The Aging Brain (Aaron Nelson)

Aaron Nelson began his Learning & the Brain session by telling a tale on himself regarding memory. If you’ve ever left home on a car trip and wondered if you turned off the coffee pot or the stove or some other gadget, Nelson’s tale of forgetting his child’s blanket and returning home only to discover that he had left the keys to their other car in that car, which was parked in the driveway and running, will resonate! He went on to describe the components of memory, which consist of “multiple memory systems” as explained by Larry Squire and his memory schema. Scroll to the third page and notice that  the diagram, which references long term memory, shows memory as residing in multiple areas of the brain.

The bulk of Nelson’s talk focused on how the brain and memory change with age. Did you know that “memory starts to decline between 25 and 30 years of age in normal situations.” He explained a bit about what scientists think happens in the brain in terms of aging and memory, further explained the concept of “cognitive reserve”, and then discussed ways to optimize memory. No doubt one reason his talk was well attended is that every last attendee had an aging brain, and a number most likely also have parents who are well ahead in the aging arena!

I took a lot of notes and was persuaded by the practical nature of Aaron’s talk to then purchase his book, The Harvard Medical School Guide to Achieving Optimal Memory.

Of particular interest was Aaron’s description of Yakov Stern and his study of cognitive reserve. SharpBrains has an informative interview with Dr Stern entitled Build Your Cognitive Reserve. I referenced cognitive reserve, or the brain-reserve hypothesis in my prior post on Ken Kosik’s talk.

As with many of the books I read, an entry or two about Aaron Nelson’s book will eventually wind up posted here. Meanwhile, I leave you with this teaser from his book:

Obtain regular exercise
Put out the cigarettes
Take vitamins
Involve yourself with others
Maintain healthful nutrition
Aim for a good night’s sleep
Learn something new
Moderate alcohol intake
Engage in life!
Manage stress
Organize your thinking, organize your life
Routinely take precautions to protect your brain
Yes you can! Maintain a positive attitude

(and a promise to myself to stop buying books until I’ve read all the ones waiting for me!)

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One thought on “The Aging Brain (Aaron Nelson)

  1. Ken Allan

    Kia ora Laurie

    Fascinating stuff. I read through Larry Squire’s paper and was struck by some information there that I’d simply taken for granted, without really thinking about it. For instance, the point you drew our attention to, of the memory residing in multiple areas of the brain, gave me déjà vu.

    As a child, I found, quite by accident, that there were good ways and better ways of remembering things, especially in short term memory, but not exclusively.

    One technique that I’ve used all my life, is to say out loud any name or number that I’ve read. The memory of the sound that I hear when I sound the name or number is more easily recalled than simply attempting to remember the name or number by silently reading it.

    I use this a lot when translating an international phone number from the printed ledger to the phone keypad. I don’t have to say it loud either. As long as I can clearly hear the whisper, it registers as a memory of the sound. Not so the imagined utterance when I read the number silently, no matter how hard I try to concentrate.

    I have always thought that I was odd, and in consequence never shared that discovery with anyone. But it would appear that there could be a cogent reason for this apparent difference in memory tractability – that the memory of audible data is temporarily stored in a part of the brain where it is more readily accessible.

    There’s a lot of potential for further exploration here.

    Catchya later
    from Middle-earth

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