Archive for the ‘improving your brain’ Category

That Challenging Job May Be Helping Your Brain

June 16, 2015

lovejobDid you know that a job or work that is mentally demanding can actually help protect your memory and thinking skills later in life?

According to a new study published in the journal Neurology, challenges at work can be positive if they build up mental reserve over the long term. In fact, the type of career you have may be even more important than your education level for protecting brain health.

In the study, a thousand people over age 75 were given memory and thinking tests every 18 months for eight years. Researchers rated participants’ work history based on how often participants had to schedule activities, resolve conflict, develop strategies and perform other complicated tasks.

They found that those who had the highest levels of tasks that stimulated verbal intelligence and executive functions during their career had half the rate of mental decline compared to those with low levels of mentally demanding tasks.

One of the first signs of age-related cognitive decline is a decrease in executive function—the ability to organize thoughts. But just as lifting weights builds muscle, handling challenging mental tasks every day may strengthen neural processes that then build up mental reserve in old age.

So take your job and love it—it may be the ticket to enjoying a great retirement!

Optiminds has earned a reputation for helping students of all ages improve study, reading, math and cognitive skills. Our customized brain fitness programs take brain performance to new levels by strengthening nerve cells and improving cognitive power and concentration. Learn more about us by calling us today at (248) 496-0150 or by visiting us at: optimindsct.com.

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Things You Can Do to Turbocharge Your Brain—Part One

March 16, 2015

The human brain is the most powerful and complex electro-biochemical machine ever created—housing 100 billion neurons in a small calcium shell, laced with organic pumps, channels, and switches.

Researchers are finding that rather than being static and unchangeable, this amazing organ is dynamic, adaptable, flexible and repairable. Based on her extensive research, Sandra Bond Chapman, Ph.D. and expert in brain science, has developed seven suggestions for improving brain performance that anyone can implement. Dr. Chapman is Founder and Chief Director of the Center for Brain Health at The University of Texas at Dallas

Here are Dr. Chapman’s first three suggestions (The remaining tips can be found in our March 16th post):

multitask3Start single tasking—Your brain is not built to perform two tasks at the same time. Instead, it must switch quickly from task to unrelated task. Multitasking actually tires the brain and activates stress hormones. So contrary to what multitaskers think, giving your full attention to the project at hand will increase accuracy, innovation, and speed.

Limit information—Thanks to our technology-driven and uber-connected world, the sheer volume of information we are exposed to every day is nearly 200 times more than we were exposed to 20 years ago! Research shows that this information overload comes at a price. High-performing minds are more efficient at knowing what to block out and what to keenly pay attention to. Limit what you take in to enhance your brain’s natural ability to block out what does not matter.

Detox distractions—On average, individuals work for three minutes at a time before being interrupted. Complicating matters, technology is actually rewiring our brains to be addicted to interruption, as we anxiously wait for the next ping signaling a new email, text or social media post. By silencing your phone and computer and closing your office door, you can actually accelerate your brain’s ability to complete tasks.

Optiminds has earned a reputation for helping students of all ages improve study, reading, math and cognitive skills. Our customized brain fitness programs take brain performance to new levels by strengthening nerve cells and improving cognitive power and concentration. Learn more about us by calling us today at (248) 496-0150 or by visiting us at: optimindsct.com.

Drugs That Can Affect Your Memory

November 16, 2014

memorydrugs1Most of us jokingly accept our increasing memory loss as we get on in years. But scientists now know that memory loss as you get older is by no means inevitable. In fact, research increasingly shows that the brain can grow new brain cells and reshape connections throughout life.

There are other factors that might be impairing your memory. Some you may already be familiar with range from alcohol and drug abuse, heavy cigarette smoking, head injuries and stroke to sleep deprivation, severe stress, vitamin B12 deficiency, and illnesses such as Alzheimer’s disease and depression.

But what many people don’t realize is that some of today’s most commonly prescribed drugs also can interfere with memory.

Here are 10 of the top categories of offenders and examples of each:

  • Antianxiety drugs (Benzodiazephines) such as Xanax, Librium and Klonopin
  • Cholesterol-lowering drugs (Statins) such as Lipitor, Crestor, Pravachol
  • Antiseizure drugs such as Neurontin, Lyrica and Topamax
  • Antidepressant drugs (Tricyclic antidepressants) such as Elavil, Norpramin and Vivactil
  • Narcotic painkillers such as Vicodin, Dilaudid, OxyContin and Percocet
  • Parkinson’s drugs such as Apokyn, Mirapex and Requip
  • Hypertension drugs such as Coreg, Lopressor and Toprol
  • Sleeping aids such as Lunesta, Sonata and Ambien
  • Incontinence drugs such as Detro and Oxytrol
  • Antihistamines such as Benadryl and Chlor-Trimeton

If you take any of these medications and are concerned about memory loss, talk with your doctor or other health care professional about treating your condition with other types of drugs or nondrug treatments. Do not stop or reduce the dosage of your medication without consulting your doctor.

You may also want to sign up for an Optiminds cognitive training program to help boost your memory. Our programs for senior brain fitness are comprised of mental exercises, individually customized to your needs and designed to stimulate targeted areas of your brain.

Optiminds has earned a reputation for helping to improve the study, reading, math, cognitive skills and memory of students of all ages. Learn more about us by calling us today at (248) 496-0150 or by visiting us at: optimindsct.com.

Working Longer May Improve Cognitive Health

September 16, 2014

boomerworking1While some baby boomers may be finding it necessary to continue working beyond age 65, they may be benefiting their cognitive health as well as their financial health.

Researchers are finding that continuing to engage in intellectual activities and new experiences keeps the brain running efficiently. They have developed the theory of “scaffolding” which holds that in such situations the aging brain develops new circuits that help people respond to cognitive challenges.

The scaffolding theory suggests that the aging brain, when confronted with the joint challenge of declining neural resources and a cognitively demanding task, develops “scaffolds”—new circuitry that helps maintain task performance. Evidence for neural scaffolding emerges from functional imaging studies showing that older adults typically engage more brain tissue than young adults when performing a demanding cognitive task, and that this additional activity is in a region in the opposite hemisphere from an area active in young adults as well or in an area larger than that seen in the young adults. It is believed that this additional scaffolding is compensating for areas of the brain that are functioning somewhat less efficiently than in younger adults.

We have a long way to go in learning about the aging mind and how to preserve its vitality. New imaging tools are allowing us to take giant steps as we examine these questions further. One of the premier challenges of the 21st century lies in determining what behaviors will protect neural health and then developing public health initiatives to encourage these behaviors in our communities. Sound social policies that encourage older people to keep working could have direct benefits to our economic system. It could even result in later onset of dementing illnesses, an outcome that offers gains for society thanks to reduced caregiving and health care costs, as well as extended time with beloved family members.

Optiminds offers customized tutoring programs for students, including students who are home schooled. We have earned a reputation for helping to improve the study, reading, math and cognitive skills of students of all ages. Learn more about us by calling us today at (248) 496-0150 or by visiting us at: optimindsct.com.

Breakfasts with Brain Power

July 23, 2014

yogurt1You hear it all the time—“Eat your breakfast!”

Eating a good breakfast can not only help you maintain a healthy weight and give you energy to face the day, but it also can increase your ability to concentrate.

The trick is to incorporate into your breakfast foods known to keep brain cells healthy and maintain cognitive ability. Here are some suggestions for breakfasts built with powerful nutrients for your brain:

Yogurt with walnuts and berries—The yogurt provides a foundation of protein. The walnuts add brain-saving omega-3s and the berries serve up one of the most concentrated sources of antioxidants. You can even add a little high-fiber cereal (shredded wheat for example) to ensure everything gets digested slowly for steady energy (and better concentration) all morning long.

Fried eggs “plus”—Fried eggs become healthier when you cook them with a brain food like olive oil; tomatoes, spinach, and an apple on the side round out the meal with important antioxidants.

Dressed-up cereal—When you shake up a basic bowl of cereal with pumpkin seeds and sliced peaches, you are adding brain-friendly vitamin E, healthy fats, fiber, and antioxidants.

Salmon on toast—Salmon is one of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids, and experts think it is responsible for helping brain cells communicate with each other better. Spread a slice of whole grain toast with lox (smoked salmon spread), and add a dollop of cottage cheese for a breakfast that’s filling and fiber- and protein-rich.

Waffles with yogurt—Replace the syrup with yogurt on your favorite waffles. Top with berries and a little flaxseed and you’ve got a tasty breakfast everyone will love.

Want to power up your ability to concentrate? Optiminds has earned a reputation for helping to improve the study, reading, math and cognitive skills of students of all ages. We also have specialists in college counseling and athletic college prep counseling on our staff. Learn more about us by calling us today at (248) 496-0150 or by visiting us at: optimindsct.com.

Care and Feeding of the Aging Brain

June 14, 2014

brainfoods1We are learning more about the human brain every day, but there is still much about it that remains a mystery. One thing we do know is that our brains can deteriorate if we don’t take care of them.

So here are some things you can try to keep your “gray matter” healthy:

Eat brain-healthy foods—Choose foods that are lower in fats and cholesterol. Increase your intake of dark fruits and vegetables, fish and lean proteins. Instead of candy, snack on almonds and blueberries. Healthy snacks can lower blood sugar and improve cognition. Also, the Omega-3s in walnuts have been found to improve mood and calm inflammation that may lead to brain-cell death.

Read for half an hour a day— The Mayo Clinic Study of Aging found that reading books (in addition to other cognitive activities) can lead to a 50 percent decrease in your chances of developing dementia.

Exercise—Walking your dog or yourself for just 20 minutes a day can lower blood sugar and increase blood flow to the brain so you can think more clearly. Don’t forget about dancing. Learning new moves activates brain motor centers that form new neural connections.

Be a social animal—According to the Yale Medical Center, people who sustain close friendships and continue to socialize live longer.

Become a student again—Challenge your mind by taking courses at your local college, university, community college or adult education center. Many institutions offer discounts for senior students.

Learn a musical instrument—Recent studies show that after only four months of playing an instrument an hour a week, seniors experienced improvements in the areas of the brain that control hearing, memory and hand movement.

Improve your powers of observation—Stare straight ahead and see if you can make out what’s at the periphery. Walk down the street and scan to the left and right. These actions activate rarely used areas of the brain that can atrophy if not used enough.

Get out of your comfort zone—Try tasks that are opposite your natural skills. If you like numbers, learn to draw. If you love language, try logic puzzles.

Write it down—Research shows that handwriting helps stimulate the areas of the brain that deal with thinking, language and memory. Write stories or keep a daily journal for starters.

Sleep—Seven or eight hours of good sleep a night helps prevent memory loss and gives the brain to relax and process things you learned during the day.

Optiminds has earned a reputation for helping to improve the study, reading, math and cognitive skills of students of all ages. We also have specialists in college counseling and athletic college prep counseling on our staff. Learn more about us by calling us today at (248) 496-0150 or by visiting us at: optimindsct.com.

Alzheimer’s Update

May 16, 2014

seniorcomputer1Every 67 seconds someone in the U.S. develops Alzheimer’s disease. An estimated 5.2 million Americans currently have Alzheimer’s disease, including approximately 200,000 individuals younger than age 65 who have younger-onset Alzheimer’s.

The number of Americans with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias will escalate rapidly in coming years as the baby boom generation ages. By 2050, the number of people age 65 and older with Alzheimer’s disease may nearly triple, from 5 million to as many as 16 million, barring the development of medical breakthroughs to prevent, slow or stop the disease.

Alzheimer’s is especially hard on women. Of the 5 million people age 65 and older with Alzheimer’s in the United States, 3.2 million are women and 1.8 million are men. A woman’s estimated lifetime risk of developing Alzheimer’s at age 65 is 1 in 6, compared with nearly 1 in 11 for a man. Not only are women more likely to have Alzheimer’s, they are also more likely to be caregivers of those with Alzheimer’s.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most expensive condition in the nation. In 2014, the direct costs to American society of caring for those with Alzheimer’s will total an estimated $214 billion, including $150 billion in costs to Medicare and Medicaid. Despite these staggering figures, Alzheimer’s will cost an estimated $1.2 trillion (in today’s dollars) in 2050.

A lifestyle that focuses on physical activity and a healthy diet may help support brain health and prevent Alzheimer’s. You may also want to take advantage of Optiminds’ customized brain training programs for seniors. A mix of mental/emotional exercises, visualization techniques and computerized drills, these programs are designed to increase mental capacity and help you process information better and more quickly.

Dr. Jane Stewart at Optiminds has earned a reputation for helping to improve the study, reading, math and cognitive skills of students of all ages. Learn more about Optiminds’ by calling us at (248) 496-0150 or email Dr. Stewart at: jstewart@optimindsct.com. And visit our website at optiminds.com to learn more about us.

Get Moving to Strengthen Your Brain

April 14, 2014

As we age, our brains shrink a little, but they continue to create new neurons and fine-tune neural connections as long as we are alive. So if you want to increase the new growth, start exercising.

Aerobic exercise boosts blood flow to the brain, which encourages the release of a chemical called “brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). BDNF stimulates the formation of new neurons near the hippocampus, which is the area involved in memory, learning and the ability to plan and make decisions. It also repairs cell damage and strengthens the synapses that connect brain cells.

In short, exercise reduces the level of brain loss, keeps us cognitively sharp and reduces our risk of Alzheimer’s disease. And regular exercise can pump up your brainpower regardless of your age. So if, for example, you are 55 years old and have never exercised, it’s not too late.

In a classic study, people aged 60 to 79 were asked to complete a six-month walking program. At the conclusion of the study, participants showed an increase in the size of the hippocampus, and levels of BDNF comparable to levels normally found in people almost two years younger.

Aim for about two and a half hours of brisk activity a week. Walking is great but if you have mobility issues, try walking in the pool, riding a stationary bike or practicing yoga or tai chi.

Dr. Jane Stewart at Optiminds has earned a reputation for helping to improve the study, reading, math and cognitive skills of students of all ages. Learn more about Optiminds’ by calling Dr. Stewart today at (248) 496-0150 or email her at: jstewart@optimindsct.com. Be sure to visit the Optiminds website at: optimindsct.com.

Study Ties Saturated Fat to Alzheimer’s Risk

January 23, 2014

brainfood1A recent study found that dietary saturated fat cut the body’s levels of a key chemical—apolipoprotein E (ApoE)—that helps protect against Alzheimer’s disease.

Study participants who received a high-saturated-fat, high-sugar diet showed a change in their ApoE that made it less able to help clear the amyloid. If left loose in the brain, amyloid beta proteins are more likely to form plaques that interfere with neuron function, the kind of plaques found in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease.

Diet also directly affected the amount of loose amyloid beta found in cerebrospinal fluid. People on a high-saturated-fat diet had higher levels of amyloid beta in their spinal fluid, while people on a low-saturated-fat diet actually saw a decline in such levels.

While this study is preliminary, it adds another small piece to the growing evidence that taking good care of your heart is probably good for your brain too. We tend to focus on diet in terms of weight and heart health, but often overlook that diet is critical for healthy brain aging. In addition, many of the things the brain needs to function properly—fatty acids and certain amino acids, for example—come only from food.

People focus on diet in terms of weight and heart health, but they overlook that nutrition can be key to cognitive function as well. According to research team member Suzanne Craft, a professor of medicine at Wake Forest School of Medicine, “Diet is a very underappreciated factor in terms of brain function. It’s quite well accepted for your heart and your cholesterol and your blood, but diet is also critical for a healthy brain aging. Many of the things the brain needs to function properly—fatty acids, certain amino acids— come only from food.”

Optiminds’ brain fitness programs take brain performance to new levels by strengthening nerve cells, and improving cognitive power and concentration. Dr. Jane Stewart at Optiminds has earned a reputation for helping to improve the study, reading, math and cognitive skills of students of all ages. Learn more about Optiminds’ by calling Dr. Stewart today at (248) 496-0150 or email her at: jstewart@optimindsct.com. And be sure to visit the Optiminds website at: optimindsct.com.

Einstein’s Brain

December 23, 2013

Einstein3An analysis of recently unearthed photos of Albert Einstein’s brain indicate that the father of the theory of relativity had a colossal corpus callosum. That’s the brawny bundle of white matter that carries electrical signals between the brain’s right and left hemispheres, making brain regions with different functions work together.

Scientists believe this fact is part of what made Einstein’s brain so creative. When the corpus callosum works well, the human brain is a marvel of social, spatial and verbal reasoning.

While Einstein’s corpus callosum at the time of his death at age 76 was much better connected than those of similarly aged men, it was not as strikingly more connected than those of healthy young men in a control group.

So what the findings suggest is that Einstein’s extraordinary cognition was related not only to his large corpus callosum but also to enhanced communication routes between some parts of his two brain hemispheres. This might reflect the fact that Einstein continued to exercise his brain strenuously—more like a young person—forestalling much of the atrophy that comes with age.

Check out Optiminds’ programs for adults and seniors, designed to increase mental capacity, process information better and faster, and get your memory up to its peak performance.

Dr. Jane Stewart at Optiminds has earned a reputation for helping to improve the study, reading, math and cognitive skills of students of all ages. Learn more about Optiminds’ by calling Dr. Stewart today at (248) 496-0150 or email her at: jstewart@optimindsct.com. And be sure to visit the Optiminds website at: optimindsct.com.


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