Latest Research News

It’s long been speculated that there’s a critical period for learning a new language, but the specifics are a matter of debate. It is difficult to follow a sufficient number of language learners through their years of learning. But a new study has got over that difficulty by using the ability of Facebook to get vast numbers of people, who represent many stages of learning.

A pilot study involving 22 breast cancer patients currently receiving chemotherapy (mean age 54), has found that those with higher levels of inflammatory biomarkers did significantly worse on tests for short-term visual memory. One particular biomarker — tumor necrosis factor-alpha (as reflected through its two soluble receptors, TNFRI and TNFRII) — was the strongest indicator of cognitive problems.

One important reason for the greater cognitive problems commonly experienced as we age, is our increasing difficulty in ignoring distracting and irrelevant information. But it may be that in some circumstances that propensity can be used to help memory.

A number of studies have found that physical exercise can help delay the onset of dementia, however the ability of exercise to slow the decline once dementia has set in is a more equivocal question. A large new study answers this question in the negative.

Musicians and people who are bilingual have long been shown to have a better

A Spanish study involving 101 overweight/obese children (aged 8-11) has found that aerobic capacity and motor ability is associated with a greater volume of gray matter in several cortical and subcortical brain regions.

Confirming what many of us have learned through practical experience, a study comparing different strategies of reading or listening has found that you are more likely to remember something if you read it out loud to yourself.

Do older adults forget as much as they think, or is it rather that they ‘misremember’?

A small study adds to evidence that gist memory plays an important role in false memories at any age, but older adults are more susceptible to misremembering because of their greater use of gist memory.

A small study has tested the eminent Donald Hebb’s hypothesis that visual imagery results from the reactivation of neural activity associated with viewing images, and that the re-enactment of eye-movement patterns helps both imagery and neural reactivation.

There has been quite a lot of research into the relationship between students’ expectations and academic performance. It’s fairly well-established that students tend to have inflated expectations of their performance, but the effect of this has been disputed. Does over-confidence discourage students from preparing for exams, or do high expectations motivate students to study harder? A largish study has investigated this question.

A Finnish study involving over 1000 older adults suggests that a counselling program can prevent cognitive decline even among those with the Alzheimer’s gene.

The study involved 1,109 older adults (aged 60-77) of whom 362 were carriers of the APOE4 gene. Some of the participants received regular lifestyle counselling (general health advice), while the rest received “enhanced” lifestyle counselling, involving nutrition counselling, physical and cognitive exercises, and support in managing the risk of cardiovascular diseases.

A pilot study involving 106 participants of the Rush Memory and Aging Project who had experienced a stroke followed participants for an average of 5.9 years, testing their cognitive function and monitoring their eating habits using food journals. It was found that those whose diets scored highest on the MIND (Mediterranean-DASH Diet Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) diet score had substantially slower rates of cognitive decline than those who scored lowest.

A British study using data from 475,397 participants has shown that, on average, stronger people performed better across every test of brain functioning used. Tests looked at reaction speed, reasoning, visuospatial memory,

A Spanish study investigating the effects of traffic-related air pollution on children walking to school has found higher levels of particulate matter and black carbon were associated with decreased growth in

Research using data from a population-based birth cohort from Rotterdam, in The Netherlands, has found that children exposed to higher levels of air pollution when they were in womb had significantly thinner cortex in several brain regions. Some of this appeared to be related to impaired inhibitory control.

A small Japanese study has found evidence that those with amnestic mild cognitive impairment (aMCI) show a specific decline in their ability to recognize faces, and this is accompanied by changes in the way they scan faces.

The study involved 18 patients with aMCI and 18 age-matched healthy controls. Participants were tested on their ability to perceive and remember images of faces and houses.

Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is a precursor of Alzheimer's disease, although having MCI does not mean you are definitely going to progress to Alzheimer's.

A large study using data from the famous Framingham Heart Study has compared changes in dementia onset over the last three decades. The study found that over time the age of onset has increased while the length of time spent with dementia has decreased.

A pilot study involving 41 military veterans and 5 active-duty soldiers diagnosed with clinical levels of PTSD has found that one month of transcendental meditation produced dramatic benefits, with 37 (80%) having their symptoms reduced to below the clinical level, and 40 having a clinically significant decrease of more than 10 points.

A test 90 days later also showed that PTSD symptoms continued to improve, and a further three individuals had dropped to below the clinical level.

A laboratory study has found that sleeping after watching a trauma event reduced emotional distress and memories related to traumatic events. The laboratory study involved 65 women being shown a neutral and a traumatic video. Typically, recurring memories of certain images haunted the test subjects for a few days (these were recorded in detail in a diary). Some participants slept in the lab for a night after the video, while the other group remained awake.

A randomized clinical trial of 268 active-duty personnel seeking treatment for PTSD has found that individual sessions of cognitive processing therapy were twice as effective as group sessions.

Participants were assigned to CPT in either 90-minute group sessions or 60-minute individual sessions twice weekly for six weeks. PTSD severity was reduced significantly more in those receiving individual treatment, however improvements were maintained during the six-month follow-up in both groups. Depression and suicidal ideation also improved equally with both forms of CPT.

A pilot study involving 23 military veterans with PTSD found that those who received mindfulness training showed reduced PTSD symptoms, and brain changes that suggest a greater ability to shift and control attention. Mindfulness training was given to 14 veterans, while the other 9 received ‘control’ group support. Both groups were given brain scans before and after the treatment program.

An interesting new theory for PTSD suggests that the root of the problem lies in context processing problems.

Context processing allows people and animals to recognize that a particular stimulus may require different responses depending on the context in which it is encountered. So, for example, a lion in the zoo evokes a different response than one encountered in your backyard.

Following previous research showing that having a smaller

Data from more than 17,000 healthy people aged 50 and over has revealed that the more regularly participants engaged with word puzzles, the better they performed on tasks assessing attention, reasoning and memory.

Study participants took part in online cognitive tests, as well as being asked how frequently they did word puzzles such as crosswords. There was a direct relationship between the frequency of word puzzle use and the speed and accuracy of performance on nine cognitive tasks.

A study involving 88 women, some of whom had endocrinological disorders, has found that, while some hormones were associated with changes across one menstrual cycle in some of the women taking part, these effects didn't repeat in the following cycle. In other words, there was no consistent effect of hormonal changes on cognition. This is not to say that some individuals might not be consistently affected, just that it doesn’t appear to be a general rule.

When you're reading a picture book to a very young child, it's easy to think it's obvious what picture, or part of a picture, is being talked about. But you know what all the words mean. It's not so easy when some of the words are new to you, and the open pages have more than one picture. A recent study has looked at the effect on word learning of having one vs two illustrations on a 2-page open spread.

Unplanned hospitalizations accelerate cognitive decline in older adults

Data from the Rush Memory and Aging Project has found that emergency and urgent hospitalizations are associated with an increased rate of cognitive decline in older adults.

Non-elective hospitalizations were associated with an approximately 60% acceleration in the rate of cognitive decline from before hospitalization. Elective hospitalizations, however, were not associated with acceleration in the rate of decline at all.

In a series of experiments involving college students, drawing pictures was found to be the best strategy for remembering lists of words.

A Finnish study involving 338 older adults (average age 66) has found that greater muscle strength is associated with better cognitive function.

Muscle strength was measured utilising handgrip strength, three lower body exercises such as leg extension, leg flexion and leg press and two upper body exercises such as chest press and seated row.

Data from over 11,500 participants in the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) cohort has found evidence that orthostatic hypotension in middle age may increase the risk of cognitive impairment and dementia 20 years later.

Orthostatic hypotension is the name for the experience of dizziness or light-headedness on standing up. Previous research has suggested an association between orthostatic hypotension and cognitive decline in older adults.

A study involving 60 undergraduate students confirms the value of even a single instance of retrieval practice in an everyday setting, and also confirms the value of cues for peripheral details, which are forgotten more readily.

A Canadian study involving French-speaking university students has found that repeating aloud, especially to another person, improves memory for words.

In the first experiment, 20 students read a series of words while wearing headphones that emitted white noise, in order to mask their own voices and eliminate auditory feedback. Four actions were compared:

A new MRI technique has revealed that it is the structural integrity of the

A new issue for parents to stress over is the question of whether reading digital books with your toddler or preschooler is worse than reading traditional print books. Help on this complicated question comes from a new study involving 102 toddlers aged 17 to 26 months, whose parents were randomly assigned to read two commercially available electronic books or two print books with identical content with their toddler (this was achieved by printing out screenshots of the electronic books).

A review of 39 studies investigating the effect of exercise on cognition in older adults (50+) confirms that physical exercise does indeed improve cognitive function in the over 50s, regardless of their cognitive status. Aerobic exercise, resistance training, multicomponent training and tai chi, all had significant effects. However, exercise sessions needed to be at least 45  minutes and moderate intensity.

An extensive review of research looking at the effects of a single bout of exercise has concluded that:

  • the most consistent behavioral effects of acute exercise are
    • improved executive function
    • enhanced mood
    • decreased stress levels
  • widespread brain areas and brain systems are activated

Disrupted fat breakdown in the brain involved in Alzheimer’s?

A Canadian study involving 40 older adults (59-81), none of whom were aware of any major memory problems, has found that those scoring below 26 on the Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA) dementia screening test also showed shrinking of the anterolateral entorhinal cortex.

A study involving 35 adults with MCI found that those who exercised four times a week over a six-month period increased their volume of gray matter.

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