Tribune Print Share Text

New developments on memory lane

Created date

December 31st, 2008

THE ERICKSON TRIBUNE Recently, one of the world s leading experts in Alzheimer s research spoke before a crowd of more than 200 at Highland Springs. Gary Small, M.D., director of the UCLA Memory and Aging Research Center, talked about the latest developments in understanding Alzheimer s. His current project focuses on technology specifically, the way it s changing how we live and how our brains work. For example, Small said, surgeons who play video games make fewer mistakes in surgery because the games improve their hand-eye coordination and visual acuity. "We re getting ready to start another study at UCLA where we will combine memory fitness with physical fitness to see if together, there s even more of a difference," Small said. "We think there will be because of feedback about the benefits of Wii fitness." Simple techniques Pam Gutierrez came to the lecture to learn new ways to help the Trailblazers, a group in Plano whose members have Alzheimer s. "The whole technique of look, snap, connect was a useful tool I ll be taking back to the group," Gutierrez said. "Look, snap, connect" is one of many memory exercises outlined in Small s book, The Memory Bible. For example, you meet someone named Lisa and you want to be able to match her face with her name the next time you see her. Look at Lisa and try to memorize her face. Snap something memorable about her into your memory, such as her smile. Then connect that smile to something related to the name Lisa, like the Mona Lisa with her famous smile. Small says the next time you run into this Lisa, the odds are that you will be able to remember her name. The new fitness class In 2008, Small s tools for memory maintenance were put to use in a brain fitness program that was part of a pilot project at nine Erickson communities, including Highland Springs. "The thing I was most impressed with in the course is the ability to re-circuit your brain," said Highland Springs resident and program participant Clyde Jackson. "Anything new, physically or mentally, will help create new circuits in your brain. One exercise we tried in the program was reading upside-down. That was a good one." The program was based on four principals: exercise, brain exercises, diet, and stress management. Jackson said he exercises more at Highland Springs because resources like the fitness center are right there on campus. He also reads a lot but admitted he needs to do more mental exercises, like puzzles, which researchers recommend. He acknowledged his diet has gotten better since he moved to Highland Springs, where the on-site restaurants offer items like fish, blueberries, bananas, and chocolate antioxidant-rich foods that Jackson learned are beneficial to memory. Highland Springs Resident Life Director Monica Lewis-McCommas, who is in charge of the memory fitness program, said Erickson plans to expand it in 2009 to all of its properties. "It s about wanting to change your behavior and really doing it," said Lewis-McCommas. "It gives you the tools to work with, and it gives people something to hold onto." A family disease Mary Norman, M.D., medical director at Highland Springs, said it s always better to work from a prevention and preservation aspect. Because prevention is paramount, Norman encourages people worried about Alzheimer s to check their blood pressure and cholesterol regularly, exercise daily, and eat right. If there is a diagnosis of Alzheimer s, Norman said, the focus shifts from prevention to slowing the progression of the disease. Norman knows the progression not only from a medical perspective but from a personal one as well. Her stepmother is in the late stages of the disease. Norman said it was helpful in the early stages to know what to expect; but now that her stepmother is in late-stage Alzheimer s, it just makes it that much more heart-wrenching to watch. "The one thing that comforts me is the knowledge that researchers are close to coming up with new Alzheimer s medicines," Norman said. "My hope is that in ten years, this will be a very different type of disease to deal with."