Latest Research News

Subjective cognitive impairment (SCI), marked by situations such as when a person recognizes they can't remember a name like they used to or where they recently placed important objects the way they used to, is experienced by between one-quarter and one-half of the population over the age of 65.

A German study involving nearly 4000 older adults (55+) has found that physical activity significantly reduced the risk of developing mild cognitive impairment over a two-year period. Nearly 14% of those with no physical activity at the start of the study developed cognitive impairment, compared to 6.7% of those with moderate activity, and 5.1% of those with high activity. Moderate activity was defined as less than 3 times a week.

Last month I reported on a finding that estrogen acts through calpain, a protein crucial to learning and memory, that acts as a neurotransmitter in the brain.

Rodent studies have demonstrated the existence of specialized neurons involved in spatial memory. These ‘grid cells’ represent where an animal is located within its environment, firing in patterns that show up as geometrically regular, triangular grids when plotted on a map of a navigated surface. Now for the first time, evidence for these cells has been found in humans. Moreover, those with the clearest signs of grid cells performed best in a virtual reality spatial memory task, suggesting that the grid cells help us to remember the locations of objects.

Although HIV doesn't directly infect neurons, it appears that once it has crossed the blood-brain barrier, it affects supporting cells that can release immune factors that harm neurons. New techniques used on 26 subjects with HIV and 25 matched controls have now found that those with HIV showed decreased brain blood flow to levels roughly equivalent to readings seen for uninfected individuals 15 to 20 years older. It is suggested that HIV, medications, or both, are accelerating what is a normal age-related process. It’s estimated that 14-18% of AIDS patients in the U.S.

‘Working memory’ is thought to consist of three components: one concerned with auditory-verbal processing, one with visual-spatial processing, and a central executive that controls both. It has been hypothesized that the relationships between the components changes as children develop. Very young children are more reliant on visuospatial processing, but later the auditory-verbal module becomes more dominant. It has also been found that the two sensory modules are not strongly associated in younger (5-8) American children, but are strongly associated in older children (9-12).

No surprise to me (I’m hopeless at faces), but a twin study has found that face recognition is heritable, and that it is inherited separately from IQ. The findings provide support for a modular concept of the brain, suggesting that some cognitive abilities, like face recognition, are shaped by specialist genes rather than generalist genes. The study used 102 pairs of identical twins and 71 pairs of fraternal twins aged 7 to 19 from Beijing schools to calculate that 39% of the variance between individuals on a face recognition task is attributable to genetic effects.

You may think that telling students to strive for excellence is always a good strategy, but it turns out that it is not quite as simple as that. A series of four experiments looking at how students' attitudes toward achievement influenced their performance on various tasks has found that while those with high achievement motivation did better on a task when they also were exposed to subconscious "priming" that related to winning, mastery or excellence, those with low achievement motivation did worse.

It is now well established that memories are consolidated during sleep. Now a new study has found that restful periods while you are awake are also times when consolidation can occur.

A five-year study involving 48 diverse, 18- to 30-month-old children with autism and no other health problems has found a novel early intervention program to be effective for improving IQ, language ability, and social interaction. The Early Start Denver Model combines applied behavioral analysis (ABA) teaching methods with play-based routines that focused on building a relationship with the child. Half the children received two two-hour sessions five days a week from specialists (but in their own homes) plus five hours a week of parent-delivered therapy.

A digital designer is developing a toolkit to help teachers more effectively assist children with dyslexia. The tool aims to help children remember the sound connected to the letter. For example, you can scroll over the letter "p," and the "p" will then morph to display common items associated with the "puh" sound: (peach, peppermint, pie, pea and piano). Or when moving over a long vowel, the vowel lengthens horizontally; silent letters are shadowed or repel the mouse. And so on. The toolkit has not yet been tested, but I do like the idea.

The ongoing 12-year Connecticut Longitudinal Study, involving a representative sample of 445 schoolchildren, has found that in typical readers, IQ and reading not only track together, but also influence each other over time. But in children with dyslexia, IQ and reading are not linked over time and do not influence one another. Although this difference has been assumed, this is the first direct evidence for it.

Consistent with studies showing that gender stereotypes can worsen math performance in females, a year-long study involving 17 first- and second-grade teachers and their 52 boy and 65 girl students has found that boys' math performance was not related to their (female) teacher's math anxiety while girls' math achievement was. Early elementary school teachers in the United States are almost exclusively female. Math achievement was unrelated to teacher math anxiety in both boys and girls at the beginning of the school year.

A study (“Midlife in the United States”) assessing 3,343 men and women aged 32-84 (mean age 56), of whom almost 40% had at least a 4-year college degree, has found evidence that frequent cognitive activity can counteract the detrimental effect of poor education on age-related cognitive decline.

Previous research has shown that older adults are more likely to incorrectly repeat an action in situations where a prospective memory task has become habitual — for example, taking more medication because they’ve forgotten they’ve already taken it. A new study has found that doing something unusual at the same time helps seniors remember having done the task.

It’s now well established that older brains tend to find it harder to filter out irrelevant information. But now a new study suggests that that isn’t all bad. The study compared the performance of 24 younger adults (17-29) and 24 older adults (60-73) on two memory tasks separated by a 10-minute break. In the first task, they were shown pictures overlapped by irrelevant words, told to ignore the words and concentrate on the pictures only, and to respond every time the same picture appeared twice in a row.

A study involving 155 women aged 65-75 has found that those who participated in resistance training once or twice weekly for a year significantly improved their selective attention (maintaining mental focus) and conflict resolution (as well as muscular function of course!), compared to those who participated in twice-weekly balance and tone training.

A number of rodent studies have shown that blueberries can improve aging memory; now for the first time, a human study provides evidence. In the small study, nine older adults (mean age 76) with mild cognitive impairment (

Rapamycin, a drug that keeps the immune system from attacking transplanted organs, was recently found to extend the life span of aged research mice.

A study involving 57 cognitively healthy older adults has found that those who showed decreased memory performance two years later (20 of the 57) had higher baseline levels of phosphorylated tau231 in the cerebrospinal fluid, and more atrophy in the medial

Midlife hypertension has been confirmed as a risk factor for the development of dementia in late life, but there have been conflicting findings about the role of late-life hypertension. Now a five-year study involving 990 older adults (average age 83) with cognitive impairment but no dementia, has found that dementia developed at around the same rate among participants with and without hypertension, among those with memory dysfunction alone and those with both memory and executive dysfunction.

By following 597 Alzheimer’s patients over 15 years, researchers have determined that a simple progression rate can be calculated at the initial visit, using symptom onset and present performance, and that this can reliably identify slow, intermediate and rapid progression.

A survey of more than 100 studies involving PIB-PET, a diagnostic tool that involves injecting a radiotracer called Pittsburgh compound B into the brain via the bloodstream, and imaging the brain with positron emission tomography (PET), has confirmed its sensitivity in detecting amyloid-beta protein plaques. The tool is not yet commercially available.

Data from 330 participants in The 90+ Study, of whom 70% were women, has revealed an overall annual incidence rate of 18.2% for dementia, rising from 12.7% per year in the 90-94 age group, to 21.2% in the 95-99 age group and 40.7% per year in the 100+ age group. 60% of the cases were attributed to Alzheimer's disease, 22%

A paralyzed patient implanted with a brain-computer interface device has allowed scientists to determine the relationship between brain waves and attention. Recordings found a characteristic pattern of activity as the subject paid close attention to the task. High-frequency beta oscillations increased in strength as the subject waited for the relevant instruction, with peaks of activity occurring just before each instructional cue.

A new theory suggests that more intelligent people are more likely than less intelligent people to adopt evolutionarily novel preferences and values, and that these values include liberalism (caring about numerous genetically unrelated strangers they never meet or interact with), atheism, and, in men, monogamy.

Using a large data set of 241 brain-lesion patients, researchers have mapped the location of each patient's lesion and correlated that with each patient's IQ score to produce a map of the brain regions that influence intelligence.

An imaging study reveals that different brain regions are involved in learning nouns and verbs. Nouns activate the left

While most foreign language courses try hard to provide native speakers, a new study shows that adults find it easier when the teacher speaks it in the same accent as the student.

A study of 80 pairs of middle-income Canadian mothers and their year-old babies has revealed that children of mothers who answered their children's requests for help quickly and accurately; talked about their children's preferences, thoughts, and memories during play; and encouraged successful strategies to help solve difficult problems, performed better at a year and a half and 2 years on tasks that call for executive skills, compared to children whose mothers didn't use these techniques.

A study involving 125 women has found the first, direct human evidence that fetuses exposed to elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol may have trouble paying attention or solving problems at 17 months. But more hopefully, the association only occurred among children showing insecure attachment to their mothers, independent of socioeconomic factors. The findings suggest that a stressful prenatal environment may be effectively counteracted by good parental care. The children will be followed up when they turn 6.

A study involving 132 8- and 9-year-old children, some of whom had been adopted into U.S. homes after spending at least a year and three-quarters in institutions in Asia, Latin America, Russia and Eastern Europe, and Africa, while others were adopted by the time they were 8 months old into U.S. homes from foster care in Asia and Latin America, having spent no or very little time in institutional care, has found that those adopted early from foster care didn't differ from children who were raised in their birth families in the United States.

A study involving 42 students who were ecstasy/polydrug users has found that ecstasy, or the regular use of several drugs, affects users' prospective memory (remembering things you plan to do), even when tests are controlled for cannabis, tobacco or alcohol use. Cocaine use in particular was prominently associated with prospective memory impairment.

A study involving over 1000 older men and women (60-75) with type-2 diabetes has found that those with higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol in their blood are more likely to have experienced cognitive decline. Higher fasting cortisol levels were associated with greater estimated cognitive decline in general intelligence,

More data from the National Survey of Midlife Development in the United States has revealed that cognitive abilities reflect to a greater extent how old you feel, not how old you actually are. Of course that may be because cognitive ability contributes to a person’s wellness and energy. But it also may reflect benefits of trying to maintain a sense of youthfulness by keeping up with new trends and activities that feel invigorating.

A long-running study involving 930 70-year-old Swedish men has found that those who were among the bottom 25% on the Trail Making Test B were three times more likely to have a stroke or a brain infarction compared to those in the top 25%. Performance on the Trail Making Test A and the MMSE did not predict brain infarction or stroke. Test B measures the ability to execute and modify a plan, while Test A measures attention and visual-motor abilities, and the MMSE is a standard test of general cognitive decline.

A review of 35 studies published between 1991 and 2007 has found that depression does not always lead to cognitive impairment. Part of the variability in findings may be due to inconsistent measurement and diagnosis of depression. Processing speed was found to be the cognitive function most consistently affected by depression. Processing speed deficits can be helped by decreasing the amount of information to process at one time.

Mindfulness Training had a positive effect on both

Following on from studies showing that a Mediterranean-like diet may be associated with a lower risk of Alzheimer's disease and may lengthen survival in people with Alzheimer's, a six-year study of 712 New Yorkers has revealed that those who were most closely following a Mediterranean-like diet were 36% less likely to have brain infarcts (small areas of dead tissue linked to thinking problems), compared to those who were least following the diet. Those moderately following the diet were 21% less likely to have brain damage.

Following on from research showing that pulling an all-nighter decreases the ability to cram in new facts by nearly 40%, a study involving 39 young adults has found that those given a 90-minute nap in the early afternoon, after being subjected to a rigorous learning task, did markedly better at a later round of learning exercises, compared to those who remained awake throughout the day. The former group actually improved in their capacity to learn, while the latter became worse at learning.

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