Phew! It’s Not Alzheimer’s, It’s the “Doorway Effect”

A new article in Scientific American* claims our brains are wired to forget what we were thinking about any time we walk through a doorway.  So when you leave one room in your house with a specific mission to do in another room, only to find yourself standing there befuddled when you reach the new room, it’s not incipient dementia, it’s just the “doorway effect.”

Other interruptions can function the same way, such as someone ringing your doorbell.  Our memories purge what we were thinking in order to deal with the new situation.  That’s a relief!

*”Why walking through a doorway makes you forget,” Charles B. Brenner

You Can Skip This If You’re an Optimist

Jane E. Brody has an excellent column about optimism, “A Richer Life by Seeing the Glass Half Full,” in the NYT today.  Some excerpts:

“In a book called ‘Breaking Murphy’s Law,’ Suzanne C. Segerstrom…explained that optimism is not about being positive so much as it is about being motivated and persistent.

“Dr. Segerstrom and other researchers have found that rather than giving up and walking away from difficult situations, optimists attack problems head-on.  They plan a course of action, getting advice from others and staying focused on solutions.

“Dr. Segerstrom wrote that when faced with uncontrollable stressors, optimists tend to react by building ‘existential resources’  — for example, by looking for something good to come out of the situation or using the event to grow as a person in a positive ways.

“Noting that it is easier to change behavior than emotions, she eschews the popular saying ‘Don’t worry, be happy.’  Instead, she endorses a form of cognitive behavioral therapy:  Act first and the right feelings will follow.  As she puts it in her book, ‘Fake it until you make it.’

“She wrote, ‘People can learn to be more optimistic by acting as is if they were more optimistic,’ which means ‘being more engaged with and persistent in the pursuit of goals.'”  Emphasis added.

Must Read About Our Troops

Nicholas Kristof has a breakthrough  column today, “Veterans and Brain Disease,” NYT.

He writes about the autopsy of a Marine who committed suicide after two tours in Iraq:

“His brain had been physically changed by a disease called chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or C.T.E.  That’s a degenerative condition best know for affecting boxers, football players and other athletes who endure repeated blows to the head.

In people with C.T.E., an abnormal form of a protein accumulates and eventually destroys cells throughout the brain, including the frontal and temporal lobes.  Those are areas that regulate impulse control, judgment, multitasking, memory and emotions.

“That Marine was the first Iraq veteran found to have C.T.E., but experts have since autopsied a dozen or more other veterans’ brains and have repeatedly found C.T.E.  The findings raise a critical question:  Could blasts from bombs or grenades have a catastrophic impact similar to those of repeated concussions in sports, and could the rash of suicides among young veterans be a result?

“‘P.T.S.D. in a high-risk cohort like war veterans could actually be a physical disease from permanent brain damage, not a psychological disease,‘ said Bennet Omalu, the neuropathologist who examined the veteran.

“The discovery of C.T.E. in veterans could be stunningly important.  Sadly, it could also suggest that the worst is yet to come, for C.T.E. typically develops in midlife, decades after exposure.  If we are seeing C.T.E. now in war veterans, we may see much more in the coming years.

“C.T.E. leads to a degenerative loss of memory and thinking ability and, eventually, to dementia.  There is also often a pattern of depression, impulsiveness, and, all too often, suicide.  There is now no treatment, or even a way of diagnosing C.T.E. other than examining the brain after death.”  Emphasis added.

This article made me wonder if what was called “shellshock” after WWI may have been C.T.E.  Also, much of what we’re doing for our veterans right now may be a complete waste — if they have C.T.E., anti-anxiety and anti-depressant drugs and cognitive therapies like anger management won’t provide any relief.




Fun in Youth Could Be Blessing in Old Age

Many in my generation, the Baby Boomers, did a lot of drugs in their youth (and beyond!), including psychedelics like LSD and Magic Mushrooms.  While I didn’t participate, I can’t help but join my peers now in the aging process.  More and more of us will face a terminal diagnosis, an expiration date stamped on our foreheads that will cause terrible anxiety, depression, and fear, and prevent us from enjoying the time we have left, even when we still feel well physically.

An amazing article in the NYT Sunday Magazine, “A Kaleidoscope at the End of the Tunnel,” by Lauren Slater, says that the drugs that once were fun in youth, now could be a blessing in old age, with studies showing that LSD, MDMA (ecstasy), and psilocybin, significantly reduced anxiety and depression in terminal patients, and gave them a sense of oneness and participation in a greater whole that took away much of the sting of approaching death, replacing it with a sense of inner peace.

Many respond to a terminal diagnosis by deciding to go on a trip.  In the future, the best possible “trip” might not be hopping on a plane to Europe, but swallowing a pill.

“Ah, Yes, I Remember It Well”

The act of remembering changes our memories!  That’s not Yogi Berra, that’s Jonah Lehrer, “When Memory Commits an Injustice,” WSJ :

“The biggest lie of human memory is that it feels true.  Although our recollections seem like literal snapshots of the past, they’re actually deeply flawed reconstructions, a set of stories constantly undergoing rewrites.

“In recent years, neuroscientists have documented how these mistakes happen.  It turns out that the act of summoning the past to the surface actually changes the memory itself.  Although we’ve long imagined our memories as a stable form of information, a data file writ into the circuits of the brain, that persistence is an illusion.  In reality, our recollections are always being altered, the details of the past warped by our present feelings and knowledge.  The more you remember an event, the less reliable that memory becomes.”  Emphasis added.