Monthly Archives: May 2014

I Can Only Hope She’s Alive When You Read This

I will be honest when I say that I did not take Cognitive Psychology 256 by choice. Although I am a psychology major, it was a list of three courses I had to choose from, and the other two were full.  Towards the last three weeks of class I received some news that would end up making this course invaluable to me.

My grandmother will be 75 this year. She has always been what you would call a “brainy” person, and worked in the Emergency Room Department her whole life until she retired some years ago.  Since her retirement, my loving Nan (as I refer to her as) has undergone numerous operations. She was diagnosed with lung cancer about ten years ago, and had all of her one lung, and part of her remaining one removed. As you can probably guess this extremely limits her physical abilities. Walking up the household’s stairs is enough to leave her winded and wheezing. A few years ago she was also diagnosed with thyroid cancer. In addition I thought it should be noted that she has Parkinsons, diabetes, high blood pressure , and takes 24 pills a day in order to maintain. Despite all this, unless you knew all this about her, you probably couldn’t tell the difference between her lifestyle, and that of other people in their seventies.

My grandmother and I are very close. So close I consider her my own mom in replace of my birth mother who has been absent from my life.  Over the past year, it is safe to say that my grandmother’s memory certainly is not what it used to be. Not really her semantic memory for facts and knowledge, but her episodic memory for events, places, and people, is what seemed to be not all that it was. Up until the last few months, her memory absences didn’t really appear to be more than what you can sum up to getting old. This wasn’t her only issue, many she would mention to me in passing over the phone, even more she would keep secret.  About two months ago was when the constant pain started, all over her body she would tell me. She also was always just so tired, and constantly felt nauseous. On occasion she would just randomly fall, one or two times in front of people, many more times not, and not telling anyone about it either. A little less than a month ago she would tell me that she started getting constant headaches. Every day she would have these headaches. Now at this part of the story you are probably asking yourself, “why the heck doesn’t she take herself to the doctor”? The answer to your question is very simple, she did. In fact, my grandmother on any given month has at least five appointments  with a number of doctors to check on how she is doing with her numerous conditions. Her main doctor believed it was because she was put on a new Parkinson’s medication (her condition was getting worse so they were trying something new) that may have not been mixing to well with her other medications. They changed her medication again and it seemed to help with most of her symptoms, minus the headaches.

Two weeks ago I received a text message from my Aunt “call me as soon as possible Nan is in the hospital”. I called her as soon as I read the message. “Your grandmother fell this morning. She couldn’t get herself up. She was taken to the hospital and they found something in her brain.” The news over the next couple of days was an emotional rollercoaster ultimately ending with the coaster launching off the tracks into a brick wall.

My grandmother has Glioblastoma(s), the most aggressive form of brain cancer. Its cells consist of many kinds, making it hard to treat, and it grows faster than weeds in a garden.  From the day she fell it was like the cancer had finally won some war it was having inside her. Her memory tests seem to leave more doors opened than closed. Most glioblastomas tumors are found in the cerebral cortex, part of the forebrain, and that is where hers was/is. It actually stretches across her entire forehead. What masked some of her symptoms that perhaps would have made it more obvious she was having problems with her frontal lobe, was her Parkinson’s disease. It seemed like all three regions, the motor cortex, premotor cortex, and prefrontal cortex had all been affected. Her constant shaking was to blame for many of her movements and motor control. Her prefrontal cortex in my opinion is what was affected the most. Over the last year decision making had become extremely difficult. Which to be honest was extremely frustrating to me at the time. Simple decisions would become extremely complex despite there simple solutions, and her resolution to most lacked logic. Her memory loss is too complex for me to even try and take a guess at.  Some days she thinks its 1914 (a year of which she wasn’t born yet) or 1943 , and some days she gets it right. It’s also the same way with days, and months of the year. She seems to recognize faces of adults, but not children. In addition she seems think all children are named Gavin, one of her six great grandchildren’s names. She also will try talking to herself if she calls her house and her recorded voice picks up on the answering machine. She will also on occasion ask extremely odd questions that are not relevant to anything, or completely forgot why she is in the hospital. Or think she is in the hospital because she has a condition of which she doesn’t. Some days though, the good days, it’s as if she’s almost perfectly fine. Those are the rewarding days for all of us.


In hindsight, her symptoms make me feel foolish, and make me feel anger towards her doctors. Headaches, vomiting, nausea, weakness of the body, memory loss, drowsiness, all symptoms of a brain tumor. I guess they are symptoms to many other things as well.  I feel as if every day of my life has now become a ticking clock, counting the days that she lives, and praying for more. Perhaps that’s the selfish side of me in all this, and I can only hope she’s alive when you read this.

End of Semester Blues

As the semester comes to a close I must say that I feel like it has almost been a blur. I am not ready for the semester to come to a end because I feel like I am just getting the hang of the course. I guess sometimes by time we really get the hang of things our time is up. I feel like this course has been so challanging. While this course has had its difficulties it has had some very interesting lessons. I have learned a lot in this course, from how our memory works to how we learn our language. I really think this course would be good for others to take I would recommend it.

Some challenges I found with this course was really just the labs and the exams. It was hard but I feel like with a better handle of things I really could possibly ace this course. I really would like to get better with exams because rather it be this course or another one, I articulate well through writing papers but not so much with exams. I wonder if I will ever get the hang of exams but either way I am making it.

Watch Out! A New Driver’s On The Road: An Autobiographical Memory

Every day, we create memories; from vague to long lasting. It could be a pedestrian that we saw walking on the sidewalk, while we were driving an hour ago to the death of family member that happened over twenty years ago; memories that are stored in our mind are dependent upon the level that they are processed. I’m pretty sure that we all have remote memories that when recalled by a cue are pleasant and bring joy into our hearts and then there are certain flashbulb memories that when recalled we would like to forget but can’t due to the pain or sadness that is attached. However, there are rights of passages such as: learning how to shave, learning how to tie a tie, being taught how to change a tire, or getting our driver’s license that we have experienced in our past and that are associated with and stored in our autobiographical memory.
An autobiographical memory is recollected events that belong to a person’s past. For example, when I was sixteen years old, I could not wait to go to the DMV to get my driver’s license. Prior to getting my license, I would imagine I was driving on video games and practice on go-karts at Disneyland and the Family Fun Center. As a child I would even pretend that my bicycles, tri-cycles, and big wheelers were cars. That’s how fascinated I was with driving. I wanted to drive so bad, that as I got older and taller and was able to see over the steering wheel, I would even sneak and drive my grandparent’s cars when they went out of town. It was so scary at first, because we had a long driveway and I had to try to keep the car straight while in reverse. My grandfather has always driven a Cadillac, which is a big car, and for me at the time, it was like driving a yacht! Since my grandparents were frequent travelers, I had several encounters with driving while being underage and without a license. Luckily I had never been pulled over by the police or been in an accident.
When I turned fifteen and a half, I enrolled in Budget Driving School. All the kids at school and all my friends were enrolling. I can’t remember how many Saturday’s I woke up to attend the classes. However, I remember being excited and having no problem with waking up early on a Saturday morning to go and sit for eight hours to listen to the rules of the road.
Finally, when it came down to taking my behind the wheel test with my instructor, I had no fear. I knew these six hours I had to spend behind the wheel would be a breeze. I had been driving already for two years now. When the instructor arrived at my house and I got behind the driver’s seat and he seated in the passenger seat, he began to explain the rules of the road and have me locate all the switches and knobs in the car and review the hand signals. As we spent time on the road, my instructor was impressed at how well I could drive! He couldn’t believe how well I could drive, especially on the freeway. I remember him saying,” It’s as if you have been driving for years!” All I could do is smile and say to myself, “If he only knew.”
After I finished my six hours behind the wheel, it was time! Time for the day I had been waiting for all my life! It was time to take my behind the wheel and written test at the DMV. I was now sixteen years old, my grandfather had bought a new Cadillac, and I was ready willing and able to drive. Let’s go! My grandfather let me use his car to take my behind the wheel test. Needless to say, I had no problems with my behind the wheel test. As the instructor got nestled in the new leather bucket seats, he had me parallel park, switch lanes, get on and off the freeway, and merge with traffic. It was piece of cake! When we arrived back at the DMV I took my picture for my license and took the written exam, which I passed with flying colors. I left the DMV feeling like a new woman. I got my license and I was ready to roll!
Obtaining my driver’s license was an autobiographical memory that I will never forget. I remember feeling ecstatic and overjoyed. That was one of the happiest days of my life that has been encoded in my memory for days to come. Even though it is a memory in my past, well over ten years ago, I will cherish for the rest of my life because it symbolized independence and gave me a sense of adulthood. When I ponder on the experience I can recall all of the times I borrowed the car, the long hours spent in driving school, and the moment the DMV clerk gave me my temporary license. Autobiographical memories like this are one you can smile and share with your children and grandchildren in the years to come, and hope they don’t borrow your car while you’re out of town.

Trouble with testing

Wow!  Online learning is much more difficult than I ever imagined.  It is amazing the difference between sitting in a classroom and listening to a lecture than it is reading about it yourself.  I have a very visual learning style and it seems that online learning would be perfect for that scenario, but as I recently discovered it is much different than I expected.

The tests were the most troublesome part of this class for me.  I have very little problems encoding information into long-term memory for certain subjects, but in other circumstances I have great difficulty.  I have a very mathematic mind and am very good at following steps and algorithms.  When there are many correct answers and you must choose the best I seem to have great difficulty.  Heuristics can be very helpful to me but I usually have trouble in determining the correct answer.  I like structure in my life and it is very difficult for me to choose the best among alternatives.

I greatly enjoyed completing coglabs in this class because when we answered the questions they have ambiguity.  I like being able to express myself as I see fit and that greatly helped throughout those lessons.  The reading and remembering information for the tests was extremely difficult for me.  I tried using techniques that we had learned such as state-dependent learning and the peg-word technique.  I had very little success when it came to the final and mid-term exams.  The quizzes were not as difficult because I am able to encode little bits of information into my long-term memory but when there were massive amounts of information that need to be processed I have trouble retrieving the information.

Throughout this course I have learned great deals of information and I wish that could have shown through my tests.  I have always had trouble with tests and this was no exception.  I wish that I could express better what I have learned, but one of the only ways in an on-line class to access that information is through tests.  I greatly enjoyed the material in this class and look forward to using it in my future endeavors.

Measuring the Brain

Throughout this semester I found the second lesson to be one of the most difficult ones to understand: Cognitive Neuroscience. The most challenging part of this lesson was for me measuring the Brain. I found it difficult to identify how and when the different technologies are necessary and what their use is.

Scientists in the San Diego School of Medicine from the University of California, have discovered that a Volumetric MRI can measure the ‘memory centers’ and compare them to the ideal size in order to predict the progression from Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) to Alzheimer’s disease (Pain & Central Nervous System Week, 2009).

“Use of this procedure is like bringing the experience of an expert neuro-radiologist to any clinic that has the right software,” said James Brewer, MD, PhD, assistant professor in UC San Diego’s Departments of Radiology and Neurosciences.

MCI is considered to be a transitional stage between the forgetfulness that comes with aging and Alzheimer’s disease. Even though most of the patients suffering from MCI don’t always transfer towards Alzheimer, its important to find the difference between them so that they can receive the adequate treatment.

According to Michael Rafii, it is to early to determine a conclusive difference, but as for now, the shrinking of the Hippocampus, seems to be an important piece of evidence. Moreover, the atrophy of the Medial Temporal Lobe has also been associated with an increased risk of conversion from MCI to Alzheimer’s disease. On a study with 269 patients that measured their brain, researchers discovered that there was a faster clinical decline on individuals with smaller volumes on the hippocampus and amygdala. “These values objectively measure the hippocampus and amydala, and early data confirm previous findings that these brain areas may atrophy early in Alzheimer’s disease and can offer a clinical marker for change,” said Rafii (Pain & Central Nervous System Week, 2009).


Pain & Central Nervous System Week. (2009). UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA – SAN DIEGO;
Measuring brain atrophy in patients with mild cognitive impairment. P. 35. Retrieved from



Top-Down and Bottom-Up Processing Road Blocks




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I have truly enjoyed my Cognitive Psychology course this semester. Though, I had some personal set-backs that I let to work as time-consuming road blocks the content was enough to keep me interested and to push forward.

However, if there was one area of the course that I struggled with more so than any other area it would have to be top-down processing and bottom-up processing. It has taken me nearly the whole semester to understand that top-down processing, also know as knowledge based processing involves our expectations of prior knowledge and that bottom-up processing involves information received, also known as data-based processing. ( I was having to go back in and reread many writings to see if it would ever click. However, it took only the one above statement for me to have a true aha moment!


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