Club Botanic

As some of you know, I'm an advisor and/or investor in a number of start-up Internet companies. One in particular is quite remarkable, Club Botanic, based in San Francisco, is a unique flower delivery firm that offers monthly subscriptions to its services as well as single orders. For a reasonable price you can order beautiful flower arrangements and have them delivered to your home or office.

They have partnered with Uber to deliver their arrangements. I encourage you to check out their services. In addition to their main website you can also order from Bloom Nation or Etsy and you can follow them on Facebook and Instagram. For those concerned with cognitive health for themselves or their loved ones, flowers can make an uplifting gift. Currently their services operate in San Francisco but you can also order distinctive and attractive wreath subscriptions nationwide. 


I haven't blogged in quite some time, as you can probably tell. However, don't worry. Cognitive Labs is still rolling along as one of the top destinations on the web for free cognitive games. We're now celebrating our 12th anniversary of serving both casual web users as well as scientific researchers who use our tests for some very interesting work.

There's quite a bit of interest in the site evidenced by the fact that we have had acquisition offers in each of the past two years, the most recent one last month. While we couldn't agree on a price that was adequate (we think the site is quite valuable) we are happy to receive these offers as a validation of what we are doing here at Cognitive Labs. You'll be hearing more from me in the near future as I have decided to start blogging again.

Anyway, thanks for your readership and continuing interest in our games and tests! 


Metabolic Syndrome and CRP Linked to Cognitive Decline

According to a nationally representative sample of persons aged 60 years or older, metabolic syndrome may predispose to cognitive decline, especially when it occurs in conjunction with elevated C-reactive protein (CRP), new research suggests.
The findings add to the understanding of the association between neurometabolic disorders and cognition, said first author Zuolu Liu, BA, and their implications may be relevant to primary care, she said.
"The metabolic syndrome by itself was associated with cognitive decline, but elevated CRP was as well. The associations were very strong," said Liu, a medical student at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The study's senior author was Carol Lippa, MD, professor of neurology at Temple.
The study was presented at the American Neurological Association (ANA) 2013 Annual Meeting.

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Cognitive Enhancers do not Help Mild Cognitive Impairment

Cognitive enhancers did not improve cognition and were associated with increased harm in people with mild cognitive impairment, according to a study published in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal).

Mild cognitive impairment is a condition characterized by memory complaints without substantial limitations in everyday activity. With an increasing proportion of people aged 65 years and older and the growing number of those with mild cognitive impairment, health care professionals, patients and informal caregivers are seeking ways to delay the progression of cognitive impairment to dementia. It is estimated that 3% to 42% of people are diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment each year and that dementia will develop in 3% to 17% of them. More than 4.7 million cases of dementia are diagnosed worldwide annually.

It has been hypothesized that cognitive enhancers may delay the onset of dementia, and families and patients are increasingly requesting these drugs. However, efficacy of these drugs for patients with mild cognitive impairment has not been established. In Canada, cognitive enhancers can only be obtained with special authorization.

Canadian researchers conducted a review of evidence to understand the efficacy and safety of cognitive enhancers. They looked at 8 randomized trials that compared 1 of 4 cognitive enhancers (donepezil, rivastigmine, galantamine or memantine) to placebo among patients with mild cognitive impairment.

Although they found short-term benefits to using these drugs on one cognition scale, there were no long-term effects after about a year and a half. No other benefits were seen on the second cognition scale or on function, behaviour and mortality. As well, patients on these medications experienced substantially more nausea, diarrhea, vomiting and headaches.

"Patients and their families should consider this information when requesting these medications," writes Dr. Sharon Straus, St. Michael's Hospital, Toronto, Ont., with coauthors. "Similarly, health care decision-makers may not wish to approve the use of these medications for mild cognitive impairment, because these drugs might not be effective and are likely associated with harm."

"Our results do not support the use of cognitive enhancers for patients with mild cognitive impairment. These agents were not associated with any benefit and led to an increase in harms," the authors conclude.

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Scientists Find Clue to Age-Related Memory Loss

Scientists have found a compelling clue in the quest to learn what causes age-related memory problems, and to one day be able to tell if those misplaced car keys are just a senior moment or an early warning of something worse.
Wednesday's report offers evidence that age-related memory loss really is a distinct condition from pre-Alzheimer's — and offers a hint that what we now consider the normal forgetfulness of old age might eventually be treatable.
Researchers at Columbia University Medical Center examined brains, young and old ones, donated from people who died without signs of neurologic disease. They discovered that a certain gene in a specific part of the hippocampus, the brain's memory center, quits working properly in older people. It produces less of a key protein.
That section of the brain, called the dentate gyrus, has long been suspected of being especially vulnerable to aging. Importantly, it's a different neural neighborhood than where Alzheimer's begins to form.
But it's circumstantial evidence that having less of that protein, named RbAp48, affects memory loss in older adults. So the researchers took a closer look at mice, which become forgetful as they age in much the same way that people do.
Sure enough, cutting levels of the protein made healthy young rodents lose their way in mazes and perform worse on other memory tasks just like old mice naturally do.
More intriguing, the memory loss was reversible: Boosting the protein made forgetful old mice as sharp as the youngsters again, the researchers reported in the journal Science Translational Medicine.
"It's the best evidence so far" that age-related memory loss isn't the same as early Alzheimer's, said Nobel laureate Dr. Eric Kandel, who led the Columbia University team.
And since some people make it to 100 without showing much of a cognitive slowdown, the work begs another question: "Is that normal aging, or is it a deterioration that we're allowing to occur?" Kandel said.
"As we want to live longer and stay engaged in a cognitively complex world, I think even mild age-related memory decline is meaningful," added Columbia neurologist Dr. Scott Small, a senior author of the study. "It opens up a whole avenue of investigation to now try to identify interventions."
This is early-stage research that will require years of additional work to confirm, cautioned Dr. Molly Wagster of the National Institute on Aging, who wasn't involved with the report.
But Wagster said the findings add to a growing body of evidence suggesting "that we're not all on the road to Alzheimer's disease" after we pass a certain age.
For example, other researchers have found that connections between neurons in other parts of the brain weaken with normal aging, making it harder but not impossible to retrieve memories. In contrast, Alzheimer's kills neurons.
How does Wednesday's research fit? Many pathways make up a smoothly functioning memory, and that protein plays a role in turning a short-term memory — like where you left those car keys — into a longer-term one, Kandel explained.
Some good news: Scientists already know that exercise makes the dentate gyrus — that age-targeted spot in the hippocampus — function better, Small said. He's also studying if nutrition might make a difference.

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40 Hours of Intensive Game Play is Good for the Brain

Playing 40 hours or Starcraft, the real-time strategy game pitting humans and two alien species against each other, can make people think more flexibly.
So concludes a study this month that compared groups of people who played The Sims, StarCraft with easier conditions, and StarCraft with harder conditions that required players to keep track of a more complicated scenario.
"Real-time strategy gaming selectively promotes cognitive flexibility, particularly under conditions in which players must rapidly switch between contexts while maintaining memory for both contexts," concluded authors Brian D. Glass of the University of London, W. Todd Maddox of the University of Texas at Austin, and Bradley C. Love of University College London. "Cognitive flexibility is a trainable skill."
Cognitive flexibility essentially is the ability to direct your brain's resources appropriately under changing decision-making circumstances, and it "has been associated with fluid intelligence and overall psychological well-being," the authors said. In contrast, earlier studies involving first-person kill-or-be-killed games have shown videogaming benefits only with lower-level aspects of thinking such as visual information processing, they said.
The debate about whether video games are good for people remains deeply unsettled. Even if some brain functions are improved, there are still broad issues about violence, long-term concentration abilities, and electronic interactions taking the place of real-world interactions with people. Given the complexity of brains and games, it would be foolish to expect a simple answer to these questions -- indeed, as games transform from solitary pursuits into social activities, expect even more complexity.
The study compared subjects playing three game scenarios: Electronic Arts' The Sims, a social game; Blizzard Entertainment's StarCraft with one military base to manage and one enemy; and StarCraft with two bases and two enemies. The two StarCraft scenarios were designed to be equally difficult, but the second scenario required the player to keep track of circumstances that weren't in view (the researchers configured StarCraft so its mini-map wasn't visible). Curiously, all the test subjects were female "due to the small number of non-gaming males" among University of Texas-Austin undergraduates who responded to ads to participate.

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Walking on a Treadmill is Found to Help Memory in Older People

Exercise is touted as helping healthy adults stay that way, both physically and mentally. Might it also help people whose memory and other cognitive abilities have started to decline?
This study included 35 adults who averaged in their mid- to upper 70s; they consisted of two groups: 18 with mild cognitive impairment and 17 with no cognitive decline. Everyone did moderate exercise, walking on a treadmill with increasing frequency and duration until they were doing four 30-minute sessions a week. After 12 weeks, both groups registered about a 10 percent improvement in cardio-respiratory fitness. Brain scans and a battery of standardized neuropsychological tests, focusing on memory, showed cognitive improvement in both groups, and to virtually the same degree, including such aspects as better recall and improved neural efficiency (less brainpower required for cognitive tasks). The researchers noted that, in people with mild cognitive impairment, treatment that achieves stability in memory is considered successful; they described the cognitive improvement in their impaired participants as “remarkable.”
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