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.
A recent study supported by the National Football League indicates that Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) or related conditions involving memory deficits appear to occur more frequently in the league’s former players significantly more than the general population. Indeed, the study indicates former players suffer dementia 19 times more often than the normal rate for men ages 30-49.
The study conducted by the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research is consistent with previous studies pertaining to NFL players and the effects of head injury. The study found that 6.1% of players age 50 and above reported that they had received a dementia-related diagnosis or 5x higher than the cited national average which is 1.2 %. Players ages 30 through 49 evinced a rate of 1.9% or 19 times that of the national average which is documented to be .01%.
Critics of the study question its methodology that reportedly used telephone surveys. However, research beyond the NFL consistently lists head injury as a risk factor for AD even though the exact mechanism for this relationship is not yet known.
Perhaps a more significant issue that the NFL/Dementia study underscores is the cumulative effect of head injury which likely begins with the sport of football well before any single player enters the NFL. Fortunately there are now sophisticated assessment protocols that provide each player in high school the opportunity to have his or her cognitive skills measured, thereby providing a baseline of their cognitive status. In the event a concussion occurs the player can obtain another assessment to measure the impact of the head injury that helps to keep the player off the field until his or her cognitive status returns to baseline.
It is most likely not a good idea to engage in any activity that has persistent striking of the head to any degree. Head injuries occur in football, hockey, and perhaps even soccer. The fact that the latter sport does not permit use of head bands or some type of head gear is amazing! The current study should alert the nation to re-consider youth sports as the cumulative effect of striking the head across the lifespan most likely contributes to the results reported. Equally significant is the idea that any child would be exposed to a potential head injury when his or her brain is undergoing critical development.
Mind training and meditation is now being used by some parts of the military. The mind body connection is now being recognized by military leaders to teach soldiers how to build confidence, set goals and channel their energy to a higher focus. The benefits of such training include better aim on the shooting range, higher test scores, enhanced ability to handle combat stress and to adjust back to civilian life. In fact nearly 70% of a small sample of soldiers who completed the training reported they felt better able to handle stressful situations and 66% had improved self control.
Neural energies is a term I use to describe the brain’s ability to modify or control internal workings of the body and external experiences. The mind training is but a first step to more advanced neural energy utilization that we will witness in the near future.
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.”
Perhaps the most fundamental and critical behavior of your brain is language. The ability to communicate is necessary to our species and survival. Language is predominantly a left-hemisphere and verbal function. However, language also entails prosody or pitch and tone without words, letters, or numbers. Language involves spontaneity, content, tempo, volume, and comprehension. Language is symbolic, spoken, written, perceived and comprehended.
Read more about Language Skills…
The human brain is very complex and responsible for all behavior, and we are continually learning new information about how it operates. Behavioral and cognitive functions can be organized into five distinct domains to include : Memory, Attention & Concentration, Language Skills, Visual & Spatial and Executive Functions (Logic & Reasoning).
Memory and new learning is a necessary and important function of the human brain. Our ability to live independently and to function normally is a direct result of a normal memory system. Our life story is built by encoding and retaining our daily experiences. Our personal identity is framed by our memory and ability to learn from these memories.
Memory and new learning begins with the Hippocampus, a critical structure in the middle temporal lobes of both hemispheres of the brain. This is the structure that enables learning and transition of new learning into a permanent storage site in the Cortex. The Hippocampus has the ability to generate new brain cells with stimulating environments, can be damaged with chronic stress, and is hit early by Alzheimer’s disease. Damage to the Hippocampus results in memory deficits.
Read more about Memory…