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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2017 Winners for “Design a Brain Experiment” Competition

The time has finally come to announce this year’s champions of the Dana Foundation’s annual “Design a Brain Experiment” competition, where we asked high school students across the country to try their hand at creating an original science experiment to test theories about the brain. Every year, the competition judges face the challenge of selecting two winners from a tall stack of impressive submissions. However, this year made history with a first-ever tie for our second-place winners!

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Photo courtesy of Medha Palnati

The first place prize of $500 goes to Medha Palnati from Westford Academy in Massachusetts for her impressive submission, “The Use of CRISPR Technology to Test Gene Therapy as a Treatment to Early-Onset Familial Alzheimer’s Disease in Zebrafish.” Palnati’s proposal explores the potential of using an exciting new experimental form of gene therapy to treat early-onset Familial Alzheimer’s disease (FAD). FAD is usually caused by an inherited gene mutation and occurs in about five percent of all people with Alzheimer’s disease. Palnati’s research proposal uses zebrafish as a model to test this potential therapy.

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Sleep Disorders as Prologue to Disease: From the Archives

What a (incremental) difference seven years make. In 2009, when we wrote about Dana Alliance member David Holtzman’s work, the headline was “Could Sleep Disorders Contribute to Alzheimer’s?” This month, Scientific American describes the work he and colleagues at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis are doing using the headline “Why Sleep Disorders May Precede Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.” We’ve gone from “maybe take a look” to “what’s the mechanism” on evidence for a link between sleep troubles and risk for neurodegenerative disorders has come.

Scientific American’s Simon Makin calls the Holtzman lab’s 2009 discovery the “best evidence for a causal relationship” From our story:

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Free Staying Sharp Program in Kansas City

Are you going to be in the Kansas City metro area this weekend? If so, please join us Saturday morning, June 13, for our free Staying Sharp forum. The program includes a panel discussion from 10 am to 12 pm with Anne Arthur, ARNP, BC; Jeffrey Burns, MD, MS; and Russell H. Swerdlow, MD from the University of Kansas Alzheimer’s Disease Center, as well as Anne L. Foundas, MD, MS, Professor and Chair of the Neurology and Cognitive Neuroscience department at the University of Missouri – Kansas City School of Medicine. They will discuss the latest information on the aging brain, memory, Alzheimer’s disease, brain health, and more. For the last thirty minutes, they will take your questions as part of the Q&A.

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Free Staying Sharp Program Saturday in Suffolk County Long Island

If you plan on being out in Long Island this weekend, please join us Saturday morning, June 8, for our free Staying Sharp forum. The program includes a panel discussion from 10 am to 12 pm with Dana Alliance members Dennis Choi, MD, PhD, and Patricia K. Coyle, MD, both from the Stony Brook University School of Medicine. They will discuss the latest information on the aging brain, memory, Alzheimer’s disease, brain health, and more. For the last thirty minutes, they will take your questions as part of the Q&A.

Staying Sharp Background Image (2)This will all be happening at the Hilton Long Island, 598 Broad Hollow Road in Melville, NY. Reservations are highly recommended; space is limited and these forums fill up fast. Register now by calling 1-877-926-8300. For more information go to www.dana.org/stayingsharp or email stayingsharp@dana.org.

We hope to see you on Saturday!

– Simon Fischweicher

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