Sunday, October 26, 2008

Acetyl L-Carnitine

I discovered this product through Dr. Larry McCleary's book "The Brain Trust Program" (and I again recommend this book to you). There is certainly no shortage of supplements that purport to improve your cognitive functioning and protect it against age-related damage. Acetyl l-carnitine(ALC), along with Huperzine-A (both available at a very reasonable price through Swanson Health Products) has some decent science to back up such claims.

In order to keep your neurons in charge of memory functioning in touch with one another, you need to produce the neurotransmitter acetylcholine(ACH). And what better way to keep a supply of ACH on hand than to take ALC? ALC not only supplies acetyl to your neurons as aging diminishes ACH, but studies suggest that ALC improves verbal memory so you won't carry on like a newscaster casting about for the right word when you're trying to appear sharp and on-your-game in a world that increasingly demands these qualities. ALC also seems to promote the production of nerve growth factors integral in brain cell maintenance.

How will we know for sure it's working other than waking up in our 70's and 80's with brains intact? Coincident with or as a result of taking Swanson's ALC and huperzine A, my day-to-day verbal fluency and working memory capacity has improved. You might consider giving them a try.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Not so Level-headed

Let me tell you the story
Of a man named Charlie
On a tragic and fateful day
He put ten cents in his pocket,
Kissed his wife and family
Went to ride on the MTA

Did he ever return,
No he never returned
And his fate is still unlearn'd
He may ride forever
'neath the streets of Boston
He's the man who never returned.
---The Kingston Trio

I briefly considered the possibility this past Sunday that I would soon become the stuff of urban legend as the woman who never emerged from the Mall of America. I entered the "largest indoor mall in the USA" in the late afternoon with sensible shoes, orthotics, a light sweater, and 2 hours to kill. A regular modern day Gretel sans bread crumbs, I noted a Finish Line store by the entrance and signs for "Bubba Gump's Restaurant, Level 3." Check, find the Finish Line on Level 3 when I'm set to go and I'm outta here, I thought, though weird that Level 3 is street level.

2 hours later. Feet throbbing, visions of a dark and cold Minneapolis late afternoon outside but inside I'm sweating in this stupid sweater and I've toured the entire perimeter of Level 3, passed one Finish Line store and spotted one below on Level 2, but alas now I'm in a carpeted stretch of corrider and no carpeting anywhere else thus far.

I picked up a "Help Line" and held for help.

Do you know where I am based on where I'm calling from, I asked the male helper.


So how do I reach the exit for the hotel shuttles from here.

The other side of the mall, Level 1.

Well, of course, Level 1 signs invite Level 1 shoppers to visit Bubba Gump's on Level 3. No one, not even in Minnesota, starts on a mall on Level 3. I took the elevator to Level 1, limped through the horror of the indoor amusement park, and emerged like some sweaty mall rat blinking small pink eyes in the bright, sunny late afternoon air.

This per Nina Silverstein and company in their book "Dementia and Wandering Behavior":

Alzheimer's patients do not get lost because they have forgotten where they are going, they get lost because they cannot keep track of where they've been.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Menopause and working memory

The classic menopause moment, of course, is when you hurry with great purpose into another room only to find that you're clueless once there. If you're a mother, it's a mommy moment. Fair-haired? A blond moment. On beyond menopause? A senior moment. All these short-term lapses represent a sudden and unexpected blackout in working memory. Let me explain.

You needn't be a neuroscientist to recognize that there is a difference between working and long-term memory. Here's what Swedish researcher Dr. Torkel Klingberg has to say on the subject:

[Working memory] refers to our ability to remember information for a limited period of time, usually a matter of seconds...[I]t might seem a simple function, but it is fundamental and vital to numerous mental tasks, from attention control to solving logical problems...One of the defining characteristics of working memory is its capacity limitation.

In contrast, again per Dr. Klingberg:

The amount of information that can be stored in long-term memory is virtually boundless. Long-term memory means that we can memorize something, direct our attention at something else for a few minutes or years, and then retrieve the first item again at will. This is not how working memory operates, for when information is being stored here, it is under the constant glare of attention.

In Klingberg's book "The Overflowing Brain" due for release in 2009, he explores the good, the bad, and the exasperating of our brains on information overload. This book is well-written (or well-translated from Swedish) and not for the faint of brain. He offers both animal and human evidence as well as imaging evidence from functional MRIs and PET scans that explain why it is that the overwhelmed, the inattentive, and the aged have trouble doing two things at once much less multi-tasking.

In brief, whereas memories are encoded into long-term and permanent storage through biochemical and cellular changes, short-term memory is a work in progress that depends on the continual activation of neurons in the front and sides of our brain. Interrupt the current current in these cells and poof! there goes your thought. In other words, if an unexpected stimulus such as the ping of a text message or your teenager calling on the back office line turns your attentional spotlight off your search for a report, you will find yourself in front of an open file drawer with no notion why.

Is information overload a bad thing? Interestingly, Dr. Klingberg presents evidence that we can expand our working memory capacity through the daily exercise of focused multi-tasking. He does note, however, that working memory 'bandwidth' narrows with age, and the mismatch of lowered working memory capacity with higher information load results in stress.

Well yeah. And menopause moments.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Huperzine and the lack of menopause moments

My latest menopause moments include 1) Losing passwords when I cleared the cookies on my computer, but those passwords lost were chosen and entrusted to memory ages before I began work on my aging brain, and 2) Muddling our 2007 tax information back in early April shortly after my mom died, and only just discovering the mess now as the final tax form is due.

Other than that, I haven't worn toothpaste, dumped water on my head, misplaced my reading glasses (alright, I mean SERIOUSLY misplaced my glasses) or made any spelling gaffes in weeks. Coincident with or a result of using huperzine? I don't know, but brain seems to be working well these days.

Stay tuned for information from "The Overflowing Brain," the newest book on my nightstand.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Tossed my cookies!

Oh gad, what was I thinking? Deleted the cookies, and now I can't remember some of my passwords and user IDs. As Homer Simpson would say, "Dough!"

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Is there a brain in the House?

I was watching "House" this past week, my all-time favorite TV show. Actually, I was watching House, browsing through an amusing little tome called "Menopause: The State of the Art in Research and Management" AND racing downstairs during commercials to finish the dishes. Who says an aging doctor can't multi-task successfully on a Monday night?

Apparently I can't. No amusing gaffes here, just the realization at show's end that while I followed the main plot line, I didn't get the two sub-plots. All this education, and I can't even follow a couple of story threads through a prime time TV show, read a book, and clean up the kitchen. Too old to multi-task or just jammed tight in the bottleneck of my working memory?