Archive for Current Research

How Increasing Lifespan Makes Focusing on Brain Health More Important

Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia currently affect 47.5 million people worldwide. In the United States alone, 5.3 million Americans are affected by the disease, and the Alzheimer’s Association predicts that this number could more than double to 16 million by the year 2050.

On the other hand, human lifespan has been steadily on the rise since the 19th century. This rise has been largely due in part to medical advancements that have greatly reduced the risk of cancer, heart disease, stroke and other debilitating conditions. A long life is something many of us strive towards, but increased lifespan seems to be outpacing the increase in long-term cognitive ability since medical advancements for brain health have not accelerated at the same rate that they have for other ailments and chronic conditions.

The majority of scientific research has found that cognitive decline typically begins at age 42, a figure that has remained stagnant for over a century. Though the scientific community is making medical advancements almost daily, there has been no major breakthrough in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease, the most notorious brain health issue of our time.

While we anxiously await the day a cure is found for Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, we advocate that each and every individual take charge of their personal brain health. Engaging in healthy habits is a life-long commitment, but is incredibly important for promoting long-term brain health, improved mood and overall well-being!

As brain health advocates, the Cognitive Therapeutics Method™ team is always striving to provide the best and most up-to-date information and tips. Read one of our most recent blogs, “10 Facts You Need to Know to Promote and Harness the Power of Neuroplasticity”, to learn more about strengthening your brain in your day-to-day activities!


Caffeine May Reduce Risk of Dementia in Older Women

Coffee has been proven to have positive effects on the brain, even going so far as to protect the brain against mild cognitive impairment when consumed in moderate, consistent amounts. A new study by researchers at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee has added to the growing body of research supporting the brain health benefits of coffee, specifically in women over the age of 65.

Published in the Journals of Gerontology, Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences, the study found that higher caffeine intake in older women was associated with a reduced risk of developing dementia or other forms of cognitive impairment.

The study analyzed data from 6,467 post-menopausal women who reported some level of caffeine consumption; all women were participants in the Women’s Health Initiative Memory Study, funded by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Caffeine intake was estimated from self-reported answers to questions on intake of coffee, tea and cola, including frequency and serving size.

Assessments of cognitive function were performed annually for up to 10 years. Of the participants, 388 women received a diagnosis of probable dementia or another form of cognitive impairment. Self-reported consumption of over 261 milligrams of caffeine per day was associated with a 36 percent reduced risk of dementia. That amount of caffeine is equivalent to two to three eight ounce cups of coffee, five to six eight ounce cups of black tea or seven to eight 12 ounce cans of cola.

After adjusting for risk factors such as hormone therapy, age, race, medical conditions and more, the research team found that individuals who consumed more caffeine than the median amount had lower rates of diagnosis compared to those that consumed less than the median amount. Although the team cannot make a direct link between caffeine consumption and cognitive impairment, their findings add to the growing body of research.

Considering that caffeine is easily incorporated into any diet, these findings are exciting for the field of dementia research. For now, we recommend 1 to 2 cups of coffee daily, as it is best enjoyed in moderation!


How Oral Health Impacts Brain Health

Oral health has often been a good indicator of overall physical and mental health, especially in older adults. A study published in the Journal of American Geriatrics Society is further exploring the connection between teeth and the brain.

The study used data on 62,333 participants from the Japan Gerontological Evaluation Study (JAGES) project. All participants were over the age of 65 and all were determined to be physically and cognitively independent. A baseline survey was conducted between August 2010 and January 2012, and a follow-up survey was administered between January 2013 and December 2013; both surveys consisted of self-administered questionnaires.

The questionnaires included the self-reported number of teeth (20+ natural teeth, 10-19, 1-9 or no natural teeth) and the Tokyo Metropolitan Institute of Gerontology Index of Competence (TMIG-IC), which assesses high-level functional capacity with 13 questions.

The researchers accounted for external factors such as sex, age, medical history, social components and more. They found that participants with fewer than 20 teeth tend to be older than those with more than 20 teeth. They also found that individuals with fewer remaining natural teeth often had a lower socioeconomic status and worse health behaviors.

More importantly, the researchers found that participants with 10 to 19 teeth had a TMIG-IC score that was 0.035 points lower than participants with 20 or more teeth. Participants with 9 teeth or less had significantly lower TMIG-IC scores. The study also found an association between tooth loss and decline in higher-level functional capacity.

The research team believes that there are three potential causes for this association. The first is that tooth loss is often caused by inflammation, and chronic inflammation has been shown to negatively impact physical and cognitive health. Another determinant could be that poor oral health affects an individual’s ability to communicate and be social, which affects brain health. Lastly, the research team hypothesized that tooth loss could impact chewing and nutritional intake, thereby affecting physical and cognitive health.

Although there is the possibility for self-reporting bias in this study, the results lean towards an association between poor oral health and cognitive decline. Keep your teeth (and brain!) healthy by flossing and brushing twice per day – once in the morning and once before bed!


Laughing Your Way to Better Health

According to a recent study by Georgia State University, simulated laughter during work outs could improve mental health, physical endurance and motivation to exercise. Published in the journal The Gerontologist, this study supports the notion of mind over matter – even feigning happiness can have physical and emotional benefits.

Older adults from four different assisted living facilities participated in the study for six weeks. Participants attended two sessions per week for 45 minutes each; each session included strength, balance and flexibility exercises as well as laughter exercises. After every two to four physical exercises, the group practiced between eight and ten laughter exercises for 30 to 60 seconds each. Laughter is thought to strengthen and relax muscles, which is why it was done consistently throughout the work out session.

Results of the study found that participants had improvements in mental health and aerobic endurance, and perceived better outcomes of their exercise routine. The enhancement in quality of life further encouraged participants to maintain a healthy regimen of physical activity.

The brain and body cannot differentiate between simulated and genuine laughter, which is why both forms can generate health benefits. Oftentimes, however, simulated laughter in these classes becomes genuine! Simulated laughter is also recommended for older adults experiencing symptoms of cognitive decline or dementia, as there is no need for the person to understand a joke – the classes simply take the person through the bodily motion of laughing, which is enough to benefit long-term brain health and improve mood.

This study is one of the first of its kind to analyze the effects of laughter in a structured exercise program, as well as the first of its kind to look at the benefits of laughter in older adults. Adults with bigger social networks often enjoy greater mental health benefits, so we are interested to learn more about socialization, laughter and happiness from future studies!


Greater Flexibility in Brain Correlates with Better Stress Management

One of the keys to a happy and healthy brain is a calm, stress-free environment, in which one can thrive. It turns out that although we may not be able to avoid all stressful situations, the various ways that we cope with stress may be flexible within the brain.

The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, examined the way that we cope with stress. Specifically, the research team wanted to understand why different individuals respond to stress differently, and how some people are more resilient than others when it comes to stressful situations.

Subjects included 30 healthy people who had functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans taken during a six-minute session. The subjects were split into two groups: one group viewed stressful and threatening images of violence during their session, while the second group observed neutral images of tables, chairs and other everyday objects. The researchers also asked the test groups about the different ways that they cope with stress in their day-to-day lives, including alcohol intake, eating behaviors and how often they get into arguments.

The researchers noticed that when the brain underwent stress, activation of the ventral medial prefrontal cortex (VmPFC) increased, making it a key region of focus. The VmPFC is involved in emotional regulation and determining one’s own internal state, such as hunger or fear. The team found that subjects who had greater neuroflexibility in the VmPFC during stress additionally had higher coping ratings, meaning that they were less likely to be binge drinkers or generally respond to stress in an emotionally destructive way.

Simply put, the VmPFC is the area of the brain responsible for an individual’s resilience in the face of stress. Scientists are now on a path to discover how to increase brain flexibility in this region. Hopefully, there will soon be greatly expanded methods to assist individuals as they cope with stressful situations.

Taking the time to de-stress is one of our 7 tips to improve your mental health. We recommend 15 to 20 minutes of daily yoga or meditation for optimal brain health and wellbeing!


10 Facts You Need to Know to Promote and Harness Neuroplasticity

Due to the limitations of pharmacological approaches to dementia and other forms of cognitive decline, scientists are relying more on non-pharmacological treatment plans, such as cognitive therapy, as a way to help delay the onset and slow the progression of symptoms of cognitive decline. Non-pharmacological interventions are based on the concept of neuroplasticity, which is the brain’s ability to reorganize connections in the brain, create new connections and even create new neurons under some circumstances. Generally, neuroplasticity occurs in two instances: as a result of learning and experience or a result of damage to the brain.

The Cognitive Therapeutics Method™ is based heavily on the concept of neuroplasticity and takes advantage of the brain’s ability to create new connections by engaging 5 cognitive domains with activities. Below, we have compiled 10 important facts that you need to know in order to promote neuroplasticity in your day-to-day life for better brain health!

  1. Neuroplasticity is real, and it is more important than our genes. Neuroplasticity is a lifelong process and has far greater effects on our brain’s outcome than genes do.
  2. All physical exercise promotes brain function, but cardio is king. Exercising increases blood flow, brain volume and growth hormone levels, especially if it really gets the heart pumping. We recommend 20 to 30 minutes of exercise per day, four days a week.
  3. Mental stimulation helps build cognitive reserve. Cognitive reserve is the brain’s protective mechanism that helps delay symptoms of cognitive decline, so engaging the brain helps protect it over the long-term.
  4. Overall brain health depends upon working a variety of brain functions. It is not enough to engage only our memory or attention; we need an assortment of activities to keep our brains healthy, which is why the Method targets five domains.
  5. Routines don’t challenge the brain, so try something new or increase the level of difficulty. Activities should be challenging enough where they can be fun, but still engaging. Try alternating between Sudoku and crossword puzzles to work on and improve different skills.
  6. A bigger, more complex social network has been correlated with a bigger amygdala. This area of the brain is responsible for emotion and behavior. Those with bigger social circles are also less likely to suffer from depression or loneliness.
  7. A Mediterranean diet can improve brain health and has the potential to reduce shrinkage. The assortment of fruits, vegetables, nuts and olive oil have proven to protect the brain against cognitive decline.
  8. Chronic stress can block neuroplasticity. Under extreme stress, we have all noticed lapses in memory or attention to detail. It is important to promote calm and focus for optimal brain health.
  9. No one solution works! A multi-pronged approach works best, so include a healthy diet, exercise regimen, social schedule and mentally engaging activities in your plan.
  10. In addition, know your limits. A professional caregiver or Cognitive Therapeutics Interventionist can help you create a brain health plan that fits your unique needs and preferences!

To learn more about neuroplasticity and ways to proactively boost brain health, read The Brain Boost: A Practical Guide to Brain Health, one of the award-winning books in Home Care Assistance’s Healthy Longevity Series.