Topic: Cognitive Fitness

Staying Mentally Healthy

Tuesday, May 28th, 2013 by American Senior Fitness Association   View This Issue of Experience!

To promote your mental health put these recommendations from Womenshealth.gov into action:

  • Perform physical exercise on a daily basis.
  • Follow a well balanced, nutrient-dense diet.
  • Get an adequate amount of sleep on a regular nightly schedule.
  • Make a concerted effort to manage stress, both physical and emotional.
  • Take time every day to enjoy something that pleases and delights you.
Share

Dementia and Acting Out Dreams

Tuesday, May 28th, 2013 by American Senior Fitness Association   View This Issue of Experience!

A recent Mayo Clinic study found a link between acting out dreams and the development of dementia. For details, see the following Mayo Clinic news release:

The strongest predictor of whether a man is developing dementia with Lewy bodies — the second most common form of dementia in the elderly — is whether he acts out his dreams while sleeping, Mayo Clinic researchers have discovered. Patients are five times more likely to have dementia with Lewy bodies if they experience a condition known as rapid eye movement (REM) sleep behavior disorder than if they have one of the risk factors now used to make a diagnosis, such as fluctuating cognition or hallucinations, the study found.

The findings were presented at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology in San Diego. REM sleep behavior disorder is caused by loss of the normal muscle paralysis that occurs during REM sleep. It can appear three decades or more before a diagnosis of dementia with Lewy bodies is made in males, the researchers say. The link between dementia with Lewy bodies and the sleep disorder is not as strong in women, they add.

“While it is, of course, true that not everyone who has this sleep disorder develops dementia with Lewy bodies, as many as 75 to 80 percent of men with dementia with Lewy bodies in our Mayo database did experience REM sleep behavior disorder. So it is a very powerful marker for the disease," says lead investigator Melissa Murray, Ph.D., a neuroscientist at Mayo Clinic in Florida.

The study’s findings could improve diagnosis of this dementia, which can lead to beneficial treatment, Dr. Murray says.

“Screening for the sleep disorder in a patient with dementia could help clinicians diagnose either dementia with Lewy bodies or Alzheimer’s disease," she says. "It can sometimes be very difficult to tell the difference between these two dementias, especially in the early stages, but we have found that only 2 to 3 percent of patients with Alzheimer’s disease have a history of this sleep disorder.”

Once the diagnosis of dementia with Lewy bodies is made, patients can use drugs that can treat cognitive issues, Dr. Murray says. No cure is currently available.

Researchers at Mayo Clinic in Minnesota and Florida, led by Dr. Murray, examined magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, scans of the brains of 75 patients diagnosed with probable dementia with Lewy bodies. A low-to-high likelihood of dementia was made upon an autopsy examination of the brain.

The researchers checked the patients’ histories to see if the sleep disorder had been diagnosed while under Mayo care. Using this data and the brain scans, they matched a definitive diagnosis of the sleep disorder with a definite diagnosis of dementia with Lewy bodies five times more often than they could match risk factors, such as loss of brain volume, now used to aid in the diagnosis. The researchers also showed that low-probability dementia with Lewy bodies patients who did not have the sleep disorder had findings characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease.

“When there is greater certainty in the diagnosis, we can treat patients accordingly. Dementia with Lewy bodies patients who lack Alzheimer’s-like atrophy on an MRI scan are more likely to respond to therapy — certain classes of drugs — than those who have some Alzheimer’s pathology," Dr. Murray says.

The study’s other key researchers at Mayo include neuroradiologist Kejal Kantarci, M.D., neuropsychologist Tanis J. Ferman, Ph.D., neurologist Bradley F. Boeve, M.D., and neuropathologist Dennis W. Dickson, M.D.

The study was supported by the National Institutes of Health/National Institute on Aging, the Harry T. Mangurian, Jr., Foundation, and the Robert H. and Clarice Smith and Abigail Van Buren Alzheimer’s Disease Research Program of the Mayo Foundation.

Share

Sleep and Memory

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

Recent research published in the journal Nature Neuroscience looked at the effects of lighter sleep — which often accompanies aging — on memory skills. The small study involved 18 young people (average age 20) and 15 older adults (average age 72).

Given a memory test after sleeping, the older persons scored 55 percent lower than the young persons. The researchers think that the older adults remembered less than their younger counterparts during the memory task because the older persons’ sleep was not as deep.

With age, sleep may become lighter due to sleep interruptions caused by aches, pains and/or the need to urinate. However, sleep quality can be improved which might, in turn, lead to better everyday memory function.

Share

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.

Share

Decision-Making and White Matter

Thursday, September 27th, 2012 by American Senior Fitness Association   View This Issue of Experience!

A recent imaging study indicated that there is a decline with aging in an individual’s ability to make decisions in situations that are new to him or her. This appears to be due to changes in the white matter of the brain, according to research conducted at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, and published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

To better understand this research, note the following brief descriptions of certain parts of the brain:

  • Medial prefrontal cortex (located within the cerebral cortex): it plays an important role in decision-making;
  • Ventral striatum (located more deeply in the brain): it is involved in motivational and emotional behaviors; and
  • Thalamus (also located deeper in the brain): it is a complex, sophisticated relay center.
  • Researchers found that age-related losses in decision-making capability are connected with a weakening of two white-matter pathways linking the medial prefrontal cortex with the ventral striatum and the thalamus.

    The 25 adult subjects of the study (ages 21 to 85) undertook a cognitive task that involved money and also underwent MRI brain scans. The study’s lead author Gregory Samanez-Larkin stated in a Vanderbilt University news release: "The evidence that this decline in decision-making is associated with white-matter integrity suggests that there may be effective ways to intervene. Several studies have shown that white-matter connections can be strengthened by specific forms of cognitive training."

    Editor’s note: For an in depth exploration of cognitive health in seniors, enroll in the American Senior Fitness Association (SFA) distance-learning program "Brain Fitness for Older Adults: How to Incorporate Cognitive Fitness into Physical Activity Programming."

    Share

    More About the Brain

    Thursday, September 27th, 2012 by American Senior Fitness Association   View This Issue of Experience!

    Recent research undertaken at NYC’s State University of New York Downstate Medical Center, and published in the journal Frontiers in Evolutionary Neuroscience, indicated that worrying may have evolved in conjunction with intelligence as a critical survival mechanism in human beings.

    Scientists compared research subjects who had generalized anxiety disorder with subjects who did not have the disorder. They discovered that worry as well as high intelligence were connected with specific brain activity, measurable by changes in the brain’s white matter. The results suggest that anxiety (worry) may have evolved right alongside intelligence as an important means of survival.

    In a medical center news release, Professor Jeremy Coplan said: "While excessive worry is generally seen as a negative trait and high intelligence as a positive one, worry may cause our species to avoid dangerous situations, regardless of how remote a possibility they may be… In essence, worry may make people ‘take no chances,’ and such people may have higher survival rates. Thus, like intelligence, worry may confer a benefit upon the species."

    Share

    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

    Share

    Activity Level and Alzheimer’s Disease

    Thursday, May 17th, 2012 by American Senior Fitness Association   View This Issue of Experience!

    New research published in the journal Neurology indicates that performing everyday activities — including those that don’t officially meet the definition of "exercise" — may lower one’s risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease.
    The researchers, led by Aron Buchman of Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, found that elderly persons who moved about more (compared to their less active peers) were less likely to develop Alzheimer’s. This was true even for active persons who did not work out, but who nevertheless kept busy by gardening or puttering around the house.

    The study involved more than700 subjects, average age 82, without dementia. Their activity was monitored for up to ten days by an actigraph. The actigraph, a small device worn by the subjects, detected when they engaged in conventional forms of exercise, as well as when they moved around in other ways.>

    Fast forward roughly four years. During that follow-up period, 71 subjects developed the signs of Alzheimer’s disease. Those in the 10 percent of subjects who were most active showed an 8 percent likelihood for developing signs of the illness. Those in the 10 percent of subjects who were least active had an 18 percent likelihood.

    Since 602 of the 716 test subjects were female, it is not clear whether this study’s results can be applied to the general population. As no cause and effect relationship has been proven, one question that remains unanswered is: "Which comes first, lower activity level or cognitive decline?" (It is possible that experiencing the initial stages of Alzheimer’s disease somehow leads people to slow down.) Even so, this investigation adds to earlier research suggesting a possible connection between regular physical activity and brain health. Increasing all types of movement may be healthful in the long run.

    Share

    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.

    Share

    “Alzheimer’s” in Pets

    Tuesday, January 10th, 2012 by American Senior Fitness Association   View This Issue of Experience!

    Many older adults benefit from the friendship of a companion pet. Like people, pets are living longer these days which may help to explain why an Alzheimer’s-like syndrome (called cognitive dysfunction, or CD, in animals) is receiving growing attention from veterinarians and scientists. Writing for USA Weekend, Steve Dale recently reported on the issue:

    Veterinary behaviorist Gary Landsberg of Ontario, Canada, is conducting research on CD in cats. Carl Cottman, director of Alzheimer’s Disease Research at University of California-Irvine, has investigated the disorder in both people and dogs. These researchers and other leaders in the field have learned that social interaction, physical exercise, enrichment (e.g., lifelong learning) and good diet appear to contribute to cognitive health in pets as well as in people.

    Below are signs that CD may be present in a pet:

  • Disorientation/confusion;
  • Change in social interaction (e.g., withdrawal);
  • Sleeping disturbances;
  • Soiling in the house.
  • However, such problems could be caused by certain medical conditions like declining vision or diabetes, so veterinarians seek to exclude other medical explanations before settling on a diagnosis of CD. In some cases, CD and one or more additional health problems may be present.

    The experts agree that both cats and dogs should be given regular physical exercise. One of the best steps (pun intended) canine lovers can take is to walk their dogs. Moderate exercise is good for the heart and good for the brain — and that applies to the pet and to his or her human companion alike.

    Share