Monthly Archives: March 2009

Which Brain Games Will Help Your Brain the Most?

Recently, Fitbrains was reviewed by Discovery Magazine

Fitbrains:Comprehensive brain fitness site featuring 10 games plus a word challenge for team play. Tests fall into five cognitive categories: memory, language, concentration, logic/reasoning, and visuospatial skills. Sports a blog and a list of scientific advisers. Boasts “Guilt Free Fun!”

What’s unique: Complex, richly illustrated and thought-out games with different levels and basic story lines. For example, in “Hidden Masterpiece” you are a painting-repair specialist who sells reconstructed works of art at auction, testing visuospatial ability and concentration.

Downsides: After a seven-day free trial expires, the site is $9.95 a month or $79.95 a year. Some games may actually be too complex and time-consuming. In “Busy Bistro” you scan ingredients and cooking instructions, then try to remember the items by filling out a virtual grocery list. That’s just for starters: One round takes almost five minutes, and there are five more courses to follow.

Bonus: Get real recipes from “Busy Bistro,” like Crab and Swiss Melts.

Summed up: Very dynamic. Feels as if you are playing a console-based game at times. You can subscribe to track your progress and meet other Fit Brainers. Suitable for the committed brain athlete.

Rating: 4.5 lobes

Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) on the rise

The Alzheimer’s Association just released a report indicating an estimated 5.1 million Americans over age 65 now have AD. The cases of this progressive dementia are expected to rise to 7.7 million by 2030 and to an even more overwhelming 11-16 million by 2050. This is of course presuming a medical breakthrough for stopping the disease does not occur by then.

Health care costs for those suffering AD and other forms of dementia are nearly three times higher than costs for older adults not affected with dementia. Nearly every 70 seconds someone new in the US develops AD which destroys a person’s cognitive and functional abilities.

At present, nearly 2.7 million Americans over age 85 have the disease. However, it is estimated that with the first wave of baby boomers reaching 85 in 2031 3.5 million will have AD. It is presently the sixth leading cause of death for citizens of the US and the fifth leading cause in those over age 85. Indeed, death attributed to AD has increased by 47% between 2000 and 2006.

This is an enormous social issue as we must secure more funding for the treatment and care of those with AD. Lifestyle factors must be taken more seriously and financial and other incentives should be used to promote proactive brain health lifestyles. At present, the United States is not prepared to manage the disease given the demographic shift.

..more about Brain Nutrition/Lifestyle

Depression and the Brain

A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found people with a high family risk of developing depression had less matter on the right side of their brains. The finding was similar to that found in brains with Alzheimer’s disease according to the researchers.

Brain scans revealed a 28% thinning in the right cortex in people who had a family history of depression compared with people who did not. Findings were based on scans of 131 people aged 6 to 54 with and without a family history of depression.

The thinning on the right side of the brain was only related to a family predisposition to depression. People who were actually depressed also had thinning on the left side of the cortex.

The authors suggest that having a thinner cortex may increase the risk of depression by disrupting a person’s ability to decode and recall social and emotional cues from other people.  Subjects who had a thinner right cortex did less well on tests of memory and attention.

Findings suggest that a thinning right cortex relates to a predisposition to depression and to cognitive impairment.

Write and Make Sure you Pack in the Ideas

You probably don’t think about a diary as evidence for how healthy your brain might be. This is especially true if the diary is kept when one is in his or her teens. Interestingly, however, it turns out that the type of writing we do in our teens or early life may actually predict neuropathologic markers in our brains many decades later!

The Nun Study (see David Snowden) reported that young women prior to taking their vows to become nuns kept diaries. The content of these diaries were rated for grammar complexity and idea density defined as the number of ideas in each sentence. Results indicated that the number of ideas in each sentence at the age of 22 or so correlated with the number of neurofibrillary tangles (marker of Alzheimer’s disease) in the brain at autopsy some 50 or 60 years later.

This is another study in a long line of research indicating early life environments are critical to shaping our brains for health well into late life

What Exactly is Moderate Exercise?

We all are told to engage in moderate exercise, but I wonder if you have ever wondered what is meant by “moderate?” Fortunately, a new study published in May’s American Journal of Preventive Medicine addresses this very issue.

National guidelines encourage all Americans to engage in “moderate physical activity” at least 2.5 hours a week. This new study defines moderate as a brisk walk or about 1,000 steps every 10 minutes. 58 women and 39 men with a mean age of 32 walked on treadmills while a machine measured their energy allocation. Results indicated moderate exercise resulted in 92 to 102 steps a minute for men and 91 to 115 steps a minute for women. The authors of this study asked us to “imagine you are late for a bus, you are in a hurry, and note that you are not in a leisurely stroll. You are actually in a brisk walk!

So we all need to get the heart pumping because the brain is a very demanding system.

Five Ways to Boost Your Mood This Spring

The Spring brings a new life to nature and even a chance for everyone to begin a fresh new start in lifestyle. Here are a few tips to maintaining a positive mood for the Spring:

1. Increase your daily time outside.
2. Increase your fatty fish (salmon, herring, sardines) intake.
3. Be consistent and persistent with exercise.
4. Give yourself 30 minutes a day.
5. Think a positive thought for each experience.

God and the Human Brain

It is very hard not to appreciate the necessity of a higher being to the creation and existence of the human brain. Scientists have recently increased study of the relationship between a higher being, God, and the human brain. Why do patients with temporal lobe epilepsy or schizophrenia sometimes report hyper-religiosity, delusions of grandeur, and belief that they are God? Is there something about the Temporal Lobe and appreciation of God?

New research (see March Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) suggests that our own belief systems regarding God trigger different parts of the human brain. It appears that we use our cortex and higher order processing systems to think about God’s thoughts or emotions or even the metaphorical aspects of God or religion.

Of interest is the field of Neurotheology that studies the relationship between our belief systems and brain function. We most likely need to pay more attention to how religious beliefs and practices may help to promote quality of life and then integrate such practices into our standard prescribed health care therapies. For example, even in a brain ravaged with Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) the person can sit still and appropriately for nearly 30 minutes to hear a religious service or mass, to sing religious hymns, and to pray. This activity soothes the agitated brain in ways some, if not most, medications do not.