1. Brain Health Activities – 5 Tips To Help Keep Your Mind Sharp

    June 8, 2013

    Brain Health Activities

    The same way you go to the gym and work on the fitness of your body through exercises, you can improve the fitness of your brain by regularly doing activities that train your mind. When you train your brain properly you’ll be able to stretch the limit of your mind. When you utilize the right brain activities you’ll eventually start improving your memory, reflexes, creativity, your ability to process information and a lot more. Check out these fitness tips made specifically for your brain.

    Perform Reconstructive Activities

    Reconstructing something like an image or what a person said can help you improve your memory and increase all levels of brain operation. It is considered one of the top brain health activities. Head out to a Zoo or art gallery and get a tour. As you go through the tour make sure you listen to everything the tour guide is telling you. Try to pay attention to every little detail of the tour and once the tour concludes try to remember everything until you reach home.

    Once you are home try to write down everything you remember from the tour on a piece of paper. This simple activity will improve your overall brain function and ability to receive and recollect things easily.

    Another thing you can try to reconstruct in your mind is a certain song that you like. Listen to a song as much as you can until you have memorized it word for word. This will help your mind develop great thinking and remembering skills.

    Reconstruction activities will release beneficial chemicals in your brain like neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Acetylcholine is a main carrier of thoughts and memory in your brain. Without enough acetylcholine in your brain you won’t be able to focus on anything for too long, and both your storage and memory will suffer.

    One of the best ways to release more acetylcholine into your brain is to perform an activity that requires you to use your eyes. Pick a location somewhere outside like a park or you can even do it inside your home. Now sit down somewhere and look directly in front of you while trying to focus on everything you view. Don’t turn your head or move your eyes, just look straight ahead. Remain in this position for 10 to 15 minutes and then when done take a pen and list everything you saw on this list. This is another effective reconstruction activity that will help reduce memory loss and fight off symptoms of conditions like Alzheimer’s.

    Learn A New Instrument

    Have you ever wanted to learn how to play a certain instrument but you never made it a priority? Well, if you are trying to sharpen up your mind now is a good time to start learning. When you learn how to play an instrument it’ll improve your memory, brain processing, and even help with hearing.

    The reason why learning a new instrument will improve your brain’s ability to remember things is because you have to learn about things like scores and tones when you learn music, which will train your brain to store more information than before.

    Do Your Math

    Most people are intimidated by math while they’re in school and try to avoid this subject as much as possible. However, solving math problems (even simple ones) can help you stimulate your brain.  The key to using simple math problems to improve your brain health is to do them as fast as you can. When you use your brain to solve creative problems quickly your brain will begin operating at a much faster rate and slow down the effects of aging.

    Sudoku

    Sudoku is a logic based puzzle that can improve your brain function dramatically. This activity will mainly help the left side of your brain, which is the logic area. People who frequently play the Sudoku game report that their mind feels sharper and they are more alert. Brain health experts recommend playing games like Sudoku in order to keep your brain operating at a high level when you’re old. You can find Sudoku in most newspapers at least once every week.

    Learn How to Use Your Off Hand

    Believe it or not, but learning to use your secondary hand can have a great effect on your brain. If you are left handed try using your right hand to do simple things, and if you’re right handed try to use your left. Doing this activity as often as you can will help your brain learn a new and more challenging way of doing things.

    This will force your brain to make a positive change. Start with something as simple as brushing your teeth. Learn to brush your teeth everyday with your off hand and eventually your brain will adapt to this change. Continue to learn how to do more challenging tasks with your secondary hand to keep challenging your brain and improving its processing power.

    Image Credit: Mark Sebastian


  2. On Progress in Dementia Research

    May 25, 2013

    Dementia and Alzheimer's disease

    by Gaj and Kathy Ragunathan

    Research scientists in Britain and worldwide  are striving to eliminate Dementia. There are teams of scientists striving to develop preventative treatment strategies, to find new ways to diagnose the disease and ultimately, cure it. Top scientists are pursuing groundbreaking, innovative research programs and their goal is to rid the world of Dementia.

    Dementia is a general term for decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life, it causes loss of brain function that occurs and affects memory, thinking, language, judgement and behaviour. Patients with dementia are often confused, they sometimes suffer mood changes and have difficulty coping with everyday tasks. There are currently 820.000 people with mental health related dementia in the UK and as the population increases so do the numbers of people who have the disease. It cuts across society and devastates families. A world-wide trend, numbers of people with dementia are doubling every twenty years. Researchers are exploring ways to care for people who suffer from it and are striving to find the best environment for patients and family support.

    The British Government is tackling mental health head on.  This national crisis is being  funded through screening programs to identify the condition at an early stage. Britain is leading the world in Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease research and plans have been made to increase scientific funding. Prime Minister David Cameron stated that awareness of dementia is poor and that the levels of recognizing the disease and treating it need to be more fully researched. He was surprised to discover the vast need to raise awareness of the disease.

    The Centre for Clinical Research in the UK, (the Dementia Research Centre) at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery specializes in drug trials. Drugs that slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease are tested there. The majority of dementia is caused by Alzheimer’s disease and the research team are currently working to identify the Alzheimer’s gene. Their concern is also with identifying causes that could trigger Alzheimer’s and with x-raying brain damage and studying its development and tracking its growth in Alzheimer’s. They research techniques to diagnose and track the progression of these debilitating diseases.

    Universities in Britain are producing research environments for investigating causes and treatment of dementia. Alzheimer’s Scotland funds clinical and scientific research into the development and maintenance of brain tissue and the charity finances a brain tissue bank. Alzheimer’s Research is a UK charity that funds some of these studies and tries to find new ways to eliminate dementia. Its aims are to improve our understanding of all causes of dementia and explore ways to improve diagnosis, prevention and treatment. There is an urgent need to commit to the funding of resourcing and implementation of a national development strategy.

    Awareness of dementia needs to be raised and understood, not stigmatized  Radical shifts in attitude are needed to help transform lives. There is a great need for quality, dementia care homes to care professionally for people experiencing the many different stages of dementia, whether it be a private or on the national health service.  Staff training is paramount in providing a supportive environment for elderly people suffering from  mental health,  remaining sensitive to their individual needs and personalities and preserving their independence as much as possible. Good dementia care homes have a duty to offer facilities tailored to their residents’ individual needs.

    Image Credit: Nwardez


  3. How Vitamin B12 Can Protect Your Mental Health

    May 10, 2013

    Protect Your Mental Health

    by Jessica Velasco

    When we are young, we don’t give a lot of thought to the possibility of our declining mental health.  We feel invincible; things like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease seem to be eons away.

    However, our actions today can drastically affect our future health.  We need to be aware of possible health conditions and how they will influence our later years.  Those who have already advanced to the midlife phase need to know hope is not lost; there are still ways to prevent mental health decline.

    Understanding The Role of Vitamin B12

    Vitamin B12 is a water soluble vitamin found in animal products like meat, fish, eggs and milk.  It can also be found in nutritional supplements and vitamin fortified foods (like breakfast cereals and snack bars).

    This vitamin plays a key role in the normal functioning of the brain and nervous system.  It is also responsible for the formation of blood.

    If we fail to consume or absorb enough vitamin B12, we could experience a deficiency.  If left untreated, a vitamin B12 deficiency could have severe and irreversible effects on our overall health – especially the brain and nervous system.

    Symptoms of a vitamin B12 deficiency range in severity.  In the beginning, nutrient deficient patients could feel tired, dizzy, and have an upset stomach.  As the condition worsens, patients might experience tingling in their fingers and toes, excessive mood swings, memory loss, depression, mania and psychosis.

    If adequate levels are restored, the deficiency and undesirable conditions can be kept at bay.  Most doctors recommend vitamin B12 injections to treat a deficiency.  Other supplement methods – oral pills, sublingual drops or skin patches – aren’t as effective.  This is especially true for the older population who has trouble absorbing adequate amounts of the vitamin.

    The Impact Vitamin B12 Has on Mental Health

    Since vitamin B12 is directly responsible for maintaining optimal brain and nervous system health, it isn’t surprising to learn the vitamin can have long lasting health effects.

    If a deficiency is left untreated, our mental health will obviously suffer.  However, people who have even just a minimal deficiency – levels just slightly lower than normal – can receive numerous benefits from vitamin B12 injections too.

    Vitamin B12 plays an active role in the process that converts food to energy.  If this conversion isn’t happening properly, weight gain could occur.  Therefore, vitamin B12 is often used in conjunction with various weight loss methods.  If we are struggling with weight issues and failing to find the underlying cause, we can suffer severe mental distress.

    Maintaining adequate levels of the nutrient can also help reduce cardiovascular risk and decrease the chance of heart disease.  Knowing our heart is in good health is always reassuring!

    Additionally, regular vitamin B12 injections help people feel happier and think positively.  Higher levels of the nutrient are also responsible for improved memory and reaction time.

    The Correlation Between Vitamin B12 and Alzheimer’s Disease

    A recent study by Celeste de Jager, a neuropsychologist at Oxford University, revealed that large doses of vitamin B12 could slow the cognitive decline that is a precursor to dementias such as Alzheimer’s disease.

    Two hundred seventy men and women participated in the study.  Every individual was over the age of 70 and had mild cognitive impairment (memory, language and other mental functions had been minimally compromised).

    Individuals with mild cognitive impairment were specially chosen for this study since the condition affects one in six of today’s elderly population.  Additionally, 50% of mild cognitive impairment patients develop Alzheimer’s within five years of onset.

    Dr. de Jager reported that participants who took a combination of vitamin B6, vitamin B12 and folic acid showed surprising results.

    Over the course of two years, this nutrient combination was responsible for reducing the overall shrinkage of the participants’ brains by 30%.  Patients who joined the study with elevated levels of homocysteine in their blood experienced shrinkage reduction of 50%.

    The combination of these B vitamins and folic acid can help control the levels of homocysteine in our blood.  This amino acid, if left unchecked, can damage blood vessels by attacking the endothelial lining of blood cells.  It also binds to receptors in the brain which contributes to atrophy.

    By keeping homocysteine levels in check, we can reduce cognitive decline and possibly prevent dementia.

    No matter what your age or stage, it is never too late – or early – to starting thinking about the future.  Consider how simple things like vitamin supplements can improve your overall health.  Our mental health is one of the most valuable things we have; we need to do all we can to keep our brains functioning properly for as long as possible!

    Image Credit: Wagner Cesar Munhoz


  4. On Music Therapy for Alzheimer and Dementia

    May 1, 2013

    Playing piano

    by Sophie Evans

    One of the most common symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease is dementia, which is a decline in brain function. The earlier someone is diagnosed with this incurable disease, the longer they are likely to have to deal with the symptoms associated with it.

    The greatest fear for most people upon hearing their doctor saying that have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s is that they will lose their sense of self. They fear that dementia will rob them of their uniqueness and, once that gone, then there is no hope of recapturing it.

    Take for instance veteran soul musician Bobby Womack. He is only 68 years old. Despite being a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, he has trouble remembering songs that he wrote, and even the last names of his band members.

    Music Therapy and Dementia

    This is ironic because music therapy is one of the best ways to help treat every stage of Alzheimer’s, from early onset until later when the individual spends most of their time immobile in a bed or a wheelchair.

    Here are some specific ways it reduces symptoms: 

    1. Offers mental challenges to stimulate the brain and keep it active to fight off symptoms of dementia
    2. Affords individuals with ways express their emotions regarding symptoms related to Alzheimer’s
    3. Provides opportunity for repetition which improves memory function and therefore reduces the occurrences of memory loss
    4. Encourages singing along to lyrics which improves speech and vocal health, even for patients who are otherwise nonverbal
    5. Allows interaction which helps with social interaction and helps reduce depression

    How Music Therapy Works

    We use every part of our brain to process music. And not just in one way – we process music in multiple ways at once! Even if a part of the brain is damaged due to dementia, then music can still stimulate it in ways that prescription medication and other therapies cannot.

    Concetta Tomaino is a certified music therapist and director of the Institute for Music and Neurologic Function at Beth Abraham Family of Health Services. She explains that “Music has a personal significance to someone…is a strong stimulus to engage responses in people.”

    In other words, if a particular song or piece of music has historic significance in regards to something from our past, then we are likely to be moved by it. Along with the memory of that event are the emotions associated with it. This can delay Alzheimer’s symptoms, and even improve quality of life.

    Individual Therapy Programs

    One of the largest benefits of music therapy is that the therapist can tailor and individualize programs to suit the unique needs of each patient who suffers from Alzheimer’s. These programs are based on the individual’s personal history and ability to engage with others.

    Just because something works for one person does not mean it will work for all patients. That is because each person who is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s could present symptoms that are as unique as their own genetic makeup!

    The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (www.alzfdn.org) advises that any time a particular piece of music evokes distress that the session should discontinue. They observe that stress may be indicated by “agitation, facial grimaces or increasing muscular tension.”

    Alzheimer’s and Instruments

    Along with listening to music and singing to it, individuals can play an instrument to express their feelings, relieve stress, or just as a way to be able to interact socially. For those who have never played a musical instrument before, it is still possible to take basic lessons on learning.

    Learning how to play an instrument, like the piano, offers a way for Alzheimer’s patients to reach small goals and work their way up to slightly larger ones. For patients who lack the ability to sit at the piano, an iPad or other tablet offers how to learn piano notes.

    Being able to just tap or swipe across a digital screen to play an instrument helps Alzheimer’s patients build confidence regarding their new talent. Individuals who just prefer listening can operate an iPod or MP3 player – even if they lack the motor skills to do much else with their hands.

    Image Credit: Vladimir Agafonkin