Cerebrum Fall 2021

S taying cognitively active as we get older might help stave off DEMENTIA for as much as five years, suggests a longitudinal study of 1,903 people over age 80. All the volunteers started the study with few symptoms of dementia, but over the next two decades, 457 people developed enough symptoms to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Those who reported that they often read magazines, newspapers, or books; wrote letters; and played games like board games, cards, and puzzles tended to stay sharp longer. Interestingly, the results did not see a link between years of formal education (considered a common measure of early-life cognitive activity) and age of onset of dementia. Also, researchers reported that whether people stayed “cognitively active” or not did not depend on their level of symptoms; the early stages of dementia did not appear to drive people to stop their activities. l W hen we see a very familiar face (like a grandmother), and have that visceral FLASH OF RECOGNITION , what is happening in our brains? It appears that a single area in the temporal pole region, at least in monkeys, triggers this sensation. Researchers in New York found one type of neuron in the region that responded to faces the monkeys had seen and been in the presence of much more strongly—and superfast— compared with those they had not seen before or those they had only seen on video screens. The scientists say that this reaction is the first evidence of a “hybrid” brain cell, one that shows aspects of both sensory cells (fast, reliable response to visual stimuli) and memory cells (responding only to stimuli the brain has seen before). l

An area (red/yellow) in the brain’s temporal pole specializes in familiar face recognition.

IMAGE: SOFIA LANDI

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