Do Computers Dream?

Here is an update on the popular debate between human and machine that energizes the tension between characters in some of the world's favorite stories of recent decades - in literature and film. One could even argue that the upcoming Star Wars III will in essence be a referendum in the debate between man and machine, as have, for example, Governor Shwarznenegger's Terminator films.

What do you think?

Teaching computers to read no simple task
Creating algorithms to convert text so machines can learn

Jim McKnight / AP
Down the road, professor Selmer Bringsjord believes artificial intelligence, or A.I., machines might be able to read military plans or manuals and adjust on the fly in the heat of battle.

The Associated Press
Updated: 9:34 a.m. ET Jan. 31, 2005 TROY, N.Y. - Among the handiest villains in science fiction are Computers That Know Too Much. Think of the dream-weaving despots of "The Matrix" or murderous HAL in "2001: A Space Odyssey." But in reality, even the most super supercomputer lacks the reasoning capacity of a child engrossed in a Dr. Seuss book. Computers can't read the way we do. They can't learn or reason like us.

Narrowing that cognitive gap between humans and machines - creating a computer that can read and learn at a sophisticated level - is a big goal of artificial intelligence researchers.

The Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Project Agency, or DARPA, granted a contract worth at least $400,000 last fall to two Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute professors who are trying to build a machine that can learn by reading.

The academics hope to create a machine that can read sections of textbooks and answer questions based on the material. Down the road, professor Selmer Bringsjord believes such artificial intelligence, or A.I., machines might be able to read military plans or manuals and adjust on the fly in the heat of battle.

"We have such a complex military now, it's so high tech, we need A.I. to help us," said Bringsjord, director of RPI's Artificial Intelligence and Reasoning lab. "There's no going back."

A.I. is already ingrained in our lives, from programs used by banks in evaluating potential borrowers' credit ratings to software that suggests corrected spellings for unrecognized words to investigative programs that mine databases seeking non-obvious relationships.

But reading is difficult for machines. Sentences must be converted into formal logic equations or other computer-friendly formats. Computers can do this on a modest scale. What has proved more elusive, however, is software that can make heads or tails of the verbal thicket contained in sentences like this one.

"Natural language is very ambiguous," said Boris Katz of MIT's Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. "If you go beyond sentences like 'John loves Mary,' to something like a paragraph from The Wall Street Journal...there are some pretty complex phenomena in language that are pretty hard to represent."

Bringsjord and fellow RPI professor Konstantine Arkoudas want to create algorithms, or mathematical formulas, that allow their "Poised-for-Learning" machine to convert sentences into formal logic. The next step would be to create an additional set of algorithms that would allow the machine to use the information it takes in to figure things out. To reason, in other words.

For example, if the machine reads up on the planets, it should be poised to answer the question "What is the largest planet?" even if the text never explicitly states that Jupiter is the sun's most voluminous satellite.

The DARPA grant is for a year, with options to extend it into a three-year $1.2 million contract. Bringsjord hopes to have the Poised-for-Learning machine reading some basic texts, like algebra and astronomy, in three years.

AI on the battlefield

DARPA spokeswoman Jan Walker said the RPI grant is not tied to any particular Pentagon program but part of the agency's larger interest in cognitive systems. Ronald Brachman, director of DARPA's Information Processing Technology Office, has talked openly about the military's "computer-permeated future."

"In order to succeed, we'll need systems that can remember where they've been and what they've seen and improve themselves over time," Brachman told researchers at a conference last year.

The interwoven connection between soldier and computer - battlefield laptops control backpack-sized aerial surveillance drones and other computers let combat troops see the location of friendly units on digital displays - is expected to tighten considerably in the coming years.

A downside to the heavy reliance on technology, at least as it exists now, is that machines that might be asked to help make battle-related decisions can't adjust to quickly changing conditions in the field, Bringsjord said.

Bringsjord envisions A.I. robots of the future taking in information in real time, by either reading or listening to spoken instructions. He said that once a machine has vacuumed up all the relevant cultural, historical, geographical data about an area, an officer could say, "Here's the current situation in Fallujah. Go scout it out."

It all might sound like science fiction, but it's not that far-fetched. Machines can already be considered cognitive, depending on your definition of the word.

In Austin, Texas, Cycorp Inc. has been building a "knowledge base" called Cyc (pronounced "psych") with the goal of becoming a repository of human knowledge that can make intelligent decisions.

Cycorp vice president of research Michael Witbrock said Cyc can reason based on the 2.5 million assertions in its system, such as inferring what sort of salary you're likely to have based on your job.

Machines already exist that understand spoken words, recognize faces and make inferences based on experience, says Carnegie Mellon University computer science professor Tom Mitchell. But Mitchell, past president of the American Association of Artificial Intelligence, offers a big caveat: Even though researchers have made a lot of progress in different areas of cognition, there is still a big mystery about how the pieces go together.

In other words, worries about an all-knowing computer might be premature. Katz believes a computer that can reason at the level of even a toddler is far off. "I'm still looking for that common sense these 3-year-olds have," Katz said. "And we don't have it yet."

Passing 1,000,000 members

With 272 people registering yesterday , we approached 1,000,000 members. Now that Monday has begun...51 people have registered already today, putting us over the 1 million mark. We will be able to involve all of you in (1) research for new products, (2) concept-development of new products, (3) creating a new kind of organization that focuses on the needs of those concerned with memory loss, spouses, children, and families, and (4) enhancing and upgrading our web dashboard service that you are using to track and monitor and improve your cognitive ability. You can already test yourself, get a detailed bar graph showing where you stand based on your age, gender, and education, and track yourself over time through testing and using MemWatch, which you also get when you get a paid subscription, which lets you monitor your cognitive performance and keep track of all your scores right on your web page - you don't have to write them down. How often should you do this? Maybe once a month or once a quarter; astronauts on the ISS do a cognitive check up every 30 days, maybe that's a useful guidleine here on spaceship earth as well.

What's new? Well, many companies developing pharmaceuticals and other compounds are approaching us about serving as a kind of benchmark so when you buy a product, you can track your cognitive performance. Also, if you go on a new diet or exercise program you could do the same thing; test whether or not walking 5 miles a day affects your cognitive ability - we provide a standardized and convenient way to do that all in one place, with no post-it pads, notebooks, pencils, or any thing else that can get lost. Since we are not stored on your PC, similarly you can't lose your records if there is a virus or Trojan problem with your PC, all to common these days.

All I can say is I am continually surprised and encouraged by the response...and feedback. I usually hear from 30 to 50 people per day. Drop us a line with questions, comments, feedback. Thanks again for your support.


TV and Alzheimer's

TV of the future, from the past

TV and Alzheimer's. Certainly the former doesn't cause the latter.

This article is attached to our last post...but we thought we would wait a day or two to share it with you. As the writer suggests, conventional TV watching to the nth degree might be related to memory impairment...mainly as an indicator of an inactive lifestyle. But, who knows, maybe TV can be part of the solution when it serves as a focus point for the busy family.

Television doesn't help

By Kathleen Fackelmann, USA TODAY

A middle-aged person who flops on the couch for several hours of television night after night actually might increase his risk of developing Alzheimer's, a new study says.
Activities that stimulate the mind or body may protect against Alzheimer's, studies have found. But the new report suggests that a passive approach to life might increase that risk.

The risk of Alzheimer's rose by 30% for each hour per day watched, says Robert Friedland at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. Friedland presented the study last summer at the 9th International Conference on Alzheimer's Disease and Related Disorders, sponsored by the Alzheimer's Association.

"We don't think that television causes Alzheimer's," he says. "We think that is a marker of an inactive lifestyle." People who watch a lot of TV probably do so at the expense of other hobbies or interests, he says.

TV might shut down the brain's natural curiosity and zest for learning, key attributes of activities that seem to offer an Alzheimer's shield, Friedland says.


Brain Power and Alzheimer's

Cognitive Labs

Now we are back...thanks for helping us close the gap on the first million, we're right there and could break through as early as Friday (tomorrow) so keep your fingers crossed, and be sure to tell a friend...This piece ran in USA Today and does an excellent job of describing the lifestyle changes that people can make to help avert the impact of memory loss...it covers what an exec. at software company Intuit in Mountain View (also the home of Cognitive Labs) does to fight memory loss - the first step is to get and keep the body moving, followed by an ongoing monitoring and workout for the brain.

Brain power vs. Alzheimer's

By Kathleen Fackelmann, USA TODAY

Sherry Whiteley is nowhere near retirement age, yet she has adopted an active lifestyle that might delay or prevent Alzheimer's disease. Whiteley is only 45, but she has good reason to worry: Her mother and several close relatives developed Alzheimer's in their 70s. That puts Whiteley at risk for a disease that will affect as many as 16 million people in the USA by the middle of the century.

Experts such as Marilyn Albert of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore say it's never too early to start making changes to protect the brain. She says the disease probably smolders for years, maybe even decades, before the first symptoms of memory loss appear. New research suggests that ballroom dancing and other physical and mental activities might ward off the disease, or at least delay the onset of symptoms, in healthy people. (Related story: Minds in motion stay sharp)

Whiteley says the dancing lessons her mother took during the early stage of the disease seemed to help, at least at first.

"She could remember the easy dance steps from one lesson to the next," she says. "I could tell it was really sinking in."

Alzheimer's first shows up as mild forgetfulness. But as time goes on, the disease destroys the ability to remember even familiar tasks, such as how to eat or how to get dressed in the morning. Alzheimer's can take eight to 20 years to kill. During that time, the disease sweeps through the brain and ultimately destroys regions of the brain that control basic functions.

Whiteley's mother eventually had to quit dancing because she could no longer remember how to do the steps.

"Toward the end, she couldn't walk or talk," Whiteley says. She knows that once the disease really takes hold, there is no way to slow it down. So she's banking on her active lifestyle to power up her own brain.

Her job as a senior vice president at software company Intuit in Mountain View, Calif., gives her a mental workout during the day. After work, she's juggling a busy household, including four kids, and on weekends she takes time out to jog about seven miles with friends.

That weekly run gives her hope that she's gaining a mental edge, an edge that might one day make all the difference.

"I am just hoping that when I am 75, I am bungee-jumping and not dealing with this disease."

Coming Next...the impact of TV on Alzheimer's>


Coach Potatoes in Their 40's - Take Action!

We are traveling and seeing more of the snow-bound parts of the U.S. this week. But tomorrow we will be back in Silicon Valley. Of the news today, comes word of a large (n=8,500) study conducted by Kaiser Permanente in Oakland, CA.

It seems that smoking, cholesterol, high-blood pressure, and diabetes all increase the risk of Alzheimer's - and these changes may wreak havoc years before any symptoms are visible, causing changes in the brain. Exercise and a memory management program can help, but these won't work if the individual does not take active control of their health and well-being. It may be that these physical factors combine with genetic predisposition to make the risk even greater...in that case the time to act is now.

A new study finds that people in their early 40s who smoke or have diabetes and high cholesterol or have hypertension are at greater risk to develop Alzheimer's in their late 60s.

But those risk factors can be mitigated through treatment and exercise, the study suggests.

Alzheimer's can spring from heart and artery trouble, not just from neurological damage, said neurologist Rachel Whitmer, who led the study of 8,500 Kaiser Permanente patients.

"Blood pressure, hypertension, cholesterol - they have an effect on the brain and, apparently, damage it," she said.

The study, in the current issue of Neurology magazine, is the first to show that risk factors can damage the brain 10 or 20 years before the person shows symptoms of dementia or Alz-heimer's disease.

"Lifelong exposures to risk factors seem to change your brain and make you more susceptible," Whitmer said.

Diabetes is the greatest risk factor. In the study, one out of seven people who had diabetes in their 40s had developed dementia or Alzheimer's by the time they were in their late 60s or early 70s. That represents an almost 50 percent greater risk.

Those with high cholesterol were 42 percent more likely to get dementia; those who smoked 26 percent more likely and those with hypertension 24 percent more likely.

When people had at least three of those risk factors the likelihood more than doubled.

There are specific treatments for high cholesterol, diabetes and hypertension. But the risk of all can be reduced through exercise and keeping weight down.

"It gives us another good reason to be aggressive about treating these four risk factors," said Dr. Glenn Gade, a gerontologist with Kaiser Permanente in Denver.

"It's another reason why we should keep healthy, exercise and eat well," he added.

"The chance to live a longer, healthier life with good cognitive memory would moticate most people.


Target the Grown - Ups - Hail to thee over 30

The online tech magazine Always-On which is as vigilant as Hal (see above) ran an interesting piece today on 'trends' in technology. I guess right here in this corral we're onto something, as tech pundits like Roger McNamee, Esther Dyson, (whose father I believe invented the Dyson Sphere, later borrowed by Larry Niven for Ringworld reference from NASA) John Doerr, and Joe Schoendorf opined on the tech markets of the future, which I think, will be aimed towards you...We even posited our own snarky reply about Austin Powers or more appropriately Dr. Evil as we approach 1,000,000 members and Sue Halpern's article in Slate.

Troublesome Genetic Factors in Memory Loss

It appears that the APOE marker, specifically the APOE-e4 variety, is associated with memory loss. This article puts the APOE-e4 prevalence at 20% of the population. Yet, people with the APOE-e4 in this study did poorly relative to others on a neuropychological test. The research conducted with the Cognitive Labs' proprietary tests on several dozen subjects showed a similar finding, and in fact, MemCheck was able to flag people who showed the earliest effects of memory loss, even though there were no obvious symptoms. The advantage is earlier detection which gives much more time to take action to monitor and enhance the memory through natural measures. Here is the article from Neuropsychology.Also please contact Cognitive Labs if you would like to receive an abstract of the Stanford/VA study to which we refer, which was carried out by Dr. Ruth O'Hara and colleagues.

> go to the free test center

Healthy seniors with 'Alzheimer's gene' find it harder to 'remember to remember'
24 Jan 2005

Study finds surprisingly strong impact of genetic variation - Carrying the higher-risk genotype for Alzheimer's disease appears to render even healthy older people subject to major problems with prospective memory, the ability to remember what to do in the future. For the group studied, this could affect important behaviors such as remembering to take medicine at a certain time or getting to a doctor's appointment. The research appears in the January issue of Neuropsychology, which is published by the American Psychological Association.

People with this genotype have a certain variety, or allele, of a gene called ApoE (for Apolipoprotein E), which switches on production of a protein that helps carry cholesterol in the blood. ApoE has three alleles and about one out of five people carry the e-4 allele. It makes homozygous carriers, who carry this variation on both of their ApoE genes, eight times as likely to develop Alzheimer's disease as non-carriers. Heterozygous carriers, who carry the high-risk variation only on half the pair, have a three-fold higher risk. Neuro- psychologists have looked at the episodic, or retrospective, memory, of e-4 carriers, especially for recent events. This study was the first to look at their prospective memory.

At the University of New Mexico, a group of 32 healthy, dementia-free adults between ages of 60 and 87 were drawn from a larger study of aging and divided evenly between people with and people without the e-4 allele.

On a task in which participants were asked to remember to write a certain word when they saw a target word, the carriers showed significantly worse prospective memories. Far more often than non-carriers, they failed to remember to write down the desired word when they were supposed to - in other words, they forgot to do what they meant to do, when they meant to do it.

Because the Alzheimer's genotype had a strong and obvious effect on prospective memory, the study's authors recommend changing the prevailing view that the allele has only subtle, often undetectable effects on cognition. The findings also supplement previous discoveries of how the allele also is linked to problems in episodic retrospective memory, even without any signs of dementia.

Given these findings, clinicians can help even healthy e-4 carriers to improve their prospective memory. Having been found to be an important "exception to the rule" about the impact of this genetic variation, prospective memory appears to merit more research.

What's more, co-author Mark McDaniel, PhD, says that "Our results might provide some encouragement to the use of prospective memory as an early diagnostic tool" because other research has found a steep prospective-memory drop in patients with very mild disease. He explains, "Our sample of carriers were healthy as far as we could tell, but our assessments were not as sensitive as some of those used at the major Alzheimer's research centers. It might well be that some of our carriers were in early AD stages that were not yet detected."

Replicating the results on a different group of people, using ultra-sensitive tests, could result in the promise of a simple test to aid in early diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease.

Finally, McDaniel points out that major problems with prospective memory could alert older adults to the presence of a genetic risk for Alzheimer's. He says, "It could be useful for someone to recognize such a risk, as recent research suggests that lifestyle factors such as diet, including cholesterol, may be important in the development of the disease precisely for those with the genetic predisposition."

Article: "Apolipoprotein E and prospective memory in normally aging adults;" Ira Driscoll, PhD, and Mark A. McDaniel, PhD, University of New Mexico, and Melissa J. Guynn, PhD, New Mexico State University; Neuropsychology, Vol. 19, No. 1.


Are the Brains of Men and Women Different?


Cognitive Labs' affiliate Dr. Rich Haier at UC-Irvine has explored the evolution of intelligence - into two different types of brain structures using MRI and cognitive testing...in a fascinating report just published in the online journal NeuroImage...

While there are essentially no disparities in general intelligence between the sexes, a UC Irvine study has found significant differences in brain areas where males and females manifest their intelligence.

The study shows women having more white matter and men more gray matter related to intellectual skill, revealing that no single neuroanatomical structure determines general intelligence and that different types of brain designs are capable of producing equivalent intellectual performance.

"These findings suggest that human evolution has created two different types of brains designed for equally intelligent behavior," said Richard Haier, professor of psychology in the Department of Pediatrics and longtime human intelligence researcher, who led the study with colleagues at UCI and the University of New Mexico. "In addition, by pinpointing these gender-based intelligence areas, the study has the potential to aid research on dementia and other cognitive-impairment diseases in the brain."

Study results appear on the online version of NeuroImage.

In general, men have approximately 6.5 times the amount of gray matter related to general intelligence than women, and women have nearly 10 times the amount of white matter related to intelligence than men. Gray matter represents information processing centers in the brain, and white matter represents the networking of - or connections between - these processing centers.

This, according to Rex Jung, a UNM neuropsychologist and co-author of the study, may help to explain why men tend to excel in tasks requiring more local processing (like mathematics), while women tend to excel at integrating and assimilating information from distributed gray-matter regions in the brain, such as required for language facility. These two very different neurological pathways and activity centers, however, result in equivalent overall performance on broad measures of cognitive ability, such as those found on intelligence tests.

The study also identified regional differences with intelligence. For example, 84 percent of gray-matter regions and 86 percent of white-matter regions involved with intellectual performance in women were found in the brain's frontal lobes, compared to 45 percent and zero percent for males, respectively. The gray matter driving male intellectual performance is distributed throughout more of the brain.

According to the researchers, this more centralized intelligence processing in women is consistent with clinical findings that frontal brain injuries can be more detrimental to cognitive performance in women than men. Studies such as these, Haier and Jung add, someday may help lead to earlier diagnoses of brain disorders in males and females, as well as more effective and precise treatment protocols to address damage to particular regions in the brain.

For this study, UCI and UNM combined their respective neuroimaging technology and subject pools to study brain morphology with magnetic resonance imaging. MRI scanning and cognitive testing involved subjects at UCI and UNM. Using a technique called voxel-based morphometry, Haier and his UCI colleagues converted these MRI pictures into structural brain "maps" that correlated brain tissue volume with IQ.

Dr. Michael T. Alkire and Kevin Head of UCI and Ronald A. Yeo of UNM participated in the study, which was supported in part by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

About the University of California, Irvine: The University of California, Irvine is a top-ranked public university dedicated to research, scholarship and community service. Founded in 1965, UCI is among the fastest-growing University of California campuses, with more than 24,000 undergraduate and graduate students and about 1,400 faculty members. The second-largest employer in dynamic Orange County, UCI contributes an annual economic impact of $3 billion.


Reversing Alzheimer's Through Amyloid Treatment?

Some Alzheimer's damage may be reversible, scientists say

According to Dr. Sam Gandy, an Alzheimer's treatment consisting of reducing Amyloid formation shows promise.

By Tina Hesman
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

(KRT) - ST. LOUIS - Some symptoms of Alzheimer's disease may be reversible, suggests new research from Washington University.

In experiments with mice, a team of researchers led by Robert P. Brendza and Dr. David Holtzman found that removing some of the brain-damaging plaques associated with the disease reduced swelling in nerve fibers. The discovery is the first evidence that some types of nerve damage caused by the disease can be undone, researchers say.

The result is probably good news for Alzheimer's disease patients and their families. It may mean that new drugs and therapies to halt or reduce build-up of plaques could improve some disease symptoms.

About 4.5 million people in the United States have the debilitating memory-robbing disease, and the number is expected to grow as the population ages.

The results of the study will appear in the Journal of Clinical Investigation on February 5.

Neuroscientists have long thought that nerve damage, such as that caused by Alzheimer's and other diseases, was permanent, said Samuel Gandy, director of the Farber Institute for Neurosciences at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia.

"It was an assumption based on no good data, frankly," Gandy said.

The Washington University researchers wanted to see if removing toxic proteins from the brains of mice with an Alzheimer's-like disease could stop further damage, Brendza said.

"We didn't know it would even do that," he said.

He injected antibodies into the brains of mice with the disease. The antibodies attacked and removed about half the amount of a protein called beta-amyloid or A-beta from the mice's brains. That protein sticks together, forming fibers and plaques that damage the brains of people and animals with Alzheimer's disease.

Long fibers, called axons and dendrites, extend from the main parts of brain cells and form connections, called synapses, that allow neurons to communicate. When A-beta plaques form around the neurons, axons and dendrites get irritated and damaged. The damage is visible in the form of swollen bulbs, Brendza said.

Brendza thought that using the antibodies to clear away A-beta could stop more bumps from forming on the nerves. But within three days of injecting the antibodies, the number of swollen areas went down and some of the remaining bulbs deflated. In other words, the nerves got better.

Over the course of a week about 25 percent of the swellings went away or shrunk in volume, Holtzman said.

"I didn't think it was going to be a reversible change," he said.

The recovery was not complete, but some additional improvement might happen over time, said John Hardy, chief of the Laboratory of Neurogenetics at the National Institutes of Health's National Institute on Aging.

"I think it's an important observation that the disease is at least partially reversible," Hardy said.

No one knows whether antibody therapy could help people with Alzheimer's disease. Clinical trials of antibodies against beta-amyloid were halted when some people developed serious side effects. But scientists are now testing a variety of drugs aimed at stopping plaque formation or breaking them up, Gandy said.

"This validates all the other anti-amyloid approaches that are going on right now," he said.


Moderate Alcohol Consumption May Reduce Chances of Memory Decline

The operative word here is moderate. More later :-)

We're back...Drink a day helps alertness: study

January 21, 2005

OLDER woman might toast, "Here's to your mental health", after a study shows a drink a day can keep them alert.

"Low levels of alcohol appear to have cognitive benefits," said Francine Grodstein, a doctor at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, who led the research.

The New England Journal of Medicine published a 10-year study of 12,480 women, aged 70 to 81.

Women who had a daily glass of wine, beer or spirits over at least four years showed a 20-per-cent reduced risk of severe decline in their mental faculties as they aged, according to the study, which said boosted blood flow to the brain appeared to be an important factor in the results.

"Women who consistently were drinking about one-half to one drink per day had both less cognitive impairment as well as less decline in their cognitive function compared to women who didn't drink at all," Dr Grodstein said.

Mental agility and memory performance in women who drank moderately was that of someone a year and a half younger, compared with their counterparts who did not drink, the study says.


How about a Milk Bone?

Can an old dog learn new tricks? The researchers find out that YES they can. What is the implication for people? Coming soon.... disclaimer: no animals were disturbed, insulted or bothered in any way in the making of this lead-in post...story at 11, so stay tuned, and no, we won't be featuring any sock puppets either.

Here is the story...(MSNBC)

Old dogs can learn new tricks - with help

Exercise, diet helps keep elderly canines spry, study finds

Updated: 6:07 p.m. ET Jan. 18, 2005 WASHINGTON - Exercise and a diet fortified with vitamins, fruits and vegetables helped older dogs learn new tricks and kept them spry in an experiment that scientists said could teach humans a thing or two.

Beagles given either the fortified diet, regular exercise or both did much better in learning new tricks than dogs fed regular chow and allowed to lie around more, the researchers reported on Tuesday.

Dogs are similar to humans in their dietary needs and the way they digest food, so the findings have implication for people, said Molly Wagster of the National Institute on Aging, which funded the study.

Dogs also can develop memory and learning problems as they age in much the same way people do.

Lessons for humans

"This research brings a note of optimism that there are things that we can do that may significantly improve our cognitive health," Wagster said in a statement.

"The combination of an antioxidant diet and lots of cognitive stimulation - which was almost the equivalent of going to school every day - really did improve brain function in these animals," added Elizabeth Head of the University of California at Irvine, who worked on the study.

"We're excited about these findings because the interventions themselves are relatively simple and might be easily translated into clinical practice for people."

It's official: Eat less, get more exercise

For the study, Head, William Milgram of the University of Toronto in Canada and colleagues studied 48 older beagles over two years.

Writing in the ">journal Neurobiology of Aging, they said they divided the dogs into four groups that got either standard care; a diet supplemented with tomatoes, carrot granules, citrus pulp, spinach flakes and supplements; standard care plus extra exercise and play; or the special diet and the special play and exercise regime.

A second set of 17 dogs aged 1 to 3 got either a standard or fortified diet.

Tests included having to find a hidden treat. The older dogs clearly benefited from the special diet and the special exercise program, the researchers said.

All 12 of the older beagles that got a supplemented diet and exercise could solve a difficult problem, compared to eight of 10 dogs that got the enriched diet alone and two of eight dogs that got no special treatment.

Last week the U.S. government issued new guidelines that encouraged Americans to eat more fruits and vegetables and to exercise for at least an hour a day to improve their health.

Copyright 2005 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.


Advisory Board meeting

As I posted at Omidyar.net (an interesting site I just was turned on to) the Cognitive Labs advisory board meeting where we generally discuss the state of Cognitive science and cognitive testing as well as nutritional science and other issues of the day is today at Starbuck's, Redwood City, CA on El Camino Real (near Safeway) at 7:30 PM. Redwood City, in fact was judged "climate best by government test," approximating in fact, the climate of Mauretania most closely. Mauretania is a Mediterranean-climate coastal area of North Africa, formerly a bread basket of the Roman Empire.

I saved the picture above some time ago, so I suppose now is an opportune time to use. We will even fire up a laptop wirelessly via T-mobile and get our MemCheck workout for the day. For our customers from North Pole, Alaska to Key West, thanks for joining with us! If you can't be with us in person, you'll certainly be with us in spirit, already a hundred more people have joined us today.

What picture was that?

The image of a cafe on a rainy day, a common sight in California recently

As many researcers have suggested, iconic memory, remembering images, plays a role in detecting early stage memory loss. Remembrance of repeated patterns also has been associated with detecting MCI, known as mild cognitive impairment. For example, Wes Ashford of the Stanford/VA Alzheimer's Center has an interesting series of these "iconic" images, which we'll be posting, along with other top tests from known experts. The imagery is reminiscent of Ezra Pound:

so much depends


a red wheel


glazed with rain


beside the white


BEIJING, Jan. 18 -- Older people with mild cognitive impairment may have poor "iconic" memory, a subtle memory problem that could be taken as early sign of Alzheimer's disease risk, researchers said on Monday.

Iconic memory refers to the visual image a person holds onto after briefly looking at an object. It is fleeting in nature, regardless of a person's age.

To cite an example, if someone walked into a room, quickly scanned it, then turned off the lights and tried to recall the objects in the room, that would draw upon iconic memory, explained lead study author Dr. Zhong-Lin Lu, a professor of psychology at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

In their study, Lu and his colleagues found that elderly men and women with mild cognitive impairment performed more poorly on a test of iconic memory than either young adults or older men and women with no signs of mental decline.

The findings are published in the advance online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Mild cognitive impairment -- which involves the type of "benign" forgetfulness in which a person frequently misplaces the car keys, for example -- is considered a risk factor for Alzheimer's disease.

Indeed, scientists estimate that about 80 percent of people with mild cognitive impairment develop Alzheimer's within 10 years, according to Lu.

Right now, mild cognitive impairment is diagnosed through standardized interviews rather than specific, sensitive tests, Reuters Health quoted Lu as saying.

If a decline in iconic memory is indeed an objective marker of mild impairment, Lu said, then testing for it may allow doctors to detect the earliest stages of Alzheimer's.

Finding new, objective and sensitive tests for early Alzheimer's is important, because current drug therapies designed to stabilize symptoms are most effective when started as early as possible, Lu said.


Let Your Heart Rule Your Head

Here is more evidence on the key of treating your heart well to maintain a high-degree of cognitive function....from the UK

CHOOSING dried fruit instead of biscuits in the supermarket or walking briskly uphill to the shops, unofficially racing other pedestrians: we know these things are good for our heart. Yet what many people do not realise is that those same actions could help to protect against dementia. Research increasingly points to good diet and exercise as being a way of both treating dementia and preventing it in the first place.

A recent report suggests that making sure your heart stays healthy is one of the best ways of looking after the brain and slowing the process of memory loss, confusion and cognitive problems which affect more than 750,000 sufferers in the UK.

The comprehensive review of studies on mixed dementia, vascular dementia and Alzheimer's Disease, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, goes so far as to suggest that controlling blood pressure and cholesterol might be a more effective treatment than medication and may even prevent some forms of dementia.

One study reviewed by the researchers at the University of Michigan showed that the incidence of dementia in a group of patients with high blood pressure reduced by half when they were treated over four years with a drug designed to reduce hypertension.

Other evidence has emerged suggesting that reducing cholesterol may help brain function, after researchers noticed that people with high cholesterol in middle age are more likely to develop mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer's disease.

Kenneth Langa, who led the team of researchers at the University of Michigan Health System, says: "Having risk factors like high blood pressure and high cholesterol does damage to small blood vessels in the brain and can cause death of brain cells over time."

Developing dementia is a potential aspect of growing old that is widely feared. Depictions of it in films books and TV programs have helped to raise awareness, yet confusion persists about what causes it and what can be done to treat it.

Relatives of those with dementia often believe they are more likely to develop the condition themselves, and those with the disease often worry their children and grandchildren will inherit it.

But in almost no case is it caused by an inherited fault. Having close relatives with dementia is not evidence of a family link, says Jim Jackson, chief executive of Alzheimer's Scotland. "Some people still do perceive it as being a genetic illness, but it is only a very small proportion of cases. In nearly all cases where it is genetic, the dementia starts when the person is under the age of 65."

Vascular dementia occurs if there is a blockage in the vascular system, preventing oxygen from reaching the brain and causing brain cells to die. Several factors - such as age, genetic background and lifestyle - work together and lead to the onset of Alzheimer's disease, the most common form of dementia. Mixed dementia - a combination of Alzheimer's disease and vascular dementia, common in the elderly - is partly triggered by poor blood flow in the brain.

Some types of vascular disease are hereditary, but in the main it is people with high blood pressure, a high level of fats in their blood or diabetics who are at an increased risk of developing vascular disease.

Jackson says the significance of the review is that it goes further than the claims of other leading researchers, who have said that the prevalence of vascular dementia can be reduced through measures such as taking exercise, not smoking and having a healthy diet. The new research makes similar claims for people with mixed dementia.

He adds, however, that further research on the benefit of treatments for Alzheimer's sufferers is vital. When the researchers assessed the evidence relating to drugs that reduce cholesterol or thin the blood, they discovered that prospective studies on cholesterol drugs called statins have not shown a specific effect on dementia.

It is still uncertain whether complementary therapies, such as treatments involving vitamin E and ginkgo biloba, could help slow down the onset of dementia.

Evidence for the benefits of taking ginkgo biloba is encouraging as it appears to have some effect on mental function, but few side effects. One review of studies says that a diet rich in vitamins, minerals and other micronutrients may prevent cognitive decline.

Another hope is that aspirin therapy, which thins the blood and reduces clotting, thereby


Dementia is the loss of cognitive function caused by changes to the brain, brought about by disease or trauma. Cognitive functions that may be affected include decision making, judgment , memory, spatial orientation, reasoning, verbal communication and changes in behaviour and personality.

Some dementia is reversible and can be partially or completely cured if the underlying cause is treated very quickly. Irreversible dementia is caused by an incurable condition such as Alzheimer's.

The greatest risk factor for dementia is aging. Other factors include untreated infectious disease, substance abuse, brain tumours, cardiovascular disease, head injuries, kidney failure, liver disease, thyroid disease and vitamin deficiencies (B12, folic acid).

There is no failsafe way to prevent dementia, but a healthy lifestyle and diet can reduce your risk. Smoking and high fat intake can cause heart or blood vessel disease, which stops oxygen reaching the brain properly and can lead to vascular dementia.


The House on Beartown Road

Coping with Alzheimer's

A father's Alzheimer's brought sadness, humour
author - Jamie Komarnicki The StarPhoenix

January 15, 2005

A snowstorm was blowing outside Elizabeth Cohen's Binghamton, N.Y., farmhouse, there was no electricity or heat, and the phone was out. And her father, suffering from middle stage Alzheimer's disease, was lost.

"That was my hardest moment. I couldn't leave my baby alone inside the house and go out and find him," said the author, "I just felt trapped."

To her relief, eventually her father came back to the house, but that was only one of the episodes Cohen faced when in 1999, she found herself a single mother caring for a new baby and an elderly father suffering from Alzheimer's disease.

The diary she kept of that period in her life became the pages of her memoir, The House on Beartown Road.

"The theme of the book is about learning and forgetting," Cohen said in an interview Friday before she spoke at an Alzheimer Society of Saskatchewan luncheon. "My baby and my dad grew increasingly similar. She was learning how to walk and talk and eat and do all the things you do in life, and he was simultaneously forgetting all the same things."

And Cohen found herself caught in the middle of this convergence of minds. The same day she taught her daughter Ava to say her name, she had to remind her father his name.

Cohen said she was heartbroken to witness the changes in her father, once a professor and a writer.

"He didn't have any idea who I was, and he was my dad," she said. But as she recorded her daily struggles and triumphs, the author said she also found humour through the sadness, and discovered the beauty in her experience.

"I think it's a story of survival, through weather, through emotional distress, through disease, just getting through things," she said of the book, "I think people should feel empowered by it, that they can do the things they need to do."

The book is a message for other families affected by Alzheimer's disease that things will be OK, said Cohen, "It just helps people with Alzheimer's disease in their family, that's the bottom line, because they can laugh, they can cry, they can see me fall apart, and they can feel a little bit less alone."

January is Alzheimer awareness month across Canada. The local association will hold a Forget-Me-Not Walk in Saskatoon on Jan. 30 to raise funds for its programs and services.

Alzheimer's disease, the most common form of dementia, is a degenerative disease that destroys vital brain cells, causing memory problems, changes in judgment and difficulty with even the most familiar of tasks.

There is no known cause or cure, but recent advancements include earlier diagnosis and treatments to ease symptoms and improve quality of life.


Astronauts on the International Space Station use computerized cognitive testing..like MemCheck

I got this from NASA daily space ops reports syndicated by SpaceRef.com...
"All ISS systems continue to function nominally, except those noted previously or below. Salizhan Sharipov today completes 100 days in orbit on this mission. Prior to Expedition 10, he logged 8 days, 19 hours and 47 seconds in space in 1998 (1/22-31) aboard "Endeavour" with the crew of STS-89, an astronaut rotation mission to Mir. With today's milestone, the Kirghizian Flight Engineer joins the elite ranks of wizened old "space centurions". Congratulations and continued success, Salizhan!

Still working on preparing onboard systems for the new Russian "Rockviss" payload, FE Sharipov connected the Service Module (SM) onboard computer system (OVS) with a new power switching unit (BSKZ5-32) of the Russian segment's (RS) onboard equipment control system (SUBA).

Also for Rockviss, Salizhan Sharipov temporarily deactivated the Elektron O2 generator, then connected the Rockviss hardware telemetry (TLM) connector to the BITS2-12 onboard telemetry system, supported by ground tagup via S-band.

Chiao signed in and performed his fourth session with the psychological MedOps WinSCAT experiment (Spaceflight Cognitive Assessment Tool) on the MEC. [This is a time-constrained questionnaire test of cognitive abilities, routinely performed by astronauts aboard the ISS every 30 days before or after the PHS (periodic health status) test or on special CDR's, crewmembers or flight surgeons request."


Atkins and South Beach Diet may slow down Alzheimer's Causal Factor

One of the dishes of the South Beach Diet (c) 2005 Waterfront Media

The Atkins and the South Beach Diets, both advocating reduced carbohydrates in the diet, such as less bread, pasta, and potatoes in favor of high protein foods such as fish (wild,not farmed)and lean meats, may slow Amyloid formation. From a practical perspective, you might want to combine this finding with our earler warning against trans fats in the diet...

Researchers found that a low carbohydrate diet that reduced total caloric intake by 30% prevented the development of a fundamental feature of Alzheimer's disease (AD) in mice genetically engineered to develop the disease. The diet eliminated amyloid plaque development, which is the underlying pathology in AD. The study, published in the February issue of The FASEB Journal Express, is the first to demonstrate that a change in diet can slow and possibly prevent Alzheimer's diseases.

"While it is far too early for us to make specific recommendations for human diets," said Giulio Maria Pasinetti, MD, PhD, Professor of Psychiatry, Neurosciences and Geriatrics and Adult Development at Mount Sinai School of Medicine and primary investigator on the study, "these findings provide the first solid evidence that dietary changes may provide a new approach to treatment and prevention of this devastating disease."

Dr. Pasinetti and his colleagues found that mice did not develop the physiological markers of the disease when they were fed a reduced carbohydrate diet that provided 70% of the calories eaten by similar mice who were allowed to eat ad-libitum. The strain of mice used in the study was genetically engineered to produce what are known as amyloidogenic â-amyloid peptides in the brain, resulting in formation of amyloid plaques which are known to be the fundamental problem in Alzheimer' disease. Of the mice fed ad-libitum, 100% developed these plaques. No plaque development was detected in the mice fed a carbohydrate and calorie restricted diet.

The diet regimen was begun when the mice were 3-months old, which is considered young adult and is prior to the age at when this Alzheimer's disease mouse model begins to develop plaques in the brain. The presence of plaques was evaluated at 12 months of age, which is an age at which plaques are known to be well developed in this strain.

The investigators found that anti-amyloidogenic activities were increased in mice fed the restricted diet. In other words, the calorie restricted diet activated pathways that break down amyloidogenic a-amyloid peptides in the brain before they form the plaques characteristic of AD.

"Since the diet only reduced calories by 30%, (based on carbohydrate) the mice developed normally," said Dr. Pasinetti. "While they did not gain weight like the mice in the control group, they did not loose weight either and remained within the boundaries considered a healthy weight. Nonetheless, this rather mild change in diet resulted in a remarkable measure of disease prevention. There is epidemiological evidence that humans who consume reduced calorie diets have a lower incidence of AD. Our investigation provides a possible rational for this observation and possible mechanisms through which caloric reduction may provide protection in Alzheimer's disease."

Ongoing studies are investigating whether or not the prevention of plaque development in these mice also prevents behavioral decline and clinical studies are currently being designed at Mount Sinai School of Medicine to explore the applicability of this experimental evidence in Alzheimer's disease cases.


Electric Current Enhances Verbal Ability?

Dr. Wes Ashford, who is involved with the Stanford-VA Alzheimer's Center and an accomplished researcher and an advisory board member of Cognitive Labs, and I have discussed, only half-seriously, an Alzheimer's helmet that could protect at risk people from head injuries which can be associated with the onset of cognitive impairment...

Well now, Slate in I Sing The Body Electric, talks over brain stimulation via electric currents. It seems that there is something to it...

In an experiment that sounds just slightly like science fiction, researchers at the National Institutes of Health found that by running a small electrical current through the front of the brain, they could markedly improve a person's verbal agility. Specifically, researchers could increase the number of words beginning with a certain letter that their subjects could list in 90 seconds. I've posted the link above if you would like to review it...


MemCheck Audio Tour - MP3

If you are so inclined you can hear my introduction to MemCheck by clicking on the image above...and decide to purchase if you have not done so yet. Soon, you may be hearing similar stories on AM|FM and satellite radio and even seeing the accompanying video on television.
The growth is thanks to you and your support. Once again, a hearty "thanks." It's gratifying to reach more and more people every day with such an important service. When you think of all the things that are bought and sold everyday with little thought...why sell sugar water when you can change the world?


Curry, Curcumin and Alzheimer's

The health benefits of some spices are still being discovered

Curry ingredient reduces inflammation, is a powerful antioxidant...

A key ingredient in curries could be an important weapon in the treatment and prevention of Alzheimer's disease.

Scientists have found that curcumin stops the accumulation of destructive beta amyloids that build up in the brains of sufferers.

Curcumin is the part of turmeric that gives it its distinctive yellow colour. Turmeric has been used in Asian cookery for thousands of years and is one of the cheaper spices.

Ground from the root of a plant of the ginger family, it is found wild in the Himalayas and is grown across south Asia.

Although a regular in spicy dishes such as chicken tikka masala and rogan josh, turmeric powder itself has a subtle, almost bland, taste.

Turmeric has already been found to slow prostate cancer and can be bought in capsules.

It could eventually be used as a drug or supplement to prevent people developing Alzheimer's in much the same way as statins are used to prevent heart attacks.

Doctors agree that amyloid plaques (abnormal build-ups of a protein fragment known as beta amyloids) are responsible for memory loss in Alzheimer's.

The latest study, at the University of California, Los Angeles, used mice.

The results, published in the Journal Of Biological Chemistry, suggest that curcumin would not only prevent the build-up of plaques in patients with the degenerative brain disease, but would block the plaques developing in the first place.

Scientists found that a chemical in the yellow pigment of the spice was responsible for prevention and dispersal of beta amyloid.

The team has started human trials that could eventually lead to the development of a drug.

Doctors believe the low levels of Alzheimer's in India and other curry-eating countries could be due to the effects of curcumin.

The UCLA study found curcumin crossed the blood-brain barrier to eliminate amyloid plaques. It also reduced the build-up of beta amyloid by up to 21 per cent.

In earlier studies, the same research team found curcumin was a powerful antioxidant and has anti-inflammatory properties, which scientists believe help ease the symptoms of Alzheimer's.

Symptoms include inflammation of brain tissue and damage to cells caused by a process called oxidisation, a release of harmful chemicals that can cause cancer and heart disease.

"Curcumin has been used for thousands of years as a safe anti-inflammatory in Indian traditional medicine," said chief investigator Gregory Cole, a professor of medicine and neurology at UCLA.

"The prospect of finding a safe and effective new approach to both the prevention and treatment of Alzheimer's is tremendously exciting


Slate on MemCheck

The online magazine Slate wrote an interesting and useful piece on Cognitive Labs' MemCheck on Wednesday. The writer of the Story, Slate's Sue Halpern, apparently was able to see some difference in cognitive performance after using MemCheck for a few months, and interestingly, she used it as a kind of meter to measure whether additional treatments were either effective or not.

Ms. Halpern is a writer and the author of The Book of Hard Things, Four Wings and a Prayer, about the amazing journeys of Monarch Butterflies, Migrations to Solitude, and the forthcoming Introducing Sasha Abramowitz (2005), as well as a frequent contributor to the New York Review of Books.

It would be interesting to hear if any readers have a similar experience to report; or for example, if you can enhance cognitive results with a long and peaceful hike; lately for example, we have been taking a stroll on the Alambique trail which starts in Woodside, CA above Redwood City and traverses back and forth up the sides of a deep, shadowed ravine towered, like sentinels, by stands of 350 foot tall coast redwoods that often bear the scars of infrequent lighting strikes that result in a fairy-ring of baby redwoods. It is a landscape every bit as magnificent as the fastness of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings. All of this serenity just a few miles off a busy SF peninsula suburb. After returning from a five-mile walk, I know I feel more focused and alert.


Wired Re-visits Private SpaceFlight

Yes, private spaceflight is taking off, thanks to the beneficent largesse of people like Paul Allen. Wired (January, 2005) plugs into the topic and dives into some of the issues I raised here in October 2004 when ebullient British billionaire and international man of action Richard Branson and his dynamos pitched Virgin Galactic to the world by regaling us with the fact that the whole venture was "oversubcribed."

Actually, it is important if you are pondering participating (come up with $200,000 first, just sell your house or if you live in the Bay Area or the sunnier, palmier part of California just get a small loan out against your inflated home value, you know: termite infested shack, overgrown postage-stamp yard, original "classic" shag rug, price: $1.2 million) to improve and maintain your cognitive performance and reaction, similar to what pilots and astronauts undergo.

Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer true..."

I know in my case when considering the decline of manned space flight, it is disappointing to look back at the last Apollo mission and barely remember it, and recall the Space Shuttle as a new project they talked about in kindergarten. Somewhere, like Keir Dullea in 2001: A Space Odyssey and his jogging across the widescreen we came off the track, even with with the successes of the Mars Rover program. As it stands now, the artificial brains still must relay information to the human brains who interpret the findings otherwise it is merely data with no context..

USAA visits

USAA insurance visited cognitivelabs today. Not too many companies pay dividends to policy holders if they have been 'too profitable.'

But USAA, established to provide the insurance needs of members of the armed forces and then their dependents and their families, did just that.

A couple of weeks ago they sent out a check representing a dividend on our auto policy.

That kind of customer commitment deserves applause.


Save the Heart, Help the Mind

Can the same actions that help prevent a heart attack or stroke also prevent or slow the memory loss, confusion and thinking problems of dementia? A new study suggests that for many people, primarily senior citizens, the answer could be yes.

And for some, the impact of steps like controlling blood pressure and cholesterol might be greater than the effect of high-priced memory-preserving drugs.

Doctors now think that many people with symptoms attributed solely to Alzheimer's - memory loss, confusion, wandering, trouble following instructions - may in fact have mixed dementia.

Mixed dementia is a combination of Alzheimer's disease and vascular dementia, caused in part by problems with blood flow in the brain. It may affect as many as 20 percent of the 6.8 million Americans with dementia. It is particularly common in older patients, who often have memory problems due to several conditions at once.

In the December 15 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers from the University of Michigan Health System, the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System and the Group Health Cooperative Center for Health Studies in Seattle present a comprehensive review of what's known - and what's not - about a condition called mixed dementia.

"Having risk factors like high blood pressure and high cholesterol does damage to small blood vessels in the brain and can cause death of brain cells over time," says lead author Kenneth Langa, M.D., Ph.D. "In addition, the Alzheimer's disease process itself can affect the walls of blood vessels in the brain, making strokes more likely. Strokes can cause dementia through the death of large areas of brain tissue, or through the build-up of damage from multiple small strokes cased by athero-sclerosis in small arteries in the brain or the larger carotid arteries in the neck."

In other words, processes that hurt the cardiovascular system also hurt the brain, and inflict a further toll on those with Alzheimer's disease.

For the new paper, the researchers reviewed all recent medical studies on mixed dementia, vascular dementia and Alzheimer's. They analyzed hundreds of articles, noting any results from drug studies that were relevant to mixed dementia.

The review shows that drugs designed to slow the progression of Alzheimer's disease have about the same effect in people with mixed dementia as in people with Alzheimer's alone. That is, in some people they cause a measurable but not dramatic improvement on tests of cognitive function or other measures, or slightly slow an inevitable decline. The authors looked at drugs like galantamine (Reminyl), rivastigmine (Exelon), donepezil (Aricept) and memantine (Namenda).

But when the authors reviewed the evidence relating to heart-protecting therapy and dementia, they found significant benefits. They conclude that efforts to treat cardiovascular risk factors, especially high blood pressure, may be more effective than memory drugs in protecting brain function.

Still, the authors note that more studies are needed to give doctors a full picture of mixed dementia, and to show them what works, and what doesn't, in preventing and slowing it.

"Until those studies are completed, physicians should talk with each patient or family individually about the treatment route to pursue," says Langa. That discussion, in all patients with dementia that might have a cardiovascular component, should include advice about lifestyle changes and treatments to address risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and physical inactivity. In patients with heart rhythm problems, blocked neck arteries or clotting disorders that can greatly increase the risk of stroke, further treatment may be needed.

If a decision is made to prescribe one of the new Alzheimer's drugs, the authors recommend that doctors follow up with patients or their families in two to three months, to see if there has been any improvement in memory or behavior, or whether the patient's cognitive decline has slowed. A discussion of costs and benefits, because of the high monthly cost of the drugs, is also advised.

Langa says that the review's findings have changed the way he handles his patients with dementia and cardiovascular risk factors, in the primary care clinic of the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System. He is also an assistant professor of general medicine at the U-M Medical School, a research investigator at the Ann Arbor VA, and a faculty associate at the U-M Institute for Social Research.

The new review focuses on findings from randomized controlled drug trials, and observational studies based on trends among specific populations. Taken together, the analysis suggests that the cardiovascular system may have a lot more to do with mental function than many people realize. Paying attention to cardiovascular risk factors could prevent some dementia and decrease the added burden of strokes in those with Alzheimer's disease.

For example, one study that the authors reviewed showed a 50 percent reduction in the incidence of dementia in a group of patients with high blood pressure who were treated over four years with a calcium-channel blocking blood pressure drug. And patients who received the blood pressure drug had a lower chance of developing Alzheimer's disease, vascular dementia or mixed dementia.

This corresponds with observational data showing that people with high blood pressure are more likely to develop cognitive impairment, a mild form of dementia that often acts as a warning sign for later dementia. And other observational studies have suggested that treatment for high blood pressure can protect against cognitive decline.

The authors also looked at evidence relating to drugs that reduce cholesterol or thin the blood. To date, they find, prospective studies on cholesterol drugs called statins haven't shown a specific effect on dementia, but follow-up periods in such studies have been short.

There's other evidence that reducing cholesterol may help brain function, though. Some, but not all, observational studies have shown that people with high cholesterol in middle age are more likely to develop mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer's disease. And since statins decrease risk of stroke, they can also decrease the risk of harm to thinking ability that often comes with stroke.

A recent study led by the new paper's senior author, Eric Larson, M.D., MPH, of the Group Health Cooperative, notes that people who have a certain genetic characteristic that puts them at higher risk for both heart disease and dementia may get more cognitive benefit than others from statin therapy. In an observational study, his team found that people with a specific genetic variation that alters production of a protein called APOE received more cognitive benefit from statins than others.

Aspirin therapy to thin the blood and reduce clotting, is another widespread heart-protecting measure. The authors found several studies that attempted to assess the effect of aspirin on vascular dementia. While an observational study in Sweden showed an association between aspirin use and a decreased risk of dementia, there are no data yet available from randomized controlled trials (the gold standard of clinical research) that included aspirin for vascular dementia.

Also uncertain, the authors found, was evidence on the effect of complementary therapies vitamin E and ginkgo biloba, both often touted as helping memory. More studies will be needed to assess if these compounds have any effect on mixed dementia.

In all, says Langa, evidence is building that mixed dementia can be prevented or slowed by addressing both factors that cause it: the Alzheimer's disease process and the acute or chronic reduction of blood flow to the brain.

The two are intertwined, he says, noting animal research data showing that amyloid protein, the chief sign of Alzheimer's disease, can infiltrate the walls of brain blood vessels and increase the risk of small bleeding strokes. And other evidence suggests that an under-supply of blood to the brain can stress brain cells and perhaps jump-start the Alzheimer's disease process. Chronically high blood pressure also impacts the brain's auto-regulation system for its own blood supply.

"Mixed dementia will continue to grow in importance as our society ages and deals with the cardiovascular effects of our current obesity and diabetes epidemics," he says. “We need to help those who have it now, and gather the data that will help us take steps to prevent it in the future."

In addition to Langa and Larson, the study was co-authored by Norman Foster, M.D., a professor of neurology at U-M who directs the Cognitive Disorders Clinic and is helping to lead a new national study that aims to find more biomarkers, in addition to APOE, that might affect dementia risk and treatment response. Langa, meanwhile, hopes to use ISR data to look at the relationship between cardiovascular risk and dementia in an ongoing national study of older Americans.

The study was funded by the National Institute on Aging, the Alzheimer's Association, the Hartford Foundation and the Paul Beeson Physician Faculty Scholar program.


Sleep Important for Your Memory and Cognitive Health

Doesn't this look relaxing?"

Rest and relaxation, coupled with exercise, help to rejuvenate your mind. Don't short change yourself on sleep. Just try your Memcheck exercises while very tired...this will tell you need your rest.

Sleepy Nation: As millions suffer sleep debt, experts say it's time to pay up
By STEVE EDWARDS - Anchorage Daily News

"Blessings on him who first invented sleep. It covers a man all over, thoughts and all, like a cloak. "It is meat for the hungry, drink for the thirsty, heat for the cold and cold for the hot. It makes the shepherd equal to the monarch, and the fool to the wise."
- 'Don Quixote' by Saavedra M. de Cervantes

Those were the words of Sancho Panza as he traveled with Don Quixote. Today it appears many curse sleep instead of bless it. Millions of people worldwide fail to get the nightly sleep they need. If the body demands eight hours of sleep, people give it seven or six or five.

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine says there are at least 84 sleep disorders. More than 100 million Americans fail to get a good night's sleep; some studies indicate that 35 percent of the world's population suffers from insomnia.

Sleep isn't a luxury, but many people see it that way. "Sleep is very, very important," said Dr. Anne Morris of Providence Alaska Medical Center's Sleep Disorders Center. "The quality of sleep can determine the safety and the quality of our waking lives."

While many people may recall their parents' or grandparents' admonition of "Early to bed, early to rise," few really understand sleep.

And that includes the medical community. "No one really knows why we sleep or why different species require different amounts of sleep," said Dr. Norman Wilder, vice president of medical affairs for Alaska Regional Hospital and a sleep expert. "Why can't you just sit in your recliner chair and relax? No one knows.

"What is it about the brain that it shuts off and puts the body to sleep? We don't have answers, but we do know that it must happen."

While scientists and doctors continue researching sleep, they understand its value. Throughout a night of sleep, the body goes through a variety of stages in cycles that last from 90 to 120 minutes. Those stages include light sleep, deep sleep and REM, or rapid-eye movement, sleep. Generally, intense dreaming occurs during REM sleep due to increased cerebral activity.

"There is a rhythmic shifting, from lighter stages to deeper stages, all night long," said Jerry Trodden, clinical manager of Providence's Sleep Disorders Center. "The body, mind and intellect all need restoration."

Sleep provides the body the time it needs to rest and repair, Morris said. During deep sleep, also called delta sleep, the body produces growth hormones, she said. While that's obviously critical for children, she said adults can't cut short their deep sleep.

The body's immune system is working at its maximum capacity, "checking for anything that might go amiss," she said. It's also the time tissues undergo repair and blood pressure and heart rate are lower, allowing the circulatory system to rest.

Many researchers say the brain processes information during sleep, especially during REM stages. Some say short-term memory is converted to long-term memory during this stage.

"Our brain is more active during dream-sleep cycles than it is while we are awake," Morris said. "It has a 40 percent higher blood flow."


So the body and mind are busy during sleep. In addition to feeling refreshed after a good night's sleep, the body is healthier.

So what happens if we rob ourselves of needed sleep? Wilder cites a clinical study done with rats as an example. He said scientists purposefully kept rats from sleep. After a short amount of sleep deprivation, the rats died.

"There is no reason to believe that extreme sleep deprivation wouldn't have extreme adverse affects on (people)," he said. “If we were physically kept from sleep, we would probably die."

While few are likely to fall over and die like rats, sleep experts say vehicle and occupational accidents are frequently due to sleep deprivation. The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration cites drowsiness as a factor in 100,000 police-reported crashes annually, involving 76,000 injuries and 1,500 deaths.

"In the past, when someone was driving drunk, people made jokes about it," Morris said. "Now it's illegal and considered morally reprehensible. "Driving sleepy is equally reprehensible because it's equally preventable." She said when the brain is tired enough, it will automatically go into "microsleep" mode. It will simply shut down for a second or a few seconds. Most people notice it when the head drops down and then snaps back as the person wakes up.

There are other health concerns. Recent studies suggest that chronic sleep loss is a risk factor for diabetes. Morris said a study conducted in Chicago involved healthy young adults. They were cut to five hours of sleep nightly for a few weeks. The participants were subject to more colds, viral infections and were pushed into a higher risk of diabetes.

Additionally, with sleep loss there is frequently increased hunger and appetite. So, sleep loss could be connected with weight gain and obesity, another epidemic in the United States.

There are even larger societal concerns. Morris said disasters involving the Exxon Valdez, the Chernobyl nuclear facility, the Challenger space shuttle and the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant were all partially attributable to lack of sleep.


While there are dozens of sleep disorders, the most common is insomnia. Most people have suffered occasional insomnia, which is generally considered to be trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. It is often grouped into two categories, transient and persistent insomnia.

Transient insomnia lasts a few days to a month. It is frequently brought on by excitement or stress. Travel, especially across several time zones, can also bring on transient insomnia.

Chronic or persistent insomnia can be caused by a number of factors. Those include lifestyle, psychological factors, environmental factors and physical and psychiatric illness.

Another common cause of sleeplessness is snoring. While the non-snorer may be kept awake by the noise, the snorer may be suffering from obstructive sleep apnea. People with OSA suffer brief periods of asphyxia during sleep, followed by periods of hyperventilation.

"The patients we see the most have interrupted breathing during sleep," Trodden said. "Mild snoring is just positional; obstructive sleep apnea is different. It causes pauses in breathing, then the person wakes up. The person doesn't spend much time in restorative sleep.

"That's something that needs to be corrected and can be corrected."


Quite simply, get enough sleep. "We have to budget more time for sleep," Trodden said. "A lot of people regard it as a waste of time. The body and mind must restore themselves if we are to go forward in a healthy way.

"It is a necessary part of life." Of course, it's not always easy. At times, it's even difficult to pinpoint how much sleep is the right amount of sleep. Wilder said study after study supports the idea of eight hours of sleep for adults. Children need more sleep than adults. Information from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine indicates that 85 percent of today’s teens are not getting enough sleep. In fact, 26 percent are getting six or fewer hours of sleep on school nights.

When people get only six to seven hours of sleep a night, they begin accumulating sleep debt. By the end of the workweek or school week, a person could have accumulated five to 10 hours or more of debt. That will usually result in sleeping in on weekend mornings.

"If you always need an alarm clock to wake up; if you can’t get started in the morning without a pot of coffee; if you sleep in on weekends; if you always nap a lot, that suggests you are carrying a lot of sleep debt," Morris said. "While we might be able to make it up spending the weekends sleeping, it would be better if we just went to bed earlier."

Following a program of sleep hygiene can help overcome sleep problems. Sleep hygiene refers to good lifestyle and dietary habits that encourage sleep. It includes following a consistent sleep-wake pattern; avoiding caffeine, nicotine and alcohol before bedtime; getting regular exercise; and using the bedroom only for sleep and sex.

Morris, who said the Providence clinic sees up to 250 patients a month, said there is good news about sleep disorders. "The great majority of sleep disorders are recognizable and highly treatable," she said. "People need to get seen and get a correct diagnosis."

Habits and behaviors that have a positive effect on sleep are classified as sleep hygiene. Suggestions include:

- WAY OF LIFE: Get regular exercise at the right time of day. Many doctors encourage daily exercise, but don't work out within four hours of bedtime.

- KEEP EXCITEMENT DOWN: Exciting movies, television or reading can have a stimulating effect. Before going to bed, it could be better to listen to soothing music, read something relaxing or take a warm bath.

- FOOD AND DRINK: Sometimes a light snack before bedtime can help, but do not eat a heavy meal. Also avoid alcohol, caffeine and nicotine before bedtime.

- IN THE BEDROOM: Minimize light, noise and temperature extremes in the bedroom. Use the bedroom only for sleep and sex; do not watch television, eat or study in bed.

- HINTS: If you are unable to fall asleep or stay asleep, leave your bedroom and engage in a quiet activity elsewhere. Return to the bedroom only when you are sleepy. Avoid clock watching; it can lead to frustration, which makes it more difficult to fall asleep. Maintain regular rise times and sleep times, even on days off and weekends.


LPGA Co-founder Nancy Berg diagnosed with Alzheimer's

Berg is remembered as one of the leading lady golfers during the 1950s and 1960s. She won 15 Majors and was a founder member of the LPGA in 1948.

Patty Berg, who helped start the LPGA Tour and won more major championships than any other woman, has disclosed that she has Alzheimer's disease. Berg, 86, recently wrote a poignant letter that the LPGA Tour released on its website. "As much as I wish it weren't so, I find myself in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease and, accordingly, am forced to curtail somewhat my participation in LPGA affairs," Berg wrote. "I'll still show up whenever I can, and if possible will attend functions to which I am asked to take part. I'll hold onto my LPGA membership, too, for as long as you'll have me."

Berg was one of 13 women who founded the LPGA Tour in 1950, and she remains one of its most celebrated golfers. She won most of her 60 titles after serving as a lieutenant in the Marine Corps during World War II, and she once played quarterback for the "50th Street Tigers," a sandlot team in Minneapolis that included Bud Wilkinson.

LPGA commissioner Ty Votaw said after had he learned of Berg's condition, his staff has been getting news out to players, sponsors and everyone else was to let them read the letter. "I'm certain you can appreciate how hard it is for a lifelong athlete, even one 86 years of age, to first face and then adapt to diminishing powers, both physical and mental," the letter said. "However, I have no other choice, and as a result ask your indulgence if at times I'm not exactly the Patty Berg you've known all these years."

Berg won 15 majors, including the 1946 U.S. Women's Open. She won the Titleholders Championship – then played at Augusta Country Club next to Augusta National – three straight years before turning professional in 1940.

"It was a fantastic letter, one that encapsulated everything classy, special and irrepressible about Patty Berg," Votaw said. "She is somebody who has accepted her lot in life in a lot of ways. Her physical capacities have been reduced for many years, but she still leads such an active life. I saw her at the Hall of Fame ceremony (in November), and she had a twinkle in her eye, as she always does. She has meant a lot to this organization."

Berg was voted Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year in 1938, 1943 and 1955. She is a member of the LPGA Hall of Fame; the tour established the Patty Berg Award in 1978 for outstanding contributions to women's golf. She also was inducted into the U.S. Marine Corps Sports Hall of Fame last year.

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