Entries in Memory (23)


Mediterranean Diet Helps to Preserve Memory and Cognitive Skills

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- According to a new study, a Mediterranean diet, high in Omega-3s and low in meat and dairy, may help to preserve memory and cognitive ability.

The study, published in the journal Neurology, was the largest study to date on the impact of Omega-3 fatty acids.

Researchers analyzed data collected from over 17,000 participants with an average age of 64 years old. Each participant was given a series of mental tests over a span of four years.

Among healthy subjects, those who adhered closest to the Mediterranean style diet were almost 20 percent less likely to develop issues with their memory or thinking skills.

Researchers say that because there is no treatment for Alzheimer's disease or cognitive decline, a diet that helps to prevent its onset could prove to be of major importance.

Omega-3s are found in most fish, chicken, vegetables and olive oils.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Painful Memories May Be Erasable, Study Suggests

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Bad memories are hard to shake. But a new study suggests some details can be intentionally forgotten, raising hope for people with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Scottish researchers used words like "barbecue" to cue memories in 30 young men and women, and then tested their ability to forget.

"For the cue word 'barbecue,' they might think of a birthday party," said study author Saima Noreen, a neuroscientist at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.  "Some of the memories were just embarrassing, like a school friend saying something unpleasant.  Others were more painful, like an inappropriate touch from a family friend."

For each of the 24 cue words, the study subjects were asked to recall a memory in as much detail as possible, explaining its cause, consequence and personal meaning.  A week later, they were shown the same cue words in green or red.

"For the green words, we asked them to describe the memory in detail like before.  But for the red words, we asked them to avoid thinking of the event," said Noreen.

That avoidance appeared to wipe out parts of the memory, as study subjects later asked to recall events linked to red-colored cue words omitted painful details.

"We found people were actually recalling significantly less about the memories they'd been told to suppress," said Noreen.  "Most of the time they recalled the event's cause, but the consequence and personal meaning were more susceptible to being forgotten."

The small study, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition, could have big implications for people plagued by painful memories.

"People with conditions like PTSD and depression have intrusive, uncontrollable negative thoughts that make them unable to move on with their lives," said Noreen, who became interested in intentional forgetting while studying depression.  "Our research suggests we can actually reduce or change the accessibility of certain details."

Previous studies have hinted at the ability to deliberately forget, but this is the first to find that painful details may be particularly susceptible to the process, according to Noreen.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Actress Marilu Henner’s Rare Super-Memory Recalls Every Day of Her Life 

Jeffrey Mayer/WireImage(NEW YORK) -- What if you could remember every single day of your life and have it available for instant recall?

Everything from childhood birthday parties, Christmases, your first day of school, and your last. What were you doing that day? Who were you with? What day of the week was it? What did you have for lunch?

Actress Marilu Henner, who you probably remember as Elaine Nardo from the hit TV show Taxi, says she can remember it all.

She can recall off, the top of her head, the exact day she got the part.

“It was June 4 of 1978. It was a Sunday and I found out at the Grease premiere party,” Henner said. “Taxi is so vivid to my mind. The very first rehearsal was July the 5th of 1978. That was a Wednesday and our first show was shot the 14th, a Friday.”

The actress, who has also starred in L.A. Story (1991) and Man on the Moon (1999), is one of only 12 people in the world diagnosed with hyperthymesia, also known as Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory.

Most of us can remember major events of our lives -- our wedding day, for instance, or where we were on 9/11 or when President John F. Kennedy was shot. But Henner, 60, can remember specific details from almost every day of her life.

She said her earliest memory is of being baptized.

“I just remember the water, and I remember the white,” she said. “Whenever I go back into memory, I’m always in my body looking out.”

Henner said her memory works like a scene selection menu on a DVD, with “little videos moving simultaneously.”

“When somebody gives me a date or a year or something, I see all these little movie montages, basically on a time continuum, and I’m scrolling through them and flashing through them,” she said.

She said it is a gift that helped her as an actress, but not in the way you might think.

Sure, she has an easy time remembering her lines.  But, perhaps more importantly, she can call to mind moments of great emotion from her own life -- to help her embody her characters.

“I can always remember where I first read a script or what I studied or what I liked about, things like that,” Henner said. “But definitely being an actress, I learned how to embrace my memories and celebrate them and explore them without hesitation whatsoever.”

In her new book, Total Memory Makeover, in stores on April 24, Henner tries to help others unlock their memories.

Ironically, the actress’ husband makes a living publishing the one thing in the world she doesn’t need: calendars. Her son Nick Lieberman, 17,  said he finds his mother’s memory “comforting.”

“Just this idea that everything that I’ve ever done is documented somewhere in her mind,” he said.

Henner said her gift is not just a parlor trick.  It’s important stuff.

“It’s that defense against meaninglessness,” she said.  “I’m not just occupying time.  There’s some significance to what I’m doing and how I’m living my life.”

She said understanding your past is the best way to prepare for the future.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Study Shows Six Years of Boxing Can Change Brain

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(CLEVELAND) -- The long term consequences of combat sport are no secret, thanks to high-profile athletes like Muhammad Ali.  But a new study suggests that six years of boxing can cause lasting changes in the brain, including shrinkage of areas involved in memory and cognition.

"We asked the question: Is there a certain degree of repetitive head trauma that the brain can tolerate, beyond which you run the risk of developing long term complications?" said study author Dr. Charles Bernick, associate director of the Cleveland Clinic's Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Las Vegas.  "And if that's the case, can we detect changes in the brain before people become symptomatic?"

Bernick and colleagues followed 109 current boxers and mixed martial art fighters, using surveys to assess their fight frequencies and MRI scans to detect changes in their brains.  The more fights, the more severe the brain changes were in fighters with six or more years in the ring.  And after 12 years, the number of fights was linked to poorer performance on memory tests.

"This raises the possibility of detecting brain changes before people are symptomatic," said Bernick, who is presenting the ongoing study at the American Academy of Neurology annual meeting this week in New Orleans.  "If you wait for someone to start having symptoms and retire, you've bought the farm.  You may not be able to do too much about it."

Mounting research in boxing, football, hockey and military service suggests smaller blows can add up to major consequences, including chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a progressive brain disease with features of Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and ALS.

"It's not just the big concussions, but the chronic accumulation of smaller blows to the head," said Dr. Daryl Rosenbaum, assistant professor of sports medicine at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C.  "We get asked all the time how many hits are too many.  We don't know the answer to that question, but studies like this will help."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


How to Memorize a Deck of Cards … and Other Brain-Training Tricks

Digital Vision/ThinkstockBy ABC News' Bill Weir

(NEW YORK) -- They say dogs have a short-term memory of about 20 seconds. Honestly? Mine is worse.

Beyond the missing keys and repeated calls to directory assistance, that fact became even more evident when a recent office guest challenged me to memorize the order of five playing cards.

Casino owners can relax because I couldn’t get past two.

But then my guest -- who happens to be the reigning National Memory Champion -- gave me a lesson that changed my life.

Like most of the world’s mental athletes, Nelson Dellis was born with a very average memory. But after his grandmother began suffering the ravages of Alzheimer’s, the 28-year-old began looking for the kind of mental exercises that help stave off the excruciating disease. This is when he stumbled into the technique that has been used since Cicero gave day-long speeches before the ancient Roman senate. And after just a few years of daily practice, Nelson has trained his brain to memorize an entire deck of cards in 63 seconds or a string of more than 200 random numbers in less than five minutes.

Since this method involves picturing famous people naked wandering the halls of your high school, it is a hell of a lot more fun than repeating numbers ad nauseum. And if you watch the video, you’ll see how fast you can retrain your brain.

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Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Low Levels of Omega-3 Fatty Acids May Cause Memory Problems

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- We’ve heard about the benefits of eating a diet high in fish and rich in omega-3 fats for our heart and brain health, but how do we know if we are eating enough of these healthy fats?

In a new study, published in Neurology, researchers quantify the amount of omega-3 fat their subjects consumed and correlated this with memory testing and brain MRIs.  The results show that people who had higher blood levels of this brain food scored better on memory tests and their brain MRIs showed healthier tissue.

While more research is needed to tell if omega-3 fats can be used as treatment for people suffering from memory loss and dementia, this study provides further support for the benefits of omega-3 fats in keeping aging brains healthy.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Deep Brain Stimulation Boosts Memory

Digital Vision/Thinkstock(LOS ANGELES) -- A new study suggests that driving electricity deep into the brain can boost memory, shedding light on a mysterious neurological process and opening the door for Alzheimer's disease treatments.

Researchers from the University of California at Los Angeles used needle-like electrodes to send pulses of electricity into the brain's memory system buried more than an inch inside the temporal lobes of seven epilepsy patients. The technique -- called deep brain stimulation -- acts like a pacemaker, tweaking brain activity with tiny, rhythmic shocks.

"The hippocampus and entorhinal cortex in the medial temporal lobe, these structures are critical sites for transforming experiences into memories," said Dr. Itzhak Fried, a UCLA neurosurgeon and lead author of the study published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine. "When we applied stimulation not in the hippocampus but in another structure that leads to the hippocampus, we saw an improvement in memory performance."

Fried and colleagues used a virtual city to test recollection of routes and destinations before and after deep brain stimulation. The patients played the role of taxi drivers shuttling people around town. And when they learned the directions during deep brain stimulation, they remembered them better.

"The path to the target was shorter, and patients got there quicker," said Fried.

The patients volunteered for the memory study after having electrodes implanted to determine where their seizures were starting. Some of them had memory deficits related to their epilepsy, but all of them showed improvement with stimulation, Fried said.

Deep brain stimulation has been found to tame tremors in Parkinson's disease, calm compulsions in obsessive compulsive disorder and even ease appetite in obesity. But what exactly it does inside the brain remains somewhat of a mystery.

"It's fair to say there are a lot of unknowns about how deep brain stimulation works," said Fried.

In Fried's study, the stimulation seemed to reset the rhythm of nerve firing between the entorhinal cortex and the hippocampus -- a rhythm that's "critically important" for memory, Fried said.

"Maybe this type of resetting has a beneficial effect on memory," said Fried. "It may be influencing the way groups of neurons cooperate and work together."

A previous study found, somewhat serendipitously, that deep brain stimulation enhanced memory in a patient being treated for obesity. And a small trial in six people with mild Alzheimer's disease suggested that deep brain stimulation may even slow cognitive decline.

"There's a lot of interest in this type of approach," said Fried. "But obviously, it will require very careful, rigorous studies to see whether deep brain stimulation can be applied to patients with memory impairments, such as Alzheimer's disease, where indeed one of the first signs is impairment of memory and function in the area of the brain where we applied the stimulation in our study."

In Alzheimer's disease, an accumulation of abnormal protein plaques and tangles gradually destroy the brain's memory center. Dr. Sandra Black, a neurologist at the University of Toronto's Sunnybrook Health Sciences Center and author of an editorial published in the same journal as the study, said the prospect of using deep brain stimulation to boost memory in people with brain damage or disease is not "science fiction."

"If we get to a point where we can control [Alzheimer's disease] with some of the new drugs in development and stabilize it by counteracting amyloid [plaques] or tau [tangles], then this might be an important way to help that area of the brain recover," she said.

Studies in animals suggest deep brain stimulation may even spur new nerve growth. But, said Black, "you'd have to catch people at a time when there was still some capacity to regenerate," meaning very early in the Alzheimer's disease progression.

Dr. Jeffrey Noebels, a professor of neurology at Baylor College of Medicine, said the idea that memory storage and retrieval could be electronically enhanced "is fascinating." But "just as in drug testing, extreme care must be exercised to avoid unleashing undesirable and lasting effects arising from the very plasticity and rewiring of the brain that is likely to arise," he said.

Noebels said stimulating the brain's memory center could trigger a seizure, spawning a "downward, toxic spiral of neural hyperactivity, axon rewiring and cell death in the very circuits we would like to preserve."

"My fear is, in early stages of Alzheimer's, continuous stimulation of the entorhinal cortex could actually be too much too soon," he said.

Fried agreed that caution is critical in considering deep brain stimulation as a treatment for people with memory loss from brain damage or disease, but said the possibility signaled "a new era" in medicine.

"Creating this type of interface with areas of the brain may be used to really augment impaired function in neurological patients," he said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Smoking Slows Memory, Reasoning in Middle-Aged Men: Study

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(LONDON) -- New evidence suggests that smoking isn't only bad for the body, but can also take a toll on the mind.

A study published Monday in the Archives of General Psychiatry linked smoking to faster, more dramatic age-related mental decline in men.

Researchers from University College in London studied more than 5,000 men and 2,000 women from Britain's long-running Whitehall II study, which has surveyed the health of thousands of British civil service employees.

The researchers studied each participant's performance on tests of memory, verbal skills and reasoning over a period of 10 years, beginning when the participants were about 56 years old. They found that men who smoked showed a greater decline in these mental functions than those who had never smoked.

Smoking seemed to speed up the cognitive aging process, making men function mentally as if they were 10 years older, said Severine Sabia, the study's lead author.

"For example, a 50-year-old male smoker shows a similar cognitive decline as a 60-year-old male never-smoker," she said.

The brain changes weren't necessarily permanent. Men who stopped smoking more than 10 years before the tests performed as well as those who had never smoked. But men who kicked the smoking habit less than 10 years before the cognitive tests began didn't do much better than the men who'd kept smoking.

While smoking seemed to drain men's brains, the researchers didn't find a similar connection between smoking and declining mental function in women. Sabia said that could be because women in this age group smoked less than men do, or that there were simply fewer women in the study.

Researchers said there are several factors that could explain the connection between smoking and mental decline. One reason could lie in the way smoking affects the heart, lungs and blood vessels. Because smoking ups the risk of vascular disease, it could limit the body's ability to deliver the blood, oxygen and nutrients the brain needs to function at its best.

The study's authors said that smoking's long-term effects on mental function are probably underestimated, since smokers are more likely to die of other health problems before they have the chance to develop dementia.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Playing Music Protects Memory, Hearing, Brain Processing

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(EVANSTON, Ill.) -- Want your brain to be as fit as a fiddle, even after you are old and gray? Then learn how to play a real violin. Or a tuba. Or just about any other musical instrument.

Scientific research over the years has shown that studying music has many rewards, from improving performance in school to dealing with emotional traumas, but the newest research shows that it can do even more than that. It can fine tune the human brain, biologically and neurologically enhancing its performance and protecting it from some of the ravages of time.

Think of musical figures who have had long careers -- from Mick Jagger to Paul McCartney to Barbara Cook -- and it appears there's something, beyond love of their art, that has kept them going.

Nina Kraus's Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., has been studying how music affects the human brain for years now, and the latest study from that busy lab shows that musicians suffer less from aging-related memory and hearing losses than non-musicians. It is believed to be the first study to provide biological evidence that lifelong musical experience has a good impact on the aging process, according to Northwestern, where Kraus serves as professor of neurobiology, physiology and communication sciences.

Kraus and her colleagues attached electrodes to the heads of 87 persons ranging in age from 18 to 65, all of whom had normal hearing. About half the subjects had started taking music lessons before the age of nine, and had remained active in music throughout their lives. The others had fewer than three years of music lessons, and were classified as "non-musicians."

The purpose of the electrodes was to measure what neurologists call "neural timing," or how long it takes for a human brain to process an auditory signal. The normal aging process slows that timing, making it more difficult to process sounds, even the sound of a friend's voice in a crowded restaurant, Kraus said in a telephone interview.

The electrodes provided a "very objectively quantifiable" measurement of that processing time, which would normally be expected to be considerably slower in older persons than younger. But that did not turn out to be the case.

Older participants in the study who had made music a big part of their lives could process the signal just about as fast as the younger participants. The "non musicians," however lagged considerably behind, indicating that playing a musical instrument was crucial to retaining memory and hearing.

"As a musician, you get very good at pulling out important information from a complex soundscape," Kraus said, whether it's a musical performance or listening to someone speaking in a noisy room. "The orchestra is playing and you are pulling out the violin line, or the base line, or some harmony. You are always pulling out meaningful components from sound and that's really not all that different from hearing your friend's voice in a noisy restaurant."

"That involves hearing, but it's related to how quickly you can process information and how well you remember it," she said.

Both of those talents tend to decline with age, which is why so many older persons complain of memory lapse and an inability to hear someone in a noisy place. But this work suggests it doesn't decline, if playing a musical instrument is a personal passion over time.

Kraus said it's not enough just to listen to music. It's the intensity of actually performing that is the active ingredient.

"You are not going to get physically fit by watching spectator sports," she added.

Of course, neural timing is not the only component of hearing loss. The inner ear physically changes with age, and the tiny hairs that act as acoustic antennae inside the ear canal deteriorate.

And loud noises, like gunshots, shop tools, or the screaming shockwaves from acid rock, can all damage hearing. None of the participants in the study suffered that kind of damage. And only the "musicians" showed measurable signs of overcoming the tendency of the human brain to gradually slow down the time it takes to receive, process and act upon an auditory signal.

Kraus, whose latest study is in the online edition of the journal Neurobiology of Aging, says the research shows that it's not just hearing that is helped by music. It's also memory, which is among the most common complaints from normal aging.

"If you couldn't remember what I said to you a few seconds ago, you wouldn't be making sense of what I'm saying right now," she said.

So music is good, but is it ever too late to start?

"From everything I know about how the brain changes with experience and what I know about the effect of musical experience on the nervous system, my scientific gut feeling is that it can only help," she said, quickly adding that she doesn't have the data to back that up yet.

Asked if she is a musician, she replied:

"I play a couple of instruments, not particularly well, but I play them with great joy."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Sleep Locks In Bad Memories, Emotions

Siri Stafford/Digital Vision/Thinkstock(AMHERST, Mass.) -- Sleeping after a traumatic event might lock in bad memories and emotions, a new study has found.

Researchers from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst asked more than 100 healthy adults to rate their emotional responses to a series of images, some depicting unsettling scenes. Twelve hours later, they rated the images again. The difference: Half of the subjects slept during the break; the other half did not.

"Not only did sleep protect the memory, but it also protected the emotional reaction," said Rebecca Spencer, a neuroscientist at UMass Amherst and co-author of the study that was published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

Study subjects who stayed awake for 12 hours had a weaker emotional response to the unsettling images the second time around, suggesting sleep serves to preserve and even amplify negative emotions. Their memories were also weaker than those of their well-rested counterparts, as they struggled to remember whether they had seen the images before.

"It's true that 'sleeping on it' is usually a good thing to do," said Spencer, citing evidence that sleep boosts memory and other cognitive functions. "It's just when something truly traumatic or out of the ordinary happens that you might want to stay awake."

Spencer said people often find it difficult to sleep after a traumatic event.

"This study suggests the biological response we have after trauma might actually be healthy," she said. "Perhaps letting people go through a period of insomnia before feeding them sleeping meds is actually beneficial."

While the findings may have implications for post traumatic stress disorder, Spencer emphasized that daily emotional ups and downs are not grounds for sleep deprivation.

"Just because we have a bad day doesn't mean we should stay awake," she said. "We need to maintain some memories and emotional context to know what to avoid. We do learn something from them."

Although sleep gives the body some much-needed rest, the brain stays active. Spencer used polysomnography to monitor brain activity in some sleeping subjects.

"REM sleep in particular was associated with a change in how emotional you found something," she said. "We think there are parts of the brain being activated during sleep that allow us to process those emotions more than during day."

Next, Spencer plans to study the link between sleep and memory in the context of aging. With age, the amount of time spent sleeping drops dramatically.

"We want to know if those changes actually underlie some of the cognitive and behavioral changes that occur with age," she said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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