Clinical trials at the Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research focus on stabilizing cognitive loss and alleviating the psychotic symptoms that change our loved ones.
- Alzheimer's is a neurodegenerative disease that is estimated to affect twice as many Americans by 2050, making it a troubling eventuality for many young adults.
- There's currently no cure for Alzheimer's, but clinical trials of immunotherapy approaches show promise.
- Immunotherapies may also alleviate the psychotic symptoms of Alzheimer's, like agitation, aggression, and paranoia.
What causes Alzheimer’s disease?<p>While the costs of Alzheimer's are clear, its exact causes remain frustratingly mysterious. Currently, there's no cure for the disease, nor treatments that stop its progression.</p><p>"Alzheimer's is this brain problem, and everyone sort of knows what's probably causing the problem, but nobody's been able to do anything about it," said Dr. Jeremy Koppel, a geriatric psychiatrist and co-director of the Litwin-Zucker Alzheimer Research Center.</p><p>But in recent decades, researchers have zeroed in on likely contributors to the disease. The brains of Alzheimer's patients reliably show two abnormalities: build-ups of proteins called abnormal tau and beta-amyloid. As these proteins accumulate in the brain, they disrupt healthy communication between neurons. Over time, neurons get injured and die, and brain tissue shrinks.</p><p>Still, it's unclear exactly how these proteins, or other factors such as <a href="https://feinstein.northwell.edu/news/the-latest/alzheimer-s-drug-cuts-hallmark-inflammation-related-to-metabolic-syndrome-by-25-percent" target="_blank">inflammation</a>, may drive Alzheimer's.</p><p>"We are dealing with very complicated components," said Dr. Philippe Marambaud, a professor at the Feinstein Institutes and co-director of the Litwin-Zucker Alzheimer Research Center. "The actual culprit is not clearly defined. We know there are three possible culprits [tau, beta-amyloid, inflammation]. They're working in concert, or maybe in isolation. We don't know precisely."</p><p>Many Alzheimer's researchers have spent years developing therapies that target beta-amyloid, which can accumulate to form plaques in the brain. The Alzheimer's Association <a href="https://www.alz.org/national/documents/topicsheet_betaamyloid.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">writes</a>:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"According to the amyloid hypothesis, these stages of beta-amyloid aggregation disrupt cell-to-cell communication and activate immune cells. These immune cells trigger inflammation. Ultimately, the brain cells are destroyed."</p><p>Unfortunately, clinical trials of therapies that target beta-amyloid haven't been effective in treating Alzheimer's.</p>
Anti-tau immunotherapies: The holy grail of Alzheimer’s?<img class="rm-lazyloadable-image rm-shortcode" type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTUzMzQ5NS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0MDk2Nzg0NH0.8pYVGXtj3bc_qEf2jHkttvLrnli8_w9K8e2rvu72WHU/img.jpg?width=980" id="a287d" width="3873" height="3873" data-rm-shortcode-id="8e3f157a2fa4857c2867abe1a27b4a95" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
In brains with Alzheimer's disease, tau proteins lose their structure and form neurofibrillary tangles that block communication between synapses.
Credit: Adobe Stock<p>At the Feinstein Institutes, Dr. Marambaud and his colleagues have been focusing on the lesser-explored Alzheimer's component: abnormal tau.</p><p>In healthy brains, tau plays several important functions, including stabilizing internal <a href="https://www.brightfocus.org/alzheimers-disease/infographic/progression-alzheimers-disease" target="_blank">microtubules</a> in neurons. But in the brains of Alzheimer's patients, a process called phosphorylation changes the structure of tau proteins. This blocks synaptic communication.</p><p>Dr. Marambaud said there are good reasons to think anti-tau therapies may effectively treat Alzheimer's.</p><p>"The main argument around why [anti-tau therapies] could be more beneficial is that we've known for a very long time that tau pathology in the brain of the Alzheimer's patient correlates much better with the disease progression, and the loss of neuronal material in the brain," compared to beta-amyloid, Dr. Marambaud said. </p><p>"The second strong argument is that there are inherited dementias, called tauopathies, which are caused by mutations in the gene coding for the tau protein. So, there is a direct genetic link between dementia and tau pathology."</p><p>To better understand how this protein interacts with Alzheimer's, Dr. Marambaud and his colleagues have been <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30134961/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">developing immunotherapies that target abnormal tau</a>.</p><p>Immunotherapies, such as vaccines, typically target infectious diseases. But it's also possible to use the body's immune system to prevent or treat some non-infectious diseases. Scientists have recently succeeded in treating certain forms of cancer with immunotherapies, for example.</p><p>"We have developed a series of monoclonal antibodies, which are basically the therapeutics that are required when you want to do immunotherapy," Dr. Marambaud said.</p>
Alzheimer’s and psychosis<img class="rm-lazyloadable-image rm-shortcode" type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTUzMzQ4My9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NDc5MzUzN30.riUe5nW2qpCqI54cWxLVnpklZoTpOtWoaVCiIOAWHMY/img.jpg?width=980" id="5482a" width="1313" height="875" data-rm-shortcode-id="dec0418d58b14540690b3093b0a31f2a" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Credit: Getty Images<p>When most people think of Alzheimer's, they tend to focus on the erosion of memory. But the darkest effects of the disease are often psychotic symptoms like agitation, aggression and paranoia, according to Dr. Koppel, who, in addition to researching Alzheimer's, spent decades treating Alzheimer's patients as a clinician.</p><p>"My research focus comes out of 20 years of sitting with Alzheimer's families and listening to what the primary issue is," said Dr. Koppel. "It's never memory. It starts out with memory as a diagnostic issue. But the real suffering comes from the changes that happen in the personality and the belief system that make Alzheimer's patients" ostracized or even become violent toward their loved ones.</p><p>At the Feinstein Institutes, Dr. Koppel's research focuses on alleviating Alzheimer's-related psychotic symptoms through anti-tau immunotherapies. </p><p>"It's our hypothesis that abnormal tau proteins in the brain somehow, downstream, impact the way that people think," Dr. Koppel said. "And the impact that it has is this paranoid, agitated, psychotic phenotype."</p><p>Supporting this hypothesis is research on <a href="https://www.northwell.edu/news/insights/what-we-need-to-know-about-cte" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE)</a>, a degenerative disease that involves the accumulation of abnormal tau. CTE, common among professional football players, also causes psychotic symptoms like agitation, aggression and paranoia.</p><p>What's more, <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25151619/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">research shows</a> that as Alzheimer's patients accumulate more abnormal tau in their brains, as measured through cerebrospinal fluid, they exhibit more psychotic symptoms, and are more likely to die sooner than patients with less abnormal tau.</p><p>Given these strong connections between psychosis and abnormal tau, Dr. Koppel and his colleagues hope that anti-tau immunotherapies will alleviate psychosis in Alzheimer's patients, who currently lack safe and effective treatment options and are often given medication that is meant to alleviate psychosis in people with schizophrenia.</p><p>"We are giving medications to Alzheimer's patients that hasten their cognitive decline and lead to bad outcomes, like stroke and sudden death," Dr. Koppel said. "Nonetheless, the schizophrenia medications do treat some of the psychotic symptoms and aggressive behavior related to Alzheimer's disease, and for many families this is crucial. We just don't have many options, and we desperately need more."</p><p>Beyond treating Alzheimer's patients, anti-tau immunotherapies may shed light on other mental illnesses.</p><p>"Alzheimer's may give us a window into what happens in the brain that makes people psychotic," Dr. Koppel said. "Once you have a biologic treatment for psychosis that gets at an underlying pathophysiology, believe me, you could look at schizophrenia in new ways. Maybe it's not going to be tau, but it may be a paradigm for treating mental illness."</p>
The future of Alzheimer’s treatments<p>Dr. Marambaud said the long-term goal of anti-tau immunotherapies is to prevent Alzheimer's. But that's currently impossible because scientists lack the biomarkers and diagnostic tools needed to detect the disease before cognitive symptoms appear. It could take decades before prevention becomes possible, if it ever does.</p><p>In the short term, stabilizing Alzheimer's is a more realistic goal.</p><p>"Our hope is that the treatments will be aggressive enough so that we can at least stabilize the disease in patients identified to be already affected by dementia, with cognitive tests that can be done by the clinicians," Dr. Marambaud said. "And even better, maybe reduce the cognitive impairments."</p><p>Dr. Marambaud said he encourages the public not to lose faith.</p><p>"Be patient. It's a very complicated disease," he said. "A lot of labs are really committed to making a difference. Congress has also realized that this is a huge priority. In the past five years, [National Institutes of Health] funding has increased tremendously. So the scientific field is working very hard. The politicians are behind us in funding this research. And it's a complicated disease. But we will make a difference in the years to come."</p><p>In the meantime, the Alzheimer's Association <a href="https://www.alz.org/alzheimers-dementia/research_progress/prevention" target="_blank">notes</a> that physical activity and a healthy diet can reduce the chances of developing Alzheimer's, though more large-scale studies are needed to better understand how these factors interact with the disease.</p><p>"Many of these lifestyle changes have been shown to lower the risk of other diseases, like heart disease and diabetes, which have been linked to Alzheimer's," the association wrote. "With few drawbacks and plenty of known benefits, healthy lifestyle choices can improve your health and possibly protect your brain."</p>
A Stanford study explores the effect of multitasking on memory in young adults.
- The study explores the effect on memory of media multitasking as one's attention flits from place to place onscreen.
- Participants' focus was tracked by observation of their pupil size and brain activity.
- Remembering something is less likely when you're not really paying attention to your experience with it.
Information in, duh out<img class="rm-lazyloadable-image rm-shortcode" type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDY2NjMwMi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY3OTM1NjQxMX0.3mG5ChHb31FDzZu33vCzJUl7zB1j7thOaL9RBL32NG0/img.jpg?width=980" id="b773c" width="1440" height="495" data-rm-shortcode-id="c4427a94055e80a911fda1e09be0e9df" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Credit: F8studio/Adobe Stock<p>The Stanford study looked specifically at the effect of "media multitasking" on memory. Media multitasking is moving continually between screen-based activities: texting, checking Instagram, or watching a TikTok video, for example. The research suggests that these experiences may not quite stick.</p><p>Even though we continually devour information, "As we navigate our lives, we have these periods in which we're frustrated because we're not able to bring knowledge to mind, expressing what we know," the study's senior investigator <a href="https://profiles.stanford.edu/anthony-wagner" target="_blank">Anthony Wagner</a> tells <a href="https://news.stanford.edu/2020/10/28/poor-memory-tied-attention-lapses-media-multitasking/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Stanford News</a>. "Fortunately," he adds, "science now has tools that allow us to explain why an individual, from moment to moment, might fail to remember something stored in their memory."</p>
Apt pupils<img class="rm-lazyloadable-image rm-shortcode" type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDY2NjMwMy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzMDgxMTAyOH0.tT97wTJZUzrAjvw6hYijEEGYVirTRmehE8bipfc3ffU/img.jpg?width=980" id="a318c" width="1440" height="480" data-rm-shortcode-id="3f00e161b92f7a7e0b37b7e15afd1c92" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Human green eye supermacro closeup background" />
Credit: H_Ko/Adobe Stock<p>The researchers recruited 80 subjects, ages 18 to 26. As these individuals participated in experimental exercises, researchers tracked their lapses in attention by monitoring their posterior <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alpha_wave" target="_blank">alpha power brain wave</a> activity and changes to the sizes of their pupils.</p><p>Lead author Kevin Madore explains, "Increases in alpha power in the back of your skull have been related to attention lapses, mind wandering, distractibility and so forth. We also know that constrictions in pupil diameter — in particular before you do different tasks — are related to failures of performance like slower reaction times and more mind wandering."</p><p>As participants viewed a set of object images onscreen, they were tasked with classifying each image according to pleasantness or size. This was followed by a 10-minute break, after which they were presented with another set of images. They were asked to identify these images as either being new or having already been seen. This allowed the researchers to assess each individual's memory.</p><p>Participants also filled out questionnaires that described their media multitasking habits, and they were asked to state the degree to which they could successfully engage with multiple activities simultaneously.</p><p>Taking all this information together, the researchers found that people less able to sustain attention and those who reported being heavy media multitaskers both performed more poorly at memory tasks.</p><p>Says Madore, "We can't say that heavier media multitasking causes difficulties with sustained attention and memory failures, though we are increasingly learning more about the directions of the interactions."</p>
Strengthening your memory<p>Wagner notes the key to all this may lie in other research that looks at how we prepare to remember what we wish to learn. He suggests remembering occurs most successfully when it's goal-oriented, when we're ready to store something in our minds.</p><p>"While it's logical that attention is important for learning and for remembering, an important point here is that the things that happen even before you begin remembering are going to affect whether or not you can actually reactivate a memory that is relevant to your current goal," says Wagner.</p><p>With this in mind, he says, paying attention to your attentiveness may help you stay aware and prepared to store new memories of what you're currently experiencing.</p><p>Likewise, he suggests it may be possible to develop memory hacks that can enhance our capacity to remember. He cites the idea of attention training in which eye sensors alert their wearer to attention lapses as they occur, allowing the person to consciously refocus each time their mind wanders.</p><p>While the current study explores the memories of young people, its insights may broadly apply. "We have an opportunity now," Wagner concludes, "to explore and understand how interactions between the brain's networks that support attention, the use of goals and memory relate to individual differences in memory in older adults both independent of, and in relation to, Alzheimer's disease."</p>
Work that can break down the body can also break down the mind.
- A new study out of Denmark finds that physical laborers are at an elevated risk of dementia.
- These findings hold even when other health factors are accounted for.
- The study also suggests that exercise can help reduce the risk of memory loss.
All physical work and no play might really be bad for you<p> The study, "The effect of occupational physical activity on dementia: Results from the Copenhagen Male Study<a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/sms.13846" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">,</a>" was published in <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/journal/16000838" target="_blank">The Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports</a>. It reflects 50 years of following nearly 5,000 Danish men, understanding their health and habits, and recording their medical histories.</p><p>In 1970, 4,271 Danish men working in various fields from railroading and road construction to banking and medicine filled out a questionnaire with two principal aims. The first portion focused on questions about their general health, including if they smoked, drank, suffered from obesity or high blood pressure, and if they regularly experienced high levels of stress. They then filled out a portion concerned with how much leisure exercise they tended to get and how physically demanding their job was.</p><p>Starting five years later, the researchers began to look into the test subjects' medical status in search of dementia cases using a combination of publicly available information and check-ins with participants.</p><p>The results were clear and concerning. Men who reported working physically demanding jobs developed dementia 55 percent more often than their peers working desk jobs. This number accounts for differences in education, socioeconomic levels, drinking habits, and other factors that could increase memory loss. It was also higher than for those whose jobs involved some physical activity but which were less strenuous. </p><p>While an association between strenuous physical labor and dementia had been assumed for years, this is the first major study to demonstrate the connection unambiguously. The researchers speculate that the mechanism at work may be related to the potentially negative impact of occupational physical activity on the cardiovascular system. </p><p>Study co-author Professor Andreas Holtermann noted that these findings present a challenge to health policymakers trying to improve brain health for several <a href="https://medicalxpress.com/news/2020-10-hard-physical-significantly-dementia.html" target="_blank">reasons</a>: </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;"><em>"A lot of workplaces have already taken steps to improve the health of their staff. The problem is that it is the most well-educated and resourceful part of the population that uses these initiatives. Those with a shorter education often struggle with overweight, pain and poor physical fitness, even though they take more steps during the day and to a larger extent use their body as a tool. For workmen, it is not enough for example to avoid heavy lifts if they wish to remain in the profession until age 70. People with a shorter education doing manual labor also need to take preventive steps by strengthening the body's capacity via for example exercise and strength training."</em><br></p><p> As the professor implies, the findings of this study become more concerning when combined with the statistics showing that, at least among the Danes, men working in these physically intensive jobs are also more likely to smoke, drink, be overweight, remain unmarried, and find themselves in lower socioeconomic levels. All of these factors can contribute to memory loss. <br> <br> The authors of the study suggest that these findings should be used to make advice on how to prevent memory loss more specific, as leisure-time physical activity (which is good for the brain) and intensive physical labor (which is bad for it) might not be easy to differentiate in current public health literature. </p><p> Additionally, they call for more studies into the relationship between occupational physical activity and dementia, with a particular focus on how people in differing socioeconomic levels are affected. </p>
How to lower your risk of dementia no matter where you work<iframe width="730" height="430" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/xMcoTWvf0Kk" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe><p> <strong><br> </strong>These results can seem frightening, but the study also points towards ways to reduce your risk of memory loss. </p><p>This study found mixed results regarding the benefits of exercise, but it points towards and does not contradict the large amount of evidence for its services in keeping the brain <a href="https://medicalxpress.com/news/2016-08-results-larger-brain-size-lowered.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">healthy</a>. Exercise can help keep many parts of the brain working their <a href="https://journals.lww.com/acsm-csmr/Fulltext/2017/01000/Alzheimer_s_Disease_and_Exercise__A_Literature.9.aspx" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">best</a>.</p><p>Other things that can help keep your <a href="https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/about-dementia/risk-factors-and-prevention/how-reduce-your-risk-dementia" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">brain healthy </a>and memory loss in check include eating well, neither smoking nor drinking, and staying both mentally and socially active. As Carl Sagan mused, the brain is like a muscle, and it appears to work as any other muscle does. If used regularly and cared for as you care for any other muscle, it tends to remain healthy. If it is rarely used and treated poorly, it tends to decay. </p><p>Understanding how the brain works and how to keep it working are incredibly complex tasks. By confirming both that exercise is good for the brain and that potentially damaging labor is bad for it, this study can help medical professionals and public health experts create new guidelines for promoting brain health. We all stand to benefit from the results. <br> <br> </p>
Researchers develop the first objective tool for assessing the onset of cognitive decline through the measurement of white spots in the brain.
- MRI brain scans may show white spots that scientists believe are linked to cognitive decline.
- Experts have had no objective means of counting and measuring these lesions.
- A new tool counts white spots and also cleverly measures their volumes.
White spots and educated guesses<p>The white spots, or "hyperintensities," are brain lesions—fluid-filled holes in the brain believed to have been left behind by the breaking down of blood vessels that had previously provided nourishment to brain cells.</p><p>Prior to the new research, the quantity of white spots was assessed using an imprecise three-point scale indicating ascending likelihoods of dementia: A minimal number of spots was considered as level 1, a medium number of spots level 2, and a great number of them level 3.</p>
How the new measurements were derived<img class="rm-lazyloadable-image rm-shortcode" type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDYwMTc1OS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNDQ1ODExNX0.vqhQJSvL99KjOe24TOs4E8R7c6-pprbXYSrGcIqbVps/img.jpg?width=980" id="c64d9" width="1440" height="960" data-rm-shortcode-id="2295978e69a0d025fe0731c10d5a0e0b" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Credit: sfam_photo/Shutterstock<p>The team of researchers from NYU's Langone's <a href="https://med.nyu.edu/departments-institutes/neurology/divisions-centers/center-cognitive-neurology" target="_blank">Center for Cognitive Neurology</a> and <a href="https://med.nyu.edu/departments-institutes/neurology/divisions-centers/center-cognitive-neurology/alzheimers-disease-research-center" target="_blank">Alzheimer's Disease Research Center</a> were led by <a href="https://med.nyu.edu/faculty/jingyun-chen" target="_blank">Jingyun "Josh" Chen</a>. They analyzed 72 MRI scans from a national database of older people taken as part of the <a href="http://adni.loni.usc.edu" target="_blank">Alzheimer's Disease Neuroimaging Initiative</a> (ADNI). The scans were mostly of white people over age 70, and there were a roughly equivalent number of men and women. Some had normal brain function, some were presenting moderate cognitive decline, and some had severe dementia.</p><p>Without knowing each individual's diagnosis, the researchers analyzed the white spots in their scans. While the team counted each scan's lesions, the innovation they introduced was the production of a 3D measurement for each lesion's fluid volume. The measurement was derived by measuring a lesion's distance from opposite sides of the brain.</p><p>Measurements of 0 milliliters (mL) were assessed for areas without white spots, with other white spots coming up as containing 60 mL of fluid. Chen's team predicted that volumes over 100 mL could signify severe dementia.</p><p>"Amounts of white matter lesions above the normal range should serve as an early warning sign for patients and physicians," Chen told <a href="https://nyulangone.org/news/white-matter-lesion-mapping-tool-identifies-early-signs-dementia" target="_blank">NYU Langone Health NewsHub</a>.</p><p>When the team compared the likely diagnoses derived from their calculations against the individuals' medical records, they found that their predictions were correct about 7 out of 10 times.</p><p>The researchers compiled their formulas into an online tool that's available to physicians for free via <a href="https://github.com/jingyunc/wmhs" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">GitHub</a>. The researchers plan to further refine and test it using an additional 1,495 brain scans representing a more diverse group of individuals from the ADNI database.</p>
The new tool and its limits<p>Chen notes that white spots alone may not tell the entire story of an individual's cognitive decline or the onset of dementia. Other factors must be considered as well, including memory loss, hypertension, and brain injuries.</p><p>Nonetheless, says senior investigator <a href="https://med.nyu.edu/faculty/yulin-ge" target="_blank">Yulin Ge</a>, "Our new calculator for properly sizing white matter hyperintensities, which we call 'bilateral distancing,' offers radiologists and other clinicians an additional standardized test for assessing these lesions in the brain, well before severe dementia or stroke damage."</p><p>Having an objective means of measuring white hyperintensities will allow physicians not only to get a better handle on the association between white spots and dementia, but also to track the spots alongside changes to a person's tau and beta-amyloid proteins, two chemicals implicated in Alzheimer's disease and dementia.</p>
Move over, forest bathing.
- A new study found that weekly 15-minute "awe walks" have positive effects on mental health.
- Volunteers reported higher levels of gratitude and compassion after eight weeks of these short walks.
- Researchers believe this low-cost intervention could help prevent cognitive decline in older adults.
Finding Happiness Through "Awe Walks"<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="fba4c7f35b3c698cb5460b97f3cab95e"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/-nVx6SriWPM?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>Importantly, participants were instructed to observe details while walking around the forest. If the goal was only exercise, volunteers were likely to power through trails without noticing their surroundings. This is where awe comes into the picture.</p><p>UC Berkeley psychologist Dacher Keltner <a href="https://www.ucsf.edu/news/2020/09/418551/awe-walks-boost-emotional-well-being" target="_blank">explains</a> the relevance, noting that feelings of awe help us feel more generous and humble, while increasing our overall well-being. </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Awe is a positive emotion triggered by awareness of something vastly larger than the self and not immediately understandable — such as nature, art, music, or being caught up in a collective act such as a ceremony, concert or political march."</p><p>The post-walk selfie is key. Week after week, their smiles grew larger. Incredibly, their bodies shrunk in the photos—the photographer stepped back to include more of nature. Instead of the normal close-ups we associate with selfies, volunteers naturally became more integrated with their environment, without any prompting from the research team.</p><p><a href="https://bigthink.com/21st-century-spirituality/individualism-is-spreading-and-thats-not-good" target="_self">Research</a> on individualist versus collectivist societies shows that the members of individualist societies tend to prioritize independence and autonomy. These seem like positive qualities, though higher rates of anxiety and depression are reported in such cultures. By contrast, collectivist societies emphasize interdependence, which ultimately makes members feel like they're part of a bigger landscape. </p><p>This is exactly what was reflected in those selfies. </p>
Credit: Rudmer Zwerver / Shutterstock<p>Classical Japanese art offers plenty of examples of interdependence. Humans are rarely the focal point in these landscape paintings. People only appear as part of a much larger scene. This trend cuts across Buddhist art, perhaps unsurprisingly given the philosophy stresses collectivity. Happiness levels tend to be higher in these societies than in individualist nations.</p><p>America, arguably the global leader in individualism, has <a href="https://worldhappiness.report/ed/2019/the-sad-state-of-happiness-in-the-united-states-and-the-role-of-digital-media/" target="_blank">continually ranked lower</a> on world happiness charts over the last 40 years. Meanwhile, our rates of Alzheimer's disease <a href="https://bigthink.com/mind-brain/alzheimers-risks" target="_self">rise</a> every year.</p><p>Can a 15-minute awe walk change all of that? Not completely, but we'll take whatever help we can get. As mythologist Joseph Campbell <a href="https://www.jcf.org/works/quote/awe-is-what-moves-us-forward/" target="_blank">once remarked</a>, "awe is what moves us forward." He cited awe as a primary driver in the creation of mythology: the overwhelming sensation that you're part of something grand. </p><p>As Sturm says, this is a low-cost, worthwhile means for alleviating distress and filling people with gratitude and compassion. Given the state of the world, those qualities are in high demand. </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"I find it remarkable that the simplest intervention in the world – just a three-minute conversation at the beginning of the study suggesting that participants practice feeling awe on their weekly walks – was able to drive significant shifts in their daily emotional experience. This suggests promoting the experience of awe could be an extremely low-cost tool for improving the emotional health of older adults through a simple shift in mindset." </p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>