Memory and Aging

So it’s common knowledge that the elderly, as they age, are plagued by deteriorating memory.  But this isn’t just because their bodies are failing.  It’s because they’re not able to get adequate amounts of restful sleep!

>> Sleep Deprivation May Be Behind Memory Loss in Elderly << 

Scientists at UC Berkeley conducted surveys where they tested subjects of all ages on memory retention and then tested them again after a night of sleep.  While most of the subjects performed on par with one another before sleeping, the elderly performed much more poorly afterwards.  So seniors aren’t actually worse at remembering; their brains are actually impaired by the inability to process new memories brought on by lack of restful sleep!

So for those of us who are not getting adequate amounts of deep sleep, we’re basically performing at the cognitive level of senior citizens.

– Sandra

The Lingering Effects of Adolescence

I feel like we’re constantly posting all these articles about (not) growing up, but here’s another one from New York Magazine that a friend sent to me.  It’s kind of a long piece, but it could actually be read as a series of mini articles.

>> Why You Never Truly Leave High School <<

I highly recommend reading through the whole thing, so I’ve included some highlights to whet your appetite:

Pg. 1 – The “reminiscence bump” suggests that memories made between the ages of 15 and 25 are the most vividly retained.

Pg. 2 – Your height, weight and attractiveness at the age of 16 are correlated with your adult success and earning power.

Pg. 3 – This part has two interesting proponents.  The first is that when they incited fear in adolescent mice, this fear was vividly recalled in the mice even after reaching adulthood.  The analogous experiment in adults and children did not have the same result; these mice forgot.  Second, high school and other teenage social environments are a fairly modern idea.  Just a couple of generations ago, many teens didn’t graduate from high school and instead worked alongside adults.  Maybe sequestering teens amongst themselves isn’t the most successful idea…

Pg. 5 – In studies where teens were asked who their best friends were, only 37% of them were reciprocated. When asked by high school students to categorize their classmates into groups (Popular, Smart, Jocks, Outcasts…) only 27% and 37% (in two separate iterations of the study) of the thought-to-be-Popular kids thought of themselves as Popular.

Pg. 6 – In 2000, 10th graders were asked to align themselves with a character from The Breakfast Club.  When evaluated 8 years later, these earlier characterizations proved predictive… EXCEPT for the ones who had identified themselves as princesses at 16.  These women – now 24 – had lower self-esteem than the women who had identified themselves as brainy.

What do you guys think?

– Sandra

Exercise (For) Your Brain!

Breaking news: exercise is good for your brain!  In a study published last April, researchers at Dartmouth tested how a month of exercise can affect a person’s memory.  Not so surprisingly, they found that those that exercised for at least 30 minutes daily showed much improved memory functions than those that had remained sedentary.

>> How Exercise Can Jog the Memory <<

Conversely, fatty foods were shown – in a separate study – to seriously detriment the brain’s cognitive functions over time.  In a lab study in rats, they found that a high-fat diet actually lead to an accelerated decline into dementia!  But they also found that exercise effectively counteracted these declines in cognitive function.  So if you think you’re eating too many cheeseburgers, hit the gym, and you should be good!

>> Can Exercise Protect the Brain From Fatty Foods? <<

But both studies found that the positive effects of exercise on the brain (increased neuron production, improved memory, etc) could only be sustained with continued exercise.  In as little as 3 weeks of inactivity, the brain can become indistinguishable from those that had never engaged in exercise to begin with.

>> Do the Brain Benefits of Exercise Last? <<

This is unrelated but still very interesting:  Babies start to recognize language from inside the womb!!

>> Babies Seem To Pick Up Language In Utero <<

– Sandra