The new issue of * Cognitive, Affective & Behavioral Neuroscience* includes an article: “Investigating the impact of mindfulness meditation training on working memory: A mathematical modeling approach.” The authors are van Vugt, Marieke K.; & Jha, Amishi P.

“We investigated whether mindfulness training (MT) influences information processing in a working memory task with complex visual stimuli. ”

Mindfulness training did improve memory, apparently becuase the information input was better in people who had a month of mindfulness training.

Presumably this is becuase when we are mindful, we are actually deliberately paying attention, rather than just being grabbed by this or that shiny or loud stimulus. It is possible to train ourselves physically and mentally to perform to our potential, and mindfulness – paying attention – is one way that has payoffs – in this case, better recall.

Now, where did I put my keys??? Guess I was distracted when I came in…

North Carolina State University issued the following news release:

Think Memory Worsens With Age? Then Yours Probably Will

Thinking your memory will get worse as you get older may actually be a
self-fulfilling prophecy. Researchers at North Carolina State University
have found that senior citizens who think older people should perform
poorly on tests of memory actually score much worse than seniors who do
not buy in to negative stereotypes about aging and memory loss.

In a study published earlier this month, psychology professor Dr. Tom
Hess and a team of researchers from NC State show that older adults’
ability to remember suffers when negative stereotypes are “activated” in
a given situation. “For example, older adults will perform more poorly
on a memory test if they are told that older folks do poorly on that
particular type of memory test,” Hess says.

Memory also suffers if senior citizens believe they are being
“stigmatized,” meaning that others are looking down on them because of
their age.

“Such situations may be a part of older adults’ everyday experience,”
Hess says, “such as being concerned about what others think of them at
work having a negative effect on their performance – and thus
potentially reinforcing the negative stereotypes.” However, Hess adds,
“The positive flip side of this is that those who do not feel
stigmatized, or those in situations where more positive views of aging
are activated, exhibit significantly higher levels of memory
performance.” In other words, if you are confident that aging will not
ravage your memory, you are more likely to perform well on memory-
related tasks.

The study also found a couple of factors that influenced the extent to
which negative stereotypes influence older adults. For example, the
researchers found that adults between the ages of 60 and 70 suffered
more when these negative stereotypes were activated than seniors who
were between the ages of 71 and 82. However, the 71-82 age group
performed worse when they felt stigmatized.

Finally, the study found that negative effects were strongest for those
older adults with the highest levels of education. “We interpret this as
being consistent with the idea that those who value their ability to
remember things most are the most likely to be sensitive to the negative
implications of stereotypes, and thus are most likely to exhibit the
problems associated with the stereotype.”

“The take-home message,” Hess says, “is that social factors may have a
negative effect on older adults’ memory performance.”

[end news release]

Here’s a link to the abstract of the study:

Courtesy of Ken Pope

Engaging in a hobby like reading a book, making a patchwork quilt or even playing computer games can delay the onset of dementia, a US study suggests.

Watching TV however does not count – and indeed spending significant periods of time in front of the box may speed up memory loss, researchers found.

Nearly 200 people aged 70 to 89 with mild memory problems were compared with a group who had no impairment.

The findings are to be presented to an American Academy of Neurology meeting.

The researchers from the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota asked the volunteers about their daily activities within the past year and how mentally active they had been between the age of 50 to 65.
One million people will develop dementia in the next 10 years so there is a desperate need to find ways to prevent dementia
Alzheimer’s Society

Those who had during middle age been busy reading, playing games or engaging in craft hobbies like patchworking or knitting were found to have a 40% reduced risk of memory impairment.

In later life, those same activities reduced the risk by between 30 and 50%.

Those who watched TV for less than 7 hours a day were also 50% less likely to develop memory loss than those who spent longer than that staring at the screen.

“This study is exciting because it demonstrates that ageing does not need to be a passive process,” said study author and neuroscientist Dr Yonas Geda.

“By simply engaging in cognitive exercise, you can protect against future memory loss. Of course, the challenge with this type of research is that we are relying on past memories of the participants, therefore we need to confirm these findings with additional research.”

Sarah Day, head of public health at the Alzheimer’s Society said: “One million people will develop dementia in the next 10 years so there is a desperate need to find ways to prevent dementia.

“Exercising and challenging your brain – by learning new skills, doing puzzles such as crosswords, and even learning a new language – can be fun.

“However, more research, where people are followed up over time, is needed to understand whether these sorts of activities can reduce the risk of dementia.”

The new issue of the American Medical Association’s *American Medical
News* includes an article: “Steps to a nimble mind: Physical and mental
exercise help keep the brain fit; Neuroscience is uncovering techniques
to prevent cognitive decline” by Kathleen Phalen Tomaselli.

Some key points: life-long learning, trying new things, a healthy diet, social interactions, sleep and physical activity keep the brain fit

Here are some excerpts:

[begin excerpts]

The brain — containing 100 billion neurons, 900 billion glial cells,
100 trillion branches and 1,000 trillion receptors — reacts to stimuli
in a series of electrical bursts, spanning a complex map of
connections. Whether calculating an algorithmic equation or learning
the tango, our brain continuously changes in response to our ideas,
actions and activities.

Each time a dance step is learned, for instance, new pathways are
formed. “Dancing is excellent for the brain and body,” says Vincent
Fortanasce, MD, clinical professor of neurology at the University of
Southern California in Los Angeles. He wrote the Anti-Alzheimer’s
Prescription. “Not only are you moving around more, your brain is in
constant motion as it recalls steps and movements.”

It’s an example that highlights a wave of new thinking about the
importance of brain fitness.


11 Oct 07 – Harvard Medical School provided the following “10 strategies to
improve memory” in their *HealthBeat*:

Normal age-related changes in the brain can slow some cognitive
processes, making it a bit harder to learn new things quickly or to ward
off distractions. The good news is that, thanks to decades of research,
most of us can sharpen our minds with proven, do-it-yourself strategies.
Here are some ways to boost your ability to remember as you age. (more…)