Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Brainpower of elderly boosted by video game: Just 12 hours playing dramatically improved multi-tasking ability, memory and attention span

Probably a temporary practice effect

A simple video game devised by scientists dramatically rejuvenated the brains of pensioners after only 12 hours.  The improvements were so great, they did better than those in their 20s at the driving-based challenge, said researchers.

The multi-tasking ability, memory and attention span of the men and women aged 60 to 85 were all boosted by the ‘brain training’ with some of the benefits still obvious six months later.

The scientists said that their technique could be used to keep healthy older adults ‘at the top of their game’ for longer.

Brain training is a popular way of trying to keep the mind sharp into old age but views about its value to everyday life are mixed.

However, the researchers at the University of California believe their NeuroRacer game is different as it was designed to improve multi-tasking, a skill known to deteriorate with age.

Players use a joystick to navigate a car along a winding road while various signs pop up.

Users must push a button when they see one particular sign while ignoring all the others.

The game gets more difficult as a player improves but shouldn’t become so difficult that it is too frustrating to enjoy.

Tests showed that a small amount of practice led to rapid improvements. After just 12 hours of using it on a laptop at home over a month, the pensioners fared better than players who were decades younger.

Working memory and attention span also improved, despite the game not aiming to do this, reported the journal Nature.

Dr Adam Gazzaley, who has patented NeuroRacer, believes it does more to train the brain than other methods like crosswords and card games.

Alexandra Trelle, of Cambridge University’s memory lab, said the results should encourage people to strive to improve their mind sharp and agile throughout life. 

She said that games like NeuroRacer aren’t the only option – with activities such as learning a new language or taking up a musical instrument likely to be more fun and at least as beneficial. 

Dr Simon Ridley, head of research at the Alzheimer’s Society, said: ‘The ability to improve cognitive health in old age could be crucial in the search for new treatments and preventions for dementia.’


Ready in three years, the simple op to cure high blood pressure: Procedure will remove two rice-sized modules

Sounds hopeful  -- as long as it is not attacking a symptom rather than the disease

A simple operation developed by British scientists could cure millions of patients with hard-to-treat high blood pressure.

The procedure involves removing a small cluster of nerves in the throat linked to blood pressure regulation.

Researchers from Bristol University are ‘very hopeful’ the measure could help the estimated 2.5million individuals with hypertension that cannot be controlled by medication.

If given the go-ahead, it could be available within three years as a ‘relatively simple’ day treatment for adults, they say.

Scientists have already started a clinical trial on 20 people with high blood pressure after the novel approach successfully ‘cured’ the condition in laboratory rats.

Known as the silent killer, high blood pressure or hypertension affects a third of adults and significantly raises the odds of heart attacks, strokes and other potentially fatal conditions if left untreated.

At the moment, there is no known effective remedy for individuals who do not respond to conventional drug therapies.

But scientists at Bristol’s School of Physiology and Pharmacology identified a key organ in the development of high blood pressure – the carotid body.

The novel approach, which involves removing two rice-sized nerve endings linked to blood pressure regulation, has already been successfully tested on rats

It consists of a tiny cluster of nerve cells that sit on the side of the two branches of the carotid artery in the neck, each the size of a grain of rice.

Despite being one of the body’s smallest organs, it has the highest blood flow of them all – reflecting its importance as an early warning device for the brain if there is any change to oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in the blood.

It is thought that in some cases the carotid body becomes overactive and sends a message to the brain to keep blood pressure high. The team removed the organs in rats with hypertension, and found that blood pressure fell and remained low.

The study, funded by the British Heart Foundation and published in the journal Nature Communications, said the animals suffered no adverse side-effects either.

In human trials, only one carotid body would be removed in order to reduce blood pressure while maintaining the organ’s vital regulatory function.

Lead researcher Professor Julian Paton said: ‘We knew that these tiny organs behaved differently in conditions of hypertension, but had absolutely no idea that they contributed so massively to the generation of high blood pressure; this is really most exciting.

‘It certainly has the potential to be a very novel interventional approach to drug-resistant hypertension [high blood pressure].’


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