MyBrain Guide to Brain Health
MyBrain is an educational manual developed by Dr. Kathleen Lauren to encourage her patients at Rocky Mountain Memory Center to take full advantage of the benefits of neuroplasticity and the factors that stimulate the growth of new brain cells and brain reserve. Engaging in a brain health lifestyle can offset the neurodegenerative changes associated with advanced aging, neurological disorders and ischemic vascular disease. In addition, brain enrichment can increase resiliency, and the brain’s ability to bounce back from prolonged periods of stress.
A brain health lifestyle includes aerobic exercise and strength training, combined with stretching, balance and flexibility as well as mental stimulation and computerized cognitive training in addition to periods of mental restoration associated with mindfulness and meditation. Finally, a balanced approach to brain health should include the Best Brain Diet or Mediterranean style diet, along with a rich social network and meaningful daily activities.
Mixed dementia is eclipsing Alzheimer’s in terms of the most frequently diagnosed form of degenerative cognitive disorder and involves aspects of both Alzheimer’s disease and vascular disease. Prevalence increases with the number of lifestyle diseases which can range from obesity, high cholesterol, hypertension, untreated obstructive breathing disorders, diabetes, heart disease and stroke. The good news is engaging in brain wellness activities, close monitoring of lifestyle habits and chronic health care conditions can provide the roadmap for reducing factors associated with brain inflammation, ischemic cerebral vascular disease and advanced aging.
As a neuropsychologist practicing in the field of neurogeriatrics for over 20 years, the overarching goal expressed by patients is to remain independent, living in their home and enjoying a high quality life. Research indicates that it is executive function or strategic thinking that is correlated with capacity to live and thrive in the home, not crystalized intelligence or language based skills. What is most apparent is not what is most important.
Unfortunately, executive function is a frontal lobe skill which can be adversely affected by life style disease and neurological disorders. The good news again is that strategic thinking can be taught at any age through habits and practice as these skills are reliant on the motor learning located in the back of the brain. Learning to develop a strategy and plan can level the playing field when it comes to cognitive disorders. One can learn to work smarter not harder by adopting a brain wellness lifestyle.
The goal of the publication, My Brain Guide to Brain Health and then the follow up training tool, MyBook was to provide education, tools and strategies to my patients on how to achieve the benefits of neurogenisis through development of a brain wellness protocol. MyBrain blends the latest research in brain behavior with cutting edge computer technology as well as practical life management skills and tools to provide a balanced approach to brain health.
Chapter 1: Education
Section 1: The Key to Successful Aging:
“Normal aging” may not feel so normal to you. The truth is that as we get older, life just becomes more complicated. Aging has a way of magnifying issues and problems which have always been there. Sometimes the question of “Why now?” is not a result of something new or different. Rather the habits and lifestyle choices developed during youth may not serve us as well once we get older. Learn how to age successfully by adopting heart healthy behaviors, a brain wellness lifestyle, strategic problem solving skills and the willingness to ‘let go of the reins a bit” by allowing assistance from others and accepting alternative lifestyles.
Section 2: The Aging Spectrum:
Normal aging will result in subtle though important cognitive changes, such as delays in speed of information processing, susceptibility to distraction and limitations in active memory. These three factors alone can account for the majority of our attention failures, a.k.a. “senior moments”. The degree to which individuals will experience observable changes in their day to day functioning depends upon numerous factors, such as overall mental and physical health, prior education, continued pursuit of challenging mental activities and a purpose driven life. Changes associated with aging are best thought of as belonging on a continuum and can range from annoying episodes of absentmindedness to more severe memory loss.
Section 3: Brain and Memory Basics:
Memory is a very complex process. Unlike your computer’s hard drive or portable memory stick, the brain does not store memories in one central location. There are many different types of memory which are stored in different areas of the brain. Some memories are more resilient than others. Attention and working memory are located in the frontal lobe, a brain region vulnerable to going “off line”, and therefore a frequent source for memory glitches. Lucky for us, we can reduce the most frequent kind attention failures by relying on strategic thinking and memory tools.
Section 4: Strategic Thinking:
The frontal lobe serves as the strategic command center, or CEO of the brain. It is the gateway to learning, complex decision making and keeping our cool under stress. While very powerful, the frontal lobe is prone to failure, adversely affected by be adversely affected by normal aging, medications, head trauma, heart and lung disease, neurological disorders as well as anxiety and depression. The good news is that strategic thinking allows you to bypass or compensate for deficits in frontal lobe function. It is a skill you can learn or relearn at any age. Let us teach you how to work smarter and not harder.
Chapter 2: Brain Wellness
Engaging in rigorous, cognitively challenging and novel activities is associated with neurogenesis, or the growth of new brain cells. As the brain begins to reorganize itself in response to the demands placed upon it, the network of cellular connections become denser and are banked away in reserve. Excess stores of brain reserve are believed to offset or slow down damage done by exposure to daily stress. Breakthroughs in life also take time for recharging and self-reflection too. To ensure a balanced brain health program make sure your daily routine includes time for mental restoration, exercise, pursuit of life passion, good nutrition, sleep hygiene, laughter as well as time with friends.
Chapter 3: Life Skill Strategies
If you want to overcome a skill deficit, you need to identify the specific type of memory problem you are experiencing and then target a strategy to improve it. Improve strategic problem solving skills to overcome the most frequent and annoying type of attention failures. Increase focus and energy by learning to budget your resources, including time, energy and money. Review behavioral tips on how to avoid becoming sidetracked by negative moods, mental fatigue and daily stress. Develop more effective communication skills by relying on written memos. Finally, become a master juggler by balancing daily routines, sleep, power hours and brain wellness activities.
Chapter 4: Memory Tools
Beware of a “one size fits all” means of improving your memory. The development of skills is task specific. Playing Sudoku or other brain teasers may increase speed and efficiency of information processing but it will not be particularly effective in helping you recall critical facts and reduce inattentive errors. A consistently reliable strategy to improve short memory is to shift information gathering from listening to note taking and multimodal learning strategies. Access to concise, well organized written information to fill in the gaps left in auditory recall, especially when feeling anxious and overwhelmed. Communal and practical learning tools should include a communal calendar, white boards, communication memos and timers.
Chapter 5: Neurocognitive Therapy
Modern brain study has revolutionized cognitive therapy with research in brain plasticity and the factors that stimulate neurogenesis or the growth of new brain cells. Increase central processing speed and working memory, two of the most common side effects of advanced aging, neurological disease and mood spectrum disorders with state of the art computerized cognitive training. Brain training can improve alertness and focus as well as make one more relaxed, mentally flexible and in control of emotions when faced with life’s challenges. Finally, mindfulness training is a skill to enhance healthier neurobehavioral states.
Constant Therapy© Computerized Cognitive Training:
At RMMC we offer Constant Therapy© computerized cognitive training system by The Learning Corp., a trusted name in cognitive rehabilitation therapy. The program is designed for a range of neurological conditions, including stroke, brain injuries, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. Exercises are specifically geared to help people regain various cognitive functions such as auditory and visual comprehension, attention, working and episodic memory, visuospatial processing, analytical reasoning, visuospatial processing, word retrieval, executive function and functional problem solving.
The goals of mindfulness training are to help reduce and eventually eliminate harmful neurocognitive states such as destructive worry, self-blame, judgment, pain and more that arise from inefficient neurological and electrical patterns in the brain. Learn the skill of mindfulness to achieve better emotional, mental, relational and physiological regulation over time. For enhanced effectiveness, mindfulness training is used in combination with various forms of biofeedback including HeartMath Coherence Training and Bio-Acoustical Utilization Device.