Mind Games
Jan30

Mind Games

Your mind plays trick on you, mind games. The human brain was slowly developed over many millenia in situations that were very different from anything modern people experience. This leads our brains to do funny things, leaving us confused and frustrated.   Modern neuroscientists and psychologists are doing great experimental work into the functioning of the brain. They’ve put forth some funny and very interesting ideas about what and why our brains do what they do. Your Brain Sees What It Wants to See Web designers have known this one for a while now. The brain bases its perceptions on previous perceptions. In web design, user experience experts like Jakob Nielsen advise that site builders base their pages on pages that look like the ones people are used to seeing.   This is because your brain likes to be a little lazy. The more new things it sees, the more your brain has to work. By making your vision line up with things it has already seen, your brain saves itself stress and hard work.   Magicians and other tricksters also understand this stuff. Magic tricks fool your brain into seeing things it expects to see; this helps bring the illusion that audiences get such a kick out of.   Your Brain Saves Energy By Automating Its Responses This one can get dangerous. Much as the brain tries to save itself effort by seeing that it wants to see, your brain also likes to save itself energy by automating its efforts. Here’s how it works. When you learn new tasks, your brain spends a lot of effort doing them. The more you get used to the task, the less energy your brain needs to spend.   This can be a very good thing. It’s why you don’t need to relearn to drive your car every time you hit the highway. You’ve done it before, so you don’t need to panic. It just sort of happens. Nicholas Carr has written extensively of the way that relying on machines can ruin your mental automation. This prevents experts like airline pilots from adapting to new situations, leading to some scary results.   This can also be a bad thing. When you get too used to familiar tasks, you get lazy. Your brain doesn’t want to experience new things, so it uses its old patterns. This is where we get the saying “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”      Your Brain’s Flexibility Changes Throughout Your Life Brains change as your age. When you exercise your brain, you build up its flexibility. Neuroscientists calls this flexibility neuroplasticity.  Neuroplasticity is very high...

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Concussion-More than a Movie
Dec20

Concussion-More than a Movie

The medical world is a bizarre field full of questions and mysteries. This holds true because certain conditions and diseases are only discovered through unusual and unexpected circumstances. Similarly, the story of Bennet Omalu, a Nigerian forensic pathologist who first brought scholarly attention to the condition Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, is a great example of this scenario. This true story will be depicted on the big screen in the controversial upcoming movie Concussion.   Concussion: Based on the True Story   Concussion, as aptly as it was named, tells the story of Omalu, who fought against all odds to expose a type of brain injury in football players that caused disturbing and deadly symptoms. He discovered Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, but had to battle against the NFL to make his findings known. Although his name was disparaged as an attempt to make him lose his credibility, his findings have now shed light on just how dangerous football can be. This case is considered bizarre particularly because this disease cannot be detected while the patient is alive; symptoms and major signs would only show after death. Common among American football players, this story involves another real-life persona Mike Webster, whose body gave the empirical evidence for this disease. The NFL may not be thrilled about these findings, but science is unbiased.   Conditions of the disease   CTE is a condition that only shows up after one’s death, though there are early signs as well as symptoms, albeit a little indiscernible. The patient can display intellectual impairment, mood disorders, and even dementia. Aggression has been reported as well as impaired judgement and impulsiveness. More seriously, those affected with CTE are likely to have drug abuse and dependency issues, and have been known to attempt suicide. Many end up destitute and without shelter, money, or proper care. It is usually followed by a sudden and unexpected death. Through the movie ‘Concussion,’ much more information will be dispersed on the dangers that NFL football players face.     NFL’s Attempt at a Cover Up   For far too long, the NFL has tried to cover up the dangerous injuries associated with this sport. They have also been less than approving of any research findings of brain injury in athletes. Concussions are serious injuries that can even impact personality. There have been football players, who after suffering from a concussion, were never really the same person in regards to personality. Due to the head trauma that is experienced in this sport, athletes are at high risk for this condition. Although this is ruffling a few feathers, it is essential that this becomes widespread knowledge so...

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What’s the Real Deal with Coffee & Your Brain?
Aug05

What’s the Real Deal with Coffee & Your Brain?

Walk past a coffee shop in any city throughout the U.S. and it’s apparent that we have an unbridled love for coffee. Why shouldn’t we? It’s delicious, it’s stimulating, and it’s beneficial to our health. A cup (or two) of coffee a day may even result in a healthier you. From a better heart to a boost in cognitive health as well as lowering the risk of certain cancers and diabetes, coffee seems to be nature’s wonder drug. However, in true fashion of all things related to health, scientific evidence surrounding the things that are “good for us” can also get a bad reputation. What Does Coffee Actually Do To Your Brain? When we pour our first cup of coffee in the morning, just the smell can make us feel more awake and many coffee lovers won’t even attempt doing anything before having their first cup. Whether you are a veteran coffee drinker or are trying it for the first time, coffee does have an affect on your brain and the results are different with each individual. While some people don’t feel awake until they’ve had at least 2 cups, others feel “buzzed” and ready for the day after just half a cup. One cup of coffee (about 75 mg of caffeine) will affect your brain and may: Improve performance of people under 40 who may be sleep deprived Improve memory performance particularly with tedious tasks Trick an individual to be “dependent or addicted” to coffee, but it’s habitual (not addiction) Negatively affect sleep, particularly if consumed later in the day Decrease developing Parkinson’s Disease Drink More? Drink Less? Each time coffee is mentioned as a preventive or treatment for another health issue, coffee lovers everywhere sigh in relief and until recently, coffee seemed to be the ticket in preventing Alzheimer’s. Recently, in the Journal of Alzheimer’s, a study (Italian Longitudinal Study on Aging and were ages 65 to 84-years-old) reveals that a significant increase of coffee consumption can actually increase  the risk of mild cognitive impairment (MCI). MCI is the precursor to Alzheimer’s and dementia; previous studies revealed that one to two cups of coffee a day could decrease the risk. Participants in the study that were not regular coffee drinkers or increased their consumption by about a another cup were at greatest risk of developing MCI.   So, as coffee drinkers, what do we do? Do we need to stop coffee drinking all together in fear of memory loss related issues? Like everything, moderation seems to be the key. If you have been drinking a cup or two a day consistently, you are most likely reaping the...

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How Antidepressants Can Change the Brain
Jul30

How Antidepressants Can Change the Brain

According to a recent study conducted by the Mayo Clinic, thirteen percent of all Americans take antidepressant drugs. Depression is a common, serious illness that can happen to anyone, at any age. It can come about through hormonal changes or life events. Many people suffering from depression do not seek medical help. An antidepressant prescription is only one of many ways to treat depression, and often part of a treatment plan that also involves therapy. Symptoms of depression include fatigue, persistent sadness or anxiety, insomnia, and feelings of guilt or hopelessness, among many others. If a person experiences depression symptoms, they should consult their doctor. Untreated depression can lead to many problems, including alcoholism, drug abuse, and suicide. How Antidepressants Work There are a few different kinds of antidepressants, but they all claim to work by affecting neurotransmitters in the brain. WebMD explains that these chemicals pass signals from cell to cell in the brain. Serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine are all examples. Antidepressants are thought to affect the way neurotransmitters behave. Unfortunately, these drugs have also been found to change the brain of the patient. A recent study has shown that these antidepressant drugs can start changing the brain very quickly, within hours, and only after one dose. As reported in Time Magazine, the study took brain scans of 22 people, and some of them were administered an antidepressant drug while the others were given a placebo. Three hours later, another brain scan confirmed changes had been made to the brain to the group taking the antidepressant. It is believed that by balancing the neurotransmitters in the brain that affect mood and emotions, antidepressants can help a person overcome their depression. There are many unfortunate side effects of these medications, one of the most serious of which is heart and lung conditions in newborn babies born to mothers who took certain medications during pregnancy, leading to the FDA issuing a safety announcement. Another dangerous side effect is termed “suicidal ideation.” As the depression could be the result of a life situation, such as divorce or the death of a loved one, the drug may reduce the impact of the loss, but may have a “numbing” effect. Sadly, no drug can target just one life situation, and with emotional responses numbed, a person may tend to more easily consider ideas such as suicide. Any person considering taking depression medication should get help. Minor cases of depression are treated differently in the UK than in the USA, with treatments focused on exercise, connecting with other people, eating a healthy diet and other actions. Unfortunately, the claims regarding a drug resolving a...

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Habits for a Healthier Brain
May22

Habits for a Healthier Brain

As we age, it is human nature to wonder whether or not there is anything we can do to slow down the aging process. Many baby boomers are applying this question to enhance not only their physical appearance, but their cognitive function and brain health as well. We’ve all experienced moments of forgetfulness. Misplacing an important item, forgetting a name or getting our calendar date mixed up can lead us to wonder: is this part of getting old? Countless jokes are made at the expense of the old timer’s slow cognitive function and ability to remember yesterday. Are we doomed to live out the harsh truth at the center of these jokes or is there something that can be done about the aging brain? In a recent study carried out by Neurology Magazine, a group of researchers in China randomly selected 9 communities. Out of these communities 5,000 people that were over 55 years or older were interviewed concerning age, sex, occupation, medical conditions, medications, smoking, drinking, education and leisure activities. The group was tracked for 5 years and given the same tests each year. In the final analysis 11% had a drop in their cognitive abilities. Those 11% were far more likely to be women, have lower education, smoke and drink daily and have a medical condition. The study also demonstrated that playing board games and reading was associated with a reduced risk of cognitive decline while watching television was associated with an increased risk of cognitive impairment. This is in keeping with a recent AARP Bulletin, which expounds on a recent study carried out by some of the leading neuroscientists and brain health experts in the country. It states that in addition to the fact that Alzheimer’s disease and Cognitive aging are separate ailments, there are many things you can do to slow down cognitive aging such as: Exercise: Aerobic exercise provides your brain with much needed oxygen and helps slow the aging process. Intellectual and social activity: Such as reading, writing and social activity are all linked with preserving brain function Eating Healthy: Consuming less meat and alcohol and increasing your intake of vegetables, Omega 3 fatty acids (found in fish), and nuts and beans can help protect an aging brain. Getting Enough Rest: Poor sleep is linked to memory problems, Alzheimer’s and dementia. Avoid Alcohol, Chemicals and Drugs: Some medications have been linked with cognitive decline including benzodiazepines and anticholinergic drugs. It is important to point out that alcohol was associated with cognitive decline in both studies and should be kept to a minimum or avoided totally if possible. Overlooked sources of chemicals include fast...

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