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Clinical and Research News
To Improve Brain Activity, Put Down the Remote
Psychiatric News
Volume 39 Number 19 page 34-34

Suppose you're middle-aged and have some trouble remembering names, faces, or where you put your keys. If you undertook a two-week program consisting of a healthy diet, relaxation exercises, brisk daily walks, and memory training, could it alter your brain activity and improve your memory?

It looks as though it can, a small study conducted by Gary Small, M.D., a professor of psychiatry and aging at the University of California at Los Angeles, and colleagues suggests. Small reported their findings at the Ninth International Conference on Alzheimer's Disease and Related Disorders, held in Philadelphia in July.

Seventeen subjects aged 35 to 70 (average age 53) with normal memory ability were randomly assigned to either a control group, that is, their usual lifestyle routine, or to an intervention group, characterized by a healthy diet, relaxation exercises, brisk daily walks, as well as brain teasers and memory-training techniques stressing verbal skills. The subjects followed the program for two weeks.

Before the program started, and when it ended two weeks later, Small had the subjects rate their memories. The subjects who followed the healthy lifestyle program reported significantly improved memory performance at the end of the program compared with controls—for example, in recalling names, faces, appointments, things people had told them, and where they had put things.

Both before the program started and when it ended two weeks later, Small also used PET scans to measure the metabolism of glucose in various areas of the subjects' brains. Compared with controls, subjects who followed the healthy lifestyle program experienced significantly reduced glucose metabolism in the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, suggesting greater cognitive efficiency in a brain region that mediates working memory—that is, memory that allows people to keep in mind a limited amount of information for a brief period.

Small told Psychiatric News, "Any psychiatrist seeing patients who are middle-aged or older should be aware of the importance of mild, age-related memory complaints and that simple lifestyle changes (stress reduction, healthy diet, physical conditioning, and mental exercise) can have an important impact."

An abstract of Small's presentation can be accessed at<www.alz.org/internationalconference/abstracts.htm#viewing> by searching on "A 14-Day Program."

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