Older news items (pre-2010) brought over from the old website

Hormone therapy for prostate cancer can produce temporary cognitive impairment

A new study finds men treated with hormone therapy for prostate cancer may experience temporary cognitive changes in visual memory of figures and recognition speed of numbers. No other cognitive areas were affected. The degree of cognitive change was related to the magnitude of decline in the level of estradiol (a form of estrogen in men).

Salminen, E.K., Portin, R.I., Koskinen, A., Helenius, H. & Nurmi, M. 2005. Estradiol and Cognition during Androgen Deprivation in Men with Prostate Carcinoma. CANCER; Published Online: February 28, 2005 (DOI: 10.1002/cncr.20962); Print Issue Date: April 1, 2005.

Estrogen boosts memory in men with prostate cancer

A new study suggests that high doses of estrogen may improve long-term memory and decrease feelings of confusion in men whose testosterone levels have been lowered to treat advanced prostate cancer. The findings suggest that hormone deprivation, prostate cancer or a combination of the two significantly impair verbal memory, while estrogen therapy significantly improves verbal memory performance. Hormone deprivation appears to slow working memory performance, but did not affect accuracy. Supplementation with estrogen did not affect working memory.

Beer, T.M. & Janowsky, J. 2004. High dose estrogen may enhance memory in men with prostate cancer. Presented at the American Society for Clinical Oncology annual meeting in New Orleans, La. on June 6.

Elevated testosterone kills nerve cells

Testosterone is the main male hormone and plays a crucial role in neuronal function. However, a new study has found that high levels of testosterone triggered programmed cell death in nerve cells in culture. Increased loss of brain cells has been associated with several neurological illnesses, such as Alzheimer disease and Huntington disease. The findings point to another potential danger of steroid use.

[1017] Estrada, M., Varshney A., & Ehrlich B. E.
(2006).  Elevated testosterone induces apoptosis in neuronal cells.
The Journal of Biological Chemistry. 281(35), 25492 - 25501.

Testosterone deprivation makes men forget

A study of men undergoing testosterone deprivation therapy for prostate cancer has found that verbal memory is significantly affected. While initial learning of words is unaffected, such testosterone-deprived men show marked forgetting after two minutes. This rapid drop in memory suggests the lack of testosterone affects the function of the hippocampus. Healthy older men, on average, have about a 40% loss in their normal levels of testosterone as they age, from the ages of 20 or 30, to 70.

Paper presented at the 34th Society for Neuroscience annual meeting in San Diego in late October 2004.

Older men with higher testosterone levels performed better on cognitive tests

A study of the levels of estrogen and testosterone in 300 older men enrolled in a larger study of risk factors for osteoporosis in men found that a higher level of testosterone was associated with better performance on various cognitive tests. The level of estrogen had no apparent effect. The study looked only at natural levels of hormones, and it is too soon to say whether testosterone supplements would help prevent cognitive decline. Although some previous studies have suggested that testosterone might benefit the brain, most of these studies have been of younger men.

[576] Yaffe, K., Lui L-Y., Zmuda J., & Cauley J.
(2002).  Sex Hormones and Cognitive Function in Older Men.
Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. 50(4), 707 - 712.

Health in Aging

Short-term declines in cognitive function can occur in elderly subjects after surgery, and persists in a small percentage.

Heart bypass surgery in particular is associated with cognitive decline - estimates of its prevalence range from 33% to 82%. This decline may persist in as many as 42% of patients. Age and level of education are both factors in determining the likelihood of long-term decline. The presence of a gene (apolipoprotein E4) carried by some 25% of the population may also increase the likelihood of decline after bypass surgery. There also seems to be a link between post-operative fever and cognitive decline. Long-term decline in cognitive function may be more a result of cardiovascular risk factors than the surgery itself.

High blood pressure in those over 60 seems to be associated with greater risk of cognitive decline.

High blood pressure and other circulatory problems, such as cardiovascular risk factors and diabetes, are linked to cognitive decline, perhaps through causing abnormalities in the white matter of elderly persons' brains.

Those with the gene ApoE4 also appear to have more difficulty recovering from traumatic brain injury.

Two drugs used for Alzheimer's have also been found to help those suffering from dementia following stroke.

A specific skills approach is having some success in helping those who suffer from attention problems following stroke.


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Heart health

Inflammation & infection

Sleep problems



Older news items (pre-2010) brought over from the old website

Common medications associated with cognitive decline in elderly

A study of over 500 relatively healthy men aged 65 years or older with high blood pressure has found that chronic use of medications with anticholinergic properties was associated with impairment in verbal memory and the ability to perform daily living tasks. The degree of impairment increased proportionally to the total amount of drug exposure. This effect was independent of age, education, morbidities, and severity of hypertension.

Han, L., Agostini, J.V. & Allore, H.G. 2008. Cumulative Anticholinergic Exposure Is Associated with Poor Memory and Executive Function in Older Men. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 56 (12), 2203-2210.

Using anti-cholinergic drugs may increase cognitive decline

The Religious Orders Study has thrown up more data, this time on the subject of anticholinergic medication. Over an eight year period, 679 of the 870 elderly participants took at least one medication with anticholinergic properties. The study found those people who took anticholinergic drugs saw their rate of cognitive function decline 1.5 times as fast as those people who did not take the drugs. Anticholinergic properties are found in many medicines, such as medicines for stomach cramps, ulcers, motion sickness, and urinary incontinence.

The research was presented at the American Academy of Neurology Annual Meeting in Chicago, April 12–19.

Injection of human umbilical cord blood helps aging brain

A rat study has found that a single intravenous injection of human umbilical cord blood mononuclear cells in aged rats significantly improved the microenvironment of the aged hippocampus and rejuvenated the aged neural stem/progenitor cells. The increase in neurogenesis seemed to be due to a decrease in inflammation. The results raise the possibility of cell therapy to rejuvenate the aged brain.

Bachstetter, A.D. et al. 2008. Peripheral injection of human umbilical cord blood stimulates neurogenesis in the aged rat brain. BMC Neuroscience, 9, 22.

Relationship between statins and cognitive decline more complex than thought

Previous studies of a link between statins (which protect against cardiovascular disease) and cognitive decline have produced inconsistent results. A three year epidemiological study of older African Americans has now found cognitive decline in statin users was less than those who did not take statins, but those who continued to take statins from 2001 to 2004 had greater cognitive decline than those who were taking statins in 2001 but were no longer taking them in 2004. The finding that the benefit is stronger for those who had discontinued use than for continuous users points to a complex association between statins and cognitive decline.

Szwast, S.J. et al. 2007. Association of statin use with cognitive decline in elderly African Americans Neurology, 69, 1873-1880.

High-normal uric acid linked with mild cognitive impairment in the elderly

A study of 96 older adults has found that those with uric-acid levels at the high end of the normal range had the lowest scores on tests of mental processing speed, verbal memory and working memory. The correlation persisted even when controlled for age, sex, weight, race, education, diabetes, hypertension, smoking and alcohol abuse. Uric acid levels increase with age, and higher levels are linked with high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, Type 2 diabetes and the "metabolic syndrome" of abdominal obesity and insulin resistance — all known risk factors for dementia. Because uric acid levels are so easily tested, the finding may suggest a valuable biological marker for very early cognitive problems in old age.

Schretlen, D.J. et al. 2007. Serum Uric Acid and Cognitive Function in Community-Dwelling Older Adults. Neuropsychology, 21 (1)

Drug reverses aging effect on memory process

Rat studies suggest that a drug made to enhance memory triggers a natural mechanism in the brain that fully reverses age-related memory loss, even after the drug itself has left the body. In middle-aged rats given ampakines twice a day for four days, there was a significant increase in the production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein known to play a key role in memory formation, and in long-term potentiation (LTP), the process by which the connection between the brain cells is enhanced and memory is encoded. Deficits in LTP occur with age. This restoration of LTP was found in the brains even after the ampakines had been cleared from the animals' bodies.

Rex, C.S. et al. 2006. Restoration of Long-Term Potentiation in Middle-Aged Hippocampus After Induction of Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor. Journal of Neurophysiology, 96, 677-685.

Nicotine patch may alleviate 'senior moments'

A small preliminary clinical trial has found that four weeks of nicotine skin patches helped decision-making and attention in people with age-associated memory impairment (the mildest form of cognitive impairment in seniors). Given the health risks of smoking, and health risks associated with nicotine patches, it is too early to recommend the use of nicotine to improve memory, however. Nicotine mimics the brain chemical acetylcholine, a nerve signal that plays a role in learning and memory.

White, H.K. & Levin, E.D. 2004. Psychopharmacology

Statins associated with rare cases of temporary amnesia

Two recent studies have documented cases of amnesia and other nervous-system side effects after taking statins, the cholesterol-lowering drugs being prescribed to millions of people at risk of heart disease. It is emphasized that this is a rare problem, but given the vast numbers of people taking statins, it might still add up to a significant number of problems.


Older news items (pre-2010) brought over from the old website

Different effects of ministrokes & strokes

A study involving 679 seniors (65+) has found that those with small areas of brain damage called white matter hyperintensities, often referred to as ministrokes, were nearly twice as likely to have mild cognitive impairment that included memory loss (amnestic MCI), while those who had infarcts (areas of dead tissue usually called strokes) were more likely to experience mild cognitive impairment in abilities other than memory loss (non-amnestic MCI). In other words, ministrokes predicted memory problems, while strokes predicted non-memory problems.

Luchsinger, J.A. et al. 2009. Subclinical cerebrovascular disease in mild cognitive impairment. Neurology, 73, 450-456.

Stroke patients regain sight after intensive brain training

In a surprising and exciting finding, stroke victims left partially blind have been trained to use undamaged parts of their brains to improve their vision. The training program, involving an hour a day for at least nine months, forced them to process visual signals with parts of their brain that had not been damaged by the stroke. The seven patients in the study ranged in age from their 30s to 80s, and had suffered a stroke between eight months and three-and-a-half years previously. Impaired vision is a very common result of a stroke.

Huxlin, K.R. et al. 2009. Perceptual Relearning of Complex Visual Motion after V1 Damage in Humans. Journal of Neuroscience, 29, 3981-3991.

Social support may protect brain during stroke

A mouse study has found that male mice that lived with a female partner before and after a stroke had a much higher survival rate compared to those mice that lived alone, and also suffered much less brain damage. The findings suggest that high levels of social support may provide some protection against strokes by reducing the amount of damaging inflammation in the brain, and provides some idea of the mechanism. Significantly fewer neurons died in the brains of pair-housed mice. They also had significantly less edema (excess water in the brain), less expression of two genes associated with damaging inflammation in the brain, and significantly higher levels of interleukin-6 (IL-6), a cytokine that has an anti-inflammatory response in the brain.

The research was presented November 18 at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in Washington, D.C.

Daily dose of ginkgo may prevent brain cell damage after a stroke

A study using genetically engineered mice has found that daily doses of ginkgo biloba can prevent or reduce brain damage after an induced stroke. More research is needed before its use in humans can be recommended, but the finding does lend support to other evidence that ginkgo biloba triggers a cascade of events that neutralizes free radicals known to cause cell death.

Saleem, S. et al. 2008. Ginkgo Biloba Extract Neuroprotective Action Is Dependent on Heme Oxygenase 1 in Ischemic Reperfusion Brain Injury. Stroke, published online October 9

Psychological distress, not depression, linked to increased risk of stroke

A study following 20,627 people for an average of 8.5 years has found that psychological distress was associated with an increased risk of stroke and that the risk of stroke increased the more distress the participants reported. This association remained the same regardless of cigarette smoking, systolic blood pressure, overall blood cholesterol, obesity, previous heart attack, diabetes, social class, education, high blood pressure treatment, family history of stroke and recent antidepressant medication use. However, there was no increased risk for people who had experienced an episode of major depression in the past year or at any point in their lifetime.

Surtees, P.G. et al. 2008. Psychological distress, major depressive disorder, and risk of stroke. Neurology, 70, 788-794.

Listening to music improves stroke patients' recovery

A Finnish study involving 60 patients who had suffered a stroke of the left or right hemisphere middle cerebral artery (MCA) has found that if stroke patients listened to music for a couple of hours a day, their verbal memory and focused attention recovered better and they had a more positive mood than patients who did not listen to anything or who listened to audio books. Patients were randomly assigned to a music listening group, a language group or a control group. During the next two months the music and language groups listened daily to music they chose themselves or to audio books respectively, while the control group received no listening material. All groups received standard stroke rehabilitation. Three months after the stroke, verbal memory improved from the first week post-stroke by 60% in music listeners, by 18% in audio book listeners and by 29% in non-listeners. Similarly, focused attention improved by 17% in music listeners, but no improvement was observed in audio book listeners and non-listeners. The differences were essentially the same six months after the stroke. The music listening group also experienced less depressed and confused mood than the patients in the control group.

Särkämö, T. et al. 2008. Music listening enhances cognitive recovery and mood after middle cerebral artery stroke. Brain Advance Access published online on February 20, 2008.

Not enough 'good' cholesterol makes it harder to recover from stroke

A large study involving men and women over age 35 in the United States, Canada, and Scotland who had suffered a mild to moderate stroke within the past three months, found several factors predicted memory and disability problems after stroke: increased age, non-Caucasian race, recurrent stroke, diabetes, stroke in the left hemisphere of the brain, higher levels of homocysteine and lower levels of high-density lipoproteins (HDL), otherwise known as “good” cholesterol. “People with low levels of HDL, high levels of homocysteine, and diabetes are twice as likely as those without such problems to have poorer cognitive function and greater disability after stroke … (and) stroke recovery was the most difficult for people over the age of 57 with high levels of homocysteine ...”

Newman, G.C., Bang, H., Hussain, S.I. & Toole, J.F. 2007. Association of diabetes, homocysteine, and HDL with cognition and disability after stroke. Neurology, 69, 2054-2062.

Antidepressants improve thinking after a stroke

Executive dysfunction is common after stroke and may impair long-term outcome. A small study of people who had had a stroke during the previous six months has found that, although there was no difference in executive function between those given antidepressants and those given a placebo at the end of the 12-week treatment period, there was a significant difference 21 months after the treatment ended. Those who had been given the placebo showed continued worsening of executive functions, whereas the group treated with antidepressants had clear and significant improvement, regardless of how their depressive symptoms changed. The researchers speculate that antidepressants may foster recovery of neural tissue not directly destroyed by the stroke, yet because the process is slow, it takes months.

Narushima, K., Paradiso, S., Moser, D.J., Jorge, R. & Robinson, R.G. 2007. Effect of antidepressant therapy on executive function after stroke. British Journal of Psychiatry, 190, 260-265.

Restoring flexibility to old brains

Researchers have identified a protein, PirB, that stops new neural connections forming in adult brains, possibly explaining why older brains become less adaptable. The study found that the brains of adult mice that lacked PirB retained the same rewiring ability of much younger brains. Without PirB to hold them back, the old mice were, in effect, able to learn new tricks. The findings could offer hope for victims of brain injury and strokes.

[808] Syken, J., Grandpre T., Kanold P. O., & Shatz C. J.
(2006).  PirB restricts ocular-dominance plasticity in visual cortex.
Science (New York, N.Y.). 313(5794), 1795 - 1800.

Simulator training benefits stroke patients

A study involving 83 stroke patients found that a 5-week 15-hour training program improved driving ability. Those given experimental simulator-based training improved more than those given driving-related cognitive tasks. Those with more education and those with less disability benefited most. 73% of the simulator group were legally allowed to resume driving compared to 42% of the other group. However, there were a large number of dropouts.

Akinwuntan, A.E., De Weerdt, W., Feys, H., Pauwels, J., Baten, G., Arno, P. & Kiekens, C. 2005. Effect of simulator training on driving after stroke: A randomized controlled trial. Neurology, 65 (6), 843-850. 

Carotid artery stenting improves thought process

Around a quarter of strokes are caused by a narrowing of the carotid arteries. A less invasive technique — carotid artery stenting — is increasingly taking the place of surgery to treat this problem. A study involving 26 patients who had undergone the procedure has tested their cognitive function at least 24 hours before and three months after the stenting procedure. The results showed that cognitive speed increased significantly after stenting, regardless of the patient's age or the severity of the stenosis, and an increase in memory function in patients with decreased blood flow in the brain.

Grunwald, I.Q. et al. 2005. The research was presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America.

Shift in brain's language-control site offers rehab hope

Language activity in right-handed people is initially localized in the left side of the brain, but a new study shows that this gradually becomes a function shared by both sides. From ages 5 to 25, language activity increases in the dominant hemisphere; from 25 to 67, the nondominant hemisphere increasingly shares the load. The discovery gives new hope for rehabilitation of brain function in adults after stroke or traumatic brain injuries.

Szaflarski, J. P., Holland, S. K., Schmithorst, V. J., & Byars, A. W. (2006). fMRI study of language lateralization in children and adults. Human Brain Mapping, 27(3), 202-212.

Antioxidant-rich diets reduce brain damage from stroke in rats

A new rat study suggests antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables may limit brain damage from stroke and other neurological disorders. The study built upon previous research showing that diets enriched with blueberries, spinach or spirulina reversed normal age-related declines in memory and learning in old rats, and found that the same diet significantly reduced brain cell loss and improved recovery of movement in rats who had an ischemic stroke induced. The size of the stroke in the rats fed blueberry or spinach supplements was half that seen in the brains of untreated rats. Rats fed spirulina-enriched diets had stroke lesions 75 percent smaller than their untreated counterparts.

Wang, Y., Chang, C-F., Chou, J., Chen, H-L., Deng, X., Harvey, B.K., Cadet, J.L. & Bickford, P.C. 2005. Dietary supplementation with blueberries, spinach, or spirulina reduces ischemic brain damage. Experimental Neurology, 193 (1), 75-84.

Saving the most vulnerable brain cells in stroke

New research reveals why particular neurons in the hippocampus are most vulnerable to death from oxygen starvation during a stroke, and may lead to drugs that selectively protect those cells, leaving other brain cells unaffected. The findings could also lead to drugs that protect vulnerable brain cells in sufferers of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's disease.

Liu, S-H., Lau, L., Wei, J-S., Zhu, D-Y., Zou, S., Sun, H-S., Fu, Y-P., Liu, F. & Lu, Y-M. 2004. Expression of Ca2+-Permeable AMPA Receptor Channels Primes Cell Death in Transient Forebrain Ischemia. Neuron, 43 (1), 43-55.

Risk for lowered cognitive performance greater in people at high risk for stroke

A new large-scale study supports earlier suggestions that those with a high risk for stroke within 10 years are also at risk for lowered cognitive function and show a pattern of deficits similar to that seen in mild vascular cognitive impairment. It is speculated that the reason may lie in structural and functional changes in the brain that do not rise to the level of clinical detection, and this is supported by a recent brain imaging study showing that abnormal brain atrophy is related both to higher risk of stroke and poorer cognitive ability. The probability of experiencing stroke within 10 years was calculated using weighted combinations of age, systolic blood-pressure, presence of diabetes, cigarette smoking, history of cardiovascular disease, treatment for hypertension and atrial fibrillation.

Elias, M.F., Sullivan, L.M., D’Agostino, R.B., Elias, P.K., Beiser, A., Au, R., Seshadri, S., DeCarli, C. & Wolf, P.A. 2004. Framingham Stroke Risk Profile and Lowered Cognitive Performance. Stroke, 35, 404-9.

Chinese herb effective in treating vascular dementia

The herb gastrodine has been used in China for centuries to treat disorders such as dizziness, headache and even ischemic stroke. Now a 12-week, randomized, double-blind trial comparing gastrodine with Duxilâ (a drug used to treat stroke patients in China) has been done in Beijing Dongzhimen Hospital. The trial involved 120 stroke patients who were diagnosed with mild to moderate vascular dementia. Both treatment groups showed similar improvement in memory, orientation, calculation, and language (as measured by the MMSE). The gastrodine group also showed a significant difference in the Blessed Behavioral Scale (BBS) score - including behavior, activities of daily living, and also suffered fewer side effects. Researchers say combined results showed the gastrodine group improvement was 51.43 percent, with 16 of the 70 cases showing much improvement, 20 cases with some improvement, and 34 cases with no change. The improvement rate for patients treated with Duxilâ was 52 percent, with seven of the 50 cases showing much improvement, 19 cases with some improvement, and 24 cases with no change.

The research was presented at the American Heart Association's Second Asia Pacific Scientific Forum in Honolulu on June 10.

Pilot study finds ginseng may improve memory in stroke dementia patients

Following mouse studies showing that ginseng increased the activities of the brain chemicals acetylcholine and choline acetyltransferase, a pilot study of 40 patients (average age 67) with mild to moderate vascular dementia was undertaken by Chinese researchers. 25 patients were randomly selected to receive ginseng extract, while 15 received the drug Duxil® (used to improve memory in elderly dementia patients). Overall, researchers found that patients who took the ginseng compound significantly improved their average memory function after 12 weeks. More research (larger samples, placebo-controls) is needed before this finding can be confirmed.

The study was reported at the American Stroke Association's 28th International Stroke Conference on February 14 in Phoenix.

Right side of brain learns language skills after stroke

Every year, about 750,000 Americans suffer a loss of blood flow to the brain, an ischemic stroke. When the stroke occurs on the left side of the brain, language abilities may be lost (aphasia). However, many of those who initially lose language abilities after a stroke recover much of their ability within six to 12 months. Several studies have suggested that such language recovery occurs because the right hemisphere of the brain takes over language functions. A new imaging study demonstrates that, indeed, areas on the opposite side of the brain to the damaged language areas are active during language tasks, and demonstrate expected patterns of activation with practice.

Blasi, V., Young, A.C., Tansy, A.P., Petersen, S.E., Snyder, A.Z., Corbetta, M. 2002. Word retrieval learning modulates right frontal cortex in patients with left frontal damage. Neuron, 36, 1-20.

Skill-specific exercises better for people who suffer from attention problems following stroke or brain injury

Treatment programs for people who suffer from attention problems following a stroke or other traumatic brain injuries often involve abstract cognitive exercises designed to directly restore impaired attention processes. But a review of 30 studies involving a total of 359 participants shows that an alternative and lesser-used therapy that teaches patients to relearn the tasks that affect their daily lives the most may be more effective. In this specific skills approach, people with brain damage learn to perform attention skills in a way that is different from non-brain-damaged people. In one study, for example, participants whose brain injuries affected their ability to drive a car used small electric cars in the lab to practice specific driving exercises, such as steering between pylons that were moved closer and closer together. Those that practiced specific exercises showed substantial improvement on a variety of driving related tasks compared to those who drove the car, but did not practice the exercises.

58. Park, N. W., & Ingles, J. L. (2001). Effectiveness of attention rehabilitation after an acquired brain injury: A meta-analysis. Neuropsychology, 15(2), 199-210.

Visual Impairment

Older news items (pre-2010) brought over from the old website

Age-related eye disease associated with cognitive impairment

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of visual impairment in industrialized nations, and like Alzheimer's disease, involves the buildup of beta-amyloid peptides in the brain, as well as sharing similar vascular risk factors. A study of over 2000 older adults (69-97) has revealed an association between early-stage AMD and cognitive impairment, as assessed by the Digit Symbol Substitution Test (a test of attention and processing speed). There was no association with performance on the Modified Mini-Mental State Examination (used to assess dementia).
It’s worth noting that in the same journal two studies into the association between dietary fat intake and AMD appeared. The first, four-year, study involved over 6700 older adults and found that higher trans-unsaturated fat intake was associated with a higher incidence of AMD, while higher omega-3 fatty acid and higher olive oil intake were each associated with a lower incidence. The second, ten-year, study involving nearly 2500 older adults, found regular consumption of fish, greater intake of omega-3 fatty acids, and low intake of linoleic acid (perhaps because a higher intake implies a lower intake of omega-3 oils? linoleic acid is an omega-6 fatty acid), were all associated with a lower incidence of AMD. Fish and omega-3 oils have of course been similarly associated with lower rates of dementia and age-related cognitive impairment.

[447] Baker, M. L., Wang J J., Rogers S., Klein R., Kuller L. H., Larsen E. K., et al.
(2009).  Early age-related macular degeneration, cognitive function, and dementia: the Cardiovascular Health Study.
Archives of Ophthalmology. 127(5), 667 - 673.

[754] Chong, E. W. - T., Robman L. D., Simpson J. A., Hodge A. M., Aung K Z., Dolphin T. K., et al.
(2009).  Fat consumption and its association with age-related macular degeneration.
Archives of Ophthalmology. 127(5), 674 - 680.

[413] Tan, J. S. L., Wang J J., Flood V., & Mitchell P.
(2009).  Dietary fatty acids and the 10-year incidence of age-related macular degeneration: the Blue Mountains Eye Study.
Archives of Ophthalmology. 127(5), 656 - 665.

Age-related vision problems may be associated with cognitive impairment

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) develops when the macula, the portion of the eye that allows people to see in detail, deteriorates. An investigation into the relationship between vision problems and cognitive impairment in 2,946 patients has been carried out by The Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) Research Group. Tests were carried out every year for four years. Those who had more severe AMD had poorer average scores on cognitive tests, an association that remained even after researchers considered other factors, including age, sex, race, education, smoking, diabetes, use of cholesterol-lowering medications and high blood pressure. Average scores also decreased as vision decreased. It’s possible that there is a biological reason for the association; it is also possible that visual impairment reduces a person’s capacity to develop and maintain relationships and to participate in stimulating activities.

Chaves, P.H.M. et al. 2006. Association Between Mild Age-Related Eye Disease Study Research Group. 2006. Cognitive Impairment in the Age-Related Eye Disease Study: AREDS Report No. 16. Archives of Ophthalmology,124, 537-543.

The reorganization of the visual cortex in congenitally blind people

Studies indicate that congenitally blind people have superior verbal memory abilities than the sighted. A new study helps us understand why this is so. Some 25% of the human brain is devoted to vision. Until now it was assumed that loss of vision rendered these regions useless. Now it appears that in those blind from birth, the part of the occipital cortex usually involved in vision is utilized for other purposes. Extensive regions in the occipital cortex, in particular the primary visual cortex, are activated not only during Braille reading, but also during performances of verbal memory tasks, such as recalling a list of abstract words. No such activation was found in a sighted control group. It also appears that the greater the occipital activation, the higher the scores in the verbal memory tests.

[944] Amedi, A., Raz N., Pianka P., Malach R., & Zohary E.
(2003).  Early /`visual/' cortex activation correlates with superior verbal memory performance in the blind.
Nat Neurosci. 6(7), 758 - 766.

tags problems: 

Forgetting Intentions

Older news items (pre-2010) brought over from the old website

Older people with the 'Alzheimer's gene' find it harder to remember intentions

It has been established that those with a certain allele of a gene called ApoE have a much greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s (those with this allele on both genes have 8 times the risk; those with the allele on one gene have 3 times the risk). Recent studies also suggest that such carriers are also more likely to show signs of deficits in episodic memory – but that these deficits are quite subtle. In the first study to look at prospective memory in seniors with the “Alzheimer’s gene”, involving 32 healthy, dementia-free adults between ages of 60 and 87, researchers found a marked difference in performance between those who had the allele and those who did not. The results suggest an exception to the thinking that ApoE status has only a subtle effect on cognition.

[1276] Driscoll, I., McDaniel M. A., & Guynn M. J.
(2005).  Apolipoprotein E and prospective memory in normally aging adults.
Neuropsychology. 19(1), 28 - 34.

'Imagination' helps older people remember to comply with medical advice

A new study suggests a way to help older people remember to take medications and follow other medical advice. Researchers found older adults (aged 60 to 81) who spent a few minutes picturing how they would test their blood sugar were 50% more likely to actually do these tests on a regular basis than those who used other memory techniques. Participants were assigned to one of three groups. One group spent one 3-minute session visualizing exactly what they would be doing and where they would be the next day when they were scheduled to test their blood sugar levels. Another group repeatedly recited aloud the instructions for testing their blood. The last group were asked to write a list of pros and cons for testing blood sugar. All participants were asked not to use timers, alarms or other devices. Over 3 weeks, the “imagination” group remembered 76% of the time to test their blood sugar at the right times of the day compared to an average of 46% in the other two groups. They were also far less likely to go an entire day without testing than those in the other two groups.

[473] Liu, L. L., & Park D. C.
(2004).  Aging and medical adherence: the use of automatic processes to achieve effortful things.
Psychology and Aging. 19(2), 318 - 325.

Alcohol damages day-to-day memory function

A new study involving 763 participants (465 female, 298 males) used self-report questionnaires: the Prospective Memory Questionnaire (PMQ), the Everyday Memory Questionnaire (EMQ), and the UEL (University of East London) Recreational Drug Use Questionnaire, and found that heavy users of alcohol reported making consistently more errors than those who said that they consumed little or no alcohol. More specifically, those who reported higher levels of alcohol consumption were more likely to miss appointments, forget birthdays and pay bills on time (prospective memory), as well as more problems remembering whether they had done something, like locking the door or switching off the lights or oven, or where they had put items like house keys. The study also found a significant increase in reported memory problems by people who claimed to drink between 10 and 25 units each week in comparison to non-drinkers – this is within the ’safe drinking’ limits suggested by U.K. government guidelines.

Ling, L., Heffernan, T.M., Buchanan, T., Rodgers, J., Scholey, A.B. & Parrott, A.C. 2003. Effects of Alcohol on Subjective Ratings of Prospective and Everyday Memory Deficits. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 27(6), 970-974.

tags problems: 

Word-finding Problems

Older news items (pre-2010) brought over from the old website

Genetic cause for word-finding disease

Primary Progressive Aphasia is a little-known form of dementia in which people lose the ability to express themselves and understand speech. People can begin to show symptoms of PPA as early as in their 40's and 50's. A new study has found has discovered a gene mutation in two unrelated families in which nearly all the siblings suffered from PPA. The mutations were not observed in the healthy siblings or in more than 200 controls.

[1164] Hutton, M. L., Graff-Radford N. R., Mesulam M.. Marsel, Johnson N., Krefft T. A., Gass J. M., et al.
(2007).  Progranulin Mutations in Primary Progressive Aphasia: The PPA1 and PPA3 Families.
Arch Neurol. 64(1), 43 - 47.

Word substitution mistakes have more to do with speech planning than with thought or attention problems

Why is it that we can look at something, know what it is and still call it by the wrong name? A new study suggests that the problem doesn’t lie in haste or a lack of attention, but rather in a fault in speech planning.

Griffin, Z.M. 2004. The eyes are right when the mouth is wrong. Psychological Science, 15 (12), 814-820.

What causes word finding failures in young and older adults

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Strategies for Older Adults

This concerns studies into strategies specifically for older adults, but that doesn't mean other cognitive strategies can't also be useful! See also Strategies and the specific strategy pages.

See also the separate page for Mental stimulation & cognitive reserve

Older news items (pre-2010) brought over from the old website

Characteristics of age-related cognitive decline in semantic memory

A study involving 117 healthy elderly (aged 60-91) has found that, while increasing age was associated with poorer memory for names of famous people, age didn’t affect memory for biographical details about them. It also found that names served as better cues to those details than faces did. A follow-up study (to be published in Neuropsychologia) found that, in contrast, those with mild cognitive impairment and early Alzheimer’s showed not only an increased inability to remember names, but also a decline in memory for biographical details.

[1308] Langlois, R., Fontaine F., Hamel C., & Joubert S.
(2009).  [The impact of aging on the ability to recognize famous faces and provide biographical knowledge of famous people].
Canadian Journal on Aging = La Revue Canadienne Du Vieillissement. 28(4), 337 - 345.

Rote learning may improve verbal memory in seniors

A study involving 24 older adults (aged 55—70) has found that six weeks of intensive rote learning (memorizing a newspaper article or poem of 500 words every week) resulted in measurable changes in N-acetylaspartate, creatine and choline, three metabolites in the brain that are related to memory performance and neural cell health, in the left posterior hippocampus — but only after a six-week rest period, at which time the participants also showed improvements in their verbal and episodic memory, and also only in one of the two learning groups. The group that didn’t show any change were said to have low compliance with the memorization task.

McNulty, J. et al. The Identification of Neurometabolic Sequelae Post-learning Using Proton Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy. Presented November 26 at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA).

Actors’ memory tricks help students and older adults

The ability of actors to remember large amounts of dialog verbatim is a marvel to most of us, and most of us assume they do by painful rote memorization. But two researchers have been studying the way actors learn for many years and have concluded that the secret of actors' memories is in the acting; an actor learning lines by focusing on the character’s motives and feelings — they get inside the character. To do this, they break a script down into a series of logically connected "beats" or intentions. The researchers call this process active experiencing, which uses "all physical, mental, and emotional channels to communicate the meaning of material to another person." This principle can be applied in other contexts. For example, students who imagined themselves explaining something to somebody else remembered more than those who tried to memorize the material by rote. Physical movement also helps — lines learned while doing something, such as walking across the stage, were remembered better than lines not accompanied with action. The principles have been found useful in improving memory in older adults: older adults who received a four-week course in acting showed significantly improved word-recall and problem-solving abilities compared to both a group that received a visual-arts course and a control group, and this improvement persisted four months afterward.

[2464] Noice, H., & Noice T.
(2006).  What Studies of Actors and Acting Can Tell Us About Memory and Cognitive Functioning.
Current Directions in Psychological Science. 15(1), 14 - 18.

'Imagination' helps older people remember to comply with medical advice

A new study suggests a way to help older people remember to take medications and follow other medical advice. Researchers found older adults (aged 60 to 81) who spent a few minutes picturing how they would test their blood sugar were 50% more likely to actually do these tests on a regular basis than those who used other memory techniques. Participants were assigned to one of three groups. One group spent one 3-minute session visualizing exactly what they would be doing and where they would be the next day when they were scheduled to test their blood sugar levels. Another group repeatedly recited aloud the instructions for testing their blood. The last group were asked to write a list of pros and cons for testing blood sugar. All participants were asked not to use timers, alarms or other devices. Over 3 weeks, the “imagination” group remembered 76% of the time to test their blood sugar at the right times of the day compared to an average of 46% in the other two groups. They were also far less likely to go an entire day without testing than those in the other two groups.

[473] Liu, L. L., & Park D. C.
(2004).  Aging and medical adherence: the use of automatic processes to achieve effortful things.
Psychology and Aging. 19(2), 318 - 325.

How to benefit from memory training

Brain and memory training programs are increasingly popular, but they don't work well for everyone. In particular, they tend to be much less effective for those who need them the most — those 80 and older, and those with lower initial ability. But a new study shows the problem is not intrinsic, but depends on the strategies people use.  The study found that people in their 60s and 70s used a strategy of spending most of their time on studying the materials and very little on the test, and showed large improvements over the testing sessions. By contrast, most people in their 80s and older spent very little time studying and instead spent most of their time on the test. These people did not do well and showed very little improvement even after two weeks of training.

[882] Bissig, D. [1], & Lustig C. [2]
(2007).  Who Benefits From Memory Training?.
Psychological Science. 18, 720 - 726.

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Inflammation in Alzheimer's

Older news items (pre-2010) brought over from the old website

Evidence challenges inflammation theory for Alzheimer's

Although it has long been theorized that inflammation plays a role in the development of Alzheimer’s, repeated studies have failed to find consistent evidence that anti-inflammatory drugs are helpful. Now a brain tissue study reveals that supporting brain cells called microglia are not activated in the presence of tau tangles in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients, as has been predicted, and as would be the case if there were inflammation. Instead, microglia are degenerating. It’s suggested that it is this loss of microglia that contributes to the loss of neurons, and thus to the development of dementia. The next step is to find out why the microglia are dying.

Streit, W.J. et al. 2009. Dystrophic (senescent) rather than activated microglial cells are associated with tau pathology and likely precede neurodegeneration in Alzheimer’s disease. Acta Neuropathologica, Published online ahead of print.

Blood inflammation plays role in Alzheimer's disease

Data from the Framingham Heart Study has found that those with the highest amount of cytokines (protein messengers that trigger inflammation) in their blood were more than twice as likely to develop Alzheimer's disease as those with the lowest amount of cytokines, providing further evidence that inflammation plays a role in the development of Alzheimer's disease.

Tan, Z.S. et al. 2007. Inflammatory markers and the risk of Alzheimer disease: The Framingham Study. Neurology, 68, 1902-1908.

Alzheimer's disease linked to early inflammation

A new study of dementia in identical twins suggests that exposure to inflammation early in life quadruples one's risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. The study involved sifting the 20,000 participants in the Swedish Twin Registry for the 109 "discordant" pairs where only one twin had been diagnosed with dementia. Answers to health questions in the survey enabled the researchers to build a crude indicator of periodontal disease, measured indirectly by teeth lost or loose. Because this is not a direct measure of inflammation, the results need to be confirmed, but they do suggest that an inflammatory burden early in life, as represented by chronic gum disease, may have severe consequences later. The study also found that mental activities at age 40 did not seem to lower the risk of developing Alzheimer's, and the level of education was not a large factor once genes were taken into account (nevertheless, those with less high school and college education had 1.6 times the risk of dementia). Previous studies have shown that Alzheimer's is strongly genetic: If one twin has the disease, his or her identical twin has a 60% chance of developing it.

The study was presented at the first Alzheimer's Association International Conference on Prevention of Dementia, to be held June 18-21 in Washington, D.C.

Antibody detection in Alzheimer's may improve diagnosis, treatment

A study has found that people with Alzheimer’s disease have three to four times more antibodies to RAGE (receptor for advanced glycation end products) and beta amyloid — both major players in Alzheimer’s — than their healthy counterparts. The ability to measure these specific antibody levels could lead to a method for very early diagnosis. The finding may also point to a new treatment approach. The study supports the theory that autoimmunity and resulting inflammation play a big role in Alzheimer’s.

Mruthinti, S., Buccafusco, J.J., Hill, W.D., Waller, J.L., Jackson, T.W., Zamrini, E.Y. & Schade, R.F. 2004. Autoimmunity in Alzheimer’s disease: increased levels of circulating IgGs binding Ab and RAGE peptides. Neurobiology of Aging, 25 (8), 1023-1032.

A new hypothesis about Alzheimer's

A new theory about the cause of Alzheimer's disease has been proposed. According to this theory, Alzheimer’s arises as a consequence of inflammation, which creates abnormal metabolites out of normal brain molecules. These abnormal metabolites then modify "amyloid beta" proteins in the brain and cause them to misfold, thus accumulating into the fibrils and plaques characteristic of the disease. The inflammation process that creates these metabolites can be triggered by numerous stimuli, including infections that precede the onset of Alzheimer's disease by a significant amount of time — perhaps years. Traumatic head injuries, for example, are a major risk factor for later developing Alzheimer's disease. Inflammation is increasingly seen as playing a role in neurodegenerative diseases.

Zhang, Q., Powers, E.T., Nieva, J., Huff, M.E., Dendle, M.A., Bieschke, J., Glabe, C.G., Eschenmoser, A., Wentworth, P.Jr., Lerner, R.A. & Kelly, J.W. 2004. Metabolite-initiated protein misfolding may trigger Alzheimer's disease. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 101 (14), 4752-7.

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Forgetfulness in old age may be related to changes in retrieval strategy

April, 2013

A study of younger and older adults indicates that memory search tends to decline with age because, with reduced cognitive control, seniors’ minds tend to ‘flit’ too quickly from one information cluster to another.

Evidence is accumulating that age-related cognitive decline is rooted in three related factors: processing speed slows down (because of myelin degradation); the ability to inhibit distractions becomes impaired; working memory capacity is reduced.

A new study adds to this evidence by looking at one particular aspect of age-related cognitive decline: memory search.

The study put 185 adults aged 29-99 (average age 67) through three cognitive tests: a vocabulary test, digit span (a working memory test), and the animal fluency test, in which you name as many animals as you can in one minute.

Typically, in the animal fluency test, people move through semantic categories such as ‘pets’, ‘big cats’, and so on. The best performers are those who move from category to category with optimal timing — i.e., at the point where the category has been sufficiently exhausted that efforts would be better spent on a new one.

Participants recalled on average 17 animal names, with a range from 5 to 33. While there was a decline with age, it wasn’t particularly marked until the 80s (an average of 18.3 for those in their 30s, 17.5 for those in their 60s, 16.5 for the 70s, 12.8 for the 80s, and 10 for the 90s). Digit span did show a decline, but it was not significant (from 17.5 down to 15.3), while vocabulary (consistent with previous research) showed no decline with age.

But all this is by the by — the nub of the experiment was to discover how individuals were searching their memory. This required a quite complicated analysis, which I will not go into, except to mention two important distinctions. The first is between:

  • global context cue: activates each item in the active category according to how strong it is (how frequently it has been recalled in the past);
  • local context cue: activates each item in relation to its semantic similarity to the previous item recalled.

A further distinction was made between static and dynamic processes: in dynamic models, it is assumed the user switches between local and global search. This, it is further assumed, is because memory is ‘patchy’ – that is, information is represented in clusters. Within a cluster, we use local cues, but to move from one cluster to another, we use global cues.

The point of all this was to determine whether age-related decline in memory search has to do with:

  • Reduced processing speed,
  • Persisting too long on categories, or
  • Inability to maintain focus on local cues (this would relate it back to the inhibition deficit).

By modeling the exact recall patterns, the researchers ascertained that the recall process is indeed dynamic, although the points of transition are not clearly understood. The number of transitions from one cluster to another was negatively correlated with age; it was also strongly positively correlated with performance (number of items recalled). Digit span, assumed to measure ‘cognitive control’, was also negatively correlated with number of transitions, but, as I said, was not significantly correlated with age.

In other words, it appears that there is a qualitative change with age, that increasing age is correlated with increased switching, and reduced cognitive control is behind this — although it doesn’t explain it all (perhaps because we’re still not able to fully measure cognitive control).

At a practical level, the message is that memory search may become less efficient because, as people age, they tend to change categories too frequently, before they have exhausted their full potential. While this may well be a consequence of reduced cognitive control, it seems likely (to me at least) that making a deliberate effort to fight the tendency to move on too quickly will pay dividends for older adults who want to improve their memory retrieval abilities.

Nor is this restricted to older adults — since age appears to be primarily affecting performance through its effects on cognitive control, it is likely that this applies to those with reduced working memory capacity, of any age.


[3378] Hills, T. T., Mata R., Wilke A., & Samanez-Larkin G. R.
(2013).  Mechanisms of Age-Related Decline in Memory Search Across the Adult Life Span.
Developmental Psychology. No - Pagination Specified.


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Cognitive decline in old age related to poorer sleep

February, 2013

A new study confirms the role slow-wave sleep plays in consolidating memories, and reveals that one reason for older adults’ memory problems may be the quality of their sleep.

Recent research has suggested that sleep problems might be a risk factor in developing Alzheimer’s, and in mild cognitive impairment. A new study adds to this gathering evidence by connecting reduced slow-wave sleep in older adults to brain atrophy and poorer learning.

The study involved 18 healthy young adults (mostly in their 20s) and 15 healthy older adults (mostly in their 70s). Participants learned 120 word- nonsense word pairs and were tested for recognition before going to bed. Their brain activity was recorded while they slept. Brain activity was also measured in the morning, when they were tested again on the word pairs.

As has been found previously, older adults showed markedly less slow-wave activity (both over the whole brain and specifically in the prefrontal cortex) than the younger adults. Again, as in previous studies, the biggest difference between young and older adults in terms of gray matter volume was found in the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC). Moreover, significant differences were also found in the insula and posterior cingulate cortex. These regions, like the mPFC, have also been associated with the generation of slow waves.

When mPFC volume was taken into account, age no longer significantly predicted the extent of the decline in slow-wave activity — in other words, the decline in slow-wave activity appears to be due to the brain atrophy in the medial prefrontal cortex. Atrophy in other regions of the brain (precuneus, hippocampus, temporal lobe) was not associated with the decline in slow-wave activity when age was considered.

Older adults did significantly worse on the delayed recognition test than young adults. Performance on the immediate test did not predict performance on the delayed test. Moreover, the highest performers on the immediate test among the older adults performed at the same level as the lowest young adult performers — nevertheless, these older adults did worse the following day.

Slow-wave activity during sleep was significantly associated with performance on the next day’s test. Moreover, when slow-wave activity was taken into account, neither age nor mPFC atrophy significantly predicted test performance.

In other words, age relates to shrinkage of the prefrontal cortex, this shrinkage relates to a decline in slow-wave activity during sleep, and this decline in slow-wave sleep relates to poorer cognitive performance.

The findings confirm the importance of slow-wave brainwaves for memory consolidation.

All of this suggests that poorer sleep quality contributes significantly to age-related cognitive decline, and that efforts should be made to improve quality of sleep rather than just assuming lighter, more disturbed sleep is ‘natural’ in old age!



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