Growing Older and Cognition: Your Mileage May Vary

What does current science have to offer in the way of advice on staying mentally sharp as you grow older? General guidelines and useful tips, with expectations of more to come—someday.

“Some things seem to work; exactly what doses, what combinations, and how they should be applied, is unclear,” said Marie Bernard, deputy director at the National Institute on Aging, during a forum at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Washington, DC, on Wednesday.

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From left: Sevil Yasar, Marilyn S. Albert, and Marie Bernard at AAAS on Wednesday

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What Makes Us Who We Are: Neuroscience and the Self

The idea of the mind is a relatively modern concept. In medieval times, it was believed that people were divided in two parts, the physical body and the spiritual soul. With the emergence of the scientific revolution and thinkers such as John Locke, the mind and secular life became an important topic in discussions about self-awareness. Since then, we have been trying to understand not only what it means to possess a mind, but also the neuroscience behind it.

That was part of the message at “My Neurons, My Self,” a panel discussion at the World Science Festival in New York City. Three eminent neuroscientists and a philosopher provided insight into the “mind-brain” problem, focusing on what defines the self. “What we don’t have yet is a way of bridging mental experience with the brain in a coherent model that allows for mental intention; we still are a ways off from solving the mind-brain problem,” said George Makari, M.D., director of the Institute of the History of Psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College, in introducing the panel.

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Successful Aging & Your Brain at NYU

The Dana Foundation’s Successful Aging & Your Brain (formerly “Staying Sharp”) initiative partnered with New York University to host a Community Brain Fair yesterday as part of Brain Awareness Week (BAW).  This week highlights the global campaign to increase public awareness about the progress and benefits of brain research through programs and events happening all over the world. The free panel discussion and brain fair, held at New York University’s Langone Medical Center, included exhibits for kids and information on how the brain works.

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Pint of Science: Perception

Many factors weigh into how we perceive the world, and last night we tapped into two areas: hearing and memory, at a “Pint of Science” gathering at DROM in the East Village. Beer in hand, attendees packed the venue, eager to learn more from hometown scientists James Hudspeth of Rockefeller University and Paula Croxson of Mount Sinai.

Hudspeth, a Dana Alliance member and hearing expert, spoke about how hearing works, and the role of tiny hair cells in the cochlea. As explained on his Howard Hughes Medical Institute page, “Each cochlea normally contains about 16,000 hair cells, which convert mechanical inputs derived from sounds into electrical signals that the brain can interpret.”

It is the loss of these hair cells, which don’t regenerate in humans, that leads to the most common form of hearing loss, said Hudspeth. Lucky for us, other species can regenerate these cells (amphibians and reptiles, for example). Dr. Hudspeth is using zebra fish in his lab to study this ability; he hopes new therapies can be produced for people in the next five to ten years. In the meantime, cochlear implants are being used by more than 300,000 people in the US.

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Two Free Successful Aging & Your Brain Events in NYC!

Will you be in New York City next week? Would you like to know more about maintaining brain health as you age? If so, you have two opportunities to attend our free Successful Aging & Your Brain program!

MemorySuccessful Aging & Your Brain, formerly Staying Sharp, features a panel discussion on topics such as normal age-related changes in the brain, brain diseases and disorders, and successful aging techniques. After the discussion, there is allotted time for audience questions.

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