Monthly Archives: November 2013

Katniss Everdeen or Susannah Cahalan? The Real Girl on Fire

I saw “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” this weekend and my brain loved the action, the suspense, and the love story.  All the references to Katniss Everdeen as “The Girl on Fire” reminded me of an article I read a few years ago about Susannah Cahalan’s memoir, “Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness.”

Would it bring you relief if a doctor told you, “Your brain is on fire.”? Well, Dr. Souhel Najjar,  brought hope to Susannah Cahalan’s parents when he basically told them their daughter’s brain was on fire and he diagnosed what was wrong with her.

“Cahalan was the 217th person in the world to be diagnosed with anti-NDMA-receptor encephalitis, a relatively treatable illness that causes swelling in the right lobe of the brain. Untreated, she may have sunk into coma and eventually died.” (Click here for full article)

Thankfully, Dr. Najjar diagnosed Cahalan and she recovered.  It is quite an amazing story.  Cahalan stated in the article, “We don’t understand how neurological autoimmune disorders work.” I hope scientists bridge the knowledge gap in this area quickly and the public becomes more aware.

For the majority of us, we don’t have a “brain on fire,” but what have you done to take care of your brain lately?

Sometimes, it is as simple as going to a movie, hanging out with friends, drinking a glass of wine, and having some fish for dinner.

I’ll break it down a little further below.

Movie: Hunger Games- Catching Fire (Galaxy Theater in Atascadero, CA)= De-stressing

Friends: Michelle, Elaine, Montse, and Jenny = Social engagement

Wine: (that can be consumed in the VIP Room at the movie theater) = Resveratrol

Ahi Salad (Guest House Grill)  = Omega-3

All these examples can help optimize brain health and prevent diseases like Alzheimer’s.

I hope you are finding simple ways to take care of yourself!  Your brain will thank you for it.

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The Ocarina and the Brain

My brain is fascinated by new things and loves music. How about yours?

I think the ocarina is my favorite “new” (yet very old) instrument.  St. Louis Ocarina has taken an instrument which dates back thousands of years and freshened up its look.  Now you can find an ocarina shaped like a ladybug or a teacarina, an ocarina shaped like a tea cup.  Why not have some tea and play some music, right? (I will post about the benefits linked to tea consumption and brain health later.)

St. Louis Ocarina’s newest line to be released includes officially licensed Marvel superhero ocarinas. After viewing the pictures, I think the Spiderman or the Thor one would be my top Marvel comic picks. Are you curious to see what a Spiderman ocarina looks like? Check out The St. Louis Ocarina website and watch some videos of ocarinas being played if you have never heard its flute-like melodies before.

So how does playing an ocarina benefit your brain?

There is a Fox News clip posted on the St. Louis Ocarina site that discusses the benefits of music education. Here are the top benefits:

  • Promotes Problem Solving
  • Teaches Focus and Discipline
  • Maximizes Memory
  • Develops an “I can do” Attitude

Although the  benefits of music education mentioned in the video were geared towards children, everyone’s brain can benefit from tools that help maximize memory.  It is never too late for the brain to change.

Have you ever heard of or followed the work of Dr. Gordon Shaw? He conducted studies using music to learn about higher brain function. His book, “Keeping Mozart in Mind- Volume 1,” looks like a good read.  Scientists are still in debate over what he and fellow researchers dubbed the “Mozart Effect.”

Here’s a link to a video of Papageno’s Song from the Magic Flute written by Mozart and played on a STL Florentine Ocarina.

I hope you are taking time to enjoy some music– whether it is played on a Zelda ocarina or another instrument of your choice! It is a great way to reduce stress and maintain a healthy brain.

Author: Tina Davidson

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Inspiration for Your Brain

I had to watch the YouTube video of Stephen Jepson’s story more than once.  He’s in his early 70s and has a great zeal for life.  The video shows him hopping across rocks barefoot, walking a slack rope, riding his elliptical bike, climbing a vertical ladder supported by guide wires, and throwing knives.

Stephen Jepson is a learning theorist, inventor, athlete, artist, and a kid at heart who has turned his property into a playground. His key to a long and healthy life is play.

He says in the video, “My memory has become absolutely intense since beginning to do all these things” and he never falls.  During his playground activities, he alternates between his dominant and non-dominant hand and foot.  All of the activities shown, like playing jacks, stick flipping, and juggling on a Bongo board, are helping him build neural pathways, grow new brain cells, develop balance and coordination, and are key to preventing Alzheimer’s, dementia, and Parkinson’s.  One of his main goals is to prevent bone breaking falls in himself and others.

Although he never mentions the systems by name, it seems he is highly in tune with his brain’s proprioceptive and vestibular systems. Interestingly enough,  I found a good blurb about these systems on the Orange County Learning Disabilities Association’s website.  Here’s the link for the quote below:  http://www.oclda.org/sensory.html

When the neurobiology dysfunctions, it causes distortions in the sensory system of the body. Without proper neurobiological support, the ability to touch, see, and hear can be distorted. When vestibular and proprioceptive systems are inadequate, such perceptions as the ability to know where one is in space, to have a sense of time, and even to have a sense of humor can be distorted in such a way that the individual has difficulty perceiving the world correctly. Visual, auditory, and tactile responses must be able to perceive, interpret and process information so that a child can learn about the world around him/her. Without good sensory integration, learning and behavior is more difficult and the individual often feels uncomfortable about himself, and cannot easily cope with ordinary demands and stress.1

Basically, if we don’t have adequate vestibular and proprioceptive systems, we are more likely to fall since we can’t perceive where we are in space (which also hinders learning and other things).  I guess kids and adults can all use a little more play.  Many of the playground items Stephen uses, like the hurdles made from PVC pipe, you can make yourself and set up in your backyard.

Stephen reminds us that it is never too late to learn– hence, the science of neuroplasticity.

He encourages others to,”Be bold in your life choices, it is just going to make your life richer.” His message, “Never leave the playground.”

What ways are you going to play today?

Thanks to Growing Bolder broadcasting for sharing Stephen’s story!

Check out the video and be inspired!  http://youtu.be/aUf72dLf22c

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November 3, 2013 · 10:16 pm

Fine-Tuning of Brain Function and Autism

Perhaps you have a friend or family member on the autism spectrum?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, about 1 in 88 children has been identified with an autism spectrum disorder. http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/data.html

Dr. Martha Herbert, pediatric neurologist and neuroscientist at Harvard Medical School, wrote an article about autism that was published online for the Orange County Register on October 18, 2013.  She wrote: “Some autism self-advocates don’t think autism is a “disorder” at all – they describe themselves as having a “condition” that is simply a different way of being human.”

Her article, “Autism challenges us to ‘think different,'” did indeed challenge me to think differently about the subject.

Here’s an excerpt from her article regarding the brain and autism that has implications for us all:

“The areas where people on the autism spectrum have the hardest time are the functions requiring the most exquisite fine-tuning of brain function. The brain requires loads of energy to fire its signals, and to coordinate them. When the brain and body are worn down by too much stress and exposures from the environment, its cells are going to have a hard time generating that energy. The most complex functions will be harder to perform. They may even be put on hold, to protect the rest of the system.

A brain with low energy is going to be challenged when the demand gets high – so finding the right words or tone, figuring out what facial expressions mean, integrating vision with sound and smell, being coordinated, paying attention or even being flexible – all of these will be hard – often too hard.

From this perspective you can see why there would be a spectrum in autism – it’s because there are a million ways of getting overloaded and running out of energy. Each person has their own unique combination of genetic weak spots and exposures that pile on top of this. Each person has their own total load recipe.” Check out the whole article here: http://www.ocregister.com/articles/spectrum-531927-autism-many.html

There is a lot to learn. I am intrigued to check out her book, The Autism Revolution: Whole Body Strategies for Making Life All It Can Be.

Anyone read it?

I hope that you are taking care of your brain so that it is not overloaded.

One thing you can do to keep your  brain happy and healthy is to exercise.  Try just a casual walk with a friend to reduce your stress. Your brain will be happy you did!

 

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