Monthly Archives: May 2009

Traumatic Brain Injury and Recovery

I am often asked clinical questions pertaining to traumatic brain injury (TBI). There are two major types of TBI that include closed head injury (CHI) in which the skull is struck and does not fracture. The second type is known as open head injury in which the skull is struck and fractures (split the head open). Sometimes an open head injury is advantageous as it permits room for the predictable swelling or edema that occurs with head injuries. The problem with an open head injury is high risk for infection.

Closed head injuries are caused by a blow to the head from a motor vehicle accident, sports such as football, hockey, and even soccer, falls, and being hit by an instrument or other object. The brain sits in a liquid medium called cerebral spinal fluid and it will move inside the skull with an accelerating and then decelerating force. The brain can be injured at the site of the trauma (coup) and also on the opposite side of the brain as it moves in the liquid medium and hits against the skull (contracoup). As the skull is most rugged in the front and temporal skull regions with a smoother surface in the rear of the skull, it is common to experience cognitive and behavioral changes related to damage in the fronto-temporal region.

Such changes in cognition from a closed head injury typically involve memory, attention, and personality change. It is difficult to predict behavioral and cognitive changes related to open head injuries until the site of the damage is clearly known. Other factors such as loss and duration of loss of consciousness and memory loss that predates the time of the injury (retrograde amnesia) and post-dates the injury (anterograde amnesia) relate to extent and severity of the brain injury.

Treatment for TBI includes medication, surgery, speech, occupational, and physical therapy, and time. Improved function and cognition occurs primarily in the first year post injury, but improvement can continue to occur into the third year. Little is known about the effects of a proactive brain health lifestyle and or the consistent use of cognitive-based mental exercise software on recovery. This is an empirical question that is generating interest and attention.

The brain will heal to some degree, hopefully to a complete recovery, and one should not discount lifestyle for brain health and use of cognitive exercises to help in the process.

Implications of Poverty on the Brain

Most advanced nations spend a significant amount of time, money, and energy dealing with poverty and the short and long term consequences for those who live in poverty. Policy statements are drafted and then implemented with varying degrees of success. One thing is certain, no policy has removed poverty suggesting that we either have not implemented the correct policy or poverty is a reality of life.

One aspect of poverty that probably does not receive enough attention is the negative health outcomes that result from such an environment. Studies many years ago demonstrated the negative effects of an un-enriched environment on rats. Interestingly, the brain was significantly affected both structurally and functionally. For humans, poverty really represents an unenriched environment in which poor nutrition, lack of love and attention, crime, drugs, insecurity, and lack of proper mental stimulation exist.

A nation enlightened to development of our youth and to creation of a policy that understands the impact of poverty will confront this reality. Research has demonstrated a correlation between poverty in childhood and increased risk for Alzheimer’s disease later in life. While there are short term consequences of poverty, there are also long term effects particularly when one understands that poverty limits proper development of the human brain.

Perhaps a first step in creating a policy on poverty is to educate the public on the importance of environmental input early in life upon later development of the human brain. Most families will work to follow such educational guidelines if they understand what to do with regard to promoting brain health for their own children. For those who are vulnerable and without resources or adults to provide the enriched environment policies can address what is needed and appropriate resources to help developing children thrive.

Baby boomers can eat their way to better health

A healthy lifestyle is key to reducing the risk of illness and chronic disease. By reducing excess intake of calories, saturated fat, sodium and simple sugars and increasing intake of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy and lean meats, baby boomers may help reduce their risk of developing heart disease, certain cancers, type 2 diabetes and osteoporosis.

A diet low in saturated fat is among the top recommendations from health professionals to promote heart health and reduce the risk of cancer. Registered dietitian and baby boomer Susie Langley recognizes the challenge of keeping active and eating well, but argues that with just a little more effort boomers could be better off in the long run.

Read More:Baby Boomers can eat their way to better health

Take the Fit Brains Brain Lifestyle Quiz

The Brain Lifestyle Quiz is designed to help you learn more about your own brain health! The quiz uses research-based information to propose a healthy brain lifestyle relevant to your life. We recommend you repeat this survey every three months to see your progress.

Your brain health profile is comprised of five major areas:

  1. Nutrition
  2. Mental Stimulation
  3. Spirituality
  4. Physical Activity
  5. Socialization

Take the Brain LifeStyle Quiz

Exercise is not only good for the heart and lungs, it can keep the brain healthy.

Studies show that those who exercise the most have bigger brain volumes in key areas than those who do not. Keeping fit may also slow the rate of age-related decline in the brain.

In the trial, 52 healthy men and women had their brains scanned, were interviewed and had their exercise data collected.

Brain volume in key areas  -  including the temporal lobe which is involved in language, memory and emotion  -  were significantly lower in those who did the least exercise, say the American researchers.

It’s thought exercise boosts the growth and development of brain cells.

Read more about Excercise and Brain Health