Is it Alzheimer’s or just normal aging?

I am frequently asked what the difference is between memory changes associated with normal aging and that related to Alzheimer’s disease (AD). First, the memory changes associated with normal aging are not a disease. The typical pattern of memory change with advanced age is a deficit in retrieval. A healthy older brain can encode information because the hippocampus is relatively healthy. This permits new information to be encoded. The older adult has some difficulty retrieving that new information, but with cues and prompts they retrieve the information as well as those in their thirties.

In contrast, a brain with AD has a damaged hippocampus that prevents new information from being encoded. This means that new learning does not take place and that cures and prompts do not help because the information is not there to be prompted.

In general, a healthy older adult encodes new information, but needs some help in retrieving what has been encoded. A brain with AD does not encode new information and therefore cues and prompts will not help with retrieval.

Fore more information about Alzheimer’s Disease

I keep forgetting names!

It is very common to be introduced to a new person, to hear their name, and to rapidly forget the person’s name. The question is why?

Is this experience a reflection of you having a poor memory? It actually might represent an attention problem. When we meet new people for the first time there is a tremendous amount of information being processed, outside factors that may be distracting, and each person is generally concerned about him or herself.

Word finding difficulty or the inability to derive a name that was just presented to you is not a sign of disease, but a probable indication that you can benefit from specific tips to remember the names.

As an example, when someone introduces himself or herself to you recite the name aloud and repeat it in every sentence you communicate to the person. This will facilitate a deeper encoding of the name initially which helps to store the information more permanently.

To learn more about Brain Health

Aerobic Exercise, Hippocampal volume, and Spatial Memory

It has been know for some time that aerobic exercise and physical activity helps to increase cognitive function and perhaps delay onset of Alzheimer’s disease. A recent study provides some explanation for how this might occur.

It is known that deterioration of the hippocampus occurs as part of the aging process. The hippocampus (i) is the structure deep in the middle of the temporal lobe that helps to form new memories and spatial memory. Changes in the structure and function occur in the hippocampus with advanced age, chronic stress, and Alzheimer’s disease. In contrast, studies indicate an enriched environment that includes physical activity can lead to neurogenesis in the hippocampus.

A recent study by Erickson and colleagues (2009) investigated high versus low levels of aerobic exercise in non-demented older adults on volume of the hippocampus and on spatial memory. Results indicate that higher fitness levels were associated with larger left and right hippocampi and larger hippocampi and higher fitness levels were related to better spatial memory performance.

The authors assert that higher levels of aerobic exercise are related to increased hippocampal volume in older humans, which translates to better memory performance.

Dr. Nussbaum, Chief Scientific Officer of Fitbrains, Inc. presents a brain health lifestyle that includes physical activity .

Caloric Restriction and Memory

We have known for some time that caloric restriction relates to longevity and functional health in animals. This has been well documented and discussed in previous blogs from Fit brains. However, the issue of whether caloric restriction also benefits humans has been less clear. It’s also obvious and important to note how difficult caloric restriction can be for humans, particularly when such reduction in calories is significant.

Much work is done on the quality of what is consumed when one reviews the many dietary plans offered on the market. Less is focused on the quantity and it is generally true that those living in western nations over-consume. This has resulted in an alarming increase in obesity and diabetes, including a significant number of cases emerging in childhood.

The balance of sugars and insulin in our bodies is very important. An unhealthy balance can lead to diabetes and multiple other medical problems, some of which affect the brain such as stroke and dementia. We now know that what we eat affects both the structure and function of our brain and more attention is now focused on both the quality and quantity of our diets.