Archive for March, 2010

Remembering Who You Are: Genealogy For Your Brain Health

Family Tree - Image by fangol on Stock.Xcng
By now, you probably know that exercising your brain is an important part of maintaining the health of your mind and memory.  You may also know that  specially targeted brain fitness programs (like Dakim) and intellectually challenging  hobbies can be part of that exercise, helping to keep your brain fit and healthy.   This week, I thought we’d look at a popular hobby that offers a unique set of challenges to our minds and memories – tracing the family tree.

Why is it so unique? Building your personal family history starts with your own memories. Recording what you know about your family strengthens those memories, and every time you go back over that information, the neural network that supports it becomes stronger.

At the same time that you’re reinforcing old memories, you’re laying down new memories – new information that you’ll discover about family members, history, geography.


March 30, 2010 at 7:16 pm 1 comment

Get Moving for Your Memory (even if you’re out of shape or physically limited)

Get Moving, and Improve Your Mind! Image by hortongrou on Stock.Xchng If you’re looking for a quick brain boost, nothing compares to the benefits of physical activity.  One study after another has confirmed that exercise improves, maintains and protects cognitive functions in a whole wealth of ways( and that’s in addition to all of the other healthy goodness that being active and fit brings)

But actually *being* active?

Sometimes that’s easier said than done, especially as we age. Injury, illness, and just general out-of-shapeness make the idea of going to the gym or jogging around the park out of the question.

So what can we do, when our bodies just can’t drop to the floor and give us 100 push-ups anymore?


March 25, 2010 at 11:11 pm Leave a comment

Six Kinds of Brain Scans: Peering Inside The Skull, Part Two

In part one, we looked at three of the older ways to get a picture of what’s going on inside the skull.  EEG’s, which use electrodes on the scalp to measure electrical activity, CAT scans, which use XRay like radiation to reveal the physical structure, and PET scans, which use a radioactive injection to reveal areas of blood absorption in the brain.

MRI scanToday, we’re going to look at three more scanning technologies used by science and medicine –  technologies that are used not only for medical diagnosis, but heavily used in research, too.

MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging)

MRI’s were originally called NMRI’s, for Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Imaging, but the public was skittish about the  association with nuclear radiation exposure that the name conjured up, so the N was dropped.   The fears were ironic, because unlike PET and CAT scans, MRI’s don’t expose the patient to radiation at all.  Instead, they use a combination of a magnetic field and radio waves to harmlessly distinguish between different kinds of tissues, while a computer builds a picture based on the data.

Like CAT scans, MRI’s reveal the brain’s structure, but provide much more detailed and higher contrast results, and are able to distinguish more clearly between the density in a tumor, for instance, vs healthy brain tissue.

fMRI scan fMRI (Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging)

fMRI’s are a specialized type of MRI scan that reveals blood flow and oxygen levels in the brain. The more active an area of the brain is, the higher the blood flow is to that region, and the more oxygen is used — so fMRI’s provide a sort of second-hand look at the activity levels within the brain. First produced in the 90’s, they’ve quickly become invaluable tools in neuroscience research, and are responsible for many of the advances made in our understanding of the brain.

You’ll see fMRI’s mentioned a lot in articles about brain fitness research. As useful as the results are within the studies, the way  the information is described sometimes lead us lay folk to over simplified ideas about the brain’s function being compartmentalized, rather than working as a whole.

MEG scanner MEG (Magnetoencephalography)

MEG scans are similar to one of the of the oldest methods, the EEG; . Both scans reveal brain activity based on the tiny electrical signals produced by active neurons.   But while EEG’s measure electrical waves coming through the skull, MEG’s measure the magnetic fields of those electrical signals.   The advantage? The skull interferes with accurate measurements of the electrical signals, but the magnetic fields are less affected.  MEG scans can show changes in the brain on the fly, almost in real time – something fMRI’s can’t do.  But MEG scans are more reliable in areas close to the surface of the brain, because the deeper you look, the more the other magnetic fields within the brain itself distort the results.

So there you go.

Six brain scanning technologies: EEG, CAT, PET, MRI, fMRI, and MEG.   Between them, they can measure electrical activity, bloodflow and oxygen use, and the physical structures of the brain.  In combination, they create a fascinating picture of  how the human brain functions and responds, as well as how it changes in structure.   Knowing just a little about them provides a deeper understanding of the research behind brain fitness recommendations, which is, of course, what you’re here for!

Have you ever had a brain scan?

I have to admit to moments when I really, *really* wanted to know exactly what was going on beneath that skull of mine!

March 23, 2010 at 9:49 pm Leave a comment

Six Kinds Of Brain Scans: How Doctors Peer Inside Your Skull (part 1)

Results of an fMRI scan done by NASABrain-scans have always sounded a bit Science-Fictiony and mysterious to me.  I love the very idea of being able to peer inside someone’s head, analyze the activity, access their memories, know what they’re thinking.

Most of that, of course, is  still Science-Fiction.   Current technology can reveal a lot about our brains, but it can’t read our minds, reproduce our memories, or project copies of our thoughts onto a TV screen.

But what technology can do is pretty amazing, and it’s worth knowing a little about the methods involved – not only because your doctor may want to have your brain scanned one day, but because it helps in understanding the research being done on brain fitness, how diseases of the brain are diagnosed and understood, and because, well… it’s just generally really cool stuff!


March 18, 2010 at 4:22 pm Leave a comment

"I Remember Better When I Paint": A DVD about the Arts and Alzheimer’s

I have a passion for creative expression and the arts, so when a reader (Hi Donald!) pointed me towards this trailer, I clapped my little hands with glee.  It’s narrated by the marvelous Olivia de Havilland, whose voice lends an extra layer of depth and beauty to the project.

The idea behind the film?  Creative workshops, museum trips, and classes that allow hands on artistic expression are being effectively used as therapies for patients with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.    The artistic process taps into parts of the brain largely untouched by  Alzheimer’s,  not only allowing the patients a means of expression, but also forming a bridge of communication with loved ones and caregivers.


March 16, 2010 at 1:33 pm 1 comment

Still Alice: A Touching Alzheimer’s Story

image This week, while wandering the aisles of the local big-box store, I ran across something unexpected. Tucked in among the true-crime and romance paperbacks was a blue and white cover that caught my eye.

The title, “Still Alice,” made me pick it up, and  review quote from USA Today made me buy it.  “ A poignant portrait of Alzheimer’s… Not a book you will forget.”

Originally published in 2007, “Still Alice” is author Lisa Genova’s fictional story of  a brilliant woman with a bright career, three grown children, and a strong marriage.

And then she gets Early Onset Alzheimer’s.

In her fifties.


March 11, 2010 at 5:30 pm Leave a comment

The Soundtrack Of Your Memory

The Music of Memories: image by emospada on Stock.Xchng

It has the power to move us emotionally, and get us moving physically.  Its rhythms can affect our brainwaves.  It stimulates multiple,  diverse areas of the brain, improving connectivity. And when we associate a particular piece of music with our experiences and emotions, it becomes a trigger that can help us to recall those experiences — who hasn’t had heard a familiar song, only to have a long-lost memory come flooding back in full detail?

And now, a group of researchers  at  the University of California believe that they can use the power of music to help Alzheimer’s patients hold onto their memories of their life just a little bit longer.

How does it work?


March 9, 2010 at 6:06 pm 1 comment

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About This Blog

A healthy mind and brain is key to a healthy, active life. Come along for the ride as we explore the basics of brain health, with topics including:
  • Physical Exercise
  • Cognitive Training
  • Stress Management
  • Social Interaction
  • Sleep
  • Nutrition
  • A Sense of Purpose & Connection
Authored by Tori Deaux
Sponsored by Dakim Brain Fitness



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