Friday, August 1, 2008

What top scientists are learning about memory

For anyone worried about memory loss, here is a book with the greatest title ever: Can’t Remember What I Forgot: The Good News from the Front Lines of Memory Research (Harmony Books, Crown Publishing Group, Random House, 2008) by Sue Halpern.

Halpern’s book is a report on the current state of scientific and medical knowledge about possible preventatives or treatment for Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.

Capturing the subtitle of her book, here is her summary of the state of good news (as of the time she wrote the book):

• The sorLA gene had been discovered, enabling scientists to use a whole new way to explain what was going on in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s.
• Thanks to a new imaging technique, amyloid plaques could now be seen in a living brain.
• There was a growing open-source Alzheimer’s gene bank.
• Preliminary data from a Mayo Clinic-University of Southern California study of the Posit Science program had shown that people who completed the training had significant improvements in auditory memory.
• Biomarkers in the blood and cerebral spinal fluid could show Alzheimer’s nearly a decade before there are symptoms.
• Exercise had been shown to cause new brain cells to grow in old brains. That process, neurogenesis, had been shown to improve memory.
• A diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment (MCI) was not necessarily a “sentence to die from Alzheimer’s.”
• Memory loss in older people was normal.
• The first neural prosthesis, an artificial hippocampus, was close to being tested in living animals.
• The first round of immunizations for Alzheimer’s disease had been completed, no one had gotten sick, and the method of delivery had worked.
• The majority of researchers were working from discoveries that the sticky plaques that had defined Alzheimer’s for years were not the “bad guys,” but that the bad guy was soluble beta-amyloid, which Alzheimer’s patients had in toxic excess. “And while no one yet knew why that was,” she wrote, “the retromer theory put forth by Scott Small and his associates offered a plausible explanation.”

The not-so-good news, at least for me, is what Halpern was finally told after asking many scientists if working crossword puzzles helps stave off dementia or Alzheimer’s.

“You know what crossword puzzles are really good for?” said Dr. Michael Merzenich, professor of integrative neuroscience at the University of California, San Francisco, and developer of a computer-based program for children with language-based learning disabilities. “Doing crosswords are really good for… doing crosswords. Do the puzzle every day and you’ll get pretty good at it.”

Unfortunately, Dr. Merzenich concluded, crossword puzzles don’t do anything for memory.

What? You mean remembering that “adit” means “mine opening” doesn’t mean I have a great memory? Rats!

1 comment:

Julie said...

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