Cognitive decline. Is it really a complete down-hill slide during the inevitable aging process? An article in the journal Topics in Cognitive Science reported on studies by a team of linguistic researchers from the University of Tübingen in Germany. Researchers used advanced learning models to search enormous databases of words and phrases. Educated older individuals generally know more words than younger people (e.g., they’ve been around longer). This experiment simulated what the older brain must do to retrieve a word. According to lead author, Michael Ramscar, “…for the first half of the time we were doing this project, I totally bought into the idea of age-related cognitive decline in healthy adults. But the simulations fit so well to human data that it slowly forced me to entertain this idea that I didn’t need to invoke decline at all.” What does that mean to you and me? Well, when the way older brains retrieve words was incorporated into the model the so-called aging “deficits” largely disappeared. Hm-m-m. Keep stimulating your brain with challenging brain aerobic exercises!
Tuesday, March 11, 2014
Monday, March 10, 2014
The other day a friend of mine emailed me the link to an article that began with the words: “People of a certain age (and we know who we are) . . .” I laughed out loud. What does that really mean, “People of a certain age?” Hopefully, everyone knows how old he or she is—even though he or she simply may not want to concentrate on a “number.” Personally, I’m concentrating on staying abreast of current research and doing everything within my power to retain optimum brain function. Some studies show that memory accuracy and speed start slipping about age 25 brain and just continue downhill from there. Well, maybe so. However, there are many studies that have shown reversal of memory deficits in some brains when their owner gets serious about obtaining challenging mental stimulation every day with brain aerobic exercises. So what did the article say?
Friday, March 7, 2014
It can represent a tremendous challenge to family, friends, and caregivers when an individual has anosognosia and cannot seem to understand that he or she has a problem. According to the NAMI fact sheet, approximately half of people living with schizophrenia, and a smaller percentage who live with bipolar disorder, have this clinical feature, along with those who have Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia. From the individual’s perspective, there’s no reason they should keep appointments, take medication, or follow through on therapy because there is nothing wrong with them. The individual’s lack of awareness raises the risks of treatment and nonadherence to recommendations. Some of you have dealt with this and are still dealing with it—and it’s not easy. Sometimes it can even be dangerous, especially if the individual becomes angry, defensive, and even defiant. Their response does not mean that you need to pretend the person is well. It does mean that you may need help in dealing with him or her. NAMI may be able to point you toward helpful resources. It you need help, check out their website and do what you need to do to take care of yourself. http://www.NAMI.org
Thursday, March 6, 2014
Anosognosia, a deficit of self-awareness, can be defined as a condition in which a person who suffers specific disabilities appears to be unaware of his or her disability. The word itself comes from two Greek words: noso meaning disease and gnosis meaning knowledge. The prefix “a” indicates a lack of. Since its discovery in about 1914 by neurologist Joseph Babinski (and some of you will be familiar with his last name), there hasn’t been a great deal of additional information added to the body of knowledge. Those of you who wrote to say “it’s not just limited to brains dealing with dementia,” are correct. It is relatively common following many types of brain injuries. According to Wikipedia, “Anosognosia is relatively common following different etiologies of brain injury, such as stroke and traumatic brain injury (e.g. 10%–18% in the case of anosognosia for hemiparesis with onset of acute stroke), but can appear to occur in conjunction with virtually any neurological impairment.
Wednesday, March 5, 2014
How much refined sugar do you ingest on a daily basis? Some would answer, “I don’t add sugar to anything.” Maybe not, but unfortunately sugar is included in almost all packaged foods (e.g., candy, yeast bread, many ready-to-eat breakfast foods, deserts, and sodas). Estimates are that one can of regular soda contains seven teaspoons (140 calories) of sugar. Data from 31,000 individuals, who participated in the latest National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, were reviewed by researchers at CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). Analysis by researchers revealed some startling results. Participants who consumed 17%-21% or more of their total daily caloric intake in sugar, had a 38% increased risk of dying from heart disease. Note: not an increased risk of developing heart disease but a 38% increased risk of dying from heart disease. And the risk increased as sugar consumption increased. Participants who consumed more than 21% of their daily caloric intake from sugar, doubled their risk of dying from heart disease compared to participants whose daily sugar consumption was 8% or lower than total daily calories. Back to my opening question: How much refined sugar do you ingest on a daily basis?
Tuesday, March 4, 2014
Consuming too much sugar has been found to be an independent risk factor for heart disease, the leading killer of individuals in the United States. Excessive consumption of fructose (sugar) can cause health problems similar to those caused by excessive consumption of ethanol (alcohol). See comparisons below (from Nature, 2012).
Chronic Ethanol Exposure
Chronis Fructose Exposure
Obesity (insulin resistance)
Hepatic dysfunction (alcoholic steatohepatitis)
Fetal alcohol syndrome
Obesity (insulin resistance)
Hepatic dysfunction (non-alcoholic steatohepatitis
Habituation, if not addiction
Monday, March 3, 2014
According to a report by a team of UCSF researchers, the consumption of sugar is contributing to some serious world-wide health problems including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. The last three account for about 35 million deaths a year worldwide. This not good news for the brain, which responds to sugar as a toxin. You can be sure that anything negatively impacting the heart can also negatively impact the brain. According to Robert Lustig, MD, and colleagues, sugar represents more than just empty calories that help people pack on pounds. “There are good calories and bad calories, just as there are good fats and bad fats, good amino acids and bad amino acids, good carbohydrates and bad carbohydrates. But sugar is toxic beyond its calories.” This could help explain the reason that more than a third of individuals exhibiting metabolic syndrome (key metabolic changes that lead to diabetes, heart disease and cancer—cancer cells are sugar hogs) are not clinically obese. It’s a problem, obviously for individuals, but it’s becoming a problem for health care systems as well. Non-communicable diseases now pose a greater health burden worldwide than infectious diseases. In the United States, estimates are that 75 percent of health care dollars are spent treating these diseases and their associated disabilities. It’s worth listening up. More tomorrow.