Latest Research News

In the past few months, several studies have come out showing the value of three different tests of people's sense of smell for improving the accuracy of MCI and Alzheimer's diagnosis, or pointing to increased risk.

We know that the neurotransmitter

Untreated sleep apnea in children shrinks brain & may slow development

Brain scans of children who have moderate or severe obstructive sleep apnea have found significant reductions of gray matter across the brain.

The study compared brain scans from 16 children (aged 7-11) with obstructive sleep apnea to those from nine healthy children of the same age, gender, ethnicity and weight, who did not have apnea. The scans were also compared to 191 MRI scans of children who were part of an existing database.

A study comparing the language abilities of 22 healthy young individuals, 24 healthy older individuals and 22 people with MCI, has found that those with MCI:

Chemo-brain common among women with breast cancer

A study involving 581 breast cancer patients and 364 healthy age-matched people (mean age 53) has found that women with breast cancer reported significantly greater cognitive difficulties for up to six months after chemotherapy. Cognitive difficulties were evaluated using FACT-Cog, an assessment that examines a person's own perceived impairment as well as cognitive impairment perceived by others.

Following on from a previous study showing that such a virtual supermarket game administered by a trained professional can detect

Data from the Women's Health Initiative Memory Study, involving 6,467 postmenopausal women (65+) who reported some level of caffeine consumption, has found that those who consumed above average amounts of coffee had a lower risk of developing dementia.

Caffeine intake was estimated from a questionnaire. The median intake was 172 mg per day (an 8-ounce cup of brewed coffee contains 95mg of caffeine, 8-ounces of brewed black tea contains 47mg, so slightly less than 2 cups of coffee or less than 4 cups of tea). The women were cognitively assessed annually.

Our bodies’ ability to regulate its temperature gets worse with age, along with a slowing metabolism. We also become more vulnerable to Alzheimer's as we age. A study compared mice genetically engineered to manifest Alzheimer's symptoms as they age with normal mice. They found that these transgenic mice were worse at maintaining their body temperature as they aged, with the difference reaching almost 1° Celsius by the age of 12 months.

People with Alzheimer's disease develop problems in recognizing familiar faces. It has been thought that this is just part of their general impairment, but a new study indicates that a specific, face-related impairment develops early in the disease. This impairment has to do with the recognition of a face as a whole.

Four studies involving a total of more than 300 younger adults (20-24) have looked at information processing on different forms of media. They found that digital platforms such as tablets and laptops for reading may make you more inclined to focus on concrete details rather than interpreting information more abstractly.

As much as possible, the material was presented on the different media in identical format.

I've reported before on studies showing how gesturing can help children with mathematics and problem-solving. A new Australian study involving children aged 9-13 has found that finger-tracing has a similar effect.

Students who used their finger to trace over practice examples while simultaneously reading geometry or arithmetic material were able to complete the problems more quickly and correctly than those who didn't use the same technique.

We've all done it: used the wrong name when we know the right one perfectly well. And we all know when it's most likely to happen. But here's a study come to reassure us that it's okay, this is just how we roll.

The study, based on five separate surveys of more than 1,700 respondents, finds that these naming errors (when you call someone you know very well by the wrong name) follow a particular pattern that tells us something about how our memory is organized.

Data from 876 patients (average age 78) in the 30-year Cardiovascular Health Study show that virtually any type of aerobic physical activity can improve brain volume and reduce Alzheimer's risk.

A couple of studies reported at the recent Annual Conference of the British Psychological Society are intriguing.

In the first study, 180 healthy adults completed questionnaires relating to their mood before being given either a drink of peppermint tea, chamomile tea or hot water. Twenty minutes later, their memory and cognition were tested, followed by another mood questionnaire.

A study involving 100 older adults (aged 80-99) with hearing loss has found that those who used a hearing aid performed significantly better on a cognitive test (MMSE) than those who didn't use a hearing aid, despite having poorer hearing. Among non-users, participants with more hearing loss had lower MMSE scores than those with better hearing.

A small study involving 50 younger adults (18-35; average age 24) has found that those with a higher BMI performed significantly worse on a computerised memory test called the “Treasure Hunt Task”.

The task involved moving food items around complex scenes (e.g., a desert with palm trees), hiding them in various locations, and indicating afterward where and when they had hidden them. The test was designed to disentangle object, location, and temporal order memory, and the ability to integrate those separate bits of information.

Can you help protect yourself from the memory of traumatic events? A new study suggests that, by concentrating on concrete details as you live through the event, you can reduce the number of intrusive memories later experienced.

A study involving 65 older adults (average age 66), of whom 35 had type 2 diabetes, has found that after two years, those with diabetes had decreases in their ability to regulate blood flow in the brain, and a reduced ability to regulate blood flow was associated with lower cognitive scores.

Specifically, at the start of the study those with diabetes scored an average 46 points on a cognitive test, compared with 55 in the control group. After two years, the diabetics' scores had fallen to an average of 41, while the scores of the control group hadn't fallen at all.

A German study involving 1,936 older adults (50+) has found that mild cognitive impairment (MCI) occurred twice as often in those diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.

A small study that fitted 29 young adults (18-31) and 31 older adults (55-82) with a device that recorded steps taken and the vigor and speed with which they were made, has found that those older adults with a higher step rate performed better on memory tasks than those who were more sedentary. There was no such effect seen among the younger adults.

As we all know, people are living longer and obesity is at appalling levels. For both these (completely separate!) reasons, we expect to see growing rates of dementia. A new analysis using data from the long-running Framingham Heart Study offers some hope to individuals, however.

A study involving 39 older adults has found that those randomly assigned to a “high-challenge” group showed improved cognitive performance and more efficient brain activity compared with those assigned to a low-challenge group, or a control group.

Data from 2,800 participants (aged 65+) in the Advanced Cognitive Training for Independent and Vital Elderly (ACTIVE) study has revealed that one type of cognitive training benefits less-educated people more than it does the more-educated.

A study involving 266 people with mild cognitive impairment (aged 70+) has found that B vitamins are more effective in slowing cognitive decline when people have higher omega 3 levels.

Participants were randomly selected to receive either a B-vitamin supplement (folic acid, vitamins B6 and B12) or a placebo pill for two years. The vitamins had little to no effect for those with low levels of omega-3 fatty acids, but were very effective for those with high baseline omega-3 levels.

A study involving 66 healthy young adults (average age 24) has revealed that different individuals have distinct brain connectivity patterns that are associated with different ways of experiencing and remembering the past.

Sleep, as I have said on many occasions, helps your brain consolidate new memories. I have reported before on a number of studies showing how sleep helps the learning of various types of new information. Most of those studies have looked at procedural learning (learning new skills), or verbal learning. A new study adds to these by looking at face-name associations.

The question of the brain's capacity usually brings up remarks that the human brain contains about 100 billion neurons. If each one has, say, 1,000 or more connections to other neurons, this produces some 100 trillion connections in which our memory can be held. These connections are between synapses, which change in strength and size when activated. These changes are a critical part of the memory code. In fact, synaptic strength is analogous to the 1s and 0s that computers use to encode information.

Growing research has implicated infections as a factor in age-related cognitive decline, but these have been cross-sectional (comparing different individuals, who will have a number of other, possibly confounding, attributes). Now a large longitudinal study provides more evidence that certain chronic viral infections could contribute to subtle cognitive deterioration in apparently healthy older adults.

A sleep study involving 28 participants had them follow a controlled sleep/wake schedule for three weeks before staying in a sleep laboratory for 4.5 days, during which time they experienced a cycle of sleep deprivation and recovery in the absence of seasonal cues such as natural light, time information and social interaction. The same participants went through this entire procedure several times over some 18 months.

I've spoken before about how the presence or absence of the “Alzheimer's gene” may affect which lifestyle changes are beneficial for you. A new study has added to that idea with a finding that seafood consumption was associated with fewer signs of Alzheimer's-related pathology, but only among those with the APOEe4 gene.

Seafood consumption was also associated with increased mercury levels in the brain, with levels rising the more seafood was consumed. However, higher levels of mercury were not correlated with any neuropathologies.

A study involving 14 years of health records from more than 274,000 Northern Californians has assessed the relative dementia risk of six different ethnicities.

The average annual rate of dementia was:

After Alzheimer's disease, the next most common type of dementia is Lewy Body disease. Far less widely known, this form of dementia is often diagnosed quite late. A new study has validated a simple rating scale that non-specialist clinicians can use to quickly and effectively diagnose LBD in about three minutes.

The Lewy Body Composite Risk Score (LBCRS) is a simple, one-page survey with structured yes/no questions for six non-motor features that are present in patients with LBD, but are much less commonly found in other forms of dementia.

A natural experiment involving 5,740 participants in a MOOC ( massive open online course) has found that when students were asked to assess each other's work, and the examples were exceptional, a large proportion of students dropped the course.

In the MOOC, as is not uncommon practice, course participants were asked to write an essay and then to grade a random sample of their peers' essays. Those randomly assigned to evaluate exemplary peer essays were dramatically more likely to quit the course than those assigned to read more typical essays.

A systematic literature review of computerized training for attention and executive function in adults who suffered a brain injury (TBI or stroke) has concluded that there is encouraging evidence that such programs can help.

In the study, mice were repeatedly given extremely mild concussive impacts while anesthetized. The brain's response to a single concussion was compared with an injury received daily for 30 days and one received weekly over 30 weeks.

Mice with a single insult temporarily lost 10-15% of their neuronal connections (dendritic spines), but there was no inflammation or cell death. With three days rest, all neuronal connections were restored.

We know that traumatic brain injury increases the risk of later developing neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer's disease, but we haven't known why. New mouse studies suggest a reason.

Adding to evidence that the standard assessments are inadequate to determine whether concussed athletes are fit to return to action, an advanced MRI technique that detects blood flow in the brain shows that hat brain abnormalities persist beyond the point of clinical recovery after injury.

The study compared 18 concussed players and 19 non-concussed players. For the concussed players, MRI was taken within 24 hours of the injury and eight days afterward. Baselines were taken before the football season.

Brain imaging while 11 individuals with traumatic brain injury and 15 healthy controls performed a

A study involving 30 children (aged 8-10), of whom 15 had experienced a sports-related concussion two years earlier, and all of whom were athletically active, found that those with a history of concussion performed worse on tests of

An online national survey of 2,012 adult Americans (of whom 948 were parents) has found that, while the vast majority (87%) don’t know the definition of a concussion and many don’t know the injury is treatable, there is a high level of concern and even fear across the country.

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