Category Archives: brain function

Music Has Powerful (and Visible) Effects on the Brain

Regular readers know by now that I am a music lover. I have listened to it all my life. I remember the little radio we had back in the 1940’s when I was growing up. Cut to today when I have a bluetooth speaker on my bike that plays music from the iPhone in my pocket. So, I was thrilled to learn how music has positive impacts on my brain.

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It doesn’t matter if it’s Bach, the Beatles, Brad Paisley or Bruno Mars. Your favorite music likely triggers a similar type of activity in your brain as other people’s favorites do in theirs.

That’s one of the things Jonathan Burdette, M.D., has found in researching music’s effects on the brain.

“Music is primal. It affects all of us, but in very personal, unique ways,” said Burdette, a neuroradiologist at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. “Your interaction with music is different than mine, but it’s still powerful.

“Your brain has a reaction when you like or don’t like something, including music. We’ve been able to take some baby steps into seeing that, and ‘dislike’ looks different than ‘like’ and much different than ‘favorite.’”

To study how music preferences might affect functional brain connectivity – the interactions among separate areas of the brain – Burdette and his fellow investigators used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which depicts brain activity by detecting changes in blood flow. Scans were made of 21 people while they listened to music they said they most liked and disliked from among five genres (classical, country, rap, rock and Chinese opera) and to a song or piece of music they had previously named as their personal favorite. Continue reading

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Cholesterol levels linked Alzheimer’s – MNT

I have mentioned previously about losing three family members to Alzheimer’s Disease and/or dementia. Hence, my own serious concern about these mental conditions. I remember my aunt whom Alzheimer’s took had very high cholesterol late in life and had been warned by her doctor that she needed to get her numbers down. So, this study from  Medical News Today published several years ago had real meaning for me.

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Project leader Bruce Reed, a professor of neurology at the University of California (UC) Davis, and associate director of its Alzheimer’s Disease Center, says:

“Our study shows that both higher levels of HDL – good – and lower levels of LDL – bad – cholesterol in the bloodstream are associated with lower levels of amyloid plaque deposits in the brain.”

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7 steps for brain health from childhood to old age – AHA

The American Heart Association (AHA) has a superb rundown on the benefits of a healthy lifestyle, literally from cradle to grave. I can’t tell you how gratifying it is to see these concepts broadcast by the mainstream health outlets like the AHA. The following is directly from them. At the end I have listed some of my posts which flesh out these steps. Remember, eat less; move more; live longer.

A healthy lifestyle benefits your brain as much as the rest of your body — and may lessen the risk of cognitive decline (a loss of the ability to think well) as you age, according to a new advisory from the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association.

 

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Both the heart and brain need adequate blood flow, but in many people, blood vessels slowly become narrowed or blocked over the course of their life, a disease process known as atherosclerosis, the cause of many heart attacks and strokes. Many risk factors for atherosclerosis can be modified by following a healthy diet, getting enough physical activity, avoiding tobacco products and other strategies.

“Research summarized in the advisory convincingly demonstrates that the same risk factors that cause atherosclerosis, are also major contributors to late-life cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease. By following seven simple steps — Life’s Simple 7 — not only can we prevent heart attack and stroke, we may also be able to prevent cognitive impairment,” said vascular neurologist Philip Gorelick, M.D., M.P.H., the chair of the advisory’s writing group and executive medical director of Mercy Health Hauenstein Neurosciences in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

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How avocados and nuts could boost intelligence – MNT

Here is some heartening news for folks worried about fats consumption.

You may want to think about adding avocados, olive oil, and nuts to your grocery list, since a new study has suggested that the monounsaturated fatty acids in these foods could boost intelligence.

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Researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found that higher levels of monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) in the blood correlated with greater general intelligence in older adults.

Study leader Aron K. Barbey, a professor of psychology at the university, and colleagues recently reported their results in the journal Neuroimage.

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Dancing can reverse the signs of aging in the brain – Study

Use it or lose it continues to reverberate as I learn about work done trying to understand aging and its effect on the human brain. Here is a study published in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience.

“Exercise has the beneficial effect of slowing down or even counteracting age-related decline in mental and physical capacity,” says Dr Kathrin Rehfeld, lead author of the study, based at the German center for Neurodegenerative Diseases, Magdeburg, Germany.

From animal research, it is known that combining physical activity with sensory enrichment has stronger and longer-lasting effects on the brain than either treatment alone. For humans dancing has been suggested to be analogous to such combined training. Here we assessed whether a newly designed dance training program that stresses the constant learning of new movement patterns is superior in terms of neuroplasticity to conventional fitness activities with repetitive exercises and whether extending the training duration has additional benefits.

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The study was designed as an 18-month controlled intervention. It was approved by the ethics committee of Otto-von-Guericke University, Magdeburg. Some 52 healthy elderly individuals (63–80 years) recruited via announcements in local newspapers were screened for the study. They were then randomly assigned to either the dance or the sport group. Assessments were performed at baseline, after 6 and after 18 months of training. Continue reading

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Brain activity may predict stress-related cardiovascular risk – AHA

I have written numerous posts on the brain, stress and relaxation. This study seems to be an amalgam of them all. If you want to read further on any of them, punch the word into the S E A R C H box at the right and have at it. There is a lot of information available.

  • A pattern of brain activity that occurs during psychological stress may predict bodily reactions, such as surges in our blood pressure, that increase risk for cardiovascular disease.
  • People who have exaggerated responses to stressors, like large rises in blood pressure or heart rate, are at greater risk of developing hypertension and premature death from cardiovascular disease, researchers say.

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The brain may have a distinctive activity pattern during stressful events that predicts bodily reactions, such as rises in blood pressure that increase risk for cardiovascular disease, according to new proof-of-concept research in the Journal of the American Heart Association, the Open Access Journal of the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association. Continue reading

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When writing interferes with hearing – Study

This is a little off the beaten path for me, but I thought any information on brain function is useful information. The following is from Science Daily.

A cochlear implant is an electronic device capable of restoring hearing in a profoundly deaf person by directly stimulating the nerve endings in the inner ear. This technology enables people who have become deaf to be able to communicate orally again, even by telephone, and children born deaf to learn to speak and to benefit from normal schooling. However, results can be extremely variable, with implants having only little benefit for some patients, without any means of predicting failure based only on purely clinical factors. Using data from brain imaging techniques that enable visualizing the brain’s activity, a neuroscientist at the University of Geneva (UNIGE) and a Parisian ENT surgeon have managed to decipher brain reorganization processes at work when people start to lose their hearing, and thus predict the success or failure of a cochlear implant among people who have become profoundly deaf in their adult life. The results of this research may be found in Nature Communications.

Up, red: right occipito-temporal coupling during deafness, indicating a poor cochlear implant prognosis. Below, blue: right occipito-tempora uncoupling after deafness, indicating a good cochlear implant outcome (adapted from Strelnikov et al. 2013).
Credit: © UNIGE – Institut Vernes, Paris

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Your brain on chocolate – Harvard

At the risk of repeating myself yet again, my family has a history of Alzheimer’s and dementia, so any info on brain health resonates deeply with me.

Here is Dr. Robert H. Shmerling, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications on chocolate and your brain.

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Did you know that places where chocolate consumption is highest have the most Nobel Prize recipients? It’s true, at least according to a 2012 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Of course, that could be a coincidence. But is it possible that intelligence or other measures of high brain function are actually improved by the consumption of chocolate? A new review summarizes the evidence and concludes with a resounding “maybe.”

Keeping your brain healthy

When it comes to preserving and improving brain function, let’s face it: we need all the help we can get. With age, diseases that cause dementia, such as stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease, become more common. And since we have an aging population, predictions are that dementia will become much more common in the near future. Yet despite decades of research, there are no highly effective treatments for dementia. Continue reading

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Walnuts Activate Brain Region Involved in Appetite Control – Study

Eat less; move more; live longer remains the mantra of this blog. So, it is always  useful to learn more about how various inputs like food and exercise impact the brain. Here is some fresh info on walnuts from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

  • Double-blind test bolsters observational data that walnuts promote feelings of fullness.
  • Results provide a quantitative measure for testing other compounds’ ability to control appetite, including potential medications for the treatment of obesity.
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Fascinating how walnuts also suggest the shape of the brain.

Packed with nutrients linked to better health, walnuts are also thought to discourage overeating by promoting feelings of fullness. Now, in a new brain imaging study, researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) have demonstrated that consuming walnuts activates an area in the brain associated with regulating hunger and cravings. The findings, published online in the journal Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism, reveal for the first time the neurocognitive impact these nuts have on the brain. Continue reading

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What about football and the athlete’s brain?

Regular readers know that I have lost three family members to dementia and/or Alzheimer’s disease, so I am totally interested in any new information on the subject. I am also a passionate fan of the National Football League.

The following is from the Alzheimer’s Prevention Bulletin.

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Most fans will track first downs and touchdowns on Sept. 7, the opening game of the National Football League’s (NFL’s) 2017 season. If he tunes in, Robert Stern, PhD, no doubt will focus on any traumatic brain injuries (TBI) that occur during the game. These can range from mild TBI – as in a concussion – to severe TBI.

Dr. Stern also will watch for those more common head impacts that do not result in symptoms of concussion or draw the attention of the television cameras.  Called “subconcussive” trauma, those hits are associated with a brain disease that is the focus of Dr. Stern’s research.

Dr. Stern is the Director of Clinical Research for the Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) Center and Director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Center Clinical Core, both at Boston University.

“Alzheimer’s disease is my primary focus professionally,” Dr. Stern said. “But some years ago, I started to learn more about another neurodegenerative disease called CTE. I soon realized that CTE had the potential to become a major public health issue. That’s when CTE research became a passion.”

CTE is a progressive, degenerative brain disease, similar to Alzheimer’s disease, found in people with a history of repetitive brain trauma. That brain trauma could include concussions as well as those subconcussive hits to the head that do not have symptoms. The trauma can trigger a series of events in the brain that progressively destroy its tissue, resulting in CTE. The symptoms that accompany CTE are similar to Alzheimer’s disease: changes in memory and cognition as well as changes in mood and behavior. Eventually, it can lead to dementia.

TBI, CTE & Alzheimer’s: Are they Connected? 

Is there a connection between TBI, CTE and Alzheimer’s?

“I used to refer to TBI as a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease, because early research suggested that,” said Dr. Stern. “However, more recent research suggests that the relationship between the two is not very clear.”

That means people who experience TBI at any age – a hit on the football field as a youth or a fall on the stairs as an older adult – do not appear to increase their chance of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

Concussion Controversies in Sports

Now let’s head back to the football field.

A 2016 Harris Poll showed pro football is continuing its reign as America’s favorite sport. Its popularity persists in spite of concern about the sport’s long-term impact on players’ brain health that began in the early 2000s. At that time, autopsies of deceased American football players revealed evidence of CTE. Years later, research from the BU center published recently in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that 110 out of 111 deceased former NFL players had CTE.

Dr. Stern estimates that in some contact sports like football, there can be 1,000 or more subconcussive hits per season of play. And these impacts can leave their mark on an athlete and eventually lead to CTE.

“There’s research that indicates even after one season of youth football, children ages 8-10 years old,  had structural changes to their brains that were directly associated with the number of hits to the head they received,” Dr. Stern said. “Research from my team at BU has shown a dose-response relationship between the total estimated number of those repetitive head impacts a football player receives through youth, high school, and college football, and later life cognitive impairments and problems with depression and behavior. We have to take these repetitive head impacts seriously.”

And thanks to Dr. Stern, that message is getting out.

Want to learn more about head injury and CTE? Join Dr. Robert A. Stern, PhD, Clinical Core Director of the BU Alzheimer’s Disease Center online as he discusses the role of head injury in developing dementia later in life. 

  • Thursday, August 24th, 2-3 PM Eastern (11 AM-12 PM Pacific / Arizona, 12-1 PM Mountain, 1-2 PM Central)
  • Can’t make it to the live webinar? Don’t worry! Just register as if you will attend and we will send you a recording that you can view at your convenience,
  • Sign up now.

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Reaction time variation may predict mortality in old age – Study

A common indicator of neurobiological disturbance among the elderly may also be associated with mortality, according to a study published August 9, 2017 in the open access journal PLOS ONE by Nicole A. Kochan at the Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing (CHeBA), UNSW Sydney.

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Intraindividual reaction time variability (IIVRT), defined as an individual’s variation in reaction times when completing a single cognitive task across several trials, has been associated with mild cognitive decline, dementia and Parkinson’s disease. The authors of this study investigated whether IIVRT is also associated with mortality in old age by following a cohort of 861 adults aged 70 years to 90 years over an eight-year period.

Kochan and colleagues tested the participants’ baseline reaction time by having them complete two brief computerized cognitive tasks comprising 76 trials to measure the average reaction time and the extent of variation over the trials. Every two years, research psychologists followed up on the participants and conducted a comprehensive medical assessment including a battery of neuropsychological tests to assess the participants’ cognitive function. Cases were also reviewed by a panel of experts to determine a dementia diagnosis in each two year follow-up, and mortality data was collected from the state registry.

Study results indicate that greater IIVRT predicted all-cause mortality, but the average RT did not predict time to death. Researchers found that other risks factors associated with mortality such as dementia, cardiovascular risk and age could not explain the association between IIVRT and mortality prediction. The authors suggested that IIVRT could therefore be an independent predictor of shorter time death.

“The study was the first to comprehensively account for effects of overall cognitive level and dementia on the relationship between intraindividual variability of reaction time and mortality,” says Kochan. “Our findings suggest that greater intraindividual reaction time variability is a behavioural marker that uniquely predicts shorter time to death.”

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Keeping your smartphone nearby may not be so smart – Harvard

I am an Apple fanboy and have owned an iPhone for years. I do rely on it very much. I would not consider taking my bike out for my daily ride without checking the radar to see what the chances of rain are. The same is true of weather conditions in general. I love the convenience of the machine as well as the power of having a little computer at my fingertips when I travel. It appears that there is a downside to Steve Jobs’s little godsend, though, according to Harvard Health Publications.

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Imagine you were asked to complete a series of math problems, ones just hard enough to require your attention and focus, but nothing you couldn’t handle. Now, imagine you were intermittently interrupted from these math problems and asked to remember a random list of letters. This might be even tougher. Continue reading

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Older brains benefit from all types of exercise

At the risk of being repetitious, I have had three family members suffer from Alzheimer’s Disease and/or dementia. At the age of 77 I am really concerned about living a long life, but WITH my brain fully functional. That is only one of the reasons I ride my bike every day here in Chicago. I promote exercise in all its forms here and subscribe to the mantra: eat less; move more; live longer.

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Many studies have told us exercise is good for the brain. But does it depend on the type of exercise? New research suggests not – at least for seniors. A study of older people found the brain benefits from many types of physical activities – and you don’t have to go to the gym to do them, according to Medical News Today.

The team, from the Institut universitaire de gériatrie de Montréal, an institution affiliated with the University of Montreal in Canada, reports the findings in the journal AGE. Continue reading

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Can too much sitting erase exercise benefits?

I have written about the dangers of prolonged sitting previously. You can check out my Page – Do you know the dangers of too much sitting?  for further information on it.

White matter is brain tissue containing nerve fibers responsible for brain communication. As we age, nerve fiber activity declines and disrupts brain function. But a new study suggests that among older adults, the structural integrity of white matter is not only dependent on levels of physical activity, but also on the amount of remaining time spent sedentary, according to Medical News Today.

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Lead researcher Agnieszka Burzynska, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Illinois, and her team publish their findings in the journal PLOS ONE.

Past studies have associated physical activity among older adults with reduced cognitive decline. In 2012, research from the University of Scotland in the UK found that seniors who had high levels of physical activity had fewer problems with memory and thinking skills, while a 2013 study claimed exercise is beneficial for the cognitive functioning of dementia patients. Continue reading

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Could changes in thinking skills be reversible dementia? – Harvard

Regular readers know that I have had a number of Alzheimer’s and dementia occurrences in my immediate family. So, I am especially sensitive to anything related to dementia. The following is from Heidi Godman, Exetutive Editor, Harvard Health Letter.

We use the term “dementia” to describe a number of conditions that cause permanent thinking skills changes, such as memory loss and confusion. The most common kind of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease, which is characterized by clumping proteins that get tangled in and around brain cells, eventually causing them to die. The second most common type of dementia is vascular dementia, caused by decreased blood flow to the brain from atherosclerosis—the accumulation of fatty deposits on artery walls.

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Once dementia strikes, the damage is permanent, and we don’t have many treatment options. So, before a diagnosis is made, it’s crucial to rule out whether the causes for dementia are actually reversible conditions. Continue reading

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Cholesterol may affect brain functions – Study

Having lost three family members to Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia, I was fascinated by this information from researchers in Berlin.

A study led by researchers at the Hospital del Mar Medical Research Institute (IMIM) and the Institute of Medical Physics and Biophysics at the Faculty of Medicine in Charité Hospital, Berlin, published in the journal Nature Communications, demonstrates that the cholesterol present in cell membranes can interfere with the function of an important brain membrane protein, through a previously unknown mode of interaction. Specifically, cholesterol is capable of regulating the activity of the adenosine receptor, by invading it and accessing the active site. This will allow new ways of interacting with these proteins to be devised that in the future could lead to drugs for treating diseases like Alzheimer’s.

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The adenosine receptor belongs to the GPCR family (G Protein-Coupled Receptors), a large group of proteins located in cell membranes, which are key in the transmission of signals and communication between cells. GPCRs are therefore involved in the majority of important physiological processes, including the interpretation of sensory stimuli such as vision, smell, and taste, the regulation of the immune and inflammatory system, and behavior modulation. Continue reading

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