Older Adult

Cognitive Vitality As We Get Older

You will often hear that staying “mentally active” is important for maintaining a brain health as you age.  A variation on the use it or lose it theme. But what exactly does being mentally active mean in this sense? Is reading a book OK and watching an action movie not?

A new study tackles this question and the findings are interesting.  Turns out activities such as – playing a game, listening to classical music or solving cross word puzzles – “probably won’t bring noticeable benefits to an aging mind”.  That is an interesting claim as these types are activities are frequently sited as good examples of what should provide benefit.

The key is to engage in mental activities outside your comfort zone that force you to learn new skills. For example, learning photography or quilting.  The general point is:

“It seems it is not enough just to get out and do something — it is important to get out and do something that is unfamiliar and mentally challenging, and that provides broad stimulation mentally and socially,…”

Doing mental activities that we have already mastered, while still worthwhile, may not be providing the brain boost and protection we need as we age.

19 comments - What do you think?  Posted by Mark Clare - October 28, 2013 at 5:02 pm

Categories: Cognitive Decline, Cognitive Development, Lifestyle, Memory and Learning, Older Adult   Tags:

More Evidence that Chocolate is Good for the Brain

A recent study demonstrated that two cups of hot cocoa a day for a month improved  brain health and thinking skills in the elderly.  The study included 60 people who on average were in there 70s.   Those participants with impaired blood flow showed an 8.3% percent improvement in blood flow and a 31% improvement in response time on a working memory test.

In more technical terms:

There is a strong correlation between neurovascular coupling and cognitive function, and both can be improved by regular cocoa consumption in individuals with baseline impairments. Better neurovascular coupling is also associated with greater white matter structural integrity.

Neurovascular coupling refers to the link between brain activity and the amount of cerebral blood flow. Better blood flow, better thinking. This is a new finding.

Participants consumed no other chocolate during the test.

19 comments - What do you think?  Posted by Mark Clare - August 18, 2013 at 5:46 pm

Categories: Cognitive Decline, Diet, Memory and Learning, Older Adult   Tags:

Free Test for Alzheimer’s Related Memory Loss

As we age our memory changes.  Sometimes it is hard to know if your experiences are natural “senior moments” or early warning signs of serious memory problems such as those related to dementia, mild cognitive impairment or early Alzheimer’s disease.   MemTrax was developed to help address this issue. It is a simple visual memory test you can take in 1-4 minutes. Your score is easy to understand and if you take the test on a regular basis, say every month, you can see how it changes over time.

The initial test is free and you can see how it works in this demo. You can take the test on from your computer, iPhone or iPad.

I am interested to hear from readers that use MemTrax or other instruments that screen for neurodegenerative memory decline.

22 comments - What do you think?  Posted by Mark Clare - July 10, 2013 at 3:03 am

Categories: Cognitive Decline, Memory and Learning, Older Adult, Software   Tags:

$25,000 Brain Health Contest Ends May 5, 2013

The AARP is sponsoring a sweepstakes designed to promote brain health.  If you are 45 years or older you can sign up for free, learn about brain health and play various brain training games to compete. Games include memory match, private eye, split word, countdown and a brain teaser.  You earn an entry for each level you complete and restrictions apply. You can also read library articles to earn entries if the games don’t appeal to you.

I hope they publish some data on the results once the contest is over. It will be interesting to see if this approach has a material impact on brain health.

I am interested to hear from readers that know about other brain health contests or sweepstakes.

15 comments - What do you think?  Posted by Mark Clare - April 14, 2013 at 4:15 pm

Categories: Older Adult, Software, Training   Tags:

The Impact of Physical Activity on the Brain

Here in the Next Brain Blog we have reviewed many studies that demonstrate the impact physical activity has on brain function and cognitive performance. For example:

Instant Memory Boost from Six Minutes of Exercise

Tai Chi Boosts Brain Volume and Performance

Exercise Once Weekly Helps Avoid Mental Decline

Short Weekly Walks Improve Intelligence

to list a few.  And if that is not enough to convince you to include physical activity as part of your brain training efforts, a review of multiple research studies presented at a recent meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science found:

“Dozens of studies now show that aerobic exercise can increase the size of critical brain structures and improve cognition in children and older adults.”

I am interested to hear from readers that use physical activity to improve brain function and cognitive performance. What activities do you do?  How frequent do you do them?

11 comments - What do you think?  Posted by Mark Clare - March 7, 2013 at 3:34 am

Categories: Child, Cognitive Decline, Lifestyle, Memory and Learning, Older Adult   Tags:

Facebook Improves Mental Updating by 25%

An interesting preliminary study from the psychology department at the University of Arizona found that seniors trained to use Facebook showed measurable improvement in their cognitive abilities. More specifically:

“In the follow-ups, those who had learned to use Facebook performed about 25 percent better than they did at the start of the study on tasks designed to measure their mental updating abilities”

Mental updating is the ability to add and delete contents in your working memory.  The study included a small group of seniors ages 68-91 with little or no prior Facebook experience.  Participants friended only those in their group and made at least one short post daily.

Researchers believe that the constant information updating on Facebook and its relatively complex interface are responsible for the improvement. But more research is needed.

I am interested to hear from readers that use Facebook as a means to boost cognitive performance or maintain brain health.

13 comments - What do you think?  Posted by Mark Clare - February 27, 2013 at 3:06 am

Categories: Memory and Learning, Mental Focus, Older Adult, Software, Training   Tags:

Purpose Boosts Mental Performance & Brain Health

Studies at the Rush University Medical Center involving over 1000 subjects:

“…showed that people who reported greater purpose in life exhibited better cognition than those with less purpose in life even as plaques and tangles accumulated in their brains,” said Patricia A. Boyle, PhD.”

This is great news for anyone interested in improving cognitive performance or maintaining brain health as they age.

Purpose in life is determined by the meaning you get from everyday activities and how much of your time is spent pursuing goals that are important to you. It can be measured using Ryff’s well-being scale .  The instrument measures well-being along six dimensions including autonomy, environmental mastery, personal growth, self acceptance, positive relationships with others and purpose in life. The questions that measure purpose in life are: 5,11,17,23,29,35 and 41.  Be careful to follow the scoring instructions closely as the scores for some of the questions need to be reversed before you add them up.

26 comments - What do you think?  Posted by Mark Clare - January 3, 2013 at 3:43 pm

Categories: Cognitive Decline, Memory and Learning, Older Adult, Other, Problem Solving   Tags:

Instant Memory Boost With 6 Minutes of Exercise

Researchers at the University of California at Irvine have discovered a new brain boosting effect.  Healthy and cognitively impaired subjects 50-85 years old were shown a series of positive images.  Some of them rested while others exercised on a stationary bike at 70% capacity for six minutes.  Then:

“One hour later, the participants were given a surprise recall test on the previously viewed images. Results showed a striking enhancement of memory by exercise in both the healthy and cognitively impaired adults, compared with subjects who did not ride the bike.”

While the mechanism at work is not understood, the technique can easily be adapted by anyone looking to enhance memory performance:  Intersperse your learning efforts with short bursts of moderately intense physical activity.

I am interested to hear from readers that use physical activity to get immediate improvements in cognitive performance.

Image Source: Stationary Bike

18 comments - What do you think?  Posted by Mark Clare - December 5, 2012 at 2:07 am

Categories: Cognitive Decline, Memory and Learning, Older Adult   Tags:

Exercise Boosts Brain In Proportion to Effort Made

We have reported many times in the Next Brain Blog on scientific studies that suggest exercise improves brain function and cognitive performance. Now a new study led by the director of the Montreal Heart Institute suggests that the more exercise you do the more cognitive improvement you see.  The study focused on overweight and inactive adults that were 49 years old on average.  A summary of the results:

“After four months of high-intensity interval training, heart patients in Juneau’s study had markedly improved cognitive functions: the ability to think, recall, and make quick decisions. Even more exciting is that the study demonstrated that the more exercise patients could tolerate, the better their results—their minds became “sharper.”

While there is surely some limit to this effect, it does suggest that increasing  the duration/intensity of your workout could lead to an increased brain boost.

15 comments - What do you think?  Posted by Mark Clare - November 6, 2012 at 12:24 am

Categories: Memory and Learning, Older Adult, Problem Solving, Training   Tags:

Does Dental Hygiene Impact Brain Health?

Can brushing your teeth, wearing dentures or otherwise taking care of your teeth and gums protect memory and brain health?  One recent study suggests the answer is yes, and the impact can be significant:

“It was found that men with inadequate oral hygiene habits who did not wear dentures had a 91% greater risk of dementia than those with adequate oral hygiene habits.”

The key health behaviors are regular brushing and visits to the dentist.

While more research in needed, this is the  first study  that I have seen that suggests dental health behaviors could be important to building or maintaining or your next brain.

I am interested to hear from readers about other studies. Are there other oral hygiene techniques we should consider as tools for improving brain function or cognitive performance?

13 comments - What do you think?  Posted by Mark Clare - October 27, 2012 at 6:11 pm

Categories: Cognitive Decline, Lifestyle, Memory and Learning, Older Adult   Tags:

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