Category Archives: General Information

On That Annual Resolution

By now most of us have declared our 2012 resolution (s) with great passion and hope. Honesty tells us that we may have been in this same spot last year with a wonderful declaration to give this up or to start that. Well, what happened? How many actually accomplished their 2011 resolution and if not, why not?

First, the hardest thing to do is to change another person’s behavior. The second hardest thing to do is to change our own behavior, particularly when it comes to lifestyle. We know that the resolution to eat healthy is a great idea, but why are so many of us not able to follow through? We know losing weight is tremendously helpful to our health, yet many of us are actually gaining weight! We even know that being more patient and understanding of others can reduce our stress, but that irritability and anger often creeps in.

So there is an obvious disconnect between what we know to be good for our health and what we actually do. Why? I suggest that you take a good look at your resolution for 2012. Please try to keep it to one resolution, remember behavior change is hard and we need some success for the entire year. Second, develop a resolution that is personally relevant to you, something that is meaningful. Is losing weight really something you feel personally? The more personal something is the better chance you have to change or to begin. Third, who is holding you accountable? You need someone other than yourself to hold you accountable. Finally, with success comes a reward. Establish up front what your reward for successful completion of the resolution is and enjoy it!

  1. One resolution only.
  2. Make the resolution personal.
  3. Identify who will hold you accountable?
  4. Reward yourself upon your success.

Have a great 2012!

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.