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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Mentally challenging activities key to a healthy aging mind

Senior PhotographerIndividuals who participated in high challenge activities like quilting and photography showed enhanced brain activity, according to a new Restorative Neurology and Neuroscience report.

One of the greatest challenges associated with the growing numbers of aged adults is how to maintain a healthy aging mind. Taking up a new mental challenge such as digital photography or quilting may help maintain cognitive vitality, say researchers reporting in Restorative Neurology and Neuroscience.

Recent evidence suggests that engaging in enjoyable and enriching lifestyle activities may be associated with maintaining cognitive vitality. However, the underlying mechanism accounting for cognitive enhancement effects have been poorly understood.

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Omega 3 levels affect whether B vitamins can slow brain’s decline

fish oilWhile research has already established that B vitamin supplements can help slow mental decline in older people with memory problems, an international team have now found that having higher levels of Omega-3 fatty acids in your body could boost the B vitamins’ effect.

The team, from the Universities of Cape Town, Oslo, Oxford and the UAE, studied more than 250 people with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) in Oxford. MCI is when brain function is below what is normally expected for a person’s age but is not significant enough to interfere with daily life. While it is not as serious as dementia, if untreated it often progresses to become dementia.

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The Lancet: Happiness and unhappiness have no direct effect on mortality

Happy seniorsA study of a million UK women, published in The Lancet, has shown that happiness itself has no direct effect on mortality, and that the widespread but mistaken belief that unhappiness and stress directly cause ill health came from studies that had simply confused cause and effect.

Life-threatening poor health can cause unhappiness, and for this reason unhappiness is associated with increased mortality. In addition, smokers tend to be unhappier than non-smokers. However, after taking account of previous ill health, smoking, and other lifestyle and socio-economic factors, the investigators found that unhappiness itself was no longer associated with increased mortality.

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Being true to yourself may protect against the harmful effects of loneliness

Contentment. Jubilant Ecstatic Old Woman Holding Ice-Cream and LaughingA lot has been written about the downward spiral of loneliness, writes Dr Christain Jarrett for the British Psychological Society.

People who crave more social contact often develop behaviours and thinking styles that only serve to accentuate their isolation, such as turning to drink and becoming more sensitive to perceived slights and rejections. Less studied is the question of whether some people have personality traits that give them a buffer against these loneliness-related risks. A new study published in the Journal of Health Psychology finds a promising candidate that appears to fit this description – authenticity, or being true to yourself.

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Loneliness triggers cellular changes that can cause illness, study shows

Lonely senior manLoneliness is more than a feeling: For older adults, perceived social isolation is a major health risk that can increase the risk of premature death by 14 percent.

Researchers have long known the dangers of loneliness, but the cellular mechanisms by which loneliness causes adverse health outcomes have not been well understood. Now a team of researchers, including UChicago psychologist and leading loneliness expert John Cacioppo, has released a study shedding new light on how loneliness triggers physiological responses that can ultimately make us sick.

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Determining accurate life expectancy of older adults requires provider, patient discussion

Health care providers must have detailed discussions with their older adult patients to better determine their true life expectancy, as older adults do not accurately predict their own prognosis, a key factor in making decisions about future health interventions, according to researchers at UC San Francisco and San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

Their research letter appears online in JAMA Internal Medicine.

“We thought older people would have a good sense of how long they had to live and have better estimates than a prognostic calculator that is based on things like age, gender and chronic diseases,” said lead author Rafael Romo, PhD, RN, doctoral graduate in the UCSF School of Nursing and VA Quality Scholars Nurse Fellow at the San Francisco VA Medical Center, “but we were wrong.”

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Active body, active mind: The secret to a younger brain may lie in exercising your body

CAPTION Stroop-interference-related cortical activation patterns are shown. CREDIT: University of Tsukuba

CAPTION
Stroop-interference-related cortical activation patterns are shown.
CREDIT: University of Tsukuba

It is widely recognised that our physical fitness is reflected in our mental fitness, especially as we get older. How does being physically fit affect our aging brains? Neuroimaging studies, in which the activity of different parts of the brain can be visualised, have provided some clues. Until now, however, no study has directly linked brain activation with both mental and physical performance.

As reported in the latest volume of the journal NeuroImage, an exciting new study led by Dr Hideaki Soya from the University of Tsukuba in Japan and his colleagues show, for the first time, the direct relationship between brain activity, brain function and physical fitness in a group of older Japanese men. They found that the fitter men performed better mentally than the less fit men, by using parts of their brains in the same way as in their youth.

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Study reveals connection between fitness level, brain activity, and executive function

The aging process is associated with declines in brain function, including memory and how fast our brain processes information, yet previous research has found that higher levels of cardiorespiratory fitness in older adults leads to better executive function in the brain, which helps with reasoning and problem solving. Higher cardiorespiratory fitness levels have also been found to increase brain volume in key brain regions.

Sex does not increase heart attack risk

Sex is rarely the cause of a heart attack, and most heart disease patients are safe to resume sexual activity after a heart attack, according to a research letter published today in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.