Category Archives: General Information

Health and The Daily Meal

Socialization and mental stimulation are two of the five major components of my brain health lifestyle ® (see One practical tip I have advocated is having one meal a day with the family, friends, or even with new people. I believe this activity is not only social, it promotes story telling, communication, listening to music, use of utensils to consume healthy foods, and slowing down. One activity provides socialization, mental stimulation, nutrition, and even spirituality. Four of the five major components of my brain health lifestyle ® are accomplished with one 45 to 60 minute activity!

It was with great enthusiasm that I read an article in my local newspaper yesterday that outlined a new study detailing the benefits of eating a daily meal with the family. The benefits were particularly important to the emotional and cognitive health of children. The study was published in the American Journal of Pediatrics and supports the health benefits of a non-medical behavioral ritual of our society. The critical point is that we need to work to create and to respect the daily meal and to not let our “busy lives” interfere with this important and necessary daily tradition.

Memorial Day and the Power of Memory

Sometimes it is worthwhile to stop and consider how brilliant and powerful the human brain is that it permits us to not only observe life unfolding in front of us, but also record it forever. Memory is such a fascinating and complex behavior that we do not fully understand how it works. Our ability to remember, however, permits us to build our autobiography, our own personal life story.

The brain is really not like a computer because there is not finite space or hard drive. Indeed, the brain has plasticity and can continue to encode and retain new experiences across the lifespan. This creates a dynamic and fluid capacity for our autobiography to be developed and told.

It is true that some memories are not positive and may be difficult to erase from the life story. This can lead to post-traumatic-stress-disorder and may reduce a person’s ability to function normally. Fortunately, we can replay the positive memories in our lives and this can help to create feelings of happiness and to ease our sorrow when we grieve the loss of a loved one.

Today, the United States honors its veterans for their dedication and sacrifice to our freedom and liberty. Veterans are fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, and many have fallen to the call of duty. I hope the families of all veterans tap into the positive memories of their loved ones to make this special holiday a good one.

Happy Memorial Day!

Bilingualism and the Brain

I have written and spoken many times about the concept of “brain reserve” which refers to the development of cellular connections that provide a type of synaptic density (like a jungle of connections in the brain) throughout the cortex. It is thought that brain reserve is a reflection of a healthy brain and further helps to delay onset of neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s disease (AD).

A new study indicates bilingualism is another avenue to building brain reserve and a potential delaying agent against dementia. Interestingly, language development has been a consistent and robust correlation of brain health and a protective factor.  The development of a second language early in life has typically been the focus of study, however the development of a second language, even some parts of the language, appears to be beneficial from a health perspective.

The research from Toronto, Canada found that of the 450 Alzheimer’s patients studied (all with same level of impairment), those who were bilingual were diagnosed with the disease four to five years later than those who spoke but one language. The study results were presented at the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The scientists believe the learning of a new language helps to develop the executive system in the frontal lobe that might help to provide a buffer against the ravages of dementia.

Within a brain health lifestyle (see, mental stimulation and exposure to the novel and complex are essential. This one pillar of my brain health lifestyle helps to build reserve. Language development, including a second language fits with this approach. The study also comes on the heels of another stud that found a correlation between deafness or reduced auditory input and risk of dementia. The possible factor in that relationship is the increased risk of isolation for the person and the brain if incoming information is not processed. Isolation has been established as a consistent factor with risk of dementia.

Language and language development is a critical behavior for brain health. Consider learning some parts of a new language including sign language as part of your proactive brain health lifestyle.

Fear of Alzheimer’s Disease (AD)

A recent survey conducted by Harris Interactive that polled 2,100 adults found Alzheimer’s Disease to be the most feared disabling disease with 61% responding as such. 48% rated cancer the most feared while 32% said stroke, 18% heart disease and 8% diabetes. This is a finding that is consistent with other surveys of baby boomers who rate memory loss as a top concern.

We do not have a cure or even a prevention for AD, but research suggests lifestyle choices can help to promote brain health and perhaps delay onset of such neurodegenerative diseases. A proactive brain health lifestyle ® is suggested from the earliest of ages (see You can learn and apply behavioral change to areas of socialization, nutrition, physical activity, mental stimulation, and spirituality as part of your overall brain health lifestyle ®.

Christmas, the Holiday Season, and our Psychology

Christmas and the Holiday Season represent much to the human psyche and have for thousands of years. Some will experience great joy, others a deep sense of reflection, and still others sadness. This will be a time of family reunion and an opportunity to rekindle relationships and heal wounds. Above all, it represents a time of spiritual connection and religious conviction.

Each of these emotions, good and bad are certainly related to and a product of brain function. We have some control over the feelings we experience, again an adaptive capacity of our brain. While there may be a reasonable sense to head in the emotional direction of sadness or bitterness you might try to divert to a more positive and happy emotion this Holiday Season.

Some practical steps towards happiness include:

1.    Give thanks for your ability to experience this Holiday.
2.    Take a moment and look at your family members.
3.    Pray for those less fortunate.
4.    Enjoy this day, it may be our last.
5.    Give away some of your possessions to the needy.
6.    Hug the little ones in your life.
7.    Hold the hand of an older one in your life.
8.    Tell those around you how much they mean to you.
9.    Stop what you are doing and close your eyes.
10.    Enjoy the few moments of happiness that can lead to more.

I wish everyone on our planet a very Merry 2010 Christmas, a joyous Holiday Season, and a 2011 New Year filled with happiness. I pray the people of this Earth live in harmony and peace with the understanding that is true greatness comes from working and living together.

Modern Day Socialization

One of the five main pillars of my Brain Health Lifestyle ® is Socialization. The human brain is nurtured with social interaction and the mental stimulation such human connection can promote. Research has consistently shown that humans who isolate and segregate have a higher risk of dementia, including that caused by Alzheimer’s disease (AD).

Traditional socialization includes gatherings of humans where face to face contact can occur. We have plenty of opportunity for this on a daily basis at home, work, school, sporting events, parties, meeting, and other such gatherings. There is a new type of socialization that has emerged, however, and I refer to this as “modern day socialization.”

Modern day socialization is born from the technology age and a generation of youth who communicate and interact via gadgets, not the mouth. Cell phones, computers, IPods, IPads, and videogames are the mechanics of such socialization. Programs such as email, text messaging, Ichat, Skype, and social media are used daily.

Research conducted at the University of Texas suggests that social networking sites like Facebook actually help in socialization. Findings indicate that Facebook does not supplant face to face interaction between friends and family. Indeed, such virtual social sites or social media actually promote opportunities for new expressions of friendship, debate, and even development of deeper relationships.

900 college students and recent graduates were surveyed about how and with whom they interact on Facebook. More than 60% of Facebook users said posting status updates was among the most popular activities, followed by 60% who wrote comments on their profile and 49% who posted messages and comments to friends.

Interestingly, the research indicated that while men and women use Facebook they do so in different ways (supports gender differences in brain function). Women tend to use more affectionate content and they are especially interested in connection. Men tend to use Facebook as a tool or as a functional means. As an example, women may post more pictures of social gatherings while men post pictures of hobbies or pop-culture link.

Facebook and other social media represent a new means for socialization. The underlying foundation of human interaction and the need for such interaction on brain health and overall wellbeing remains strong however. Technology will always advance, but the critical ingredients to human happiness will likely remain constant.

Thanksgiving Holiday: Avoiding the Stressful Trap

As I provide my talks on brain health and lifestyle across the nation I spend some time talking about the importance of socialization to brain health. This includes remaining integrated in society, defining a role and purpose to your time, and building strong family and friendship networks. The latter point is the one that is perhaps most difficult for us as we all have tension in one or more relationships and these relationships are often within the family.

I often offer audience members the idea of teaching the next psychopathology class at the local university with me. I let them know that Thanksgiving is a wonderful real world laboratory to observe and experience plenty of family/friend based tension to talk about during the class!

On a more serious note, Thanksgiving Holiday is a wonderful time to be with family and friends, reflect on all we have, and pray for those who are hurting or alone. This is only true, however, if we permit our experience of this holiday to be positive and to avoid the many traps of stress and tension that exist on this wonderful Thursday each November.

One key to achieving the positive outcome with Thanksgiving is to keep your focus on the larger picture and refrain from the small stuff. Enjoy the time with your family and pay attention to the effort made to provide a nice meal. Listen to the stories and simply look at those around you. What if this was your last Thanksgiving? Go overboard with the praise and thanks to those who provide the meal and open their home to you. Have the courage to tell everyone there something positive, especially to those where the tension exists. Think about those who may not be able to be there with you and let everyone know you are thinking of them. Praise our veterans who are many miles away from home on this day. Above all, give thanks for the opportunity to enjoy this great day.

Some research indicates our brains’ electrical activity is generated in the front left region when we have positive and hopeful thoughts. Similar activity is generated in the right front region when we are nervous or anxious, stressed, and perhaps negative in our thinking. The key to Thanksgiving is to focus on the positive, get the left front region of your brain busy, and enjoy the good feelings that will emerge.

Stay with the big picture of the day and do not focus on the small stuff!

Happy Thanksgiving.