Tag Archives: brain training

Awareness in Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the leading cause of progressive dementia in the United States accounting for 95% of all dementias. It is believed that approximately 5 million Americans suffer AD and that this number will nearly triple in the next 40 years. AD is also on the increase worldwide.

AD is a progressive dementia that affects functions of memory, language, spatial skill, personality and functional ability. The disease continues to erode these functions rendering the patient completely dependent. It is generally believed that patients with more advanced AD are not aware of their condition and do not have an awareness of the people or places around them.

New research on awareness in those with vegetative state suggests this may not be true. Communication may also be possible for those in vegetative state. One case of a 29 year-old patient in a vegetative state was able to answer yes no questions by visualizing specific scenes the doctors asked him to imagine. The brain yielded different activity when different scenes were viewed. This particular patient was in a vegetative state for five years.

This new study published in the online version of the New England Journal of Medicine supports previous cases of awareness in those with vegetative state and raises significant issues concerning understanding of brain function and ethical matters dealing with end of life decisions.

Another suspicion this raises for me is whether a patient with advanced Alzheimer’s disease maintains some awareness of his surroundings. Perhaps the patient’s smile or blink to a family member has more meaning than we previously believed. It is not unreasonable to believe that the complexity of the human brain will not permit complete disconnect from those persons or things that are most important to that brain. We may simply not yet have the ability to measure such activity.

The new study reported in the online New England Journal of Medicine will help to spur research into this and other questions. We are on the frontier of an entirely new understanding of the human brain and we will be very surprised by how we have underestimated its ability and power. I refer to this new exploration of human brain potential as “neural energies.”

Mind Training in the Military

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.

Can Exercising Your Brain Prevent Memory Loss?

Scientists all over the world are starting to agree that stimulating the brain can improve brain power. Numerous studies show that activities such as interactive games can help maintain key cognitive functions.

According to a new study presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 61st Annual Meeting, participating in certain mental activities, like reading magazines or crafting in middle age or later in life, may delay or prevent memory loss. The study involved 197 people between the ages of 70 and 89 with mild cognitive impairment, or diagnosed memory loss, and 1,124 people that age with no memory problems.

The study found that during later years, reading books, participating in computer activities, playing games and doing craft activities such as pottery or quilting led to a 30 to 50 percent decrease in the risk of developing memory loss compared to people who did not do those activities.

To read the full article

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Obesity and a Happy Brain

Brain HealthAs most of us get into middle age we might take special notice of our body’s ability to keep a few extra pounds around the waist. Most of us understand the importance of eating healthy and the disease risk associated with extra weight around the belly.

Recent research suggests the brain’s ability to sense gratification may be critical to overeating behavior. We may have a gene that assists us with knowing when we are filled after eating. Research now indicates that a brain that does not express satiation will lead to continued eating and increased risk of obesity.

We know that a healthy diet and regular exercise are very important for maintaining a healthy weight and avoiding obesity. However, genetics also plays a role in which an important neurochemical, Dopamine, may play a critical role. Dopamine is the primary neurochemical that regulates our pleasure sensation.

Eating temporarily boosts dopamine levels, but obesity may be associated with fewer Dopamine receptors which lead to less sensation of pleasure with eating. Research now suggests that the brain regions important to Dopamine expression when eating treats such as a milkshake does not get activated in those who are obese.

Interestingly, Dopamine has been studied as a primary mechanism for addiction and impulsive behavior including eating. Attempts are underway to try and understand how Dopamine might be triggered even in obesity to reduce impulsive eating so as to reduce gaining more weight. To read more about Dopamine, click here

Practical Tips for Your Executive System

No worry, this is not a list of leadership skills or how to become the best CEO in the world! Rather, you may not even realize you have your own “Executive System” that sits in the region of your brain known as the frontal lobe. The largest and youngest member of your cortex, the frontal lobe is a very interesting part of you. It facilitates many important and distinct skills that are used everyday. Examples of such skills include planning, organization, analytic, sequencing, multi-tasking, inhibition, creativity, attention and discrimination, fluency, emotional expression and perception, ethics and social grace, and judgment. Even your personality is the product of frontal lobe function!

We refer to the frontal lobe as the “executive system” because it serves the role of executing the multiple intentions that arrive from other parts of the brain. It is the CEO of the brain or the grand Maestro of the behavioral and cognitive symphony of the brain. Clearly, the frontal lobe—executive system is critical to your neuronal health.

Some practical tips to stimulate and exercise your executive system include the following:

1. Organize your day, organize your room (good one for the teenagers in the house!), and help to organize an event or even your child’s schedule.

2. Participate in planning a vacation, trip, or some future event.

3. Practice expressing different emotions and then perceiving emotions on the faces of others.

4. Practice stating aloud the alphabet, but alternate between letters and numbers in a logical order. Any time you can alternate between two distinct categories is a workout for your executive system.

5. Give yourself some free time to imagine and create.

6. Pay attention to ethics and decision making that involves good or poor judgment.

7. Watch how typical personality traits can change with stress, mood, and alcohol. These chemical triggers alter the frontal lobe and can also alter one’s personality for a temporary period of time.

8. Express as many words as you can in 60 seconds that begin with different letters.

9. Draw 30 small circles on the page and write words of different colors under each circle. Then color the circles with a color that is different than the word you wrote under the particular circle. Now, state aloud the color of the circle, not the written word for each of the 30 circles as fast as you can. See how many you can correctly state in 30 seconds.
10. Go to www.Fitbrains.com and play the following games to exercise your executive system:

Good luck with your workout!

Economic Anxiety and our Health

economy.jpgThe world economic situation is fertile ground for anxiety, some realistic and other perpetuated from misinformation and personal agendas. It is important to take some time to consider the following as methods for coping with these uncertain times:

  • 1. Information and knowledge will help to reduce anxiety, even when the information is not positive. Most of us experience anxiety or unease when we are confronted with uncertainty. As such, it is a good idea to spend some time researching the economic issues (stock market, credit, employment, etc) from a variety of viewpoints. You may have noticed that reading and predicting the economy is not a science, but for those in the stock market, there are predictable patterns based on many years of past behavior. This should provide some certainty even though the present represents a turbulent time.
  • 2. Meet with your financial planner to review all investments and liabilities. He or she will help you reduce your risk and loss while planning appropriately for the near and long term future.
  • 3. Have a family meeting to discuss the issues and to provide a forum to express fears and hopes. Make a family plan that adapts spending and saving to the current market demands.
  • 4. Place a focus on your emotional condition and make an extra effort to exercise and eat healthy. This will enable your body to handle the stress better.
  • 5. This is a great time to use relaxation procedures such as breathing and progressive muscle relaxation. Meditation is also a good daily activity.
  • 6. Have faith in our human innovative and adaptive nature and believe that we will survive this period of uncertainty.
  • 7. Reach out to others who may be in a particularly difficult situation and offer them your time and friendship.

Try the Fit Brains brain games.

Brain Better than Calculator

books.jpgI have the wonderful opportunity of traveling the nation and internationally to speak about the wonderful miracle of the human brain. During my public presentations I always describe the brain as the most complicated, integrated, and miraculous system ever designed in the history of the Universe! I then scream from the mountaintops that we need to understand that our greatest moments of innovation, creativity, cures for illness, and ability to communicate in ways we only dream about now will be accomplished by learning how to tap into the greatness of our brain!

It is from this context that I read my local newspaper to find the following headline “Brains beat buttons for learning mathematics.” New research finds that third graders learn multiplication better when they use their brains before they use a calculator. The results of this study can be found in the next issue of the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology and the article is published in The Pittsburgh Tribune Review (Sept 4, 2008).

We have known for some time that learning is enhanced when the person doing the learning “does it on his or her own.” This is another way of saying “uses his or her brain.” We also know that the more one is exposed to a particular stimulus the more deeply they will remember or encode it. This again reflects the ability and efficiency of the human brain. The calculator is an external device that appears to have a secondary and reinforcing purpose to what the brain has already learned.

From a brain health perspective, we as a society will be better off when we use our brains first and rely on technological devices (invented by the human brain) in secondary roles. The former involves stimulation of the cortex that will develop brain reserve. A reliance on technologies such as a calculator will cause the brain to use the subcortex which is more rote, passive and procedural in its processing.

By using our cortex in complex pursuits we will always be on a path to brain health (brain fitness, brain games). Reliance on passive behaviors such as using a calculator will put us on a path to rote processing with less health benefit.

So… tonight I will remind my sons to use their brain first to solve the math homework as I have a personal interest in their learning and in their brain health!

Try the Fit Brains brain games.