Brain Functioning and Neuroscience – The Basics You Asked For

Recently, after having a traumatic brain injury and sparking an internal interest in finding out more about how the brain works, I have been researching neurological processes. I have been studying different scientists and theories about neurological functioning and cognitive abilities. I have been going to conferences to hear specialists in neuroscience lecture about these different subjects. A lot of the subjects are on memory, PTSD, OCD, anxiety, depression and stress. Many people have asked me what I have been learning in the conferences and self-study.

The first key point in learning about the brain was about memory. Life is all memory except for the one present moment that goes so quickly that you hardly remember it. When things in life happen so quickly that you don’t have time to process and realize it, you can never remember that certain things happened. That is why some people don’t remember certain facts and details about certain events. You can only remember what you personally experienced. The brain has multiple memory systems and skill learning habits. The studies that have been done are on individual research studies, subjective and objective on patients as well as brain imaging studies using MRI. There were qualitative quantitative studies done.

The brain uses automatic and controlled processes.

STRESS- Stress is a negative emotional experience by predictable biochemical, physiological, cognitive, and the febrile changes that are directed towards altering stressful event accommodating its effects. There are normal and abnormal responses to stress. These responses are learned, taught, and picked up at various points along the way. There are many things we can do to reduce stress. Some of those are scheduling better and rest periods from work and not overdoing it on the social end. It is all about balance. A huge part of relieving stress and balancing the stress levels in the brain is getting adequate sleep. Avoiding caffeine and alcohol as well as avoiding pharmaceutical sleep aids.

MEMORY- there was a study done on Henry Molaison. Henry had a seizure disorder. He went through surgery to treat the seizures. In the surgery they removed his Hippocampus area of the brain. The surgery was successful in treating the seizures but it left him with a memory deficit. This deficit was studied in detail and later study another patients undergoing the procedure. People with traumatic brain injury’s or any damage to the hippocampus will have problems with memory loss.(If you pointed directly at your ear towards your head that is the area of the hippocampus). With damage to this area you have a complete inability to learn and retain NEW facts and events about the world. The remote memories which are old memories will be intact. Those tracks have already been laid in your brain and you remember the information as memories. You can go back neurologically into your brain cells to retrieve these memories for what you have already learned. After having brain trauma you are unable to consolidate new information and keep it. Nobody will know there is anything wrong with you until they ask you to recall new information. The current conversations that are held or remembered as long as the conversations kept active that day. Once the conversation is ended, the person will not be able to remember what was talked about. New introductions, processes, locations and anything else will not be retained. People in these scenarios have to learn to make Post-it notes and put reminders in their phone to remember peoples names and locations and job skills.

The question most asked about this is how does somebody with this memory deficit remember to put up Post-It notes and set reminders. The interesting part about this amnesia and brain injuries in the hippocampus is that it leaves intact the ability to acquire and express skilled performance. Routines are key. The technical term is that with hippocampus injuries the declarative or explicit memory is lost. The non declarative or implicit memory is intact. This means simple classical conditioning, skills and habits, non-associative learning, and priming. This is due to a division of labor in the brain. There are different systems that provide evidence for multiple memory systems. This is evident during MRI brain scan’s during questioning patients to recall past events and short-term events. They look at what area lights up during this recollection or non-recollection.

An example of this is mirror reversed reading. If you put three words written backwards over and over and read them you would eventually learn how to read them faster. People with intact systems on both ends will memorize them and remember them. The brain injured patient will eventually be able to learn to do them faster, but will never remember practicing to learn them.

When you drink too much and don’t remember how you got where you are after blacking out – this is an example of this type of memory. The person will know that they missed the time period. But they don’t know what happened or why. The fact that you understand you missed a time period is what happens with brain injury patients. They are aware that there is a deficit, but they don’t know what it is. The brain can continue to learn through experience. It won’t know that it is learning but through experience it builds routine and remembers the expertise. This is how people can maintain a job afterwards. Is long as it is a job they had prior to the accident. You don’t have to be consciously awake to remember skills habits and behaviors.

THE AMYGDALA- This is the area of the brain that I find most interesting. This is the area that stores the emotional memories. It is at the end of the hippocampal region in the brain. The hippocampus remembers what happened exactly, while the amygdala recalls the emotions surrounding what happened. Therefore, people may not remember specific events that took place, but they will have emotions associated with events they can’t remember. This is also known as sensory memory. This explains why adults will have different quirks when they are touched by a stranger or they hear yelling or have weird phobias. They don’t know why they are scared of something or why they jumped when they are touched but it reverts back to when they were a child and had traumatic instances that they can’t physically remember but they remember the emotional response surrounding it. Many cases in child sexual abuse when a child hears a familiar voice of somebody who has hurt them when they were younger, they get scared. Nobody understands why and the child won’t be able to verbalize why because they don’t know. Their bodies and sensory memory remembers that this was a voice present during a traumatic event.

The amygdala is learned through experience and it tells you to avoid something. It is a fear system. It causes you to take pause. Your signals that you should avoid something. I don’t always know where this fear came from, but it gives me fear reactions. So you do not need your hippocampus to learn fear. You can teach and condition fear. When you see a facial expression, whether it is angry, happy or sad your amygdala picks up on that reaction and forms and an emotion based on the face you saw. That is what puts up the red flags. It has learned in the past that there was something negative associated. The AMYGDALA is hyperactive in PTSD patients. That is where hypervigilance and the exaggerated startle response comes from.

MEMORIES ARE MALLEABLE – When they say that you can convince yourself into believing anything it is true. Memories, in the simple nature of how they are stored, recalled and encoded are able to be reconstructed. Our memories are not always accurate. They are reconstructions of our past. It’s like a kaleidoscope, all the pieces are there of what happened, but you have to go back and be able to put all the pieces together every time you bring back a memory. So every time you put the memory back you place them differently in the brain. Therefore every time you recall them some details will be different. Many studies have proven this fact. This is how cognitive behavioral therapy works. You ask people with post traumatic stress disorder or other traumatic psych issues to recall events. Once they verbalize them you manipulate the facts surrounding the event so when they move forward from the conversation it is stored differently than the way it was originally brought up. Therefore the stress response related with this memory is less and each time it’s talked about and manipulated.

This is why leading questions are not the way to handle patients or subjects in the courtroom. Eyewitness and courtroom testimony has been brought into question because of this study from Loftus and Palmer in 1974. Studies have shown that leading questions will give you different answers then non- leading questions. This is because they remember the base of what you asked and they form their response based on certain words asked.

OBSESSIVE COMPULSIVE DISORDER- Patients with this have recurrent thoughts or images that are inappropriate and distressing. In order to be diagnosed with OCD it has to be excessive or unreasonable. It has to cause marked distress and be time-consuming to the point that it interferes with life. It is caused by the Caudate area in the brain. There is a failure to filter in the system. It causes anxiety and avoidance in the patient. There is a new treatment for OCD where they put an electrical stimulation system into your brain and it focuses on the caudate. When this area is stimulated the patient does not experience OCD symptoms as bad. In all the studies there was a 20% reduction of the OCD symptoms. This may not seem significant but when the compulsions are to hurt people then it is justified.

ADDICTION- Addiction is related to cue- reactivity. Dopamine is the key chemical here. Dopamine reward circuits are associated with the drive, push to respond, and wanting. A dopamine release means whatever it is you just did repeat it. This is the same driver for athletes- People who get runners highs. This is an incredibly powerful motivational system. The nucleus accumbens is the dopamine reward center in the brain. Dopamine is the craving response. That is why if you see a picture during a neurological study you will have an increase in heart rate you will start sweating you will have subjective cravings and mesolimbic dopamine activity. When patients in the study were shown pictures of cocaine, alcohol, sex, and nicotine, these were all activated. If you see something you know you want dopamine is what activates and you were motivated to do it. That is what makes addicts so difficult to help. When they have a buddy who does it with them it motivates them to do it even more. When you remove an addict from the situation there are less cues that initiate that response. Even a picture, a smell or mention of it will activate that dopaminergic response. That is why it is crucial with severe addiction to remove the person from the entire environment and start them over elsewhere. Pornography is also a dopaminergic response to a cue-reaction When they see the picture they respond. This could have maladaptive consequences. It is an addiction. It is crucial to convince people to want to self regulate the systems. There is something to be said about getting people to want to end their addiction. If that is not there then nothing you do will change that. It truly has to come from within.

SLEEP- Sleep is important for memory consolidation. Astrocytes after the neurons going to the brain. When you sleep they get bigger and they do what they need to do to clean up. If you don’t sleep for a long period of time your internal organs start shutting down. This is because the chemicals are not getting cleaned up after they are supposed to. The science of it is – Any action inside the body causes a metabolic response. Free radicals and trace chemicals are leftover of the body processes signals, thoughts, actions. GET MORE SLEEP= BE HEALTHIER.

These are just basics from what I learned…. I found it all very interesting especially with having a traumatic brain injury myself.

Kelly, B. Ph.D- Dartmouth College neuroscience was a main neuroscientist I have been researching through. Keep in mind that if you talk to a dozen different scientists they will give you a dozen different theories. That is why it is important to research empirical evidence that studies have found. This way you are getting accurate information.

Daddy issues? Reality check on dating older men

Things to keep in mind if you are dating somebody older than you, ( 12+ years of age difference) when dating older there are benefits as well as risks.

Typically I would write my posts gender neutral, but in this area of interest the statistics show that women are more often in this situation of dating older, as opposed to men.

Benefits: The person has had more life experience and has wisdom to offer you. They are typically more mature. They have seen the good and bad in life they Are generally established and know what they are doing in life as opposed to dating somebody in their 20’s who is still figuring out their life. They offer a sense of safety and security. They can fill voids in some sense ( some call it daddy issues but regardless, if it works for you WHO cares).

Lifestyle: A risk here is that they can be very set in heir ways. Many times when dating somebody older they expect you to drop your life and be picked up and dropped into their life they have set up. This may be a dream for some women….you get a man with a great job and a car and a boat and a house with land and a dog and everything is move-in ready. That is a beautiful thing and hats off to the man for establishing his life like that. But what if you want to live in a loft in a big city and he wants nothing to do with that idea. what if he has a dog and wants more and you dont like dogs…..” exit relationship here” KEEP in mind.. In a healthy relationship that is based on love, each party to the relationship needs to concede and be willing to make changes for the other person. If something as simple as changing which city you live in locally is going to cause an issue where the guy is unwilling to change, and if he isn’t willing to give up a pet to be with you ….is that really somebody you want to be with? I have come across this situation before and it is unfair for one person to drop their life to enter another’s …it should always be 50-50. I think that two people should want to build a life together and be willing to make concessions for the other. If there are more than 2 things you want to change about a person then you are probably with the wrong person. NEVER SETTLE

Health- LETS BE REAL- In the normal way of life with no traumatic events an older person will die sooner than the younger due to simple degenerative health conditions. Heart attack, stroke, diabetes etc. That being acknowledged you have to realize that if you are dating somebody 20 years your senior then when you are 60 they will be 80 if they are still around. Therefore it is KEY in dating an older man that he is willing to make healthy lifestyle choices to make sure he is in good health as he ages to be less of a burden to you. That is not a selfish thing to ask for. It is selfish if the older person that you are dating is not willing to work out and stay in top shape for you. That is the least they can do out of respect for you giving up the end years of your life withy partner to enjoy them in your life now. It’s going to play out to where you are taking care of your parents as well as your husband at the same time. ( this is not a negative…it’s a beautiful loving sacrifice- but it still has to be acknowledged or you will be in denial and quit the relationship early when you realize the expectations)

Finances. When somebody in their 20’s dates somebody in their 40’s it is obvious that the older person will be more financially stable and have more assets than the person in their 20’s. In most situations this is typically the reason for the relationship in the first place…and those relationships end early or are not truly satisfying. Men like to feel needed and they want to be the supporter and women like to be taken care of. This gets complicated when the women quits her job to be a part of this relationship and let’s the man support her. For the time period of the relationship this may work out well for both when both are getting what they need. You both get to spend time together and you can be the dream wife who has dinner on the table every night and meet all his needs as your full time job. BUT if the relationship ends 10 years into it and the woman has been out of the workforce for so long with no income or savings of her own it will be very difficult to be a part of society again. This needs to be discussed as a reality.

Children: Typically ,e in their 40’s have had children who are grown now. They are usually done having kids. This needs to be established before the relationship continues…..do you want your own children? Do you get along with his? If he already has his own then they will most likely not be ok with him dating you! I mean face it, if your dad came home with a girl your age, how would you feel? Lets be real…. There is a stereotype and there will always be judgement. You have to accept the fact that you will never be #1 in his life if he has children. They will always come first. That is how it should be. At the same time the man should never sacrifice his happiness because of a simple unapproval from the children. if that is the case then you need to move on for your own good and fall in love with somebody else who will treasure you and make you feel wanted in the midst of his circumstances. never let your needs be bypassed because of somebody else’s choices in life. Never sell yourself short. If the kids are grown and they have their own lives then it should be a non- issue.

Retirement: This goes along with finances. When dating somebody who is set up to retire in 15-20 years, this can pose a problem if you are both not on the same page. It can work out well if the man says that when he retires he wants you to retire with him and to not work anymore and then you guys can enjoy retirement life together. That would be best case scenario for the relationship. Sometimes if that is not the case where the man can financially offer that to you, then you will come into the situation where: you go to work 40 hours a week and you are stressed and tired just like any other real- life producer and you come home to a retired husband. He has done nothing all day and is stress free and making travel plans in his retirement dream living. This is dangerous territory. It can be easy to start to resent him. I have seen this many times. It is very hard when one person has several years till retirement and their spouse sits around drinking margaritas all day. It isn’t a typical lifestyle and that is a hard pill to swallow and it isn’t something that is thought through when starting the relationship.

Do you and the person have the same retirement goals.. That is HUGE! If the person you are dating or married to wants to move to California when they retire and you still have 20 years left at your job and you like the place you work at, are you willing to move jobs for the last part of your life if you have to continue working? All things that are difficult to think about but are a reality and need to be considered.

I’m just giving some common problems that I have witnessed and experienced myself. Dating older is a wonderful thing and I approve 100%. Most of my boyfriends have been 35-50 and I am 25 years old. I have learned a lot through the process and I have learned what really matters and have seen the realities of the end-goal. Just have fun with dating and make sure that younare both on the same page…..but realize that there are definite considerations to make if you see the relationship going further than a learning experience.

When you are ready to settle down…make sure that you are not settling!

Forced Rest

Forced Rest

I am a workaholic and it is hard for me to slow down. The MVC I was in forced me to take some time off work. I was not a fan at the time, because I hate to even call in sick. during the time that I was off I was able to finish writing and finish the editing process of a book I was working on. The book was finally finished and I published it this week .( http://www.createspace.com/4271634 ) That was a huge accomplishment for me. It cleared a lot of stress that I was holding in. At the same time it opened up a lot of stress as well. The book is an autobiography so having my story made public is a big deal. I have been struggling with the fact that people who know me and are close to me are going to see the back story of what I went through to get where I am today. The target audience is people who are going through rough times and faced with a depression that so many people go through when we dont think we can stand back up. The theme is resilience. Even through this accident, I am recovering and will be going through 6 weeks of physical therapy to get back to baseline. My goal is never to get back to baseline but to end up farther ahead. that should be everyones goal….never aim to get “back to where you were” always aim to be better than what you were. Time changes everything. you never know what tomorrow will bring. all we know is where yesterday took us. If we don’t want the yesterday to continue we need to change something. If you don’t like where you are headed in life change directions. Sometimes a Higher Power will make that choice for you and slow you down if you don’t listen right away to what your heart is telling you to do. I may have been in a bad car accident but there are many silver linings and there is always hope….and things will end up brighter because I am choosing for them to be.