Tools to Enhance Working Memory & Attention

Tools to Enhance Working Memory & Attention

Working Memory (00:00:00)

  • Working memory is a special category of memory that holds small amounts of information for short periods.
  • Working memory is closely related to attention.

Short- vs. Long-Term Memory (00:05:00)

  • Long-term memory:
    • Declarative long-term memories: facts about ourselves, the world, or others.
    • Procedural long-term memories: action steps to perform certain procedures.
  • Short-term memory:
    • Capacity to hold information for a few minutes to a few hours.
    • Only a percentage of short-term memories are passed into long-term memory.
  • The hippocampus is involved in the formation and storage of long-term memories.
  • The passage of short-term memories into long-term memories occurs in the hippocampus and other brain structures.
  • Short and long-term memory formation involves neuroplasticity.

Neuroplasticity (00:09:59)

  • Neuroplasticity: the nervous system's ability to change in response to experience.
  • Long-term potentiation (LTP): strengthening of connections between neurons due to repeated firing together.
  • Long-term depression (LTD): weakening or removal of connections between neurons.
  • Neurogenesis: formation of new neurons.
    • Robust in the developing nervous system, but limited in the adult brain.
    • Not the main mechanism for the formation of short and long-term memories.
  • The main mechanisms for the formation of short and long-term memories are LTP and LTD.

Working Memory; Attention & Focus (00:15:42)

  • Working memory is not about storing information, but rather about temporarily holding and processing information needed for immediate tasks.
  • It is crucial for sequencing actions and navigating daily activities.
  • Working memory collaborates with attention at neural circuit and neurochemical levels to facilitate adaptive functioning.
  • People with challenges in attention or working memory face difficulties in navigating life.

Working Memory Test (00:20:04)

  • A working memory test was conducted to assess baseline working memory capacity.
  • Participants were asked to remember series of letters presented through audio.
  • The test highlighted the ability to remember information in the short term and the tendency to forget non-critical information.
  • The first string of letters (j k z p i) was used to demonstrate the rapid forgetting nature of working memory.

Brain & Working Memory; Dopamine (00:27:02)

  • Working memory involves various brain locations collaborating, with key hubs in the prefrontal cortex and brain stem.
  • Dopamine, a neuromodulator, plays a crucial role in working memory.
  • Low dopamine levels tend to correlate with lower working memory performance.
  • Increasing dopamine doesn't always improve working memory; specific criteria determine its effect.
  • Individuals with high working memory spans tend to have more dopamine available for release in the frontal cortex.
  • A study showed that introducing dopamine directly into the cortex increased the number of items individuals could remember.
  • Dopamine seems to be the dominant neuromodulator regulating working memory capacity in the prefrontal cortex.
  • Other neuromodulators like norepinephrine and serotonin don't affect working memory when introduced to the prefrontal cortex.
  • People with high working memory capacities have high levels of baseline dopamine, and depleting dopamine in their prefrontal cortex impairs their performance.
  • The literature on working memory suggests a strong correlation between dopamine levels in the prefrontal cortex and working memory capacity.

Working Memory Capacity Test (00:36:13)

  • The working memory task involves recalling the final words of six sentences.
  • The normal distribution of scores divides people into high and low working memory span groups.
  • High working memory span: 3-6 final words recalled correctly.
  • Low working memory span: 0-2 final words recalled correctly.
  • Low working memory span correlates with lower dopamine levels in the prefrontal cortex.
  • High working memory span correlates with more dopamine available for release in the prefrontal cortex.

Increasing Dopamine & Working Memory (00:44:37)

  • Studies have explored the effects of increasing dopamine levels in typical populations.
  • Bromocryptine, a dopamine agonist, was used to increase dopamine levels.
  • Individuals with low baseline dopamine levels and short working memory span showed significant improvement in working memory after taking bromocryptine.
  • Individuals with high working memory span did not experience further improvement with low or moderate doses of bromocryptine.
  • High-dose bromocryptine in individuals with high working memory span actually decreased working memory performance.
  • The relationship between dopamine and working memory follows an inverted U-shaped function.
  • Low dopamine: short working memory span.
  • Optimal dopamine: longer working memory span.
  • Excessive dopamine: significantly decreased working memory span.

Task Switching, Distractions (00:49:26)

  • Task switching and context switching are critical for daily life.
  • The ability to task switch depends on dopamine projections to the basal ganglia.
  • Eliminating distractions depends on dopamine neurons projecting to the prefrontal cortex.
  • There are protocols that can selectively increase dopamine to the basal ganglia or prefrontal cortex, or globally increase dopamine.

Tool: Yoga Nidra, Non-Sleep Deep Rest (NSDR) & Dopamine (00:56:04)

  • Yoga Nidra and Non-Sleep Deep Rest (NSDR) are protocols that can increase dopamine levels in the brain.
  • A study showed that after performing a Yoga Nidra protocol, the baseline levels of dopamine in the basal ganglia and other brain structures increased by 60%.
  • NSDR and Yoga Nidra improve cognitive performance tasks that have a working memory element.
  • NSDR and Yoga Nidra are zero-cost, low-risk protocols that can be performed to improve dopamine levels and working memory.

Tool: Deliberate Cold Exposure & Dopamine (01:03:08)

  • Deliberate cold exposure, such as cold showers or plunges, can significantly increase circulating dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine (catacolomines) for several hours.
  • Cold exposure induces a state shift of mind and body that most people report as pleasant, leading to increased focus and reduced caffeine dependence.
  • The ideal temperature for deliberate cold exposure varies depending on individual adaptation and should be safe and uncomfortable enough to stay in for 30 seconds to 3 minutes.
  • Experiment with deliberate cold exposure protocols, including temperature and duration, to find what works best for you.
  • While people with high baseline dopamine levels may not need to avoid Yoga Nidra, NSDR, or deliberate cold exposure, experimentation is key to finding the optimal approach.
  • Other activities that increase dopamine include exercise, playing video games, sex, and chocolate, but the protocols discussed have longer-lasting effects on dopamine baseline.

Tool: Working Memory & Binaural Beats (01:11:02)

  • Binaural beats, which involve listening to different sound frequencies in each ear, have been shown to improve working memory performance.
  • Studies using 40 Hz and 15 Hz binaural beats have demonstrated small to moderate improvements in cognitive performance on working memory tasks.
  • Binaural beats may affect neural activity patterns in the brain, leading to enhanced information transfer and connectivity.
  • The relationship between binaural beats and dopamine is not yet fully understood, but these non-pharmacologic, zero-cost approaches can improve working memory.
  • Individuals can listen to binaural beats while performing working memory tasks or beforehand, depending on the study.

Supplements to Increase Dopamine: L-Tyrosine, Mucuna Pruriens (01:15:23)

  • L-Tyrosine is an amino acid precursor to dopamine.
  • Mucuna Pruriens contains L-Dopa, a key component in dopamine production.
  • Studies show that L-Tyrosine and Mucuna Pruriens can increase dopamine levels and improve working memory.
  • High dosages of L-Tyrosine (15 grams) were used in studies, but it's recommended to start with a lower dose (250-500 mg) to find the minimal effective dose.
  • Some people experience a crash after L-Tyrosine supplementation, so it's important to be mindful of this.
  • Mucuna Pruriens is a potent dopamine increaser and should be used with caution.
  • It's recommended to start with a very low dose (250-500 mg) and gradually increase to find the minimal effective dose.

Dopamine Prescriptions, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) (01:22:53)

  • Bromocryptine is a dopamine agonist that has been shown to improve working memory in individuals with low working memory span.
  • It's not commonly prescribed for ADHD or TBI, but some neurologists may prescribe it off-label.
  • Other dopamine agonists used for ADHD include Adderall and Ritalin.
  • Modafinil is a different category of drug that can improve cognitive performance in some cases of ADHD.
  • Many people with subclinical ADHD or mild symptoms can manage their symptoms through behavioral, nutritional, and supplement-based tools.
  • Prescription drugs can increase neuroplasticity and have a positive impact on brain function, but behavioral tools can also work synergistically to enhance neuroplasticity.
  • A combination of behavioral, nutritional, supplement-based, and prescription drug approaches can be effective in improving working memory, depending on individual circumstances.

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