On the Horizon

As I've discussed in previous chapters, there are many highly effective strategies for achieving and maintaining optimal memory. Staying active both mentally and physically and controlling health problems that can impair memory will help you prevent age-related memory loss. Cultivating memory-friendly habits through the use of organizational tools, such as a daily calendar or PDA, and practicing spaced rehearsal to retain complex material are tried-and-true ways to improve your ability to remember important information every single day.

By now you undoubtedly realize that Alzheimer's disease is far and away the most significant threat to memory in aging. Alzheimer's disease is the target of the majority of ongoing research into treatment and prevention of age-related memory loss and disease. We currently possess a range of therapeutic options for the symptomatic treatment of Alzheimer's disease and other memory disorders, and we are gaining knowledge about the biology of memory and neurological disease at an astonishing rate. The near frontier in memory research is the development of disease-modifying therapies aimed at halting and reversing neuronal damage. I reviewed some of the promising medications under development in Chapter 8, but more revolutionary methods for treatment and prevention are also on the horizon, albeit a more distant one. ,187

Recent research on stem cells, unspecialized precursor cells with the capability to differentiate and proliferate, raises the prospect of curing neurological disorders, but it also presents a host of important ethical questions. Gene transfer methods are also in the very earliest stages of investigation. Another highly controversial area of research and clinical practice is cognitive enhancement— the use of therapies to expand the bounds of normal memory and other cognitive functions.

The current and potential future role of all of these therapies raises many questions for individual users, physicians, and our society as a whole. Is it ethically acceptable to devote financial and intellectual resources to making intelligent people more intelligent or to engineer super memory capacity? Is it ethically acceptable to withhold this capability when it is within our grasp? Who should pay for this? Who decides which individuals should gain this advantage? What type of society do we want to have?

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