Fact or Myth: Do Pheromones And Attraction Go Hand In Hand?

This is a Fact.

Before any naysayers chime in with, “pheromones are load of nonsense,” consider the amount of time we spend making sure we smell nice.

We shower, shampoo, deodorize and spritz in an effort Continue reading

Scripps Research Institute Scientists Show how a Gene Duplication Helped our Brains Become ‘Human’

Extra copy of brain-development gene allowed neurons to migrate farther and develop more connections; findings may offer clue to autism and schizophrenia

What genetic changes account for the vast behavioral differences between humans and other primates? Researchers so far have catalogued Continue reading

Ways To Improve Your Brain Health and Fitness

Brain fitness has basic principles: variety and curiosity. When anything you do becomes second nature, you need to make a change. If you can do the crossword puzzle in your sleep, it’s time for you to move on to a new challenge in order to get the best workout for your brain. Curiosity about the world around you, how it works and how you can understand it will keep your brain working fast and efficiently. Use the ideas below to help attain your quest for mental fitness.

1. Play Games

Brain fitness programs and games are a wonderful way to tease and challenge your brain. Suduko, crosswords and electronic games can all improve your brain’s speed and memory. These games rely on logic, word skills, math and more. These games are also fun. You’ll get benefit more by doing these games a little bit every day — spend 15 minutes or so, not hours.

2. Meditation

Daily meditation is perhaps the single greatest thing you can do for your mind/body health. Meditation not only relaxes you, it gives your brain a workout. By creating a different mental state, you engage your brain in new and interesting ways while increasing your brain fitness.

3. Eat for Your Brain

Your brain needs you to eat healthy fats. Focus on fish oils from wild salmon, nuts such as walnuts, seeds such as flax seed and olive oil. Eat more of these foods and less saturated fats. Eliminate transfats completely from your diet.

4. Tell Good Stories

Stories are a way that we solidify memories, interpret events and share moments. Practice telling your stories, both new and old, so that they are interesting, compelling and fun. Some basic storytelling techniques will go a long way in keeping people’s interest both in you and in what you have to say.

5. Turn Off Your Television

The average person watches more than 4 hours of television everyday. Television can stand in the way of relationships, life and more. Turn off your TV and spend more time living and exercising your mind and body.

6. Exercise Your Body To Exercise Your Brain

Physical exercise is great brain exercise too. By moving your body, your brain has to learn new muscle skills, estimate distance and practice balance. Choose a variety of exercises to challenge your brain.

7. Read Something Different

Books are portable, free from libraries and filled with infinite interesting characters, information and facts. Branch out from familiar reading topics. If you usually read history books, try a contemporary novel. Read foreign authors, the classics and random books. Not only will your brain get a workout by imagining different time periods, cultures and peoples, you will also have interesting stories to tell about your reading, what it makes you think of and the connections you draw between modern life and the words.

8. Learn a New Skill

Learning a new skill works multiple areas of the brain. Your memory comes into play, you learn new movements and you associate things differently. Reading Shakespeare, learning to cook and building an airplane out of toothpicks all will challenge your brain and give you something to think about.

9. Make Simple Changes

We love our routines. We have hobbies and pastimes that we could do for hours on end. But the more something is ‘second nature,’ the less our brains have to work to do it. To really help your brain stay young, challenge it. Change routes to the grocery store, use your opposite hand to open doors and eat dessert first. All this will force your brain to wake up from habits and pay attention again.

10. Train Your Brain

Brain training is becoming a trend. There are formal courses, websites and books with programs on how to train your brain to work better and faster. There is some research behind these programs, but the basic principles are memory, visualization and reasoning. Work on these three concepts everyday and your brain will be ready for anything.

Scientists Develop Better Technique to Study Bacterial Swimming

CHICAGO – Scientists have come up with a new way to watch bacteria as they swim, which is expected to eventually help trap Escherichia coli bacteria and modify the microbes’ environment without hindering the way they move.

The new approach uses optical traps, microfluidic chambers and fluorescence to get an improved picture of how E. coli get around.

Yann Chemla, a professor of Physics at the University of Illinois, says that the microfluidic chambers provide a controlled environment in which the bacteria swim, and allow them to introduce specific stimuli – such as chemical attractants – to see if the microbes change direction in response to that stimulus.

Chemla, who jointly led the study with physics professor Ido Golding, further says that optical traps use lasers to confine individual cells without impeding their rotation or the movement of their flagella.

The researcher calls the optical traps “bacterial treadmills”.

According to the researchers, movement of the bacterial cell alters the light from the laser, and, thereby, help track its behaviour.

Fluorescent markers enhance visualization of the bacteria and their flagella under a microscope, say the researchers.

While earlier studies have been unable to follow individual bacterial cells moving in three dimensions for more than about 30 seconds, the new approach allows the researchers to track a single bacterium as it swims for up to an hour, and that is why it may offer a new look at questions that so far have been unanswerable.

“For example, some people have asked whether E. coli has a nose. Does it have a front and back?” Nature magazine quoted Golding as saying.

He and his colleagues have observed that while the bacterium can travel in either direction, most E.coli have “a pronounced preference” for one over the other.

The researchers found that after most tumbles, a bacterium usually continued swimming in the same general direction, but that about one in six tumbles caused it to change direction completely.

They were also able to quantify other features of bacterial swimming, such as changes in velocity and the time spent running and tumbling.

They hope that their novel method will allow scientists to address many more questions about this model organism.

“That’s the typical way biology moves forward. You develop a new measurement capability and then you can use that to go back and look at fundamental questions that people had been looking at but had no way of answering,” Golding said.

A research article describing the new technique has been published in the journal Nature Methods.

 

Protein that Repairs Alzheimer’s Brain Damage Identified

TRENTON – Scientists from University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey have identified a protein that can repair brain damage in Alzheimer’s patients.

They said that a protein called vimentin normally appears twice in a lifetime – when neurons in the brain are forming during the first years of life and, years later when the brain’s neurons are under siege from Alzheimer’s or other neurodegenerative diseases.

“Vimentin is expressed by neurons in regions of the brain where there is Alzheimer’s damage but not in undamaged areas of the brain,” said Dr Robert Nagele, a professor at UMDNJ and the study’s corresponding author.

“When the patient shows up at the doctor’s office with symptoms of cognitive impairment, the neurons have reached the point where they can no longer keep pace with the ever-increasing damage caused by Alzheimer’s,” he added.

While explaining the study results, Nagele likened neurons to a tree with long strands called dendrites branching off from the main part of the cell.

The dendrite branches are covered with 10,000 tiny “leaves” called synapses that allow neurons to communicate with each other. Vimentin is an essential protein for building the dendrite branches that support the synapses.

“A hallmark of Alzheimer’s is the accumulation of amyloid deposits that gradually destroy the synapses and cause the collapse of dendrite branches,” he said.

“When the dendrites and synapses degenerate, the neuron releases vimentin in an attempt to re-grow the dendrite tree branches and synapses. It’s a rerun of the embryonic program that allowed the brain to develop in the early years of life,” Nagele added.

The researchers also reported some initial findings that indicated a similar damage response mechanism takes place following traumatic brain injury, suggesting the possibility that similar therapeutic agents could be developed to enhance repair both for sudden brain trauma and for progressive neurodegenerative diseases.

The findings are published in journal Brain Research.

Iron Accumulation in a Cell Can Cause Disease

SYDNEY – The build-up of iron in a cell centre may lead to debilitating diseases which can cause brain and cardiac disorders, a study has revealed.

The accumulation of iron in mitochondria, which is the centre for cell respiration and energy production, is toxic. The iron can substantially damage the cell and cause death.

Using a mouse model, University of Sydney (U-S) researchers found that the iron loading was caused by its increased iron uptake and decreased release due to reduced iron utilization in two major mitochondrial pathways.

“The terrible part is that these children (with high iron accumulation in cells) grow up knowing the joys of self-sufficiency, being able to walk and function normally before they are struck down,” said Des Richardson.

Michael Huang, study co-author noted: “It’s great to work on such an intractable disease and by unveiling its underlying nuts and bolts to get results that can potentially help lots of people.”

The study appeared in the latest edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

Depression Ups Cancer Patients Dying Risk

VANCOUVER – Depression can decrease a cancer patient’s chances of survival, a new research suggests.

Published in the November 15, 2009 issue of Cancer, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society, the finding of an analysis highlights the need for systematic screening of psychological distress and subsequent treatments.

In order to determine the effects of depression on cancer patients’ disease progression and survival, graduate student Jillian Satin, MA, of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, and her colleagues analyzed all of the studies to date they could identify related to the topic.

The researchers found 26 studies with a total of 9417 patients that examined the effects of depression on patients’ cancer progression and survival.

“We found an increased risk of death in patients who report more depressive symptoms than others and also in patients who have been diagnosed with a depressive disorder compared to patients who have not,” said Satin.

In the combined studies, the death rates were up to 25 percent higher in patients experiencing depressive symptoms and 39 percent higher in patients diagnosed with major or minor depression.

The increased risks remained even after considering patients’ other clinical characteristics that might affect survival, indicating that depression may actually play a part in shortening survival.

However, the authors say additional research must be conducted before any conclusions can be reached. The authors add that their analysis combined results across different tumor types, so future studies should look at the effects of depression on different kinds of cancer.

The investigators note that the actual risk of death associated with depression in cancer patients is still small, so patients should not feel that they must maintain a positive attitude to beat their disease.

Nevertheless, the study indicates that it is important for physicians to regularly screen cancer patients for depression and to provide appropriate treatments.

Genetic Link Between Psychosis and Creativity Revealed

BUDAPEST –  A new study seems to have established a link between psychosis and creativity.

Szabolcs Keri, a psychiatrist at Semmelweis University in Hungary, focused his research on neuregulin 1, a gene that normally plays a role in a variety of brain processes, including development and strengthening communication between neurons.

Writing about the study in the journal Psychological Science, he has revealed that a variant of this gene is associated with a greater risk of developing mental disorders, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

For the study, Keri and his colleagues recruited volunteers who considered themselves to be very creative and accomplished.

The participants underwent a battery of tests, including assessments for intelligence and creativity.

To measure the volunteers’ creativity, the researchers asked them to respond to a series of unusual questions, and scored them based on the originality and flexibility of their answers.

The subjects also completed a questionnaire regarding their lifetime creative achievements before the researchers took blood samples.

According to the researchers, their findings showed a clear link between neuregulin 1 and creativity, for volunteers with the specific variant of this gene were more likely to have higher scores on the creativity assessment, and also greater lifetime creative achievements, than volunteers with a different form of the gene.

Keri claims that his study has for the first time shown that a genetic variant associated with psychosis may have some beneficial functions.

He says: “Molecular factors that are loosely associated with severe mental disorders but are present in many healthy people may have an advantage enabling us to think more creatively.”

His findings also suggest that certain genetic variations, even though associated with adverse health problems, may survive evolutionary selection and remain in a population’s gene pool if they also have beneficial effects.

Low Incomes Leads to Higher Mortality Rate In Prostate Cancer Patients

GENEVA – Prostate cancer patients who belong to low socio-economic status are more likely to die than patients with higher incomes, according to a new study from Swiss researchers.

The study’s findings indicate that poor prostate cancer patients receive worse care than their wealthier counterparts.

The researchers wanted to know how disparities affected prostate cancer mortality in Switzerland, a country with an extremely well developed health care system and where healthcare costs, medical coverage, and life expectancy are among the highest in the world,

Dr. Elisabetta Rapiti, of the University of Geneva, and her colleagues conducted a population-based study that included all residents of the region who were diagnosed with invasive prostate cancer between 1995 and 2005.

The analysis included 2,738 patients identified through the Geneva Cancer Registry.

The researchers found that as compared with patients of high socio-economic status, those of low socio-economic status were less likely to have their cancer detected by screening, had more advanced stages of cancer at diagnosis, and underwent fewer tests to characterize their cancer.

These patients were less likely to have their prostates removed and were more likely to be managed with watchful waiting, or careful monitoring.

Patients with low socio-economic status also had a 2-fold increased risk of dying from prostate cancer compared with patients of high socio-economic status.

“The increased mortality risk of patients of low socio-economic status is almost completely explained by delayed diagnosis, poor work-up, and less complete treatment, indicating inequitable use of the health care system,” said Rapiti.

The authors say lead time and length time biases linked to early detection through PSA screening may partially explain the survival advantage observed among high SES patients.

The study has been published in the latest issue of Cancer, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society.

Monkey Brain ‘Hardwired’ for Simple Math

Monkey Brain ‘Hardwired’ for Simple Math

TUBINGEN – A German team of neurobiologists has found that rhesus macaques can engage in abstract mathematical reasoning using specific brain cells dedicated to the comprehension of math rules and relationships.

The finding could provide insight into the neurology behind human ability to comprehend much more complex mathematics, German scientists said.

“Even simple mathematical operations are highly abstract mental operations on quantities that are governed by overarching concepts and principles,” explained study co-author Andreas Nieder, a professor in the department of animal physiology at the University of Tubingen’s Institute of Neurobiology. “Monkeys can adopt abstract mathematical rules, and they can switch between them.”

“That means they understand very fundamental, non-symbolic mathematical principles, such as ‘greater than’ and ‘less than’,” Neider added. His team traced this ability to neurons in the prefrontal cortex region of the primate brain — an area that appears to be devoted to encoding the basic rules of math.

Neider and co-author Sylvia Bongard reported their findings online Jan. 18 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

To assess primate math skills and isolate the neurology behind them, the team trained two rhesus monkeys to assess when groups of various objects, such as dots, were either “greater than” or “less than” another grouping of the same object.

Having learned these two basic mathematical rules, the monkeys were then tracked as they worked levers to indicate which grouping was the larger or smaller of the two displayed.

During the course of 160 different trials, the authors also recorded neural activity among 484 randomly selected cells located in the monkey’s cognition center in the brain, the prefrontal cortex.

Neider and his team found that the monkeys were able to successfully execute the “greater than” and “less than” rules — and switch back and forth between the two — between 83 and 92 percent of the time.

What’s more, 20 percent of the monitored neurons appeared to be specifically tasked with facilitating this type of abstract math-rule comprehension. The cells did so independently, while other cells focused on the processing of sensory information, such as visual and/or or memory cues.

This isn’t the first indication that primates possess some degree of mathematical talent. Last year, Duke University researchers working with macaque monkeys found that the primates are capable of basic math despite their lack of language skills. And in 2007, researchers from Japan’s Kyoto University found that young chimpanzees actually out-performed human adults in tracking numbers and remembering sequencing.

And math proficiency may not be unique to primates.

“Number crunching is a widespread skill among animals,” Neider said. “So far, several mammalian and bird species have been shown to possess it, as well as salamanders, fish, and even bees. This ability has obvious survival advantages. In foraging, for instance, it is an advantage to choose the food source with more items compared to few. Also in social interactions, it pays to know the number of individuals in one’s own group as compared to an opponent party before deciding whether to flee or attack.”

Nevertheless, Neider noted that human mathematical cognition remains leaps and bounds ahead of that of other animals.

“In all animals,” he said, “set size is never represented in a precise way — exactly five objects — but always approximately, ‘about’ five items. Amongst other things, this sets us apart from all other animals. Guided by the development of language, we acquire a very precise understanding of numbers. We denote numbers symbolically, a skill beyond the scope of any animal.”

“With such mental tools at hand and sophisticated logical abilities, we structure and process numerical information in the most sophisticated ways,” Neider observed, “and with the most impressive results.”

“It’s simply a question of the much greater extent to which we, as humans, use abstract reasoning to maneuver in our environment, relative to other animals,” added Joe Verghese, associate professor of neurology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City.

“So while the idea that monkeys can perhaps specifically engage in abstract mathematical reasoning is, I believe, something new, there have been many previous experiments that have shown that primates do engage in abstractions,” he added. “Which means that we are — humans and animals — probably all hardwired to do some kind of abstract reasoning. But it’s a question of the pecking order, of sophistication. The question then is, do primates consider what is life? What comes after death? Unfortunately, I don’t think there are experiments on that level yet.”

 

Kids With Small Head Size at Risk of Neurologic Problems

Kids With Small Head Size at Risk of Neurologic Problems

WASHINGTON – Kids whose head size is smaller than that of 97 percent of children may be at an increased risk of neurologic and cognitive problems, and should be screened for such problems, according to a new guideline from the American Academy of Neurology.

Published in the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, the guideline has been developed in full collaboration with the Child Neurology Society.

Microcephaly is the medical term used for the condition in which kids have small head sizes. In some cases, it is not present at birth, but develops by the time a child becomes two.

While microcephaly is not a disease, it is an important sign that may point to other conditions.

“The evidence suggests that children with microcephaly are more likely to have certain neurologic conditions, such as epilepsy and cerebral palsy, as well as mental retardation and eye and ear disorders,” said lead guideline author Dr. Stephen Ashwal, a child neurologist at Loma Linda University School of Medicine in Loma Linda, California, and a Fellow of the American Academy of Neurology.

“In fact, the evidence shows that children with microcephaly are at risk for developmental delay and learning disorders. For these reasons, it is necessary for doctors to recognize microcephaly and check the child for these associated problems, which often require special treatments. This is an important recommendation, as it allows doctors to provide more accurate advice and counseling to families who have a child with microcephaly,” he added.

The expert says that doctors may also consider screening for coexisting conditions, such as epilepsy and cerebral palsy.

“Forty percent of children with microcephaly also have epilepsy, 20 percent also have cerebral palsy, 50 percent also have mental retardation, and 20 to 50 percent also have eye and ear problems,” said Ashwal.

Brain scans like an MRI or CT scan as well as genetic testing may be useful in identifying the causes of microcephaly.

Ashwal says even if a small head size runs in families, it is still important to see a doctor due to the risk of other conditions.

Stressing the importance of telling the doctor about any family history of neurologic disease, Ashwal said: “It should be noted though, that some children with small head size have normal development and do not develop any related conditions or problems.”

Healthy Older Brains Not Smaller than Younger Ones

Healthy Older Brains Not Smaller than Younger Ones

MAASTRICHT – The belief that healthy older brains are substantially smaller than younger brains has been deemed incorrect by Dutch researchers.

The authors suggest that previous findings may have overestimated atrophy and underestimated normal size for the older brain.

The new study tested participants in Holland’s long-term Maastricht Aging Study who were free of neurological problems such as dementia, Parkinson’s disease or stroke.

Once participants were deemed otherwise healthy, they took neuropsychological tests, including a screening test for dementia, at baseline and every three years afterward for nine years.

MRI scans were used to measure seven different parts of the brain, including the memory-laden hippocampus, the areas around it, and the frontal and cingulate areas of the cognitively critical cortex.

The participants were later divided into two groups: one group with 35 cognitively healthy people who stayed free of dementia (average starting age 69.1 years), and the other group with 30 people who showed substantial cognitive decline but were still dementia-free (average starting age 69.2 years).

In contrast to the 35 people who stayed healthy, the 30 people who declined cognitively over study-period showed a significant effect for age in the hippocampus and parahippocampal areas, and in the frontal and cingulate cortices.

In short, among the people whose cognition got worse, older participants had smaller brain areas than younger participants.

Thus, the seeming age-related atrophy in gray matter more likely reflected pathological changes in the brain that underlie significant cognitive decline than aging itself, wrote the authors.

As long as people stay cognitively healthy, the researchers believe that the gray matter of areas supporting cognition might not shrink much at all.

If future longitudinal studies find similar results, our conception of ‘normal’ brain aging may become more optimistic,” said lead author Saartje Burgmans, who is due to receive her PhD later this year.

The study appears in journal Neuropsychology.

Bacteria Can Help Convert Waste to Power

Bacteria Can Help Convert Waste to Power

BOSTON – Bacteria that generate power could be used in microbial fuel cells to convert waste into electricity, according to the latest research.

University of Massachusetts (U-M) researchers isolated bacteria with large numbers of tiny projections called pili which transfer electrons to generate power in fuel cells, more efficiently than counterparts with a smooth surface.

The researchers isolated a strain of Geobacter sulfurreducens which they called KN400 that grew prolifically on the graphite anodes of fuel cells.

The bacteria formed a thick bio-film on the anode surface, which conducted electricity. The researchers found large quantities of pilin, a protein that makes the tiny fibres that conduct electricity through the sticky bio-film.

“The filaments form microscopic projections called pili that act as microbial nanowires,” said Derek Lovley, U-M professor. “Using this bacterial strain in a fuel cell to generate electricity would greatly increase the cell’s power output.”

Microbial fuel cells can be used in monitoring devices in environments where it is difficult to replace batteries if they fail but to be successful they need to have an efficient and long-lasting source of power.

Lovley described how KN400 might be used in sensors placed on the ocean floor to monitor migration of turtles.

These findings were reported at the Society for General Microbiology’s meeting at Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh

Bone Strengthening Drugs Linked To Lower Breast Cancer Incidence

Bone Strengthening Drugs Linked To Lower Breast Cancer Incidence

LOS ANGELES – New research from the US has discovered that women who used bisphosphonates, commonly-prescribed bone-strengthening drugs, had significantly fewer invasive breast cancers than women who did not use them.

The study is the work of lead investigator Dr Rowan Chlebowski, medical oncologist at the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center (LA BioMed), and colleagues, and the findings are being presented at the 32nd San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium in Texas this week from 9 – 13 December. The symposium is presented by the CTRC (Cancer Therapy & Research Center), AARC (American Association for Cancer Research), and the Baylor College of Medicine.

“The idea that bisphosphonates could reduce breast cancer incidence is very exciting because there are about 30 million prescriptions for these agents written annually in the US targeting bone health, and more could easily be used to counteract both osteoporosis and breast cancer,” Chlebowski told the media.

For the study, Chlebowski and colleagues re-analyzed data from the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI), a large observational study set up by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in 1991 to examine the most common causes of death, disability and impaired quality of life in postmenopausal women. The WHI collected information on cardiovascular disease, cancer, and osteoporosis.

In the 150,000-plus cohort of generally healthy postmenopausal women, the researchers found 32 per cent fewer cases of invasive breast cancer among women who used bisphosphonates (mostly alendronate, marketed as Fosamax by Merck), compared to women who did not use such drugs.

What prompted the study were the findings of a report from a breast cancer trial that suggested bisphosphonate zoledronic acid given intravenously every 6 months resulted in fewer cancers in the other breast.

“It appeared to make bone less hospitable to breast cancer.”

In deciding how to devise the study, the researchers had to find a way to control for bone density, since that in itself is a risk factor for breast cancer. In other words they had to devise a way to control for potential differences between the women prescribed bisphosphonate and those not prescribed bisphosphonate, because those on the bone-strengthening drugs were on it because they had low bone mineral density, which is linked to lower breast cancer incidence.

They found that about 10,000 of the cohort had their bone mineral density analyzed as part of the WHI study, and for the others, including those prescribed bisphosphonates, the researchers used a 10-item hip fracture predictive score to measure bone density.

Thus they were able to correlate the results of bone mineral density tests in the 10,000 who had the tests with the predictive score in order to correct for any potential difference in bone density in women using bisphosphonates compared to those who did not use them.

Thus prepared, Chlebowski and colleagues then studied data on 2,216 women who were using bisphosphonates when they entered the WHI study.

The results showed that:

    * Only 64 of the bisphosphonate users developed breast cancer, and most of the cases, (50 of them), were estrogen-receptor positive.

    * Overall there was an average of 32 per cent fewer breast cancers among bisphosphonate users compared to non-users.

    * There were 30 per cent fewer estrogen-receptor positive cancers and 34 per cent fewer entry-receptor negative cancers among bisphosphonate users, although the latter finding was not statistically significant due to low numbers.

Speculating on what effect bisphosphonates might have to cause fewer breast cancers, Chlebowski said it could be because the drugs discourage blood vessel formation (which tumors rely on to grow), and help the immune system:

“Bisphosphonates reduce angiogenesis and stimulate immune cells responsible for tumor cell surveillance as potential mediators,” explained Chlebowski.

He said we need to study this link in more detail, because “while we currently have several options for reducing receptor positive breast cancers, none are available for receptor negative cancers”.

Got Cognitive Activity? It Does a Mind Good

Got Cognitive Activity? It Does a Mind Good

BOSTON –  If you don’t have a college degree, you’re at greater risk of developing memory problems or even Alzheimer’s. Education plays a key role in lifelong memory performance and risk for dementia, and it’s well documented that those with a college degree possess a cognitive advantage over their less educated counterparts in middle and old age.

Now, a large national study from Brandeis University published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry shows that those with less schooling can significantly compensate for poorer education by frequently engaging in mental exercises such as word games, puzzles, reading, and lectures.

“The lifelong benefits of higher education for memory in later life are quite impressive, but we do not clearly understand how and why these effects last so long,” said lead author Margie Lachman, a psychologist. She suggested that higher education may spur lifelong interest in cognitive endeavors, while those with less education may not engage as frequently in mental exercises that help keep the memory agile.

But education early in adulthood does not appear to be the only route to maintain your memory. The study found that intellectual activities undertaken regularly made a difference. “Among individuals with low education, those who engaged in reading, writing, attending lectures, doing word games or puzzles once or week or more had memory scores similar to people with more education,” said Lachman.

The study, called Midlife in the United States, assessed 3,343 men and women between the ages of 32 and 84 with a mean age of 56 years. Almost 40 percent of the participants had at least a 4-year college degree. The researchers evaluated how the participants performed in two cognitive areas, verbal memory and executive function — brain processes involved in planning, abstract thinking and cognitive flexibility. Participants were given a battery of tests, including tests of verbal fluency, word recall, and backward counting.

As expected those with higher education said they engaged in cognitive activities more often and also did better on the memory tests, but some with lower education also did well, explained Lachman.

“The findings are promising because they suggest there may be ways to level the playing field for those with lower educational achievement, and protect those at greatest risk for memory declines,” said Lachman. “Although we can not rule out the possibility that those who have better memories are the ones who take on more activities, the evidence is consistent with cognitive plasticity, and suggests some degree of personal control over cognitive functioning in adulthood by adopting an intellectually active lifestyle.”

The study was supported by the National Institute on Aging.