Aging Memory Stimulating Brain

Aging Memory Stimulating Brain

USA Today reports on a recent study that indicates that brain-stimulating activities may protect one’s memory later in life.

The study, involving 294 individuals, was published online in the July 3rd issue of Neurology.  Mental activity explained about 14% of the differences between people with regard to a decline in memory and thinking skills. Higher levels of cognitive activity among the subjects over their lives were associated with slower cognitive decline, the study found.

The brain can be stimulated by reading, writing and participation in similar activities, which have the effect of protecting the memory.  This is especially true when the activities are particularly enjoyable.

A process called cognitive reserve concerns the brain’s ability to cope with disease or damage. Research obtained through neuroimaging suggests that cognitive activity changes the brain’s structure and function to enhance cognitive reserve.  Judy Willis, a neurologist based in Santa Barbara, California who was quoted in the USA Today article, notes that intellectually stimulating activities contribute to cognitive reserve and allow you to tolerate the age-related pathologies of the brain.  Studies of Alzheimer’s disease have provided insight into how the memory portions of the brain work.

All the studies point to the fact that stimulating activities help to slow the decline of memory associate with aging.

Merck’s Manual discusses plasticity, which is the ability of the certain areas of the brain to alter their function in response to stimulation.  Stimulation of the hippocampus, which is part of the limbic system concerned with memory storage, can be altered to improve its ability to convert new concepts into permanent memory.  Areas of the association cortex can allow one part of the brain to compensate for a part that has suffered injury.  This process, called adaptation, is found more commonly in people over forty.

Scientists have identified a gene that governs a process known as “long term potentiation,” which enhances the connections between neurons in the pathways by which memories are stored in the brain.  But testing has so far been restricted to animas:  mice in particular.

We are constantly bombarded by information, but only some of it is available to be recalled later.  Sensory memory is that kind memory that can last for a few seconds or less.  Short-term memory may last for up to thirty minutes, according to some experts.  (There is also the kind called “immediate memory,” which we use for storing a phone number just long enough to dial it.)  Unlike sensory and short-term memory, long-term memory can store information indefinitely. Decay, which causes memory traces to fade over time, does not contribute to the loss of long-term memory.

Reading a book and being able to predict what will happen next will aid in avoiding memory degeneration,  There is referred to in some literature as a function of mental cogitation called “mental time travel,” by which we locate ourselves in previously experienced events and traveling forward to predict the future.  See “Self in Time:  Imagined Self-Location Influences Neural Activity Related to Mental Time Travel” in the Journal of Neuroscience.

Willis said that doing a variety of cognitive activities seems to protect the memory better than focusing on one thing.

Because the elderly tend to overestimate how much their memory skills have declined, talking with friends and relatives to verify their own perceptions often helps them realize their decline is not as extreme as they imagine.  Keeping a diary to record the types of memory problems that are being experienced allows one to determine if memory is indeed being lost, and then to identify the possible reasons for this, such as medications or undue stress.  By this means, the person has greater sense of control over what is happening to them in a decline of cognitive ability.

“Benign senescent forgetfulness” is a manifestation of such a decline.  It starts with names, and progresses to events.  This can be counteracted by some techniques, such as paying attention to someone’s name when you are introduced.  You can also review the names of people you expect to see.  Reviewing what you need to take with you when you leave the house creates a habit of thinking about those things. Breaking information down into small bits, called “chunking,” can also be used.  An example of this is learning how one button works on a remote rather than trying to read the entire manual to learn about all of them at once..

Another indicator of memory loss occurs when a person is engaging in educational activities, and that is the inability to remember what one is studying.  Good study habits apply to the young and old.  Recall can be improved when the studying is spread out over time rather than to “crammed” into one sitting.  Skimming the material of a chapter, looking at pictures and graphs and paragraph headings, allow you to question yourself about what the chapter is about.  This makes you an active learner, focuses attention and improves retention. The use of mnemonic devices, such as using the first letter of each word on a list to create a sentence, is also a way of remembering that is recommended for people of all ages.

The best advice for the elderly is to keep active.  But activity does more than keeping the blood flowing.  It preserves the precious functioning of our minds.


By:  Tom Ukinski

11 Responses to "Aging Memory Stimulating Brain"

  1. Joe Campbel   July 3, 2013 at 9:08 pm

    Only if you are able to convert it to the Kelvin scale.

  2. D Hambley   July 3, 2013 at 8:56 pm

    I’m presently trying to calculate the best curve fit for an analog approximation of the sampling delay on a pulse-width modulated system to account for slope compensation.
    Does that count?

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