Archive for the ‘Aging’ Category

Do You Ever Say You’re Going To Do Something And Never End Up Doing It?

November 20th, 2014 No comments


Have you ever wondered why when you plan to do something beforehand, you usually end up getting it done? For example, for something as minuscule as taking out the trash – the act of reminding yourself to do so or envisioning yourself taking out the trash (maybe don’t envision it…) is proven to help you complete tasks. This is called an implementation intention (II), i.e. the act of specifying when, where, and how you will perform a specific task or action. To carry out an II, you use an if-then structure, such as “If it rains, I will put on my raincoat.” The formation of II’s is confirmed to improve prospective memory, which is the ability to remember to perform a specific action at an intended time. As Peter Gollwitzer and Gabriele Oettingen write in their article (2013), “Successful goal pursuit requires solving both of two subsequent tasks: first, strongly committing to goals, and then, effectively implementing them.” However, what cognitive processes do you need to act on an II, and can people of all ages and conditions exhibit excellent prospective memory?

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Categories: Aging, Memory Tags: ,

Heavy Drinking After College

November 17th, 2014 2 comments

When one thinks of heavy drinking, one usually jumps straight to college students, due to popular culture references and stereotypes that paint college as a breeding ground for excessive alcohol consumption. Despite their stereotypical nature, these assumptions do hold some weight. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) reports that approximately 80% of college students engage in alcohol consumption. This statistic can be seen playing out on the weekends here at Colby College, as well as at many other colleges around the country, when students put down their textbooks and start to drink. Many of them drink a lot, with approximately 50% of students who drink alcohol also engaging in binge drinking (NIAAA). Binge drinking is defined as four alcoholic drinks in two hours for women, and five alcoholic drinks in two hours for men (NIAAA). Heavy drinking, then, is when a person engages in binge drinking more than five times in a month. At Colby, it is not uncommon to hear of girls drinking over ten drinks in a night; boys, up to twenty. The effects of such risky behavior are often cited as being responsible for bad grades, poor social relationships and general unhappiness (NIAAA). Despite the repercussions of excessive drinking, many students laugh it off as “just a college thing,” and expect that they will go back to a normal, generally sober, life after graduation. But what if they don’t stop? Will the alcohol have a similar effect later in life?

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Categories: Aging, Decision Making Tags:

What if you could forget your prom fiasco? The importance of selective forgetting

May 2nd, 2014 6 comments

Everyone has moments in their life that they wish they could forget. It could be that time that you the bridge gave out during your pictures on the water or the inevitable newspaper article written about it. But what if you could forget the whole thing happened and block out that embarrassing moment out of your memory forever?


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Does the sound of music really help with memory?

April 28th, 2014 1 comment

Sound of Music

In the classic film The Sound of Music, Maria teaches the Von Trapp children primarily through song. If you don’t recall the words from the song that starts “Doe a deer a female deer…” you might be sorely missing an important part of your movie education. The song is pretty catchy after all. Once someone starts singing it, I can’t seem to get it out of my head. It turns out music can be helpful beyond just having something to dance to. It can really help us remember things. In fact, some studies may suggest that learning through song can actually enhance one’s memory. The most basic example I can think of is learning the alphabet.  The alphabet song is pretty catchy and helps kids to better remember it. An interesting question then is: how far this musical benefit extend? Can music potentially help older adults or even adults with Alzheimer’s remember more? In Simmons-Stern et al.’s “Music-based memory enhancement in Alzheimer’s Disease: Promise and Limitation” one of the central questions is: To what extent can music enhance memory function in individuals with Alzheimer’s disease (AD)?

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Categories: Aging, Memory Tags: , ,

Sentence Comprehension Deficits in Alzheimer’s Disease

December 13th, 2013 5 comments

Most people know that there are extreme cognitive deficits associated with DAT, otherwise known as Alzheimer ’s disease, but what is the nature of these struggles? What do those with DAT have the most trouble on, and what is the biggest cause of the troubles? It turns out that those with DAT have the biggest deficits in attentional tasks, and a lot of their memory issues stem from an inability to focus and maintain attention. In 1998 “Sentence Comprehension Deficits in Alzheimer’s Disease: A Comparison of Off-Line VS. On-Line Sentence Processing” looked at and tried to analyze the reasons behind memory deficits in DAT individuals.

The experimenters wanted to test whether the problems were stemming from a lack of syntactic knowledge, or the knowledge of how words form into sentences correctly, or from a working memory deficit. Working memory is the system that holds information in short term memory, deciding whether to attend to it, rehearse it, and transfer it into long term memory or to just throw it out. The better a person’s working memory, the better they can learn and pay attention to what they are looking at. Read more…

A drink a day keeps cognitive decline at bay…IF you’re one of these lucky people

December 8th, 2013 4 comments

With the holidays quickly approaching, many of us will be reuniting with family members at our grandparents’ houses. Someone will inadvertently spike the punch and then you’ll have grandparents, aunts, and uncles a little on the tipsy side. We’ve all heard that a glass of red wine each day is beneficial for your health but how true is this for the older folk in our family? Is it only red wine that has these effects? Several studies have suggested that it can actually be good for the elderly to have a few drinks per week. Alcohol is protective to the cardiovascular system due to its anti-inflammatory effects. This can in turn have positive effects on the health of the brain, which improves cognition (how quickly we think, how well we remember, etc.). Can alcohol be used as a sort of protective substance?

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Categories: Aging, Memory Tags: ,

Pick Up a New Hobby and See Your Memory Improve!

December 2nd, 2013 3 comments

Quilting(Treadwell, 2012)

As the older population grows in numbers, there is an increasing social urgency to find ways to maintain or even improve one’s cognitive health.  As we age, declines in memory, attentional control, speed of processing, and problem-solving abilities are expected and are considered to be typical of normal, healthy aging. Past studies have shown the links between participation in cognitive, leisure and social activities with improved cognitive ability, as well as a decreased risk of Alzheimer’s Disease.  However little evidence has been found on whether sustained lifestyle engagement can help to maintain or improve cognitive function.  This study by Park et al. (2013) sought to examine the impact of sustained engagement on the cognitive abilities of older adults. This study is called the “Synapse Project” because unlike normal cognitive training, in which participants come in for an experiment that typically last a few hours or a few days, the participants in this study agree to make a lifestyle change in that they are learning new, demanding real-world skills in a social environment. This allows us to see the true effects of the acquisition of the new skill over time on the participants’ cognitive abilities.

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Benefits of Social Engagement on Dementia Onset

December 2nd, 2013 2 comments

Picture 355

Ready to get engaged….socially? Social engagement, which is defined as the maintenance of many social connections and a high level of participation in social activities, could in fact reduce declining cognition. Why not go out with some friends a couple of times a week, enroll in a group exercise class, or get out and volunteer with your community? Results from a number of studies have shown that participating in cognitively stimulating activities and having satisfying relationships, as well as a large number of social contacts can reduce the risk of cognitive decline into the early onset of dementia. On the other side of the spectrum, a low level of social engagement may be a reliable indicator of the progression into dementia. Thus, social engagement may not only reduce the risk of cognitive decline, but may more importantly be a predictor of dementia onset.

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Categories: Aging Tags: ,

Dog: “My people are so well behaved.”

December 2nd, 2013 2 comments

We have all been affected by Alzheimer’s disease (AD), or a related disorder that results in declines in cognitive ability uncharacteristic of normal aging. For some the familiarity may be all too salient – a grandparent, uncle, or elementary school teacher. Others may have a more distant connection – perhaps they know a friend whose grandmother is struggling with the disease. My Aunt was recently diagnosed. We’re not particularly close, but the news has certainly taken an emotional toll on my extended family. Regardless of personal connection, AD is extremely prevalent, and as the population continues to gray, its impact is becoming increasingly widespread.

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Social Activity and Prevention of Cognitive Decline

December 1st, 2013 2 comments

“Don’t ever get old,” “I’m not what I used to be,” and “I’m old now, I can’t do that.” I think we’ve all at one time or another heard phrases like this coming from older adults. With old age, both body and mind are not as sharp as in times of youth. For instance, before his knee replacement, my grandfather had difficulty simply standing up or walking around his house. His knee replacement has helped him immensely though, and he is much more agile and happier now. Unfortunately, this sometimes-reversible physical deterioration and pain associated with aging is accompanied by potentially crippling declines in cognitive functioning. Important everyday activities like navigating a vehicle in heavy traffic, learning and retaining someone’s name, or remembering to take medication on time all become more difficult to execute in old age. An important question, then, becomes whether or not there are certain behaviors or practices that can help to slow cognitive decline, similar to how my grandfather’s knee replacement helped his physical wellbeing.

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