<B>The aging brain: Act now so you don't lose your mind</B>For more than two decades, deaths from heart disease have been decreasing at an impressive clip. Although it has been hotly debated whether the decline stems more from improvements in medical care or preventive steps, both factors flow from better scientific understanding of the disease. There has also been a steady drop in the frequency of strokes over the same period, largely because researchers discovered the connection between strokes and high blood pressure and found better methods of controlling it. Cancer, that other major killer, has been more difficult to bring under control, but years of investigation are beginning to pay off. Between 1990 and 2000, cancer death rates fell almost five percent the first measured decline in human history. Not all the news about disease is that good, but overall, scientific developments are helping us live a lot longer.
In <B>Saving Your Brain: The Revolutionary Plan to Boost Brain Power, Improve Memory, and Protect Yourself Against Aging and Alzheimer's</B>, Dr. Jeff Victoroff points out the ironic threat posed by this longer life people are living long enough to be vulnerable to ARN that is, aging-related neurodegeneration.
Aging-related brain degenerations are now the fourth most common cause of death, and rising fast. Dr. Gary Small notes in <!--BPLINK=0786868260--><B>The Memory Bible: An Innovative Strategy for Keeping Your Brain Young</B><!--ENDBPLINK--> that the rate of new Alzheimer's cases doubles every five years between ages 65 and 90, and people are increasingly living into their 80s and 90s.
As foreboding as this sounds, the central tone of each author is extremely hopeful. Knowledge of how the brain ages has expanded at an extraordinary pace since the beginning of the 1990s. Just as better understanding of heart disease, stroke and cancer led to effective methods of prevention and treatment, a vigorous defense against deterioration of the aging brain can now be mounted. Each book provides a rich source of measures aimed at saving your brain. It's not surprising that Small, a renowned neuroscientist who directs both the UCLA Memory Clinic and UCLA's Center on Aging, places enormous emphasis on improving memory as an integral part of any program to slow aging of the brain. He quickly gets down to business, describing his LOOK (actively observe), SNAP (create a vivid image), CONNECT (visualize a link) method, which he guarantees will immediately improve memory, and supplementing this system with a sequence of mental aerobics to stimulate the brain. Small goes beyond the basics to skills that both slow aging of the brain and enrich everyday life. In a similar beneficial manner, his program provides guidelines for optimizing other influences on brain health, such as diet and lifestyle, that will also improve health more broadly.
Victoroff, a Harvard-trained neurologist and neuropsychiatrist, covers similar topics in a strikingly different manner. Whereas Small lays out his program to keep the brain young after a brief survey of the underlying science, Victoroff describes the fascinating science at greater length. His presentation is by no means dry, precisely because the science is fascinating. And whereas Small's recipe for saving the brain requires less than 12 compact chapters, Victoroff's occupies a dozen-and-a-half wide-ranging chapters, with more extensive discussion; medical digressions on topics such as the effects of the workplace on brain health; more elaborate diagrams and figures; and even a brain-saving food pyramid that he constructed as a more effective alternative to the well-known U.S. Department of Agriculture diet pyramid.
Small has created a memory bible with an effective prescription for keeping that faculty robust. Victoroff has produced a comprehensive guidebook on brain health and its preservation. Which book a reader chooses depending on depth of interest and available time isn't the central issue. What is? Most of us are headed for a long life that will increasingly be beset by mental deterioration. Get one of these extremely helpful books, follow its wise strategy and save your brain. <I>Al Huebner, a physicist, writes widely on science.</I>