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New Way To Remember Names And Faces

The trick to putting names and faces together after meeting someone for the first time may be a good night’s sleep. That conclusion comes from a small study at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH). Researchers there recruited 14 young adults in their 20s to see how a good night’s sleep affects the ability to match names and faces. During the study the participants stayed at the hospital’s Center for Clinical Investigation. Each study volunteer was shown 20 photos of faces with names attached and asked to memorize them. After 12 hours, they were shown the photos again, matched with either a correct or incorrect name. The researchers asked if the name was correct and also asked the participants to rate their confidence in their answers. Each participant took the test twice, once after sleeping for eight hours and once when they had remained awake during the day. The investigators reported that after sleeping the participants correctly matched 12 percent more of the faces and names than when they had remained awake. The research team now wants to explore how sleep affects memory for names and faces among older adults.

5 Warning Signs of Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s disease can be challenging to diagnose, especially in its early stages. Learn about five common signs that distinguish it from common forgetfulness.

Over 30 million people worldwide are living with Alzheimer's disease. Use this list to help to distinguish between the normal memory loss that accompanies aging and early signs of Alzheimer's disease. Talk with your physician if you or a family member is displaying any of these symptoms:

  1. Memory loss that disrupts daily life. This common sign of Alzheimer's includes forgetting important dates, events and recently learned information, as well as repeatedly asking for the same information and relying on others for completion of previously routine tasks.
  2. Planning and problem solving challenges. Common examples are taking a long time to complete familiar, simple tasks such as developing a plan, working with numbers, following directions (such as a recipe) or keeping track of monthly bills.
  3. Familiar tasks become unfamiliar. It may be difficult to complete daily, routine tasks such as driving to a familiar location, reciting much-used phone numbers, or remembering the rules of favorite games.
  4. Confusion about time or place. Losing track of dates, where you are or how you got there, and the general passage of time without recognition is a sign of Alzheimer's.
  5. Trouble understanding visual images, difficulty reading, judging distance, determining color or contrast, and confusion as to what is reflected in a mirror may affect some people with Alzheimer's.

3 Ways to Prevent Memory Loss

If you worry about your memory as you get older, here’s good news: there are ways to help minimize memory loss. Find out what they are, and make them part of your daily routine!

Does it seem your memory is getting worse with every passing birthday? It happens to some extent to all of us as we age, but a growing body of medical evidence suggests that lifelong stimulation is the key to building and maintaining brain cells, slowing memory loss and possibly lowering the risk of Alzheimer's disease.

Research has found that doing interesting work (paid or volunteer), pursuing hobbies and engaging in an active social life can help. I recommend challenging yourself with music performance (playing or learning an instrument or singing), language lessons, learning a new computer program, or hunkering down with a good crossword puzzle. Be certain to try all of these with a smile - studies show that a positive emotional state is also good for your brain.

Remember that anything that makes you think in different ways is challenging for the brain and likely beneficial for your memory.


How Exercise Affects Memory

We've known for some time that regular aerobic exercise can give memory a boost, but now a new study from Georgia Tech has shown that 20 minutes of simple resistance exercise can also do the trick. Researchers recruited healthy young adults to either perform exercises or serve as controls. They first showed a series of 90 photos on a screen to all the participants. Then, everyone sat at a leg extension machine. Half the participants performed the leg exercises - extending and contracting each leg 50 times at their personal maximum effort. Those in the control group just sat at the machines while one of the researchers moved their legs passively. Two days later, all the participants returned to the lab and were shown 180 photos, half of which were those they had seen at the first session. Memory tests indicated that the participants who actively performed the exercises remembered about 60 percent of the photos, while those in the control group remembered only 50 percent. The research team now intends to look further into how resistance exercise affects memory in various populations, including older people with memory impairment.

My take? This study contributes to accumulating scientific evidence suggesting that physical activity helps keep your mind sharp and your memory from slipping. A related study at the University of Pittsburgh found that brain volume increased in areas associated with memory in seniors who took 40-minute walks three days a week for one year. And a study in mice at Columbia University found that exercise triggered blood flow and cell growth in brain areas linked to age-related memory decline. It's interesting to learn from the Georgia Tech study that resistance exercise can also affect memory for the better.

Hold the Bacon…and the Fries

The iconic elements of fast food, bacon and French fries have long been vilified, and new research suggests that chemicals formed in foods cooked at high heat, called advanced glycation end products (AGEs), may set you up for memory and cognition problems later in life. We have known for some time that AGEs are linked to inflammation and premature cell aging. The latest on their harmful effects comes from a study enrolling 93 adults over age 60, showing that insulin resistance and cognitive issues were more common among those with high blood levels of AGEs than they were among study participants with low levels of these compounds. In addition, mice given a diet of foods high in AGEs had increased levels of beta amyloid plaques in their brains compared to mice fed foods with lower AGEs. Earlier research has shown that diets high in saturated fats have also been linked to the build up of these plaques, which are a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease. What we don’t know yet is whether giving up bacon and fries - and burgers and fried chicken - can prevent or reverse the course of dementia.

Helen Vlassara et al, “Oral glycotoxins are a modifiable cause of dementia and the metabolic syndrome in mice and humans,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, DOI10.1073/pnas.1316013111

Caffeine for Better Memory

If you have to remember something for 24 hours, a cup of coffee may help. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University tested the effect of caffeine on short interval memory in more than 100 volunteers who didn’t regularly drink caffeinated beverages. First, they showed the participants hundreds of pictures of familiar items on a computer screen and asked if each image was an indoor or outdoor object. Five minutes later, the researchers provided half the participants 200 mg of caffeine and half of them a placebo (neither the researchers nor the participants knew which was which). The next day, the research team showed the participants more images and asked them to label each one as old, new or similar to an image they had seen the previous day. Participants who had received caffeine proved better at identifying the similar pictures while those who received the placebo were more likely to mistakenly identify similar images as the ones they had seen before. The researchers reported that memory was enhanced only with 200 mg of caffeine – less didn’t work. They also found that taking the caffeine before seeing the images didn’t seem to help bolster recall later.

Michael Yassa et al, “Post-study caffeine administration enhances memory consolidation in humans,” Nature Neuroscience,” doi: 10.1038/nn.3623

Talk to Yourself…It Helps

We used to think that people who walked around talking to themselves were a bit unbalanced. Now we notice the Bluetooth and shrug. But talking to yourself appears to have its uses, at least when you've misplaced something. A team of psychologists from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Pennsylvania has reported on a study showing that talking to yourself when you’re looking for something actually helps you find it. First, they asked study participants to look through 20 images and asked them to find a specific one. Sometimes, there was a label telling them what to look for; a teapot, for example. Later, the participants were asked to search again while saying the word of the object they had to find. In another experiment the participants were asked to find photos of common supermarket items like apples or peanut butter or a product name, such as Diet Coke. In both experiments, the participants who repeated the names of the objects they were searching for found them faster – and shortening the name to, say “Coke” rather than Diet Coke additionally speeded the searches. Try that the next time you can’t find your keys or your glasses.

Gary Lupyan, Daniel Swingley. “Self-directed speech affects visual search performance.” The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 2011; : 1 DOI: 10.1080/17470218.2011.647039

How’s Your Memory? (Poll)

A recent Q&A discussed statins and their effects on memory: Are Statins Messing with Your Memory? Check out the article and let us know how you would rate your memory!

Have You Been Working Your Brain Hard Enough?

Keep your mind and memory from slipping as you ageThe “use it or lose it” principle, applied to the brain, can help keep your mind and memory from slipping as you age. Researchers at Chicago’s Rush University Medical Center followed 294 individuals to see how strongly maintaining mental activity influenced age-related cognitive decline and memory problems. Over the course of 5.8 years, the team tested the study participants’ memory and cognitive abilities and questioned them about how much reading they had done throughout life, including whether they were read to as children. The investigators also asked about mentally stimulating activities such as going to the theater or to museums as adults, playing challenging games such as chess, reading a book and predicting what will happen next or comparing a movie you’ve just seen to others. After each study participant died, the researchers examined samples of brain tissue and, after adjusting for signs of brain disease, compared their findings with the earlier test results. The result?