How Does the Brain Affect Our Lives? (Part 12)

A Book Review: Younger Brains, Sharper Brains by Eric R. Braverman, M.D.

by Maggie Dail, M.A., Learning Specialist

Braverman concludes his discussion on Attention:

Signs of Impulsive Behaviors (p. 68-69)

  • Agree to complete something before thinking about if it is possible
  • Interrupt a conversation
  • Make rash / quick decisions
  • Not checking details
  • Reckless spending habits

Tips to Stay on Task (p. 69-70)

  • Make a list of tasks that you can do in a day
  • Use sticky notes
  • Keep an appointment calendar
  • Keep a notebook (or smartphone feature) to record ideas
  • Organize your work and living space
  • Break down larger tasks into easier to manage smaller tasks
  • Follow a consistent routine
  • Reward yourself for completion of tasks
  • Be realistic and don’t expect perfection

Addictions affect Brain Power –as does excessive use of technology.

“Disturbances in the dopamine ‘reward system’ are associated with addictive behaviors. Anything you enjoy doing, but can’t seem to rein in can cause a release of dopamine. “ Initially, you feel a rush, but that wears off. You are driven to repeat the rush and the brain can’t keep up. p. 71

Regarding technology: “It’s the information overload, not the multitasking, that’s the culprit. I find that too much information, even when you are completing only one task at a time, causes distractions.” P. 73

Simple Science Behind This –

  • Prefrontal cortex – same location for decision making and emotions; almost always intertwined.
  • Location of working memory – 7 pieces of information at a time
  • Brain has to decide what to send to long-term memory and what to throw out.

 

Braverman continues by discussing the Types of IQ – we will see that next time.

 

 

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How Does the Brain Affect Our Lives? (Part 11)

A Book Review: Younger Brains, Sharper Brains by Eric R. Braverman, M.D.

by Maggie Dail, M.A., Learning Specialist

 

 

Chapter 5 – Identifying Attention Problems

“The dopamine family of brain chemicals delivers your brain’s voltage, or power. Voltage is the intensity at which the brain responds to a stimulus and the effectiveness of its ability to process the information that monitors your physical and mental health. Your brain’s power determines your ability to stay focused, stay on task, concentrate, and get a job done.” P. 63

Deficiency of dopamine indicates a brain burning too much or not producing enough. As we age, we typically produce less. We may sleep longer and still wake up tired. We may even feel sluggish.

Low dopamine levels may lead to…(p. 64)

  • Attention deficit disorder
  • Decreased alertness
  • Distractibility
  • Failure to finish tasks
  • Failure to listen and follow instructions
  • Forgetfulness
  • Hyperactivity
  • Impulsivity
  • Poor abstract thinking
  • Poor concentration, especially with numbers

Four Core Forms of Attention Errors: (p. 65-66)

  • Omission – not answering a question or running a red light
  • Commission – inappropriate response, walking into traffic even seeing red light
  • Reaction Time – long delay even with an appropriate response
  • Variability – inconsistent responses

These difficulties lead to the 5th leading cause of death in the U.S.. Attention is a subcategory of memory. Those who have attention problems generally have difficulty with communication.

Communication Difficulties (p. 68)

  • Difficulty finding the right word (dysphasia)
  • Difficulty following or joining a conversation
  • Difficulty initiating a conversation
  • Losing train of thought in middle of conversation
  • Repeating questions, stories, or statements
  • Struggling with vocabulary
  • Using words incorrectly

Next time we will finish the discussion on Attention.

How Does the Brain Affect Our Lives? (Part 10)

A Book Review: Younger Brains, Sharper Brains by Eric R. Braverman, M.D.

by Maggie Dail, M.A., Learning Specialist

 

Vision Problems – with MCI these visual signs may appear:

  • Change in vision
  • Difficulty determining color and contrast
  • Difficulty in judging distance
  • Difficulty reading
  • Inability to recognized faces in photographs

Daily Living Problems – with MCI these signs may appear:

  • Difficulty recalling recent events consistently
  • Repetition requested constantly
  • Difficulty handling financial tasks
  • Difficulty performing household tasks without help
  • Difficulty preparing meals, eating or getting dressed
  • Difficulty remembering a short list of items (i.e. grocery list)
  • Difficulty remembering appointments, important events (i.e. birthdays)
  • Difficulty with driving, following directions, finding familiar places
  • Excessive use of ‘to do’ lists
  • Forgetting current season, month or year
  • Losing common items frequently
  • Problems with judgement (i.e. falling for scams, buying inappropriate gifts)
  • Reduced interest in hobbies/activities
  • Trouble learning how to learn something new p. 54-55

Specific Memory Functions (highlighted text p. 55)

These link the different types of memory and long and short term storage of information:

  • Episodic memory-Binding the “what, where, and when” aspects of events. Most common deficit.
  • Procedural memory – Acquiring and later performing cognitive and motor skills.
  • Prospective memory – Remembering to perform an action in future (i.e. appointment, medication)
  • Semantic memory – Remembering facts and general knowledge about the world.

Four Steps of How Memories Are Made

“For every sensory experience we face, the brain has to notice it, store it, match it other knowledge or previous exposures, and then be able to call upon it when necessary.” P. 56

Memories are stored in the prefrontal cortex and broken up into different bits of information, not as one event. Visual pieces are stored in the occipital lobe, words and lessons learned in the parietal and temporal lobes etc. P. 56

  1. Focus attention to maximize every new exposure. Notice every sensory part of the experience.
  2. During exposure, mentally note and connect to a previous experience.
  3. Explore the experience emotionally.
  4. Replay the experience – an hour later and a day later

We lose memories because we don’t get lost in the details. Sometimes memories are distorted. “Perception is colored by past experiences, associated memories, and current social inputs.  p. 57

Tips for Remembering

  1. Look people in the eye. Ask for repetition as needed.
  2. Reread instructions or other reading material.
  3. Repeat aloud.
  4. Minimize interruptions. Prioritize people and events.
  5. Examine a person’s face discreetly during the introduction. Find a distinguishing feature to associate with the name.

Brain Speed Meets Brain Structure

“Besides governing brain processing speed, acetylcholine is also the building block for myelin, a fatty substance that insulates the nervous system, keeping it moist and strong. … With the right amount of myelination, your neuronal circuits fire more rapidly, allowing the neurons to recover faster after signals have been sent, giving brain cells ‘greater bandwidth,’ and boosting their processing capacity. “ p. 60

Smoking is one of the ways people live that affect their memory. Nicotine destroys the brain chemical needed for memory – acetylcholine. P 62

Great news: “Memory loss is reversible.” P. 62

Memory may be the first sign you notice of MCI. P. 62

Next time we will begin the discussion on Attention.

How Does the Brain Affect Our Lives? (Part 9)

A Book Review: Younger Brains, Sharper Brains by Eric R. Braverman, M.D.

by Maggie Dail, M.A., Learning Specialist

The Four Types of Memory

Many divide memory differently, but take a look at Braverman’s memory. From his perspective there are four with each one ruled by one of the four brain chemicals.

  1. Verbal (auditory) memory –
    1. Needed for: decoding sounds, words, sentences, and stories.
    2. The ability to absorb and retain auditory input.
    3. Found in the temporal lobes.
    4. GABA found here.
  2. Visual memory –
    1. The ability to absorb and retain visual input.
    2. Includes – faces, shapes, designs, surroundings, pictures and symbols
    3. Found in the occipital lobes.
  3. Immediate memory –
    1. Short term – only 30 seconds
    2. Visual and verbal
    3. Can’t remember recent, but still can remember remote past.
    4. Found in the parietal lobes.
    5. Ruled by acetylcholine.
  4. Working memory-
    1. Most important form
    2. Ability to absorb, retain and associate with previously learned information.
    3. Generally found high in intuitive and introverted people.

Long Term Memory Correlates with Working Memory

  • Absorbing and retaining information leads to storing long term
  • Working memory also critical for executive function
  • Executive function – central organization function of brain
  • Frontal lobes regulated by dopamine, handle motor control, concentration, problem-solving skills, planning, retention, — functions of working memory.
  • Working memory puts past, present, and future together p. 53-54

Next time we will continue to address Memory, including Vision and Daily Living Activities.

 

How Does the Brain Affect Our Lives? (Part 8)

A Book Review: Younger Brains, Sharper Brains by Eric R. Braverman, M.D.

by Maggie Dail, M.A., Learning Specialist

Chapter 4 – Identifying Memory Problems

Memory is:

  • Central to the entire function of the brain
  • Memory problems occur (typically) when there is a loss in processing speed
  • Related to the loss of Acetylcholine
  • Acetylcholine regulates the processing of sensory input
  • Acetylcholine regulates the ability to access stored information p. 48

People with high Acetylcholine are:

  • Creative
  • Keenly aware of surroundings
  • Able to keep lifelong friends
  • Intelligent
  • Understand other people and their motivations
  • Excellent students
  • Witty
  • Enjoyable to be with p.48

Having too much acetylcholine the brain speed is so fast that you are burning it up. Having too little a person slows physically, mentally and emotionally. We naturally lose this important brain chemical as we age. P. 48

It begins with a general absentmindedness and proceeds with:

  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Depression
  • Agitation
  • Apathy
  • Attention difficulties
  • Difficulty driving
  • Disorientation
  • Easy frustration
  • Excessive and inappropriate flirtation
  • Explosive spells of anger
  • Falling
  • Fearfulness
  • Impulsivity
  • Inconsistency
  • Insomnia
  • Irrational decision making
  • Neglect of household chores
  • Neglect of self-care
  • Restlessness
  • Social withdrawal
  • Suspiciousness
  • Trouble understanding the spoken and written language
  • Wandering p. 50

“When you think faster, you can react more effectively to everyday situations.” P. 51

What are the four types of memory?  You may be surprised how Braverman defines these four types.  Next time.

How Does the Brain Affect Our Lives? (Part 7)

A Book Review: Younger Brains, Sharper Brains by Eric R. Braverman, M.D.

by Maggie Dail, M.A., Learning Specialist

The Sleep Factor

As we age, our sleep often is less restful due to a lowering of serotonin levels. “When your serotonin levels begin to wane, your brain cannot modulate the energy created by the dopamine system. So instead of being active during the day and rested at night, your brain goes into overdrive all day long just to keep you functional and motivated. Meanwhile, your production of sleep-inducing delta waves increases, blocking alertness (dopamine), creativity (acetylcholine), and playfulness (GABA), and leading to feelings of depression.” P. 38

Those who have high levels of GABA work tirelessly to help others and are disappointed when their efforts are not reciprocated. Those with low levels of GABA are too tired to even take care of themselves, much less help others. (Highlighted text box p. 38)

“Disrupted sleep hinders your ability to achieve the proper amount of REM (rapid eye movement), which is the deepest, most restorative sleep phase. A lack of this type of sleep is one of the great age accelerators, further aging your brain and affecting your thinking.” P. 38

Lack of proper sleep leads to:

  • Psychomotor retardation
  • Slowing down of thought
  • Slowing down of speech
  • Reduction of physical movements
  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Lack of motivation
  • Mood change
  • Faltering memory

Sleep Apnea

“During sleep apnea, the person momentarily stops breathing. When the brain realizes that it isn’t getting enough oxygen, it forces the person to wake up and take a breath, creating multiple sleep interruptions. Unfortunately, the brain’s constant vigilance means that it never gets enough downtime – again insufficient sleep does not allow you to achieve enough REM phase sleep.” P. 40

Sleep Creates Memory Consolidation

“According to Robert Stickgold, professor at Harvard University, your brain needs to be fully rested to take in the maximum amount of information. Memory circuits can get fatigued along with the rest of your body, and when this happens, you don’t learn as well.” P. 40

Depression and Cognitive Loss

“Both dementia and depression are associated with atrophy of the hippocampus. A loss of brain cells in this area causes gradual damage, which in turns leads to memory loss and, eventually, dementia. Depression can be viewed as the natural consequence of dying brain cells combined with a loss of voltage, or brain power. Without reversing this brain cell loss and brain electrical loss, you will experience significant changes to your thinking as well as your temperament.” P. 42,43

“Mood changes are among the easiest brain reversals that  you can make, because they appear during the mildest brain chemical deficits.” P. 46

Next time we will begin looking at Memory Problems.

 

How Does the Brain Affect Our Lives? (Part 6)

A Book Review: Younger Brains, Sharper Brains by Eric R. Braverman, M.D.

by Maggie Dail, M.A., Learning Specialist

Chapter 3 – Identifying Personality and Mood Changes

Personality and mood changes represent early warning signs of pre-MCI and MCI (mild cognitive impairment). Early signs include:

  • Feeling off
  • Feeling not like yourself
  • Anxiety
  • Followed by other mental health problems
  • Insomnia
  • Brain fog
  • Depression
  • Inability to get things done
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Overall confusion
  • Mental slowness
  • Irritable
  • Restless
  • Forgetful

 

These signs reflect unstable dopamine levels. Researchers “at the University of Minho in Portugal found that chronically stressed rats lost their cunning and instead resorted to familiar routines and rote responses, like compulsively pressing a bar for food pellets even though they weren’t hungry.” “..the dopamine regions associated (of the brain) with executive function  — had shriveled, while GABA sectors linked to habit formation had expanded. The chronically stressed rats were no longer producing more dopamine; in fact, they were producing less. …they had cognitively conditioned themselves to ‘go through the motions’ of life, repeatedly doing the same tasks over and over instead of trying something new.” P. 33

 Dr. Daniel Amen states that “long-term exposure to stress hormones like cortisol has been found to kill cells in the hippocampus involved with memory, learning, and emotion. In fact, people who are chronically stressed have smaller hippocampal regions, which may result in an ability to continue learning as they age.” (Highlighted box p. 34)

Having stabilized amounts of GABA keeps the brain in balance. Individuals with a GABA imbalance may:

  • Develop chronic pain or a feeling of being sick
  • Have difficulty with concentrate
  • Have global memory problems
  • Be impulsive
  • Have difficulty thinking clearly
  • Have inconsistent attention problems
  • Be irritable and / or hostile
  • Have poor memory
  • Be restless p. 34

Glutamate-GABA Relationship –they balance each other:

“Glutamate excites cells to higher states of activity so that they can receive and process information… Every time we learn something new, glutamate is released. And every time glutamate is released, GABA must be there to funnel it in the right direction.” P. 25 When GABA is unbalance, too much glutamate is released and the opposite happens – neurons are killed.

Ways to Reduce Stress

  • Laugh
  • Get out in the sun
  • Reminisce
  • Clean-up (declutter) p.37

Next time we will discuss the important Sleep Factor.

How Does the Brain Affect Our Lives? (Part 5)

A Book Review: Younger Brains, Sharper Brains by Eric R. Braverman, M.D.

by Maggie Dail, M.A., Learning Specialist

 

Chapter 2: The Causes of Cognitive Decline

“The difference between a resourceful mind and senility is only 100 milliseconds of brain speed. We react to light in 50 milliseconds, recognize sound in 100 milliseconds, and think in 300 milliseconds. By the time we slow down to 400 milliseconds, we can no longer process logical thought.” p. 23

We lose 7-10 milliseconds each decade just due to age.  It happens so slowly and gradually, that we seldom notice it.

“While we can’t recognize a change in brain speed, many people know that something has changed with their thinking.” p. 24  Many of us describe it as “brain fog.”

Three Kinds of MCI (illustration p. 24)

Amestic – memory loss, increased forgetfulness

Non-amestic – single domain – loss of one aspect of cognitive functioning, without forgetfulness


Non-amestic – multiple domain– loss of many aspects of cognitive functioning, without forgetfulness

Beyond loss of memory there is a separation between thinking and doing. All of this unbalances the brain.

Causes of MCI (p. 25-31)

  • Aging — number 1 cause
  • Addiction (related to dopamine and can include alcohol, drugs, overeating, gambling)
  • Prescription medicines (may cause brain fog, blur vision, increase fatigue, affect depth perception)
  • Over-the-Counter medicines (allergy and cold; heartburn)
  • Parasites, bacteria and viral infections (HIV, TB, Epstein- Barr, Lyme, CMV)
  • Degenerative disorders (MS, ALS, Huntington’s,etc.)
  • Physical trauma – (repeated injuries, 20-30 year old injuries)
  • Psychiatric disorders (anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, panic attacks)
  • Sleep disturbances (insomnia, others)
  • Toxic exposure (aluminum, arsenic, cadmium, lead, mercury)
  • Vitamin and mineral deficiencies (B1, B3, B6, B12, nicotinic acid, zinc)

According to researchers at University of California, San Diego, Medical Center….”The rate at which the sense of smell is lost may predict how rapidly cognitive functioning is lost.” (boxed text p. 29)

Next we will discuss changes in mood and personality.

How Does the Brain Affect Our Lives? (Part 4)

A Book Review: Younger Brain, Sharper Mind

by Maggie Dail, M.A., Learning Specialist

 

Dementia and Alzheimer’s: The End of the Line

“…the degree of cognitive impairment at baseline seems to dictate the severity of dementia later in life. This means that the longer you wait to reverse your cognitive decline, the more difficult it will become, and the more likely you will suffer from debilitating dementia.” p. 18-19

Symptoms of Declining Attention Are Linked to Declining Brain Chemicals (illustration p. 18)

  • Inconsistent attention, losing items – dopamine
  • Carelessness, lack of attention – Acetylcholine
  • Impulsivity – GABA
  • Inability to grasp concepts quickly – Serotonin

“Not all people who experience pre-MCI and MCI will eventually develop Alzheimer’s disease or dementia; however, everyone with Alzheimer’s begins with the two earlier stages.” p. 19

Alzheimer’s damages and kills brain, virtually ending neurogenesis.  Secondly, brain fibers tangle and finally, there is a decrease in blood flow in the brain. P. 19-20

Symptoms of Early Stages of Alzheimer’s Disease: p. 20

  • Verbal memory loss (telling the same story, asking the same question..
  • Unfamiliarity with daily tasks (dressing, preparing a simple meal)
  • Dysphasia – (can’t think of right word)
  • Confusing “where” and “when” – not knowing where you are; not knowing the date
  • Confusing locations of familiar places (getting lost)
  • Compromised judgement (making bad decisions)
  • Decreased awareness of personal hygiene
  • Difficulty with abstract thinking (distinguishing objects of similar sizes)
  • Placing objects in unsuitable places (purse in garbage, shoes in fridge)
  • Extreme mood changes (joy to sadness; extreme anger for no reason)
  • Personality adjustments
  • Lack of interest: avoidance behavior; increased thoughts of death, loss of spontaneity

Next time we will explore the causes of Cognitive Decline….

 

 

How Does the Brain Affect Our Lives? (Part 3)

by Maggie Dail, M.A., Learning Specialist

The Life Cycle of Memory – p. 12-13

  1. “Spark of Life” – fetus – brain voltage – 4-5 times that of an adult; but speed is slower – can’t retain all.
  2. “Infantile Amnesia” – birth to four years old – “Infants and toddlers can’t organize their thoughts or recall information.” p. 12
  3. “Memory Retention” – ages 5-12 and 13-20 – blasts off during adolescence
  4. “Consolidation of Adulthood” – ages 20-40 “The brain organizes itself to function more effectively, and we are at our peak performance. This is the time when people tend to establish their careers, start families, and generally settle down.”
  5. Slow, but steady decline – Women beginning as early as age 40; Men usually have another 10 years before this decline begins.

“Each decade thereafter, mild cognitive impairment (MCI) begins as brain speed and voltage are lost.” p. 13

The Continuum of Alzheimer’s Disease – as cognitive function declines and as years go by:  preclinical, MCI and then Alzheimer’s Disease (Illustration on p. 15)

Warning Signs of Mild Cognitive Impairment:(p. 15-16)

  • Remembers past, but not recent events
  • Emotional – agitation, anger, anxiety, depression, fear of being alone, frustration, jealousy, loss of normal emotional response, mood swings, paranoia, tension…
  • Changes in attention and concentration
  • Commission errors (eg. jumping the gun)
  • Omission errors (eg. missed stop signs)
  • Complex attention errors (eg. can’t pull it together)
  • Declining spatial perception
  • Decreased creativity
  • Difficulty learning new tasks
  • Difficulty retaining new information
  • Difficulty with making decisions
  • Failure to recognize people
  • Forgetfulness
  • Hoarding
  • Inability to complete a task
  • Inability to manage finances
  • Memory loss
  • Poor abstract thinking
  • Poor judgement
  • Self neglect
  • Slow response time
  • Stunted intellectual growth
  • Unusual sleep patterns, or general lack of sleep

Watch for changes in personality, temperament,  memory, attention and focus.

If you are like me, you are anxious to get to the part of the book that provides solutions, but we must be patient and get the preliminary information first. Stay tuned.