November 20, 2019


We got some hopeful and exciting news from collaborators at the University of Alabama Birmingham (UAB) this month. UAB researchers have been looking at the long-term cognitive effects of living with HIV (the virus that causes AIDS). Prior research has shown that chronic HIV results in a premature aging of the brain, called HIV-Association Neurological Disorder (HAND).

In 2012, UAB researchers published a 48-person study in which they found that using our visual speed of processing training resulted in a significant improvement in three standard cognitive measures (speed, motor control, and executive function) and one functional measure (TIADLs).

This month at the Association of Nurses in AIDS Care Conference, the UAB team reported initial positive results from an ongoing larger trial among people living with HIV. In a YouTube video, Dr. David Vance from UAB discussed three “sample” patients from each arm of the study, noting that the patient in the high treatment arm (20 hours of training) no longer met the criteria for HAND. You can read about the announcement here or here, and you can watch the video here.

While these results are preliminary (and not yet definitive), they are something to be thankful for as we approach Thanksgiving this week (here in the US) and World AIDS Day (globally) on December 1st.

Best regards,

Jeff Zimman
Posit Science

The Brain Benefit of Gratitude
Here in the U.S., it’s almost Thanksgiving—a time for expressing gratitude. In the video, the two Posit Science co-founders talk about how feeling grateful changes the brain for the better.

The Amazing Plasticity of the Human Brain
In rare cases, neurological conditions require that half of a child’s brain be removed. “Whenever we looked at their brain scans, we’d go, ‘Wow, this brain really shouldn’t be able to work,’” points out scientist Ralph Adolphs. But thanks to the remarkable plasticity of the human brain, they do. Even with half a brain, those children often learn the skills required to become functional adults. Learn more.

Hearing Aids May Reduce Risk of Dementia
Scientists have known for some time that hearing loss is associated with an increased risk of cognitive decline and dementia. A hearing aid may help, though. According to a study recently published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, when people with hearing loss use a hearing aid, it reduces their risk of dementia, depression, and falls. Learn more.

The Very Hungry Brain
The brain uses about 25% of the body’s energy—which is a lot, considering it makes up only 2% of the body’s weight. As it turns out, it takes the brain about 400 calories per day just to keep you alive—to maintain your breathing and other life-sustaining functions. So does engaging in mentally stimulating tasks burn even more? Find out.

The Brain on Math: Boys vs. Girls
Historically, many people believed that boys were “naturally” better at math than girls. But a new comprehensive imaging study shows that there is virtually no difference in how the brains of boys and girls process and respond to math. This is a case, says researcher Jessica Cantlon, where “[s]cience doesn’t align with folk beliefs.” Learn more.

Memory and Millennial-Shaming
The clash between boomers and millennials has been in the news a lot lately. But complaints about “kids these days” have been going on since ancient times. UC Santa Barbara psychologist John Protzko, who has researched the issue, says it’s related to “a memory tic that just keeps happening, generation after generation.” Learn more.

Estrogen, Menopause, and Alzheimer’s
Why are two-thirds of people with Alzheimer’s women? The answer often given is that women live longer, so there are more of them around—but the math doesn’t really add up. Researchers Lisa Mosconi and Roberta Diaz Brinton have a different idea. Their work suggests that during the transition to menopause, the depletion of estrogen (which is neuroprotective) causes the brain to become more vulnerable. Learn more.

Book of the Month
The Feeling of Life Itself: Why Consciousness Is Widespread but Can’t Be Computed (2019)
By Christof Koch
The definition of consciousness is continually under debate. But Christof Koch—the Chief Scientist and President of the Allen Institute for Brain Science—argues that it’s really quite simple: consciousness is the feeling of being alive. From that definition come two important (but controversial) conclusions. First, that since many (or even all) animals experience life in some degree or another, they are conscious. And second, that no computer will ever be able to truly experience consciousness. Learn more and buy on Amazon.