Posts Tagged "memory"

Dr. Seuss, omega-3s and brains!

Posted by on Mar 5, 2012 in aging, memory/learning | 1 comment

I am not jumping on the Dr. Seuss bandwagon, I promise! But when I ran across this study on omega-3 fatty acids, the aging brain and memory, the following lines from Oh! The Places You’ll Go came to mind:

You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go…” —  Oh! The Places You’ll Go. Dr. Seuss

Damn our aging brains, right?! Coupled with waning hormones, daily stressors and even weight gain, and many women of ‘a certain age’ are left with a veritable mindless meld cognitive decline and memory issues that only seem to worsen over time. And there’s nothing that can be done.

Think again. Researchers say that low levels of omega-3 fatty acids may accelerate the rate at which our brains age and even cause lapses in thinking and memory. This latest bit of information comes from an analysis of from 1,575 women participating in the ongoing Framingham Study. Women in this portion of the study (who were, on average 67 years old) had their blood drawn and examined for concentrations of omega-3s in red blood cells, underwent brain MRI, and participated in battery of cognitive-psychological tests. The findings? Those with the lowest levels of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) had lower brain volumes compared to women who had higher levels. According to one of the lead study investigators. Dr. Zaldy Tan, this distinction “is equivalent to about two years of structural brain aging.” Moreover, lower DHA and ecosapentoic acid (EHA) levels were also linked to declines in the ability to solve problems, multitask and think abstractly – all of which are tied to visual memory and so-called “executive function,”  a concept that refers to the ability to connect past experiences with present action. Humans use executive function to plan, organize, strategize, focus and remember details and manage time.

These findings are critical because they add to a growing body of research that show that omega-3 fatty acids are essential for brain health, possibly due to their positive actions on blood vessels in the central nervous system. In fact, clogged arteries and stroke are associated higher risks of dementia and cognitive decline, so the benefits of omega-3s may relate to how they can help to lower blood pressure, reduce stroke risk, decrease inflammation and reduce blood fat levels. The ongoing question is always diet versus supplements. And while diet is sure to improve the body’s concentrations of omega-3s, it can be difficult to maintain the three times a week regimen.

Personally? I have gravitate towards Krill oil because it doesn’t cause the ‘burps’ and is environmentally friendly. But as a dietician friend recently pointed out to me, the levels of DHA in Krill oil are relatively low, meaning that if I want to slow down my aging brain, I may need to find sources of DHA to supplement what I’m already taking (e.g. from seaweed or coldwater fish).

Dr. Seuss made it abundantly clear that we have choices and it is those choices that will steer the direction we go. Want to save your brain? It looks as though the addition of omega-3s might help.

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Wednesday Bubble: What did you forget? And why?

Posted by on Dec 14, 2011 in aging, memory/learning | 0 comments

If you are like me, you often get up, enter rooms and spend at least five minutes wandering aimlessly around trying to remember why you are there in the first place. And these memory challenges? They tend to worsen as we age and certainly as we move through menopause, not only do to hormones but largely to stress. However, researchers still haven’t completely discerned the ‘what’ from the ‘what’ when it comes to memory, although a current exploration of the topic in the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology certainly lends an interesting perspective: doorways.


Yes, doorways, or more specifically, walking through them from one location to another, which according to a team of researchers at the University of Notre Dame, causes us to forget information. The reasons, although fairly complex, appear to be linked to a shift that occurs when one’s boundary or environment does; crossing the threshold causes the brain to go into overdrive to update understanding of ongoing events. So, as we analyze our new environment (i.e. the contents of another room), information that was present in our brains before we crossed the threshold is no longer so readily available.

In a series of three experiments, researchers teased out the ‘why’ of recall or lack thereof.  In the first, 31 women were seated in front of a computer simulated game, in which they became totally immersed in moving objects from a table in one room to a table in the same room or in another. However, once they started moving on the screen, the object they were carrying became invisible. And when they were asked to repeatedly recall the objects that they were carrying  immediately after entering the new location, recall apparently became slower and less accurate than the recall right after they moved the object across the room.

In a second task, 28 women and 32 men moved through a real world environment, where they chose and then carried covered physical objects from one room to another and then were asked to take a recognition test. Again, their memory appeared to worsen between the rooms rather than within them.

The researchers then conducted a third task, in which they discovered that context is not important and contrary to what many believe, we don’t encode information when we sit in a room, leave it and then return.

The upshot is that it appears that we keep information at hand until some sort of shift occurs and the brain needs to purge it to deal with new information. That shift is as simple as walking through a doorway and once it’s gone, it may be gone forever and irretrievable.

Do hormone shifts make this worse? Who knows? But, your daily memory loss appears to be only a doorway away.

p.s. Writers Charles Brenner and Jeffrey Zacks wrote a great piece about this study in Scientific American. Definitely check it out for more about this research.


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Stressed out? No wonder you can’t remember…

Posted by on Sep 24, 2010 in estrogen, memory/learning | 7 comments

I have a friend on Twitter who coined the phrase “can’t remember shit.” This phrase greets me throughout the day because I am constantly forgetting even the simplest things. Why did I enter this room? What was I going to look up?  How did I get here? Why can’t I focus?  And lists? Fuggedaboutit – they don’t do squat; even when I have them, I forget.

I blame  my memory and focus problems on hormones all the time. However, if this were true, then the addition of hormones, in particular estrogen, would balance out the forgetting and boost my attention and focus, right?

Hence, I was intrigued when I ran across a small study in Menopause looking at cognition and stress, which seemed to back an earlier contention that stress plays a huge part in recall ability in menopausal women.

In this rather small trial, 22 postmenopausal women  (50 to 83 years) took either placebo or an estrogen tablet (1 mg estradiol daily for one month and then 2 mg daily for two months). After three months, they were asked to ingest a substance that depleted certain compounds (called monoamines) that the body manufactures and uses to stabilize mood, perform a mildly stressful test, and then undergo a series of tests on stress levels, mood, anxiety and cognition.

It appears that at least in this small group of women, taken estrogen was actually linked with poorer cognition following a stressful event, including the ability to recall words and slower reaction time. Because this occurred independently of the depletion of  mood compounds or negative mood, the researchers say that the effect of estrogen, which has been shown in some studies to improve cognition, is not as straightforward as previously believed. What’s more, the significant increase in stress and stress reactions during menopause may actually interfere with estrogen benefits in so far as memory and recall go.

Our lives are increasingly busier, especially now that we can be connected 24/7. Personally, I can’t even get a work out into my day without some sort of interruption. That’s why it’s so important to figure out  how hormones interact with stress, so that we can make informed decisions — not only about menopausal decisions — but also about general life decisions.

Look, memory recall and attention are undoubtedly linked to aging, at least to some extent. But now? Stress may be playing a role in how hormones impact our reactions, focus and attention span, and memory. So the next time you can’t remember shit? Maybe a few deep breaths can help.

No wonder!

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Want your brain back? How about an exercise in sustainability? Andrea Learned explains…

Posted by on Apr 23, 2010 in memory/learning | 2 comments

Remember your Brain on Midlife? Perhaps not! But my pal Andrea Learned wrote a wonderful piece on her blog the other day that I’m stealing. (Well, not really stealing since Andrea, god bless her, has granted me permission to repost it on Flashfree). The theme is sustainability and the gist, that we might be able to boost our midlife brains and preserve all those precious bits of information that seem to swirl around endlessly and never land in the same place. Thanks for the post Andrea!

As a mid-40-something myself, I took heart in an interview Terry Gross did with author Barbara Strauch on NPR’s Fresh Air the other day.  In talking about her new book, The Secret Life of the Grown-up Brain: The Surprising Talents of the Middle-Aged Mind, Strauch mentioned a few brain science backed facts that bode well especially for those of us “middle-agers” entering into this whole new world of sustainability.  It also made me think we have but one more case to make for any business that is lagging in their efforts on that front.

While I have not yet read the book, following are two points Strauch made in that interview, and why I think there may be sustainability implications:

1) Bi-lateralization.  Younger people tend to use one side of their brain to learn and another to recall.  But, as people age, their brains are more likely to use both sides of the brain to do both tasks.  Along similar lines, research into how women make purchasing decisions, too, cite a more “holistic” process of integrating the linear (left hemisphere thinking) with the relational (right hemisphere thinking).  The sustainability angle?  To think and engage with sustainability, you’ve got to be able to get your brain thinking more bi-laterally.

2) Exercising your frontal cortex.  One way to keep your brain highly functioning is to push it, by doing such things as: “creating a disorienting dilemma,” confronting ideas that are different from your own, or, talking with people with whom you disagree. All of these “challenges” sharpen your brain.  The sustainability angle?  For a lot of business types (and consumers, as well), thinking sustainably is indeed a “disorienting dilemma.”

The connections my own perhaps overly active brain made were these:

– While we’ve got to love what the younger generations bring to the table in terms of passion and enthusiasm for sustainability, we middle-agers may have brains that predispose us to better see all sides of the story and the mission.  Like the younger generations, we are very excited about green for green’s sake and want it to happen NOW.  However, we have the more holistic view that helps us step back and possibly make compromises in order to get to that longer term sustainable ideal.  We are more allowing of the long journey, because we’ve been on it longer.

– It isn’t just me and my marketing to women background.  It makes sense that the way women more naturally think aligns with how we sustainability-advocates would like all business people to start to think – more holistically and more EVERY stakeholder-aware.  What can we all learn from that realization to move sustainability forward?  I believe that women’s buying ways are a great filter both for understanding the sustainably-minded consumer and for training business brains to integrate sustainable practices.

– Finally, being IN the sustainability field is great exercise for our brains!  It automatically puts us in disagreement with a whole host of conventional business thinkers.  It forces us to learn new things almost moment to moment.  If we’ve got long experience in business done the old way, sustainability can be incredibly disorienting .  If all the other fascinating ideas and solutions that come from thinking sustainably weren’t enough, we can selfishly and simply give our own brains major frontal cortex exercise!  (Maybe Barbara Strauch will write her next book about the amazing ways our brains end up changing culture?)

Needless to say, those of you who have been reading my work for years know that my throwing out something new to ponder is par for the course.  I wonder if my brain knew I needed to get into sustainability long before I actually acknowledged it?  Anyway – your counterintuitive “Learned On” lesson for the day is that middle age may well help you engage with and understand sustainability better.  Now, go out and use that oh-so wise brain to make your company smarter too!

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Wednesday Bubble: this is your brain on midlife

Posted by on Mar 31, 2010 in memory/learning | 13 comments

Got brain? If you still have yours’, maybe you’ve seen mine also.

I’ve noticed that as the days and weeks pass, my recall seems to be declining. I remain uncertain as to the cause – is it overload, life or declining hormones? Has middle age truly taken my brain? If so, I’ve got a small but important request for the universal goddesses: I’d like it back.

Just last week I received an important notice from the New York State Division of Taxation with approval to dissolve my Corporation. Any of you who know me or know of my former company know that this has been a drawn-out and arduous process. But I got the letter! And permission for closure. The thing is…I lost it.

Perhaps it’s in the black hole of all things Liz, amongst single earrings, lone socks and that piece of family jewelry that I’ve been looking for for over a year now. Maybe I threw it out; I have a genetic disease that I refer to as ‘anti-hoarder syndrome or AHS,’ as in, “I must discard any bit of clutter that enters my humble abode.” (My father has this illness so it resonates deeply with me, irritatingly so I  might add.) Or maybe, it’s sitting in that pile that I’ve gone through about 15 times and will bare its ugly head once I receive its replacement.

If you’re wondering what this has to do with bubbles or bursting illusions, well I’d like to take a stab at one that’s been bothering me for some time now; memory in midlife (aka, your brain on midlife). Researchers who specialize in women’s health and menopause have been consistent in their attempts to decipher the ever-present mind meltdown, attributing it to declining testosterone, a loss of the brain’s gray matter or as I suspect, stress. Yet, regardless of its cause, I am becoming increasingly aware of its presence and the fact that its become a part of who I am.

Whether I am entering a room with a mission or surfing the web, I seem to constantly arrive without my original purpose and then stand (or sit) there desperately seeking the key as to why I went there in the first place. Typically, that key reappears during inopportune times when the goal has lost its relevance, or when I am nowhere near a computer or a room to complete the task.

This is my brain on midlife. Forgetful, spacey, devoid of information. A blank bubble lingering above my head.

Truly, if you run across it, can you send it home?

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