Washington State Magazine

Winter 2011


Winter 2011

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In This Issue...

Features

When Memory Fades :: With memory notebooks and smart apartments that use motion technology to track their residents’ daily behaviors, WSU neuropsychologists are exploring ways to help patients and their families cope with age-related memory loss. Meanwhile, two scientists have discovered a means to restore neural connectivity. by Tim Steury

{ WEB EXCLUSIVE—Video: Smart Apartment Research }

Attention! :: Cell phones, Internet, car horns, children, commercials—all carry information and all work together to create in us what social scientist Herbert Simon calls “a poverty of attention.” How do you rise above the din to capture what is most important? You may be surprised to learn that one of the oldest forms of communication is still one of the best. by Eric Sorensen

{ WEB EXCLUSIVE—Tips: How to focus your attention }

All About Everett :: The blue-collar Snohomish County city just 25 miles north of Seattle recently asked WSU to take over the University Center where graduates of its community college can go on to complete four-year degrees in a variety of disciplines, including engineering. Snohomish, Skagit, and Island counties have been underserved by the state’s four-year programs. by Hannelore Sudermann

{ WEB EXCLUSIVE—Map: Everett: City Snapshots }

Essay

Collegiate athletics in the 21st century :: by Thabiti Lewis

Panoramas

{ WEB EXCLUSIVE—Story: Sabermetrics As Told By The Simpsons }

{ WEB EXCLUSIVE—Recipes: Unifine Flour Cookbook from Leonard Fulton’s Fairfield Milling Co. (PDF, 2.2MB) }

{ WEB EXCLUSIVE—Story: Flourgirls and the WSU-Unifine connection }

{ WEB EXCLUSIVE—Video: A talk with architect Jim Olson}

Departments

:: Sports: John Olerud: Faith, hope, and horses

:: In Season: Wheat: A 10,000-year relationship

:: Last Words: Are our pictures worth a thousand words? (Washington State Magazine 2012 calendar)

{ WEB EXCLUSIVE—Timeline: John Olerud’s baseball career }

{ WEB EXCLUSIVE—Books and videos: Bread }

{ WEB EXCLUSIVE—Calendar: Order your Washington State Magazine 2012 calendar }

Tracking

New Media

:: The Man Who Dammed the Yangtze: A Mathematical Novel by Alex Kuo

:: Building New Pathways to Peace edited by Noriko Kawamura, Yoichiro Murakami, and Shin Chiba

:: Montaña Y Caballo by Yarn Owl - Tyler Armour ’10, Tim Meinig ’10, Ted Powers ’09, and Javier Suarez ’10

:: New & Noteworthy: Standing Above the Crowd by James “Dukes” Donaldson ’79; Eliminate the Chaos at Work by Laura Leist ’91; Pick Up Your Own Brass: Leadership the FBI Way by Kathleen McChesney ’71 and William Gavin; The Itty Bitty Guide to Trees: A Children’s Identification Guide to Trees of the Inland Northwest by Jaclyn Gotch ’07 MED, Lisa Bird, and Amy Ross-Davis; The Alpine Tales by Paul J. Willis ’80 MA, ’85 PhD

Cover photo: William Lipe, PhD, Archaeology, born 1935 — came to Washington State University in 1976. (See First Words.) By Robert Hubner

First Words
G. Roger Spencer DVM. Veterinary pathology. Born 1916—came to Washington State College in 1950. <em>Robert Hubner</em>

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G. Roger Spencer DVM. Veterinary pathology. Born 1916—came to Washington State College in 1950. Robert Hubner

Marianna Matteson PhD. Foreign language and literature. Born 1932—came to Washington State University in 1965. <em>Robert Hubner</em>

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Marianna Matteson PhD. Foreign language and literature. Born 1932—came to Washington State University in 1965. Robert Hubner

Donald Matteson PhD. Chemistry. Born 1932—came to Washington State College in 1959. <em>Robert Hubner</em>

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Donald Matteson PhD. Chemistry. Born 1932—came to Washington State College in 1959. Robert Hubner

David Stratton PhD. American history. Born 1927—came to Washington State University in 1962. <em>Robert Hubner</em>

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David Stratton PhD. American history. Born 1927—came to Washington State University in 1962. Robert Hubner

Gen De Vleming ’48. Aide to Presidents French, Terrell, and Smith and Acting President Beasley Born 1926—joined president’s office in 1954. <em>Robert Hubner</em>

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Gen De Vleming ’48. Aide to Presidents French, Terrell, and Smith and Acting President Beasley Born 1926—joined president’s office in 1954. Robert Hubner

Outsmarting Dementia

by | © Washington State University

We used to believe, says neuropsychologist Maureen Schmitter-Edgecombe, that if a person lived long enough, he or she would develop dementia. 

Now we know better, she says. Whether caused by Alzheimer’s or other disease, dementia is not a normal aging process. Many people, such as G. Roger Spencer and colleagues pictured here, remain completely alert and engaged well into their 80s and 90s and older.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, the chance of someone over 85 having the disease is nearly 50 percent. Other dementia-causing diseases raise that risk even higher. So what is it that enables someone to escape the dementia odds?

Besides age, there are a number of factors that indicate a higher risk of dementia: obesity, diabetes, smoking, poor nutrition. And low education level.

Conversely, the higher the level of education, the more rigorous the engagement of the mind, the lower the risk of dementia.

Indeed, the one thing these good people pictured in our photographic essay have in common, besides defying the dementia odds, is a rich life of the mind and long tenure at Washington State University. 

Obviously, the benefits are not exclusive to WSU. 

According to one recent study, each additional year of education translates to an 11-percent decrease in one’s risk of developing dementia. 

How education and intellectual engagement protect against loss is intriguing. Does a vigorous mind protect against the onset, or does it help the individual compensate, through a quality known as “cognitive reserve”?

Recent research indicates the latter might be the case. A 2010 article in Brain by researchers from the United Kingdom and Finland reported the assessment of participants followed for up to 20 years. Participants completed extensive questionnaires and interviews regarding their education and cognitive health. Following their death, their brains were examined for pathologies. What the researchers found was that years of education did not prevent brain pathology, but rather helped individuals mitigate the effects.

The study suggests not only the importance of continuing education toward developing a cognitive reserve, but the strong effect of education early in life as a defense, indicating the value of early education as an investment in public health. 

Unfortunately, statistics can be cruel. No matter the odds, someone loses. Intelligence and education are no guarantee against dementia. Many of us know a wonderful scientist here at WSU who fell on the negative side of the risk ratio and, tragically, lost his memory and self to the ravages of early Alzheimer’s. 

Such an anomaly makes the research at WSU on cognitive decline and dementia particularly personal. But it’s personal also in a broader sense, touching nearly everyone. If we do not yet have a family member or friend suffering cognitive impairment, we very likely will at some point. Or we might suffer it ourselves.

But hope is not only infectious, it’s justified. If higher education gives us a cognitive reserve and helps fend off loss, researchers such as Schmitter-Edgecombe, Diane Cook, Dennis Dyck and others are striving to develop ways to compensate, while Jay Wright, Joe Harding and others have their sights set on outsmarting the affliction ultimately, by repairing the connections destroyed by dementia-causing disease.

Tim Steury, Editor

Categories: Biological sciences, Psychology, WSU faculty | Tags: Aging, Dementia, Memory, WSU staff

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