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Howard Gardner proposed the theory of multiple intelligences in 1983 (howardgardner.com) to more broadly interpret intelligence than can be done by standard IQ tests, which often best measure the likelihood of doing well in school. But as we all know, intelligence is far more than doing well in school. The idea, as I understand it, is that the brain has multiple skills, ways of understanding and knowing the world. At the beginning of life, these skills allow us to develop and learn to competently master tasks and information. According to Gardner, there are eight “intelligences.” These are: 1) Verbal-linguistic intelligence: ability to analyze written and verbal information. 2) Logical-mathematical intelligence: ability to use and understand calculations, symbolism, and mathematics. 3) Visual-spatial intelligence: ability to use and understand maps, design, visual arts, and architecture. 4) Musical intelligence: ability to produce and […]

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Lumosity, the “brain training company”, is booming. Everyone is looking for the magic, quick, easy way to fortify his or her brain in hopes of staving off dementia. However, know this. The brain is designed to elaborate itself from experience (in a very broad sense). The foundation of our being is learning and memory. That got us through growing up and it will get us through aging if we just do what comes naturally and you don’t have to pay a fee. That is, interact with the world about you. There is so much marketing and appeal to science – that is often not founded in reality – that one can lose track of a very simple fact. The brain enriches itself by the mere act of engaging in the world. Here are some ideas from an article in the […]

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Has the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease outlived its usefulness? I have felt for some time that the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease has no clinical utility. First, one can have Alzheimer’s disease and never become forgetful. Second, one can have Alzheimer’s disease with memory loss but not become demented. Third, one can become demented and not have Alzheimer’s disease. Fourth, we do not know the cause of Alzheimer’s disease as evidenced by the massive failure of amyloid treatments to date. Fifth, there is no pure case of Alzheimer’s disease in the elderly. Finally, there is no specific treatment unique to Alzheimer’s disease. The real life problem is not that someone has Alzheimer’s disease but rather the practical issue is whether one can be competent to handle the tasks of independent living: self-care, toileting, dressing, doing the checkbook, getting around, learn, being […]

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Despite the “therapeutic nihilism” that seems to dominate thinking about Alzheimer’s disease there are essential components that should be included in managing Alzheimer’s. Jeffrey Cummings details these components in the Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology (A practical algorithm for managing Alzheimer’s disease: What, when, and why? 2015, 2, 307-323, PMID 25815358). An effective treatment plan should include: Strategies for managing risk factors starting at least in middle age. Consider adopting a “Mediterranean style” diet; minimize consumption of alcohol; supplement with omega 3, B vitamins, and E (if already clinically diagnosed); exercise regularly; engage in intellectual interests; become educated about Alzheimer’s disease; participate at some level in music and art; get adequate sleep; manage stress, let a pet adopt you; include stimulating day programs appropriate for the various stages of memory loss for those already diagnosed; and use a calendar […]

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“As the twig is bent, so is the tree inclined.” We have long believed that experience and stimulation in early life determines social and intellectual behavior. Indeed, Freud presented theories that personality is largely formed by the age of five. We have broadened our views since then but it is clear that the young brain is malleable, capable of neuroplasticity, based on experience, e.g., John Paul Scott, Early Experience And The Organization Of Behavior way back in 1968. What about the effects of enrichment on the brain? Rosensweig, Bennet and Diamond performed their classic experiments with rats back in the early 70s. Animals were raised in either a standard, “impoverished,” environment or an “enriched” environment that provided objects to explore and interact with. The brains of enriched rats were thicker and denser than those of impoverished rats. Hence, circumstances in […]

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We have known for quite some time that women are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than men. The obvious inference is that women live longer than men, on average (the current average age of death for women is 81 and men 76). Given that age is the biggest risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease, women are more likely to live long enough to show symptoms than men. But many studies have adjusted for age and it is clear that age is not the cause of this sex difference. Indeed, the risk for Alzheimer’s disease is twice that for women than men aged 70-79 but the same for those 80 and older. There is no clear explanation for this relationship. Despite having a greater risk for Alzheimer’s disease, another interesting sex difference in memory is that healthy woman typically do better […]

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It seems that there is a mass sense of awaiting the magic bullet – the medication or the supplement – which we can take to make neurological disease go away. I hear so often how disappointed my audience is when I honestly say there is no magic potion available nor is there one that I can see on the horizon. We have come to expect medicine to offer a cure for Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease just as it can offer antibiotics for certain infections or analgesics that make a migraine go away. However, if we actually understand how the brain functions, there are treatments right under our nose. I recently read Norman Doidge’s article in the Wall Street Journal (February 7/8, 2015) “Brain, Heal Thyself” with great interest. He points out how our evolving metaphors of the brain, despite having […]

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Treatment of Alzheimer’s disease begins with early detection of memory loss, well before any serious symptoms are present and there is an impact on independence. In other words, we need to have a reliable, valid way to detect minor changes in memory that exceed the inefficiencies of aging. At the present time we rely on medical screening with a test that is very insensitive to mild decline in memory – the Mini-Mental State Exam. The major problem with this approach is that it misses all but the most obvious changes in memory. Alternatively, we can seek neuropsychological evaluation to thoroughly measure and describe cognitive skills. This approach is much more sensitive but involves greater time and expense. More simply we can ask the simple question, “How’s your memory?” After all, most medical and psychological evaluation begins with self-report and a […]

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Here are some of my favorite myths regarding the brain and how memory works. – Listening to Mozart or classical music improves intelligence.  This belief is based on  the “Mozart Effect” from a 1993 study suggesting that listening to Mozart may improve intelligence.  However, subsequent research demonstrated that the effect was restricted to spatial intelligence and is temporary.  The effect is not restricted to classical music and is probably has to do with improved mood and enjoyment. – The right brain is creative whereas the left brain is logical.  This long-standing belief stems from the fact that the brain has two hemispheres that have different functions.  The right  brain controls left sided motor/sensory function whereas the left brain controls right side motor/sensory function.  Furthermore, there is a long standing debate about localized versus distributed brain functions based on injuries (e.g., […]

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Alzheimer’s disease was first described as a case study of Auguste Deter, 51 year old, in a paper by Dr. Alois Alzheimer in 1907. He visually inspected her brain after her death and described “tangled bundles of fibrils” in her cortex that we now identify as plaques and tangles. Despite having over 100 years of study, we still have more questions than answers regarding etiology and biological processes underlying this progressive neurological disease (“Alzheimer’s disease: still a perplexing problem, Krishma Chinthapelli, British Medical Journal, 2014, 349, Q4433, PMID: 25005430). Prime Minister David Cameron announced support for the world’s most extensive population study in saying “dementia now stands alongside cancer as one of the greatest enemies of humanity.” Despite launching a study with quadruple the funding of previous work, there are huge challenges to be overcome. For example he stated that […]

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