Tuesday, February 16, 2010

20 Ways to Boost Your Memory

Changing Your Lifestyle May Fight Alzheimer's Disease

Worried about fading brain power? If you're older than 27, you have good reason. That's the age when cognitive skills start to decline, according to University of Virginia research. But while some changes in thinking and memory are inevitable as we age, the good news is that lifestyle seems to be able to blunt those effects and keep many minds working sharply well into old age.That's reassuring, given headlines from the Alzheimer's Association's new annual report showing that every 70 seconds, someone in the U.S. develops Alzheimer's, the most common type of dementia.
Debilitating memory loss doesn't happen to everyone, though. Learn what you can do to preserve yours.

1. Take the stairs -- Exercise benefits your head as much as the rest of your body, a growing number of studies indicate. Overall cardiorespiratory fitness also lowers the risk of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular problems -- all known risk factors for Alzheimer's disease. Theories on why that's so range from improved blood flow to the brain to less brain shrinkage.Experts recommend making regular aerobic workouts part of your routine. Failing that, it appears that even small efforts add up. So avoid elevators. Park at the far end of the parking lot. Start by walking around your block in the evenings and add a few minutes more each day.

2. Change your wallpaper -- When doing routine things, the brain runs on autopilot. Novelty, on the other hand, literally fires up the brain as new data creates and works new neural pathways.So shake up what you see and do every day: If your computer screen background is "invisible" to you, run a program that mixes it up every day or every hour. Take a different route home from work. Brush your teeth with your nondominant hand. Buy, borrow or download a book that makes you think about new ideas.

3. Steal some zzz's by daylight -- It's while you're sleeping that your brain sorts, consolidates and stores memories accumulated during the day -- that's why eight hours at night is so valuable. But a mere six-minute nap is as valuable as a full night's sleep to short-term recall, according to German research. And a 90-minute nap has been shown to speed up the process that helps the brain consolidate long-term memories.

4. Take a mental "photograph" -- Memories aren't just stored in one spot in the brain; bits of data are processed and stored in different areas. To help make the memory of an incident last, take a "snapshot" of it while you're in the moment, using all your senses. Look around and think about what you see. Notice colors and textures. What do you smell? If you're eating or drinking (or kissing), what's the taste?This "mental camera" trick can help you hang onto a happy memory longer. But it can also help you remember where you parked your car.

5. Eat less -- After only 12 weeks, healthy volunteers (average age 60) who reduced their daily calories by 30 percent scored 20 percent better on memory tests, University of Munster (Germany) researchers reported in January. The possible reason: decreased levels of insulin, created when the body processes food and of the inflammation-associated molecule C-reactive protein. Both factors are linked to improved memory function.The people in the study were cautioned not to consume fewer than 1,200 calories a day. If cutting back on your diet by nearly a third seems too daunting, focus on eating less fat, meat and dairy products. Earlier this year, Columbia University Medical Center researchers reported that in a long-term study of more than 1,300 participants, those with the highest adherence to a Mediterranean diet -- rich in vegetables, legumes, fish and monounsaturated oils (like olive oil) but low in fat, beef and dairy -- had the lowest risk of developing mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer's disease.

6. Try a "brain-training" game or join a "brain gym" -- The science is promising, if not conclusive, as to whether so-called brain-fitness software can actually improve memory. A study in the April 2009 Journal of the American Geriatric Society shows that people over 65 who used a computerized cognitive training program for an hour a day, over a period of eight weeks, improved memory and attention more than a control group.

7. Spend some time online -- Neuroscientist Gary Small, director of the UCLA Memory & Aging Center and author of iBrain, says searching the Web is a bit like using a brain-training course. His researchers used MRI to measure brain activity in Web users ages 55 to 76; the net-savvy users showed twice as much brain activity, especially regarding decision making.

8. Stop and sip a cuppa -- Green and black teas have a protective effect on memory, possibly by influencing enzymes in the brain. The caffeine sparks concentration, too. And people who drink moderate amounts of coffee at midlife -- as many as three to five cups -- have lower odds of developing dementia in late life, Finnish and French researchers say.Another benefit: Taking a coffee or tea break in your day (or three times a day) is a good opportunity for destressing.

9. See a doctor if you feel depressed -- Maybe it's "just a mood." But untreated depression is common and can impair memory. Talk therapy and/or antidepressant medication can resolve the problem. Two red flags worth mentioning to a physician: a loss of interest in things that once gave you pleasure and a persistent sense of hopelessness.People at higher risk for depression include caregivers of older people and those who have a family history of depression.

10. Take the "multi" out of your tasking -- Especially when they're trying to learn something new, people remember less well later if they were multitasking while learning, UCLA researchers have shown. If, for example, you're studying while listening to the radio, your memory recall may be dependent on the music to help you later retrieve the information during the test -- except, of course, that you can't usually replicate the same circumstances (like music during a test).Try to learn something new -- reading a contract or directions, copying a skill -- when you can give it your full concentration. Cut out distractions like the TV in the background or pausing every few seconds when you hear the "ding" of your e-mail or text-message inbox.

11. Keep your blood sugar under control -- If you're diabetes-free, work to maintain a normal weight and follow a balanced diet to reduce your odds of developing the disease. If you're a type 2 diabetic already, follow medical advice for managing blood sugar levels.New research shows that brain functioning subtly slows as diabetics' blood sugar rises and the blood vessels that supply the brain are damaged. This process begins well before memory problems become obvious, or even before there's a diabetes diagnosis.

12. Waggle your eyes back and forth -- To help you remember something important, scan your eyes from side to side for 30 seconds. This little exercise helps unite the two hemispheres of the brain, say researchers at Manchester Metropolitan University in England. When the two hemispheres communicate well, you're better able to retrieve certain types of memories.

13. Eat your green vegetables -- There's no such thing as an "anti-Alzheimer's diet." But people who are deficient in folate and vitamin B12 have an increased risk of developing dementia. (The research is iffy, in comparison, on the benefits of taking so-called memory enhancers: vitamin C supplements, ginkgo biloba, and vitamin E.)Great vegetable sources of folate include romaine lettuce, spinach, asparagus, turnip greens, mustard greens, parsley, collards, broccoli, cauliflower and beets. For you vegetable haters, the nutrient is also abundant in lentils, calf's liver, pinto beans and black beans.

14. Don't ignore sleep apnea -- People with sleep apnea -- a condition involving blocked airways that causes people to briefly stop breathing during sleep -- show declines in brain tissue that stores memory, researchers at UCLA reported last year.More than 12 million Americans have obstructive sleep apnea. If your doctor has suggested you have the condition, be vigilant about trying treatment, which can include wearing oral appliances and masks, losing weight and surgery.

15. Learn something new that's a real departure for you -- If you're a sudoku fan, you might think a good way to stretch your mind would be to take up a different Japanese numbers game, like kenken or kakuro. But an even better strategy for a nimble brain is to pursue a new kind of activity using skills far different from those you're accustomed to using.If you ordinarily like numbers, try learning a language. If you're an ace gardener, try painting flowers instead.

16. Quit smoking -- The relationship between smoking and Alzheimer's disease is hazy. But smokers do develop the disease six to seven years earlier than nonsmokers.In case you were looking for another good reason to quit.

17. Eat some chocolate -- Every year, some study extols the virtue of dark chocolate, and the effects of this wonder-food (or, at least, wonderful food) on memory have not gone ignored by researchers. In 2007, a Journal of Neuroscience study reported on the memory-boosting effects in rats of a plant compound called epicatechin, possibly because it fueled blood vessel growth.In addition to cocoa, epicatechin is found in blueberries, grapes and tea.

18. Put everything in its place -- While novelty is like growth hormone to the brain, your memory needs a certain amount of familiarity to keep your life functioning smoothly. Place your keys and glasses in the same place all the time. Write notes to yourself as reminders (the very act of writing will help your recall). If you want to remember your umbrella tomorrow morning, place it right at the door, so you won't miss it.

19. Don't retire -- Good news for those who can no longer afford to quit: Provided you like your work, you're helping your brain by sticking with it as long as you can. A satisfying work life offers social stimulation and decision-making opportunities -- and exercises problem-solving skills.Next best: Volunteering, such as at a school or museum, where your training involves learning new material and the task involves interacting with others.

20. Throw a party -- Being around other people lowers one's risk of developing dementia. The catch: They should be people you enjoy who make you feel engaged and stimulated. People who are physically isolated (not around people) or emotionally isolated (around people but feeling lonely nevertheless) are at higher risk for depression.

Just go easy on the alcohol at those parties. Studies on its effect on memory are mixed. Long-term, excessive drinking is clearly linked with dementia. Binge drinking also impairs short-term memory. On the other hand, for people who drink moderately (one drink a day), alcohol may have a protective effect. One study found that in people with mild cognitive impairment (mild memory loss that doesn't necessarily advance to dementia), those who drink less than one drink a day progressed to dementia at a rate 85 percent slower than teetotalers who didn't drink at all.

Alzheimer’s - Ironic Gene

Alzheimer-DiseaseThe researchers have found that the genetic variant linked to Alzheimer's disease is also capable of improving the brain function of carriers.
The results were beyond expectations, even for Duke Han, who has been researching on Alzheimer's disease for the last four years. He examined epsilon 4, which is a variant of a particular gene known as apolipoprotein E.
It was examined that people who had APOE, epsilon 4 allele, would do worse after a head injury just because it seems to be associated with Alzheimer's disease.
But the result was quite contrary to what was expected. The people who possessed this particular genetic trait actually fared better, as compared to the ones who did not.
It was also added that young and energetic students having epsilon 4 variant are capable of fetching better school marks and can memorize things faster.
Professor Han unveils the fact that certain genes can be beneficial in the earlier span of life and can prove harmful later on in life. We can call it "ironic gene".
Lynette Moore from Alzheimer's Australia says, " It's a real irony that the gene variant which seems to cause a greater risk of dementia in older age actually may help younger people, that same gene".

New Risk Factor Identified For Common Form Of Early-Onset Dementia

Examining brain tissue from over 500 individuals in 11 countries, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, and colleagues found a new risk factor for the second-most-common cause of early-onset dementia after Alzheimer's disease.
"Using a genome-wide scan for genetic variation in post-mortem brain tissue, we were able to pinpoint variations common to patients with a specific subtype of frontotemporal lobar degeneration, FTLD," says co-first author Vivianna Van Deerlin, MD, PhD, associate professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at Penn. "This gives us more information on what proteins may underlie the molecular events leading to FTLD, and eventually, new drug targets." The findings were published online this week in Nature Genetics.
FTLD cases that are characterized by TDP-43 inclusions can be passed from one generation to the next, as a result of mutations in another protein called progranulin (GRN). Using post-mortem brain tissue from 515 patients with TDP-associated FTLD, the team found that these patients had multiple genetic variations called SNPs in common in a region on chromosome 7 containing the protein TMEM106B, compared to over 2,500 disease-free controls.
From this, the team concluded that the TMEM106B gene variants confer a higher genetic risk for all FTLD-TDP patients, as well as in the subset of patients with GRN mutations. What's more, alterations in levels of TMEM106B protein in the brain may be directly or indirectly involved in causing FTLD.
How TDP-43, GRN, and TMEM106B proteins might normally interact in brain cells and be disrupted in FTLD remains to be deciphered. Nevertheless, the discovery of TMEM106B is an important step toward a better understanding of FTLD. The team plans to sequence the TMEM106B segment of chromosome 7, and in parallel, study the normal functions of TMEM106B
Patrick M.A. Sleiman, PhD in the Center for Applied Genomics at CHOP; Maria Martinez-Lage, MD, postdoctoral fellow in Pathology and Laboratory Medicine; and Alice Chen-Plotkin, MD, Instructor in the Department of Neurology, both at Penn, along with Van Deerlin, are co-first authors on the Nature Genetics article. Hakon Hakonarson, MD, PhD, director of the Center for Applied Genomics at CHOP is also a senior author on the paper. Other Penn co-authors are Li-San Wang, PhD; Gerard D. Schellenberg, PhD; Murray Grossman, MD, and Steven Arnold, MD.
The Penn authors have submitted a patent application for TMEM106B.
This study was funded in part by the National Institute on Aging.

Image 1: The identification of misfolded TDP-43 proteins in neurons of brain tissue (brown structures indicated by arrows) was a criterion for entry into this genome-wide study. The homogeneity of the pathologically-defined cohort is felt to be a major reason for the study's success. Credit: Felix Geser, M.D., Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine

Image 2: This is a "Manhattan" plot demonstrating the locations across the chromosomes of the human genome (horizontal axis) where there was a statistically significant difference between genetic variants in the disease samples compared to normal individuals (vertical axis). The higher the dots, the stronger the genetic association. A very strong signal is seen in chromosome 7. Credit: Van Deerlin et al, Nature Genetics, 2010

Medtronic: Advanced Deep Brain Stimulation Therapy Now Available in Canada

Medtronic Launches Activa(R) DBS Devices in Canada to Treat Disabling Motor Symptoms and Allow Tailored Programming

BRAMPTON, ONTARIO, Feb 16, 2010 (MARKETWIRE via COMTEX) -- Editors Note: There are 2 photos associated with this Press Release.
Medtronic /quotes/comstock/13*!mdt/quotes/nls/mdt (MDT 43.10, +0.66, +1.56%) announces the market launch of Activa(R) RC (Rechargeable Cell) and Activa(R) PC (Primary Cell) neurostimulators, the most innovative deep brain stimulation therapy (DBS) to help patients with neurodegenerative disorders to control their symptoms. The first Canadian implantation of the new device took place at the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre in Halifax, Nova Scotia by Dr. Ivar Mendez, Head of the Division of Neurosurgery, and his team.
Activa RC and Activa PC are the next generation devices added to Medtronic's DBS therapy portfolio. The Activa RC and Activa PC offers innovative new programming tools, smaller size neurostimulators and a rechargeable neurostimulator lasting up to nine (9) years between battery replacement surgery. The new patient programmer will enable patients the freedom to choose different programs to suit their diverse activities. As a result, patients suffering from involuntary movements caused by conditions like Parkinson's disease, essential tremor, and primary dystonia can now have more control of disabling motor symptoms. Patients are able to adjust their therapy within the parameters chosen by their physician, allowing increased movement control. Patients will also benefit from greater comfort because the new devices are up to 50 percent smaller in size than previous versions.
"The new DBS device allows patients to recharge the batteries of their device without the need of a surgical intervention. This new system is likely to have a significant beneficial impact on patients that require high levels of energy to control their symptoms," said Dr. Mendez. "These types of technological advances improve our ability to treat our patients and provide them with longer and sustained relief."
Over 233,000(1)(2) patients in Canada suffer from neurodegenerative disorders which can cause disability and impaired functioning.(3)(4) Medtronic DBS therapy brings powerful, long-term improvements to motor functions and quality of life in patients with primary dystonia(5) and essential tremor(6) and is the most efficacious therapy to enhance quality of life in patients with Parkinson's disease.(7) Medtronic DBS therapy is fully reversible and has a favourable safety profile.(8)
In addition to patient benefits, the use of Medtronic DBS therapy has also been shown to provide major savings to our healthcare system. For instance, by reducing the medication required by patients with Parkinson's disease following DBS, and minimising the need for follow up visits for patients with dystonia once optimal therapeutic settings have been determined, research has shown significant savings in cost and time.(9)
About DBS
Through mild electrical stimulation, DBS therapy blocks signals within the brain that are responsible for debilitating motor symptoms, such as stiffness, slowness of movement and shaking. These electrical pulses are delivered through the extension and lead to symptom-specific brain areas called globus pallidus internus (GPi), subthalamic nucleus (STN) or ventral intermediate nucleus of the thalamus (Vim).
With Activa RC, patients can recharge their stimulator in the comfort of their home with a wearable charging system that connects to the neurostimulator, ensuring maximum recharging while the patient goes about their daily activities, and use a patient programmer to monitor when the battery requires charging.
For the first time these devices also store records related to the benefits or side effects associated with various programming parameters which will allow programming to be easily and carefully optimized over time based on individual patient response.
About Medtronic
Medtronic, Inc. (www.medtronic.com) /quotes/comstock/13*!mdt/quotes/nls/mdt (MDT 43.10, +0.66, +1.56%) , headquartered in Minneapolis, is the global leader in medical technology - alleviating pain, restoring health and extending life for millions of people around the world.
About Medtronic of Canada Ltd.
Medtronic of Canada sells, services, and distributes Medtronic products in Canada: medical devices used in cardiovascular medicine, diabetes, spinal and neurosurgery, and ear, nose and throat surgery. Medtronic of Canada employs over 420 Canadians, it is headquartered in Brampton, Ontario, has an Operations Centre in Mississauga and regional offices in Vancouver and Montreal and an atrial fibrillation (AF) ablation catheter manufacturing facility - Medtronic CryoCath - in the Montreal metropolitan area.
About the Queen Elizabeth II Health Centre
Located in the heart of Halifax, Nova Scotia, the QEII is the largest adult academic health sciences centre in Atlantic Canada. If you need to be referred for specialized care, and you're an adult from Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island or New Brunswick, you will likely come to the QEII. Working closely with health care providers in the community, other local hospitals and health care education programs, the QEII also provides general hospital services for the residents of Capital Health.
Louis ED, Ottman R, Hauser WA. How common is the most common adult movement disorder? Estimates the prevalence of essential tremor throughout the world. Mov Disord 1988;13:803-808.

Research Shows Brain Can be Exercised by Controlling a Cursor with Thought

Controlling devices with thoughts isn’t exactly mainstream science today, but in the future that may not be the case. There is lots of research in using thoughts and imagined movements to control items ranging from prosthetic limbs to the cursor on your computer screen.

There have been some thought-controlled items developed already. Memory and gaming peripheral company OCZ unveiled its $300 thought-controlled mouse peripheral in 2008 that was intended to allow gamers to control actions on screen by thinking about them. In addition, Honda has developed a robot that can be controlled by thought alone.

Medical researchers at the University of Washington have published the findings of research they conducted looking at how brain signals can be used to control keyboards, robots, and prosthetic devices. The study connected participants to a computer to see how well the brain can adapt to controlling devices with thought. The team found that not only can the brain control a computer cursor with thought, but the process may be beneficial for the brain as well.

Lead paper author Kai Miller said, "Bodybuilders get muscles that are larger than normal by lifting weights. We get brain activity that's larger than normal by interacting with brain-computer interfaces. By using these interfaces, patients create super-active populations of brain cells."

The study connected patients waiting to undergo surgery for epilepsy to a computer with electrodes and showed that while watching a cursor on a computer screen respond to though the signals in the brain become stronger than those generated in daily life. The researchers say that the finding shows promise to helping to rehab people after a stroke or other neurological damage.

The study included eight patients that were at two hospitals in Seattle. Each patient was connected to a computer by electrodes that were attached to the surface of their brains in the days leading up to surgery for epilepsy.

Miller said, "A lot of the studies in this field are in non-human primates. But how do you ask an animal to imagine doing something? We don't even know that they can."

Once the participants were connected to the computer the researchers recorded brain patterns when the subject clinched and unclenched a fist, stuck out their tongue, shrugged their shoulder, and said the word "move". After those readings were recorded, the team recorded brain patterns when the participants imagined performing the same actions. The patterns recorded were similar to those when the action was actually performed, but were much weaker.

The team finally recorded signals as the patients imagined performing the actions while watching a cursor on screen that was moved by their brain signals. The team found that after less than 10 minutes of practice, the brain signals from imagined movement were significantly stronger than the ones created by actually doing the movements.

"People have been looking at imagined movements as a way to control computers for a long time. This study provides a glimpse of the underlying neural machinery," said co-author Rajesh Rao, a UW associate professor of computer science and engineering who is Miller's neuroscience dissertation advisor.

Participants reported that after less than 10 minutes of training they could control the cursor by simply thinking about moving it rather than imagining moving a body part. The findings may one day lead to better control of computers for the disabled and prosthetic limbs among other things.