Jerry Brown Gets Clinical With Info About the Brain

Some of the latest brain research I learned at a recent UC Irvine lecture series on the Human Brain:

  1. Alzheimer’s is increasing.  Why this is still happening is the subject of ongoing research… but a contributing factor is that so many people are living longer.  50% of people over 80 will have suffer Alzheimer’s in their lifetime. Again, this widespread increase in reported cases of Alzheimer’s is similar to the instances to prostate cancer going up – tied primarily to the aging of the population.  It is not due to an increase per capita of the diseases….it is in the increase in people living longer.
  2. There are fewer dopamine receptors as people age—an important factor in a population such as ours who are working with depleted dopamine levels as a result of the  many drugs and alcohol that have been used.
  3. An Amyloid Deposit Test is showing promise in spotting the problems in the brain prior to symptoms showing up.
  4. As people’s brains age  (or become damaged from drugs), bilateral (both sides of the brain) are utilized more to solve problems. This knowledge is also important with neuro-genisis (new neurons being formed in a damaged brain).  The brain is seen as more resilient than previously thought.
  5. The brain is seen as more resilient than previously thought.
  6. Cardiovascular exercise is one of the main recommendations for people with brain problems. When they stop, the brain returns to the original neuron-firing pattern.  Thus we can be “exercise stupid”— then “get smarter”—and return to the original pattern.
  7. A well documented study from Germany is getting national attention where they asked people to begin to juggle. The FMRI machines showed considerable improvement in functioning. Again, 3 months after they stopped, it went back down.
  8. The vast amount of money spent by the pharmaceutical companies on aging drugs have not proven effective.  There is a trend away from research because they are not working and have numerous side affects.
  9. Men have larger brains than women but women are smarter…why? (That’s easy, just ask my wife)  They are more likely to utilize both sides of their brain to solve problems.
  10. Ways to improve the brain are:
  • Exercise
  • Brain software (e.g. Brain Teaser —a devise that have  games that challenge the participant)
  • Staying outside your comfort zone (challenges in our life that make us grow and learn), but it should not be so stressful we loose control (e.g. the victims of the earthquake in Haiti)
  • Move to a new environment where you have to relearn where everything is and where to go.
  • Support or fellowship groups such as 12 step, church, Synagogue (While this was not mentioned in the lecture, studies show we have an improved immune system and fewer colds when we are in support groups.  This is counterintuitive as one would think we would be in contact with more people who could give us a ‘bug’ but it is not the case.  People in support groups for cancer also live longer even if they eventually succumb to the disease.)
  • Stay on top of new technologies (we are challenged by tech toys and devises like games, cell phones, and video games.  We form new neuro-pathways when we learn new skills. Video games are in this category contrary to common critical attitudes about such devises by people who do not use them).  When medical surgery students are exposed to new robotic technology, they take to it much faster if they have played video games.  They start playing with the buttons right away to see how it works.  They also have less fear about them.  This may explain why I have no left ear when I participated in the experiment.  (Just kidding….what?).
  • Stay on top of depression.  I see people everyday  people who are impaired with  cognitive functioning as a result of depression.  This fact is all over tests, lectures, books and writings on the subject. Our brains do not work as well when we are depressed.  Depressing isn’t it.
  • Crossword puzzles are not effective at improving brain function as previously believed.   They only allow us to utilize information which is already stored.  Improvement occurs when we are  challenged every day with new problems and exercises.  Short term memory exercises are more effective.
  • What is the best way to improve your brain?—-go to school, stay in school and keep learning. It is literally use it or loose it.

Dr. Jerry Brown, Addiction Specialist