Lifestyle May Be Key to Helping You Avoid Dementia

Denise Mann wrote . . . . . . . . .

Socializing, taking classes and exercising may boost your brain’s cognitive reserve and stave off memory and thinking problems down the road, a new study suggests.

Cognitive reserve refers to the brain’s ability to withstand the effects of diseases like Alzheimer’s and not show signs of decline.

The best way to boost your cognitive reserve?

“Never stop being curious, and learn something new or pick up a new hobby,” said study author Pamela Almeida-Meza, a doctoral student at University College London. “Stay active and connected, exercise, go on daily walks, keep in touch with your family and prioritize visiting your friends.”

For the study, researchers looked at genes and lifestyle factors among 1,184 people born in 1946 in the United Kingdom. Folks took cognitive tests when they were 8 and again at 69.

Everyone in the study received a cognitive reserve score that combined their education level at 26, participation in enriching leisure activities at 43, and job up to age 53. Reading ability at age 53 was tested as an additional measure of overall lifelong learning.

The cognitive test that folks took at age 69 had a maximum total score of 100, and the average score for this group was 92.

Folks with higher childhood cognitive abilities, a higher cognitive reserve score and advanced reading ability performed better on the cognitive test at age 69, the study showed.

People with higher education levels also fared better than their counterparts who did not have a formal education.

Folks who engaged in six or more leisure activities, such as adult education classes, clubs, volunteer work, social activities and gardening, scored higher than people who engaged in four or fewer leisure activities.

What’s more, those participants who had a professional or intermediate level job scored higher on the cognitive test at age 69 than those in lesser-skilled positions.

Previous studies have shown that people with low scores on cognitive tests as kids are more likely to have a steeper cognitive decline with advancing age, but this may not be the case after all.

“The finding suggests that a mentally, socially and physically active lifestyle at midlife can offset the negative contribution of low childhood cognition to older age cognitive state,” Almeida-Meza said.

The APOE4 gene, which increases the risk for Alzheimer’s disease, was linked with lower scores on the cognitive test at age 69, but participants with high or low childhood cognition scores showed similar rates of mental decline with age, regardless of their APOE4 status.

The study appears in the Neurology.

The findings show that genes aren’t destiny when it comes to risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease, said Lei Yu, an associate professor at Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center in Chicago.

“Cognitive performance in old age is not fully determined by what was inherited from our parents,” said Yu, who reviewed the new study.

“Older adults who are actively engaged in cognitive [e.g., reading, or playing checkers, cards, puzzles or board games], social [e.g., spending time with family members or friends, going to church, volunteering or participating in group activities] and physical activities [e.g., regular exercise] are more likely to maintain late-life cognition, even in the presence of brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s,” he said.

Michal Schnaider Beeri is a professor of psychiatry at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City. She co-authored an editorial accompanying the study.

“The study findings support the relevance of a lifelong investment in the accumulation of cognitive reserve for the maintenance of healthy cognition later in life,” she said.

“From a public health and societal perspective, there may be broad long-term benefits in investing in high education, widening opportunities for leisure activities, and proactively providing cognitively challenging activities for individuals at less skilled occupations,” Schnaider Beeri said.

And, she said, it’s never too late to start boosting your cognitive reserve.

“Although younger brains learn faster and more effectively, older and even [much] older brains have plasticity and the capacity to learn,” Schnaider Beeri noted.

She recommended getting out of your comfort zone and learning a new language or skill, or a new musical instrument.

“Feeding our brains with intellectual engagement and effort should be seen as a lifelong process to maintain healthy brain aging,” Schnaider Beeri said.

Source: HealthDay





One-hit Wonder: How Awards, Recognition Decrease Inventors’ Creativity

Sara Savat wrote . . . . . . . . .

Post-it Notes, Spanx, the iPhone, two-day Prime shipping. From unique gadgets to revolutionary business ideas, the most successful inventions have one thing in common: creativity. But sustaining creativity can be difficult.

New research from Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis, published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, has identified one reason why some first-time producers struggle to repeat their initial creative productions while others go on to continually produce creative works.

Markus Baer, professor of organizational behavior at Olin, and Dirk Deichmann, of the Rotterdam School of Management in the Netherlands, discovered that recognizing first-time producers of successful novel ideas with an award or recognition can significantly decrease the likelihood that they will produce future creative work.

“In our study, we found that people who develop novel ideas and receive rewards for them start to see themselves primarily as a ‘creative person,’” Baer said.

“This newfound identity, which is special and rare, is then in need of protection. Essentially, once a person is in the creative limelight, stepping out of it — by producing a novel idea that disappoints or pales in comparison to earlier work — is threatening and to be avoided. One way to do so is to stop producing altogether. You cannot compromise your identity and reputation when you do not produce anything new.”

In other words, fear of failure the second time around can cause producers to avoid taking risks that would threaten their creative identity.

“Harper Lee is a perfect example of this phenomenon,” Baer said. “Her first book, ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ is one of the bestselling and most acclaimed American novels of all time. Yet she didn’t publish again until 55 years later. And her second book, ‘Go Set a Watchman,’ written in the mid-1950s, is considered to be a first draft of her legendary one hit wonder.”

About the research

To study the effect receiving an award or recognition had on first-time producers, Baer and Deichmann first conducted an archival study of 224 first-time cookbook authors in the United Kingdom. According to the study authors, the cookbook market is an ideal context to examine sustained creativity because cookbooks are creative works and a labor of love. From this sample, they found only about 50% of first-time cookbook authors went on to produce a second cookbook. Interestingly, they also discovered that the more novel the initial cookbook was, the less likely the author was to produce a second cookbook.

Next, Baer and Deichmann conducted an experiment with business school students. Participants were asked to develop a concept for a potential cookbook. Half of the participants were told that their idea was “highly original and novel,” while the other half were told their idea was “very solid and traditional.” A subgroup of participants was also told that their ideas were “among the ideas most likely to make a big splash in the food community.”

Finally, participants had the option to develop a second cookbook concept or to build upon their original idea with a marketing plan. The experiment showed that when people produce a highly novel, award-winning idea, right out of the gate, they’re less likely to produce a follow-up idea.

A second experiment built upon the original and allowed the authors to more precisely pinpoint the psychological mechanisms at play. In the two experimental studies, the percentage of first-time producers who decided to develop a second idea, as opposed to exploiting the first idea, was 21 and 34, respectively.

“Participants experienced a greater threat to their creative identity when producers of award-winning, novel work were confronted with the possibility of having to continue on their creative journey by having to produce original work yet again,” the authors concluded.

Rethinking how managers recognize creativity

Creativity is most likely to blossom in environments where producers are motivated primarily by the challenge and meaning of the work itself — i.e., the problem they are trying to solve — and have some creativity-specific skills, such as associating or combining ideas from different knowledge domains, Baer said.

Previous research has focused on the benefits of awards, but Baer and Deichmann found that winning an award can, paradoxically, temper the creativity of producers because it introduces an extra layer of stress to the creative environment.

“Awards are only bad for people producing novel stuff because they make the creative identity of such people salient, causing them to feel threatened by the prospect of compromising this identity with mediocre work,” he said.

Baer offered the following strategies for avoiding the potential negative effects of awards and instead using them to encourage creativity:

  1. Make sure that rewards and recognition are not only offered for the outcome of the creative process — a new product — but also for the process of developing the outcome. For example: Have we challenged key assumptions? Have we tested our prototype properly?
  2. Reward both success and learning from failure. What becomes a success is difficult to predict and often entails a fair amount of luck. Thus, success and failure often lay close together. Learning from failure can be immensely beneficial and should be encouraged.
  3. Do not glorify someone who had one creative success by offering an outsized reward. If you want to glorify people, celebrate those who can produce creative work repeatedly.

Source: Washington University in St. Louis





How Society Thinks About Risk

From pandemics to nuclear energy – the world is full of risks. Psychologists at the University of Basel have developed a new method of determining how risk is perceived within a society.

Many of our everyday activities involve a certain degree of risk – whether to our work, finances or health. But how is risk perceived within a society and how do individuals think about risk?

This was what Dr. Dirk Wulff and Professor Rui Mata, researchers in the Faculty of Psychology at the University of Basel, set out to discover. “There is a lot of academic interest in the phenomenon of risk,” explains Dirk Wulff. “But disciplines such as psychology, sociology and economics define it in different ways.”

According to Wulff, little attention has been paid until now to the fact that the meaning of risk can differ from individual to individual depending on goals and life experience. He feels it is important to understand how different people think about risk in order, for example, to gauge attitudes to new technologies or societal challenges.

Risk links polar ends of the sentiment spectrum

To investigate this, the researchers have developed a new method based on word associations and an algorithmic process that maps the representation of risk for different groups and individuals. The researchers adopted a new approach, employing a snowball word association method. Participants were asked to name five things they associated with the term risk and then, in turn, five things they associated with these associations. Using this method, researchers surveyed a nationally representative sample of 1205 people, with equal representation of men and women and different age ranges.

An algorithm was used to generate a semantic network of risk from the 36,100 associations. It identified the following components: threat, fortune, investment, activity and analysis. The semantic cluster “threat” (danger, accident, loss, etc.) was the component most prominently associated with risk, closely followed by “fortune” (profit, game, adventure). “Up until now, studies have mostly focused on the negative components of risk and ignored the fact that it can also have positive associations,” Wulff comments.

The method is designed to map both individual and group-specific differences in risk perception. The psychologists investigated the differences between men and women and between different age groups. Overall, women and men and people of different ages appeared to share similar thoughts about risk. Nevertheless, there were some differences: a higher proportion of older people than younger people and a higher proportion of women than men associated risk more closely with threat and less with fortune.

Small differences between languages

The researchers also posed the question: Do people from different language regions think about risk in a similar way? To investigate this, they compared the semantic network of risk that emerged from the German survey group with those that resulted in two other languages – Dutch and English. There were some small differences in the frequency of associations. For example, in Dutch the term risk tended to be more closely associated with threat and in English more with fortune and finance. Overall, however, the results indicate that there are some universal correlations in risk representation that transcend language boundaries.

“Our study lays new foundations for examining the question of how people think about risk,” says Wulff. “It could play an important role in helping to provide a better understanding of how different social groups interpret risk, enabling risk communication strategies to be improved to combat social polarization.”

Source: University of Basel



Tough Choices: When It’s Time to Move From Home to Assisted Living

While 8 in 10 Americans ages 65 and older say they want to age in their homes, it’s not always possible when health declines.

Knowing when a loved one needs a more supportive environment, such as assisted living, continuing care retirement community or a nursing home, can be challenging. Though “aging in place” remains a cherished goal, seniors are fretting less about it these days, a recent Associated Press/NORC Center for Public Affairs poll found.

An expert in geriatric mental health offers some guidelines for knowing if independent living is still realistic or if someone needs more care, whether through moving or a home visitation service.

Dr. Molly Camp is an associate professor of psychiatry at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. In a center news release, she said there are five domains to consider:

Personal needs and hygiene: Basic self-care activities, including bathing, dressing and toileting, must be met. A person’s ability to get in and out of tubs and showers and their risk of falling should be considered.

Home environment: Consider the ability to handle basic maintenance and repairs, as well as access to electricity and water, a sufficiently sanitary living environment and how to avoid safety hazards, such as structural deficiencies.

Necessary activities: Assess whether your loved one can complete complex, essential tasks such as transportation, shopping, meal preparation, cleaning and using technology.

Medical self-care: Your loved one should be able to manage their medications, care for minor wounds and self-monitor for illness.

Financial affairs: Evaluate whether the person has the ability to pay bills on time, track other finances, avoid exploitation, and enter into binding contracts when needed.

Of course, Camp noted, family members may be able to help manage finances and home visitation programs may be able to help with chores such as cleaning and cooking.

Source: HealthDay


High Hopes: Optimism Helps Women Live Longer

Cara Murez wrote . . . . . . . . .

The key to a long life may be your attitude.

Researchers at Harvard studied the impact of optimism on women’s lifespans, finding that optimism was associated with greater longevity, such as living past age 90.

Lead study author Hayami Koga, a PhD candidate at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, decided instead of studying risk factors, she wanted to look at positive assets and their impact on health and death.

“To begin to get at this, we wanted to consider the benefits of psychological resources, such as optimism, as possible new targets for promoting healthy aging,” Koga said. “In a previous study, our research group found that optimism was linked to longevity, but we had looked in mostly white populations. We wanted to see if optimism could be a resource for healthy aging in other race and ethnic groups as well.”

That distinction was important because in places like the United States, diverse populations have higher mortality rates than white populations. (Current life expectancy in the United States is 77 years.)

The new study found an association between optimism and long life across racial and ethnic groups.

For the study, the researchers analyzed data and survey responses from over 159,000 participants in the Women’s Health Initiative, which included postmenopausal U.S. women aged 50 to 79 who enrolled in the 1990s and were followed for up to 26 years.

Expecting the best

The research team used a psychological measure of optimism in which participants rate their feelings in statements such as, “In uncertain times, I usually expect the best.”

The study found that the most optimistic quarter of women were likely to have a lifespan that was about 5% longer. They had a 10% greater likelihood of living past 90 when compared to the 25% of women who were the least optimistic.

“Scientists don’t yet fully understand the pathways linking optimism to health and longevity. As we can’t fully explain the relationship by these health-related behaviors, we think that there must be other things going on,” Koga said.

She speculated that optimistic people may also be better at regulating their emotions during stressful situations and have more favorable biological profiles, such as lower levels of inflammation.

It’s possible that optimistic people also have greater social support, Koga suggested.

“More research is needed to see if these processes help explain the relationship we see between optimism and longer lives,” she added.

Koga said certain healthy lifestyle factors, such as healthy diet and regular exercise, accounted for about one-quarter of the relationship between optimism and longevity.

“There is some evidence suggesting that optimistic people are more likely to have goals and the confidence to reach them, so optimism may help cultivate and maintain healthier habits,” Koga said. “People who are optimistic tend to also have healthier behaviors, and the relationship appears to be bidirectional — those who have healthier behaviors are also more optimistic.”

The investigators found that optimism may be an important asset to consider when promoting health and longevity. Koga said studies have shown your optimism can be changed with active intervention, including some psychological approaches such as writing about positive experiences and gratitude.

“We tend to focus on the negative risk factors that affect our health, and this is certainly important,” Koga said. “But it’s also important to think about the positive things like optimism that can affect our health and to practice this to stay healthy and live longer, especially if we see that these benefits are seen across diverse groups.”

The findings were published online recently in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

Though genetics can influence temperament, life events can also have an impact on a person’s optimism, said Dr. Ludmila De Faria, chair of the American Psychiatric Association’s Committee on Women’s Mental Health and an associate professor at the University of Florida.

Your friends matter

Feeling you have some control over events and trying to make changes even after adversity can be helpful, she said. Also, associating with positive people can help pull you through some rough patches.

De Faria cautioned that it isn’t always possible for everyone to feel optimistic, and you shouldn’t feel shame if you are not able to do that in your life circumstances.

“Sometimes it’s just not their fault. It’s not that they’re lacking. For somebody who’s trying to make ends meet and is working three jobs and cannot sleep well because they have to work all of these extended hours and are single parents and they have very limited amount of social interactions with other people, I don’t want them to interpret this to say, well, on top of that, you should be working on reframing your reaction to adversity and maybe doing more yoga,” De Faria said.

De Faria thinks that societal changes could allow people to become more optimistic and improve their mental and physical health. Supports that could help those at lower income levels could include access to health care, subsidized childcare and education that leads to jobs providing a sustainable income.

“Yes, it’s wonderful that if you’re more optimistic, you live longer, but how can we as a society facilitate you having healthier habits and being more optimistic?” she said.

Source: HealthDay