Newsbriefs: Age-Associated Memory Decline; Mental Illness Study; Longevity; Head Injury & Dementia

News and views that affect your mind, mood and memory.

Age-Associated Memory Decline Linked to Stronger Brain Connections

Researchers believe they may have identified a possible cause of age-related memory decline. A study published online Nov. 3, 2014 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that as we age, our various brain networks tend to work more closely together, which, oddly enough, seems to make it harder to recall information. Researchers tested the memories of a group of 210 adults, ranging in age from 20 to 89, and used scanning technology to observe blood flow in their brains while they were awake and as they slept. The scans revealed how closely different regions of the brain were functionally connected to one another, that is, whether the various brain networks tended to have specialized roles and were connected primarily to others in their network, or whether network connections were distributed throughout the brain. The scientists found that older participants tended to have a greater number of connections between different brain networks, and that these wider connections were correlated with worse memory performance. The fewer young participants who also had more-connected brains also had worse memories, suggesting that the connection factor was an important determinant in memory recall. The researchers theorized that too little segregation between brain networks may hamper the brain’s ability to reconstruct a memory.

Study: Mental Illness Affects One in Five U.S. Adults

Twenty percent of adults in the United States coped with mental illness in 2013, the latest year for which figures are available, according to the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. In a report released on Nov. 20, 2014, the agency said that 43.8 million Americans had diagnosable mental condi-tions, 10 million of which were described as serious. Depression was the most common mental disorder, the report said. An estimated 15.7 million Americans had major depressive episodes and 9.3 million seriously con-sidered suicide. About 34.6 million people received some mental health care in 2013, suggesting that many others were going without help. “Now more than ever, people can get the help they need in order to recover from mental disorders and live full, active lives—they just need to take the first step and seek help,” an agency official said.

Meaningful Life Adds to Longevity

Feeling that you have a purpose in life might help you live longer, a study of 9,000 older adults suggests. Researchers asked study participants to rate how worthwhile they felt their lives were, and whether they felt a sense of purpose in their lives. They found that those participants who reported high levels of wellbeing in these areas were more likely to survive over the eight years of the study period, according to a report in the Nov. 7, 2014 issue of The Lancet. Even when other factors were taken into account, only nine percent of participants with the greatest sense of purpose died during that time compared to 29 percent of those participants who had the lowest sense of purpose. While the reasons for these differences are not clear, they may reflect a tendency by those who feel their lives have meaning to make a greater effort to look after their health than those who feel purposeless.

Head Injury in Older Adults More Likely to Result in Dementia

Older adults may be significantly more vulnerable to dementia following even a mild brain injury than are middle-aged or younger individuals, a surprising new study shows. Researchers followed more than 52,000 emergency room patients over the age of 55 for six years, according to a paper published in the Oct. 27, 2014 online edition of JAMA Neurology. They found that, while fewer than six percent of patients whose injuries did not involve the brain developed dementia over the study period from 2005 to 2011, more than eight percent of those patients with brain trauma developed dementia. What’s more, in those between the ages of 55 to 65, moderate to severe injury was associated with the increase in dementia risk, while in those over the age of 65, even a mild concussion led to increased risk. The findings are especially important given the fact that older adults experience the highest rates of traumatic brain injury and are often victims of falls.

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