Friday, January 29, 2016
That’s the headline in Science Digest.com reporting on “…study that will appear in the January 30 issue of Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging." A team led by Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) researchers will report the results of their study, the first to document meditation-produced changes over time in the brain's grey matter. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/01/110121144007.htm
Interested? I was. The next line hooked me: “Participating in an 8-week mindfulness meditation program appears to make measurable changes in brain regions associated with memory, sense of self, empathy and stress.”
What intrigues me about this study is that it is all based on hard science, and gives some evidence to support the long-reputed benefits of mindfulness.
"Although the practice of meditation is associated with a sense of peacefulness and physical relaxation, practitioners have long claimed that meditation also provides cognitive and psychological benefits that persist throughout the day," says Sara Lazar, PhD, of the MGH Psychiatric Neuroimaging Research Program, the study's senior author. "This study demonstrates that changes in brain structure may underlie some of these reported improvements and that people are not just feeling better because they are spending time relaxing."
The following quote also resonated with me:
"It is fascinating to see the brain's plasticity and that, by practicing meditation, we can play an active role in changing the brain and can increase our well-being and quality of life." says Britta Hölzel, PhD, first author of the paper and a research fellow at MGH and Giessen University in Germany. "Other studies in different patient populations have shown that meditation can make significant improvements in a variety of symptoms, and we are now investigating the underlying mechanisms in the brain that facilitate this change."
Copyright: <a href='http://www.123rf.com/profile_dimaberkut'>dimaberkut / 123RF Stock Photo</a>
Thursday, January 21, 2016
A good friend of mine sent me a link to this NY Times article by Karl Oveknausgaard, which is subtitled “A witness in an operating room where the patients are conscious.” Here’s the link: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/03/magazine/karl-ove-knausgaard-on-the-terrible-beauty-of-brain-surgery.html
The article is about a famous British neurosurgeon, Henry Marsh who allowed Oveknausgaard to interview him and watch in Tirana, Albania as he demonstrated a surgical procedure he helped pioneer, “… called awake craniotomy, that had never been performed in Albania. The procedure is used to remove a kind of brain tumor that looks just like the brain itself.” (Interestingly, the article never mentions the type of brain tumor.)
The “awake craniotomy” procedure is used to remove a kind of brain tumor that looks just like the brain itself. Oveknausgaard writes that “Such tumors are most common in young people, and there is no cure for them.”
He goes on to write that “In order for the surgeon to be able to distinguish between tumor and healthy brain tissue, the patient is kept awake throughout the operation, and during the procedure the brain is stimulated with an electric probe, so that the surgeon can see if and how the patient reacts.”
This just makes my skin crawl.
I’ve first read about this type of surgery in Suzy Becker’s book, “I’ve had brain surgery, what’s your excuse?” and the thought gave me the chills then, and I’m still chilled reading about it years later. http://www.amazon.com/Brain-Surgery-Excuse-Becker-Paperback/dp/B00POEURZ0/ref=sr_1_fkmr1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1453403913&sr=8-2-fkmr1&keywords=i%27ve+had+brain+surgery+what%27s+your+excuse+suzy+becker
So why do this? That question is definitively answered when Oveknausgaard notes that: “The procedure is used to remove a kind of brain tumor that looks just like the brain itself.
Such tumors are most common in young people, and there is no cure for them.
In order for the surgeon to be able to distinguish between tumor and healthy brain tissue, the patient is kept awake throughout the operation, and during the procedure the brain is stimulated with an electric probe, so that the surgeon can see if and how the patient reacts.”
Now if doesn’t make you a bit nervous, Oveknausgaard writes that Marsh “… explained the awake craniotomy procedure, saying that for a neurosurgeon, it is a constant temptation to try to remove the entire tumor, but if you go too far, if you remove too much, the consequences can be severe. It may lead to full or partial paralysis of one side of the body or other functional impairments or personality changes. When the patient is awake, this allows the surgeon first of all to determine where the dividing line lies, and second, to observe the consequences of the procedure directly and immediately, and stop before any serious damage is done.”
For those of you who love morbid details, here’s a sneak couple of sentences by Oveknausgaard writing about the operation itself: “The silence was total. The single focus of attention was a head clamped in a vise in the middle of the room. The upper part of the skull had been removed, and the exposed edge covered in layer after layer of gauze, completely saturated with blood, forming a funnel down into the interior of the cranium. The brain was gently pulsating within. It resembled a small animal in a grotto. Or the meat of an open mussel.”
The article is fascinating, upsetting, informative and penetrating (in more ways than one).
Here, again, is the link: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/03/magazine/karl-ove-knausgaard-on-the-terrible-beauty-of-brain-surgery.html
Picture: Dr. Mentor Petrela and Dr. Artur Xhumari close up the head of Ilmi Hasanaj. The author, Karl Ove Knausgaard, stands second from right.
Credit Paolo Pellegrin/Magnum, for The New York Times
Monday, January 18, 2016
I’m finding that I often worry about my brain. Did my surgery somehow compromise my IQ/Intellect/ability to think?
Did my operations or radiation treatment accelerate the odds of Alzheimer’s or Dementia or some other quick slide into senility?
Those days when I walk into a room and forget why I walked into the room, I cringe with fear that I am somehow, someway going to quickly end up sitting on a stool in the kitchen corner where I can’t harm myself or anybody else.
It’s with that series of worries that I’m glad that the Alzheimer’s Associations has this great web page of tips on “10 Ways to Love Your Brains.” - https://alz.org/abam/#loveYourBrain
When they say “Love Your Brain”, what they really mean is to: “Show your brain some love! Your brain is the command center of your body — and just like your heart, lungs and other critical organs, it deserves to be a priority when it comes to your health. Use these 10 tips to help reduce your risk of cognitive decline.”
That last sentence - “Use these 10 tips to help reduce your risk of cognitive decline” – is just what I needed to read today (especially since I was convinced that I inexplicably lost my wallet yesterday).
Here’s the 10:
- Break a sweat
- Butt out
- Heads up!
- Catch some ZZZ's
- Buddy up
- Hit the books
- Follow your hear
- Fuel up right
- Take care of your mental health
- Stump yourself
They are, however, examples of pretty colloquial American English. So if these you don’t quite understand these headings, you may want to read the descriptions on their web page: https://alz.org/abam/#loveYourBrain
Having written that, let me revise that sentence to say, “Even if you do think you understand those headings, I suggest you give this web page a good read and an even longer “think.”