Archive for Technology

Newfound Hope that Alzheimer’s Memory Loss May Not Be Permanent

forgetful man holding headOne of the telltale signs of Alzheimer’s disease is memory loss. Researchers have long quarreled over whether this memory loss is due to an error in preserving memories or a loss in the ability to retrieve memories. Neuroscientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) announced in a recent study published in Nature that they have been able to retrieve memories in mice that were lost due to early Alzheimer’s disease, suggesting that lost memories can still be retrieved with a little help.

To investigate whether memory loss from early Alzheimer’s is due to the brain’s inability to encode or retrieve information, the research team compared normal mice with those that were in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. Both groups were placed in a box and received mild electrical shocks to their feet. After a few days, both groups were placed back in the box; the normal group recalled the incident and displayed fear, while the Alzheimer’s group neglected to recall the incident and furthermore, did not present distress when placed back in the box.

The neuroscientists then used a technique known as optogenetics to enable the mice with early Alzheimer’s to retrieve the lost memories. Optogenetics is a process of genetically modifying cells in the body to respond to light and using light to activate the cells. In this study, the scientists modified neurons in the hippocampal region of the brain, an area involved in short-term memory, to be light-sensitive and used light to activate these cells.

The mice with early Alzheimer’s that underwent optogenetics treatment remembered their previous experience and showed signs of fear similar to that of the healthy mice. In addition, the neuroscientists noted that using optogenetics caused the neurons to grow small buds, known as dendritic spines, which help neurons form connections with other cells. This growth of new dendritic spines could be one of the underlying reasons that memories were more easily retrieved.

Although optogenetics cannot currently be used in humans, the study demonstrates that memory loss may not be permanent. It also affirms that future treatments to reverse memory loss may one day be possible.

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Too Much TV Contributes to Cognitive Decline

woman watching tvMost experts agree that people who move more and sit less have improved brain health. Home Care Assistance, pioneer of the Cognitive Therapeutics Method™, has also written on the subject matter in a blog titled “Are You Sitting Too Much? 5 Tips to Reduce Sedentary Habits”. Now a recent study has uncovered that sitting too much and watching television increases the risk of cognitive decline and dementia starting at a young age.

Researchers at the Northern California Institute for Research and Education studied data from over 3,200 adults between the ages of 18 and 30 at the beginning of the study. Participants were given an exam every two to five years along with questionnaires on their TV and exercise habits over the course of 25 years. They found that the individuals who watched the most television, averaging three or more hours per day, and did less than two and a half hours of physical activity a week had the worst rates of cognitive decline.

Lead author Tina Hoang and her co-authors, including Dr. Kristine Yaffe, professor at the University of California San Francisco’s School of Medicine, found that people who watched a lot of television and exercised very little had weaker working memories, slower processing speeds and poorer executive functioning. Executive functioning abilities include reasoning, judgement, cognitive flexibility and the ability to plan or solve problems.

Overall, participants with high TV viewing time and low physical activity levels were more than twice as likely to do poorly on tests assessing cognitive function. Although previous studies have linked a sedentary lifestyle to cognitive decline in older adults, it now appears that the combination of inactivity and TV can quickly mold younger brains as well. The good news is that physical and cognitive activity later in life can still protect the brain by increasing synaptic plasticity.

Though this was purely an observational study and there may be other factors influencing the risk for cognitive decline, such as diet or stress levels, the research team hopes to investigate further. By studying younger adults, they hope to test the effectiveness of programs that aim to improve cognitive functioning in later years. Until then, ditch the TV for 15-20 minutes and take a walk outside to improve your brain health!



Animal Therapy: Social Interaction Without Judgement

Cute PuppySocial Interaction has been proven to be an essential part of keeping mentally fresh when facing dementia.  Often times the problem that arises with socializing with progressed dementia is not being able to remember the people or topics you are discussing or the reactions from the others to the lost memory.  By their nature, animals are non-judgmental and can offer unconditional positive regard to the person, regardless of their ability to remember meeting the animal before or being able to hold lengthy conversations.  Social needs for those with dementia can often be fulfilled or supplemented by animal assisted therapy or a family pet due to this natural ability to not show disappointment.  As long as there is someone around to take care of the pet’s needs such as walking, feeding and vet visits, a pet can be a wonderful part of life for a person with dementia.  For those who do not have the resources to have someone take care of the pet, animal therapy groups or volunteers can come to bring therapy animals for visits in order to help reduce agitation, provide social connections and bring joy to the person.

A few noted positive outcomes to pet visits that have been found is an increased appetite, lower blood pressure, and an easy conversation topic with other people that provides a stress reduction in social situations.  A side benefit to having a therapy animal visit is the physical interaction that is acceptable with an animal that the person just met, and the tactile stimulation of stroking or petting the animal.  Depending on the person’s mobility, a dog can also provide a source of exercise.

Sometimes a live animal is not an option for a person with allergies, or who cannot care for the pet on their own or does not have access to animal assisted therapy.  For these people, studies have shown robotic animals to provide a similar social benefit, especially later in the progression of the dementia.  One of the most noted types of robotic animal interaction is Paro, the robotic seal.  Paro is a robotic animal that interacts with the person but also learns so it can respond to the person’s specific behaviors.  Also previously studied was the use of a stuffed animal for very late stage dementia, at which point the social ability is so diminished that a response from the animal is not necessary to see a benefit from the social company.



Liftware spoon released

Remember that spoon we wrote about that was made to assist eating with a tremor rather than trying to stop the tremor? They have released it and are planning new attachments.

You can watch the video here:

Learn more about the technology behind the spoon here:

Tremors that present with a handful of disorders, most prominently Parkinson’s Disease, create a barrier for normal activity for the person with the tremor.  A common complaint of a tremor is having to focus so hard on getting the food to one’s mouth that they cannot socialize naturally during a meal.  Previous assistance devices for eating with a tremor attempted to restrain the tremor rather than working with it. This new view of assisting normal activity without fighting the tremor shows a new view of finding ways to function with the disease rather than difficult and sometimes painful efforts to fight it every step of the way.

Parkinson’s is a serious, life-changing disease, to learn more about the disease, visit:

Keeping Your Brain in Control with Video Games

Many interactive video games use skills and abilities such as language to understand the instructions, attention to avoid missing important details, visual-spatial ability for maneuvering, memory for remembering goals and characters, and executive functioning to plan out how to reach the goals or multiple step quests. Video games require flow, presence and immersion, having dedicated attention to be sure to do well.  They also provide much motivation, interest and enjoyment which helps them be an attractive choice in educational and mentally stimulating activity.
A recent study at UC San Francisco found a way to reverse negative effects of aging on cognition by using a video game that targets the specific brain-functions.  This study showed that the concept of brain fitness can be verified scientifically as valuable with lasting and meaningful changes.  The game used in this study specifically calls for a participant to practice multitasking in a fast paced setting while paying attention to random stimuli and the main task at hand.  After only 12 hours with this game over one month the participants who were ages 60-85 out-performed 20-somethings who were playing their first time.  An increase in working memory and sustained attention was also seen, and the skills were maintained for six months after the program ended.

Often when someone learns a task it gets easier, and they must continue to find harder or more novel stimuli to continue challenging their mind; however, with the medium of a video game, the entire activity can be programmed to get harder automatically as the person gets better at it giving them a constant challenge based on ability.

Brain training for the aging brain has been researched much over the past few decades and shown much promise for helping in the fight against dementia.

LiftWare Creates Spoon to Cancel Out Parkinson’s Tremors

Parkinson’s disease is a nervous system disorder that often involves symptoms of dementia.  The tremor exhibited in Parkinson’s disease is one of the most common and most widely recognized symptoms of the disease.  This tremor is not only upsetting to the person with Parkinson’s, but also can interfere with his or her daily activities, including basic hygiene, recreational activities and eating.  Previously a person who wished to correct the tremor to assist in eating would have to wear cumbersome tremor suppression equipment, but new research has led to a device that allows the tremor to happen freely, providing for greater comfort, while cancelling out the movement in the spoon itself to prevent food from being spilled.
Technology like this helps improve the lives of those who have to live with active tremors and allows for a more normal experience in daily life.