Likelihood of Success

Ron Coleman’s pretty good blog

Hotwired

Posted by Ron Coleman on December 17, 2007

The New York Times looks into why a lot of seemingly “with it” old folks have brains that look more or less the same as people with Alzheimer’s:

[W]hen these sharp old folks die, autopsy studies often reveal extensive brain abnormalities like those in patients with Alzheimer’s. Dr. Nikolaos Scarmeas and Yaakov Stern at Columbia University Medical Center recall that in 1988, a study of “cognitively normal elderly women” showed that they had “advanced Alzheimer’s disease pathology in their brains at death.” Later studies indicated that up to two-thirds of people with autopsy findings of Alzheimer’s disease were cognitively intact when they died.

“Something must account for the disjunction between the degree of brain damage and its outcome,” the Columbia scientists deduced. And that something, they and others suggest, is “cognitive reserve.”

Cognitive reserve, in this theory, refers to the brain’s ability to develop and maintain extra neurons and connections between them via axons and dendrites. Later in life, these connections may help compensate for the rise in dementia-related brain pathology that accompanies normal aging. . . .

Cognitive reserve is greater in people who complete higher levels of education. The more intellectual challenges to the brain early in life, the more neurons and connections the brain is likely to develop and perhaps maintain into later years. Several studies of normal aging have found that higher levels of educational attainment were associated with slower cognitive and functional decline.

Dr. Scarmeas and Dr. Stern suggest that cognitive reserve probably reflects an interconnection between genetic intelligence and education, since more intelligent people are likely to complete higher levels of education.

This is fascinating and encouraging — especially for people who have had the opportunity for lots of intellectual stimulation, and hotwiring, so to speak, early in life.  Never underestimate the importance of good wiring!  It’s almost as important as a good heart.

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2 Responses to “Hotwired”

  1. Jack. said

    That reminds me of an old story.

    The Renaissance Man is ill favored
    Towards loosing his mind with his age,
    Involved with the world in his labors
    He absorbs what his kind can engage,

    Art is the turn of his outlook
    Science the a’stern of his sense,
    God the great mystery he unbooked
    From the smallness of all things immense,

    The soul lives on deep in the genius
    That searchless can never find rest,
    A peculiar form of the genus
    That time is rare slowed to arrest,

    The secret if secrets are hidden
    Is that everything’s ever so plain,
    And few things are really forbidden
    To the man who in wonder remains,

    Let cynics to liars go crawling,
    Let skeptics build temples in air,
    Let doubt sprout in hearts quite appalling
    Let flaw deprive flesh of her share,

    Yet men who aspect in the marvels
    Of the marvels which miracle life,
    Find count in the mind which is able
    And means in the heart which is rife…

  2. Jack, you uh, seem to be pretty good!

    I’d better take a look at that email…

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