Monday February 19, 2018

Brain cell density does not decay with increasing age, say researchers

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New York: Researchers at University of Illinois Chicago have shown that while the brain shrinks with age, cell density remains preserved throughout the brain, not just in specific regions. They arrived at this discovery with the help of new ultra-high-field magnetic resonance images (MRI).

The findings also suggest that the maintenance of brain cell density may protect against cognitive impairment as the brain gradually shrinks in normal aging.

Neuroscientists have long known that the brain shrinks with age, but for a long time they thought the loss in volume was associated with a loss of brain cells. That was disproved by studies that showed it is the neurons themselves that shrink, while the number of cells remain the same in normal older adults.

The images were created by a powerful 9.4-Tesla MRI, the first of its kind for human imaging, the study said.

The 9.4 T magnetic field is more than three times stronger than that of a typical MRI machine in a doctor’s office and is currently approved only for research.

“The information provided by these 9.4-Tesla scans may be very useful in helping us detect tiny losses of brain cells and the reduction in cell density that characterizes the early stages of neurodegenerative diseases that can take decades to develop before symptoms appear, like Alzheimer’s disease,” said lead author Keith Thulborn, professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

“If we can identify when Alzheimer’s pathology starts, the efficacy of new drugs or other interventions to slow or prevent Alzheimer’s disease can be tested and monitored when the disease starts, instead of after it’s developed for 20 or 30 years and becomes clinically apparent,” Thulborn noted.

The study that involved scanning the brains of 49 cognitively normal adults ranging in age from 21 to 80 was published in the journal NMR in Biomedicine.

Thulborn thinks the ultra-high-field scanners eventually will be approved for clinical use.

“We can use the 9.4 T to look at brain cell loss in real time in patients experiencing stroke, or to see whether chemotherapy for brain tumors is working in higher resolution that is just not available using the current 3 T clinical scanners,” he said. (IANS)

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A lesson in the woods may boost kids’ learning

Moreover, the number of times the teacher had to redirect a student's attention to their work was roughly halved immediately after an outdoor lesson.

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Just sitting in classrooms makes children more dull. Wikimedia Commons
Just sitting in classrooms makes children more dull. Wikimedia Commons
  • To help students concentrate and learn more, teachers have found a new way of teaching them.
  • This technique of teaching outdoors will boost children’s mental capabilities to learn and remember.

Are your students unable to concentrate on their lessons in the classroom? Take them for outdoor learning sessions.

According to a study, a lesson in the lap of nature can significantly increase children’s attention level and boost their learning.

While adults exposed to parks, trees or wildlife have been known to experience benefits such as increased physical activity, stress reduction, rejuvenated attention and increased motivation, in children, even a view of greenery through a classroom window can have positive effects on their attention span, the researchers said.

The study showed that post an outdoor lesson, students were significantly more attentive and engaged with their schoolwork and were not overexcited or inattentive.

Taking students outside help them concentrate more. Wikimedia Commons
Taking students outside help them concentrate more. Wikimedia Commons

Moreover, the number of times the teacher had to redirect a student’s attention to their work was roughly halved immediately after an outdoor lesson.

“Our teachers were able to teach uninterrupted for almost twice as long at a time after the outdoor lesson and we saw the nature effect with our sceptical teacher as well,” said Ming Kuo, a scientist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in the US.

For the study, published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, researchers tested their hypothesis in third graders (9-10 years old) in a school.

A few minutes outside help students concentrate better. VOA
A few minutes outside help students concentrate better. VOA

Over a 10-week period, an experienced teacher held one lesson a week outdoors and a similar lesson in her regular classroom and another, more sceptical teacher did the same. Their outdoor “classroom” was a grassy spot just outside the school, in view of a wooded area.

A previous research suggested that 15 minutes of self-paced exercise can also significantly improve a child’s mood, attention and memory. IANS

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