Mind Games: Your Brain Needs a Good Workout, Too

Friday, November 22, 2013 1:08 PM comments (0)

mind exercisesEveryone knows your body needs exercise to stay in peak shape. But did you know your brain does too? Physical exercise is essential to the health of both your body and brain, but you can do even more to keep your brain in shape. Challenging your brain with cognitive exercises is another great way to keep your mind sharp.

Chad Yucus, MD, Neurology at NorthShore, answers questions and shares some ways to give your brain the workout it needs to stay sharp at any age:

Do brain teasers and puzzles actually help to keep your mind sharp? Are certain types of puzzles and activities better than others?
There are many types of cognitive activities that help to keep the brain sharp, involving word games and number games, such as crossword puzzles, Sudoku, computer games and board/card games.  There is no strategy that is particularly better than another, but learning a new hobby, game and/or language is a good way to keep the brain sharp.

Why would a new hobby be helpful?
Learning a new skill or starting a new hobby that requires skills you don’t typically use can be helpful because it challenges you to keep learning and function in a way that is not familiar. It’s a great way to stay mentally active whatever your age.

Who benefits from cognitive exercises and activities?
Everyone. 

How do you keep your brain healthy to prevent memory loss?
There is no strategy to truly prevent memory loss, but there are strategies to delay the effects of any pathology (changes caused by disease) that may be developing in the brain.  This is based upon building a cognitive reserve before any problems begin to develop. These strategies include the cognitive exercises above, physical exercise, social activities—spending time with friends, planning events—regular sleep patterns and a low-cholesterol Mediterranean diet.  

How much time should you devote each day to cognitive exercise?
Think of it in terms of regular physical exercise. Your brain and the rest of your body need about the same each day, approximately 30-60 minutes of cognitive and physical exercise every day is a good place to start.

How do you exercise your brain?

The Healing Power of Music

Tuesday, August 06, 2013 11:24 AM comments (0)

music therapyMusic can improve mood, decrease pain and anxiety, and stimulate emotional expression. Music therapy has a long history but the first formal use of music therapy began in World War II, when hospitals used music to help soldiers suffering from “shell shock” or what would later be diagnosed as PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). Music therapy can and is being used by board certified music therapists to enhance conventional treatment for a variety of illnesses and disease processes – from anxiety, depression and stress to the management of pain and enhancement of functioning after degenerative neurologic disorders such as dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, stroke and Parkinson’s disease. 

Heather Hodorowski, MS, MT-BC, LPC, Music Therapy Coordinator at NorthShore, highlights some of the benefits music has on health and well-being:

  • It’s heart healthy. Research has shown that blood flows more easily when music is played. This increase in blood flow is similar to the increased blood flow caused by aerobic activity. Music can also reduce heart rate, lower blood pressure, decrease cortisol (stress hormone) levels, and increase serotonin and endorphin levels in the blood. 
  • It elevates mood. Music can boost the brain’s production of the hormone dopamine. This increased dopamine production helps relieve feelings of anxiety and depression. Music is processed directly by the amygdala, which is the part of the brain involved in mood and emotions. 
  • It stimulates memories. There is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease or dementia but music therapy has been shown to relieve some of its symptoms. Music therapy can relax an agitated patient, improve the mood and open communication in a previously uncommunicative patient by stimulating a memory associated with a song.  
  • It manages pain. By reducing stress levels and providing a strong competing stimulus to the pain signals that enter the brain, music therapy can assist in pain management. 

Has music therapy benefited you or someone in your family?

Alzheimer’s Disease – Knowing Your Risk

Friday, September 21, 2012 8:39 AM comments (0)

Alzheimer's DiseaseIt’s one thing for an elderly relative, friend or loved one to be forgetful from time to time, but if you begin to notice changes in memory, thinking and problem solving you may want to consider getting him or her screened for Alzheimer’s disease. While the progression of this condition may vary from person to person, there are tell-tale signs to help determine diagnosis.

Felise Zollman, MD, Neurologist with NorthShore, recommends looking for the following warning signs for those who may be suffering from Alzheimer’s disease (AD):

  • Forgetting important dates, such as family members’ birthdays and anniversaries
  • Repetitively asking the same questions during conversation
  • Getting lost or disoriented in familiar surroundings
  • Frequently forgetting common words
  • Having trouble managing your finances and/or checkbook when it never used to be a problem 

While it can be normal to have any of these problems occur once in a while, they become concerning if they begin to affect the person’s daily life. 

Along with warning signs, Dr. Zollman also outlines some of the most common risk factors for developing this condition, including:

  • Age and sex: Alzheimer’s is most common in those who are 65 years of age or older, and more frequently affects women.
  • Family history:  Those with a first-degree relative (parent or sibling) with Alzheimer’s disease have a modest increased risk of developing the condition themselves.
  • Genetics:  Inheriting certain genes, like the APO-e4 , can increase the chance that a person will develop AD—but having the gene does not make development of the condition inevitable.   More rarely, and usually associated with early onset of AD, there are inherited genes which do run in families and directly cause the condition.

Do you know someone with Alzheimer’s disease? What recommendations would you have to others who are just finding out someone they know has this disease?

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