Can nicotine protect the aging brain?

Nicotine

Nicotine

Everyone knows that tobacco products are bad for your health, and even the new e-cigarettes may have harmful toxins. However, according to research at Texas A&M, it turns out the nicotine itself — when given independently from tobacco — could help protect the brain as it ages, and even ward off Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s disease.

Ursula Winzer-Serhan, PhD, an associate professor at the Texas A&M College of Medicine, and her collaborators found that nicotine’s ability to be neuroprotective may be partly due to its well-known ability to suppress the appetite. Their research is published in the Open Access Journal of Toxicology.

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Graying but grinning: Despite physical ailments, older adults happier

Dilip Jeste, M.D., Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry and Neurosciences and director of the Center on Healthy Aging at UC San Diego. CREDIT: UC San Diego Health

Dilip Jeste, M.D., Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry and Neurosciences and director of the Center on Healthy Aging at UC San Diego.
CREDIT: UC San Diego Health

While even the best wines eventually peak and turn to vinegar, a new study by researchers at University of California, San Diego School of Medicine suggests a paradoxical trend in the mental health of aging adults: They seem to consistently get better over time.

“Their improved sense of psychological well-being was linear and substantial,” said senior author Dilip Jeste, MD, Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry and Neurosciences and director of the Center on Healthy Aging at UC San Diego. “Participants reported that they felt better about themselves and their lives year upon year, decade after decade.”

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Middle-age memory decline a matter of changing focus

When middle-aged and older adults were shown a series of faces, red regions of the brain were more active; these include an area in the medial prefrontal cortex that is associated with self-referential thinking. In young adults, by contrast, blue regions -- which include areas important for memory and attention -- were more active during this task. CREDIT: N. Rajah, McGill University

When middle-aged and older adults were shown a series of faces, red regions of the brain were more active; these include an area in the medial prefrontal cortex that is associated with self-referential thinking. In young adults, by contrast, blue regions — which include areas important for memory and attention — were more active during this task.
CREDIT: N. Rajah, McGill University

The inability to remember details, such as the location of objects, begins in early midlife (the 40s) and may be the result of a change in what information the brain focuses on during memory formation and retrieval, rather than a decline in brain function, according to a study by McGill University researchers.

Senior author Natasha Rajah, Director of the Brain Imaging Centre at McGill University’s Douglas Institute and Associate Professor in McGill’s Department of Psychiatry, says this reorientation could impact daily life. “This change in memory strategy with age may have detrimental effects on day-to-day functions that place emphasis on memory for details such as where you parked your car or when you took your prescriptions.”

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Judgment, memory better for older adults with optimistic outlook

Smiling pensioner with a drumWhen older adults feel optimistic about their future, they are less likely to experience decreases in memory, problem solving and judgment, according to new research conducted at the University of Michigan.

Optimism has been linked to positive health behaviors, such as exercising and eating healthier diets, and lower risk for a variety of health conditions, including stroke and heart attacks.

This is believed to be the first study to look at the relationship between optimism and cognitive health in adults ages 65 and older. The researchers used data from the Health and Retirement Study, a national survey funded by the National Institute on Aging and conducted at U-M’s Institute for Social Research.

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Senior moments explained: Older adults have weaker clutter control

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A new study from the Georgia Institute of Technology finds that older people struggle to remember important details because their brains can’t resist the irrelevant “stuff” they soak up subconsciously. As a result, they tend to be less confident in their memories.

Researchers looked at brain activity from EEG sensors and saw that older participants wandered into a brief “mental time travel” when trying to recall details. This journey into their subconscious veered them into a cluttered space that was filled with both relevant and irrelevant information. This clutter led to less confidence, even when their recollections were correct. Cluttering of the brain is one reason older people are more susceptible to manipulation, the researchers say. The study appears online in the journal Neuropsychologia.

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Mind your busyness

Busy seniorsAre you busy on an average day? Do you often have too many things to do to get them all done? Do you often have so many things to do that you go to bed later than your regular bedtime?

If you are over 50 and the answer to these questions is a weary yes, here is some good news: older adults with a busy daily lifestyle tend to do better on tests of cognitive function than their less busy peers, shows a new study in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience. The research is part of the Dallas Lifespan Brain Study, one of the most comprehensive studies of age-related changes in cognition and brain function in healthy adults currently underway in the USA.

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Study suggests testosterone therapy does not raise risk of aggressive prostate cancer

Romantic Senior Couple Hugging In KitchenMen with low levels of the male sex hormone testosterone need not fear that testosterone replacement therapy will increase their risk of prostate cancer.

This is the finding of an analysis of more than a quarter-million medical records of mostly white men in Sweden, research led by investigators at NYU Langone Medical Center and its Laura and Isaac Perlmutter Cancer Center. The international team of study authors will present these results on May 9 at the annual meeting of the American Urological Association in San Diego, Calif.

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Sorry kids, seniors want to connect and communicate on Facebook, too

Senior Computing FunOlder adults, who are Facebook’s fastest growing demographic, are joining the social network to stay connected and make new connections, just like college kids who joined the site decades ago, according to Penn State researchers.

“Earlier studies suggest a positive relationship between bonding and bridging social capital and Facebook use among college students,” said Eun Hwa Jung, a doctoral candidate in mass communications. “Our study extends this finding to senior citizens.”

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People in their 60s uniquely benefit from giving advice despite fewer chances to offer it

Senior Man Hugging Adult Son

According to the study, which appears in the March issue of Social Psychology Quarterly, individuals in their 60s who report giving advice to a wide variety of people — to family members, friends, neighbors, and strangers — see their lives as highly meaningful, while adults in that age group who dispense advice to fewer types of people are much less likely to report high life meaning.

“This association between advice giving and life meaning is not evident for other age groups,” said Markus H. Schafer, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Toronto and the lead author of the study. “Overall, we interpret these findings to suggest that the developmental demands of late midlife — particularly the desire to contribute to others’ welfare and the fear of feeling ‘stagnant’ — fit poorly with the social and demographic realties for this segment of the life course. Just when giving advice seems to be most important, opportunities for doing so seem to wane.”

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You can teach an old dog new tricks. But younger dogs learn faster

The dogs were trained to touch symbols on a screen using their nose. (Photo: Lisa Wallis/Vetmeduni Vienna)

The dogs were trained to touch symbols on a screen using their nose.
(Photo: Lisa Wallis/Vetmeduni Vienna)

The effect of aging on cognitive processes such as learning, memory and logical reasoning have so far been studied almost exclusively in people.

Using a series of touchscreen tests, Lisa Wallis and Friederike Range of the Messerli Research Institute at Vetmeduni Vienna have now studied these domains in pet dogs of varying ages. The study was conducted with 95 Border Collies ranging in age from five months to 13 years. The dogs regularly came to the Clever Dog Lab on the Vetmeduni Vienna campus accompanied by their owners to conduct the tests on a touch-sensitive monitor.

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