Scientists learn more about our memories every day?how to make them better as well as how to intentionally make them worse. And to keep your memory sharp, drink coffee!
Do you remember the seventh song that played on your radio on the way to work yesterday? Most of us don’t, thanks to a normal forgetting process that is constantly culling uneeded information from our brains. Researchers now believe that this normal memory loss is hyper-activated in Alzheimer’s disease.
In LiveScience.com, Clara Moskowitz reports that scientists used to think that our brains could deal with seven items at once, which is why telephone numbers were limited to 7 digits. But now they think that 4 items is the maximum we can handle at one time. She quotes psychologist Nelson Cowan as saying, “?When we present phone numbers, we present them in groups of three and four, which helps us to remember the list. That inflates the estimate. We believe we’re approaching the estimate that you get when you cannot group. There is some controversy over what the real limit is, but more and more I’ve found people are accepting this kind of limit.” According to Cowan, the problem is not really remembering, it?s FINDING the file we need. He says, “It’s in there somewhere, the problem is just getting to it. Everything gets encoded into long-term memory almost immediately, but it gets encoded in a way that may not be distinct enough to be retrieved.”
Researcher Dale Bredesen says, “Young brains operate like Ferraris?shifting between forward and reverse, making and breaking memories with a facility that surpasses that of older brains, which are less plastic. We believe that in aging brains, Alzheimer’s occurs when the ‘molecular shifting switch’ gets stuck in the reverse position, throwing the balance of making and breaking memories seriously off kilter.” If they can figure out exactly how this works, we may be one step closer to a cure.
It’s not a cure, but it could be a prevention: It turns out that drinking a cup of coffee a day may cut the risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia by helping to control cholesterol. BBC News quotes researcher Jonathan Geiger as saying, “Caffeine appears to block several of the disruptive effects of cholesterol that make the blood-brain barrier leaky. High levels of cholesterol are a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease, perhaps by compromising the protective nature of the blood brain barrier. Caffeine is a safe and readily available drug?” The “blood brain barrier” is the filter which protects the central nervous system from potentially harmful chemicals carried in the rest of the bloodstream.
The equivalent of a cup of coffee a day protected mice from Alzheimer?s and hopefully, it can do the same for you! But don’t have a cigarette with your coffee?middle-aged smokers have worse memories than nonsmokers.
Art credit: freeimages.co.uk
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