Category Archives: brain health

HOW DOES THE BRAIN STORE & PROCESS MEMORIES?

Regular readers know what a big fan I am of the brain and its function in our daily life. As a 77 year old, I am also supremely interested in keeping mine functioning into these, my later, years. Check out my Page Important facts about your brain (and exercise benefits.

Tony

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How Does The Brain Store & Process Memories?Every sight, smell, sound, touch, and specific memory is stored in the recesses of your mind—but what parts of your brain store specific types of sensory data? Read on to learn more about where your brain stores these memories and which parts of your brain control specific functions.

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Exercise increases brain size, new research finds

Here is another source of the same facts I have been reporting in this blog for some years now. Your brain gets as much benefit from your cardiovascular exercise as your body.

Aerobic exercise can improve memory function and maintain brain health as we age, a new Australian-led study has found.

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In a first of its kind international collaboration, researchers from NICM and the Division of Psychology and Mental Health at the University of Manchester in the UK examined the effects of aerobic exercise on a region of the brain called the hippocampus, which is critical for memory and other brain functions.

Brain health decreases with age, with the average brain shrinking by approximately five per cent per decade after the age of 40.

Studies in mice and rats have consistently shown that physical exercise increases the size of the hippocampus but until now evidence in humans has been inconsistent. (my emphasis)

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The value of cardio exercise for both body and brain

With Thanksgiving looming, this is a great time to reaffirm our resolve to exercise regularly. OR, it is the ideal time to resolve to exercise regularly in the coming year and maybe begin to address physical and weight problems that we have neglected.

Regular readers know that I have posted numerous times on the value of exercise not only for our bodies, but also for our brains. On the top of this page is IMPORTANT FACTS ABOUT YOUR BRAIN.

If you click on that link you can find a page full of blog posts on the subject.

Our ancestors engaged in some serious cardio exercise just to get food.

Our ancestors engaged in some serious cardio exercise just to get food. No walking down a supermarket aisle for them.

And now, the New York Times joins in the fray with Gretchen Reynolds’s article Exercise and the Ever-Smarter Human Brain.
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Losing weight through diet and exercise helps brain blood circulation in older diabetics – Study

Once again we have it demonstrated that diet and exercise prove beneficial even to seniors suffering from diabetes, according to HealthyinAging.org.

Type 2 diabetes affects blood circulation. The disease stiffens blood vessels and reduces the amount of oxygen that circulates throughout your body. This includes your brain. When blood flow in the brain is impaired, it can affect the way we think and make decisions.

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People who have type 2 diabetes are often overweight or obese. These are conditions that may also be linked to cognitive problems (problems with thinking abilities). Lowering calorie intake and increasing physical activity are known to reduce the negative effects of type 2 diabetes on the body. However, the effects of these interventions on cognition and the brain are not clear.

Recently, researchers examined information from a 10-year-long study called Action for Health in Diabetes (Look AHEAD). In this study, participants learned how to adopt healthy, long-term behavior changes. In their new study, the researchers focused on whether participants with type 2 diabetes who lowered calories in their diet and increased physical activity had better blood flow to the brain. The researchers published their findings in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. Continue reading

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Do daydreamers have more efficient brains? – MNT

Must confess I have had a problem with daydreaming in my youth, particularly in school. So, this news from Medical News Today gave me something I could throw back at those teachers who chided me as a child.

Daydreaming is often associated with a reduced capacity to focus on a task at hand, and people who allow their minds to wander may be regarded as uninvolved, or as having “their head in the clouds.”

One study found that people’s minds tend to wander for almost half of their waking day, and the researchers behind it suggested that daydreaming could render us unhappy as our thoughts tend to drift toward negative scenarios.

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Yet could people who daydream more than most actually have an advantage?

New research led by Dr. Eric Schumacher and doctoral student Christine Godwin, from the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, seems to indicate that daydreamers have very active brains, and that they may be more intelligent and creative than the average person.

“People with efficient brains,” explains Dr. Schumacher, “may have too much brain capacity to stop their minds from wandering.”

The study’s findings were recently published in the journal Neuropsychologia.

Cognitive ability and DMN connectivity

The default mode network (DMN) of the brain — that is, the neural connectivity that is visibly active even when the brain is otherwise at rest — has previously been linked to daydreaming.

In the new study, the researchers were interested in finding out whether the particular dynamics of the DMN in daydreamers, and this network’s communication with other parts of the brain during mind wandering, correlated with heightened cognitive abilities.

Dr. Schumacher and his team worked with 112 participants who were subjected both to MRI scans and to tests targeting cognitive performance.

During the scan, the participants were asked to look at a fixed point for 5 minutes, during which time the researchers monitored their DMN activity. They also investigated how DMN activity correlated with other brain regions in a resting state.

“The correlated brain regions gave us insight about which areas of the brain work together during an awake, resting state,” says Godwin.

This was important, she added, because “research has suggested that these same brain patterns measured during these states are related to different cognitive abilities.”

The data from the MRI scans were paired with information derived from tasks aimed to measure the participants’ intellectual abilities and creativity. They were asked to respond to a mind wandering questionnaire.

It was found that participants who said that they spent a lot of time daydreaming performed better in the cognitive tasks. Their MRI scans also showed heightened activity in regions connected with learning and memory.

The scans confirmed that DMN activity was tied to mind wandering. Daydreaming also correlated with connectivity between the DMN and the frontoparietal control network of the brain, which has been associated with cognitive control, or adaptability to different situations, and working memory.

Efficient brains and wandering attention

Dr. Schumacher says that these findings suggest that daydreaming may not deserve the stigma attached to it, after all.

“People tend to think of mind wandering as something that is bad. You try to pay attention and you can’t. Our data are consistent with the idea that this isn’t always true. Some people have more efficient brains.” Dr. Eric Schumacher

He adds that daydreamers with a heightened cognitive performance will most likely be able to tune themselves out of discussions or presentations without, in fact, losing the thread of the argument.

“Our findings remind me of the absent-minded professor — someone who’s brilliant, but off in his or her own world, sometimes oblivious to their own surroundings,” says Dr. Schumacher.

“Or,” he adds, “school children who are too intellectually advanced for their classes. While it may take 5 minutes for their friends to learn something new, they figure it out in a minute, then check out and start daydreaming.”

However, the researchers think that more studies are needed to investigate both the positive and potentially negative aspects of daydreaming.

“There are important individual differences to consider as well, such as a person’s motivation or intent to stay focused on a particular task,” Godwin concludes.

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Brain response to stories universal, regardless of language – USC study

There is something universal about what occurs in the brain when it processes stories, regardless of a person’s origin or language, according to a study at the University of Southern California.

New brain research by USC scientists shows that reading stories is a universal experience that may result in people feeling greater empathy for each other, regardless of cultural origins and differences.

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Human brain cell

And in what appears to be a first for neuroscience, USC researchers have found patterns of brain activation when people find meaning in stories, regardless of their language. Using functional MRI, the scientists mapped brain responses to narratives in three different languages — English, Farsi and Mandarin Chinese.

The USC study opens up the possibility that exposure to narrative storytelling can have a widespread effect on triggering better self-awareness and empathy for others, regardless of the language or origin of the person being exposed to it.

“Even given these fundamental differences in language, which can be read in a different direction or contain a completely different alphabet altogether, there is something universal about what occurs in the brain at the point when we are processing narratives,” said Morteza Dehghani, the study’s lead author and a researcher at the Brain and Creativity Institute at USC. Continue reading

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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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