You may often ask yourself, “Does my ability to maintain healthy balance have anything to do with how well I think, remember, and solve problems?” Well, maybe that exact thought (or anything close to it) has never actually crossed your mind, but it very well should. Assessment and treatment of impaired balance is being looked at as the “Holy Grail” for higher level thinking by many experts in the brain world!
The Benefits (and Consequences) of Bipedalism
Our ability to stand on two legs is nothing short of remarkable. Becoming bipedal is possibly our greatest feat as human beings. Balancing on the stilts we call legs requires a tremendous amount of brainpower. And walking, that’s an even greater accomplishment! Then why isn’t everyone talking about this? While standing, and even more so while walking, we are constantly in a state of falling. Think about this, when someone’s brain is “offline” due to alcohol consumption, disease, or simply waking up from a deep sleep, they have a dramatic increase in their likelihood of falling.
Our brain requires constant and precise input from the many sensory receptors located in our eyes, inner ears (vestibular system), and muscles and joints (proprioceptive system). Any damage to these systems, or changes in our brain’s control over these systems, will lead to measurable changes in our ability to balance and walk. It works both ways.
The Connection Between Balance and Cognition
Now that you understand the very basic connections between the brain and our ability to maintain balance, you can begin to see why it is essential to maintain healthy balance. Bipedal locomotion (walking on two legs) has long been associated with our larger and more complex human brains. From our early ancestors’ rudimentary tool making abilities to our descendants’ possibilities of inhabiting other planets in the future (for better or for worse), only humans are capable of generating the cognitive power to do such things. As much as I love my dogs, I cannot see them ever being able to sit and type an article as I sit to type this one (that is, at least while they remain on four legs)!
Over the past several decades, the research has been accumulating to support the fact that our ability to move through our environment (spatial navigation) is directly related to our ability to learn and remember. A groundbreaking paper published in the Journal of Vestibular Research, Does Vestibular Damage Cause Cognitive Dysfunction in Humans, demonstrates that the degree of damage to the vestibular system is directly correlated to changes in the hippocampus, which is a key component of memory and higher cognitive function.
A more recent paper published in the journal Stroke entitled Association of Postural Instability With Asymptomatic Cerebrovascular Damage and Cognitive Decline discusses the irrefutable link between poor balance, cognitive decline, and small blood vessel disease in the brain. Subjects that had a reduced ability to stand on one leg were clearly shown to have lower cognitive functions of memory and spatial awareness. The lead author of this study urged that those with postural instability (impaired balance) should receive special attention as they may be at greater risk of cognitive decline.
Noted in an article entitled Poor Balance Tied to Small-Vessel Disease, Cognitive Decline by Pauline Anderson on Medscape referencing the above-mentioned paper was the simple neurological observation of people’s ability to “rise, stand and walk” as “the single most important part of entire neurologic examination.” This was quoted from Dr. Jose Biller from Loyola University’s Department of Neurology. As with any general observation test, if someone is unable to “rise, stand and walk” they are clearly in moderate to advanced stages of balance impairment, and, very likely, moderate to advanced stages of associated cognitive decline. More sophisticated testing of balance is required to pick up abnormalities long before they are visible.
Dynamic posturography, or computerized assessment of postural systems, is the gold standard for measuring such abnormalities. Testing of eye movements with videonystagmography (VNG) and neurological evaluation of muscles and joints will help determine if the associated systems of balance are impaired.
With early detection of balance problems, you are in the driver’s seat and have the full ability to act on repairing these abnormalities to the highest degree possible. As with anything else in your body, (or your house, your car, etc.) the longer you wait to act, the less likely you will be able to fully recover much needed function and perform at your highest ability. If you have been having problems standing or walking, make an appointment with a practitioner who specializes in balance issues for further screening as soon as possible. The better your ability to balance, the better your ability to think, so do not hesitate to get checked out!
One of the long-term effects of alcohol abuse is rarely discussed but very dangerous: malnourishment. Alcoholism frequently causes heavy drinkers to lose the ability to fully absorb nutrients. Many alcoholics often lose their appetites and choose to drink instead of eat, which can make the inability to absorb nutrients all the more devastating. My new blog on the NaturalNews Network discusses specific deficiencies caused by alcohol abuse and nutritional therapies that may be beneficial to recovering alcoholics.
Alcoholism is the cause of multiple nutrient deficiencies, including many that can have dire consequences. The bottom line is that when folks are drinking even moderate amounts of alcohol on a daily, near daily, or binge basis, their ability to take in (eat) and assimilate (absorb) vital nutrients is severely compromised.
The nutritional deficiencies suffered by alcoholics must be addressed before true recovery can begin. Metabolic and nutritional therapies may be beneficial to those suffering from alcohol related deficiencies. However, the nutritional needs of each person are unique and alcohol abuse will affect each individual differently. When nutritional supplements and medical foods are delivered to a patient in a way that specifically targets their individual deficiencies the results can be life changing. If you have questions about alcohol related malnutrition or nutritional therapy please contact us at APEX Brain Centers to learn more.
Liz is a 29-year-old female entrepreneur, designer, and athlete who came to APEX Brain Centers with a history of post-concussion syndrome from previous car accidents and sport related head injuries. She reported symptoms that are often seen in cases of mild Traumatic Brain Injury (mTBI) including brain fog, fluctuating and elevated heart rate, fatigue, incoordination, excessive emotionality, sharp head pains, and decreasing ability to think critically and effectively. Liz’s symptoms have been nothing short of debilitating and have taken away her ability to work full time at the career she loves. She was also very concerned that her future plans of having a baby and starting a family would be compromised due to the health risk to both her and a developing fetus.
Liz traveled from Virginia to the APEX Brain Centers office in Asheville, NC to participate in our targeted, high frequency, high intensity Brain Training program. She began a 10-day course of Brain Training in November of 2014 with a goal of alleviating her concussion related symptoms. With her sincere efforts and dedication to recovery, we were able to record significant measurable changes related to her symptomatology.
Intervention for mTBI
Liz underwent Brain Training 3 times per day over the course of the 10-day period. Her brain function was carefully monitored throughout the training process to ensure she was receiving enough treatment to be effective, but not too much so as to be counter-productive. Modalities delivered included, but were not limited to: neurofeedback (NFB) and transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS), Interactive Metronome, vestibular rehabilitation, metabolic/nutritional therapies, eye movement and other aspects of neurological rehabilitation, electrical stimulation, breathing exercises and home care recommendations.
Outcomes after Brain Training
Subsequent to her Brain Training program, Liz reported significant subjective improvements in the vast majority of her post-concussion syndrome symptoms including: fogginess and “wandering” of thought, fluctuating heat rate, ability to control emotions, head pain, sleep, intensity at which she was able to exercise, balance, and levels of energy.
Actual, measurable objective improvements recorded with post-intensive diagnostic testing include:
Cognitive Testing: Improvements in 4 aspects of memory, attention, executive and other cognitive functions ranging from 14% – 800%.
Interactive Metronome: 42% improvement and normalization of hyper-anticipatory timing tendency with motor tasks. 68% improvement in task average with motor skills. 30% improvement in overall response accuracy with motor skills.
Computerized Assessment of Postural Stability (CAPS): Elimination of mild reductions in stability with balance and complete normalization of balance abilities in eyes closed scenarios.
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.
Autonomic Testing: Stabilization of heart rate from an erratic range of 90-150 bpm, to 60-90 bpm; saving her over 30 million heartbeats per year!
With an ever-increasing number of individuals experiencing mTBI, it is important to recognize the symptoms of these oftentimes debilitating disorders and, more importantly, that something can be done about them. Borrowing a phrase from the Brain Injury Association of America, “Brain injury is the last thing on your mind, until it is the only thing on your mind”!
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?
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.
Drugs, cigarettes, alcohol, sex, gambling, food and shopping are just a few of the most common behaviors and substances that people can become addicted to. Why is it that some people never develop addictions while others give up nearly everything (including their lives) because of them? The answer lies in the wiring of the brain.
Addiction is a Disease of the Brain
While the American Psychiatric Association defines addiction as a chronic brain disease that causes compulsive substance abuse, the exact cause of this disease (whether your brain is wired for addiction because of genetics or environment) is still being debated. But one thing is certain—our environment impacts the way our brains work (for better or for worse). How we live has an incredibly powerful influence on the way our genetic tendencies are expressed. More simply put, what you think, consume, and do will determine the severity of your addiction.
Most individuals with addiction also suffer from other disorders including ADHD and OCD. The same brain regions are involved in most of these conditions, including addiction. Whether developmental in nature, related to injury, or otherwise, there is most often measurable compromise in cognitive networks in the brain that deal with attention, motivation, memory, impulse control, decision making and reasoning.
Neuroplasticity Offers Hope for Addicts
The tenets of neuroplasticity – the brain’s ability to change and grow based on its environment and experience – dictate that we can in fact change function in the key brain regions related to addiction. Add to this the ever-growing body of research on the impact of physical abilities such as balance and eye movements on cognitive function, and we now have a host of methods to address the impact of environmental factors on addiction.
The Brain Training Approach to Addiction
Brain training is one method of rewiring the brain that offers hope to those suffering from addiction. Neuroplasticity is the core concept that brain training exercises are based upon. Even in the case of addiction, you can change your brain function for the better. What follows are four brain training approaches to rewiring the addicted brain.
Brainwave Regulation: Delta, Theta, Alpha and Beta are some of the brainwaves that can be measured and trained in individuals with addiction. Through the use of quantitative EEG (qEEG), we are able to map the brain and determine where common patterns of dysfunction seen in addiction exist. Neurofeedback and other modalities, such as transcranial magnetic stimulation – rTMS, are the vehicles through which dysfunctional addictive patterns are broken and healthier brainwave activity established.
Eye Movement Re-Training: The eyes are more than a window to the soul. Eye function can reveal a lot about your level of attention, impulse control, and other higher cognitive functions within the brain. Recent research from Tel Aviv University demonstrates how involuntary eye movements are accurate predictors of ADHD, the most common condition that occurs along with addiction. Eye movements can be measured and effectively rehabilitated; leading to improvements in impulse control, attention and, ultimately, addictive tendencies.
Vestibular (Balance) Therapies: Is there a connection between balance and addiction? Absolutely! Over the past half-century or so, the links between our ability to remain balanced and our higher thinking abilities have been well established. A recent paper in Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience explores the connection between the vestibular system (which regulates balance) and cognition. As with many other biomarkers of brain function, balance can be accurately measured with computerized assessment of postural systems (CAPS) testing, and corrected with a number of specific vestibular rehabilitation techniques.
Metabolic Therapies: Nutrition is often overlooked when it comes to addiction. However, addressing nutritional or metabolic imbalances can be a critical intervention for those suffering from addiction. Most with addiction have extremely poor dietary habits and their brain fuel is compromised. From malnutrition and dehydration, to inflammation and neurotransmitter dysregulation, these problems can be detected and corrected quite easily. Proper nutrition allows for a healthier brain and greater promise for recovery.
By targeting the underlying wiring issues that contribute to addiction, these approaches can increase the effectiveness of more traditional interventions such as cognitive and behavioral therapies and psychotherapy, or counseling.
Business professionals often ask me if brain training can help them be more successful. In many cases, the answer to that question is yes! Read my new blog on the NaturalNews Network to find five questions that business leaders can ask themselves to find out for certain if brain training would be beneficial.
Sense of purpose, clarity of thought, communication skills, motivation, and countless other uniquely human brain traits determine the level of success you will achieve in your professional life. Brain training may hold the key to achieving more than you thought possible. Are you are ready to elevate your level of leadership by harnessing the unlimited power of your brain?
At APEX we have worked with business executives of all levels, including CEOs, who were ready to achieve a higher level of brain function. We have overwhelmingly found that an advanced brain training program that includes tools such as the Interactive Metronome, neurofeedback, and transcranial magnetic stimulation can help strengthen the cognitive abilities that are essential for success in business.
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!
Have you ever wondered if beer can make you smarter? Read my new blog on the NaturalNews Network to learn about new scientific research into the possible brain benefits offered by an herb that has been used to flavor beer for centuries.
While beer is not an ideal substitute for your healthier hydrating agents (such as water), a few compounds contained in this beverage are showing great promise as treatment options for everything from gut health to brain function. Some of the most interesting research into the possible health benefits of beer has focused on one particular ingredient: hops.
At APEX we are firm believers that the foods we eat and beverages we drink play a large role in determining how well our brains work. Though drinking beer won’t actually make you smarter, improving your diet and resolving nutritional deficiencies through supplementation can play a big role in boosting brain performance. That is why we offer metabolic and nutritional therapy as part of our brain training program.
Read my new blog on the NaturalNews Network to get great tips on what not to eat while studying and why. Not all food is brain food, and my blog explains why. It is much harder to drive yourself to better test scores with low grade fuel in your tank. You’ll also get my recommendations on foods you can eat to increase your brain power.
Your brain is the most energy hungry organ in the human body. And the brain requires the highest quality, most energy rich fuel when it is learning something new. The types of foods you eat when you are studying have a direct impact on the amount of information you will be able to retain.
We have helped many clients improve their brain health, and their academic performance, through metabolic and nutritional therapy at APEX Brain Centers. See for yourself how positive dietary changes and nutritional supplementation can help you get higher test scores and achieve peak performance in the classroom.
Football can be a brutal sport full of heavy hits and injuries. All too often bravado (or, as some would see it, ignorance) keeps players on the field after they have suffered devastating injuries. As a clinician who has helped many young athletes who are struggling with life altering symptoms caused by concussions, I have seen the high costs paid for this ignorance. Players, teams, and families all suffer when coaches choose to ignore the signs that a player has an injured brain.
Case in point…the recent University of Michigan football game where the Wolverines were trailing significantly late in the game and quarterback Shane Morris took what appeared to be a blatant illegal hit to the chin from a Minnesota defender (Watch the video at Deadspin).
That hit would have stopped any person of great strength dead in their tracks, and could have potentially killed one of lesser stature.
Sure, roughing the passer was called on the defender that inflicted the blow. That was the lesser of disciplinary options for this type of aggressive action that was clearly delivered to take Morris out of the game, even though he was no longer a threat to the Minnesota squad.
But What About the Coaches?
What about the very individuals that this young man’s safety, well-being, trust, and livelihood were entrusted to?
Certainly there is a mindset and code of conduct in the ultra-competitive sports world that many on the outside will never understand, but there is also a time when common sense prevails and stories like this need to be used as an example to protect those that have given their all to the sports they love.
Cries for the removal of Michigan Head Coach Brady Hoke, and even Athletic Director Dave Brandon, have been pouring in to the University since the time of the incident, mostly from University of Michigan fans. Rallies are being held on the Michigan campus and awareness is spreading nationally in protest of the ignorant inactions taken on the sidelines at this particular game. Director Brandon was quoted as saying, “Ultimate responsibility for the health and safety of our student-athletes resides with each team’s coach and with me, as the Director of Athletics.” He further noted, “We are committed to continuously improving our procedures to better protect the health and welfare of our student-athletes.”
These words are mere lip service. What Brandon said does not change the fact that that this young man continued to play after suffering a traumatic brain injury, as evidenced by his incoherence and inability to stand on his own two feet. How is it that the announcers immediately recognized the severe nature of Morris’s injury and suggested he be sidelined, yet the coaches on the field made no attempt to remove and evaluate the young star? You would think they would want to preserve and protect one of their biggest assets, particularly in the case of an impending loss.
What Should Have Been Done
Morris should have immediately been removed from the game the moment he started showing signs that he had a concussion; which was the moment he went to the ground and barely got up! Whether he was facing a loss in the last quarter or playing for a national championship, his inability to walk, focus, and communicate was of no great service to himself, his team, or his University. Further, this put him at an alarming risk for an even more serious head injury (think of a fighter waiting for the knockout punch when his opponent is dazed and confused). Morris’s basic physical and cognitive functions should have been tested immediately after he took the hit. Tests measuring his basic memory and cognitive skills (i.e. name, date, hometown, basic addition, etc.), eye movements and light responses, gait, balance, and vital signs (i.e. blood pressure, heart rate, etc.) should have been performed.
After a period of rest, more advanced tests of function would be warranted: videonystagmography and saccadometry for eye movements, Computerized Assessments of Postural Systems (CAPS), cognitive testing batteries for focus, memory and attention, and more advanced studies such as quantitative EEG for measurement of brainwave activity. Effective intervention to eliminate his functional deficits and decrease the probability of future injuries can only be delivered if thorough examinations are performed.
What Good Will Removal of the Coaches Serve?
While I am entirely in favor of the removal of the coaches who did not protect the interests of Shane Morris, I’m not certain this will prove any more effective than the penalties placed on the players delivering these hits that are often not appropriately enforced in cases such as this. There will always be the next Brady Hoke in line to take the job of protecting our athletes. In my opinion, the cultural norms in this high performance world need to shift in order to ensure incidents like this are minimized, and hopefully eliminated. That can only come from the top and I sincerely hope that the NCAA and other organizations take copious notes here to develop action plans to truly protect the players and hold those accountable that put them in harm’s way.