Friday, 22 February 2008

dogs, dementia and daytime radio

When Penny and I were in the car going to Gardiner’s Creek to meet Jabari and her mum, I caught a bit of a radio programme about memory and the aging brain. Given that I’m well into middle life I found it engrossing. So I’ve listened to the downloadable version of the show tonight while Penny snoozes nearby.

The programme was hosted by Richard Aedy and the panel consisted of Cathryn Jakobson Ramin, author and journalist; Associate Professor Kaarin Anstey, Director of The Ageing Research Unit at ANU; and Dr Bill Brooks, Senior Researcher at the Prince of Wales Medical Research Institute.

It occurred to me that the discussion not only has value for myself, but it also relates to how I stimulate and train Penny.

In relation to humans, Dr Brooks said that to protect the brain against the possible effects of dementia in later life, the crucial time is actually early in life - the education that you have before you are about sixteen. This is the time when you are building up the connections in your brain, the synapses. These connections last throughout your life.

I guess this makes me think that it’s important to give our young dogs a wide range of experiences in which they need to solve problems.

He also places emphasis on the “use it or lose it” advice for middle or later life. He says it’s always worthwhile doing cognitively stimulating activities.

I think that for middle aged or senior dogs we should ignore the idea that you ‘can’t teach an old dog new tricks.’ I’ve certainly seen plenty of proof that this saying is not accurate.

Cathryn Ramin has recently published a book called ‘That Memory Book’ – I couldn’t find it on the Internet, but I’ll be looking to get a copy as soon as I can. However, I did come across a blog post by her called “I Never Forget a Furry Face”. It’s about the common experience of forgetting people’s names. It’s a great read, and I enjoyed her doggy example of using aspects of people’s appearance or background to remember their names. She says:
Although I do not know the name of a single human being in our local dog park, I can reliably greet most of the canine regulars. So many are endowed with names that mirror their physical traits or provenance. There’s Fidel, the Havanese, whose handle reflects his Cuban roots. There’s Einstein, a charmingly disheveled Schnauzer, and Bounce, a Jack Russell mix who came from the pound equipped with heavy-duty rocket thrusters. There’s Speed Bump, a Bassett-Beagle cross, and of course my dog Radar, who never leaves my side. My other pet, Rosie, a shepherd mutt, is more obscurely named, but I rescued her from the Santa Rosa Animal Shelter, a fact that allows people who make the connection to recall her name with ease.
I’ve got an unreliable, massively embarrassing bad memory and that piece by Cathryn Ramin reminds me of a time last year when I met a guy in our local park. He had a mixed-breed dog and I commented to him that I’d met quite a few people lately with that same breed. He replied, “No you haven’t. You’ve met me three times and asked me about my dog each time.”

My face has gone red again as I recall that moment!

So if I visit your blogs and contribute some weirdly dumb comments, please be kind to me…


Sharon said...

Yikes! That's embarrising, bless your heart. I've been reading about memory and the brain recently as well.

parlance said...

I like reading about all the terrible things that can happen to the memory, it makes me braver about admitting problems when I have them...and then I get on with my life without worrying about them.