Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy New Year's Eve

My brain always like New Year's Eve better than some of the other holidays. Maybe because my brain's energy advantage is in the right front lobe, the cerebral division that embraces change,  loves variety, and looks ahead to anticipate what new and wonderful life adventure is just around the corner. Never one to write a list of New Year's resolutions, I preferred to set a personal goal that could be tweaked along the way as life changed along the way. Sort of like the quote attributed to Cyril Cusack: If you asked me for my New Year Resolution, it would be to find out who I am. I've been working on discovering that for most of my adult life (and it is a life-long process) . . . it's getting easier and more fun, actually. I'm learning to ask myself directly: "What do you want in life?"  And then answering the questions directly. Identifying that doesn't mean I will always get what I want in life but it does mean I know what that is--and you're more likely to get what you want when you know what that is. If you don't know where you're going any road will get you there. Happy New Year's Eve--the brink of another year. I, for one ,am happy to be alive to step over the brink into 2015.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Smart Girls, Part 2

Dr. Barbara A. Kerr in her book Smart Girls Gifted Women emphasizes the issue of conformity versus achievement that was the focus of the Kaufmann study of highly gifted girls. Kerr writes: "The study showed them [highly gifted girls] to be loners and nonjoiners, high achievers without much regard for recognition. . .The highly gifted are never quite as 'normal' socially as are the moderately gifted; they seem to be more concerned with self-actualization--being all they can be--than with adjustment." Unfortunately, Kerr goes on to say that likely society's emphasis on the impossibility of combining love and achievement forces many gifted girls to become preoccupied with their relationships rather than personal achievement. The word normal simply meaning commonly occurring rather than functional or desirable gave me pause when I read Kaufmann's study. If you are looking to do a random act of kindness in the New Year, maybe befriending a gifted girl with the goal of helping her realize that combining love and achievement IS possible (males do it all the time!); encouraging her to identify what her brain loves to do and to pursue personal achievement, as well. Talk about helping the next generation . . .

Monday, December 29, 2014

Smart Girls Gifted Women...

Now that Boxing Day is passed, I can turn my brain once more to the mess that is my office. And it is a mess from the 60 seconds of rolling earthquake of August, '14. More books are still on the floor than are on shelves. It's taking longer than might be expected to reshelf them for a couple reasons: I've had other fish to fry such as presenting the last seminars of 2014 and meeting the publishing deadline for the new book (Longevity Lifestyle Matters--Keeping Your Brain, Body, and Weight in the Game). Beyond that, I've not nosed into some of my old book friends for awhile. I'll pick one up off the floor and remember where I got it or the reason I wanted it or what I learned from it. It's the very devil to open the book because invariably my eye will catch something my brain finds interesting and when I next raise my head 35 minutes will have flown away. Ah, well. It's stimulating my brain! It was Dr. Barbara A. Kerr's book I stumbled across yesterday and a page corner was turned over (yes, I do that for important stuff . . .) reminding me of the Kaufmann study of highly gifted girls that Kerr reported in her 1985 book release. More tomorrow.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Boxing Day Brain

December 26 brings my brain and me to another Boxing Day. During childhood and growing up in a country aligned with the British Empire, our family always celebrated Boxing Day. I usually knew what I would contribute to wrap and take to a homeless shelter or to a less fortunate family (as my mother used to put it) well I advance. Back then I sometimes wondered what less fortunate actually meant—because there are so many way to be less fortunate. It depends on the yardstick you’re using since you can always find someone who has more tangible goods than you. I’ve since learned that some of those with heaps of tangible goods actually are less fortunate because they don’t seem to know that happiness comes from within, a choice to be grateful for what you have. Reminds me of what Oprah Winfrey is credited with saying: Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough. Hmm. As I set aside things to share this year, I’m grateful for what I have and I have enough. Happy Boxing Day!

Thursday, December 25, 2014

May Your Brain and Your Heart . . .

Recently I returned from Hawaii where this holiday season is sort of an oxymoron for someone who grew up in Canada. There the holiday season was always white: Jack Frost painting the windows, and more white than you might imagine piled higher and deeper along streets and driveways and hanging from wires and tree branches. And blue! The sky between storms and my fingers if I forgot gloves to say nothing of frozen breath on my scarf. (I loved listening to Bing Crosby croon “I’m dreaming of a white . . .”) No need to dream of white in Hawaii. There was plenty of white—snow white orchids. Plenty of red, too, and I’m not talking red-hot lava—gloriously red Poinsettias. Everywhere. Growing naturally. And blue, too. Not fingers or nose but the island sky, until it turned gold and pink and lavender with the setting sun; tree ornaments flung everywhere. It just goes to show that you can celebrate anywhere and enjoy the differences in each environment. My brain loved it in person and still loves it in memory. Get out some of your best memories today. Relive them and love them again. May your brain and your heart celebrate gratefully today!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Twas the Night Before...

December 24th is a day I like to keep calm and relaxed. Everything ready for the 25th and nothing for my brain to scurry around and finish upexcept this year. Not that my brain is scurrying around, you understand. But the contractors are. My brain is quite patiently waiting for the workers to leave my kitchen so I can stuff things back into drawers and cupboards and figure out where everything was or is or cannot be located for the love of Pete (whoever he is). Family-of-choice coming tomorrow for dinner. Fortunately, I know that they're here to see me regardless of the condition of the house (which likely will not get vacuumed and dusted tonight because given the choice between cleaning and sleeping my brain always selects “sleep” so it will be on top of the world tomorrow). So I opted to read a story while waiting (patiently!). The one by Carlo DeVito about a present Mark Twain was told he would receive on Dec 25th, 1908. A baby elephant to be delivered to his home Stormfield, in Redding, Connecticut. I love stories by or about that most unusual brain with the name Mark Twain and A Mark Twain Christmas is no exception. Have a lovely evening. Meantime I’ll relax with the rest of this story . . .

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

CMT and the Brain, 2

Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease tends to affect peripheral nerves. These nerves are outside the brain and spinal cord (the central nervous system) and enervate the sensory organs and muscles in the arms and legs. CMT is caused by mutations in genes that produce proteins involved in the structure and function of either the peripheral nerve axon or the myelin sheath. In order to speed the transmission of messages and to prevent loss of electrical signals, Myelin surrounds the nerve axon like a jelly-roll cake. There are dozens of types of CMT. Some forms require only one copy of the mutated gene from one parent; some need a mutated gene from both parents; and some are linked to the X chromosome. Following are some resources for additional information.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Charcot-Marie-Tooth and the Brain

Recently I was asked about CMT (Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease) or HMSN (hereditary motor and sensory neuropathy) and whether it affects the brain. According to my sources, including NIH and the CMT foundation, this inherited neurological condition rarely affects the brain. It is a common disorder, however, affecting about 1 in 2,400 or 2,500 people in the USA. It is named for the three physician who first identified it in 1886: Jean-Martin Charcot and Pierre Marie in France, and Howard Henry Tooth in England. Fortunately, it is not considered a fatal disease and people usually have a normal life expectancy. If it runs in your family and you want to be tested, genetic counseling can usually reveal if individuals are likely to pass on their mutated gene(s) to their biological children. More tomorrow.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Tough Old Bird

Speaking of longevity, birds are right up there. Macaws reportedly have a lifespan that ranges from 30-50 years and over. Information from bird bands returned to ornithologists reveals that the two largest species of albatross (Royal and Wandering) may be around for 40 plus years. The albatross may enjoy such a long life because it nests on remote islands, far removed from most predators. Enter one such albatross: Wisdom. This tough old bird reportedly is the oldest known living albatross in the wild—63 years old. I saw a picture of Wisdom in the Hawaiian Airlines on-board flight magazine recently. The accompanying article by Noel Nicholas indicated that this remarkable bird has clocked over three million miles of flight time. Apparently she has hatched 30-35 chicks so far in her lifetime, the most recent in February of 2014. Nichols reported that the staff at the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge (where Wisdom nests) named the chick Mana’olana: Hawaiian for ‘hope.’ Hmm.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Club 122 Longevity

I’m finishing up my latest book manuscript, coauthored with Sharlet M. Briggs, PhD, and Steve Horton, MPH, entitled:  Longevity Lifestyle Matters—Keeping Your Brain, Body, and Weight in the Game. Along with that, we are starting Club 122 Longevity. It was named in honor of Jeanne Calment, a French woman who was born 21 February 1875 and died 4 August 1997—a lifespan of 122 years, 164 days. Her life demonstrates the old adage, You’ll get farther if you aim higher. It is for people who are committed to aiming higher. Continually learning, they turn what they learn into knowledge and then daily apply that practical knowledge to creating and maintaining a Longevity Lifestyle. The website is under development (www.club122longevity). Some information is already available . . .

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Brain Ponderisms, 2

A ponderism can be defined as something that someone’s mind has thought about, considered, asked, or weighed. More ponderisms:

  • My folks ate a lot of natural foods until they learned that most people die of natural causes.
  • Are the Alphabet song and Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star really the same tune?
  • Life is sexually transmitted, except in a test tube (unless it’s a very large test tube).
  • Is a hearse carrying a corpse allowed to drive in the carpool lane?
  • The major difference between a rut and a grave is the depth.
  • Feeling blue? Start breathing again and let it change your color.
  • Good health is merely the slowest possible rate at which you can die.
  • Go figure: how is it that the neighbor’s dog looks away if you blow in its face, but on a car ride it can’t wait to stick its head out the window?

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Brain Ponderisms

The last few blogs have been dealing with rather heavy topics so it's time for something a bit lighter. Ponderisms, for example. What is a ponderism? Good question. The word ponder means to think about, consider, or weigh in one’s mind. So perhaps a ponderism is something that someone’s mind has thought about, considered, asked, or weighed. Following are some ponderisms:

  • Can you cry under water?
  • There are two types of pedestrians: the quick and the dead.
  • Do individuals who are illiterate really get the full impact of Alphabet Soup?
  • Stop taking every little thing in life so seriously—no one gets out alive anyway.
  • If corn oil is made from corn, and vegetable oil is made from vegetables, then what is baby oil made from?
  • Take a lesson from the weather. It pays no attention to criticism.
  • How can one careless match can start a forest fire, but it takes a whole box to start a campfire?
Send me your favorites. We'll do a few more tomorrow.

Monday, December 15, 2014

#5 MH Problem Facing College Students

The #5 mental health problem? Addictive behaviors. Partying and engaging in alcohol and drug use has become commonplace on many college campuses. But what often starts as a social behavior can escalate into addiction. Think of an additive behavior as a dependency on and repeated abuse of something. People tend to think of addiction primarily in terms of drugs and alcohol but it can include food, gambling, sex, and almost anything that gives the brain a reward (even over-exercising). In terms of alcohol, The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) reports that:

  • About 80% of college students drink
  • About 50% of those are binge drinkers
  • 1,825 students, ages 18 to 24, die from alcohol-related injuries annually
  • Students are more likely to be assaulted, sexually abused or injured by someone who’s been drinking
  • About 25% of students who drink regularly report academic problems
Ask yourself:

  • Do you feel uncomfortable when drugs or alcohol are not available?
  • Do you drink heavily when you are disappointed, distressed or get in a fight?
  • Have you ever been unable to remember part of the previous evening, even though your friends say you did not pass out?
  • Has a friend or family member expressed concern about your alcohol or drug use?
  • Have any of your blood relatives had an addiction to drugs or alcohol?
  • Do you sometimes want to continue your drug and alcohol use when you’re by yourself?
 If you answered 'yes' to any of these questions or think you might have an addictive behavior related to something else, contact your student health care center today and find out what your options for treatment are on campus. Following are additional resources:

Friday, December 12, 2014

#4 MH Problem Facing College Students

The #4 mental health problem? Eating disorders. Millions of college students develop eating disorders during their college years, and males are nearly as likely to develop a disorder as women. Eating disorders involve extreme behaviors that revolve around food and weight issues. The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD) has provided statistics related to eating disorders; the numbers of which do not accurately reflect males with eating disorders as they often fail to seek treatment (bulimia and anorexia being seen as women’s issues):

  • People ages 12-25 represent 95% of those with eating disorders
  • Anorexia is the third most common chronic illness in adolescents
  • 91% of college women attempt to control their weight through dieting
  • 25% of college women binge and purge to manage their weight
 Ask yourself:

  • Do you refuse to eat food or skip meals?
  • Do you fear eating in public with others?
  • Do you count calories out of a need for control?
  • Do you have strict eating habits that you feel guilty and ashamed for breaking?
  • Do you have a history of perfectionism?
  • Are you obsessed or dissatisfied with your weight or body shape?
  • Do you eat large amounts of food and then purging or make yourself vomit?
  • Have you avoided eating for a day then overate when you became too hungry?
  • Have you seen excessive hair growth on arms and face or loss of your menstrual cycle?

If you answered yes to any of these questions or believe you have an eating disorder, seek immediate treatment―eating disorders can become life-threatening. The following are some of the resources dedicated to the prevention and/or alleviation of eating disorders.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

#3 MH Problem Facing College Students

The #3 mental health problem? Suicide--the second leading cause of death among college students, although at least 1 in 10 college students has at least thought about killing themselves. A 2011 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicated there were 39,518 suicides reported in the U.S., making it the 10th leading cause of death that year. A majority of college students who take their lives have a diagnosable and treatable mental illness. Do any of the following common contributors to suicidal behavior apply to you:

  • Severe depression
  • Anxiety and devastation from a broken relationship or lost loved one
  • Family mental health history
  • Feelings of failure and hopelessness
Ask yourself:

  • Are you withdrawing from friends, peers, and activities you used to enjoy?
  • Have you ever thought about killing yourself?
  • Have you ever told someone you thought about killing yourself?
  • Have you experienced feeling of worthlessness or guilt?
  • Have you recently begun to abuse drugs or alcohol?
  • Do you experience extreme anxiety or intense anger?
 If yes, call 911 or go to an urgent care center. All things being equal, if suicide can be prevented, the world will not be deprived of what only you could have contributed with your unique, one-of-a-kind brain. The following organizations are some of those that are dedicated to preventing suicides.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

#2 MH Problem Facing College Students

The #2 mental health problem? Anxiety. Some anxiety and negative stress are a part of nearly every person's life, at least intermittently. So what’s the difference between experiencing some anxiety and an anxiety disorder? It’s when anxiety interferes with your daily life, halting your ability to function, and causing an immense amount of stress and fearful feelings. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America reports that anxiety disorders are the most common mental problem in the U.S.--affecting 40 million adults over the age of 18. Nearly 75% of those affected by an anxiety disorder will experience their first episode before the age of 22. But unfortunately, only one-third of them seek and receive treatment. Ask yourself:
  • Do you experience anxious or worrisome thoughts on a daily basis?
  • Are you plagued by fears others perceive as unfounded or irrational?
  • Do you avoid everyday social activities because they cause you anxiety?
  • Do you experience sudden heart-pounding panic attacks?
  • Is your anxiety interfering with your school work, social life, and family?
If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these, access resources. Sooner is better than later.

Beyond OCD

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

#1 MH Problem Facing College Students

The #1 mental health problem? Depression. And depression is very tricky. It wears many faces and the symptoms exhibited can differ among individuals, to say nothing of between the genders. A survey conducted by the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors found that 36.4% of college students reported experiencing some level of depression in 2013. That’s more than 1 in 3 students! Contributors to this disorder of brain function are myriad and legendary, including a combination of factors that range from genetics through expectations of parents and teachers (to say nothing of students themselves) to a host of biological, psychological, and environmental components. Depression is complex, sometimes preventable, and treatable—if you get help. Ask yourself:

  • Have you experienced extreme sadness or hopelessness?
  • Does your family have a history of depression?
  • Have you turned to heavy drinking or drug use to relieve feelings of hopelessness?
  • Have you been experiencing thoughts of death or suicide?
 Individuals who experience depression often perceive they are alone and have no one to turn to. The following organizations are some of those dedicated to providing resources:

Monday, December 8, 2014

Mental Health (MH) Problems Facing College Students

Recently I was emailing with Kayla Evans, contributor to and to their health resources. Our conversation served to reinforce the seriousness of the mental and physical stress that students reported to me during this past year as I traveled and spoke in several different countries. Unfortunately, America is no exception—although some would like to believe it is. Mental health research by the National Alliance on Mental Illness on college campuses shows that:

  • 80% feel overwhelmed by their responsibilities (8 in 10 students)
  • 50% have been so anxious they struggled in school (5 in 10 students)
  • 40% do not seek help (4 in 10 students)
  • 25% have a diagnosable illness (1 in 4 students)
These are both startling and horrific statistics. Because of this, I am devoting the next few blogs to the reported top five mental problems facing college students. If you are a college student, pay attention. Forewarned is forearmed. If you know a college student, share the resources.

Friday, December 5, 2014

High Cost of Multitasking, 5

Break the habit of trying to multitask. Researchers found that “heavy multitaskers” differed from “non-multitaskers.” Although multitaskers were accustomed to multitasking, they were actually worse at doing it than non-multitaskers who were part of the study. The multitaskers observed the information presented to them but were unable to focus on their goals. Instead, they absorbed the irrelevant information that they were told to ignore, and these distractions prevented them from accomplishing the main tasks of the experiment. In other words, multitaskers were more sensitive to incoming information than non-multitaskers, but were unable to shut off their multitasking tendencies even when they weren’t multitasking. One suggestion is to give your brain some rest. Rather than jumping from one task to another, take a quick break in between to clear your head, get the last task off your mind, and prepare you to focus on what you truly need to accomplish. Researchers say that by avoiding multitasking, you can make your days less stressful and your projects more rewarding. Try it. You just might like it!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

High Cost of Multitasking, 4

So what can one do to break free of the multitasking trap? First, teach yourself to recognize when you are trying to multitask. Awareness is the first step on the continuum of positive growth. Stop, look, and listen. If you’re in the habit of trying to do three or six or nine things at a time, rapidly alternating shifts of attention from one to another, stop. Breathe. Attempting to stop multitasking can be a challenge, especially if you’ve done it for years. Sometimes it may be necessary, but at other times, set priorities and reduce distractions—for example, jumping to get every email as soon as it arrives. Email can be very distracting and, as you try to multitask, the reply you write may be inaccurate or phrased in an unhelpful way and because you’re in a hurry you hit “send” and then it’s too late to take it back. Set a schedule for reading and deleting. Maybe 20 minutes first thing in the morning, another 20 minutes right before or after lunch, and again in the afternoon or evening. If it’s life and death, you’ll likely get a call on your mobile anyway . . . More tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

High Cost of Multitasking, 3

People try to multitask at work, too, not just at home. One study found that in the workplace, managers were the main offenders. Their attempts at multitasking caused a large number of delays. Rather than focusing on a single task at a time, the managers tried to fit in several tasks at once. One researcher put it this way: “When managers multitask, even small decisions can take days. Instead of spending, say, a quality 15 minutes with people, they can afford only a rushed and ineffective two to three minutes.” Researchers found that organizations lose up to 27.5% of productivity as a result of multitasking. They did some math and calculated this loss to equate to more than $450 billion a year globally, an amazing figure that all organizations would undoubtedly like to decrease. More tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

High Cost of Multitasking, 2

With its two hemispheres, the brain can only effectively handle two complex cognitive tasks or activities at the same time. Studies at Stanford found that when a third cognitive task was added and the brain attempted to prioritize the task, it became overwhelmed. It put what it perceived to be a less-important task on the back burner and often completely forgot to accomplish it. The myth is that when you attempt to complete two or more complicated tasks at once you are multitasking (working on multiple projects at the same time). Not so. The brain is simply rapidly shifting its attention from one task to another—or trying to do so. The brain requires time to completely shift its attention from one cognitive task to another, some have estimated this to be as much as seven seconds. Regardless, seconds or nanoseconds, constantly shifting one’s attention from one task to another can deplete productivity by as much as 40%, which can increase the time required to accomplish these tasks by as much as 50%. More tomorrow.

Monday, December 1, 2014

High Cost of Multitasking

Current wisdom says that you can raise your IQ from 5-15 points or more depending on when you begin. Conversely, heavy multitasking can temporarily lower your IQ by 15 points. Not only that, estimates are that multitasking costs the global economy about $450 billion annually. And people keep trying to multitask because? Perhaps because they don’t know about the research or don’t really believe it or think their brains are uniquely exceptional or feel under pressure to do so or . . . fMRI studies by neuroscientists Etienne Koechlin and Sylvain Charron of the French biomedical research agency INSERM in Paris, showed that the human brain the brain can't effectively handle more than two complex, related activities at the same time. The brain has two hemispheres. When the brain tries to do two things at once, it assigns about half of its gray matter to each task. You can talk while you walk (but reading while you walk has been dubbed “distracted walking” and increases one’s risk of injury) or read while you eat (although you may spill stuff on your book or iPad) because the function of automaticity helps out. Try to pound nails while holding a conversation on an unrelated topic, however, and you may put your thumb at risk; try to use power tools while watching TV and you may put life or limb at risk. More tomorrow.