The winter of 2010 has been particularly rough or impressive depending on your frame of reference. Having spent 10 years in Tucson, Arizona and now living in the eastern part of the United States, I am on the side of “rough.” For millions of people all across the planet, the winter of 2010 has caused school closings, car accidents, loss of power, plenty of exercise with shoveling, water damage, and eventual flooding. The chronic nature of the 2010 winter season has also caused our mood to sour.
Chronic stress can certainly cause changes in the brain. Research indicates this can occur in the form of structural and chemical change. Post-traumatic stress disorder is one type of psychological disorder caused by a life-threatening stressor though reduced efficiency and functionality can also be caused by an unrelenting stressor in our lives. One aspect of the chemical alteration in our brains is a change in our moods. This might mean a clinical disorder such as depression or seasonal affective disorder or a more mild change such as increased irritability, fatigue, frustration, and a sense of hopelessness. Mother Nature is in charge!
It is important to recognize your own situation and how you and your loved ones may be coping with such a difficult winter. For those of us who are not “winter people” this can be a difficult challenge. Some coping mechanisms to consider include:
1. Remember spring is getting closer each day.
2. Use the down time to engage in family activities.
3. Get some work done organizing or cleaning the house.
4. Try to recreate in the snow as a family.
5. Shovel the snow as a family (if you are physically able shoveling is a good exercise, but remember to bend your knees and proceed in small steps).
6. Build a fire if you have a fireplace and enjoy the moment.
7. Use relaxation and meditation daily to cope.
8. Be conscious of how you are feeling.
9. Talk to your doctor about light therapy if needed.
10. Spring is getting closer each day.
Bundle up and we will get through this together.
We have seen tragedies play out on the evening news describing how different people, including some famous persons, have lost their lives from accidents on the ski slopes or sled riding. For most, the winter related accidents involve falls with head injuries and head injuries remain a major problem for the young and old.
Sitting with our skull is our 3 to 4 pound brain that enables our every thought, movement, and emotion. It is critically important that everyone consider the sage advice of wearing a helmet when skiing, sledding, tubing, and even ice or roller skating. The same is true of bike riding, motorbike or motorcycle riding, skateboarding, and anything that involves wheels. As it is winter for many of us I want to reinforce the need for helmets with the sports in the snow.
While it may not be cool or attractive to wear a helmet, it certainly is much better than suffering a head injury that can lead to cognitive, emotional, and motor deficits or even death. Take a few moments this winter and place a protective helmet on your brain!
I read with some interest a recent article in The Wall Street Journal Tuesday, November 3, 2009 about caregivers of spouses with Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) who find new companions for love. The article questioned whether such behavior could be considered adultery?
We have nearly 5 million Americans with AD and at least that many at risk. The number of those with AD will likely continue to grow to as many as 15 million by 2050. A recent survey reported there will be nearly 35 million with AD across the planet. Many of those suffering AD are married and the healthy spouse can serve the role of caregiver for many years, including a significant amount of time when their spouse with AD no longer recognizes them. The role of caregiver is difficult and ripe with emotional, physical, and financial stress. The article in the Wall Street Journal raises another stressor which is the idea that the healthy spouse may be without intimacy, love, and companionship for many years.
It is nearly impossible to understand how emotionally difficult it must be to care for a spouse with AD. Some describe AD as two deaths, one when you are told about the diagnosis and the second with the actual physical death of your loved one. Along the course of AD, a spouse will no longer recognize his or her partner. A healthy spouse who provides care to their partner with AD is vulnerable to loneliness, depression, and ongoing loss. How does one cope with loss of the emotional connection or loss of love in the traditional sense when your spouse is physically still present?
The Journal article raises many thoughts and ideas that do not have easy answers. I think it points out that we need to support even more our caregivers who dedicate so much of their time to their spouses with AD.
A recent article in US News discussed the brain health of all 50 states and the District of Columbia in the United States. An index that was comprised of diet (36%), physical health (25%), mental health (24%), and social well being (15%) was used to compare the states. Data was gathered from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institute of Health, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Results from the study revealed the following top ten brainiest cities:
1. Washington DC
3. Washington State
8. New Jersey
10. New Hampshire
It is important to be proactive in your brain health lifestyle. Dr. Nussbaum (www.paulnussbaum.com), Chief Scientific Officer for Fitbrains, Inc. underscores the importance of a brain health lifestyle that includes socialization, nutrition, physical activity, mental stimulation, and spirituality.
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.
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:
- Mental Stimulation
- Physical Activity
Take the Brain LifeStyle Quiz