Expertise can Mask the Effect of Cognitive Aging

Subject: Health Care
Type: Informative Essay
Pages: 8
Word count: 2040
Topics: Disease, Health, Medicine

Cognitive aging is the scientific study of cognitive processes at different life spans of an adult. The relationship between the different individual lifestyles and cognitive performance is, however, affected by different factors such as age, gender, race, education, social economic status, and personality (Scarmeas, 2013). A decrease in cognitive ability in elderly people is mainly seen by memory loss through dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. In essence, this paper seeks to use three different disciplines to back up the hypothesis that expertise can mask the effects of cognitive aging.

Psychology Discipline

Psychology is the study of the human mind and its functions, and how they affect the behavior of a person. The practice of psychology is critical in promoting healthy brain aging and preventing dementia. The discipline works in progression to assess, diagnose, treat and support people with dementia and to lighten the burden of the families that take care of them. Research has been done to show how basic lifestyle activities such as physical exercise, meditation, and medical experience contribute to reserve capacity and, thus, reduce the incidence of poor cognitive abilities in older adults. Apparently, stress is a psychological disorder that leads to loss of memory. In response to stress, the brain releases hormones and neurotransmitters that affect memory encoding processes in the hippocampus. Stressful life experiences may be a cause of memory loss as a person ages (Grzywacz, Segel-Karpas & Lachman, 2016). This is because the glucocorticoids that are released damage memory neurons in the hippocampus. Therefore, engaging in activities that reduce the amount of stress may be a way of reducing the negative effects of cognitive aging. Such activities include exercising, meditation, and enough sleep. 

Exercise refers to activities that improve the physique of humans such as to promote muscular strength, flexibility, cardiovascular endurance, and balance. In healthy adults, physical exercise also confers benefits in mental health. This is owing to the fact that aerobic exercise improves cerebral perfusion due to its positive effects on cardiovascular health (Ainslie et al., 2008). Exercise also promotes neurogenesis and synaptogenesis that improve insulin sensitivity and glucose control as well as increased brain-derived neurotrophic factors. All these factors reduce the formation of amyloid plaque that leads to Alzheimer’s disease (Watson & Craft, 2003). Moreover, a loss of physical fitness among the elderly leads to neurophysiological complexity and a corresponding reduction in information processing. Larson et al (2006) reported that the insight of dementia was reduced in patient that exercised at least three times a week. Thus, exercise has an improved cognitive health benefit to older people. 

Meditation is the act of focusing one’s mind in silence, with the aim of relaxation and inducing a certain state of consciousness. Mediation techniques aim at focusing on the present moment and being aware of the surrounding, emotion and thoughts. Patients who pursue meditation as a therapeutic technique do so to achieve mental health, physical health and as a way of relieving symptoms that are associated with a chronic illness (Allen et al., 2012). Due to its involvement in creating and maintaining changes in cognitive state, the regular practice of meditation may lead to cognitive research and improved neurological health in older age. Tang et al. (2007) conducted a study on students and the results showed a greater improvement in the cognitive state as from the test done, (Attention network test ad Profile of Mood State Scale), in those who meditated. The study involved assigning undergraduate students with no meditation experience to groups that received either 5 days of mindfulness-based meditation practice and 5 days of relaxation training (Tang et al., 2007). This study concluded that some cognitive and psychological benefits may accompany even short duration of meditation training. 

Performing music is dependent on fine motor control, working memory, and performance monitoring. Cognitive areas such as language, reading, intelligence and inhibitory control, have been proved to benefit from music activities (Moreno & Bidelman, 2014). Studies have shown that people with extensive musical experience retain certain cognitive abilities even in old age such as the ability to perceive speech (Strait, O’connell, Parbery-Clark & Kraus, 2013). A research by Schlaug (2015) also showed a reduction in gray matter in trained musicians as compared to musically naive older adults, which may help in reducing dementia. Playing a musical instrument has furthermore been proven to reduce the chances of getting dementia and cognitive impairment in older age (Balbag, Pedersen & Gatz, 2014). Balbag, Pedersen and Gatz (2014) further state that cognitive ability due to musical ability may advantage older musicians owing to a better maintained cognitive reserve and this may provide compensatory abilities to alleviate age-related cognitive deterioration. 

Industrial-Organizational Psychology Discipline

I/O psychology is a branch of psychology that applies psychological principles to organizations. It focuses on improving the productivity of the workplace and dealing with issues such as the mental and physical well-being of employees. It is also known as occupational psychology, organizational psychology and work, and organizational psychology. A wide range of potential health hazards can affect cognitive function in employees. Some of these hazards contain exposure to toxic substances, prolonged exposure to noise and high strain jobs. In high strain jobs, employees receive too much workload with little time to complete the work. Grzywacz, Segel-Karpas and Lachman (2016) did a research where they measured how participants varied in terms of the conditions under which they worked. They examined various factors such as occupational complexity, the pace of work, conflict at work and physical hazards in the workplace. Physical hazards in the workplace did not only include the harmful substances that the workers were exposed to, but also the health problems that could arise due to other conditions such as poor lighting and overworking. The results showed that people with occupational complexity performed better on tests of cognitive ability. As such, occupational complexity seems to reduce stress and prevent cognitive problems that would have arisen due to the conflict in the workplace and a hectic work pace. 

The results by Grzywacz, Segel-Karpas and Lachman (2016) also showed a strong relationship between cognitive performance and hazards in the workplace. Physical hazards showed a negative effect on memory and attention on the employees that were involved. The authors also concluded that cognitive aging was highest in workers with high strain jobs that provide little opportunity for problem-solving environment. Another research by Tang and colleagues (2007) showed that prolonged exposure to lead was associated with poorer cognitive function in the later life. Likewise, their article, Eum and associates (2013) state that increased blood level of lead worsened cognitive function. They did a test on the former organolead workers and the result showed that high lead levels were associated with the poorer functioning of cognitive tests including those assessing verbal intelligence, verbal memory, and executive ability.

Particular types of noise also result in cognitive disorders. An experiment conducted by Duivis and colleagues (2013) exposed rats to low-pressure amplitude and low-frequency noise so as to find the basis of vibroacoustic disease. The vibroacoustic disease is a systemic disease caused by prolonged exposure to low-frequency noise. They concluded that low-pressure amplitude and low-frequency noise caused destruction of the ciliated cells of the rat, thus, explaining the clinical findings found in vibroacoustic disordered patients, which is known to cause a neurologic disorder that leads to cognitive deterioration.

A research by Andel, Silverstein and Kåreholt (2014) shows that the extent to which workers must make decisions with competing contingencies has shown to increase better cognitive outcomes in both the clinical and general population samples. In their research, they measured the influence of midlife leisure activity and work complexity. They discovered that these two factors were associated with late-life cognition, each being independent of the other. They also believed that intellectual engagement in midlife leisure activity played a positive role in cognition in late life. Their work also showed that employees that worked in jobs characterized by high demands and low control had poorer cognitive outcomes. They measured cognitive function by performing standard tests such as verbal memory, The Mill Hill vocabulary test, phonemic test and semantic fluency. They concluded that despite previous working conditions showing a relationship between physical and cognitive performances, it was predominantly from poor cognition to poor physical function (Andel, Silverstein & Kåreholt, 2014).

Therefore, work conditions such as prolonged exposure to lead, low amplitude and low-frequency noise, and work that is characterized by a high demand and low control contribute to negative effects of memory and cognitive aging. However, occupational complexity seemed to increase cognitive abilities. 

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Neuroscience Discipline

Neuroscience is the scientific study of the nervous system and the brain. It also deals with the development of both, their biology, biochemistry, molecular biology and physiology (Allen et al., 2012). It seeks to find out not only how the nervous system functions in normal conditions, but also how it functions in individuals with neurological, neurodevelopmental and psychiatric disorders. Cognitive neuroscience is the cognitive functions of humans. It looks into how cognitive activities are affected by neural circuits in the brain (Allen et al., 2012). One of the most effective mechanisms in reducing cases of dementia lies in increasing brain and reserve capacity. Brain capacity is the measure of the volume of the interior of the cranium. Hence, cognitive neuroscience compares the size of the brain of the specimen to the normal size of the expected brain of someone with the same weight. However, cognitive inability in aging people is caused by the deterioration of the hippocampus, the decline of hormones and proteins that repair brain cells, and decreased blood flow to the brain that can lead to memory loss and impair cognitive skills. 

The study by Boller, Katzman, Rascol and Signoret (2013) described cases of old women who had died of Alzheimer’s disease in their brains at death. These women had not expressed the clinical features of Alzheimer’s disease while they were still alive, because of their large brains. Another research showed that having a larger brain was associated with greater ability to tolerate pathological damage and it also improved the cognitive performance of the individual involved. Therefore, a larger premorbid brain volume, with more neurons and synaptic connections provides a protection against cognitive decline (Wolf et al., 2004). 

Activities such as juggling, yoga, playing instruments and learning new things have been shown to increase the size of the brain. It does this by increasing the number of neurons, thus, preserving the memory and improving cognitive function, even at old age. Natural intelligence or life experiences such as educational or occupational may supply reserve in the form of a set of skills and this allows some people to cope better than others (Stern, 2003). Another research showed that lower educational and occupational attainment was involved with an increased risk of dementia.

Doing exercise at least twice per week is associated with a reduction in neurodegenerative disease. A healthy diet and regular physical activity reduce the buildup of proteins that are related to the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. In essence, tangles and plaques prevent communication between the neurons, which makes it difficult for them to survive. Plaque is deposits of a toxic protein called beta-amyloid in the spaces between nerve cells in the brain (Stern, 2003). Whereas, tangles are knotted threads of tau protein found within the brain cells. Both are associated with Alzheimer’s disease, which is an indicator of poor cognitive ability, especially in old age. Essentially, exercise leads to lower levels of plaques and tangles in the brain.

Jobs requiring frequent problem solving skills enhance brain structures and neurological connections that are protective against aging-related insults to the brain. People think of solutions at an unconscious level and this majorly involves the right hemisphere of the brain (Stern, 2003). Specifically, the anterior superior temporal gyrus is involved in insight because it facilitates reinterpretation of problems. Jung Beeman et al. (2004) did a research where they mapped the location and functional signature on people’s brains using MRI. 13 people were then given 3 words and told to think of another one that would form a compound word. The anterior superior temporal gyrus showed a strong insight effect. This improved the neural connections in the brain, therefore, leading to improved cognitive ability during old age. 

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