21st Century Brain Research – you won’t believe it!
I had the incredible opportunity to attend a roundtable, titled: “GRAY MATTERS, Your brain, your life, and brain science in the 21st century,” at Stanford University on October 6, 2012.
I’ve included the link to the taped show below – the discussion starts at 9:02. But I wanted to first share a few of my notes. Bear with me – these are just notes, listed in note-format – but hopefully they’ll entice you to want to watch the entire 90-minute program. It is truly astounding what is being studied and understood about the human brain. And while there was much discussion of brain impacts of dementia, stroke, traumatic brain injury and Alzheimer’s, the implications of this research for addiction, stress and mental health treatment and recovery is nothing short of profound! [And if your new to the concepts of neural networks, here’s a blog post that gives you the basics, Here’s to Neural Networks and Neurotransmitters: Keys to Brain (and Therefore Emotional/Physical) Health!]
- There are approximately 100 trillion synaptic connections (which is how brain cells – neurons – communicate) in the brain and the goal is to maintain those connections or gain them back.
- We form new synaptic connections every hour – what determines if they persist is if they’re being used.
- Meditation, prayer, mindfulness activities are good ways to heal the brain because they shut down the stress circuitry – allow you to focus on the bigger world, relax and not get hooked into worry – to see the world differently; this is important to creating new memories, as well.
- Stress strips synapses in the hippocampus so reducing stress is critical.
- Nutrition, such as a healthy, Mediterranean-type diet, is important for brain health.
- Sleep is critical to brain health – it allows the brain to codify and organize the day’s learning.
- In the event of behavioral changes, it’s important to know where the cells are damaged in order to know which activities to focus on in order to heal the brain – for example, music, arts and physical activity feed the right side of the brain. People who have lost speech, for example, can actually sing a song, yet they would not be able to say the words of the song because of the way music is stored in the brain (words in one part and melody in another).
- Exercise boosts the levels of BDNF (an important protein growth factor); BDNF is critical for promoting plasticity, which is the ability to form new neural connections and maintain the connections we have.
- Important to do a little bit of a lot of things and mix it up — doing the same thing over and over doesn’t challenge neurons to reach out – so need to stretch your mind – read widely, exercise, take on new hobbies, engage in a wide-variety of activities, have interesting conversations (the idea of doing cross-word puzzles or brain games over and over makes you good at those specifically but are not good for promoting synapses beyond those used for the puzzles or brain game-type activities).
- Mindfulness activities are important – they allow for free-thinking – not focused on one task, rather letting random thoughts come and go – pushes synapses.
- Need to believe in the ability of the brain to heal itself and that can be hope or faith or…
- Need to be “in” the world – not on a cell phone or texting but rather open to what all is around you in order to extend/expand synapses.
- We are not as good at multi-tasking as we think; multi-tasking occurs in the frontal lobe – the plan, execute and multi-task networks. In head trauma, this ability is often damaged.
- Rehabing the brain needs to start simple to even get the brain’s attention.
- The hippocampus is the part of the brain critical for memory. The beginnings of memory come into the hippocampus, which organizes them and then goes out and stores them elsewhere in the brain and when cued (recalled), then goes out and brings them back. The cerebral cortex can create work-arounds to help us with these memory recalls, e.g., pictures, smells….
- Everything streams through the amygdala, which is part of the Limbic System – the amygdala decides whether ‘incoming’ is trustworthy – so in the case of a person with brain injury, it’s important to get into their space, to make them feel you are trustworthy, rather than just talking at them.
The discussion begins at 9:02.