HEALTH NOTES

Memory

Beating back mush brain

September 6 2004
HEALTH NOTES

Memory

Beating back mush brain

September 6 2004

Memory

HEALTH NOTES

Beating back mush brain

Brain dead at 40? Can’t remember where you put the car keys, or why exactly you’re writing this sentence? Well, there’s a reason for that, and there may even be help on the way. First the reason.

By boring into 30 brains donated to science, Harvard Medical School researcher Bruce Yankner found certain key proteins, the beneficial effect of genes known to play a role in memory and learning, can tail off dramatically between 40 and 70 years of age. His conclusion: the human brain approaches old age differently, depending

on genetic makeup, and some brains are actually old-like a 70-year-old’s-in their 40s.

His good news: genes that repair damage in the brain seem to increase their activity significantly during middle age. But this too varies by individ-

ual. The better news from a Canadian point of view is that being bilingual can keep you mentally sharp as you age. “It’s like going to brain gym,” says York University research psychologist Ellen Bialystok. She’s now trying to determine whether learning a second language later in life will also tone the mental muscles, and she’s optimistic it will. That’s because the brain’s way of coordinating two or more languages engages different high-end parts at the same time. And it is precisely these parts, she says, “that tend to slip away with normal healthy aging."

If second languages are not your thing, then UCLA psychiatrist Gary Small offers a two-week boot camp for the brain. Small, who sells books over the Internet, has four components to his brain improvement plan: a healthy diet rich in omega-3 fish fats, fruits and vegetables; yogalike breathing and relaxation exercises; physical conditioning; and 15 minutes of memory aerobics a day. True to his California roots, Small’s website is full of helpful dietary tips. For the complete mental aerobics, though, you have to remember to buy his books.