Stress is at the root of so many physical and mental health struggles Americans deal with; and comes at a major cost to not only ourselves, but our families, communities, jobs, the health care system, and beyond.
From the obvious of anxiety, depression, and PTSD – to cancer, cardiovascular disease, and even neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and dementia; the reduction or elimination of psychological stressors in our life can pay huge dividends both personally and financially.
I had the great pleasure recently of interviewing a well-known mindfulness expert who has been featured on Dr. Oz and other popular programs. Cory Muscara shared with me, and my listeners, a simple, yet highly effective technique to break the cycle of damaging stress responses in just a few short breaths.
How it’s done
- Hold your hand in front of you, palm side up, with elbow bent at 90°
- Take the index (pointer) finger of the opposite hand and place it in the palm facing you just in front of the wrist crease
- As you begin to inhale slowly and deeply, slide your finger along the course of your thumb to the tip
- Follow the course of the thumb with your finger back to the wrist as you slowly exhale
- Proceed as such for the pointer, middle, ring, and pinky fingers for a total of 5 breaths
- Initially perform with eyes open, then try with eyes closed
What it does
Pausing to breath like this, while bringing your attention to the tactile sensation of your finger sliding on your hand, creates a few moments of mindfulness that can interrupt most any stressor and get your brain back on track. This technique creates a parasympathetic (relaxation) response that will lower your heart rate, normalize breathing patterns, and simply make you feel better!
Practice often and you will find that even thinking about it will evoke the same responses.
To listen to the full podcast with Cory, please visit www.TrainYourBrainPodcast.com – Episode #339.
For other posts on stress and stress management, click here.
At the time of presentation to APEX Brain Centers, Roger was a 70-year-old male struggling with severe balance problems, clumsiness, fatigue, and a general disinterest in life. He used to enjoy life as a family man, successful entrepreneur and golfer. Just over 10 years prior he had undergone radiation therapy for cancer that damaged his 8th cranial nerve (the balance and hearing nerve). He had also undergone prism therapies and surgery for eye position abnormalities, which have caused further insult to his ability to maintain good balance and to learn effectively. Although not listed as a primary complaint, he also suffered from significant cognitive decline in several areas as evidenced by very low to low average scores on standardized cognitive testing.
Roger sought care at APEX Brain Centers in Asheville, NC in May of 2015 and underwent an intensive course of Brain Training. He was admitted into in an individualized program directed by extensive diagnostic testing, and led by clinicians highly experienced in functional neurology. What follows is a sampling of some of the cutting-edge clinical interventions and amazing functional gains Roger experienced during his time at APEX.
Intervention for balance and cognitive decline
Roger underwent comprehensive Brain Training at a frequency of 3 times per day over the course of 15 days (with 2 days off between each for much needed rest and recovery). His brain function was carefully monitored throughout the training process with measurement of EEG brainwaves, vital signs, eye movements, balance, mental and physical timing, and more to ensure he was receiving the proper amount therapy to be effective, but not too much so as to be counter-productive. Modalities implemented included, but were not limited to: neurofeedback (NFB), Interactive Metronome, vestibular rehabilitation, metabolic/nutritional therapies, eye movement and neurological rehabilitation, whole body vibration, electrical stimulation, breathing exercises and home care recommendations.
Outcomes after Brain Training
Subsequent to his Brain Training program, Roger reported subjective improvements in the vast majority of his pre-intensive complaints. More profound than that; his wife was quoted as saying, “it’s like I have my old husband back”. She noted that he used to be the life of the party and had been slowly deteriorating over time to the point of sitting in his chair all day and sleeping more and more often. He was finally plugging back into life, putting an end to his isolation and apathy. As is demonstrated by his balance testing, he is also experiencing a renewed ability to maintain balance, allowing him to be safer and more efficient in navigating his physical environment.
Actual, measurable objective improvements recorded with post-intensive diagnostic testing include:
- Cognitive Testing: Increase in his Neurocognition Index of 48%. This is a standardized overall score of cognitive performance. Increases in various aspects of memory, attention, processing speed and more as great as 21%.
- Interactive Metronome: 56% improvement in task average with motor timing, and normalization of hyper-anticipatory timing tendency with motor tasks (i.e. responding prematurely to a pre-set reference tone).
- Computerized Assessment of Postural Stability (CAPS): 20.5% improvement in balance on an unstable surface with eyes closed – bringing him from severe to mild reduction in balance compared to his peers. Elimination of a posterior center of pressure (CoP); significantly reducing his risk of falling backwards.
- Videonystagmography (VNG): Significant improvements in numerous aspects of oculomotor (eye movement) functionality including: gaze holding, slow and fast eye movements, optokinetic responses, and spontaneous/involuntary eye movements.
With an alarming increase in the number of baby boomers and seniors experiencing balance issues and cognitive decline (that are in fact related), it is important to recognize the symptoms of these potentially debilitating disorders and, more importantly, that something can be done about them. Early intervention is key, as the longer one waits and the more function is lost, the more difficult it is to recover and have full engagement with life!
Every breath you take, every move you make (enter the distinct guitar sounds of The Police’s wildly popular 1983 hit) is controlled by your brain’s innate timing system. Whether physical movements or production of thoughts, your brain’s ability to time these magical feats appropriately is the difference between unnoticed normal everyday functioning and disastrous consequences.
Most can relate to the impact timing has on the way we move. We’ve all seen someone with Parkinson’s disease or brain injury, or simply decline in function with aging, struggle with what most of us take for granted (i.e. walking, tying shoes, speaking, etc.). Our ability to effortlessly time movement is taken for granted… Until that ability is lost.
On the other hand, it might be a bit more difficult for one to consider that the disorganized thoughts of those with schizophrenia or similar conditions has anything to do with timing. This is in fact a growing area of research where disorganized or uncoordinated thoughts are being related to uncoordinated motor activity such as walking and speech. When movements are improved through various types of physical training, individuals experience more efficient thought processing and communication of these thoughts. Through this lens it is quite easy to see how our thoughts, and even emotions, can be impaired by improper mental timing.
Can I improve my brain’s timing???
Musicians, dancers and other athletes would tell you… Absolutely! Simply involving yourself in activities that revolve around a regular beat or rhythm (cadence) will help to strengthen your mental timing ability. The obvious here would include activities such as music and dance.
But what if there are problems with my brain???
Previously mentioned brain injury and Parkinson’s disease would be natural barriers to improving timing in the brain. Studies also show that key physical abilities (bio-markers) such as balance and eye movements are impaired in those experiencing cognitive decline with aging. Challenges in these and other abilities will undoubtedly have an impact on our ability to improve timing. Addressing the physical and metabolic aspects of these conditions would be the logical first step in improving mental timing in any situation. For those with severe impairment, and for those looking to be the best they can be, there are other options.
Can my mental timing be measured and improved???
Fortunately, yes! With sophisticated measurement and training tools such as the Interactive Metronome, those with neurological conditions and peak performers alike can have their brain’s timing measured quite accurately. This particular program utilizes auditory (sound) cues to first measure and then train one’s mental timing capacities. Through matching body movements to a standardized metronome beat, the computer software can determine (down to the millisecond) how accurately one is timing. Numerous aspects of timing can be measured including early and late timing tendencies, left vs. right side of body differences, upper vs. lower body timing differences, consistency in timing from one beat to the next, and much more. Armed with this information, experienced clinicians such as those at APEX Brain Centers in Asheville, NC can design and deliver specific Brain Training programs to repair the deficient timing issues to the highest degree possible.
What does this all mean for me???
With intact and efficient mental timing our risk of injury due to falling decreases… Thought processing and problem solving become more efficient… Attention and focus get sharper… Memory formation and retrieval becomes much easier… Certain unwanted behavioral traits improve… Academics and test taking require less effort and produce less anxiety… Our limits of physical performance can skyrocket…
I believe you get the point. There are few aspects of humanism that are not positively impacted by an improvement in our brain’s innate timing abilities. Go exercise that rhythm – your brain will thank you!
Everyone that signs up for a 5 or more day full intensive training program at APEX Brain Centers in Asheville, NC, that is! (Unique offer details below).
While technology and all that come with it can cause significant impairment for many, it can also be used to provide an extreme advantage when it comes to Training your Brain. The ever-growing list of hi-tech applications (apps) for mobile devices and tablets is astounding, many of which hold significant promise for re-training brain dysfunction, and for improving upon already strong performance in those looking to reach their peak potential. As with anything, there is a downside – apps used improperly and not under expert guidance can, in some cases, be counter-productive, and even harmful!
The following are the main areas of apps for brain performance:
- Memory and Attention: We have all heard of that brain training program that begins with ‘L’ that most folks pronounce incorrectly! While this and many other similar apps are quite useful and largely without side-effects, they may not be providing all they claim in the absence of a comprehensive brain health program.
- Eye movements: The secret is out, eye movements are directly related to our higher, more human, cognitive brain functions. A simple Google search of ‘eye movements and cognition’ should get you rolling there! The challenge is that these sensitive windows into higher brain function can very easily be trained incorrectly, leading to further dysfunction or significantly limiting peak performance. User beware: Expert direction is essential with these type of apps!
- Neurofeedback/Biofeedback: By far the newest and most concerning area of mobile brain training, app stores are piling up with programs that will help you regulate your brainwaves, heart rate, muscle tension, and more. Common sense should let you know that training your brainwaves in the absence of higher education in neurophysiology and neuroplasticity might not be a very wise choice. Once again, user beware!
Although just a sampling of what’s available in the various app stores in the cyber world, the take home message here is that ANY effort in training your brain should be directed by a qualified health care provider trained in these areas of brain performance for maximum benefit and decreased probability of side-effects.
Enter the iPad…
All clients entering into a 5 or more day full intensive training program at APEX Brain Centers in Asheville, NC through May 31, 2015 will receive a FREE iPad Mini with Retina Display (or comparable device) as a valuable aid to your brain training program, and to help you continue progress once discharged. All you would need to do is have an iTunes account to purchase any needed applications (typically less than $35.00), and the desire to make your brain the best possible brain it can be.
This special offer is not to be combined with any offers and you must reference this post at the time of consultation or admission for validation purposes. Let us help you harness the power of technology and put you in the driver’s seat on your journey to Building a Better Brain!
People ask me all the time if brain games “really work.” Their interest is understandable. Most people are looking tools they can use to improve their brain function and prevent age-related memory loss. But the effectiveness of brain games has been publicly called into question recently by members of the scientific community. My new blog on the NaturalNews Network responds to the critics and gives consumers some insight on the role that brain games can play in supporting brain health.
A recent article in The Guardian, titled Brain Games Exploit Anxieties About Memory Loss for Profit–Scientists reference an open letter signed by 73 members of the scientific community that largely condemns the effectiveness of brain games due to lack of adequate research supporting the claims made by the various companies producing them. Claims cited include making one smarter, speeding up the time it takes to learn, and reducing cognitive slowing and forgetfulness. In this letter the signatories do acknowledge the existence of brain plasticity – the brain’s ability to change based on its experience – although apparently feel as if the positive impacts on the brain from these games do not extend beyond the “training-induced” learning that occurs from these games. Even if this were in fact the only benefit…is this a bad thing?
Read the full article HERE.
At APEX we create targeted brain training programs designed to improve brain health and function. Brain games are one of many tools we use to help our clients achieve their personal goals. Brain games alone may not be a complete solution to improving brain health, but we believe that they can be a valuable part of a comprehensive strategy to help individuals build better brains.
Read all of my NaturalNews blogs by visiting my profile.
Brain decline is one of the most common fears of people over the age of 50. While Americans are living longer and longer today, the quality of our extended years is all too often reduced by memory loss, confusion, lack of focus, and other dementia symptoms. The increase in numbers of people with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia (Visit the Alzheimer’s Association for more Facts and Figures) means that too many of us have too little “life” in these extra years of living. Memory loss and cognitive decline are beyond epidemic proportions, as 1 in 3 senior citizens will die with Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia.
Though these numbers are alarming, there are steps that people can take to alleviate their fears about dementia. Early testing is key. We offer cognitive screening to anyone who is concerned about brain decline at our office in Asheville. Join the growing ranks of boomers and seniors who are taking their brain health seriously and doing everything they can to ensure they live as healthily and happily as they can well into their golden years.
Why Early Screening for Cognitive Decline is Important
Early detection of memory loss and cognitive decline is of the highest order of importance! The sad reality is, most who are presenting for cognitive evaluation have been putting it off for some time, and many have waited too long. Once a person reaches moderate to advanced stages of these debilitating disorders less can be done to improve, or possibly reverse, them. If discovered early, many of these conditions can be radically improved allowing for a more fulfilling life.
What follows are 4 research-backed methods we utilize to assess your brain to determine if you are at risk for cognitive decline or dementia. Time is of the essence in discovering these conditions and cognitive screenings can serve as a beacon for problems long before they present themselves:
- Cognitive Testing: We can accurately measure various aspects of memory, attention, and other factors of higher level thinking that can help us determine what parts of the brain are most affected by trauma, age related cognitive decline, etc. While most tests and resources are geared towards the determining the severity or rating of cognitive impairment (Learn more from Bart Sheehan’s Brain Assessment Scales in Dementia article), it is our firm belief that many standardized tests of brain function can be utilized as proactive indicators of function.
- Smell Testing: Research has supported the fact that smell is a “canary in a coal mine” when it comes to dementia and cognitive decline. The part of the brain that is often first attacked by Alzheimer’s, the front part of the temporal lobe, controls the sense of smell. That is why a decline in a person’s ability to perceive odors can be an early warning sign of the disease. Recent research from the University of Florida demonstrates that smell testing can actually predict Alzheimer’s incidence.
- Balance Testing: Another key biomarker for higher brain function is balance. Balance, or our ability to resist gravity on two legs, plays a large part in the higher brain functions we as humans experience. Recent scientific research published in the journal Frontiers has helped practitioners gain greater understanding of the connection between balance, memory, and other cognitive processes.
- Eye Movement Testing: It is sometimes said that the eyes are the windows to the soul, but in reality they are the windows to the brain. The connection between eye movements and cognition has been widely studied. The ability to move our eyes is directly related to higher brain function. Simply put, slow eye movements, fast eye movements, holding of gaze, and many other capacities of the eyes are controlled by centers in the brain that govern the way we remember and think.
Do not wait until it is too late to get tested. Our brain is our most sensitive and most complex organ. When the brain is in decline, early intervention is critical. All of the above-mentioned strategies are just a sampling of what we look at when assessing those with suspected cognitive decline, and those simply looking to boost their brain performance. The most important message to take home here is that any and all of these areas of measurement can be trained, improved, and re-tested to demonstrate that we can in fact help add “life” to our years!
There are many types of dementia, some of which are preventable and others that are not. Conditions that are considered genetically driven, such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and brain tumors, lead to degeneration and loss of nerve connections and cells within the brain that result in the decline in cognitive abilities such as memory, reasoning and problem solving. But no matter the cause there are ways to slow the rate of dementia and Alzheimer’s related memory loss. The key is acting early. Most types of dementia are progressive. The earlier you seek help the more successful you will be at preventing memory loss.
Even in the case of Alzheimer’s disease, thought by most to be completely incurable, evidence suggests that the progression of the disease is impacted by factors within our control, most notably the proper control of our blood sugar levels. Finding the cause of memory loss can help you and your health care providers determine the best means of preventing further memory decline. Certain types of depression lead to ‘pseudo-dementia’, which can be treated with great success. Even age-related memory loss can be impacted quite successfully with the appropriate nutritional, exercise, stress management and Brain Training methods.
Recognizing Early Signs of Dementia and Alzheimer’s
If you recognize the early signs of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia you can be proactive in preventing memory loss. If you or someone you know is struggling to find the right words, regularly misplacing common everyday items, overreacting (or underreacting) to situations, getting lost in familiar surroundings, or having extreme difficulty with simple tasks such as balancing the checkbook, dementia or Alzheimer’s disease may be suspected. Disinterest in formerly pleasurable activities and a decrease in the sense of smell are also telltale signs that one’s brain function may be declining. If this is the case seek help from a practitioner who is experienced helping those with memory loss as soon as possible.
Prevent Memory Loss through Brain Training
APEX offers Brain Training for memory loss prevention. We understand the mechanisms of memory loss well and use specific diagnostic and training procedures to help anyone, even those with dementia, to Build a Better Brain. Through brain mapping, cognitive testing and other brain assessments, we design a Brain Training program customized to help you retain your memory, or possibly even improve it. Brain Training for memory loss may include neurofeedback, transcranial magnetic stimulation, Interactive Metronome training, specific brain and body exercises and nutritional support, among many other modalities.
Foods and Supplements to Support Memory Retention
To support a healthy brain and memory, it is good practice to avoid processed and refined foods. Minding your calorie intake is critical. A great first step is to develop an ‘eat to live’ philosophy instead of a ‘live to eat’ strategy. Eating a sensible diet of real, live, or whole foods is the logical first step towards Building a Better Brain and preventing memory loss.
The lists of brain foods or ‘superfoods’ that are reputed to prevent memory loss are long. One needs to exercise caution when claims for products or foods are seemingly too good to be true and some simple advice will go a long way towards eating for a healthy brain.
Also consider a full metabolic and nutritional assessment to see if dietary changes can help you see improvement in your memory, or in other areas of health.
Exercise for Brain Health
Memory loss prevention is only one of the reasons that exercise is good for our brains. Exercise encourages new nerve cell growth in parts of the brain that facilitate memory and learning. Exercise also improves blood supply and fuel delivery to already existing brain pathways and regions. Exercise simply makes us smarter and is considered by many to be the best memory loss treatment on the market!