Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News


The best brain supplement to delay memory and thinking decline: A mentally stimulating job


Chal­leng­ing Work Tasks May Have an Upside for the Brain (new study):

Pro­fes­sion­als whose jobs require more speak­ing, devel­op­ing strate­gies, con­flict res­o­lu­tion and man­age­r­i­al tasks may expe­ri­ence bet­ter pro­tec­tion against mem­o­ry and think­ing decline in old age than their co-work­ers, accord­ing to a new study Read the rest of this entry »

Beta amyloid build-up in the brain may increase risk of cognitive impairment more than having “Alzheimer’s gene”

Plaque Build-Up in Your Brain May Be More Harm­ful Than Hav­ing Alzheimer’s Gene (Sci­ence Dai­ly):

A new study shows that hav­ing a high amount of beta amy­loid or “plaques” in the brain asso­ci­at­ed with Alzheimer’s dis­ease may cause steep­er mem­o­ry decline in men­tal­ly healthy old­er peo­ple than does hav­ing the APOE ?4 allele, also asso­ci­at­ed with the dis­ease. “Our results show that plaques may be a more impor­tant fac­tor in deter­min­ing which peo­ple are Read the rest of this entry »

Dr. Gary Small’s The Naked Lady Who Stood on Her Head: Brain Fog

(Edi­tor’s Note: what fol­lows is an excerpt from Dr. Gary Small and Gigi Vor­gan’s new book, The Naked Lady Who Stood on Her Head: A Psy­chi­a­trist’s Sto­ries of His Most Bizarre Cas­es)


Brain Fog

Sum­mer 1990

Gigi and I had moved to Stu­dio City, about a forty-minute com­mute to UCLA. On week­ends, we often went to the movies at Uni­ver­sal City­Walk, a repli­ca­tion of Los Ange­les with­in Los Ange­les. Why peo­ple couldn’t just walk down the real streets of Los Ange­les made no sense to me, yet there we were, on a Fri­day evening, eat­ing ice cream and strolling down a sim­u­lat­ed street.

We had just seen Total Recall, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s new sci­encefic­tion film about a con­struc­tion work­er who under­goes a false mem­o­ry trans­plant that takes him on an imag­i­nary trip to Mars. But things go wrong, and when he comes out of it, he can’t tell what’s real and what’s imag­ined.

When he first got back from Mars, there were so many signs that he was from the future that I believed it,” I said.
“But hon­ey, before he had that mem­o­ry implant done, he was per­fect­ly hap­py liv­ing in the present—on Earth. Then he got all para­noid.”
“Of course he did. How do you know what’s real­i­ty if you can’t trust your mem­o­ry?” I asked.
“I don’t know; you’re the mem­o­ry expert. I want to go into this shop for a minute.” Gigi dis­ap­peared into a record store.

As I ate my ice cream and watched the crowds, I kept think­ing about those ques­tions. If two real­i­ties seem equal­ly true, how would you know which ver­sion to believe? Many of my patients strug­gled with sim­i­lar issues, whether they were psy­chot­ic, dement­ed, or sim­ply hav­ing mem­o­ry prob­lems.

Over the past few years, I had begun to con­cen­trate a large part of my prac­tice on mem­o­ry issues—not just in old­er patients with Alzheimer’s dis­ease but in mid­dle-aged peo­ple who were wor­ried about their increas­ing for­get­ful­ness. My research was also focus­ing on ear­ly detec­tion of demen­tia and age-relat­ed mem­o­ry decline, and I was devel­op­ing brain imag­ing as a diag­nos­tic tool.

Gigi came back with a bag of CDs and said Read the rest of this entry »

Education AND Lifelong Cognitive Activities build Cognitive Reserve and Delay Memory Loss

In a recent­ly pub­lished sci­en­tif­ic study (see Hall C, et al “Cog­ni­tive activ­i­ties delay onset of mem­o­ry decline in per­sons who devel­op demen­tia” Neu­rol­o­gy 2009; 73: 356–361), Hall and col­leagues exam­ined how edu­ca­tion and stim­u­lat­ing activ­i­ties may inter­act to con­tribute to cog­ni­tive reserve. The study involved 488 ini­tial­ly healthy peo­ple, aver­age age 79, who brain teasers job interviewenrolled in the Bronx Aging Study between 1980 and 1983. These indi­vid­u­als were fol­lowed for 5 years with assess­ments every 12 to 18 months (start­ing in 1980). At the start of the study, all par­tic­i­pants were asked how many cog­ni­tive activ­i­ties (read­ing, writ­ing, cross­word puz­zles, board or card games, group dis­cus­sions, or play­ing music) they par­tic­i­pat­ed in and for how many days a week. Researchers were able to eval­u­ate the impact of self-report­ed par­tic­i­pa­tion these activ­i­ties on the onset of accel­er­at­ed mem­o­ry decline in 101 indi­vid­u­als who devel­oped demen­tia dur­ing the study.

Results showed that for every “activ­i­ty day” (par­tic­i­pa­tion in one activ­i­ty for one day a week) the sub­jects engaged in, they delayed for about two months the onset of rapid mem­o­ry loss asso­ci­at­ed with demen­tia. Inter­est­ing­ly, the pos­i­tive effect of brain-stim­u­lat­ing activ­i­ties in this study appeared to be inde­pen­dent of a per­son­’s lev­el of edu­ca­tion.

This is great news as it sug­gests that it is nev­er too late to try to build up brain reserve. The more brain stim­u­lat­ing activ­i­ties one does and the more often, the bet­ter for a stronger cog­ni­tive reserve.

The cog­ni­tive reserve hypoth­e­sis sug­gests that indi­vid­u­als with more cog­ni­tive reserve can expe­ri­ence more Alzheimer’s dis­ease pathol­o­gy in the brain (more plaques and tan­gles) with­out devel­op­ing Alzheimer’s dis­ease symp­toms.

How does that work? Sci­en­tists are not sure but two pos­si­bil­i­ties are con­sid­ered.
1. One is that more cog­ni­tive reserve means more brain reserve, that is more neu­rons and con­nec­tions between neu­rons.
2. Anoth­er pos­si­bil­i­ty is that more cog­ni­tive reserve means more com­pen­sato­ry process­es (see my pre­vi­ous post “Edu­ca­tion builds Cog­ni­tive Reserve for Alzheimers Dis­ease Pro­tec­tion” for more details.)

Now, one may won­der about the dif­fer­ence types of men­tal stim­u­la­tion avail­able, includ­ing not only puz­zles and such, but struc­tured activ­i­ties such as brain fit­ness soft­ware and med­i­ta­tion. Do we exer­cise our brain every time we think about some­thing? What can one do to exer­cise one’s brain in ways that enhance capac­i­ty? Does aer­o­bic fit­ness train­ing also exer­cise one’s brain? What types of method­olo­gies and prod­ucts are avail­able? Do they “work”? Are all the same?

Those are the types of ques­tions we want­ed to address in the book The Sharp­Brains Guide To Brain Fit­ness (avail­able via We are proud of the recog­ni­tion the book has start­ed to obtain, includ­ing endorse­ments by lead­ing sci­en­tists:

The Sharp­Brains Guide to Brain Fit­ness is the only book that I know of that seam­less­ly inte­grates lat­est infor­ma­tion about cog­ni­tive health across the lifes­pan, with inter­views with active researchers exam­in­ing cog­ni­tive main­te­nance and enhance­ment, along with reviews of com­mer­cial prod­ucts tar­get­ed to cog­ni­tive enhance­ment. The book should be very use­ful to any­one inter­est­ed in brain care, both health care pro­fes­sion­als and the pub­lic at large”.
— Arthur Kramer, Pro­fes­sor of Psy­chol­o­gy at Uni­ver­si­ty of Illi­nois

This Sharp­Brains book pro­vides a very valu­able ser­vice to a wide com­mu­ni­ty inter­est­ed in learn­ing and brain top­ics. I found it inter­est­ing and help­ful”
- Michael Pos­ner, Emer­i­tus Pro­fes­sor of Neu­ro­science at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Ore­gon, and first recip­i­ent of the Dogan Prize

Pascale MichelonPas­cale Mich­e­lon, Ph. D., is Sharp­Brains’ Research Man­ag­er for Edu­ca­tion­al Projects. Dr. Mich­e­lon has a Ph.D. in Cog­ni­tive Psy­chol­o­gy and has worked as a Research Sci­en­tist at Wash­ing­ton Uni­ver­si­ty in Saint Louis, in the Psy­chol­o­gy Depart­ment. She con­duct­ed sev­er­al research projects to under­stand how the brain makes use of visu­al infor­ma­tion and mem­o­rizes facts. She is now an Adjunct Fac­ul­ty at Wash­ing­ton Uni­ver­si­ty.


- Study: Hall C, et al “Cog­ni­tive activ­i­ties delay onset of mem­o­ry decline in per­sons who devel­op demen­tia” Neu­rol­o­gy 2009; 73: 356–361

- Book: The Sharp­Brains Guide To Brain Fit­ness: 18 Inter­views with Sci­en­tists, Prac­ti­cal Advice, and Prod­uct Reviews, to Keep Your Brain Sharp

What You Can do to Improve Memory (and Why It Deteriorates in Old Age)

After about age 50, most peo­ple begin to expe­ri­ence a decline in mem­o­ry capa­bil­i­ty. Why is that? One obvi­ous answer is that the small arter­ies of the brain begin to clog up, often as a result of a life­time of eat­ing the wrong things and a lack of exer­cise. If that life­time has been stress­ful, many neu­rons may have been killed by stress hor­mones. Giv­en theImprove Memory Bill Klemm most recent sci­en­tif­ic lit­er­a­ture, reviewed in my book Thank You, Brain, For All You Remem­ber. What You For­got Was My Fault, dead neu­rons can’t be replaced, except in the hip­pocam­pus, which is for­tu­nate for mem­o­ry because the hip­pocam­pus is essen­tial for mak­ing cer­tain kinds of mem­o­ries per­ma­nent. Anoth­er cause is incip­i­ent Alzheimer’s dis­ease; autop­sies show that many peo­ple have the lesions of the dis­ease but have nev­er shown symp­toms, pre­sum­ably because a life­time of excep­tion­al men­tal activ­i­ty has built up a “cog­ni­tive reserve.

So is there any­thing you can do about it besides exer­cise like crazy, eat healthy foods that you don’t like all that much, pop your statin pills, and take up yoga?

Yes. In short: focus, focus, focus.

Chang­ing think­ing styles can help. Research shows that Read the rest of this entry »

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