Free Public Event: The Aging Brain

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What does every congressional district have in common? Baby Boomers – the sizable generation of people now in their 50s to 70s. It is well documented that the collective aging of the Boomers will have public health impacts. This includes the impacts of the aging brain. Come and learn what happens to the brain as we get older, what happens when the process goes wrong, and what we can do to strengthen the brain as we age.

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Digital Health Awards Winner

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The Dana Foundation’s Successful Aging & Your Brain PSA has won a Silver Award in the Digital Health Awards Spring 2017 competition! The video features a 90-second animation with four factors on how to live a brain healthy life. The award was submitted under the Educational Institution section and the Web-based Resource category.

The Digital Health Awards recognizes high-quality health resources for consumers and health professionals. Submissions were judged by a panel of health technology professionals and graded based on content, format, success in reaching the targeted health audience, and overall quality. The awards program is organized by the Health Information Resource Center, a clearinghouse for professionals who work in consumer health fields.

 

Remembering Breakthroughs

A New York Times profile earlier this week on Brenda A. Milner, Sc.D., credited her with changing “the course of brain science for good as a newly minted Ph.D. in the 1950s by identifying the specific brain organ that is crucial to memory formation.”

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Photo credit: Owen Egan; Courtesy of the Montreal Neurological Institute, McGill University

Milner, a Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives member, identified the hippocampus and other areas of the brain that process memory while working with Henry Molaison, more commonly known as H.M., who developed amnesia at age 29 from the removal of tissue from both his medial temporal lobes, a surgery that was supposed to alleviate his epilepsy.

With the help of H.M., Milner discovered that memory was processed in the medial temporal lobes, which was why he could no longer form new long-term memories. He was, however, able to learn new tasks, meaning he must remember the actions in another part of the brain. His ability to acquire new skills proved to Milner there are two types of memory that occur in different parts of the brain – explicit memory, which recalls describable details like facts and events, and implicit memory, for unconscious memories such as actions and procedures. Milner described this finding in a 2010 Dana Foundation interview:

I went to the McGill psychology department and borrowed learning tasks to give him [H.M]. I took down a maze task, which I was sure he wouldn’t learn, and he didn’t. It was a nice control test, because he showed absolutely no progress over three days. Then I gave him the mirror drawing task. H.M. did 30 trials over three days and at the end of the last trial, his performance was absolutely perfect. I can still remember him looking at what he had drawn, saying: “This is strange. I thought this would be difficult, but it looks as though I’ve done it rather well.” I was very excited because it showed that he could have this excellent performance without any awareness that the reason he was doing so well was that he had had the chance to practice the task over three days.

When I saw that H.M.  had this beautiful learning of something he had no memory of having acquired, I then speculated that this task, which involved motor learning, depended on a different system in the brain. His surgeon had damaged his medial temporal system, but this was a kind of learning that was unaffected by this operation, so therefore it must involve other structures.

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April is National Minority Health Month!

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Older black and Hispanic Americans are more likely to have Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias than older white Americans, the Alzheimer’s Association revealed in their 2017 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures report. “Genetic factors do not appear to account for the large prevalence differences among racial groups,” the report stated. Instead, “variations in health, lifestyle and socioeconomic risk factors across racial groups most likely account for most of the differences in risk of Alzheimer’s and other dementias by race.”

April is National Minority Health Month, a time to recognize disparities in health such as the increased prevalence of dementia, diabetes, and stroke in minorities. The theme for 2017 is “Bridging Health Equity Across Communities,” which aims to emphasize the importance of our communities in moving towards equal opportunities for maximum health, or health equity. Want to take action? The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Minority Health recommends four steps to get started:

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Brain Day at NYU!

After being re-scheduled due to inclement weather, New York University’s Brain Day at NYU Langone Medical Center took place last Thursday, April 13th as part of BraiNY and the Dana Alliance’s celebration of Brain Awareness Week. The event included a Brain Fair in the breezeway where various booths demonstrated experiments and provided information on the brain. There were also models of brains to examine and play with, and some free Dana Alliance materials and publications, too!

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This year’s Brain Fair at NYU Langone Medical Center.

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