The Personality Trait That Protects Against Brain Aging

Personality can help sustain thinking skills in the face of brain aging.

Personality can help sustain thinking skills in the face of brain aging.

A conscientious personality helps protect against brain aging, a study finds.

Conscientious people tend to be well-organised, self-disciplined and motivated for achievement.

People who are higher on this personality trait, which is one of the five major aspects of personality, tend to have greater cognitive resilience.

Cognitive resilience is the ability to maintain strong thinking skills despite deterioration in the brain that occurs naturally with age.

Dr Eileen Graham, the study’s first author, said:

“These findings provide evidence that it is possible for older adults to live with the neuropathology associated with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias while maintaining relatively healthy levels of cognitive function.”

In contrast, a neurotic personality can increase the risk of worse cognitive functioning, the research also found.

People who are neurotic tend to be moody, impulsive and anxious.

They also tend to have lower cognitive resilience, meaning they find it harder to resist the brain’s deterioration with age.

Dr Graham said:

“Our study shows personality traits are related to how well people are able to maintain their cognitive function in spite of developing neuropathology.

Since it is possible for personality to change, both volitionally and through interventions, it’s possible that personality could be used to identify those who are at risk and implement early interventions to help optimize function throughout old age.”

The results come from a study of 1,375 people whose brains were examined for damage after they died.

These results were compared to years of tests previously done on their psychological and cognitive functioning.

It is one of the first studies to show that personality can help people to sustain their thinking skills despite brain aging.

The study was published in The Journals of Gerontology: Series B (Graham et al., 2020).

These Jobs Help You Avoid Mild Cognitive Impairment (M)

Your career choice can partly determine your brain’s fate in old age.

Your career choice can partly determine your brain's fate in old age.

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This Sleep Pattern Accelerates Memory Loss – Possible Link to Alzheimer’s

Sleep pattern lowered levels of an antioxidant that helps fight cellular damage, such as that caused by Alzheimer’s.

Sleep pattern lowered levels of an antioxidant that helps fight cellular damage, such as that caused by Alzheimer’s.

Sleep disruptions similar to jet lag could cause memory problems linked to Alzheimer’s disease, research finds.

It’s well-known by scientists that there’s a link between Alzheimer’s and sleep, but not what causes what.

Professor Gregory Brewer, who led the research, said:

“The issue is whether poor sleep accelerates the development of Alzheimer’s disease or vice versa.

It’s a chicken-or-egg dilemma, but our research points to disruption of sleep as the accelerator of memory loss.”

The research gave jet-lag to mice that had been genetically engineered to suffer from Alzheimer’s.

They did this by moving the dark period every three days to a different time — which is what causes jet-lag.

The jet-lagged mice had lower levels of an antioxidant that helps fight cellular damage, such as that caused by Alzheimer’s.

This suggests it could be poor sleep that is contributing to the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

Professor Brewer said:

“This study suggests that clinicians and caregivers should add good sleep habits to regular exercise and a healthy diet to maximize good memory.”

Dementia and sleep

Many other studies have found a link between dementia and sleep.

People who sleep for too little or too long are at a higher risk of cognitive decline and dementia.

Indeed, people who sleep more than 9 hours a night have double the risk of developing dementia, one study found.

However, those who sleep for between 5.5 and 7.5 hours per night do not see declines in their cognitive health, even when suffering the early effects of Alzheimer’s disease.

Those sleeping longer also have lower brain volumes.

Also, getting less REM sleep — the phase in which we dream — is linked to dementia.

During sleep the brain cycles between periods of deep sleep and then up towards shallower periods of sleep in which we tend to dream, whether we remember those dreams or not.

During REM sleep the eyes move rapidly from side-to-side (hence Rapid Eye Movement Sleep).

Sleep apnea has also been linked to developing Alzheimer’s disease.

The most common signs of sleep apnea, which affects 30 percent of older people, include:

  • Loud snoring,
  • gasping for air during sleep,
  • breathing stopping for brief periods during the night,
  • morning headache,
  • and daytime sleepiness and irritability.

The study was published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease (Brewer et al., 2015).

The Diet That Slows Alzheimer’s Disease And Protects Memory (M)

A diet that not only aids weight loss but also preserves precious memory function.

A diet that not only aids weight loss but also preserves precious memory function.

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Cooking Fish This Way Linked To 14% Larger Brain Volume In Key Area

Brain regions responsible for cognition were 14 percent larger in those who ate fish cooked with this method.

Brain regions responsible for cognition were 14 percent larger in those who ate fish cooked with this method.

Eating both baked and broiled fish once a week protects the brain from loosing gray matter with age, according to new research.

The findings found no link between eating fried fish and better brain health.

Dr Cyrus Raji, who led the study, explained:

“Baked or broiled fish contains higher levels of omega-3s than fried fish because the fatty acids are destroyed in the high heat of frying, so we took that into consideration…”

The data came from 260 people who had their brains scanned and who also provided information on what they had been eating.

They were all part of a 10-year study starting in 1989 which was originally designed to reveal the lifestyle factors important in cardiovascular health.

The study found that people who ate baked or broiled fish had, on average, 4.3% larger brain volumes in the areas responsible for memory and 14% larger volumes in areas responsible for cognition.

Professor James T. Becker, who co-authored the study, explained the results:

“Our study shows that people who ate a diet that included baked or broiled, but not fried, fish have larger brain volumes in regions associated with memory and cognition.

We did not find a relationship between omega-3 levels and these brain changes, which surprised us a little.

It led us to conclude that we were tapping into a more general set of lifestyle factors that were affecting brain health of which diet is just one part.”

Omega-3 fatty acids, which are also found in seeds, nuts and certain oils, have been repeatedly found to enhance brain health.

However, in this study there was no link between actual omega-3 levels in the body and changes in the brain.

Dr Becker said:

“This suggests that lifestyle factors, in this case eating fish, rather than biological factors contribute to structural changes in the brain.

A confluence of lifestyle factors likely are responsible for better brain health, and this reserve might prevent or delay cognitive problems that can develop later in life.”

The study was published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine (Raji et al., 2014).

One Thing That Reduces Dementia Risk 40%

Dementia risk can be reduced 40 percent in this common way.

Dementia risk can be reduced 40 percent in this common way.

Avoiding loneliness reduces dementia risk by 40 percent, research finds.

The study helps underline the striking effect of loneliness on health.

People can still feel lonely despite regular contact with friends, family and colleagues, research shows.

Loneliness can be a feeling of not fitting in with those around you — despite having a lot of social contact.

Dr Angelina Sutin, who led the study, said:

“We are not the first people to show that loneliness is associated with increased risk of dementia.

But this is by far the largest sample yet, with a long follow-up.

And the population was more diverse.”

Socially isolated

The study followed 12,000 Americans over 50-years-old for up to 10 years.

All reported on their levels of loneliness and took cognitive tests.

During the study, 1,104 people developed dementia.

The results revealed that those who reported the highest levels of loneliness were more likely to develop dementia.

Dr Sutin explained that loneliness is different from social isolation:

“It’s a feeling that you do not fit in or do not belong with the people around you.

You can have somebody who lives alone, who doesn’t have very much contact with people, but has enough—and that fills their internal need for socializing.

So even though objectively you might think that person is socially isolated, they don’t feel lonely.

The flip side is that you can be around a lot of people and be socially engaged and interactive and still feel like you don’t belong.

From the outside it looks like you have great social engagement, but the subjective feeling is that you’re not part of the group.”

Loneliness may be linked to dementia through a number of paths:

  • Meaningful social contact may help to keep the brain engaged and healthy.
  • Lonely people may experience more inflammation in their bodies.
  • Loneliness may lead to unhealthy behaviours like drinking.

Escaping loneliness is not easy, but it is at least amenable to change, Dr Sutin said:

“Loneliness is a modifiable risk factor.

Most people might describe periods where they felt lonely and then periods where they didn’t feel lonely.

So just because you feel lonely now, you don’t always have to feel this way.”

The study was published in the Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences (Sutin et al., 2018).

The Best Lifestyle Change To Prevent Cognitive Decline

It takes 20-30 years for the brain changes leading to Alzheimer’s to occur.

It takes 20-30 years for the brain changes leading to Alzheimer’s to occur.

The very best lifestyle change a person can make in midlife to protect against cognitive decline later is taking more exercise.

The results come from a study of 387 women in Australia who were followed from 1992 when they were between 45 and 55-years-old.

They were followed for over 20 years.

The researchers recorded all sorts of lifestyle factors including:

  • mood,
  • smoking,
  • marital and employment status,
  • education,
  • and diet.

Each person was given simple tests of memory, such as the ability to remember a list of ten unrelated items.

Dr Cassandra Szoeke, who led the study, said:

“We now know that brain changes associated with dementia take 20 to 30 years to develop.

The evolution of cognitive decline is slow and steady, so we needed to study people over a long time period.

We used a verbal memory test because that’s one of the first things to decline when you develop Alzheimer’s Disease.”

Out of all the lifestyle changes, the number one protective factor was exercise.

It didn’t matter what type — from walking the dog to climbing a mountain — exercise was the lifestyle factor that provided the greatest protective effect against memory loss.

Dr Szoeke said:

“The message from our study is very simple.

Do more physical activity, it doesn’t matter what, just move more and more often.

It helps your heart, your body and prevents obesity and diabetes and now we know it can help your brain.

It could even be something as simple as going for a walk, we weren’t restrictive in our study about what type.”

You should start as early as possible, Dr Szoeke said:

“We expected it was the healthy habits later in life that would make a difference but we were surprised to find that the effect of exercise was cumulative.

So every one of those 20 years mattered.

If you don’t start at 40, you could miss one or two decades of improvement to your cognition because every bit helps.

That said, even once you’re 50 you can make up for lost time.”

The study was published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry (Szoeke et al., 2016).

How To Boost Your Cognitive Reserves To Limit Decline In Later Life

The five factors linked to healthier brain aging.

The five factors linked to healthier brain aging.

Staying in education or taking on a leadership role at work can help people keep their brains healthy for longer, research finds.

Doing challenging activities in mid-life, the study found, helps people fight off dementia later on.

Professor Linda Clare said:

“Losing mental ability is not inevitable in later life.

We know that we can all take action to increase our chances of maintaining our own mental health, through healthy living and engaging in stimulating activities.

It’s important that we understand how and why this occurs, so we can give people meaningful and effective measures to take control of living full and active lives into older age.

People who engage in stimulating activity which stretches the brain, challenging it to use different strategies that exercise a variety of networks, have higher ‘Cognitive reserve’.

This builds a buffer in the brain, making it more resilient.

It means signs of decline only become evident at a higher threshold of illness or decay than when this buffer is absent.”

The conclusions come from the study of 2,315 people over 65.

They found the following factors were linked to healthier brain aging:

  • Moderate alcohol consumption (meaning not too much alcohol, not that teetotallers need to start drinking!).
  • Mentally stimulating activity.
  • Physical activity.
  • Social activity.
  • Healthy diet.

Professor Bob Woods, who co-authored the study, said:

“We found that people with a healthier lifestyle had better scores on tests of mental ability, and this was partly accounted for by their level of cognitive reserve.

Our results highlight the important of policies and measures that encourage older people to make changes in their diet, exercise more, and engage in more socially oriented and mentally stimulating activities.”

The study was published in the journal PLOS Medicine (Clare et al., 2017).

Cognitive Decline Is A Myth: The Real Reason Names Are Harder To Recall With Age

A steady decline? Experts question whether the human brain really slows down with age.

A steady decline? Experts question whether the human brain really slows down with age.

Linguistic experts argue that people’s brains do not slow down with age, but actually show the benefits of experience.

Tests that had previously been taken to show cognitive decline as people age, they maintain, are actually showing the effects of having more information to process.

While accepting that physiological diseases of old age clearly exist, they say that the usual cognitive changes associated with age are exactly what you’d expect as the brain gathers more experience.

Remembering names

As linguists, they decided to test their theory using words–specifically the number of words that a person learns across their lifetime.

They set up a computer simulation to model this.

As the simulation got ‘older’, it began to slow down as it learnt more words–exactly as people do with ageing.

The lead author of the study, Dr Michael Ramscar, explained it like this:

“Imagine someone who knows two people’s birthdays and can recall them almost perfectly.

Would you really want to say that person has a better memory than a person who knows the birthdays of 2000 people, but can ‘only’ match the right person to the right birthday nine times out of ten?”

It’s not that people are forgetting words with age, it’s that there are more words competing for attention.

People face a similar problem with names: as they age, they learn more names, so one name is harder to recall because it is competing with a larger pool of alternate names in memory.

On top of this, names have become varied.

The authors give the example that in the 1880s, when trying to recall a woman’s first-name, there were about 100 equally possible alternatives.

Due to the greater variety in first-names now, however, you’d be trying to choose between 2,000 likely alternatives.

Age and experience

Even better news for the ageing population, the linguists argue, is that older people are actually making better use of the extra information that comes with experience.

On some tests, related to learning pairs of works, older people do better as they have access to more words which have been learnt over a lifetime.

Biology

What, you might wonder, about all the neurobiological evidence that the brain’s cognitive powers decline with age?

Well, excepting real diseases like Alzheimer’s, scientists have only discovered that the brain changes with age, not that these changes are the cause of any cognitive decline.

It has only been assumed that neurobiological changes in the brain are related to cognitive declines, since these two were thought to be happening simultaneously.

Now that there are questions over whether cognitive declines are really there, these neurobiological changes may have to be reassessed.

Is cognitive decline a myth?

If cognitive decline with age really is a myth then, the authors worry, simply being told that your brain slows down with age is damaging.

That’s because when people are told they are getting more stupid, they behave as though this were true.

The authors conclude by saying:

“…population aging is seen as a problem because of the fear that older adults will be a burden on society; what is more likely is that the myth of cognitive decline is leading to an absurd waste of human potential and human capital.

It thus seems likely that an informed understanding of the cognitive costs and benefits of aging will benefit all society, not just its older members.”

The study was published in the journal Topics in Cognitive Science (Ramscar et al., 2014).

This Early Sign Of Dementia Doubles The Risk

Losing this sense is the strongest early sign of dementia.

Losing this sense is the strongest early sign of dementia.

Older people who cannot identify smells like lemons, paint-thinner and roses are at double the risk of developing dementia, research finds.

Problems with other senses, such as vision, hearing and touch, can also be indicative of dementia.

However, difficulty with smell is the biggest sensory sign of dementia.

Other early signs of dementia include changes in sense of humour, increased apathy, memory problems and being unaware of those memory problems, being unable to understand sarcasm and insomnia.

Dr Willa Brenowitz, the study’s first author, said:

“Sensory impairments could be due to underlying neurodegeneration or the same disease processes as those affecting cognition, such as stroke.

Alternatively, sensory impairments, particularly hearing and vision, may accelerate cognitive decline, either directly impacting cognition or indirectly by increasing social isolation, poor mobility and adverse mental health.”

The study included almost 1,800 people in their 70s who were tracked for up to 10 years.

Around one-in-five developed dementia during that time.

The results showed that people with poor senses were at twice the risk of developing the disease.

While previous research has focused on smell, this study added together the effects of all the senses.

Dr Brenowitz said:

“The olfactory bulb, which is critical for smell, is affected fairly early on in the course of the disease.

It’s thought that smell may be a preclinical indicator of dementia, while hearing and vision may have more of a role in promoting dementia.”

People’s whose sense of smell declined by 10 percent were at a 19 percent greater risk of dementia, the study found.

Declines in hearing touch and vision were linked to a 1-to-3 percent level of increased risk.

Dr Kristine Yaffe, study co-author, said:

“We found that with deteriorating multisensory functioning, the risk of cognitive decline increased in a dose-response manner.

Even mild or moderate sensory impairments across multiple domains were associated with an increased risk of dementia, indicating that people with poor multisensory function are a high-risk population that could be targeted prior to dementia onset for intervention.”

The study was published in the journal  Alzheimer’s and Dementia (Brenowitz et al., 2020).

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