I am often asked about the value of having and caring for pets on general health. Research supports a positive relationship between having a pet and general health with more specific value in reducing blood pressure. Pets can create a vital role for someone as the dog, cat or other pet needs to be fed, walked, cleaned etc. Sometimes, caring for a pet can be the major role in a person’s life, particularly if someone is living alone.
A pet can also provide unconditional love, friendship, companionship, and a sense of family. Many people consider their pets significant members of the family and it is quite normal to experience grief when a pet dies.
For those who do not and cannot own a pet there are opportunities in the community to spend time with animals and to even “pet sit” for a family who may be out of town. I am also aware of some places that simply ask for the animals to be walked every so often. These are good opportunities to interact with a pet and to enjoy some of the health benefit that comes with it.
A recent study demonstrates daily surfing of the internet activates the brain of older persons. This is another example of how the environment in many forms can shape the brain and illustrates the power of neural plasticity.
24 neurologically healthy adults, aged 55 to 78, surfed the internet while their brains were being scanned by an MRI machine. Prior to the study, half the participants had used the internet daily while the other half had minimal experience. After the initial MRI scan, the participants were instructed to do internet searches for an hour a day for seven days in the next two weeks. Then they returned to the clinic for another MRI.
At baseline, those who had internet experience had much greater brain activation relative to those without internet experience. However, those who practiced on the internet during the study demonstrated significant activation in their brain to the point that they were nearly equal to the brains of the experienced internet users.
The idea of “use it or lose it” can really be taken a step further and the idea is to “use it in new ways” and novelty and complexity really is the foundation to brain health.
Many people sleep six or fewer hours a day, but they don’t come by it naturally. They rely on caffeinated drinks and alarm clocks to keep them going.
But about 5 percent of the population are considered naturally short sleepers — meaning they go to bed at a normal hour and wake up alert and energized in the wee hours of the morning, sleeping about two hours less a night than the average person. Finding out what makes short sleepers tick and why they need so much less sleep than the rest of us could unlock answers about insomnia and other sleep problems.
In a landmark study, University of California-San Francisco researchers have identified a gene mutation associated with less sleep, a finding considered to be a major breakthrough in sleep science. To learn more, read the full story, “Mutation Tied to Need for Less Sleep Is Discovered”.
Sleep and Brain Health
Let me begin this blog with “I do not know” whether cell phone used causes brain cancer in the form of tumors or not. However, not knowing something means you do not know and hence caution is most likely in order, particularly when cancer is the point of discussion.
Let me try to ease the confusion and suggest some lifestyle steps to avoid unnecessary risk if it is present. A primary malignant brain tumor is one in which the cancer originates in the brain itself rather than traveling to the brain from another region of the body (metastases). There are over 20,000 new cases of primary brain malignancies each year. A specific form of brain tumor known as the glioblastoma multiforme has increased 30 to 70 percent from one decade to the next in some metropolitan areas of the United States. It is believed that ten times the number of metastatic brain tumors will also occur in the same time period.
Risks for cancer include pesticides, air pollution, chemicals found in meats, power lines, and plastics. Xrays are also on the list of risk factors including the microwave type radiation emitted from cell phones. This is why cell phone companies suggest we hold the phones away from out ear when using it. Further, there have been several studies indicating a relationship (not cause and effect) between cell phone use and risk of brain cancer, increased risk of acoustic neuroma, and glioblastomas. It is important to note that other studies that have not found any relationship between cell phone use and increased risk for brain cancer. We will most likely learn more about this relationship as we have more time to study the use and effects of cell phone use on a larger number of people over a greater period of time.
As cell phone use is a lifestyle issue, what can be done at this point? There certainly has been an increase in the number of users and the amount of time each user spends on their cell phone. Some homes do not even have land lines anymore. Children are using cell phones at unprecedented rates as well. Dr. Black, renowned neurosurgeon suggests that parents try to curtail cell phone usage in their children. Even adults are encouraged to use an earpiece (not a blue tooth) to avoid direct contact between the phone and the ear.
I have started to use an earpiece myself.
Baby boomers can hardly believe it themselves. In 11 short years – by 2020 – they will hold that unthinkable collective title of “the older generation.”
Just as that milestone looms large, so do statistical realities. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2020 almost 20 percent of the U.S. population will be over 65; over 12 million people will be over 85; more than 500,000 Americans will be over 100 – the fastest growing age group of all!
How fast can you say “geriatrics”? The field is exploding by necessity. And providers are realizing the best way to tame projected healthcare needs is by taking preventive, proactive measures – now.
One area rife with possibility is brain fitness.
Yet baby boomers live in fear of Alzheimer’s disease and its accompanying dementia, rating it second only to cancer as their most dreaded medical diagnosis.
There is good news: there’s plenty that can be done to prevent cognitive loss by keeping the brain enriched. Clearly, nurses need to be on the cutting edge of awareness to help aging patients and families stay on the healthy aging highway.
Paul Nussbaum, PhD, associate adjunct professor, department of neurological surgery at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine in Pennsylvania has been lecturing across the country in an effort to educate healthcare providers, senior specialists and John Q. Public of the necessity for brain fitness.
The Promise of Brain Fitnes with Dr. Paul Nussbaum
Millions of children across the planet are enjoying their final weeks and days of summer break. Some of these children probably continued their academic habits by reading and attending different types of camps to stimulate their brains. My guess is the vast majority of children had “fun” meaning the academic part of their life has been tabled for the past two months.
Adjusting to the upcoming school year is never easy, regardless of age. With the remaining weeks left before school starts children might be wise to take 30 minutes a day to read and prepare for subjects that they have difficulty. There are some great workbooks at the local bookstores and your local school can most likely provide some worksheets to practice.
Lifestyle changes also need to begin including going to bed at earlier times in anticipation of having to rise quite early for the school day. Getting up earlier in the morning can help avoid the abrupt change from sleeping in to getting up four or more hours earlier that the school year demands.
Finally, children can think and talk about the good things they experience at school such as reuniting with friends and maybe a new pair of sneakers or a new outfit they can wear. The more school can be viewed as a positive the better the transition will be. It is always nice to hear a child say “I am excited to go back to school.”
SUMMER may not be the best time to cook, but it’s certainly among the best times to eat. Toss watermelon and peaches with some ingredients you have lying around already, and you can produce a salad that’s delicious, unusual, fast and perfectly seasonal.
In theory, each salad takes 20 minutes or less. Honestly, some may take you a little longer. But most minimize work at the stove and capitalize on the season, when tomatoes, eggplant, herbs, fruit, greens and more are plentiful and excellent.
This last point is important. Not everything needs to be farmers’ market quality, but it’s not too much to expect ripe fruit, fragrant herbs and juicy greens.
Salt, to taste, is a given in all of these recipes. Pepper, too (if I want you to use a lot of pepper, I say so).
Herein, then, are enough salad ideas to tide you over until the weather cools down.
101 Simple Salads for the Season
Do you know what it means to truly be fit? Heart disease now is the number 2 cause of death for children under the age of 16. Suicide rates have doubled for children from the ages of 5-14 over the past twenty years. This generation will be the first generation that will not outlive their parents.
How do you know if your children are what is defined as fit?
Some people may think being fit is defined as:
1. Being free of disease and other health problems.
2. Others may define it as having a lot of energy, a muscular or thin body or the ability to finish a vigorous exercise or activity.
However, fitness refers to your own optimal health and overall well-being. Fitness is a combination of wellness of the mind, body and spirit. In fact, all of these things are interconnected.
Fitness is your health at its very best. A child that is fit is not just physically fit, but he or she should have a great emotional and mental well-being as well.
Smart eating and active living are both instrumental to all three. Therefore, a parent should provide a combination of healthy meals and stimulating opportunities for physical activity every day for your children to remain at an optimal fitness level.
Are your children fit?, cont’d
Autism is a pervasive developmental disorder that includes a wide array of symptoms. We do not know the cause of autism and we have no cure. Much has been learned and autism is certainly no longer viewed as a single disorder or entity. The emotional strain on a family can be substantial, particularly when resistance to an emotional or loving attachment occurs.
I have been reading more about the positive effects of surfing on some children with autism. As I am not an expert in this area I want to be careful and inform the public that autism is not my area of specialization. However, I have now read several accounts of how a child suffering from autism has a type of “awakening” after some time in the water learning how to surf.
Obviously, the surfing I am describing involves one to one work with a trained surfer who has a gift of working with children suffering autism. It is also true that by these accounts that the first part of the experience can be difficult as the child experiences a natural fear of the ocean and strangers. It might be most difficult for the parents who are watching with great doubt.
The reports indicate that after a short period of time the child with autism not only relaxes, but begins to awaken to life and the surroundings in a way not seen prior to the surfing experience. It is not known why or how this occurs, but perhaps the child’s brain is literally overwhelmed with stimulation which helps to soothe and foster interaction with others in the immediate environment. One parent even described his child as being able to speak and connect in ways he thought was impossible.
Perhaps Mother Nature provides us with some treatments in her own way. The majesty of an ocean whose water fills 80% of our planet might have some answers for the brain. Maybe it is the movement, the energy, the sound, the rhythm. Even if we do not fully understand why, the fact that we have anecdotal evidence for surfing bringing some children with Autism to a new awakening is reason enough to ask more questions.
Neuropathologists can confirm clinical diagnoses at death by doing an autopsy. Such work can reveal the presence of markers characteristic of particular diseases. This might include neurofibrillary tangles and neuritic plaques indicating the presence of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) or stroke as examples.
The other interesting thing about autopsies of the brain is that the neuropathologist may uncover something peculiar about the person’s brain that can help to explain that person’s talent or brilliance in a particular activity. One example is Einstein’s brain that had a slightly different area of the parietal lobe relative to the rest of the population. This might help to explain his appreciation of space and numbers.
As I watched the recent funeral of Michael Jackson the most salient issue for me was the children. Like many, I hope and pray for their wellbeing and comfort. I have also noticed multiple articles in the media on determining cause of death in this case and the value of conducting an autopsy of the brain.
I understand the need to determine cause of death; however I am hopeful that any autopsy of the brain also sheds light on the brilliance and creative spirit of Michael. I wonder if the neuropathologist might discover some ideas within the folds and grooves of the brain that help all of us understand not only the brilliance of Michael, but of the human brain and our potential to create.