aging

Daily crosswords linked to sharper brain in later life

  • A very large online study has found that doing word puzzles regularly protects against age-related cognitive decline.

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.

The effect was considerable. For example, on test measures of grammatical reasoning speed and short-term memory accuracy, performing word puzzles was associated with brain function equivalent to ten years younger than participants’ chronological age.

The next question is whether you can improve brain function by engaging in puzzles.

The study used participants in the PROTECT online platform, run by the University of Exeter and Kings College London. Currently, more than 22,000 healthy people aged between 50 and 96 are registered in the study. PROTECT is a 10 year study with participants being followed up annually to enable a better understanding of cognitive trajectories in this age range.

https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2017-07/uoe-dcl071417.php

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The Relationship Between the Frequency of Word Puzzle Use and Cognitive Function in a Large Sample of Adults Aged 50 to 96 Years, was presented at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference (AAIC) 2017 on July 17.

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Greater muscle strength = better cognitive function

  • While handgrip strength has been linked to dementia risk in the elderly, a new study indicates that less impaired or fragile older adults need upper and lower body strength tests — but that these, too, are correlated with cognitive function.

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.

Handgrip strength, easy to measure, has been widely used as a measure of muscle strength, and has been associated with dementia risk among the very old. However, in this study, handgrip strength on its own showed no association with cognitive function. But both upper body strength and lower body strength were independently associated with cognitive function.

It may be that handgrip strength is only useful for older, more cognitively impaired adults.

These are gender-specific associations — muscle strength was significantly greater in men, but there was no difference in cognitive performance between men and women.

The finding is supported by previous research that found a link between walking speed and cognition in older adults, and by a 2015 study that found a striking correlation between leg power and cognition.

This 10-year British study involved 324 older female twins (average age 55). Both the degree of cognitive decline over the ten year period, and the amount of gray matter, was significantly correlated with high muscle fitness (measured by leg extension muscle power). The correlation was greater than for any other lifestyle factor tested

https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2017-06/uoef-gms062617.php

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Rapid blood pressure drops in middle age linked to dementia in old age

  • A large study indicates that an inclination to dizziness on standing up is associated with a greater risk of developing cognitive impairment and dementia decades later.

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.

In this study, participants aged 45-64 were tested for orthostatic hypotension in 1987. Those with it (703, around 6%) were 40% more likely to develop dementia in the next 20 years. They also had some 15% more cognitive decline.

Orthostatic hypotension was defined as a drop of 20 mmHg or more in systolic blood pressure or 10 mmHg or more in diastolic blood pressure, when the individual stood up after 20 minutes lying down.

More work is needed to understand the reason for the association.

https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2017-03/jhub-rbp030817.php

Rawlings, Andreea. 2017. Orthostatic Hypotension is Associated with 20-year Cognitive Decline and Incident Dementia: The Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) Study. Presented March 10 at the American Heart Association's EPI|LIFESTYLE 2017 Scientific Sessions in Portland, Oregon.

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Both aerobic exercise & strength training improves older brains

  • A review of research has confirmed the benefits of at least moderate exercise to fight age-related cognitive decline, with different benefits for aerobic exercise and strength training.

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. Because aerobic exercise and resistance training had different effects (aerobic exercise helped overall cognition, while resistance training was particularly beneficial for executive function and working memory), it’s recommended that an exercise program include both.

https://medicalxpress.com/news/2017-04-aerobic-resistance-combo-boost-brain.html

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Cardiovascular health & Cognition

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

More evidence bypass surgery not responsible for cognitive impairment

A 6-year study of 326 heart patients has found no differences in brain impairment between those who had on-pump coronary artery bypass surgery (152 patients), off-pump bypass surgery patients (75 patients), and those who had drugs and arterial stents to keep their blood vessels open instead of bypass surgery (99 patients). However, all of them were found to have experienced significant cognitive decline over the six-year study period on tests of verbal memory, visual memory, visuoconstruction, language, motor speed, psychomotor speed, attention, and executive function, when compared to 69 heart-healthy people who had no known risk factors for coronary artery disease. The findings provide more evidence that it is the disease and not the surgery that causes long-term cognitive problems.

Selnes, O.A. et al. 2009. Do Management Strategies for Coronary Artery Disease Influence 6-Year Cognitive Outcomes? Annals of Thoracic Surgery, 88, 445-454.

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2009-08/jhmi-itl080309.php

Heart failure linked to cognitive impairment

A study of 50 patients with chronic heart failure, matched with 50 people without HF, has found that patients with HF scored significantly lower than controls on 14 of 19 cognitive tests, and 46% of the HF patients were rated as having mild to severe cognitive impairment, compared to 16% of mild impairment in controls. The degree of cognitive impairment was closely related to the number of myocardial infarctions experienced. These findings have important implications for the care of patients with HF.

Sauvé, M.J. et al. 2009. Cognitive Impairments in Chronic Heart Failure: A Case Controlled Study. Journal of Cardiac Failure, 15 (1), 1-10.

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2009-02/e-hfl020509.php

Heart disease linked to worse cognition

Another report has come out from the large Whitehall study, this time on the subject of coronary heart disease and cognition. The study found that coronary heart disease was associated with a worse performance in mental processes such as reasoning, vocabulary and verbal fluency, and that the longer ago the heart disease had been diagnosed, the worse was the person's cognitive performance. This effect was particularly marked in men. Although there has been quite a lot of research on cardiovascular disease and impaired cognition, this is the first, large study to specifically examine the association between coronary heart disease and cognition. The major risk factors for coronary heart disease are all modifiable: cigarette smoking, diabetes, high cholesterol levels and high blood pressure. The findings also support the growing view that it is events happening in earlier life that have an impact on whether or not dementia develops in older age.

Singh-Manoux, A. et al. 2008. History of coronary heart disease and cognitive performance in midlife: the Whitehall II study. European Heart Journal, Advance Access published on July 22, 2008

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2008-07/esoc-hdi072108.php

Long-term cognitive decline in bypass patients not due to surgery

Another study has come out supporting the view that coronary bypass patients have no greater risk of long-term cognitive decline than patients not undergoing surgery. The study involved 152 patients who had bypass surgery and 92 patients with coronary artery disease who did not have surgical intervention. Patients had memory and other cognitive tests at the beginning of the study period, and after 3, 12, 36 and 72 months. The results showed that there were no significant differences in cognitive scores between the two groups at the beginning of the study. Both groups showed modest decline in cognitive performance during the study period, but there were no significant differences in the degree of decline between the groups after six years. It was suggested that the decline in both groups was related to the presence of risk factors for vascular disease.

Selnes, O.A. et al. 2008. Cognition 6 Years After Surgical or Medical Therapy for Coronary Artery Disease. Annals of Neurology, 63, 581-590.

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2008-05/w-lcd051908.php
http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2008-05/jhmi-bnt051908.php

Stroke risk factors may signal faster cognitive decline in elderly

Analysis of the stroke risks of over 17,000 people aged 45 and older (average 65.9) has found that a higher stroke risk score was associated with a significantly higher rate of cognitive decline. The study also identified three specific risk factors significantly associated with memory loss – high systolic blood pressure, diabetes, and left ventricular hypertrophy.

The findings were reported at the American Stroke Association’s International Stroke Conference 2008.

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2008-02/aha-srf021408.php

Review supports link between lifestyle factors and cognitive function in older adults

A review of 96 papers involving 36 very large, ongoing epidemiological studies in North America and Europe looking at factors involved in maintaining cognitive and emotional health in adults as they age has concluded that controlling cardiovascular risk factors, such as reducing blood pressure, reducing weight, reducing cholesterol, treating (or preferably avoiding) diabetes, and not smoking, is important for maintaining brain health as we age. The link between hypertension and cognitive decline was the most robust across studies. They also found a consistent close correlation between physical activity and brain health. However, they caution that more research is needed before specific recommendations can be made about which types of exercise and how much exercise are beneficial. They also found protective factors most consistently reported for cognitive health included higher education level, higher socio-economic status, emotional support, better initial performance on cognitive tests, better lung capacity, more physical exercise, moderate alcohol use, and use of vitamin supplements. Psychosocial factors, such as social disengagement and depressed mood, are associated with both poorer cognitive and emotional health in late life. Increased mental activity throughout life, such as learning new things, may also benefit brain health.

Hendrie, H.C. et al. 2006. The NIH Cognitive and Emotional Health Project: Report of the Critical Evaluation Study Committee. Alzheimer's & Dementia, 2(1), 12-32.

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2006-02/aa-nss021606.php

Why cardiac arrest may hinder ability to learn certain tasks

Cardiac arrest can take a particularly harsh toll on the hippocampus, the area of the brain that plays a critical role in memory and navigation. A new mouse study found that mice that had had a (surgically induced) heart attack had far more difficulty learning a new spatial task than did healthy mice (controls were given the surgery, but didn’t have a cardiac arrest induced). Mice in the heart attack group spent about eight minutes in cardiac arrest – enough time to stop the flow of oxygen to the brain. Analysis of the brain tissue found an overall 18% decrease in dendritic spine density in the hippocampus in the cardiac arrest mice compared to the control mice (dendritic spines are projections from neurons involved in sending signals throughout the central nervous system and the body). The researchers are now looking at how different types of social interactions influence the number and health of neurons that survive a heart attack.

Mervis, R.F., Bachstetter, A., Neigh, G.N., Glasper, E.R., Kofler, J., Traystman, R.J. & DeVries, A.C. 2004. Cardiac arrest with cardiopulmonary resuscitation reduces dendritic spine density in CA1 pyramidal cells and selectively alters acquisition of spatial memory. European Journal of Neuroscience, 20 (7), 1865 – 1872.

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2004-09/osu-cam092904.php

Inflammation associated with higher risk of age-related cognitive impairment

So-called “metabolic syndrome” is characterized most obviously by wide girth about the middle (being “apple-shaped”), as well as by high blood pressure and unhealthy levels of cholesterol, triglycerides and glucose in the blood. The syndrome is a well-known risk factor for cardiovascular disease. A new study finds the syndrome is also associated with a greater risk of cognitive impairment (hardly surprising, since many studies now indicate that cardiovascular risk factors are also risk factors for age-related cognitive impairment). The study tracked 2600 people, average age 74 years, over five years. Some 26% of those with the syndrome showed significant cognitive decline, compared to 21% of those without the syndrome. However, it appears the problem is not the syndrome so much as the high levels of inflammation that can result. About 30% of those with the syndrome plus high levels of inflammatory markers in their bloodstream showed significant cognitive decline. Those with the syndrome but no inflammation showed no increased risk.

Yaffe, K., Kanaya, A., Lindquist, K., Simonsick, E.M., Harris, T., Shorr, R.I., Tylavsky, F.A. & Newman, A.B. 2004. The Metabolic Syndrome, Inflammation, and Risk of Cognitive Decline. JAMA, 292, 2237-2242.

Age-related changes in the brain's white matter affect cognitive function

From around age 60, "white-matter lesions" appear in the brain, significantly affecting cognitive function. But without cognitive data from childhood, it is hard to know how much of the difference in cognitive abilities between elderly individuals is due to aging. A longitudinal study has been made possible by the Scottish Mental Survey of 1932, which gave 11-year-olds a validated cognitive test. Scottish researchers have tracked down healthy living men and women who took part in this Survey and retested 83 participants. Testing took place in 1999, when most participants were 78 years old.
It was found that the amount of white-matter lesions made a significant contribution to general cognitive ability differences in old age, independent of prior ability. The amount of white-matter lesions contributed 14.4% of the variance in cognitive scores; early IQ scores contributed 13.7%. The two factors were independent.
Although white-matter lesions are viewed as a normal part of aging, they are linked with other health problems, in particular to circulatory problems (including hypertension, diabetes, heart disease and cardiovascular risk factors).

Deary, I.J., Leaper, S.A., Murray, A.D., Staff, R.T. & Whalley, L.J. 2003. Cerebral White Matter Abnormalities and Lifetime Cognitive Change: A 67-Year Follow-Up of the Scottish Mental Survey of 1932. Psychology and Aging, 18 (1), 140-8.

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2003-03/apa-aci031703.php

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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 MA, Guynn MJ. Apolipoprotein E and prospective memory in normally aging adults. Neuropsychology [Internet]. 2005 ;19(1):28 - 34. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15656760

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2005-01/apa-opw011805.php

'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 LL, Park DC. Aging and medical adherence: the use of automatic processes to achieve effortful things. Psychology and Aging [Internet]. 2004 ;19(2):318 - 325. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15222825

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2004-06/nioa-ho060104.php

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.

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2003-06/ace-add060903.php

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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 ML, Graff-Radford NR, Mesulam MMarsel, Johnson N, Krefft TA, Gass JM, Cannon AD, Adamson JL, Bigio EH, Weintraub S, et al. Progranulin Mutations in Primary Progressive Aphasia: The PPA1 and PPA3 Families. Arch Neurol [Internet]. 2007 ;64(1):43 - 47. Available from: http://archneur.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/abstract/64/1/43

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2007-01/nu-rdg011507.php

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.

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2004-12/aps-sot120804.php

What causes word finding failures in young and older adults

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Source Memory Problems

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

Older adults more likely to "remember" misinformation

In a study involving older adults (average age 75) and younger adults (average age 19), participants studied lists of paired related words, then viewed new lists of paired words, some the same as before, some different, and some with only one of the two words the same. In those cases, the "prime" word, which was presented immediately prior to the test, was plausible but incorrect. The older adults were 10 times more likely than young adults to accept the wrong word and falsely "remember" earlier studying that word. This was true even though older adults had more time to study the list of word pairs and attained a performance level equal to that of the young adults. Additionally, when told they had the option to "pass" when unsure of an answer, older adults rarely used the option. Younger adults did, greatly reducing their false recall. The findings reflect real-world reports of a rising incidence of scams perpetrated on the elderly, which rely on the victim’s poor memory and vulnerability to the power of suggestion.

[629] Jacoby LL, Bishara AJ, Hessels S, Toth JP. Aging, subjective experience, and cognitive control: dramatic false remembering by older adults. Journal of Experimental Psychology. General [Internet]. 2005 ;134(2):131 - 148. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15869342

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2005-05/apa-gmc051005.php

Repeated product warnings are remembered as product recommendations

Warnings about particular products may have quite the opposite effect than intended. Because we retain a familiarity with encountered items far longer than details, the more often we are told a claim about a consumer item is false, the more likely we are to accept it as true a little further down the track. Research also reveals that older adults are more susceptible to this error. It is relevant to note that in the U.S. at least, some 80% of consumer fraud victims are over 65.

[489] Skurnik I, Yoon C, Park DC, Schwarz N. How Warnings about False Claims Become Recommendations. Journal of Consumer Research [Internet]. 2005 ;31(4):713 - 724. Available from: http://econpapers.repec.org/article/ucpjconrs/v_3a31_3ay_3a2005_3ai_3a4_3ap_3a713-724.htm

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2005-03/uocp-nrr032905.php

Source-memory problems not an inevitable consequence of aging, but a function of frontal-lobe efficiency

Source memory is memory for the broad contextual aspects surrounding an event, such as who was speaking, or whether you learned something from a book or TV. Previous research has found that it is in this aspect of memory that older people tend to be particularly poor. In a study that compared older individuals with undergraduates, it was found that those who performed above average on frontal-lobe tests, showed no significant impairment of source memory, regardless of age. Those with below-average performance, tended to have impaired source memory (as a group). In other words, source-memory problems are not an inevitable consequence of aging, as has been widely thought, but rather are a function of frontal-lobe efficiency. The proportion of older adults who experience frontal-lobe decline, at what ages, and to what degree, is unknown at this time.
What’s more, when researchers required people to consider the relation between an item and its context (source), age differences in memory performance completely disappeared, suggesting older adults can learn strategies to remember the context better.

[626] Glisky EL, Rubin SR, Davidson PSR. Source Memory in Older Adults: An Encoding or Retrieval Problem?. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition [Internet]. 2001 ;27(5):1131 - 1146. Available from: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/B6X09-46DSYM3-1/2/6ff9dc0f5b6c822c5dd24cbdcb9fd5d4

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2001-09/apa-ada083101.php

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One Alzheimer's risk gene may begin to affect brains from childhood

A gene linked to Alzheimer's has been linked to brain changes in childhood. This gene, SORL1, has two connections to Alzheimer’s: it carries the code for the sortilin-like receptor, which is involved in recycling some molecules before they develop into amyloid-beta; it is also involved in lipid metabolism, putting it at the heart of the vascular risk pathway.

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Gene variation associated with brain atrophy in MCI

Analysis of data from 237 patients with mild cognitive impairment (mean age 79.9) has found that, compared to those carrying the ‘normal’ ApoE3 gene (the most common variant of the ApoE gene), the ApoE4 carriers showed markedly greater rates of shrinkage in 13 of 15 brain regions thought to be key components of the brain networks disrupted in Alzheimer’s.

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2014-01/rson-gva010714.php

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