Posts Tagged ‘cognition’

Hearing, Aging and Mental Function

Monday, March 4th, 2013 by American Senior Fitness Association   View This Issue of Experience!

New findings published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine suggest that older adults who are hard of hearing may experience a more rapid decline in thinking skills, compared to older adults without hearing problems.

Researchers from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore studied 1,984 men and women in their seventies and eighties. At the beginning of the study, most of the participants (1,162) did have some hearing loss, but none exhibited signs of impaired memory or thinking ability.

During a six-year follow-up period, the participants underwent periodic testing to assess their memory, concentration and language skills. During that interim, 609 of them showed new signs of mental decline. Interestingly, the risk was 24 percent higher in those who had hearing deficits.

This study, which was funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, did not prove a cause and effect relationship between hearing loss and dementia. However, it did underscore the importance of having one’s hearing checked regularly by a qualified health professional as one ages.

Hearing problems might contribute to declines in cognitive function by promoting social isolation. When it is difficult to hear what others are saying, some elders tend to avoid interaction. Previous research has connected social withdrawal to an elevated risk for dementia.

Also, it is possible that hearing loss might cause one’s brain to expend extra energy trying to process the "garbled" input that it is receiving through the ears. This could mean taking resources away from other brain functions such as memory.

Hearing loss impacts approximately two-thirds of persons over age seventy. Hearing aids and other assistive devices, for example, telephone amplifiers may be helpful. Whether successfully treating hearing impairment can slow down declines in cognitive function is a question soon to be tackled by the research team that conducted this investigation.

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Keeping Your Brain Sharp

Friday, July 27th, 2012 by American Senior Fitness Association   View This Issue of Experience!

The following article was written by Lynn Wallen, PhD, the Vice President for Research and Development of Super Noggin TM. She and several other Super Noggin staff members have successfully completed the American Senior Fitness Association’s in-depth "Brain Fitness for Older Adults" professional education program. We know that you will enjoy Dr. Wallen’s informative report, below:

If you are one of the "worried well," concerned about staying mentally sharp as you age, here is good news for you! There are things you can do to be proactive about your brain health.

Brain fitness is a topic of great interest right now, not only because 10,000 Baby Boomers turn 65 every day, but also because of new and exciting discoveries in neuroscience.

Probably the most surprising finding is that it is possible to grow new neurons — a type of brain cell — throughout life in a process called neurogenesis. This is a revolutionary discovery because neurons are not like other cells in the body. Unlike skin cells or blood cells or muscle cells, brain cells do not divide and reproduce themselves. That is why scientists used to think that once our brains were developed in childhood, we had all the brain cells we would ever have. The only change would be that they would gradually die off as we aged, unable to be replaced.

But now we know that new neurons can develop from neural stem cells. The neural stem cells act like seeds from which new neurons develop in a part of the brain called the hippocampus. This part of the brain is involved with learning and memory, so if we could choose any place for new neurons to grow, we’d probably pick the hippocampus.

In addition to growing new brain cells, we can also strengthen the connections between existing brain cells and even re-wire those connections in response to our experiences. This ability of the brain to adapt and change is called neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity allows us to compensate for loss of function due to injury or illness and allows us to adjust to certain disabilities.

For example, studies show that a part of the brain devoted to vision will alter itself to respond to touch in blind people who learn Braille.

Or, a right-handed person whose right arm ends up in a cast for many months can learn to do things with his left hand that he could not do — or thought he could not do — with his left hand before. The brain is amazingly adaptable and plastic.

We can use what we know about neurogenesis and neuroplasticity to keep our brains active and growing. Only thirty percent of how well (or badly) we age is governed by our genes. The other seventy percent is under our control through lifestyle choices we make every day. And what is the number one lifestyle choice? To stay active.

Regular physical exercise is the keystone to physical health. Everyone knows this. But not many know that physical exercise is also necessary for brain fitness because the condition of your brain is closely tied to the fitness of your body. People who do not move enough are not pumping blood and oxygen to their brains to the degree necessary to support the growth of new brain cells.

And the news just keeps getting worse and worse for the couch potatoes. Here is what the neuroscientists currently tell us about neurogenesis: The only way to grow new neurons is through physical exercise. Mental exercise and cognitive stimulation will strengthen the connections between brain cells you already have, but only moving can grow new neurons. One experiment suggests that the exercise has greatest benefit if it is voluntary.

In studies of mice, those who had a running wheel in their cage produced a 15 percent growth in their hippocampus — the part of the brain that processes memory. Mice love to run on their wheels and will spend several hours a day doing it if they can. The sedentary mice in cages without a running wheel did not increase their brain size, and — here’s the interesting part — a group of mice that were forced to do exercise did not increase their gray matter either. These mice were thrown into a pool of water and had to swim around until they found a way to get out of the water. Mice don’t like to swim. It appears that you have to choose to do the exercise to get the brain benefits.

The 15 percent growth in the hippocampus occurred in young mice. What happened when senior citizen mice were put through the same experiment? They had even better results: Three times the number of new cells in the hippocampus. No one knows why the old mice did so much better. But the evidence was there.

In addition to the brain-boosting power of exercise, there are many other benefits to staying active. This list is published by the National Institute on Aging:

  • Increased self-esteem and self-confidence
  • Reduced anxiety and stress
  • Improved mood; may alleviate depression
  • Improved sleep
  • Increased energy
  • Decreased risk of heart disease
  • May improve cholesterol levels
  • Slowed rate of bone loss with age
  • More efficient use of insulin
  • Lowered risk of certain cancers
  • Improved cardiovascular health
  • Helps control weight and prevent obesity; increases calorie burning efficiency.
  • So get moving every day! It’s not only good for your body, it’s the best brain booster available.

    This article is based on Step One of "Ten Steps to Brain Fitness," a workshop in the Super Noggin TM brain fitness series developed by LEAF Ltd., a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting cognitive wellness. Lynn Wallen, Vice President for Research and Development, is the designer of the Super NogginTM program. For more information, visit www.SuperNoggin.org

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    Mental Distress Tied to Physical Disability

    Friday, April 20th, 2012 by American Senior Fitness Association   View This Issue of Experience!

    Older adults experiencing depression or anxiety are more vulnerable to physical disabilities, according to an Australian study published recently in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.However, researchers found that performing regular physical activity can help to guard against such outcomes.

    The scientists analyzed data on approximately 100,000 Australian men and women ages 65-plus. Psychological distress was detected in 8.4 percent of the subjects. The risk for physical disability was more than four times higher in those with any degree of psychological distress, compared to those with none. It was almost seven times higher in those with moderate levels of psychological distress.

    The good news: Investigators found that the older adult subjects who were more physically active were less prone to physical disabilities. In a news release, lead author Gregory Kolt of the University of Western Sydney wrote, "Our findings can influence the emphasis that we place on older adults to remain active. With greater levels of physical activity, more positive health gains can be achieved, and with greater physical function (through physical activity), greater independence can be achieved."

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    Rapid Cognitive Decline Near Life’s End

    Friday, April 20th, 2012 by American Senior Fitness Association   View This Issue of Experience!

    Researchers have long pondered this common phenomenon: when the decline in mental functioning speeds up dramatically during the last two or three years before an elderly person dies. It is still unclear whether this is caused by Alzheimer’s disease, aging itself, or the dying process. However, recent research led by Robert Wilson of Rush University Medical Center in Chicago is casting some light on the subject.

    The work, published online in Neurology, included an analysis of the lives of 174 priests and nuns who became medical research subjects in 1997. On the average, at about two-and-a-half years prior to death, their memory and thinking capabilities slumped at rates eight to 17 times faster than before that end-of-life stage.

    Researchers ascertained that whereas Alzheimer’s may spur cognitive decline earlier during the aging process, other factors appear to come into play causing more rapid loss during those years just preceding death. Since the deterioration during this phase involves several aspects of brain functioning — not just memory — scientists reason that more than one disease is behind it.

    On a brighter note, related research published simultaneously suggested that activities such as socializing, playing bridge, reading, working crossword puzzles, and playing board games might help to protect the brain from declining during advanced age. The researchers hope to pursue further study in both areas.

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    SFA Debuts Online Learning Center

    Monday, December 5th, 2011 by American Senior Fitness Association   View This Issue of Experience!


    SFA’s innovative Brain Fitness for Older Adults educational program is now available on-line! And, to help us introduce our new online learning center, this $249.00 course is being offered at a special introductory price.

    Until January 2, 2012:

    • Non-members: $199.00
    • SFA Members: $179.00

    As many Experience! readers know, on-line testing for SFA’s certificate of completion programs is already available. Now complete on-line editions of our award winning courses are becoming available. SFA’s online courses include all of the valuable information and instructional resources contained in our “hard copy” programs, and they are accepted for continuing education credit by many fitness organizations. For example, the American Council on Exercise awards Brain Fitness for Older Adults 20 hours continuing education credit (2.0 CECs).

    Please click here to check-out our "Learning Center." While you’re there, you can even try our "Dowel Exercise" course for free. "Dowel Exercise" is a brief sample on-line educational program that’s very similar in format to our in-depth educational programs. 

    So, whether you’re an internet veteran that already knows about the speed and convenience of on-line education or you’re newcomer looking to learn more, don’t miss this opportunity to try our sample Dowell Exercise course and, if desired, enroll in Brain Fitness for Older Adults at a special introductory price.

    Note: Special introductory pricing only applies to the on-line edition of Brain Fitness for Older Adults.

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    Short-Term Memory Loss and Alzheimer’s

    Friday, September 30th, 2011 by American Senior Fitness Association   View This Issue of Experience!

    A study of screening tests for Alzheimer’s disease was recently published in the Archives of General Psychiatry and discussed by MedlinePlus, a publication of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Somewhat surprisingly, the Spanish researchers who conducted the investigation found short-term memory loss to be a stronger predictor of Alzheimer’s disease than variables known as "biomarkers" (for example, changes in the composition of cerebrospinal fluid or in brain volume).

    Short-term memory loss is an important indication of mild cognitive impairment (MCI). Persons with MCI may find it difficult to recall what they did the day before, may frequently lose their train of thought, and/or may feel challenged when trying to find their way around places that are actually familiar to them. These traits may also be accompanied by depression, anxiety, or uncharacteristic irritation and aggression. MCI does not necessarily progress to the development of Alzheimer’s disease, and persons with MCI often can function in a satisfactory manner despite some minor degree of memory loss.

    The study involved more than 500 subjects, as follows:

  • 116 with MCI who developed Alzheimer’s within two years;
  • 201 with MCI who did not develop Alzheimer’s;
  • 197 with no cognitive problems.
  • The methods undertaken included:

  • Conducting measures of delayed memory;
  • Analyzing cerebrospinal fluid samples collected at baseline and then annually for two years;
  • Analyzing blood samples collected at baseline for genes associated with Alzheimer’s disease;
  • Assessing brain volume and cortical thickness through the use of magnetic resonance imaging.
  • Findings included the following:

  • The presence of MCI at baseline was a stronger predictor of Alzheimer’s disease than were most of the biomarkers;
  • Two measures of delayed memory — as well as the cortical thickness of the left middle temporal lobe — were linked with a higher risk of MCI developing into Alzheimer’s disease.
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    Appreciating Autumn

    Friday, September 30th, 2011 by American Senior Fitness Association   View This Issue of Experience!

    After a long hot summer, the coming of fall inspires reflection and a mellow sense of optimism. So, bring on the poets!

    "No spring nor summer beauty hath such grace

    As I have seen in one autumnal face."

    – John Donne

    "Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns."

    – George Eliot

    "How beautifully the leaves grow old. How full of light and color are their last days."

    – John Burroughs

    "Everyone must take time to sit and watch the leaves turn."

    – Elizabeth Lawrence

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    Think Smart

    Monday, May 23rd, 2011 by American Senior Fitness Association   View This Issue of Experience!

    Attention senior fitness professionals: You may wish to share the following brain fitness pointer with your older adult physical activity participants – and put it to work for yourself, as well.

    Writing for the May 13-15, 2011, edition of USA Weekend, Cara Hedgepeth recently described the book The Winner’s Brain by Jeff Brown, Mark Fenske and Liz Neporent. Its authors maintain that qualities such as motivation are more important than IQ when it comes to achieving success in life.

    Just one useful idea presented in The Winner’s Brain involves using a technique called “bookending” in order to help oneself prioritize goals and finish the most important task at hand.
    When a number of things are on one’s mind, it can be difficult to focus on the job that needs to be wrapped up first. To utilize bookending, one should mentally employ cue words (such as “now”) to represent the needed bookend. Describing the conscious process, Hedgepeth writes: “Put everything but one task on the other side of that bookend so you can work on accomplishing that one goal. Once you’ve completed that task, lift the bookend and move on to the next.”

    For additional ways to help your older adult health-fitness clients maximize their cognitive function, enroll in SFA’s popular professional education program “Brain Fitness for Older Adults.”

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    Need Weed?

    Friday, April 15th, 2011 by American Senior Fitness Association   View This Issue of Experience!

    It’s a poorly kept secret that many senior citizens have both longstanding and ongoing experience in the use of marijuana. But did you know that physical exercise might curb the urge to partake? Jim Evans explains below.


    DEAR JIM: I’ve been smoking “weed” most of my life – since I was about 20. I’m 73 now and I still smoke 3-4 joints a day. I’ve thought about quitting from time to time, but it helps me relax and it’s pretty much of a habit now anyway. As you can probably guess, I’m pretty laid back after all these years, but I have been experiencing an increasing number of panic attacks as I grow older. I know there isn’t any
    way to treat my dependence with medication, and I really don’t want to quit anyway, but I’m wondering if some kind of physical activity might help me to cut back a little. POTHEAD FROM POMONA

    DEAR POTHEAD: Until recently I couldn’t really say whether exercise might be a factor in curbing marijuana use or not. However, a recent study by Vanderbilt University Medical Center seems to indicate that exercise might actually curb both marijuana use and cravings.

    The study, published earlier this year in the journal PLoS ONE , found that, after just a few sessions of running on treadmill, participants who were admittedly “cannabis-dependent” but did not want treatment to stop smoking pot, experienced a significant decrease in both cravings and daily use.

    In fact, their craving for and use of cannabis was cut by more than 50 percent after exercising on a treadmill for 30-minute sessions over a two-week period. Researchers measured the amount of exercise needed for each individual to reach 60-70 percent of their maximum heart rate respectively, creating a personalized exercise treadmill program for each participant.

    “This is 10 sessions but it actually went down after the first five. The maximum reduction was already there within the first week,” said co-author Peter Martin, M.D., director of the Vanderbilt Addiction Center.>

    “There is no way currently to treat cannabis dependence with medication, so this is big considering the magnitude of the cannabis problem in the U.S. And this is the first time it has ever been demonstrated that exercise can reduce cannabis use in people who don’t want to stop.”

    The importance of this study – and future studies – will only continue to grow with the new knowledge of the role of physical activity in health and disease, according to co-author Maciej (Mac) Buchowski, Ph.D, Research Professor of Medicine and director of the Vanderbilt Energy Balance Laboratory.

    “It shows that exercise can really change the way the brain works and the way the brain responds to the world around us,” added Martin. “And this is vital to health and has implications for all of medicine.”

    More research will need to be done to substantiate these findings, but it certainly sounds promising. In the meantime, you might start walking for 30 minutes a day – on a treadmill or otherwise – and gradually increase the pace and see what happens. You can do your own personal experiment to see if it helps you to cut back on your pot smoking. If not, at least you’ll be in better shape.

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    Looking Back — And Forward — With Smiles

    Thursday, March 24th, 2011 by American Senior Fitness Association   View This Issue of Experience!

    During the first quarter of 2011, SFA has begun a number of exciting initiatives including the preparatory stages of two new professional education courses. As these events unfold, look for detailed announcements in Experience! Below are just a few highlights from 2010:

  • SFA president Janie Clark continued to champion older adult quality of life in her role as an effective advocate for optimal senior fitness programming. She served on the National AFib Support Team, which was sponsored by the pharmaceutical corporation sanofi-aventis to promote a better understanding of atrial fibrillation among laypersons, medical personnel, and health-fitness professionals. She appeared on Retirement Living Television and wrote for EP Lab Digest, the news and clinical update publication for electrophysiology professionals. She also gave interviews for articles in Club Industry magazine, the Chicago Tribune, American Fitness magazine (published by AFAA, the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America), and numerous other media outlets.
  • SFA launched a popular newsletter and website series "Who’s Who in Senior Fitness" which profiles individuals who’ve made key contributions to the field. Upcoming issues of Experience! will feature Kay Van Norman, Jim Evans, and more.
  • The Association signed on to exciting new corporate partnership and distributorship agreements.
  • SFA members achieved numerous worthwhile accomplishments, many of which were documented in Experience! You can access past issues by visiting SFA’s website.
  • SFA’s latest professional education program, Brain Fitness for Older Adults, continued to earn stellar expert reviews, such as the following statement by neuroscientist Dr. Ryan McKim, PsyD: "Drawing on recent neuroscientific research, SFA has designed a thoughtful and progressive training program for senior fitness professionals interested in integrating cognitive fitness into their existing physical activity programs. Recent advances in neuroscience are drawing long overdue attention to the importance of cognitive health. SFA has designed an impressive and well-researched training program for senior fitness professionals."
  • Educational participants gained vital knowledge and expertise from their SFA courses. Below are some commentaries from students who completed their work during the past few months.
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