TIME Mental Health/Psychology

17 Ways to Age-Proof Your Brain

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Sharpen your memory with these surprising anti-aging tricks

What’s good for your body is good for your brain. That means eating a balanced diet with lots of fruits and veggies and not much sugar, saturated fat, or alcohol, as well as getting enough exercise and sleeping about eight hours a night. But evidence is accumulating that a whole host of other activities can help keep our brains young even as we advance in chronological age. There is no one magic activity that you need to take on, but trying a handful of the following will help.

Take dance lessons

Seniors who danced three to four times a week—especially those who ballroom danced—had a 75% lower risk of dementia compared with people who did not dance at all, found a 2003 landmark study in the New England Journal of Medicine. Why? “Dancing is a complex activity,” says study lead author Joe Verghese, MD, chief of geriatrics at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City. “It’s aerobic so it improves blood flow to the brain which has been shown to improve brain connections. It also provides mental challenges.” While it can be hard to prove cause and effect (people with dementia may cut back on activities), the study enrolled people without dementia and followed them over time.

Play an instrument

Whether it’s the saxophone, the piano, or a ukulele, researchers found that playing an instrument for 10 or more years was correlated with better memory in advanced age compared to those who played music for less than 10 years (or not at all). Other research shows that even listening to music can help boost your brainpower. A study from the Stanford University School of Medicine found that listening to baroque music (Vivaldi, Bach) leads to changes in the brain that help with attention and storing events into memory.

Learn a foreign language

Being bilingual may help delay the onset of dementia. Individuals who spoke two languages developed dementia an average of four and a half years later than people who only spoke one language in a 2013 study published in the journal Neurology. Other research shows that people who speak more than one language are better at multitasking and paying attention. Experts say the earlier you learn, the better—growing up speaking two languages is optimal—but that it’s never too late and every little bit of language learning helps.

Play chess

Playing chess, bingo, checkers, and card games may help keep your brain fit. A 2013 French study found a 15% lower risk of dementia among people who played board games versus those who did not. And the effects seemed to last over the study’s 20-year follow-up. “The idea is that this helps build cognitive reserve,” says Dr. Verghese, whose study also found benefits to playing board games like Monopoly. “The more these activities buffer against the disease, you may be able to mask the effects of the disease for longer periods of time. It buys you extra time.”

Read more: 12 Unexpected Things That Mess With Your Memory

Read more of less

Reading, in general, is good for the brain. But reading fewer books and articles so you can give them each of them more focused attention may be even better. “Our brain doesn’t do very well with too much information. The more you download, the more it shuts the brain down,” says Sandra Bond Chapman, PhD, director of the Center for Brain Health at the University of Texas at Dallas. “It’s better to read one or two good articles and think about them in a deeper sense rather than read 20.”

Change your font

Next time you have to read through some documents for work, consider changing the typeface before you print them out. Chances are, the docs came to you in an easy-to-read font like Arial or Times New Roman, but switching it to something a little less legible like Comic Sans or Bodoni may improve your comprehension and recall of the information, according to a small study out of Harvard University. Likewise, a study at a Ohio high school revealed that students who received handouts with less-legible type performed better on tests than the students who were given more readable materials. It’s a version of the no-pain-no-gain phenomenon: When you exert more effort, your brain rewards you by becoming stronger. But make sure you keep things new by changing fonts regularly.

Single-task

If you think your ability to multitask proves you’ve got a strong brain, think again. “Multitasking hijacks your frontal lobe,” says Chapman, who is also the author of Make Your Brain Smarter. The frontal lobe regulates decision-making, problem-solving, and other aspects of learning that are critical to maintaining brain health. Research has shown that doing one thing at a time—not everything at once—strengthens higher-order reasoning, or the ability to learn, understand, and apply new information.

Read more: 25 Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease

Write about your stress

In one study, college students who wrote about stressful experiences for 20 minutes three days in a row improved their working memories and their grade point averages. Students who wrote about neutral events saw no such improvements. “We hypothesized that stress causes unwanted, intrusive thoughts,” says study co-author Adriel Boals, PhD, associate professor of psychology at the University of North Texas in Denton. “Writing gets rid of intrusive thoughts then working memory increases.” If something’s bothering you, don’t bottle it up.

Take up knitting

Activities that put your hands to work, like knitting, crocheting, and gardening, are proven stress relievers, and they may also keep your brain young. In a 2013 survey of about 3,500 knitters around the world, there was a correlation between knitting frequency and cognitive function; the more people knitted, the better function they had.

Find your purpose

People who feel they’ve found their purpose in life have lower rates of depression and tend to live longer. Studies also show that this positive outlook also benefits the brain. In one study, those who reported having a strong purpose in life were more than twice as likely to stay Alzheimer’s-free than people who did not profess a purpose. To develop a sense of purpose, focus on the positive impact you have at home or at work. You could also try volunteering for a cause that’s meaningful to you.

Read more: 12 Ways to Improve Your Concentration at Work

Be social

Spending lots of time with friends and family, especially as you get older, may be one of the best buffers against mental decline. In one study, people who participated in social activities more often and who felt that they had ample social support did better on several measures of memory, as well as mental processing speed. “Social engagement is linked with mental agility,” says Carey Gleason, PhD, a clinical neuropsychologist at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health in Madison.

Play a video game

Companies like Lumosity charge you a monthly fee for brain-training games, but playing puzzle games on your kid’s Xbox may have the same effects—and depending on what you play, may be even more effective. In a Florida State University study, subjects either played games on Lumosity.com or played Portal 2, a popular action-puzzle game for computers, Playstation, and Xbox. Those who played Portal 2 scored better on problem solving, spatial skill, and persistence tests. Other research shows that playing Tetris may increase gray matter in the brain.

Use your time efficiently

Don’t spend an hour doing something that should take you 10 minutes. Conversely, don’t spend 10 minutes on something that deserves an hour. In other words, calibrate your mental energy. “Decide from the get-go how much mental energy you are going to spend on a task,” says Chapman. “Giving your full forceful energy all the time really degrades resources. You need to know when to do something fast and when to do something slow.”

Read more: 15 Diseases Doctors Often Miss

Write by hand

Sure, typing is faster, but writing longhand may be better for your brain. Studies have shown that students learn better when they take notes by hand because it forces them to process the information as they take it in. The cursive you learned in elementary school may be particularly useful. First graders who learned to write in cursive scored higher on reading and spelling than peers who wrote in print.

Take naps

Go ahead, sneak in a super-quick catnap: it’ll recharge your brain. One group of German researchers saw improvements in memory among people who dozed for as little as six minutes, although the results were even better among those who napped longer. Conversely, problems sleeping, including sleep apnea and insomnia, are associated with dementia. That research is still early (people with dementia have disturbed sleep), but bear in mind that sleeping seven to eight hours a night may help you live longer and, hopefully, healthier.

Wash the dishes

It may be easier than you think to get the optimal amount of physical activity. According to one study, washing the dishes, cooking, and cleaning can add to our daily activity total and are linked with a reduced risk of dementia. In the study, people with the least amount of total physical activity were more than twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s compared with people reporting the most activity. Even playing cards and moving a wheelchair counted.

Read more: 12 Worst Habits for Your Mental Health

Ramp it up

Whether it’s physical activity or mental activity, you need to keep pushing your limits in order to reap the benefits. “You need to challenge yourself to the next level so you get the benefits,” says Verghese. Don’t be satisfied with finishing Monday’s easy crossword puzzle. Keep going until you master Saturday’s brainteaser as well. The same with walking: keep lengthening your distance.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

Read next: This Is How Much Exercise Experts Really Think You Need

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TIME Aging

These Common Mood Changes Can Signal Early Alzheimer’s

The vast majority of people with Alzheimer’s disease will experience changes like depression and anxiety. But a new study published in the journal Neurology shows that behavioral changes like these start well before they begin to have memory loss.

The researchers looked at 2,416 people over age 50 without cognitive issues. After following them for seven years, researchers found that 1,218 people developed dementia.

Those with dementia had twice the risk of developing depression earlier—far before their dementia symptoms started—than people without the disease. They were also more than 12 times more likely to develop delusions. The symptoms appeared in consistent phases: first, irritability, depression, and nighttime behavior changes; followed by anxiety, appetite changes, agitation and apathy. The final phase was elation, motor disturbances, hallucinations, delusions and disinhibition.

Though the researchers were able to make the connection, they still cannot confirm for certain whether the changes in the brain that cause one shift in behavior are the same changes that cause memory loss. But understanding when symptoms related to Alzheimer’s disease appear could one day lead to earlier interventions.

Read next: The Science Behind Why Dogs Might Just Be Man’s Best Friend

TIME Science

Dogs Can Get Dementia Too

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Zocalo Public Square is a not-for-profit Ideas Exchange that blends live events and humanities journalism.

Dogs are living longer — and a veterinarian finds himself diagnosing canine dementia at least once a day

Zeigfield waddled, rather than walked, into my examination room. I had been seeing this obese Dachshund at my veterinary hospital for most of his 17 years, treating many of the common ailments of the breed: back problems, mild skin disease, and regular episodes of what veterinarians tactfully refer to as “dietary indiscretion” (in Zeigfield’s case, eating a batch of chocolate chip cookies, part of an old sock, and a half bottle of his owner’s Prozac). But today’s visit was different. “He just hasn’t been himself for the past several months,” his owner Carol reported. “He seems restless at night, but mostly he just lays around. He doesn’t play his old games anymore. There isn’t any single issue, but he just isn’t right.”

Further questioning revealed that there actually was a single issue that prompted the visit: Zeigfield had been urinating and defecating indoors, despite being well house-trained since puppyhood. After ruling out most of the possible physical causes, I told Carol that her dog was likely developing cognitive dysfunction syndrome, the most common type of dementia in dogs.

Pets’ lives are different now than when I started my veterinary practice 40 years ago. Dogs are no longer allowed to run freely outside to be hit by cars, fight with other animals, or eat out of garbage cans. The quality of our dog foods is considerably better, and we have controlled the mostly deadly infectious diseases. Dogs’ lifestyles are safe but sedentary, leading to longer lives and more chronic conditions like obesity, arthritis, and cognitive dysfunction—which I find myself diagnosing almost daily at the Southern California veterinary hospitals where I practice.

People are often surprised that their pets can develop something similar to the Alzheimer’s Disease we see in humans, but our brains are not that different from dogs’. When your dog greets you, the same parts of the dog’s brain sends sensory input to the hippocampus, where memory connections are forged. Just beside the hippocampus sits the amygdala, which links the memories passed on from the hippocampus to emotions (like joy at your homecoming) and refers these feelings to the neural systems that initiate activity. Various parts of the cerebral cortex sort these impulses and modify them so that they are appropriate. This how the sound of the owner’s car pulling into the driveway tells your dog an affectionate greeting, a long walk, and, of course, dinner are on their way.

The cellular changes of canine cognitive dysfunction would be recognizable under the microscope to any human brain pathologist: Plaques of beta amyloid—protein fragments believed to be the result of “oxidative stress”—lead to distinctive “neurofibrillary tangles” within the damaged nerve cells, and shrinkage of the brain appears in areas where memories are made and behaviors are shaped.

Some things are different between our species, of course. Fido doesn’t forget where he put his car keys. But he may not remember which door he uses to go out to the yard. The same inability to evaluate behavioral appropriateness may prompt a person with dementia to disrobe in public, or a dog with dementia to eliminate in the house without hesitation. Many dogs with cognitive dysfunction wander restlessly all evening in a manner reminiscent of the “sundown syndrome” of Alzheimer’s patients. And most significantly, finding familiar surroundings strangely unfamiliar often triggers anxiety and agitation.

When I explain such anxiety to owners of senile dogs, I often refer to a scene in the movie On Golden Pond, in which Henry Fonda’s character leaves the house to pick strawberries and returns a few minutes later, shaking and distraught. “Nothing was familiar, not one damn tree,” he says. “I was scared half to death.”

As with many of the dogs I treat, Sterling, a 14-year-old Labrador retriever from El Cajon, was dealing with dementia along with other health problems. He had recently lost most of his hearing, and arthritic hips made it difficult for him to rise from his favorite sleeping spot. Sterling spent hours every night panting and whining. Once he got to his feet, he could move fairly well. But as soon as he left the house for a walk around the neighborhood, he pulled nervously at the leash to get back into the house, where he would pant and tremble for the next hour. Sterling’s owners felt that he was suffering, and they had started to consider euthanasia.

Once a dog’s cognition deteriorates, it loses the ability to compensate for discomfort, and the dog’s suffering becomes compounded by anxiety. This is the point at which most compassionate owners I’ve dealt with have made the difficult decision to euthanize their long-time companion. Although dementia is almost never fatal on its own, cognitive dysfunction and physical health problems are a debilitating combination.

I told Sterling’s owners we could treat the low thyroid condition that was diminishing his hearing and potentially find more effective treatments for his hip arthritis. We could lessen his distress with the same antidepressant medications given to humans. But I couldn’t offer any honest reassurance of dramatic improvement.

Treatments for canine dementia are most effective when they are started before the signs of cognitive dysfunction start to show. This is equally true in humans, which is why researchers are working on tests to predict Alzheimer’s long before symptoms appear. A number of nutritional supplements (particularly DHA, one of the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil) and various antioxidants have been shown to slow the progression of mental decline. S-AdenosylMethionine (SAMe) is an over-the-counter supplement that provides mild help for old brains. There is even an FDA-approved medication to treat canine cognitive dysfunction: Seleginine is a derivative of a drug used in human Parkinson’s Disease. In my personal experience I have not seen dramatic results with this medication, but it is usually prescribed in the later stages of dementia, when it may be “too little, too late.”

We can also borrow from the extensive research that has been done in humans and laboratory animals, which find that eating a healthy diet (high in omega-3), staying mentally active, and getting lots of aerobic exercise can delay the onset of senile dementia. The exact amount of exercise that is required to delay senility in dogs has yet to be studied, but my personal experience has been that when I see one of my canine patients who is still alert and happy at 15 years old, the dog’s owner invariably tell me, “He has always gotten out on his walks every day, no matter what.”

When we are in the middle of our busy lives, old age seems far away, and taking steps to delay senile dementia (for our dogs or ourselves) isn’t a priority. There is even a certain unspoken acknowledgment that old age and a weak mind are inexorably linked. It isn’t until your graying canine companion is anxiously pacing the house at midnight or your mother forgets your name that you think you’d do anything possible to bring back the memory and comprehension that has been lost. Something to think about while you take a long walk with your dog.

Lee Harris, who holds a doctor of veterinary medicine degree, has been taking care of pets for 40 years in the San Diego and Seattle areas. He wrote this for Thinking L.A., a project of UCLA and Zocalo Public Square.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME psychology

These 5 Things Will Make You Smarter

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

1) Get rid of the distractions

You can’t multitask.

Via Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School:

To put it bluntly, research shows that we can’t multitask. We are biologically incapable of processing attention-rich inputs simultaneously.

All those buzzing text messages and email chimes can reduce mental ability by an average of 10 IQ points. For men, it’s about three times the effect of smoking marijuana.

Via Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long:

A study done at the University of London found that constant emailing and text-messaging reduces mental capability by an average of ten points on an IQ test. It was five points for women, and fifteen points for men. This effect is similar to missing a night’s sleep. For men, it’s around three times more than the effect of smoking cannabis. While this fact might make an interesting dinner party topic, it’s really not that amusing that one of the most common “productivity tools” can make one as dumb as a stoner… when people do two cognitive tasks at once, their cognitive capacity can drop from that of a Harvard MBA to that of an eight-year-old.

2) Get your sleep

If you’ve missed sleep, you’ve reduced your intelligence.

Via Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School:

Take an A student used to scoring in the top 10 percent of virtually anything she does. One study showed that if she gets just under seven hours of sleep on weekdays, and about 40 minutes more on weekends, she will begin to score in the bottom 9 percent of non-sleep-deprived individuals.

Think you’re just fine cheating yourself on sleep? Of course you do. But you’re wrong.

…after just a few days, the four and six-hour group reported that, yes, they were slightly sleepy. But they insisted they had adjusted to their new state. Even 14 days into the study, they said sleepiness was not affecting them. In fact, their performance had tanked. In other words, the sleep-deprived among us are lousy judges of our own sleep needs. We are not nearly as sharp as we think we are.

What if you can’t get a good night’s sleep but need to learn new info? Even naps can help:

Via Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep:

If you can’t get in a full night’s sleep, you can still improve the ability of your brain to synthesize new information by taking a nap. In a study funded by NASA, David Dinges, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, and a team of researchers found that letting astronauts sleep for as little as fifteen minutes markedly improved their cognitive performance, even when the nap didn’t lead to an increase in alertness or the ability to pay more attention to a boring task. Researchers at the City University of New York, meanwhile, found that naps helped the brain better assess and make connections between objects.

3) Performance enhancing drugs for your brain

No, they’re not anabolic steroids. It’s caffeine, sugar and nicotine. Coffee and nicotine make you smarter.

Via Brain Candy: Science, Paradoxes, Puzzles, Logic, and Illogic to Nourish Your Neurons:

Studies show that caffeine increases the speed at which we process sensory information. And with luscious caffeine jouncing happily through our system, we make faster decisions based on these stimuli. In other words, we see faster and we act faster.

Cigarettes make us smarter too. Or at least their nicotine component does: It’s been shown to boost short-term working memory and executive function. Nicotine patches have also been shown to combat some of the effects of Alzheimer’s disease.

Don’t like coffee? Studies show Red Bull can do the trick. A donut can help too. Or do a bit of exercise and have a sugary drink.

Via Mind Performance Hacks: Tips & Tools for Overclocking Your Brain by the excellent Vaughan Bell:

Increasing glucose and oxygen supplies to the brain seems to allow information to be more accurately and fully committed to memory – in other words, you learn better… light exercise or even deliberately increasing breathing rate by a small amount will increase blood oxygen levels… A well-timed sugary drink, thirty minutes to an hour before you have to remember or take notice of something particularly well should improve how well you remember it.

4) Keep Learning

You always hear that doing puzzles can help stave off dementia. In reality, those aren’t nearly enough to keep your brain sharp. But the principle holds.

Want to keep your mind powerful? Do something that really forces you to stretch yourself:

5) Believe in yourself

Want to be smarter? The first step is to believe that you can become smarter:

Those students who learned about IQ’s malleability improved their grades more than did students who did not receive this message, and also saw academics as more important than did students in the control group.

Surround yourself with people who believe in you and you’ll perform better:

Via The Heart of Social Psychology: A Backstage View of a Passionate Science:

…Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson (1968) did the same study in a classroom, telling elementary school teachers that they had certain students in their class who were “academic spurters.” In fact, these students were selected at random. Absolutely nothing else was done by the researchers to single out these children. Yet by the end of the school year, 30 percent of the the children arbitrarily named as spurters had gained an average of 22 IQ points, and almost all had gained at least 10 IQ points.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree. Join over 145,000 readers and get a free weekly email update here.

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME psychology

Does Your Mind Wander? Here’s Why That Can Be Your Greatest Asset

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Wandering minds are associated with creativity. Popular wisdom tells you to live in the moment.

Huh?

So is it better to be unfocused or focused?

Let’s look at the research.

The Upside of Mind Wandering

You spend up to 8 minutes of every hour daydreaming. Your mind will probably wander for 13% of the time it takes you to read this post. Some of us spend 30-40% of our time daydreaming.

Via The Science of Sin: The Psychology of the Seven Deadlies (and Why They Are So Good For You):

Do you remember what the previous paragraph was about? It’s OK, I’m not offended. Chances are that your mind will wander for up to eight minutes for every hour that you spend reading this book. About 13 percent of the time that people spend reading is spent not reading, but daydreaming or mind-wandering. But reading, by comparison to other things we do, isn’t so badly affected by daydreaming. Some estimates put the average amount of time spent daydreaming at 30 to 40 percent.

So why do we do it? It may be a form of problem-solving:

…the content of people’s daydreams reflected the kinds of coping strategies that they typically employed to solve problems. This suggests that the wandering mind might actually be off searching for ways to cope with the stresses of everyday life. You may not know exactly how to deal with your man troubles, but your wandering mind is working on it…One of the most interesting things about this slothful pastime is that it involves the same brain regions that are active when people are solving insight puzzles.

In fact, people whose minds wander a lot are more creative and better problem solvers.

Via 100 Things Every Presenter Needs to Know About People:

Mind-wandering allows one part of the brain to focus on the task at hand, and another part of the brain to keep a higher goal in mind. Christoff (2009) at the University of California, Santa Barbara has evidence that people whose minds wander a lot are more creative and better problem solvers. Their brains have them working on the task at hand but simultaneously processing other information and making connections.

In Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation, Steven Johnson makes it pretty clear that creativity is messy.

Ideas need to be sloshing around or crashing in to one another to produce breakthroughs:

Hold on though — this doesn’t mean daydreaming is all good.

The Downside of Mind Wandering

As Daniel Gilbert, author of Stumbling on Happiness, explained in the Harvard Gazette, a wandering mind is not a happy mind:

People spend 46.9 percent of their waking hours thinking about something other than what they’re doing, and this mind-wandering typically makes them unhappy. So says a study that used an iPhone Web app to gather 250,000 data points on subjects’ thoughts, feelings, and actions as they went about their lives.

And:

“Mind-wandering is an excellent predictor of people’s happiness,” Killingsworth says. “In fact, how often our minds leave the present and where they tend to go is a better predictor of our happiness than the activities in which we are engaged.”

And yes, it’s a cause, not an effect:

Time-lag analyses conducted by the researchers suggested that their subjects’ mind-wandering was generally the cause, not the consequence, of their unhappiness.

And recent research shows a wandering mind may be associated with poor health, perhaps due to that unhappiness and stress.

So What’s The Deal?

A wandering mind takes more in: good and bad. This leads to new ideas. But it can take you up — and it can take you down.

Focus doesn’t allow the noise in. But the noise is what allows creativity to spark.

What you want to do is spend most of your time focused but have rituals that allow your mind to wander on cue.

You have coffee in the morning and get ready to go. You unwind at night to get ready for bed.

You already have rituals that put you into a zone, you just may not realize it. What you want to do is use them deliberately.

This is the secret the pros know. Michael Jordan was able to do it during games.

And research shows these rituals are powerful for creativity too.

Via The Winner’s Brain: 8 Strategies Great Minds Use to Achieve Success:

A 2008 study by the University of Toronto’s Chen-Bo Zhong and his colleagues found that doing something habitual, such as going for a walk, washing the dishes, or taking a nap, enables you to unconsciously access peripheral information your brain may not readily consider during an intense state of Focus.

How do you get focused? How do you unwind?

Start using these more deliberately and you can make yourself happier as well as more creative when you need to be.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME health

How Dr. Alzheimer Discovered a Disease in a Mental Asylum

Alois Alzheimer
Alois Alzheimer (1864-1915) Apic / Getty Images

The unusual case seemed to stick out and the psychiatrist sensed that there was something special about Auguste. Dr. Alois Alzheimer decided that he should see Auguste for himself

History News Network

This post is in partnership with the History News Network, the website that puts the news into historical perspective. The article below was originally published at HNN.

Carl didn’t know what was happening to his wife. The German railway clerk from Morfelder Landstasse and his wife Auguste had been happily married for twenty-eight years. They had one daughter, Thekla, and their marriage had always been harmonious; that is, until one Spring day in 1901 when Auguste suddenly exhibited signs of jealousy.

Auguste accused Carl of going for a walk with a female neighbor, and since then, she had been increasingly mistrustful. Carl thought that this sudden jealousy was unfounded. Over the next several months, Auguste’s memory began to fade. The once orderly and industrious homemaker was making uncharacteristic mistakes in preparing home meals — a task that she had probably performed countless times. She wandered aimlessly around the apartment, leaving housework unfinished. She became convinced that a cart driver who frequented their house was trying to harm her and that people were talking about her. Without explanation, she began to hide various objects around the house. The couple’s neighbors sometimes discovered Auguste ringing their doorbells for no reason.

Prior to this change, Auguste had never been seriously ill. She was an otherwise healthy 51-year old woman who did not drink alcohol nor suffered from any mental illness. By November of 1901, Carl was at wit’s end. He had no choice but to take his wife to the local mental asylum. The physician’s admittance note described her as suffering from a weak memory, persecution mania, sleeplessness, and restlessness that rendered her unable to perform physical or mental work.

The following day, the senior physician at the Asylum for the Insane and Epileptic in Frankfurt am Main came across Auguste’s clinical notes. The unusual case seemed to stick out and the psychiatrist sensed that there was something special about Auguste. It was the case that he was waiting for. Dr. Alois Alzheimer decided that he should see Auguste for himself.

Over the next several months, Dr. Alzheimer interviewed and examined Auguste, whose condition continued to deteriorate. He asked her to name common objects, perform simple arithmetic, tell him where she lived, what year it was, the color of snow, the sky, grass, and so on. Alzheimer maintained a detailed record and even arranged for Auguste to be photographed. One photo reveals a woman with a deeply furrowed forehead and heavy bags under her eyes. She was wearing a white hospital gown and her face had a tired, blank expression, with perhaps a hint of fear. Her hands were draped over her raised knees, with the long fingers securely interlocked.

What struck Dr. Alzheimer was Auguste’s relatively young age. He had seen cases of mental deterioration in much older patients and had theorized that age-related thickening of the brain’s blood vessels led to brain atrophy. It was unusual, however, to see the condition in a person who was only fifty-one years old. Dr. Alzheimer had only encountered one other case similar to Auguste’s. The autopsy findings on that patient revealed shrinkage in specific brain cells but no significant blood vessel thickening.

Dr. Alzheimer continued his daily visits and long conversations with Auguste. There was no cure, of course, and the limited treatments included the use of sedatives and warm baths. At times, Auguste had to be placed in isolation after she groped faces and struck other patients in the clinic. She wandered aimlessly, sometimes screamed for hours, and became increasingly hostile. By February of 1902, her condition had advanced to the point that long conversations and physical examinations became impossible.

On April 8, 1906, after nearly five years of progressive mental and physical decline, Auguste died. The official cause of death was blood poisoning due to bedsores. Dr. Alzheimer suspected that behind her mental illness was a strange disease, and that perhaps examining her brain would offer some clues. When he examined the brain sections under the microscope, his suspicion was confirmed. Dr. Alzheimer described changes in the neurofibrils — the protein filaments found in brain cells. He also saw peculiar deposits that he referred to a “millet seed-sized lesions.” These pathologic findings — now known as neurofibrillary tangles and amyloid deposits – characterize the brains of Alzheimer’s Disease patients.

Dr. Alzheimer’s discovery was not immediately well received. In fact, the first time he presented Auguste’s case and autopsy findings during a German Psychiatry conference in 1906, the reception from the audience was rather cold. This was the time when psychoanalysis and the Freudian views on the relationship between childhood trauma and mental illness were, in today’s parlance, the “trending” topics in psychiatry. Correlating mental or neurologic disorders with histopathologic findings was not yet firmly established nor accepted. Ninety years later, in 1998, researchers re-examined Auguste’s original brain sections and confirmed the presence of neurofibrillary tangles and amyloid plaques.

Emil Kraepelin, one of the most prominent psychiatrists in the early 1900s, first mentioned the term ‘Alzheimer’s Disease’ in the 1910 edition of his textbook on psychiatry. The disease was of course still poorly understood, but one of the most famous medical eponyms was born.

Today, there are an estimated five million Americans diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. The number is expected to rise as the population ages. There is no cure, and the burden on the afflicted as well as caregivers remains tremendous. The economic burden is also substantial, with healthcare costs for dementia in general estimated to be over $200 billion dollars in 2010. Researchers are on a quest to find effective treatment in areas that include stem cell and gene therapy.

Rod Tanchanco is a physician specializing in Internal Medicine. He writes about events and people in the history of medicine. His personal blog is at talesinmedicine.com.

References

Maurer K. Alzheimer : the life of a physician and the career of a disease. New York: Columbia University Press; 2003.

Graeber MB, Kösel S, Grasbon-Frodl E, Möller HJ, Mehraein P. Histopathology and APOE genotype of the first Alzheimer disease patient, Auguste D. Neurogenetics. 1998;1(3):223–8

TIME Research

Study: Brain Abnormalities Found in 40% of SIDS Cases

Brain, artwork
Science Photo Library/Corbis

A quirk in the brain may be causing unexplained deaths in babies

The unknown cause of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) could be a brain abnormality, a new study suggests.

A team of researchers reported that around 43% of infants who died of SIDS shared a brain abnormality that affects the area of the brain called the hippocampus, which is responsible for basic functions like breathing and heart rate, in study published in the journal Acta Neuropathologica.

The team from Boston Children’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School, the San Diego County Medical Examiner’s office, and Baylor College of Medicine in Houston looked at sections of the hippocampus from 153 infants who underwent an autopsy in San Diego. All of the infants had died suddenly between the years of 1991 and 2012. Some of the infants’ deaths could be explained; those that could not be explained fell were ruled as SIDS. Eighty-three of the cases were classified as SIDS.

MORE: Don’t Count on Smart Baby Monitors To Prevent SIDS

Within the infants with SIDS, the researchers found an abnormality in a part of the hippocampus called the dentate gyrus. Specifically, at some parts of the dentate gyrus, it contained a double layer of nerve cells instead of the typical single layer. It’s possible that this abnormality interferes with the brain’s regulation of breathing control and heart rate while a child is sleeping. This abnormality was found in 43% of the SIDS cases.

Researchers believe that there might be a variety of factors that influence the risk of SIDS, which is why the researchers say not all of the cases had the brain abnormality.

It’s also possible that when a child is sleeping in an unsafe position or environment (it is recommended that infants sleep on their backs), the abnormality is triggered. More research is needed to conclude how exactly this quirk in the brain plays out.

TIME Aging

Why Complex Jobs Protect Aging Brains Better

The more engaging your job, the sharper your thinking skills

Studies show that there are a lot of things you can do to preserve your intellect—stay social and interact with as many friends and family as you can, learn new things (especially languages), go to new places and stay physically active. If there’s any time left over, consider getting a more engaging career. There’s now evidence that what you do to make a living can also help to preserve your brain power.

Reporting in the journal Neurology, scientists at the University of Edinburgh found that the more complex a person’s job is, the more likely they are to score higher on memory tests and general cognitive skills when they reach age 70.

MORE: Cocoa May Help With Memory Loss, a New Study Finds

The team recruited about 1,000 69-year-olds who were part of the Lothian Birth Cohort, a database that included people born in the Scottish town in 1936. At age 11, the participants had taken IQ tests so the researchers could compare those scores to cognitive tests given to them at age 70.

In the study, researchers assessed their occupations by their complexity, based on how much interaction with people, data or things the job required. Complex “people” jobs, for example, include lawyer, social worker, surgeon or probation officer, compared to less socially complex jobs like factory worker, or painter. Complex “data” occupations include architect, graphic designer and musician, while less complex data jobs include construction worker, cafeteria worker or telephone operator. Finally, people working in more intricate ways with “things” would include machine workers and those who make instruments, while bank managers and surveyors might rank as having simpler interactions with things.

When the scientists compared occupations with cognitive tests at age 70, they found that people with more complex people and data jobs scored higher on memory, speed and general thinking skills than those with less involved jobs in these areas. People with more complex data-related jobs also scored much better on processing and speed skills.

MORE: 5 Secrets to Improve Learning and Memory

But when the researchers factored in the effect of the participants’ IQ at age 11—in other words, their starting intellect—they found that the influence of the jobs remained, though it shrunk a bit. “People who have higher cognitive ability to begin with are those more likely to have more complex jobs,” says Alan Gow, assistant professor of psychology at University of Edinburgh and Heriot-Watt University and one of the study’s co-authors. “Once we account for that, the association between more complex jobs and better cognitive outcomes is reduced, but there remains a small additional benefit for our cognitive abilities from being in more complex jobs.”

In fact, he says, the strongest predictor of cognitive abilities at age 70 is intellect earlier in life. So the IQ of the participants at age 11 accounted for about 50% of the variance in test scores when they reached 70. Jobs can add to that effect. The stronger the cognitive starting point, the more brain reserve people might have as the normal processes of aging start erode some nerve connections involved in higher order thinking. Having a complex job that requires constant activation of these neural networks, and formation of new connections, can also contribute to building this reserve capacity.

Gow admits, however, that the study did not take into account how long people stuck with the jobs, so there may yet be a stronger effect of occupation on later life intellect the longer people stay with a complex job. Given the results, he and his team are eagerly following the 70-year olds to see if occupation and other factors can influence their cognitive functions. Now, they’re studying brain images of the volunteers to find changes in volume in certain thinking areas of the brain, as well as connections in the nerve network that’s responsible for higher order skills like processing, memory and reasoning.

TIME psychology

3 Simple Things That Will Make You 10% Happier

meditation
Getty Images

Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Ever been really stressed? So stressed you nearly freak out?

This happened to Dan Harrisin front of 5 million people.

On June 7th, 2004, Dan was a news correspondent on ABC and he had a panic attack on air while reading the news:

He knew he had to do something. His career was in jeopardy.

By coincidence, he was soon assigned to cover stories about religion. This set Dan on a multi-year quest talking to people of faith — and total quacks.

But it ended up introducing him to something that helped him get his head straight and, as he likes to say, made him 10% happier.

What was it? Meditation.

Feeling skeptical yet? Thinking of hippies, beads and chanting? Actually, that’s how Dan felt too.

But it turns out his discovery wasn’t the least bit mystic — in fact it was quite scientific.

I gave Dan a call and we talked about meditation and the book he wrote about his journey: 10% Happier.

And here’s how the neuroscience behind a 2500 year old ritual can help all of us become 10% happier.

You Don’t Have To Be A Hippie And Live In A Yurt

Dan’s now the co-anchor of Nightline and Good Morning America.

What’s the first thing this Emmy-award winning journalist has to say about meditation? It has a huge PR problem.

Via 10% Happier:

Meditation suffers from a towering PR problem, largely because its most prominent proponents talk as if they have a perpetual pan flute accompaniment. If you can get past the cultural baggage, though, what you’ll find is that meditation is simply exercise for your brain. It’s a proven technique for preventing the voice in your head from leading you around by the nose… There’s even science to back this up.

So what is science learning about meditation? A lot. Here’s Dan:

There are actually tons and tons of studies on meditation. But you can find one-off studies that show almost anything, right?

So what happened when the Journal of American Medicinerecently looked at more then 18,000 citations on the subject?

Meditation demonstrated clear results in helping people with anxiety, depression and pain.

Other studies are showing it can help with decision-making, compassion — and it might even reduce your cravings for chocolate.

And Dan’s not the only one who’s realized this:

  1. The SuperBowl winning Seattle Seahawks meditate.
  2. Google has someone in charge of teaching meditation.
  3. 12 minutes a day of meditation makes US Marines more resilient in war zones.

Looking at the research a while back, I said meditation is one of the ten things people should do every day to improve their lives.

(For more on the science of meditation, click here.)

I know some of you are saying, “Great. But what does it do, really?

Meditation and mindfulness are two things we hear about constantly but few of us can really define what they are and what they do. That’s about to change.

No Robes And Chanting Necessary

We all have that voice in our head. Our internal narrator. And he’s usually a jerk.

A nonstop running commentary of wants and needs, second-guessing, regretting the past and worrying about the future.

Dan explains:

The voice comes braying in as soon as we open our eyes in the morning, and then heckles us all day long with an air horn. It’s a fever swamp of urges, desires, and judgments. It’s fixated on the past and the future, to the detriment of the here and now. It’s what has us reaching into the fridge when we’re not hungry, losing our temper when we know it’s not really in our best interest, and pruning our inboxes when we’re ostensibly engaged in conversation with other human beings.

Harvard professor and author of Stumbling on Happiness, Dan Gilbert, has shown that this sort of mind-wandering makes us miserable.

In fact, a recent study showed men would rather get electric shocks than be alone with their thoughts. Yeah, really.

This is where meditation comes in.

It’s not some magic incantation; it’s a bicep curl for your brain that can tame the thoughts in your head.

By teaching your brain to focus it can allow you to not get yanked around by your emotions, to be able to respond rather than react.

And the results are real:

10-happier

A 2012 Harvard study showed:

In the mindful attention group, the after-training brain scans showed a decrease in activation in the right amygdala in response to all images, supporting the hypothesis that meditation can improve emotional stability and response to stress.

And after 8 weeks of regular meditation these changes were visible even when the subjects weren’t meditating.

A 2011 Yale study showed:

Experienced meditators seem to switch off areas of the brain associated with wandering thoughts, anxiety and some psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia.Researchers used fMRI scans to determine how meditators’ brains differed from subjects who were not meditating. The areas shaded in blue highlight areas of decreased activity in the brains of meditators.

10-happier

(For more things scientifically proven to make you happier, click here.)

Some people don’t like my fancy brain pictures. They’re still saying, “That wouldn’t work for me.” You’re wrong. Here’s why.

Excuses, Excuses, Excuses

People give tons of excuses why they can’t meditate. Dan has heard them all by now and most don’t hold water.

1) “I’m too busy to meditate.”

You can see results in 5 minutes a day. You don’t have five minutes? And how long have you been reading this post for, Mr. Busy?

2) “It won’t work for me. My mind is too crazy.”

Ah, “the fallacy of uniqueness.” Dan says he had the attention span of a 6 month old Golden Labrador. It’s worked for him and many many others.

3) “I’m not a Buddhist.”

I asked Dan about this when we chatted. Mindfulness meditation is secular:

The form of mindfulness meditation that has been studied in labs is completely secular. It’s called mindfulness-based stress reduction and you don’t have to join anything, you don’t have to wear any special outfits or believe in anything. It’s secular and scientifically validated.

4) “I need my anxiety. It drives me crazy but it’s the reason I get things done.”

I was curious about this one, too (you think someone who writes blog posts like this doesn’t have a voice in his head? C’mon.)

Dan always lived by the motto, “The price of security is insecurity.”Worrying kept him on his game. But it also made him miserable.

But then Dan asked his meditation teacher, Joseph Goldstein, what he thought of worrying.

Here’s Dan:

He said “Yes, you have to worry because that makes sense in order to function effectively. However, on the 17th time when you’re worrying about that same thing, maybe ask yourself one simple question: ‘Is it useful?’”

At some point, you have thought it through sufficiently and it’s time to move on. What I have learned how to do as a result of meditation is to draw the line between what I call “constructive anguish” and “unconstructive rumination” and that’s made me a lot happier.

You won’t lose your edge. You can still worry a bit. But when it gets out of hand ask yourself, “Is this useful?”

(For more lifehacks from ancient times that will make you happier, click here.)

At this point many of you are saying, “Okay, okay, meditation is good. But how do I actually do it?

That’s up next. And it’s crazy simple — but that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

How To Meditate

Dan taught Stephen Colbert to meditate:

And here’s how he explained it to me:

It really involves three extremely simple steps.

One: Sit with your eyes closed and your back straight.

Two: Notice what it feels like when your breath comes in and when your breath goes out, try to bring your full attention to the feeling of your breath coming in and going out.

Third step is the biggie. Every time you try to do this, your mind is going to go crazy. You are going to start thinking about all sorts of stupid things like if you need a haircut, why you said that dumb thing to your boss, what’s for lunch, etc. Every time you notice that your mind is wandering, bring your attention back to your breath and begin again. This is going to happen over and over and over again and that is meditation.

Personally, I like to think of it as the toughest and most maddening video game in the world. Dan agrees:

It’s not easy. You will “fail” a million times but the “failing” and starting over is succeeding. So this isn’t like most things in your life where, like if you can’t get up on water skis, you can’t do it. Here the trying and starting again, trying and starting again, that’s the whole game.

It works. And meditation doesn’t cost anything. All you need to do is be breathing, and breathing is something that’s always with you and never stops.

And if it ever does stop, well, you may have more urgent problems to deal with.

(For more on what the happiest people do every day, click here.)

So how do we tie all this together?

Sum Up

You can still see Dan on Nightline and Good Morning America but luckily he’s not having any more panic attacks.

Is meditation going to give you magic powers? No. Even the Dalai Lama loses his temper.

Seriously — Dan asked him during an interview.

Via 10% Happier:

“Is your mind always calm?” I asked.

“No, no, no. Occasionally lose my temper.”

“You do?”

“Oh yes. If someone is never lose temper then perhaps they may come from another space,” he said, pointing toward the sky and laughing from the belly, his eyes twinkling beneath his thick glasses.

But research says meditation can make you less stressed and more happy. Here’s what Dan told me:

The bad things in my life are still bad but I am not making them worse than they need to be by adding on a bunch of useless rumination. We assume that our happiness is derived from external circumstances, like how much money we’re making, if we had a happy childhood, if we married well, whatever. The radical proposition of meditation is that happiness is self-generated. You can develop your happiness muscle the way you develop your biceps in the gym. That is hugely, hugely empowering and a comforting notion.

5 minutes a day. That’s all it takes to give your happiness muscle a workout.

What are you waiting for?

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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Related posts:

What 10 things should you do every day to improve your life?

How To Make Your Life Better By Sending Five Simple Emails

4 Lifehacks From Ancient Philosophers That Will Make You Happier

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Brain

New Hope for Replacing Nerves Damaged by Parkinson’s Disease

Stem cells may provide a new way of regrowing the motor neurons affected by the movement disorder

Reporting in the journal Cell Stem Cell, scientists say that stem cells turned into motor nerves function nearly identically to fetal motor nerves: the kind now used to treat some patients with Parkinson’s disease. That could mean that the stem cells may become an important source of new nerves to replace the ones damaged in diseases like Parkinson’s.

In Parkinson’s, motor nerves that normally produce dopamine, which is critical for regulating muscle movements and controlling dexterity, are damaged, and dopamine levels drop dramatically. The researchers, led by Malin Parmar, an associate professor of regenerative neurobiology at Lund University, took human embryonic stem cells extracted from excess IVF embryos and treated them to develop into motor neurons. They transplanted these neurons into the brains of rats bred to develop Parkinson’s and found that the lab-made cells brought dopamine levels in these animals back to normal levels in five months. The nerves sent out long extensions to connect with other nerve cells in the brain—such networks are important to ensuring coordinated and regulated muscle movements, and without them, patients experience uncontrollable tremors. The effects were similar to those seen when fetal nerves are transplanted into Parkinson’s patients, a treatment currently used to help alleviate symptoms in some patients.

While the results are exciting, it’s just the first step in bringing stem cell-based treatments to human patients. The study did not delve into how well the new neurons functioned and whether they could reverse symptoms of Parkinson’s in the animals. And even if they do improve those symptoms, scientists still have to show that humans could get the same effects. In an editorial accompany the article, Roger Barker of Addenbrooke’s Hospital and the University of Cambridge warned that the exciting possibilities of stem-cell based therapies shouldn’t push scientists—or patients—to expect too much too soon. Before the cells can be tested in people, he writes, it’s necessary to have “a knowledge of what the final product should look like and the need to get there in a collaborative way without being tempted to take shortcuts, because a premature clinical trial could impact negatively on the whole field of regenerative medicine.”

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