Bilingualism Helps Protect Against Cognitive Decline

New research explains how speaking more than one language may translate to better mental health. A paper published by Cell Press in the March 29th issue of the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences examines how being bilingual can offer protection from the symptoms of dementia, and also suggests that the increasing diversity in our world populations may have an unexpected positive impact on the resiliency of the adult brain.

"Previous studies have established that bilingualism has a beneficial effect on cognitive development in children," explains lead study author, Dr. Ellen Bialystok from York University. "In our paper, we reviewed recent studies using both behavioral and neuroimaging methods to examine the effects of bilingualism on cognition in adults."

Dr. Bialystok and colleagues discuss the intriguing finding that the need to monitor two languages in order to select the appropriate one recruits brain regions that are critical for general attention and cognitive control. Using these cognitive control networks for bilingual language processing may reconfigure and strengthen them, perhaps enhancing "mental flexibility", the ability to adapt to ongoing changes and process information efficiently.

Studies also suggest that bilingualism improves "cognitive reserve", the protective effect that stimulating mental or physical activity has on cognitive functioning in healthy aging. Cognitive reserve can also postpone the onset of symptoms in those suffering from dementia. This is supported by studies showing that bilinguals experience onset symptoms of dementia years later than monolinguals.

"Our conclusion is that lifelong experience in managing attention to two languages reorganizes specific brain networks, creating a more effective basis for executive control and sustaining better cognitive performance throughout the lifespan," says Dr. Bialystok. "It should not be surprising that intense and sustained experience leaves its mark on our minds and brains, and it is now clear that the bilingual brain has been uniquely shaped by experience."

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Mind Games Shown Effective With Seniors: New Study

Cognitive training including puzzles, handicrafts and life skills are known to reduce the risk, and help slow down the progress, of dementia amongst the elderly. A new study published in BioMed Central's open access journal BMC Medicine showed that cognitive training was able to improve reasoning, memory, language and hand eye co-ordination of healthy, older adults.

It is estimated that by 2050 the number of people over 65 years old will have increased to 1.1 billion worldwide, and that 37 million of these will suffer from dementia. Research has already shown that mental activity can reduce a person's risk of dementia but the effect of mental training on healthy people is less well understood. To address this researchers from China have investigated the use of cognitive training as a defence against mental decline for healthy older adults who live independently.

To be recruited onto the trial participants had to be between 65 and 75 years old, and have good enough eyesight, hearing, and communication skills, to be able to complete all parts of the training. The hour long training sessions occurred twice a week, for 12 weeks, and the subjects were provided with homework. Training included a multi-approach system tackling memory, reasoning, problem solving, map reading, handicrafts, health education and exercise, or focussing on reasoning only.

The effect of booster training, provided six months later, was also tested.
The results of the study were positive. Profs Chunbo Li and Wenyuan Wu who led the research explained, "Compared to the control group, who received no training, both levels of cognitive training improved mental ability, although the multifaceted training had more of a long term effect. The more detailed training also improved memory, even when measured a year later and booster training had an additional improvement on mental ability scores."

This study shows that cognitive training therapy may prevent mental decline amongst healthy older people and help them to continue independent living longer in their advancing years.

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Retina Evaluation May Offer Hope as Screening Tool for Cognitive Decline

A new study of older women suggests that an evaluation of the retina of your eyes could be a screening tool for potential cognitive decline. Mary Haan, DrPH and colleagues at the University of California San Francisco reported online in the journal Neurology that retinopathy may predict the risk of dementia.

"Problems with the tiny blood vessels in the eye may be a sign that there are also problems with the blood vessels in the brain that can lead to cognitive problems," Haan said in a statement quoted in MedPageToday. "This could be very useful if a simple eye screening could give us an early indication that people might be at risk of problems with their brain health and functioning."


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Cognitive Changes During Menopause Normal?

This is the topic of a new study with 75 participants:

The memory problems and “brain fog” that many women describe while going through menopause have been explained by scientists at the University of Rochester Medical Center and the University of Illinois at Chicago in a new study.

“The most important thing to realize is that there really are some cognitive changes that occur during this phase in a woman’s life,” said Miriam Weber, Ph.D., the neuropsychologist at the University of Rochester Medical Center who led the study.

“If a woman approaching menopause feels she is having memory problems, no one should brush it off or attribute it to a jam-packed schedule. She can find comfort in knowing that there are new research findings that support her experience. She can view her experience as normal.”

The study is one of only a few to fully investigate a woman’s brain function during menopause and to compare those findings to the woman’s own reports of memory or cognitive problems.

For the study, 75 women, between the ages of 40 and 60, completed a series of cognitive tests that tested several skills, including the ability to learn and retain new information, to mentally manipulate new information, and to sustain attention over time. They answered questions about depression, anxiety, hot flashes, and sleep difficulties, and their blood levels of the hormones estradiol and follicle-stimulating hormone were measured.

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REM Sleep Disorder Connected with Mild Cognitive Impairment

New Research findings relating to MCI from the Mayo Clinic:

ROCHESTER, Minn. — People with symptoms suggesting rapid eye movement sleep behavior disorder, or RBD, have twice the risk of developing mild cognitive impairment (MCI) or Parkinson's disease within four years of diagnosis with the sleep problem, compared with people without the disorder, a Mayo Clinic study has found. The researchers published their findings recently in the Annals of Neurology.

One of the hallmarks of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep is a state of paralysis. In contrast, people with rapid eye movement sleep behavior disorder, appear to act out their dreams when they are in REM sleep. Researchers used the Mayo Sleep Questionnaire to diagnose probable RBD in people who were otherwise neurologically normal. Approximately 34 percent of people diagnosed with probable RBD developed MCI or Parkinson's disease within four years of entering the study, a rate 2.2 times greater than those with normal rapid eye movement sleep.

"Understanding that certain patients are at greater risk for MCI or Parkinson's disease will allow for early intervention, which is vital in the case of such disorders that destroy brain cells. Although we are still searching for effective treatments, our best chance of success is to identify and treat these disorders early, before cell death," says co-author Brad Boeve, M.D., a Mayo Clinic neurologist.

The Full Release

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Artificial Intelligence and Brainpower of Children

Scientists tap the cognitive genius of tots to make computers smarter

UC Berkeley researchers look to baby brain power to boost artificial intelligence:

People often wonder if computers make children smarter. Scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, are asking the reverse question: Can children make computers smarter? And the answer appears to be 'yes.'

UC Berkeley researchers are tapping the cognitive smarts of babies, toddlers and preschoolers to program computers to think more like humans.

If replicated in machines, the computational models based on baby brainpower could give a major boost to artificial intelligence, which historically has had difficulty handling nuances and uncertainty, researchers said.

"Children are the greatest learning machines in the universe. Imagine if computers could learn as much and as quickly as they do," said Alison Gopnik a developmental psychologist at UC Berkeley and author of "The Scientist in the Crib" and "The Philosophical Baby."

Read More on the News Release at Eureka Alert

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Classic Game Comes to Cognitive Labs

Try this game which requires skill in sorting and placing shapes on a geometric plane.

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Mahjong Improves Cognitive Ability?

Four men, gathered around a dimly lit table full of tiles while smoking, betting money and drinking, is the typical image of mahjong.

But a new "healthy" variety--playing the game without these vices--has been increasing in popularity among the nation's elderly.

Experts say players utilize cognitive functions and build dexterity through the movement of their fingers, which could help prevent aging.

Each morning from Monday to Friday, men and women aged 60 or older gather to play mahjong in a room at a building in Shinagawa Ward, Tokyo.

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Exercising Your Way To Better Brain Health

In recent years, many studies have shown that regular exercise, in addition to computerized cognitive enhancement regimens, can enhance cognition.

The latest news on physical exercise:

Here is a no-brainer for you: as we get older or sicker, our cognitive functions gradually slow down. However, regular exercise helps prevent age- and disease-related brain deterioration.

This may not be a “hot-off-the-presses” piece of news, but since March 12 through 18 marks the Brain Awareness Week in the United States, it is a good time to think about ways to keep our brains sharp, alert, and healthy.

“Over the years, research has confirmed the link between physical activity and brain health,” says Sara Oliver, CPT, owner of Bay Area TX Adventure Boot Camp. “That’s one more compelling reason to get off the couch and start exercising.”

As evidenced by various studies, physical fitness benefits the brain not only by boosting our cognitive abilities - such as memory, understanding, learning and thinking skills - but also by helping to significantly reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

How does exercise enhance our brain health? In several ways, Oliver says.

“Brain can shrink and deteriorate if it loses cells - called neurons - but exercise improves the flow of blood to this organ, encouraging the formation of new brain cells and supplying these cells with oxygen and nutrients,” she explains. “It is quite simple: when you exercise your body, you exercise your brain as well, so when your body is fit, so is your brain.”

Which types of exercise are best brainpower builders?

“Good news is that you don’t have to do any special workouts just to protect your brain - any brisk physical activity that raises the heart rate and pumps the oxygen-rich blood, will be beneficial,” she says. “If you feel your ticker beating in your chest, you are slightly breathless, and breaking a sweat, chances are you are doing your brain a huge favor!”

Instead of steady-state cardio, she recommends interval training - alternating bursts of high-intensity activity with periods of rest, which will effectively increase blood flow to the brain, heart and muscles -- plus it's also a very time-efficient workout.

“Add the interval training with some resistance training and you've got a real winner! And remember: the more regular your exercise program is, the more long-term benefits your brain – and your entire body – will derive from it,” Oliver says.

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Formula for Cognition-Boosting Drinks is Controversial

Do Cognitive Enhancing Drinks Really Work? The evidence is conflicting, but there is still hope for the future, as discussed at the 2012 Nutracon Conference in Anaheim, CA.

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Wall Street Journal on Health Benefits of Video Games

The Wall Street Journal is conducting a live chat on the health effects of video games based on research at Simon Fraser University in Canada utilizing the StarCraft II platform.

Here's the lead-in:

Computer games can change your brain, and researchers are finding that those changes can improve creativity, decision-making, concentration and dexterity. The violent action games that worry parents the most also have the strongest beneficial effect on the brain, government-funded researchers at independent laboratories in the US and Europe have reported.

In the largest public study of electronic gaming so far, Mark Blair at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, British Columbia, is turning the games themselves into a laboratory for learning. He is analyzing the behavior of 150,000 people who play a popular online game called StarCraft II, to learn how new knowledge and experience can become second nature, integrated into the way we react to the world around us.

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Cognitive Training Helps Those with Memory Deficits

If you have trouble remembering where your car keys are, new research shows that a memory training strategy can help.

Memory training can even re-engage the hippocampus, part of the brain critical for memory formation, said researchers at Emory University School of Medicine and Atlanta Veterans Affairs Medical Center, who have been investigating memory-building strategies for people with mild cognitive impairment (MCI). The techniques used in the study were known to be effective for healthy people, but it has been uncertain how they could affect brain function in people with MCI, the researchers note.

“Our results suggest that these strategies can help patients remember specific information, such as the locations of objects,” said lead author Benjamin Hampstead, Ph.D., assistant professor of rehabilitation medicine at Emory University and a clinical neuropsychologist.

“This is the first randomized controlled trial to show that these techniques are not only effective in MCI patients, but that they can also re-engage the hippocampus, which is a brain region that is critical for forming new memories.”

MCI is a diagnosis meant to identify those at increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease. People with MCI have difficulty forming new memories but are still able to handle the tasks of daily living. The difficulty learning and remembering new information is because of impaired function in parts of the brain, including the hippocampus, the researchers explain.

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