The theme of November’s Learning & the Brain conference was Using Emotions Research to Enhance Learning. As with last April, when I believe it was first introduced, there was an Adult Learning strand. Saturday morning I had the pleasure of presiding over the Adult Brains & Memory session, which featured two talks:
- The Adult Brain & Memory: How Learning Protects Against Alzheimer’s, by Ken Kosik
- The Aging Brain: Optimizing and Protecting Memory, by Aaron Nelson
My Dad has Alzheimer’s, and hearing about what is going on within his brain is something that I can listen to over and over again, hence my second time as an audience member for a talk by Ken Kosik. In the cozy environment of MIT’s Brain & Cognitive Sciences auditorium, Kosik took us from the statistics on aging through the neurofibrillary tangles and amyloid plaques of Alzheimer’s to MCI (mild cognitive impairment) to studies and practicalities of hedging against Alzheimer’s, to adult brain plasticity, to wondering just where memories go. In my May 23rd post of this year you can read more about what Ken shares regarding Alzheimer’s.
In this recent talk, I did pick up some new information, and was reminded of some old. Being a teacher, and having very definite opinions about professional development formats, I especially enjoyed Ken’s three-point proof that Education protects against Alzheimer’s.
- Brain-reserve hypothesis – If you start out strong, you’ll decline less.
- Brain-battering hypothesis – Better-educated people take better care of themselves, and therefore may be better protected. Lesser educated people have more stroke, myocardial infection, diabetes, depression and earlier mortality.
- Diagnostic bias – Highly schooled patients score higher on dementia screening and tests of cognitive ability.
Kosik also pointed out some very salient features to keep in mind. Perhaps the most protective factor against Alzheimer’s is having friends, social networks, and being connected.
While all rules do not apply to everyone – each of us is, after all, an individual – the rules are based on statistics, and we can use these generalizations to guide us in our decision making in terms of preventive care and general health care.
Dealing with the aging brain and how it can impact our lives is at the very heart of what Ken Kosik studies. To that end, in addition to his long list of impressive credentials, he is the Executive Director of the Center for Cognitive Fitness and Innovative Therapies at Santa Barbara, California, part of whose mission is:
…we believe that every person has the ability to age gracefully and live a full active life even with a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. The key is integrating all the tools you need to thrive under one roof.
(Next post: Aaron Nelson’s talk)