Repair Your Memory

Losing your memory is scary. Did you ever walk into a room and forget why you went in there? My patients joke and call it a "senior moment", but the fact is that it’s really no joking matter.
As you age, your mental functions slow down. Both your thinking and your reaction time slow. It's probably natural. But is it unavoidable?

 As it turns out, you don't have to become one of those slow-lane drivers. In fact, despite what you may have heard, cognitive decline is not inevitable. What's more, maintaining your memory has little to do with genetics, and even less to do with drugs.
What you can do are a few simple exercises that are easy to understand and easy to do. We provide everything you need. Call us today at 714-269-7990 or  Click here for more information.

Fun Brain Facts

A little neuroscience savvy gives us all power to understand ourselves, manage ourselves and adapt behaviours to work with our brain, not against it. Let's face it, times are indeed "crazy busy" for many of us so learning how to keep ourselves sharp, hearty, resilient and effective with some brain savvy can't hurt.

I'd like to pay a tribute to the brain with: "10 Things I Learned About the Brain and Why You Should Too Learn Them Too."

*Please note that in this list, I use the term "brain" very loosely, recognizing that the brain is a highly complex organ with many different parts, functions and relationships in our bodies.

1) Too much stress compromises our higher thinking brain's capacity. The pre-frontal cortex (PFC) is the part of the brain that drives much of our higher-thinking brain functions such as problem solving, analyzing, prioritizing, distinguishing and reflecting. When we feel overly stressed, this part of the brain "gears down" and lets the stress brain (amygdala) take precedence. No time for reflective thought; it's time for flight or fight!

Just when we need it most we lose our "thinking ability"! So learn to manage that stress response so you can properly think your way through those "crazy busy" times.

2) Our brains love it when we get organized and make plans. When I'm totally stressed out I take a moment to pause, park and reflect. I write out a list, prioritize and make plans. Turns out thinking activities such as reflecting, prioritizing, planning, not only use the prefrontal cortex, they also stimulate it and bring it back online. So taking just a few moments to get a bit more organized will not only bring our higher thinking brain back online, you will also be rewarded with a dose of GABA, the hormone that brings a feeling of calm. Two orders of that, please!

3) Our brains have a sweet spot of optimal stress for their best functioning. Goldilocks was so finicky. She needed everything just right. Well our brains do too. While too much stress can compromise the prefrontal cortex and "shut down" our brain's capacity for higher functioning, too little stress can do the same. Neuroscientist Amy Arnsten, a professor of neurobiology and psychology at Yale University, says the prefrontal cortex is the "Goldilocks" part of the brain - it needs everything to be "just right" for optimal performance.

So become aware of your sweet spot. Learn to ramp it up when under-stressed and how to tame the stress when overloaded.
4) Our higher thinking brains are not meant to store large loads of information. Our PFC is meant to perform critical thinking activity, but isn't meant to be a storage bin for all of our "to-do's." Yet, all too often, we try to load up our "to-do's" in our head which is a first class ticket to "Mind Full" syndrome.

I've learned that it is important to get much of my "stuff" out of my head, but keep it appropriately top of mind. So "yay" to structures like lists, plans, etc. Those loads in your brain can be major distractions and prevent you from focusing. Speaking of which, see next point.

5) Focus is "candy for the brain" - and the body too.

Our higher thinking brains love to focus. When we focus, we are rewarded with better thinking, more clarity, a feeling of engagement and sometimes, even a dose of GABA (hormone) which is like antacid for the brain and brings a feeling of calm.

Unfortunately, we tend not to give ourselves much focus time. Instead we juggle, multitask and exhaust our brains, which are not built for multitasking attention. This can be a major energy drain and compromises productivity, creativity and efficiency. So ditch the multitasking habit. Chunk down your priorities and bring more focus into your day -- even if for only minutes at a time, start small and build up from there. See book excerpt for more on multitasking.

6) Our brains tend to hold on to "unfinished business." Long ago (1927), Russian psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik discovered that people tend to remember incomplete or interrupted tasks better than completed tasks. Known as the Zeigarnik effect, this can be a good thing - if you are a waiter and remembering food and drink orders. But not so much if you are dealing with a heavy workload when tasks are never quite finished. The weight of unfinished business can burden us and contribute to the feeling of overwhelm.

So more proof for the merit of making plans for your unfinished business - e.g., schedule it or put it into a "to-do" list. This will give your brain a feeling of completion for the moment vs. letting it swirl around in your brain with menace - distracting and taunting you as you try to get through it all. This strategy will also help you sleep better at night, another essential for maximizing your "brain-ability."

7) Positivity broadens and builds your brain (and life) capacity. Positivity is not just a "nice-to-have" attribute. It is truly an essential ingredient for success and well-being. Positivity scientist Barbara Fredrickson coined the term "broaden and build" to capture this notion and years of hard scientific evidence that links positive emotions with better health, improved brain and cognitive function, greater personal efficacy, a heightened ability to connect and an overall boost to one's potential to thrive with more fulfillment and success.

Learn to rein in the negativity and to boost your positivity. You don't have to be permanently positive (that would not be real), but do aim for a minimum of 3:1 ratio of positive thoughts to negative. Go for the micro moments and get plenty into your daily diet. See here for an article on the positivity advantage.

8) Connecting with others is good for the brain, body and spirit. Interacting with people positively can boost levels of the hormone oxytocin, which can have a calming effect. It's also one of the best ways to boost your positivity ratio. Don't go it alone! Seek out positive connections. Even moments at a time will give you and your brain boost.

9) A picture is worth a thousand words. While our left brain hemispheres may like to organize and create lists, our right brains love metaphors and visuals. Sometimes focusing on an image or a mantra can bring the calm and open our minds more than using our rational brains. There is no such thing as being a left brain or right brain person. For maximum success, we all need to integrate and tap into both sides of our brains. So go ahead and give it a try: Create a picture, image or saying that will help you tap into a more positive, calmer state at a moment's notice.

10) You can teach an "old dog new tricks"! Our brains may be the same model we inherited from our ancestors from early days, but they are neuroplastic which means that with repetition and practice, we can create new neural paths and connections. That means we can create new habits, new ways of thinking and new ways of reacting and experiencing the ups and downs of work and life. We have the power to choose. You can indeed change. Practice, rinse, repeat. Then see what happens.


Brain Multitasking

Work warriors wear their multitasking badges proudly. Then we take this skill home and multitask some more.

Multitasking is similar to how we felt about eating a lot of carbs in the early ’90s. The more, the better, right?

Wrong! Flying in the face of old notions, we’re now learning that multitasking is, in fact, not the shiny attribute it’s been touted to be all these years. While we do need skills to handle diverse demands in work and life, too much multitasking costs us precious energy, productivity, and even critical-thinking capacity.

Our brains aren’t built for certain kinds of multitasking. Sure, we can walk and talk and eat and listen at the same time. But when we ask our brain to process unrelated information with multiple critical-thinking tasks at once, we actually compromise our short-term memory and cognitive-processing capacity.

In fact, what our brains do is switch from task to task – back and forth, back and forth. The faster we ask it to do so, the faster it switches. All this switching takes energy and amounts to wasted brain energy. This precious energy is not focused on thinking but, rather, is lost on switching.

Think of it like a driving a car. If you drive 20 kilometres on the highway and then drive the same distance in the city, you will use more gas during the city drive. The constant stopping, turning, and shifting gears consumes more gas. The distance is the same, but the switching takes more energy.

Now put this analogy into the context of your day. If your entire day is filled with juggling tasks and little focused time, you will likely spend much more energy and feel more depleted than if you put the same amount of hours into your work with more focused time. And you might not be as sharp and effective, because you might compromise your brain’s capacity to give you its best.

The Story at a Glance

Here’s an embarrassing yet true story. I had just written part of a first draft of this chapter (without this story that I’m about to tell you). It was a Sunday, and I was getting ready to go to the gym but wanted to call a friend before I left so that I could share some news with her. I phoned her and, while chatting, decided to simultaneously pack my gym bag, change my clothes, and feed the cat. I must have come across like a moron, because she called me on it. As I was trying to relay a story to her, my focus was completely scattered, and I couldn’t get a proper sentence out. I kept losing my train of thought.

Not only did I forget key items to put in my gym bag, but I also couldn’t communicate for the life of me. I was all over the place! Realizing what I had just done gave me a great laugh, especially because I had just finished writing about the perils of multitasking. But the episode reinforced for me how much we have become ingrained in our multitasking habit; we are always trying to jam in too many activities at once. This example was benign. But where else in our lives do we compromise our attention by attempting to do too many things at once?

I know, thankfully, in my coaching calls, I create a space and environment where I can completely focus my attention on the client. But at other times, when I’m doing other work, maybe I could do better.

How about you? Are you over-expressing that juggler tendency? Do you build in enough focus time? Are your thoughts fuzzy at times? Are you depleted at the end of the day?

Flow: The sweetness of focused time

Our brains actually love to focus, and one of the rewards of focus can be an experience of flow. This is when you are in a zone where you lose yourself in an activity, and everything feels effortless and right. You feel completely on, and it is easy to lose your sense of time. Not only does this flow feel good in the moment, but it also provides a longer-lasting sense of gratification. Experts, such as Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, say flow is an essential ingredient to finding engagement and more joy and even success in our everyday work and lives. Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced ‘chick-sent-me-high’), a renowned psychologist and educator, has written extensively on the topic, including the book Finding Flow.

The idea isn’t to do less work per se but, rather, to find ways to focus our attention and build in more time for focused activity. And while our work might not offer the luxury of focusing for hours on end, there might be pockets of time we can carve out with intention.

The Advice

Take a timeout from your love affair with multitasking. Learn to tame the juggler in you and create more opportunities for focus time. Notice what happens to your productivity, energy, and overall sense of well-being. If you can’t get enough flow time in your workday, try to include some in your after-work time.

Start small. Don’t expect to tame the multitasking habit overnight. Start small, and set aside short periods of time – even as little as 20 minutes – every day for a week for focused activity. Commit to putting your attention on one thing at a time – perhaps working on a particular project or completing a portion of it before moving on to another. Then observe the impact that this focused time had on you. Were you more productive? Sharper and more creative? Did the time fly by? Was your energy increased or depleted?

You can then build up to longer periods as you see fit or are able to accommodate in your day.

Support your intention with the right environment. Turn off your phone, close your door, clear your desk – do anything that will give you the space and time to focus.

Schedule it. Earlier, we talked about putting yourself into your own schedule for thinking time. Use this strategy to ensure you have focused time for important thinking activities. If you have a report to write or a plan to develop, block off time without other competing priorities and see how much more productive you will be. Beware of distractions that will impede your focus time.

Coach others to do the same. If you are a leader, try to encourage others to set apart time to focus on a particular task. It sounds simple, but in our frenzied world of continuous rushing, focused time seems to be lost in the shuffle. You might notice a marked improvement in your own productivity as well as in that of your team.

The Pay-Off

Focused time will give you more energy and sharper thinking and will result in more productivity for your efforts.

You will become more energy efficient with your time.
You will experience more clarity in your thinking.
You will enjoy a longer-lasting feeling of engagement that often results from flow and focused activities.
You will experience more productivity and satisfaction in your day.


Sleeping Helps Memory

Sleep yourself to a 
better memory?
Subscribe now to unlock challenges
Every lifestyle choice has the potential to affect your cognitive abilities and health. In recent years, various researchers have found that a habit that most of us take for granted — sleep — may affect our memory in noticeable ways.
Does sleep help long term 
memories stick?
In a study published in the June 2011 issue of Science, University of Washington researchers studied the role of sleep in forming long-term memories by using a special breed of fruit flies that could be induced to sleep on demand. First, the male flies studied in this paper were “trained” by being exposed to other, genetically engineered males who released female pheromones. After several courtships and rejections during this training period, some of these flies were then forced to sleep for 4 hours. These sleepers made no further attempts to court the engineered males when exposed to them again — suggesting that sleep had helped form a long-term memory of the earlier deception.

But flies who didn’t sleep were tricked once more by the same genetically engineered males. The researchers in this study concluded that training alone was not enough to trigger memory consolidation — sleep was a necessary component. While this study’s results don’t necessarily carry over to humans, they help cast the role of sleep in a new light.
How lack of sleep could hurt you
Not only may sleep help your memory, but lack of sleep may also hurt your health. A 2010 study from Biological Psychiatry found that chronic insomnia may lead to loss of brain volume. Researchers used fMRI scans to examine the brains of 37 human subjects with and without chronic insomnia. Insomniacs had a smaller volumes of gray matter in three brain areas — and the more serious the insomnia, the greater the loss of volume. 

And in 2012, a preliminary study from the Washington University School of Medicine found that in mice, poor sleep may be related to brain plaques associated with Alzheimer's.
The future of sleep studies
The third of our life that we spend sleeping has always been something of a mystery. Now a new wave of studies are finding indications that while we may appear to be in a stupor, our brains are actually hard at work. It may take many more years or decades before we reach definite conclusions about all the many roles that sleep plays, but most scientists agree that getting a decent night’s rest is a good idea.

Researchers discover source of imagination in human brain

National Monitor, Lance Tillson 

According to a news release from Dartmouth College, researchers have discovered the source of imagination in the human brain. Their research answers several longstanding scientific questions: what gives people the ability to make beautiful art, construct novel tools and achieve other extremely distinct actions.

The researchers think that imagination comes from a sweeping neural network, known as the brain’s “mental workspace,” that deliberately shapes images, symbols, idea and theories and provides humans with the mental focus required to determine intricate problems and produce novel ideas.

“Our findings move us closer to understanding how the organization of our brains sets us apart from other species and provides such a rich internal playground for us to think freely and creatively,” notes lead author Alex Schlegel , a graduate student in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Dartmouth College, in a statement. “Understanding these differences will give us insight into where human creativity comes from and possibly allow us to recreate those same creative processes in machines.”

Researchers believe that human imagination demands a sweeping neural network in the brain, but proof for this “mental workspace” has been hard to generate with methods that primarily look at brain activity in isolation. The researchers welcomed the obstacles by trying to determine how the brain lets humans mold mental imagery. For example, thinking of a horse with the head of a human, an ostensibly easy job but one that means the brain has to form a completely novel image and have it materialize in our mind’s eye.

The researchers asked 15 participants to think about precise abstract visual figures and then to mentally blend them into novel more intricate forms or to mentally disassemble them into their separate parts. They determined the 15 participants’ brain activity with functional MRI and discovered a cortical and subcortical network over a significant section of the brain was answerable for their imagery moldings. The network looks a lot like the “mental workspace” that researchers have suspected might be responsible for a lot of human conscious experience, as well as the malleable cerebral capacities that humans have developed.

The study’s findings are described in greater detail in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

What Makes Intelligence?

 
Have you ever said that about someone and, if so, what gave you that impression? There were clues, naturally. Maybe you listened to that person talk on lots of different topics with ease. Perhaps you've observed that she's particularly good at some talent or skill.

IQ stands for Intelligence Quotient, and it's measured by a number of tests. But more than a numerical score, what it looks like in real life is the ability to function and respond appropriately in any given moment. In other words, intelligence can typically be seen, translating into things like actions, choices, decisions and even achievements in everyday life.

What makes intelligence? It's actually a composite of many different things.

One component is knowledge. When you set out to solve a problem or function in a social setting, you're taking information you've learned in the past (whether it's the boiling point of water, someone's name, or which fork to use to eat your salad) and applying it to your current situation. So intelligence requires knowledge.

The other thing you need for intelligence is cognitive skills. What mental skills do you bring to a problem or situation? Do you have really good logic and reasoning? Can you focus on a task for a long time? Do you see the big picture really well, or are you more likely to see details at a fine resolution? Do you have a strong working memory? Can you remember and follow directions exceedingly well? It's one thing to have knowledge, but sharp mental skills are critical if you want to remember, reorganize and apply that knowledge to specific tasks, problems or situations.

Information and sharper mental skills. Want a smart combination? Pursue both.
By Dr. Layne Kalbfleisch, Neuroscientist


Growing new brains with infrared light

 University of Texas Arlington scientists have discovered a way to control the growth or repair of neurons and neuron circuits, using a non-invasive “neuronal beacon” (near-IR laser beam) — essentially rewiring brains, or even creating new ones.

This major discovery, just published today in Optics Letters, promises to enable several new applications, UT Arlington assistant professor of physics Samarendra Mohanty said in an exclusive interview with KurzweilAI:

  • Building highly precise 3D neural circuits in-vitro as a model for future supercomputers using neuromorphic chips (or even using the neurons themselves in an artificially grown biological computer).
  • Brain activity mapping, in combination with precision stimulation and imaging tools such as the fiber-optic, two-photon, optogenetic stimulator and label-free phase imaging developed by Mohanty.
  • Repairing damaged neurons in the peripheral nervous system by rewiring around lesions (for patients with spinal-cord injuries, for example).
  • Rewiring circuitry of the brain in the future, correcting for damaged or diseased neurons and neural circuits (the near-IR laser beam can penetrate deeply and non-invasively).

Guiding axon growth

In a core discovery, Mohanty found that axon growth can be precisely controlled by shining a near-IR laser near the axon. This “neuronal beacon” process generates localized heat, causing the axon to change its growth direction in about 10 minutes. He found that axons can sense surprisingly low temperature rises (gradients) of less than 0.1 degrees C generated locally with a near-infrared  laser.

Mohanty’s team performed optical-guidance experiments using cortical neurons isolated from embryonic 18-day rat embryos. A laser with beam power of 80 mW was reported, with a wavelength of 785 nm (700 to 1000 nm, and power of several orders of magnitude lower, also worked, but visible light caused damage to the axonal growth cone). The beam was placed ~5 µm away from the axons’ filopodia, asymmetrically positioned in the path of the advancing growth cone.

In the paper in Optics Letters, the authors say this neuronal-beacon method can be easily extended to form a neuronal network in-vitro by spatio-temporal control of the laser beam.

“This can be achieved by use of scanning laser beams or sculpting the laser spots by diffractive optical elements [like lenses], SLMs [spatial light modulators], and even standard light projectors.

“Being able to form in-vitro neuronal circuitry with high fidelity by the non-invasive photonic-guidance method described here will allow us to probe the functions of basic building blocks of the neuronal network.”

Nanosurgery

The neuronal circuitry can be augmented by ultrafast near-IR “laser scissors” for nanosurgery of undesired connections  — silencing specific neurons or neuronal elements (axon, dendrite, spine) in the circuit. In combination with optical stimulation and imaging tools, this will enable all-optical testing of the computational nature of the neuronal circuit.”

Mohanty earlier demonstrated that the near-IR laser also allows for light-sensitization of neurons by transfection of opsin-encoding genes, and also for two-photon optogenetic stimulation and optical imaging. Mohanty believes rapid progress can be made in the all-optical control of neuronal circuit formation, and activity and mapping functional networks of the brain.

UPDATE May 27, 2013

According to Dr. Mohanty:

1. This discovery is primarily about a finding that central nervous system neurons (there may be others as well) are highly sensitive to a temperature gradient (<0.1 deg C). This is a fundamental discovery; it was not known earlier.

2. Since temperature is the cue (shown to be repulsive here, but can be attractive for other types of neurons), now there is a big possibility that very weakly focused light can do the guidance in large depths. In fact, pre-published data by the authors shows that this can be done non-invasively at depths of 4 mm, as compared to 100 µm done earlier (or fiber optically very near ~10 µm, see e.g., author’s prior work,S.K. Mohanty et al,  J. Biomed. Opt. 13, 054049 (2008)). Further, any other method of temperature rise (not just lasers) can do it.

3. The current method to signal the growth cone can work at infrared laser power orders of magnitude lower than that used for prior force-based methods.

4. The authors employed this method for 360-degree guidance (results to be published) in primary neurons. No other method, optical or non-optical, has shown this. They have made complex circuits from normal cortical neurons that were earlier believed to be formed only in the case of genetic disorders.

5. The current discovery leads to 100% efficiency in retina-to-cortex guidance from mammals to fish, unlike the low efficiency in prior laser-based methods,.

6. The authors are already deploying their technique for in-vivo pre-clinical trials for spinal cord injury guidance.

7. Many researchers are biased towards guiding neurons by attractive means towards light and failing to look at the real repulsive effect of temperature rise. Irradiation of a primary neuron with intense light creates injury to a growth cone most of the time, but some researchers see some retraction or bending and misinterpret it as guidance.

For more information or to contact Dr. Samarendra Mohanty:http://www.uta.edu/faculty/smohanty/

A Google hangout is planned (information to be posted here) where authors will disclose the advancement of the technique with pathbreaking discoveries based on this technology.

 

References:

  • Samarendra Mohanty, Argha Mondal, Bryan Black, and Young-tae Kim. Neuronal Beacon. Optics Letters. May 23, 2013