Wrap Your Brain around Knowledge

(or it’s always better to look at the ugly facts than sit in the dark and wonder)


Part 8 of my “Senior Moment or…Something More?” Series


What are the elements of cognition (aka understanding)? A whole lotta things. It’s what whizzes around in our conscious thoughts as well as what lurks in our unconscious mind. It’s cold, hard facts and creative dalliances, or that “gut feeling” that convinces us to keep searching. Rolled all together, cognition takes what we already know and helps us figure out new things:

  • Language is what we humans use to express ourselves by talking, writing, and that elusive body language we unconsciously generate. And we listen to those around us and use the printed word to expand our horizons.
  • Attention enables us to focus on repetitive things, often despite distractions, tempting us to “multi-task.” Not a good idea if you’re studying for your pending calculus exam.
  • Visuospatial skills is a big word for our inborn ability to know if it’s day or night, recognize faces, not pound the square peg into the round hole.
  • And the supreme brain organizer – the Executive Function – regulates organizing what we perceive through our senses so we can plan and prioritize.

So what happens when these processes run amuck? Take Agatha ChristieAgatha_Christie_ibelieveinadv for example. Academic types at the University of Toronto* analyzed her novels written between the ages of 28 and 82. They totaled up the number of word variations, indefinite (vague and generally inclusive) nouns, and common phrases used in each of her many published books. They found her vocabulary decreased sharply and that “these language effects are recognized as symptoms of memory difficulties associated with Alzheimer’s disease.” The same is true for another author, Iris Murdoch. An evaluation of two of her early works compared to her final novel, Jackson’s Dilemma, concluded that “textual analysis can be used to detect the onset of dementia before anyone [has] the remotest suspicion of any untoward intellectual decline”. Jackson’s Dilemma was published in 1995 to a poor critical reception, and Murdoch was found to have Alzheimer’s the following year.

If you’re bummed – cheer up. My next (and last) post on this subject will tackle the warning signs and symptoms and what to do about them. Talk soon.



*Taken from “Study claims Agatha Christi had Alzheimer’s”

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