Showing posts with label how to postpone dementia. Show all posts
Showing posts with label how to postpone dementia. Show all posts

Friday, June 17, 2022

Train Your Working Memory to Improve Cognitive Function

UCI Memory Lab Brain Training Helped Me.
In the summer of 2018, I took a brain class from a local community college, which started me on a journey to protect my cognitive ability, to the extent possible.  I was in my late 60s at the time.  During that class, a guest speaker from the University of California - Irvine MIND Program asked us to sign up for their C2C registry, which stands for "Consent to Contact."  They use this registry to find people who are willing to participate in a variety of studies to help them test different programs which might improve the memory of people as they age. I was excited to join their program!  If you have a research university near you, you might be able to enroll in a similar opportunity.

APT Webstudy

The first program UCI directed me to try has been the APT Webstudy, which is available to anyone, anywhere for free over the internet.  You can try it, too.  Since 2019, I have logged on, as instructed, every three months and used their online program to test myself to see if there has been any changes in my working memory.  Working memory could also be thought of as your very short-term memory, or your ability to keep track of things going on right now.

The program consists of doing a self-report on my memory, and then playing four games on the screen to test myself.  The tests consist of looking at a series of playing cards and trying to remember whether I have seen that card earlier in the test.  

The APT Web Study takes me about 20 minutes every three months, which means the time commitment is minimal. So far, my scores have remained remarkably stable, going up and down by only a small amount over the past three years. That is ideal.  The program describes itself as an Alzheimer's Prevention Trial for people over the age of 50.  I don't know that it will prevent Alzheimer's Disease, but it will provide you important clues to watch and discuss with your doctor if your scores begin to change.  If you want to try it out and track your memory yourself, you can find the free program at:  

I have found it very reassuring to be able to test myself every few months and confirm that my working memory continues to operate normally. However, this test does not seem to do anything to improve my memory, as far as I can tell.  It is possible, however, that it is slightly training my working memory, which is a benefit in itself.

Next I Tried tDCS Brain Stimulation

In May of 2022, I also agreed to participate in a more active type of brain training involving the use of tDCS electrical stimulation on my brain, while I simultaneously completed a series of memory activities under the supervision of researchers. This study took place at the UCI Working Memory and Plasticity Lab under the direction of Dr. Susanne Jaeggi, with the help of a number of research assistants.  According to their brochure, they "have developed an intervention on cognitive training and successful aging.  The aim of the intervention is to optimize opportunities for cognitive health and wellbeing in older adults."  Anything that could help me achieve more successful aging sounds like a good program to me!

Over the past decade the researchers at the UCI Memory lab have "developed computerized interventions to improve learning and memory in diverse populations ... focused on working memory."  

They have used their interventions to train several hundred children, young adults, and older adults (like me!).  They have also found that just a couple of weeks of training improved working memory for at least several months, with the hope that the benefits will last much longer.   According to their research "the more you train, the more you improve."  

What Happened During the tDCS Experiment?

The first session began with a series of sixteen words which I was shown briefly. Then I was asked to recall as many as possible.  Afterwards, I was hooked up to the tDCS device, with two electrodes strapped to my head.  The letters stand for Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation. It is described as "a non-invasive, painless brain stimulation treatment that uses direct electrical currents to stimulate specific parts of the brain. A constant, low intensity current is passed through two electrodes placed over the head which modulate neuronal activity."  It has been used for several years as a treatment for depression and now they are doing research to see if it can also improve working memory.  Early research indicates that it may be effective. The idea of trying it sounded exciting to me, and also a little scary.  

While wearing this equipment, I used an iPad to perform a number of memory tests, which were in addition to the word memory test which I had been given at the start of the session.  The computer tests consisted of being shown an object, animal, plant or number and then recalling whether it was the same as the item I had watched scroll by briefly on the computer screen one back, then two back, and eventually three back.  

In other words, I might be shown a lemon, then an orange, then an apple, then a lemon, then a pear, then an apple, and so on.  When I got to the second lemon, I had seen it before "three back," so I clicked on it.  I had to keep on my toes, because I had also seen the apple three back, and I had to click on it.  I confess that at times I got confused about when I had seen an object before. Was it two back, three back, or four back?  However, I plunged ahead and tried my best.

After the tDCS electrodes were removed about 30 minutes later, I was asked to recall the words that I had been asked to remember at the beginning of the session!

Following the brain activities, I was taken to another building where they performed an MRI to see how my brain looked on the first day of the training program.

That was the end of the first session.

For sessions two through six, which took place the following week, I did all the same things, except I did not repeat the MRI that week.  At the beginning of each session I was shown a group of 16 new words, and asked to repeat them from memory.  Then, I was asked to recall all the words I could from earlier in the week. By Friday, I was being asked to recall as many of the 80 words I had been asked to memorize as possible! 

After the word recall, I spent about an hour each day in the lab with the tDCS electrodes strapped to my head, while performing a variety of memory matching tests, striving to improve how far back I could remember the items each time.

The following week, I attended session seven, which was a repeat of session one, including the MRI.  The researchers plan to compare the two MRIs to see if my brain underwent any physical changes as the result of the training.  

During the second MRI, I was given a device with two buttons on it. I was shown a series of words and asked to punch either the "yes" or "no" button to confirm whether or not the word I was shown briefly on a screen was a word I had been asked to memorize during the preceding week. I did this while the MRI machine was making its loud, metallic sounds.  It was very challenging and I know I made a few mistakes during the session.

The UCI Memory Lab plans to do a follow-up set of memory tests, plus an additional MRI, in three months to see if my memory and my brain have maintained their training. I certainly hope I continue to benefit from this training. I have noticed that it seems slightly easier for me to remember names and events since my seven sessions at the memory lab. Is it real improvement or am I just imagining it?  It is hard to know for sure.

Meanwhile, I may try some memory games to continue exercising my brain, even though I will not have the tDCS machine to use while practicing the memory games.  One highly ranked workbook I found was the "Memory Activity Book:  100+ Brain Exercises to Supercharge Your Memory."  (Ad) It is certainly worth a try while I attempt to retain as much of my enhanced memory as possible.  Anyone could use this book, or a similar one, to train their own memory.  UCI emphasizes that we all must "use it or lose it" when it comes to keeping our brains active.

I was also surprised to learn that it is possible to purchase your own tDCS device and, in fact, you can look here at a: wide variety of tDCS devices in various price ranges (Ad) and see if one of them could help give your own memory a boost.  I do not know if one is any better than the others, so you may want to read the reviews and discuss it with your private physician.  

The tDCS device I used at UCI did not have any negative side effects on me. I did not experience pain or any type of sensation, either during or after the procedure. However, your experience could be different.  They did question me frequently about whether it gave me a headache, made my scalp itch, cause any rashes, and things like that.  My conclusion from their questions is that some people do have negative side effects.

Brain Classes and Personal Behavior 

In addition to the studies mentioned above, I have continued to take brain classes and attend programs held by various researchers from the University of California at Irvine.   Here are the basics of the personal behaviors you can adopt in order to protect your brain health and retain your memory as long as possible:

Cognitive Engagement or challenging yourself mentally is an important key to brain health.  This means learning new skills, reading books, playing a musical instrument and things like that.

Social Engagement or spending quality time with family and friends, including making new friends, is beneficial to cognition.  The best "brain game" you can play is to be deeply engaged in an interesting conversation with other people.

Diet and Nutrition, or specifically adhering to a "heart healthy" diet such as the Mediterranean diet, is linked to overall brain health and longevity.  One of the most highly recommended diets for brain health is called the "Mind Diet" (Ad) and it is worthwhile to pick up a copy of the cookbook so you can follow their diet plan more closely.  

Physical Activity, including any type of exercise, can produce "beneficial changes to brain structure and cognitive function.  This means that physical activity can actually change the structure of your brain, and it can be virtually any activity you enjoy ... walking, swimming, dancing, gardening, etc.

Sleep is crucial for brain health.  In fact, every session I had with the tDCS machine started with questions about how I slept the night before.  

If you want to age well and maintain a strong working memory and your cognitive ability well into your retirement years, you may want to to take brain classes in your area, participate in any brain training they offer, and adopt the personal behaviors recommended above.  These actions could make a huge difference in the quality of your life in the future. 

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Photo credit: UCI Memory Lab and Amazon book cover

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

New Alzheimers Disease Research

Are you worried about developing Alzheimer's Disease?  You have good reason to be.  Currently, there are about 5.3 million people in the United States who have Alzheimer's.  By 2050, experts believe that there will be over 15 million people in the U.S. living with this dreadful disease.

Dr. Kenneth S. Kosik is a neurologist who has been researching Alzheimer's for the past 25 years, originally at Harvard Medical School and later at the University of California, Santa Barbara.  While he has not found a drug or technological treatment for the disease, he has discovered lifestyle behaviors that seem to dramatically reduce the risk.

Habits of People Who Have a Low Dementia Risk

1.  Physical activity lowers dementia risk.  You do not need to run a marathon to benefit.  Exercising three times a week for 15 to 30 minutes each time resulted in fewer cases of Alzheimer's disease, even for people who had the disease run in their family.

2.  Walk a mile a day.  People who walk six to nine miles a week have more gray matter in their brains.

3.  Dance!  Dancing not only provides physical activity, but it keeps you social.  Socializing and learning new steps are both good for your brain.

4.  Eat brain healthy foods ... leafy greens, vegetables, nuts, berries, beans, whole grains, fish, poultry, olive oil and wine.  Eating four servings of vegetables a day can cut your cognitive decline by 40 percent.

5.  Minimize unhealthy foods ... butter, margarine, red meat, cheese, sweets, desserts, fried food and fast food.

6.  Use brain healthy spices, especially curry and turmeric.  They contain the antioxidant curcumin, which can reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease, cancer, arthritis and depression.

7.  Make friends and spend time with them.  As mentioned above, socializing is very important.  People who spend time with others had a 70 percent lower rate of cognitive decline over a 12 year period.

Take on mentally stimulating tasks.  Research shows that you can postpone dementia by nearly a decade by exercising your brain.  Here are some activities you could try:  read both fiction and non-fiction (especially new topics), play board games, practice a musical instrument, work on puzzles, draw, paint or sculpt.

How to Learn More about Reducing Alzheimer's Risk

Would you like to learn more about Dr. Kosik's research?  You can use this link to order his book "Outsmarting Alzheimer's" from Amazon.  It is available in both hardcover and paperback versions. You may also be interested in the other books on dementia shown below. They are well worth reading.

If you want to know more about common health issues as we age, where to retire, financial planning, family relationships and more, use the tabs or pull down menu at the top of the page to find links to hundreds of other helpful articles.

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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

How to Slow Down Alzheimers Disease

Get exercise, learn a new skill, and
spend time with others!
A little article in the January, 2012 issue of Reader's Digest has spurred me to pass on this information about how to postpone the development of Alzheimer's Disease.  The article was a summary of the main points in the new book, available from, "The Alzheimer's Prevention Program," by Gary Small, an M.D. at the UCLA Longevity Center.  If you suspect that you are at particular risk of developing this dreaded disease, this book may well be worth reading.

The Reader's Digest article, and a sidebar accompanying it, relayed some information that could be invaluable to every Baby Boomer.  Dr. Small estimates that people could prevent or postpone a million cases of Alzheimers every 5 years if they would just make one healthy change to their lifestyles.  Below are some of the changes that they recommended.

Lifestyle Changes That May Slow Down Dementia

* Increase your exercise.  Exercise actually increases brain muscle, according to Dr. Small in the Reader's Digest article.  I knew that exercise was good for us, but I had never heard it put in those terms!

* Challenge yourself mentally.  Sitting and doing crossword puzzles is not enough.  Sign up for a college class, learn a new skill, or get into a political discussion.  I have also heard that learning a new language in our 60's can be beneficial.

* Eat healthy food, but not too much.  If you are overweight, you have a significantly higher chance of developing dementia.

* Reduce your stress by meditating, getting a massage, going for a walk, or taking classes in tai chi or yoga.  The better you manage your stress, the lower your dementia risk.

* Socialize with others.  Having friends can reduce dementia risk by as much as 60%!

* Take a few supplements.  In particular, you should take a multi-vitamin, fish oil and curcumin (which is in turmeric, the powder that gives curry powder that yellow color).

These are all simple activities, but they are extremely important in improving the quality of life we will enjoy during the years after retirement.  In addition, if you believe that you are developing serious signs of dementia, despite your best efforts, you will want to see your doctor right away.  There are treatments that can help slow down the progression of the disease.

Whether you are already retired, or just preparing to retire soon, you may also want to get more information by using the tabs or pull down menu at the top of this page to find links to hundreds of additional articles on where to retire, health issues that could develop, financial planning, travel, family relationships and more.

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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

How to Postpone Alzheimers and Dementia

As if we don't have enough problems to worry about when we start planning our retirement, most of us also wonder if we will still have fully functioning brains as we age. Dementia, including diseases like Alzheimers, is a very real health concern.

I wanted to pass on this information that I picked up from the website RealAge. com. It is from a September, 2011 article entitled "7 Ways to Prevent Alzheimer's."

Before I reveal their suggestions, it is important for people to realize that there is currently no way to guarantee that doing these things will actually permanently prevent Alzheimers. However, some medical researchers seem to believe that about half of all cases could at least be postponed. As far as I'm concerned, these are facts that are worth knowing about. Below are the actions that Real Age recommends we all take for better brain health.

How to Postpone Dementia

1. Don't smoke. That's one habit I don't have. For those of you who do, this is one more reason to throw that pack away!  Smokers have more than twice the incidence of dementia!

2. Get exercise. According to Real Age, taking a daily walk can keep your brain from shrinking, because it increases the blood flow throughout your body, including to your brain. Who knew??  Of course, walking is also good for other aspects of our health, as well.

3. Keep your blood pressure low. High blood pressure is related to Alzheimers. One food they recommend is watermelon. Apparently, it is very effective at lowering blood pressure. That's wonderful, since it is one of my favorite summer fruits!  Some people may also need to take blood pressure medication.  It if enables you to think more clearly as you age, you may seriously want to consider medication if your blood pressure is high.

4. Get a good night's sleep. This suggestion was a bit more complicated. According to Real Age, if you don't sleep enough, you increase the chances that you will get type 2 diabetes, and diabetes is related Alzheimers. I think this suggestion should have been to simply live a lifestyle that reduces your chances of getting diabetes!  However, even outside of the diabetes link, I have read other reports that suggest that people who have the best quality sleep also are less likely to develop dementia.

5. Go outside. This suggestion seems simple enough. Apparently, when you spend time outside you are less likely to feel depressed, and depression is linked to Alzheimers. (It seems to me that this is one more reason to live somewhere that has mild winters!)

6. Keep learning. Medical researchers have discovered that it is especially beneficial to learn a new language, although any type of learning seems to be beneficial. French classes, anyone?  If you don't want to learn a new language, you might consider music lessons, learning to play a new game or developing other challenging skills.

7. Lose weight. I knew that one would show up. I keep trying, but I am sure that I am going to take a few extra pounds to my grave with me! However, perhaps the fear of not being able to remember the names of my loved ones will make a difference. I'll keep trying ... and I suggest that other people do, too.  However, there is also research that it is better not to be underweight.  It seems that the best situation is to be at your ideal weight or slightly more than that.

In the comment section of the Real Age article, readers made their own suggestions. One person suggested that a glass of red wine once in a while could help our brains. Other people suggested adding tumeric to your food and tea. Tumeric is found in curry powder in the U.S.

The Doctor Oz television show on ABC also did a special about Alzheimers on September 21, 2011. He had as his guests Dr. Andrew Weil and Deepak Chopra. First, he showed slices of a brain with Alzheimers, and you could actually see the holes in the brain. Then, Dr. Oz and his guests mentioned some supplements they use to ward off Alzheimers. Among the products they suggested were: Vitamin D, the herb Ginko, Phosphatidylsirene (also called PS), coffee, magnesium, tumeric, sage and ginger. You may want to look up this television show and watch the entire program.  I want to mention, however, that some of these suggestions are not backed by scientific research.  However, moderate amounts of those products will not harm you, and they might do your brain some good.

The way I look at it, none of these suggestions will hurt me, and I plan to try at least some of them. Anything I can do to prevent or postpone Alzeimers seems worthwhile to me.

If you are interested in reading other articles about aging, retirement, retirement planning, maintaining your health, where to retire or financial planning, use the tabs or pull down menu at the top of the page to find links to hundreds of additional articles. 

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