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August 25, 2005

Daydreaming and Alzheimer's disease

The AP points to a new study in this week's Journal of Neuroscience that posits a causal link between daydreaming and Alzheimer's disease:

A new Washington University study shows the part of the brain used to daydream is the same where Alzheimer's disease develops -- in some people -- later in life. It suggests the normal brain activity of daydreaming fuels the sequence of events leading to Alzheimer's.

"The implication, albeit a speculative one, is that those activity patterns in young adults are the foothold onto which Alzheimer's disease forms," said lead researcher Randy Buckner, associate professor of psychology. He said they may lead to a life-long cascade that ends in Alzheimer's disease in some people. [...]

Researchers at Washington University and the University of Pittsburgh used five imaging techniques to map the brains of 764 people. The subjects fell into three groups -- people in their 20s, and older people with either early-stage dementia, or Alzheimer's disease.

When they compared images, they found that parts of the brain involved in musing, daydreaming or recalling pleasant memories in young people were where evidence of Alzheimer's disease appears.

The study prompts several interesting hypotheses. Maybe zoning out is intrinsically hazardous in excess. Daydreaming might be intrinsically harmless but ultimately detrimental if it cuts into time spent in healthy mental exertion. Or, perhaps the Alzheimer's disease process begins earlier in life than we usually assume.

The researchers readily acknowledge that their research is speculative. They aren't claiming to have established any causal links yet, let alone established which of the many logically possible relationships might be operative.

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Comments

This is nonsense.

Interesting debate going on here. I'm glad to see so much interest. However, I myself daydream often and play to continue to do so.

The study (which I would encourage folks to read directly, rather than rely on secondary press coverage) suggests a potential link between brain activity and brain metabolism that correlates with where Alzheimer's disease changes occur in the brain.

We do not yet know what the link means but it perhaps suggests a new avenue for exploring the earliest stages of the disease process.

Some interpretations I've seen in the media are a bit far fetched, but I'm glad to see such interest in the study.

-- The Author of the Study

No offense to the author of the study, and it requires money to read so I haven't read it, but I think we are so close to the molecular pathophysiology of Alzheimer's disease (simplfied: overproduction of beta amyloid) that correlations between deposition of plaque with areas of brain lighting up during some mental activity on imaging are a stretch.

My apologies to the Author of the Study, but I still send a raspberry the way of those who think that colocation ~must~ mean that daydreaming causes Alzheimer's disease.

It's good to remember Galton's Problem when evaluating this data. The study uncovered the fact that Alzheimer's (A) afflicts the same area where we daydream (B).

Journalists have jumped to the conclusion that because A and B happen in the same place at the same time, B must cause A. But in Galton's Problem, there are other possibilities. We could argue that A causes B. Or it could be that C causes A and B. ~Or~ it could be that this colocation is entirely coincidental -- that A and B just happen to happen in the same place.

I believe that the AuthoroftheStudy understands this. (Which is why we need more research.) The tragedy is that most science writers don't. And the concept is not only elementary, it is central to evaluating research findings.

[Perhaps AuthorOfTheStudy could send Lindsay the abstract for the paper so she can print it here?]

THIS IS A RESEARCHER'S OVEREACHING THEORY LINKING A VAGUELY CIRCUMSCRIBED AREA OF FIRING NEURONS WITH A POORLY DIFFERENTIATED QUALITY OF THOUGHT LABELLED "DAYDREAM", WITH INADEQUATELY UNDERSTOOD MEMORY LOSS-- AND POSITING VERY SPECULATIVELY, ON THE BASIS OF VERY PRELIMINARY RESEARCH, A VERY DUBITABLE CAUSAL RELATION BETWEEN THEM --THIS IN ORDER TO GENERATE PUBLICITY IN HOPES OF FURTHER FUNDING. THE LIKE IS A COMMON OCCURANCE IN THE SCIENTIFIC REALM.

I knew it! If only I could remember what it was. Oh well, I'll just look out the window for a little while and maybe it'll come back to me...

"What these researchers found is that the pattern of amyloid plaque deposition in Alzheimer's seems to follow a very specific pattern that overlaps with the signature shape of default activity."

If your summary is accurate, then it sounds like a mere repetition of the older idea that using one's brain keeps dementia at bay, whereas not using one's brain invites dementia.

Lawrence, I agree. But the study isn't mere repetition--it's new empirical evidence that might support the "use it or lose it" family of hypotheses. Moreover, it suggests a mechanism whereby a lifetime of zoning out might facilitate the development of Alzheimer's disease in susceptible people.

I'm now convinced that "daydreaming" is the wrong term for the default state that the researchers are talking about.

Exactly, the findings suggest an avenue for exploring the mechanism in an arena where we had not been looking. The findings point us to look at activity-dependent and metabolism-dependent conditions that promote Alzheimer pathology. That's what I find so exciting about the data, even if its too early to know where this will lead us. And I also agree, "day dreaming" is probably not the best term for what we call the "default state," although I can see why the press has used it.

My first reaction to reading the article was, this is either irresponsible reporting or unsound research. As expected it is the former and not the latter.

All this proves is that the scientific community reflects the same biases against introspection and introversion that the rest of society has. Just because the daydreaming part of the brain gets hit by alzheimers doesn't mean there's a causal link--it just means it gets hit by alzheimers.

If the scientists' conclusions were correct, how come we don't see alzheimers hitting the left hemisphere of most people? That's the side we use most in western society. How come we don't become a bunch of illogical, mute rhythm-challenged dummies?

go see the movie Away from Her. A great film about love, loss, aging, and of course, alzheimer's.

http://www.thenewsroom.com/details/280666?c_id=wom-bc-mam

--matthew from the health desk at thenewsroom.com

Called the "Queen of the Kitchen" by Indian cooks, turmeric (and its active ingredient, curcumin) has earned its crown. Studies show promise in fighting cystic fibrosis, colon cancer, arthritis, and even Alzheimer's prevention -- is there anything this golden gal can't do? For an earthy flavor and yellow coloring, add a pinch of turmeric to rice, stew, or lentils -- hey, it might even help you remember where you left your keys last night.

hi my name richelle im 25 years of age.Iam worryed about myself and depression evertime im stress or sum1 fighting i go into a daydreaming or blankout.it only happens wen im depressed or sum1 fighting or yelling wat is wrong with me am i going crazy.

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