Tag Archives: Brain Science

The 5 Major Brain Areas: Memory

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

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…

Implications of Poverty on the Brain

Most advanced nations spend a significant amount of time, money, and energy dealing with poverty and the short and long term consequences for those who live in poverty. Policy statements are drafted and then implemented with varying degrees of success. One thing is certain, no policy has removed poverty suggesting that we either have not implemented the correct policy or poverty is a reality of life.

One aspect of poverty that probably does not receive enough attention is the negative health outcomes that result from such an environment. Studies many years ago demonstrated the negative effects of an un-enriched environment on rats. Interestingly, the brain was significantly affected both structurally and functionally. For humans, poverty really represents an unenriched environment in which poor nutrition, lack of love and attention, crime, drugs, insecurity, and lack of proper mental stimulation exist.

A nation enlightened to development of our youth and to creation of a policy that understands the impact of poverty will confront this reality. Research has demonstrated a correlation between poverty in childhood and increased risk for Alzheimer’s disease later in life. While there are short term consequences of poverty, there are also long term effects particularly when one understands that poverty limits proper development of the human brain.

Perhaps a first step in creating a policy on poverty is to educate the public on the importance of environmental input early in life upon later development of the human brain. Most families will work to follow such educational guidelines if they understand what to do with regard to promoting brain health for their own children. For those who are vulnerable and without resources or adults to provide the enriched environment policies can address what is needed and appropriate resources to help developing children thrive.

More Americans taking drugs for Mental Illness

Significantly more Americans are taking prescription drugs for mental illness since 1996 according to a new study. Researchers believe the increase is due in part to expanded insurance coverage and a greater familiarity with the drugs among primary care doctors.

The findings indicate 73% more adults and 50% more children are using drugs to treat mental illness than in 1986. Among those over the age of 65, use of psychotropic medication has doubled between 1996 and 2006. Similarly, children diagnosed and treated for mental health conditions by their primary care physician have doubled between 1996 and 2006.

Mental health has become more of a mainstream issue within overall health and access to such care has improved. One problem the researches underscore is the lack of access to mental health services by the severely mentally ill. Lack of treatment can lead to these individuals ending up in the criminal justice system according to the researchers.

While the researchers point out that access to mental health services has increased significantly and that this is a positive outcome, it is also reasonable to question if something else besides access accounts for increased utilization of psychotropic medication. In particular, why are so many children being treated for mental health problems and being treated with medication?

It is important for the United States and all nations to provide appropriate diagnostic and treatment interventions. This includes medication and non-medication treatments and certainly a greater reliance on proactive rather than reactive approaches to care.

Single Brain Cell may Help Paralysis

Recent research on monkeys indicates one brain cell may have the power to restore voluntary movement of paralyzed muscles. Nearly every neuron tested by scientists demonstrated the ability to activate muscles immobilized by drugs in monkeys.

Some suggest that if a monkey can learn how to harness the power of a single neuron to activate muscles that have paralysis, the effect should be even more powerful in humans. This research finding has significant implications for the hundreds of thousands of people with spinal cord injuries annually.

It is thought that some types of spinal cord injuries result in paralysis in which the person is fully conscious inside a body that does not respond to commands. While the brain activity that would normally result in voluntary movement is still present, the directions for such movement do not reach the muscle.

The current research on monkey brain cells suggests a potential therapeutic mechanism by bypassing the type of nerve damage that can result in such paralysis. The brain can learn to control new cells and use them to generate movements quickly. Creating electrical stimulation from new neuronal activation in muscles that are paralyzed represents a future oriented treatment direction for those who suffer paralysis.

Mind over Matter

When I present my keynote address on Brain Health I try to provide the audience with a glimpse of how complicated and miraculous the human brain really is. I typically make a statement that one day the human brain will be able to fix the maladies of the human body and that one day the human brain will communicate with other brains without opening the mouth.

While this may sound a bit science fiction I believe it to be true. A recent report provides yet more support for where our planet is heading. The automaker Honda has been funding research and development into the ability of the human brain via thoughts to relay commands to a robot that will alter the function of the car. If one wants the air conditioner turned on he or she can complete this by simply thinking the wish and the brain signals will trigger a robot mechanism to make the command happen.

In the near or distant future we will be able to conduct our basic daily functions from mental energies that will enable a much more efficient use of time and energy. It represents a true technological advancement based from the brain. Ultimately, this use of energy will be from brain to brain.

Some Medications May Help to Cut Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease

A recent report indicates aspirin and non-steroidal antinflammatory drugs seem to have the positive and perhaps unexpected benefit, of cutting a person’s risk of developing AD.

Researchers at John’s Hopkins reviewed data from 13,499 cases to measure the protective effect from these commonly used drugs on AD risk. Over the course of the studies 820 people developed AD. However, those who used the non-steroidal drugs including aspirin, Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin and other brands) and Naproxen together had a 23% lower risk for AD than those who did not use such medications.

Researchers stated that while the different types of medications have different properties, they seemed to deliver the same level of protection. This study and others in the past underscore the probable contribution of an inflammatory process related to AD.

This study and the others do not suggest everyone should start taking these medications, but it might be a good topic to discuss with your doctor.

Sunshine on the Brain

beach1.jpgThe summer months bring warm weather, blue sky, and plenty of sunshine. For some, if not most, we may notice our mood becomes a bit happier. Is there a relationship between the sunshine and our mood? Probably, but why?

Some studies have reported a relationship between Vitamin D that is derived from sunshine and different physiological measures in the human body. Sunlight has also been related to mood with a disorder known as “Seasonal Affective Disorder” in which those not exposed to enough sunlight can become depressed. Indeed, special lights have been prescribed for those with seasonal affective disorder to help their brains gain more ultraviolet exposure to lift their mood.

Sunshine also tends to come with blue sky, relates to an increased ability to get outside and move about in nature, and to recreate more. Each of these factors is important and is related indirectly to mood enhancement.

It is important to pay attention to your own mood and determine what environmental factors may help you feel happier. If sunshine and blue sky lift your spirits try to prescribe yourself increased time outside. You may feel more energy, higher sense of self and increased productivity.

Take the suntan lotion with you!

Try the Fit Brains brain games.