Posts filed under ‘Supporting Science & Medicine’

When To Stop Driving: New Guidelines for Alzheimer’s Patients (And Others)

Senior Drivers - Image by SailorJohn on Stock.Xchng In many parts of the US, driving is crucial  to a sense of independence as an adult. Getting your license, owning your first car – they’re rites of passage, the first real sign that society sees you as responsible.

As we age, giving up those keys is just as significant –   it’s an undeniable return to dependence on others. Trips to the doctor, the grocery store,  visiting friends and taking part in social activities become more difficult.  And it has negative consequences – the desire not to be an imposition on others often leads seniors to procrastinate and avoid situations where they’ll have to ask for a ride.   The avoidance has a snowball effect, that can lead to a poor diet, poorer health, isolation, and depression – all of which worsen the symptoms of Alzheimer’s and other cognitive issues.

So while the risks of an accident go up as cognitive symptoms worsen, it’s important not to give the keys up any earlier than necessary.   Studies suggest that around 75% of patients with mild dementia can still pass driving tests and be considered safe to drive.

But how do you know when it’s time? (more…)

April 13, 2010 at 5:48 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

Alzheimer’s, Cancer & Cell-phones: Puzzling New Science Studies

Cellphones & Mouse Brains! Phone from HelloMoto1, Gerbil from lockstockb, both on Stock.Xchng The past two weeks brought some startling results from Alzheimer’s related research.

The first, out of Washington University School of Medicine, suggests a curious reverse-link between Alzheimer’s and cancer: patients diagnosed with Alzheimer’s are less likely to develop cancer, and vice versa.

Although the results were at least partiually unexpected, they do make a strange sort of sense.  In Alzheimer’s disease, brain cells inexplicably deteriorate, while cancer causes cells to inexplicably and wildly multiply.  It seems possible that related errors in the same biochemical or genetic switch underlie both conditions.


January 7, 2010 at 4:56 pm Leave a comment

Chemo-Brain: How Cancer Treatments Interfere With Cognitive Function

(Brain) Foggy Morning:  Image by AyeCeeYou on Stock.Xchng For years, cancer patients have complained about “chemo-brain”:  a mental fog that seemed to start with their chemotherapy treatments, the effects of which can last long after treatments had stopped – for weeks, months, or even years.

The medical community has been slow to recognize these effects, believing any mental difficulties were due to other known side effects, and issues like depression, anemia, and so on.

But recent studies have not only confirmed that  the mental fog associated with chemotherapy is real, but even revealed at least part of how the brain-fog occurs: commonly used treatments  seem  to prevent the development of new brain-cells – in one case, reducing regeneration in the brain by as much as 30%!

Understanding the impact means accepting the new realities of neuroscience… that  adult brains are not (as previously believed) concrete and fixed, but constantly renewing and rewiring themselves through.  When we interfere with the process of renewal, our mental functions suffer – it’s harder to learn new things, store and retrieve new memories, focus on tasks and maintain a stable mood.

What does this mean in practical terms, for helping cancer patients deal with the brain fog of chemo?

It’s too early in the research to know for sure, but treatment with an insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) shows promise in reversing the problem.

And though the existing studies don’t reference the idea (and this is pure speculation on my part!)  it  seems possible that tactics of brain-fitness might minimize or slow the negative-effects of chemo on the brain both before, during and after treatments.   Physical and mental activity, a healthy diet, lower stress levels and adequate sleep (among other things) normally help the brain to build a cognitive reserve that might be drawn on during the stress of chemo, or they might simply help the brain recover more quickly.

Because of debilitating side effects of chemo, patients are often inactive, unable to participate in their normal intellectual and social activities, are unable to eat much, are almost universally stressed.   Could efforts to stay more physically or mentally active reduce the cognitive struggles, or help patients recover more quickly?  It will be interesting to watch as this research develops further, but if I had to guess, I’d think that the more fit your brain is, the better able you’ll be to maintain your cognitive functions in the face of nearly any health challenges, whether it’s normal age-related declines, Alzheimer’s, brain injuries, or, perhaps… chemo-brain.

So if you or someone you love has gone through cancer treatments, and you’re noticing a difference in mental state, memory or focus, don’t assume it’s just advanced age or hopeless.  Talk to your doctor, then go on a brain-fitness quest to give your brain an extra boost towards recovery!

December 22, 2009 at 1:30 pm Leave a comment

Brain Health & Tooth Brushing: Could There Be A Link?

image For quite a while now, poor oral health has been linked to increased risk of  heart disease and strokes.  But could gum disease also contribute to cognitive problems, even increasing the risk of Alzheimer’s?  New research out of the Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons suggests just that.

In the study, 2,350 adults over the age of 60 were assessed for both the levels of gum-disease and  tests of their cognitive skills.  The results?  Those with the highest levels of the bacteria that cause gum disease were two to three times as likely to struggle with simple memory and cognitive tasks, like remembering  word sequences or doing mental arithmetic.


November 17, 2009 at 2:34 pm 2 comments

Multi-Tasking Troubles: Another Early Alzheimer’s Symptom

Based on Maze Image by gerard79 on Stock Xchng Recently, I’ve written about how problems with money management and visual & spatial skills can be very early indicators of the onset of Alzheimer’s. Another new study ads multi-tasking troubles to the list.

At the University of Edinburgh, a team of researchers have found that Alzheimer’s patients perform significantly poorly on tests of simultaneous tasks.   The 89 participants in the study were divided into three groups – healthy older adults, Alzheimer’s patients, and adults with chronic depression (a condition which early stages of Alzheimer’s can sometimes mimic, causing a misdiagnosis).


November 10, 2009 at 1:58 pm Leave a 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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