Thoughts on Thinking…

Good morning, ProviderNation.

On Monday, we brought you a scintillating write-up on a new study attacking the “myth” of cognitive decline.

The short version is that the research team, led by German cognitive scientist Michael Ramscar, believes that seniors are getting a bum rap.

Michael Ramscar

Michael Ramscar

Ramscar and his self-described “henchmen” say that seniors may take longer to recall words or names in various tests, but that’s merely a function of how much knowledge they’ve absorbed over the course of their long lives. They take things a step further, by arguing that we can’t assume a senior is in “cognitive decline” unless she has been diagnosed with a recognized pathology (Alzheimer’s, etc.)

We weren’t the only ones to have noticed Ramscar’s work. In fact, it’s generated such international interest that Ramscar has started a separate blog about it.

The team’s full study is here. It’s worth reading for a couple of reasons. First, Ramscar writes brilliantly and clearly (so even folks as slow as Your Humble Correspondent can understand him). Second, his research has lots of implications for providers—especially those who want to focus on person-centered care.

If Ramscar and his team are right, for instance, about discriminative learning (check, especially, the bit about discriminative learning being context-driven—viz., retirement), that means that those who watch their grandmother struggle to recall a former boyfriend’s name (say) and assume they’re watching a mind in decline aren’t just being lazy, they’re throwing away a pearl richer than their tribe.

It's Never Too Late

It’s Never Too Late

Head abuzz about all this, I talked with my own personal tech guru, Jack York. Jack runs a company that sells software apps to nursing homes in order to help residents reconnect with family, friends, and their pasts. (Call him a biased source, if you like,but he’s so turned on by New Ideas and Big Ideas that an hour with him feels like a philosophy symposium.)

Less concerned about the science, Jack says he’s already a step ahead of Ramscar and his team, because even pathologies such as Alzheimer’s may be disguising a rich intelligence (and life).

“The debate over brain fitness has been ongoing for quite a few years,” he tells me in an email. “My own editorial commentary, after providing technology to nursing home residents for over 15 years, is that the obsession over brain ‘improvement,’ often misses the point. I feel the goal to strive for is to improve people’s quality of life.”

Naturally, Jack’s a technocrat here. But, statements against interest: One of his favorite videos shows a woman in rehabwho, initially defiant, logs on to Google Earth (not a Jack York product) to see the Jersey beach house where she used to summer. You can watch the results here.

“If we remain obsessed with showing ‘improvement’ (that may or may not be even be agreed to),” Jack tells me, “then the 94-year-old with late-stage dementia will be left out of experiences that can dramatically improve the sunset of her life.”

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