had their brains scanned, however, so the Washington University scientists began their experiment by using positron emission tomography, an advanced scanning technique, to look inside the volunteers’ brains for signs of amyloid plaques, the deposits that are a hallmark of Alzheimer’s. People with a lot of plaque tend to have more memory loss, though the relation is complex.

(click here to continue reading How Exercise May Keep Alzheimer’s at Bay – NYTimes.com.)

Can’t hurt to walk a bit every day, why not do it?

Written by Seth Anderson

January 19th, 2012 at 9:53 am

Posted in health,science

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Research Points to Early Detection of Alzheimer’s

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Poached Scrambled eggs in the pot
Poached Scrambled eggs in the pot

Research continues on this dread disease, so don’t draw any drastic conclusions from this one study, but interesting nonethless.

“Earlier intervention will allow us to treat patients when they have much less disability and when it could still be possible to prevent or delay such [memory] losses,” said Howard Feldman, Bristol-Myers Squibb’s vice president of global clinical research for neuroscience.

The exact causes of Alzheimer’s are still unknown, but clumps of a sticky substance called amyloid and masses of tau protein in the brain are thought to be key factors in its development. Until recently, amyloid plaques and tau tangles could be seen only in the brain upon autopsy.

But during the past decade, the identification of biomarkers—proteins and other chemicals in the brain and spinal fluid associated with amyloid and tau levels—as well as better brain-scanning technology have provided a clearer picture of Alzheimer’s in living patients and how it progresses over time.

Increasingly, the evidence suggests that amyloid, which many researchers had fingered as likely contributing to memory loss in Alzheimer’s and which has been the most popular target of experimental drugs, may be most toxic early in the disease process, before symptoms appear.

It appears to trigger a cascade that causes tau protein—which normally serves to stabilize cell structure—to break down, form tangles and kill brain cells. The tau changes, many experts now believe, are at the heart of the dementia symptoms.

In one study presented at the Paris conference, Mayo’s Dr. Jack and his colleagues examined 298 patients spanning the cognitive spectrum from normal to severe Alzheimer’s dementia over the course of a year. Using brain scans and biomarker analyses, they found little change in amyloid among patients progressing toward Alzheimer’s. But there were substantial changes in tau and brain volumes, suggesting that they change later in the course of the disease than amyloid.

(click here to continue reading Research Points to Alzheimer’s Early Toll – WSJ.com.)

 

Written by Seth Anderson

August 5th, 2011 at 8:36 am

Posted in health,science

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