Video Games and the Brain: Action, Strategy, and Pac-Man

Playing some video games can cause serious harm, while others might improve or restore skills, suggested three panelists at the American Association for the Advancement of Science this week.

“Not all games are created equal,” said Chandramallika Basak, a researcher at the University of Texas at Dallas. She and her colleagues study how memory and other skills change across our lifespan; part of that includes research investigating brain and cognitive effects of different games, especially as people get older.

Not everything in your brain declines with age (crystallized memory stays strong), but she’s looking for activities that could strengthen the ones that do, especially working memory (including how fast you can update current information) and task-switching (how fast you can switch when multitasking). Assuming there is a “functional threshold” for success at daily life, she wonders, “Can we keep this declining cognitive abilities stable for a few more years” above this threshold. “If I’m going to live to 90, I’d rather get it [dementia] at 89” as opposed to earlier, she said.

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AAAS’s Deborah Runkle moderates the Q&A session with, from left, Craig Anderson, Hilarie Cash, and Chandramallika Basak.

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New PSA: Successful Aging & Your Brain

It’s never too late to start living a brain-healthy life! Our new Successful Aging & Your Brain public service announcement illustrates easy steps (as recommended by the Institute of Medicine) we can all take to keep our brains healthy and sharp as we grow older. The PSA recommends that we stay active with regular exercise, reduce vascular risk factors (like high blood pressure and cholesterol) with good diet, talk to the doctor about diseases and drugs that may impair brain function, and stay active socially and intellectually.

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Alzheimer’s: Every Minute Counts

In the United States, someone is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease every minute; around the world, it’s every four seconds. “It is the biggest epidemic we have in this country,” says Harvard University’s Rudolph Tanzi, “I’m shocked that people aren’t panicked about what this disease is going to do to the country or to their families.”

This Wednesday (January 25) at 10 pm ET, PBS is premiering “Alzheimer’s: Every Minute Counts,” an urgent wake-up call about the national threat posed by the disease. The documentary includes interviews with doctors, caregivers, and longtime researchers of the disease, such as Dana Alliance member Tanzi.

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New Video on Dana Alliance Member Wendy Suzuki

The Huffington Post recently published an article on neuroscientist Wendy Suzuki, highlighting her research on exercise and the brain. She is a Dana Alliance member and professor of neural science and psychology at New York University. In the article, Suzuki says:

Exercise is not going to cure Alzheimer’s or dementia but it anatomically strengthens two of the key targets of both diseases, the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex. Your hippocampus will be bigger if you exercise regularly, so that means that it’s going to take that much longer for the plaques and tangles of Alzheimer’s disease to cause behavioral effects.

For a detailed look into her lab and research, watch the video below. To read the full Huffington Post article, click here.

For more articles on Suzuki, check out these blog posts.

Celebrate World Alzheimer’s Month with Brain Healthy Steps

There are approximately 46 million people living with dementia, costing $818 billion worldwide. By 2050, this number is estimated to rise to over 131 million people, according to Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI). With so many people living to be older, dementia is becoming one of the world’s most urgent healthcare issues.

This September marks the fifth annual World’s Alzheimer’s Month, with people around the world hosting events to raise awareness. The theme for 2016 is “Remember Me,” with people sharing memories on social media using the hashtags #RememberMe and #WAM2016. Alzheimer’s disease, along with vascular dementia, is one of the most common forms of dementia.

Recently released in honor of World’s Alzheimer’s Month is ADI’s annual Alzheimer Report. This year’s report emphasizes the importance of transferring responsibilities to primary care services from more specialized services, such as geriatrics, and psychiatrists. “As the numbers of people affected and the demand for services increase, it is unlikely that full coverage of dementia healthcare services can be attained or afforded using the current specialist care model,” the report states.

With all this worrisome news about the rise in dementia, the most important thing we can do is lead a brain-healthy lifestyle. Small changes can significantly delay the onset of dementia, reducing costs and strain on our health care system, and more importantly increasing quality of life for seniors. The Dana Foundation has a new set of four steps, based on research by the Institute of Medicine, to help keep the brain functioning into old age:

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