Change Your Mind – Change Your Brain – Change Your Life

My purpose in writing this blog was to develop an outline which made sense to you and to pique your interest enough in the subject matter to have you do your own research into neuroplasticity and how it can change your life for the better. Even though the blog is long the amount of material found in it only touches the tip of the subject matter iceberg.

My personal journey started in 2010 with reading the book Brain Rules by John Medina. Since that time I’ve read many more books on the subject and done hours of online searching and learning. In today’s world I would be labeled a self directed learner.

Much of what I am including in this blog was taken from several books: The Mind and the Brain Neuroplasticity and the Power of Mental Force by Jeffery M. Schwartz, M.D. and Soft-Wired How the New Science of Brain Plasticity Can Change Your Life by Dr. Michael Merzenich, PhD, Brain Rules by John Madina,  The Brain That Changes Itself and The Brain’s Way of Healing  both by Norman Doidge, M.D.,

Once you get started reading this blog you will discover that it is loaded with links to articles and many many videos, all dealing with neuroplasticity and how it affects each of our lives. Take your time and don’t get burnt out trying to do too much at at sitting.

Here is a definition of Neuroplasticity as  supplied by Merriam – Webster

“The capacity of neurons and neural networks in the brain to change their connections and behavior in response to new information, sensory stimulation, development, damage, or dysfunction. Rapid change or reorganization of the brain’s cellular or neural networks can take place in many different forms and under many different circumstances.”

Neuroplasticity occurs when neurons in the brain sprout and form synapses. As the brain processes sensory information, frequently used synapses are strengthened while unused synapses weaken. Eventually, unused synapses are eliminated completely in a process known as synaptic pruning, which leaves behind efficient networks of neural connections. Neuroplasticity occurs during development in childhood, following physical injury such as loss of a limb or sense organ, and during reinforcement of sensory information such as in learning. Neuroplasticity forms the basis of research into brain-computer interface technology, in which computers are designed to interact with the brain to restore sensation in people with an impaired sense such as the loss of vision. Research on neuroplasticity is also aimed at improving scientists’ understanding of how to reactivate or deactivate damaged areas of the brain in people affected by stroke, emotional disorders, chronic pain, psychopathy, or social phobia; such research may lead to improved treatments for these conditions.

A short but pretty accurate definition goes like this: Plasticity is the quality of being ‘plastic’ or formative. Neuroplasticity refers to the ability of the brain to change and adapt as a result of one’s experiences, environment and thinking. To view the slideshare presentation, go here.

I located many online sites giving practically the same description of the term but felt that Webster might have the most unbiased one.

The following image shows the connection between two neurons when in fact a single neuron can be connected to up to as many as 1,000 neurons know as networks.

neuron_structure_thumb.jpg

Here are links to several more of the sites I found while looking for the definition.

http://www.medterms.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=40362
http://www.whatisneuroplasticity.com
http://www.wisegeek.org/what-is-neural-plasticity.htm’’
While reading The Brain That Changes Itself  I started looking up information mentioned in it. Here are some Youtube.com videos giving more detail:

The blind man who learned to see and the woman who is perpetually falling. Dr. Paul Bach-y-Rita –


Seeing with your tongue.
One of the stories in Dr. Doidge’s book which fascinated me was about Pedro Bach-y-Rita the father of Dr’s. George and Paul Bach-y-Rita. In 1956 or 1957 Pedro, age 65 there abouts, had a massive stroke and was paralyzed on one side. If you go to this web pager you can read about his story. Link to Pedro Bach-y-Rita story

Another story in Dr. Doidge’s book I found eye opening was about Barbara Arrowsmith Young. The following 14 minutes Youtube.com video is her wonderful story. After watching the video I purchased her book The Woman Who Changed Her Brain and have now read it a couple of times.


Her story.
Here’s Barbara, in a short video, discussing her book The Woman Who Changed Her Brain.

 

Another program to help children with learning disabilities, developed by Dr. Michael Merzenich, PhD called Scientific Learn and using the software Fast ForWord is illustrated in the following video. Here’s a six minute video about a successful use of Fast ForWord with high school student Kenny Hilliard. The Kenny Hilliard story. And for the rest of the story about Kenny.

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LET’S TAKE A CLOSER LOOK AT THE BRAIN.

The following are three short videos explaining how the brain works. Their approaches are a little different. The more basic one is first.

From the Discovery Channel: Neurons and How They Work. GABAY Medical Library

and

How a person’s experiences build their brain:

and finally

How the Brain Works by Thinkology:

The following are some key points from the video. Reading through them might encourage you to view the video.

  • How neurons connect to form neuropathways  govern all our thoughts, actions and behaviors.
  • Understanding how the brain works so you can leverage this power so you can live up to your fullest potential
  • Groups of neurons join together to form chains to be responsible for some action; like walking, brushing your teeth or your envy thoughts of another person .
  • Why do certain people find it difficult to do something?
  • All brains, if they have not been damaged, have the potential to achieve extraordinary things. They just need to learn how to make the brain work for them.
  • The brain just records what we think or do. Not right or wrong. The brain takes in all thoughts as we live.
  • In the first 6 years of life the brain is open to everything. It will take in all information presented to it.
  • Between ages 6 and 12 the majority of our beliefs and attitudes about ourselves are formed.
  • In the first 12 years of life, most children will take in most of what they are told, how they are treated and their perception of events. If someone tells them they are stupid, cannot draw, spell, or do math, with their brains being in a highly suggestive state, they may take it as the truth.
  • Plasticity gives people the capability to achieve anything they put their minds to doing but first they must choose to do so. New neural pathways can be built to facilitate this change.
  • The real secret to learning and achievement lies in What We Think. What we think determines how we perform. You cannot separate what we think and who we are because who we are comes from our brain.
  • The good news is that we can replace any chain of neurons that are not allowing us maximize our brain’s ability to learn and excel in life.
  • All we need to do is choose to use our brains amazing potential.

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LET’S DISCUSS SOME BASIC PRINCIPLES/RULES ABOUT THE BRAIN & NEURON CHAINS.

It used to be thought that once we reached adult age our brains became hard wired and that it did not change. But with the development of the fMRI and other scientific equipment it was found that the locations where thoughts/events happened did actually change locations in the brain. Mapping of the brain has pretty well put to rest the belief that adult brains do not change.

The following are several of the principles I’m going to discuss in this section.

  • Neurons that fire together wire together.
  • The more you use it the stronger it gets.
  • Use it or lose it. If a neural circuit goes unused it is pruned.
  • There is competition for our neural real estate.
  • Habits and neuroplasticity.

Neurons that fire together wire together and some of the strongest bonds are when emotions are tied with an event. As an example of that, here is my abbreviated story – Between my junior and senior year in college I fell in love with a girl whose name was Pat. That same summer Pat was the last person I was with before driving off to attend USAF ROTC summer camp at Otis AFB on Cape Cod. The song that was played over and over on my drive to Otis was “This Guys In Love With You” sung by Herb Alpert. To this day, almost 50 years later, every time I heard that song the wonderful memory and feelings associated with being in love return.

The other side of the coin is when the emotion of fear ties itself with the memory of an event or observation. I’ve known of people who are frightened of being in small dark places, afraid of harmless spiders and snakes, heights, water, dogs and cats, riding in airplanes, and the list could go on and on. Back in the late 70’s my older son became motion sick while were were driving through RMNP. At the time he felt sick he was eating red licorice. His brain associated his motion sickness and his eating red licorice and to this day he still does not eat it. On the positive side, he does not get motion sick while driving through mountainous area.

John Madden, the legendary football coach of the Oakland Raiders, would not fly with his team on a airplane. It seems to have been precipitated by a panic attack in 1979 while flying out of Tampa, FL. The more times a fear rears it’s ugly head the more the neural circuit is strengthened. Do you have any fears like the ones mentioned above that you would like to overcome? If so, keep reading.

The more you use it the stronger the neuron connections get – The more you use neuron circuits the stronger the bonds between  wired neurons become. Think about the first time you tried to drive the family car. In my case, it was a 1953 two tone red Hudson with a three speed transmission on the steering column. It took several practice sessions with my father to coordinate the clutch, gas, gear lever and steering wheel all at the same time. The more I practiced driving the Hudson, the better I became and finally I mastered it. Once that happened I didn’t have to think much about what I needed to do. Eventually I was even able to carry on a conversation while driving. On the flip side of the coin, I wonder how many car accidents happen each year because the driver looks at the passenger he/she is talking to while driving?

After watching the Broncos defeat the Patriots in the 2016 Superbowl it became obvious to me that the receivers had practiced catching passes so many times that mostly their hands just went to the spot where the ball was going to be. The connected neural circuits had been developed to such a great extent, little conscious thinking about it was needed. You can also apply that to playing a musical instrument, driving a nail or ……

Think back to learning to drive your first car. Once you mastered the process of driving,  something you did not realize, is that the brain starts paring down and streamlining the group of neurons to just the vital few. Those neurons released from duty could then begin doing some other task. There is competition for cortical neural real estate.

Use it or lose it – Just like in the use of our  muscles, if you don’t use parts of your body or certain senses they will diminish or possibly lose that function. It’s been shown that if a baby animal is kept in a dark room when that part of the brain should be receiving visual signals and developing, that animal will never learn to see. But that part of the brain not being used for it’s original designated purpose does not go idle.

I was a pilot for seven years in the USAF and felt very proficient in my ability to fly and even teach jet flying. I took my last flight in 1976 and I would only be considered a foolish old man to think that I could strap on a Cessna T-37 or C-130 and go fly after forty year of not practicing the skill.  That neuron real estate area associated with piloting an aircraft is now being used for some other purpose, something more important to me at this time.

Here’s a blog I wrote about Mia, my English Springer Spaniel, which will help clarify the rule “Use it or lose it”. Mia’s Story blog .

Competition for neural real estate – In his book The Brain that Changes Itself Norman Doidge wrote about two studies which proved that there is competition for brain real estate. The first one was where kittens had one eye sutured closed prior to them opening their eyes. That eye was never able to see because it received no visual input during the critical brain development period for eyes in cats. What the researchers did find was the area which should have been processing sight from the sightless eye was actually processing the inputs from the sighted eye. It appears that no part of the brain goes unused. Here is a short video of Dr. Doidge explaining competition for cortical real estate.

Another example mentioned in the book dealt with braille instructors. New instructors actually had no light allowed to enter either eye for several weeks while they learned braille. That area of the brain which had been processing the vision signals for functioning eyes was now being used by the finger tips in processing the braille print. Once the eye patches were removed sight was eventually restored to the teachers and to the area of the neocortex which processes vision.

The following paragraph was taken from page 59 of  The Brain that Changes Itself:
“The competitive nature of plasticity affects us all. There is an endless war of nerves going on inside each of our brains. If we stop exercising our mental skills, we do not just forget them: the brain map space for those skills is turned over to the skills we practice instead. If you ever ask yourself, “How often must I practice French, or guitar, or math to keep on top of it?” you are asking a question about competitive plasticity. You are asking how frequently you much practice one activity to make sure its brain map space is not lost to another.”

Neuroplasticity and Habits.  I wrote about some of this above but not to much extent. We are what “our” habits make us. It is not only about what we do, like driving, how we put on our cloths, brush our teeth, tie our shoes, the food we eat and ………… It is also how and what we think, the beliefs we hold, what we value and the actions we take because of them.

Habits make our lives easier in many respects. If we had to think about each and every little thing we need to do, our minds would spend a huge amount of time thinking what we needed to do, how to do it then doing it. Habits are both constructive and destructive to us and those around us. For more information on habits go to his webpage.

One example, close to home , about habits is one I wrote about back in the late 1980s and published in several blogs on this site. It’s about how I reacted to my fear, frustration and hurt that manifested itself as anger. Here’s My anger story by Steve Batty.

Here’s a short article written by Debbie Hampton on The Dark Side of Neuroplasticity which talks about habits. I recommend you read it. Here is a short two minute video by Dr. Doidge on the dark side of neuroplasticity.

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WAYS OUR BRAINS CAN HEAL THEMSELVES, with a little help

In this section I’m going to supply material from Dr. Norman Doidge M.D.s book The Brain’s Way of Healing. His book only has eight chapters, dealing with different illnesses and ways that they were able to, with a little assistance, heal themselves. Here’s a ten minute video interview with Dr. Doidge talking about some of what’s in the book.

I was totally amazed with this book and the material it contains about the brains ability to heal our bodies. Here is a great video of  Dr. Doidge talking about several of the examples from his new book.

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  1. Physician Hurt, Then Heal Thyself – Dr. Michael Moskowitz Discovers that Chronic Pain Can Be Unlearned.
  2. A Man Walks Off His Parkinsonian Symptoms – How Exercise Helps Fend Off Degenerative Disorders and Can Defer Dementia.
  3. The Stages of Neuroplastic Healing – How and Why It Works.
  4. Rewriting a Brain with Light – Using Light to Reawaken Dormant Neural Circuits.
  5. Moshe Feldenkrais Physicist Black Belt and Healer – Healing Serious Brain Problems Through Mental Awakeness of Movement.
  6. A Blind Man Learns to See – Using Feldenkrais, Buddhist, and Other Neuroplastic Methods
  7.  Device That Resets the Brain – Stimulation Neuromodulation to Reverse Symptoms.
    * A Cain against the wall.
    * Three Resets: Parkinson’s, Stroke, Multiple Sclerosis.
    * The Cracked Potters.
  8. A Bridge of Sound – The Special Connection Between Music and the Brain.

Here’s a video interview with Dr. Doidge explaining some of the material in his newest book.

Now that you have discovered that many chronic diseases, once thought permanent, can be helped, let’s look further.

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THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE MIND AND THE BRAIN

From the front inside book jacket of  The Mind and the Brain – “Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz, a leading researcher in brain dysfunctions, and wall Street Journal science columnist Sharon Begley demonstrate that the human mind is an independent entity that can shape and control the functioning of the physical brain.  Their work has its basis in our emerging understanding of adult plasticity – the brain’s ability to be rewired not just in childhood, but throughout life, a trait only recently established by scientists. But in this paradigm-shifting work, Schwartz and Begley take neuroplasticity one crucial step further. Through decades of work treating patients with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Schwartz made an extraordinary finding: while following the therapy he developed , his patients were effecting significant and lasting changes in their own neural pathways. It was a scientific first: by actively focusing their attention away from negative behaviors and toward more positive ones. Schwartz’s patients were using their minds to reshape their brains. Here is a short TED video talking about changing your own brain.

The Mind and the Brain follows Schwartz as he investigates this newly discovered power, which he calls self-directed neuroplasticity or, more simply, mental force.”

This book spends quite a bit of print discussing the Silver Spring, MD monkey/PET fiasco beginning back in 1981. The ensuing court case lasted about ten years. As far as this blog goes it was what was learned from the monkey research and Dr. Taub’s move to the University of Alabama when he received a grant to continue his work that is important.

His grant at U of A was in the field of stoke recovery and developing a more effect method to help stroke victims. With his knowledge through working with the Silver Spring monkeys Dr. Taub and his staff developed what is know today as constraint-induced movement therapy or CI. Here is a power point presentation on CI, which lasts a little over six minutes.  Here’s a short video showing the application of CI.

Another section of Schwartz’s book deals with proving, using the quantum theory, that the brain and mind are two separate entities. The material was way over my head but if you would like to read his explanation it’s chapter 8 and starts on page 255. Here is a youtube video on the quantum theory. I just accepted his finding since I also believe that our mind is not our brain.

Dr. Schwartz’s actual theme of his book is about the method he developed to help his OCD patients overcome their disorder by using their minds to control the brains output. The method helps his patients over come their obsessive thoughts and compulsive responses.

Dr. Schwartz developed a four step process to help his OCD patients defeat the destructive obsessive thoughts the brain offers up periodically. The following is a brief summary of the four steps:

  1. Relabel – their obsessions and compulsions as a false disease.
  2. Reattribute – those thoughts and urges to pathological brain circuitry.
  3. Refocus – attention away from the pathological thought and urges into constructive behavior.
  4. Revalue – the OCD obsession and compulsions, realizing that these have no intrinsic value and no inherent power.

For a more full understanding of Dr. Schwartz’s four step process go to his webpage by the Westwood Institute for Anxiety Disorders.  short Audio explanation of the 4 Rs.

ON A MORE PERSONAL LEVEL

In my search for more information on the subject I ran across the following blogs when I keyed in google.com “self-directed neuroplasticity”. http://mentalhealthdaily.com/2015/02/20/self-directed-neuroplasticity-consciously-changing-your-brain-function/

According to the author self-directed Neuroplasticity is defined as “a concept that allows us to consciously control how we want our brains to work. In other words if you want your brain to become better in stressful situations, you’d “force” yourself to become more comfortable in these situations and your brain eventually adapts.” This certainly appeared to be a sound concept to me. Particularly when applied to my Anger Story mentioned before.

The concept of Self-Directed Neuroplasticity involves:

  1. Attention – The need to give focused attention to what you want to be encoded into your brain. In my situation, I wanted to change the way I expressed my anger. I wanted to control my anger so that I could use the energy from my emotions in a more positive and constructive manner.
  2. Volition (willpower) – A person needs to find a strong reason to want to change. Once a person has a strong personal reason to change, it helps give them the willpower to do what it takes to be successful. In my case, I needed to change my angry behavior to strengthen the positive bond between my two sons and me.
  3. Brain Activation – That occurs in part as a result of how you choose to focus your attentions and guide your willpower. In my case, I researched and read many books (this was prior to yahoo and the Internet) on emotions, anger and habits. I was searching for a better understanding why I expressed my anger as I did with my two boys when they misbehaved. I wanted, no, needed to find a way to change my thinking and behavior. And I did. My search led me down a path of discovery, enlightenment and positive change.
  4. Consistency – One needs to practice the behavior and thoughts they want to happen and not those they do not want. In my case I developed a better understanding why I expressed my angry emotions in the way I did. This knowledge led me to develop a way to harness my emotional energy in a more constructive way. From my understanding, how habits are formed and replaced I practiced my new behavior, my anger tree, over and over so that it would be what I did when I became emotional threatened.

Back in the late 1980s when I did my anger research and developed my anger tree to help me with my behavioral change, I knew nothing about neuroplasticity or its dark side. I just stumbled into using much of the process to achieve my goal. Now that I understand the process to change my behaviors is by using my mind to change my brain, I can see more opportunities for myself. How about you? Do you have any habits which might be destructive to you or those you love? The four step SDN process might be your starting point.

Here’s a short video by Rick Hanson you might enjoy watch about using your mind to change your brain.

I found this a very relevant and interesting video delivered by Dr. LuAnn Helms talking about how we can use SDN to improve our daily lives.

One final story for this section. After WW II, my father moved our family to McCook in 1947. About 1959  or 60, he attended a medical meeting in Las Vegas. Later I learned that his desire to attend the meeting was to learn how to use hypnosis to help his patients.

The first weekend after his return from the Las Vegas meeting he had me sit down in a kitchen chair and he proceeded to demonstrate his new medical skill on and to me. At the time I was probably 12 or 13 but even at that I still remember the event. One of the final things he told me, as I sat there with my eyes closed, was that I was going to feel pressure on my right arm but no pain. Then he proceeded to clamp a medical instrument called an Allen forceps on my arm. I did feel the pressure but no actual pain. After he awakened me he once again clamped the Allen forceps on my arm and it hurt like blazes. From then on I was a true believer in hypnosis.

Through the use of hypnosis in his medical practice, my father helped his patients, conquer their fears, delivered lots of babies, stop smoking, lose weight, reduced dislocations and even sewed up a few. On several occasions, he even helped me feel like I had a full eight hours of sleep when I had stayed up late studying for an exam the night before. It was a wonderful skill for him and many of his patients.

A few weeks ago a friend called me over to tell me her story about my father and how he had delivered two of her three children using hypnosis. She told me that they met for six or so sessions of hypnosis prior to her first delivery. Her first delivery went as he had said it would. She would feel pressure but no pain and that’s pretty much what happened. The second time she delivered so fast that a nurse helped her next little girl into the world but she had used what he had taught her and it was the same outcome, only the feeling of pressure and no unpleasant pain. She told me that my father had retired and was not available for her third delivery so she chose the Lamaze method of child birthing and her eyes were opened to what real pain felt like.

I remember the time when Dad and I were talking about hypnosis, he told me that all hypnosis was “self-hypnosis’” that he was only the guide. Now, after learning about self-directed neuroplasticity, I understand that he was only helping a person change their own brain. He was guiding their mind in a way as to accomplish what we can now do for ourselves. At this moment, I wish he were still with me so I could share what I’ve learned in my research on the topic. He would have been fascinated. To me, my father was a great man and healer of the body, the mind and the brain. Thank you, Dad.

My question to you and me is; “Now that we know we can reprogram our brains with our minds, what are we going to do with that knowledge?”

Here’s a great blog I suggest you read.  You might want to sign up for her newsletters like I did. How Your Mind Shapes Your Brain.

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HOW ABOUT A HEALTHY LIFESTYLE FOR A BETTER, LONGER LIFE

How about starting off with his video by Dr. Gary Small M.D. titled:
Keep Your Brain Healthy the Rest of Your Life.

Searching through what I’ve read and scholarly articles on the Internet the top behaviors to maintain or improving brain health appear to be:

  • Exercise especially aerobic exercise
  • Sleep
  • Healthy Diet (normal body weight)
  • Social Interaction
  • Cognitive development – learning new things – both mental and physical
  • Emotional Stability
  • Not Smoking
  • Low alcohol intake

The following are some links I found on the net, which suggest the importance of the key points above to maintaining a healthy brain.

Exercise:
http://fitness.mercola.com/sites/fitness/archive/2015/01/23/brain-benefits-exercise.aspx
http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/in-depth/exercise/art-20048389

Sleep:
https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/how-sleep-clears-brain
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0iqU4bBM5Rk
http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20434658,00.html _ This guy is a very fast talker but he does put fourth some good facts.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pwNMvUXTgDY

Healthy Diet: Note – There is less conclusive research data to tie what you eat to brain health. Most doctors “feel” there is a link to eating certain foods and the brain. But there is definitely a positive link between eating right and health overall.
http://www.aarp.org/food/recipes/info-04-2009/staying_sharp_the_mediterranean_diet.html
video – The End of Overeating

Social Interaction:
https://healthybrains.org/pillar-social/

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/demystifying-psychiatry/201206/social-interactions-and-brain-cell-connections
http://scienceblog.com/250/schmoozing-good-for-the-brain/

Cognitive development:
Article on Brain Training Games
This study says brain training does help.
Dr. Michael Merzenich – interesting article
Soft-Wired” book – Dr. Michael Merzenich

Emotional Stability:
How to Practice Emotional First Aid – TED talks
Becoming Mentally Strong – Ted Talks
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Chronic Anxiety and Stress
Fears are learned.
Fear and Anxiety

One last video worth watching to bring this section all together.
The Aging but Resilient Brain – Keeping Neurons Happy 

Just ran across this slide PDF file online that does a very good job of summing it all up.
7 Habits of Highly Effective Brains

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NOW THAT WE HAVE THE SCIENCE, WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO WITH IT?

How can we take what we’ve learned from the above material to make our lives even better? It’s my belief that each of us has certain learned beliefs, behaviors and fears, which can be replaced with better ones. The method to do so comes from the plastic nature of our brain neurons. It might be that to change some of our neural circuits we need professional guidance and for others we can do it ourselves.

Take a look at the suggested five step process and see if it might be a place to get started.

1 – I would suggest starting off with a self assessment. What is good in our life and what needs to change to make it even better?

2 – We need to accept responsibility for our lives and if there is going to be change in them it has to come from within.

3 – It’s necessary to find a couple/several good reasons for each of us “why we need to make the change/s.”

4 – Develop a strategy or plan we can use to start these change.

5 – Implement the strategy to replace the previous learned neurocircuitry with new and better circuits.

If you did not read my anger story from a previous blog entry on this site you might want to do so at this. It illustrates how I used the above five steps to changed my behavior.
Steve’s Anger Story 

Self-directed neuroplasticity: I’ve had some difficulty finding an easy to understand method to practice this method. You can go back and read the 4Rs of Dr. Schwartz and read the following short web page. Want to Outsmart you Brain? Here’s another short article, mostly taken from books I’ve read which might give you some ideas. Using Neuroplasticity to be Smarter and Happier. No matter what/where you read, they all stress that much has to do with your focused attention on what you want to happen.

Self-hypnosis: I did locate a good online example of self-hypnosis. With a few changes I feel it can be adapted to many situations. Here’s the website – How to Lose Weight using Self-hypnosis.

I hope you have enjoyed reading and learning from this blog. It was my goal to bring together some of the immense amount of material out there on neuroplasticity, how it works, how we can use that new knowledge to improve our lives.

Now it’s time to continue your own learning journey.

Steve

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Posted in becoming aware, brain, brain plasticity, educational, Health | 1 Comment

The Amazing Mind – Brain and Its Neuroplasticity

My purpose in writing this blog is to peak your interest enough in the subject matter to have you do your research into neuroplasticity and how it can change your life for the better. My journey started in 2010 with reading the book Brain Rules by John Medina. Since that time I’ve read a book or two each year on the subject. Here is a blog on his site I published covering what I had learned to that date.

Much of what I am including in this blog was taken from two books: The Mind and the Brain Neuroplasticity and the Power of Mental Force by Jeffery M. Schwartz, M.D. and Soft-Wired How the New Science of Brain Plasticity Can Change Your Life by Dr. Michael Merzenich, PhD.

Note: Be sure to checkout the many videos and other hyperlinks while you read this document.

Now take a couple of minutes to watch this two minute video on Brain Architecture put out by Harvard University.

Before I launch into the material from these two books I want to share a story with you.
In June of 2012 I adopted Mia, a three year old black and white English Springer Spaniel rescue dog. When I went to pick her up from her foster family in Denver she was so frightened of me the foster dad had to put her in the cab of my pickup before I could drive back to the family cottage on Grand Lake.

mia-1

It wasn’t just me whom she was frightened of, but everyone in which she came into contact. Mia was born in a  Missouri puppy mill farm then became a puppy producer, missing a normal puppyhood. She had been in the rescue system for a year but due to her fears she had not been adopted. I felt I might have the answer to her overcoming her constant fear of the unfamiliar and unknown.

On July 4th 2013, Mia and I walked down the lake trail to attend a luncheon with some friends. I was the first guest to arrive so we sat on the boat dock until the other guests began to arrive. I left her on the dock while I asked Marlene if I could bring her in. When I went back to the dock to get her, she was gone. I asked the two grand children on the dock if they had seen which way she had gone. They had not seen her go.

I walked the foot trail both ways for a short distance calling out to her but, no luck. I reasoned with myself that she only knew the trail we had walked and I would probably find her at the cottage, so I stayed for lunch. When I walked the trail home, I called her name. Once again, no dog came. When I arrived at the cottage she was not there either. Once again I started back down the trail to Marlene’s calling her name. I continued past Marlene’s house and to the nearest neighbors but no Mia. Each day that week I drove down to the east end of the lake, walked the area calling her name and talking to the few residents in the area. It was a guilt ridden week for me. I did not understand the panic she experienced when I came up missing to her.

A week later I received a call from Kay, the owner of the first house east of Marlene’s, telling me that Mia was on their property and to come retrieve her. I did and the moment I whistled for her, she came bounding down the mountain side to me. We were both happy to see each other.

I discovered that Mia also had separation anxiety and would not leave my side. I could not leave her home alone. She would stay in my pickup for hours but not home. In her panic one time she jumped onto the toilet in the lower level bathroom and right out through the window screen. Then, trying to get back into the cottage looking for me, she destroyed both wooden screened doors. My solution was to just take her wherever I went and leave her in the pickup with the windows down.

Not much changed that summer and Mia spent lots of time with me and alone in my blue Ford Ranger pickup. In October, we returned to our home in Southwest Nebraska. About the only change in her behavior prior to returning to Grand Lake in late May was that I could change the inflection in my voice and she would not cower. That meant we could roughhouse on the floor. She learned that there were safe places for her to go in the city park with me.

In late August of 2014, when things slowed down around the  town of Grand Lake, I decided that she should be around people more and maybe she would learn that people were not something to fear. I would take her with me to the coffee shop, The Hub with an outside eating area with several round tables and chairs. I would sit and read The Brain That Changes Itself while she lay next to me. Eventually she became curious and went looking for dropped bits of food and crumbs under the empty tables. Finally, she started looking under tables which were occupied by eaters and drinkers. Occasionally someone at the table would reach down and pet her. Over time she came to realize that people were safe and she could forage for food scraps and not experience fear.

the-hub

The summer came to a close and she would actually allow some dog lovers to pet her away from The Hub but she still had not barked as most dog do.

By this past summer, 2015 her whole world changed. Instead of us being outside we started having coffee in the morning with a couple of old geezers, like I am.  Mia grew into the unofficial greeter at The Hub. When someone or group would enter, she would walk up to them and request a pat or good head rub. She even started barking when she saw another dog approaching and on several occasions played chase with them. I now consider Mia a normal dog. We take walks without a leash, she comes when I call her and she barks when she hears the door bell ring or someone knocks at the door. I can also leave her home alone and not find the door or carpet next to it destroyed.

At the time I did not understand the brain mechanics associated with Mia’s fears and transformation. Now that I’ve studied more on the mind and the brain, I understand what happened.

Neuroplasticity

The first place to go is to understand just what neuroplasticity is: Neuroplasticity is a concept referring to the fact that the brain is capable of changing its function in response to your environment, thinking, emotions, behavior, as well as injury.

It used to be thought that once we reached adult age our brains became hard wired and that it did not change. But with the development of the fMRI and other scientific equipment it was found that the locations where thoughts/events happened did actually change locations in the brain. Mapping of the brain has pretty well put to rest the belief that adult brains do not change.

The following are several of the principles I’m going to discuss in this document.

  • Neurons that fire together wire together.
  • Use it or lose it. If a neural circuit goes unused it is pruned.
  • The more you use it the stronger it gets.
  • There is competition for our neural real estate.
  • Habits and neuroplasticity.

Neurons that fire together wire together and some of the strongest bonds are when emotions are tied with an event. As an example of that, here is my abbreviated story – Between my junior and senior years in college I fell in love with a girl whose name was Pat. That same summer Pat was the last person I was with before driving off to attend USAF ROTC summer camp at Otis AFB on Cape Cod. The song that was played over and over on my drive to Otis was “This Guys In Love With You” sung by Herb Alpert. To this day, almost 50 years later, every time I heard that song the wonderful memory and feelings associated with being in love return.

On a more serious level. Mia’s fear of almost every living thing she came in contact with caused her fear memories to return and with each occurrence the bond between the associated neurons was strengthened. As with practicing the piano or guitar, the more you practice something the stronger the neurons firing at the same time are strengthened. What fires together wires together.

Here’s a mockup of two neurons connected together:
neuron_structure

Neurons are connected from the axon of one neuron cell to the dendrites of the next cell. The synapse is the connecting point between the two neurons. The stronger the bond between the two neurons the more synapse there are between them. If, as in the case of Mia, she is not put in situations where she experiences her fears, those neurons associated with fear start to diminish in strength. And, in this case, as she experienced more of the positive events of being petted and finding food crumbs and scraps those neurons associated were strengthened. Now Mia does not fear strangers but embraces their positive attention.
 
mia-hub

Do you have any learned fears? I’ve know of people who were petrified of spiders, heights, dying if the wrong foods are eaten or the right foods not eaten, being in windowless rooms, flying, playing sports, what others might think of them, and losing control of people in their life. The list could probably go on and on.

Use it or lose it – Just like in the use of our  muscles, if you don’t use parts of your body or certain senses they will diminish or possibly lose that function. It’s been shown that if a baby animal is kept in a dark room when that part of the brain should be receiving visual signals and developing, that animal will never learn to see. But that part of the brain not being used for it’s original designated purpose does not go idle.

I was a pilot for seven years in the USAF and felt very proficient in my ability to fly and even teach jet flying. I took my last flight in 1976 and I would only be considered a foolish old man to think that I could strap on a Cessna T-37 or C-130 and go fly after forty year of not practicing the skill.  That neuron real estate area associated with piloting an aircraft is now being used for some other purpose, something more important to me at this time.

The more you use it the stronger the neuron connections get – The more you use neuron circuits the stronger the bonds between  wired neurons become. Think about the first time you tried to drive the family car. In my case, it was a 1953 two tone red Hudson with a three speed transmission on the steering column. It took several practice sessions with my father to coordinate the clutch, gas, gear lever and steering wheel all at the same time. The more I practiced driving the Hudson, the better I became and finally I mastered it. Once that happened I didn’t have to think much about what I needed to do. Eventually I was even able to carry on a conversation while driving.

After watching the Broncos defeat the Patriots last weekend it became obvious that the receivers had practiced catching passes so many times that mostly their hands just went to the spot where the ball was going to be. The connected neural circuits had been developed to such a great extent little conscious thinking about it was needed. You can also apply that to playing a musical instrument, driving a nail or ……

Think back to learning to drive your first car. Once you mastered the process of driving,  something you did not realize, is that the brain starts paring down and streamlining the group of neurons to just the vital few. Those neurons released from duty could then begin doing some other task. There is competition for cortical neural real estate.

Competition for neural real estate – In his book The Brain that Changes Itself Norman Doidge writes about two studies which prove that there is competition for brain real estate. The first one was where kittens had one eye sutured closed prior to them opening their eyes. That eye was never able to see because it received no vision input during the critical brain development period for eyes. What the researchers did find was the area which should have been processing sight from the covered eye was actually processing the inputs from the sighted eye. It appears that no part of the brain goes unused. Here is a short video of Dr. Doidge explaining competition for cortical real estate.

Another example mentioned in the book dealt with braille instructors. New instructors actually had no light allowed to enter either eye for several weeks while they learned braille. That area of the brain which had been processing the vision signals for functioning eyes was now being used by the finger tips in processing the braille print. Once the eye patches were removed sight was eventually restored to the teachers and to the area of the neocortex which processes vision.

The following paragraph was taken from page 59 of The Brain that Changes Itself:
“The competitive nature of plasticity affects us all. There is an endless war of nerves going on inside each of our brains. If we stop exercising our mental skills, we do not just forget them: the brain map space for those skills is turned over to the skills we practice instead. If you ever ask yourself, “How often must I practice French, or guitar, or math to keep on top of it?” you are asking a question about competitive plasticity. You are asking how frequently you much practice one activity to make sure its brain map space is not lost to another.”

This might explain why Mia has, by my standards, transformed herself into a normal six year old English springer spaniel. She was not exposed to being frightened by people  but instead was rewarded by food bits and lots of good feeling pats and head rubs. In other words, those neurons associated with fear of people and unknown things were not used and those for positive rewards were.

Neuroplasticity and Habits.  I wrote about some of this above but not to much extent. We are what “our” habits make us. It is not only about what we do, like driving, how we put on our cloths, brush our teeth, tie our shoes, the food we eat and ………… It is also how and what we think, the beliefs we hold, what we value and the actions we take because of them.

Habits make our lives easier in many respects. If we had to think about each and every thing we need to do, our minds would spend a huge amount of time thinking what we needed to do, how to do it then doing it. Habits are both constructive and destructive to us and those around us.For more information on habits go to his webpage.

One example close to home I wrote about back in the late 1980s and published in several blogs on this site. It’s about how I reacted to my fear, frustration and hurt that manifested itself as anger. Here’s My anger story by Steve Batty.

Here’s a short article written by Debbie Hampton on The Dark Side of Neuroplasticity which talks about habits. I recommend you read it.

Now to where this blog was going all along.  Neuroplasticity and the power of mental force:

From the front inside book jacket of The Mind and the Brain“Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz, a leading researcher in brain dysfunctions, and wall Street Journal science columnist Sharon Begley demonstrate that the human mind is an independent entity that can shape and control the functioning of the physical brain.  Their work has its basis in our emerging understanding of adult plasticity – the brain’s ability to be rewired not just in childhood, but throughout life, a trait only recently established by scientists. But in this paradigm-shifting work, Schwartz and Begley take neuroplasticity one crucial step further. Through decades of work treating patients with Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), Schwartz made an extraordinary finding: while following the therapy he developed , his patients were effecting significant and lasting changes in their own neural pathways. It was a scientific first: by actively focusing their attention away from negative behaviors and toward more positive ones. Schwartz’s patients were using their minds to reshape their brains. Here is a short TED video talking about changing your own brain.

The Mind and the Brain follows Schwartz as he investigates this newly discovered power, which he calls self-directed neuroplasticity or, more simply, mental force.”

This book spends quite a bit of print discussing the Silver Spring, MD monkey/PET fiasco beginning back in 1981. The ensuing court case lasted about ten years. As far as this blog goes it was what was learned from the monkey research and Dr. Taub’s move to the University of Alabama when he received a grant to continue his work that is important.

His grant at U of A was in the field of stoke recovery and developing a more effect method to help stroke victims. With his knowledge through working with the Silver Spring monkeys Dr. Taub and his staff developed what is know today as constraint-induced movement therapy or CI. Here is a power point presentation of CI, which lasts a little over six minutes.  Here’s a short video showing the application of CI.

Another section of Schwartz’s book deals with proving, using the quantum theory, that the brain and mind are two separate entities. The material was way over my head but if you would like to read his explanation it’s chapter 8 and starts on page 255. Here is a youtube video on the quantum theory. I just accepted his finding since I also believe that our mind is not our brain.

Dr. Schwartz’s actual theme of his book is about the method he developed to help his OCD patients overcome their disorder by using their minds to control the brains output. The method helps his patients over come their obsessive thoughts and compulsive responses.

Dr. Schwartz developed a four step process to help his OCD patients defeat the destructive obsessive thoughts the brain offers up periodically. The following is a brief summary of the four steps:

  1. Relabel – their obsessions and compulsions as a false disease.
  2. Reattribute – those thoughts and urges to pathological brain circuitry.
  3. Refocus – attention away from the pathological thought and urges into constructive behavior.
  4. Revalue – the OCD obsession and compulsions, realizing that these have no intrinsic value and no inherent power.

For a more full understanding of Dr. Schwartz’s four step process go to his webpage by the Westwood Institute for Anxiety Disorders.

ON A MORE PERSONAL LEVEL

In my search for more information on the subject I ran across the following blogs when I keyed in google.com “self-directed neuroplasticity”. http://mentalhealthdaily.com/2015/02/20/self-directed-neuroplasticity-consciously-changing-your-brain-function/

According to the author self-directed Neuroplasticity is defined as “a concept that allows us to consciously control how we want our brains to work. In other words if you want your brain to become better in stressful situations, you’d “force” yourself to become more comfortable in these situations and your brain eventually adapts.” This certainly appeared to be a sound concept to me. Particularly when applied to my Anger Story mentioned before.

The concept of Self-Directed Neuroplasticity involves:

  1. Attention – The need to pay attention to what you want to be encoded into your brain. In my situation, I wanted to change the way I expressed my anger. I wanted to control my emotions so that I could use the energy from my anger in a more positive and constructive manner.

  2. Volition (willpower) – A person needs to find a strong reason to want to change. Once a person has a strong personal reason to change, it helps give them the willpower to do what it takes to be successful. In my case, I needed to change my anger behavior to strengthen the positive bond between my two sons and me.
  3. Brain Activation – That occurs in part as a result of how you choose to focus your attentions and guide your willpower. In my case, I researched and read many books (this was prior to yahoo and the Internet) on emotions, anger and habits. I was searching for a better understanding why I expressed my anger as I did with my two boys when they misbehaved. I wanted, no, needed to find a way to change my thinking and behavior. And I did. My search led me down a path of discovery, enlightenment and change.
  4. Consistency – One needs to practice the behavior and thoughts they want to happen and not those they do not want. In my case I developed a better understanding why I expressed my angry emotions in the way I did. This knowledge led me to develop a way to harness my emotional energy in a more constructive way. From my understanding, how habits are formed and replaced I practiced my new behavior, my anger tree, over and over so that it would be what I did when I became angry.

Back in the late 1980s when I did my anger research and developed my anger tree to help me with my behavioral change, I knew nothing about neuroplasticity or its dark side. I just stumbled into using much of the process to achieve my goal. Now that I understand the process to change my behaviors is by uing my mind to change my brain, I can see more opportunities for myself. How about you? Do you have any habits which might be destructive to you or those you love? The four step SDN process is your starting point.

I found this a very relevant and interesting video delivered by Dr. LuAnn Helms talking about how we can use SDN to improve our daily lives.

One final story. After WW II, my father moved our family to McCook in 1947. In maybe 1959  or 60, he attended a medical meeting in Las Vegas. Later I learned that his desire to attend the meeting was to learn how to use hypnosis to help his patients.

The first weekend after his return from the LV meeting he had me sit down in a kitchen chair and he proceeded to demonstrate his new medical skill on and to me. At the time I was probably 12 or 13 but even at that I still remember the event. One of the final things he told me, as I sat there with my eyes closed, was that I was going to feel pressure on my right arm but no pain. Then he proceeded to clamp a medical instrument called an Allen forceps on my arm. I did feel the pressure but no actual pain. After he awakened me he once again clamped the Allen forceps on my arm and it hurt like blazes. From then on I was a true believer.

Through the use of hypnosis in his medical practice, my father helped his patients, conquer their fears, delivered lots of babies, stop smoking, lose weight, reduced dislocations and even sewed up a few. On several occasions, he even helped me feel like I had a full eight hours of sleep when I had stayed up late studying for an exam the night before. It was a wonderful tool for him and his patients.

I remember the time when we were talking about hypnosis, he told me that all hypnosis was “self-hypnosis” that he was only the guide. Now, after learning about self-directed neuroplasticity, I understand that he was only helping a person change their own brain. He was guiding their mind in a way as to accomplish what we can now do for ourselves. At this moment, I just wish he were still with me so I could share what I’ve learned in my research on the topic. He would have been fascinated. To me, my father was a great man and healer of the body, the mind and the brain. Thank you, Dad.

My question to you and me is; “Now that we know we can reprogram our brains with our minds, what are we going to do with that knowledge?”

Here’s a great blog I suggest you read.  You might want to sign up for her newsletters like I did. How Your Mind Shapes Your Brain.

The next book on my reading list is titled The Brain’s Way of Healing by Norman Doidge, M.D.

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Posted in brain, mind, neuroplasticity, self awareness | Leave a comment

Be Sure to Read Medication Side Effects

I need to give you a little background before I get into my story about my side effects from taking erythromycin.

I was a pilot during the 1970s, and with over 1000 flying hours I never experienced a sinus problem. I was also not very sympathetic with those who did since it created more work for me as a flight scheduler. But that all changed in 1979, on a commercial flight from Denver to Corpus Christi, TX. As the airliner started its descent, my head felt like it was going to explode. I knew right away what it was and went through all the ear clearing procedures I had learned while flying for the USAF. They did relieve the immediate symptoms but over the next few days I started have distress in my upper canine teeth and the headaches started.

The doctor I took my sinus problem to prescribed erythromycin and after a full course of it my symptoms disappeared.

Over the next few years I infrequently experienced sinus problems but once I moved back to McCook, NE, my old home town, they have become more frequent; up to once or twice a year but a full regiment of erythromycin always took care of them.

This past April, 2015, four of us flew to Budapest and rode a river boat up stream then a bus over to Prague. The day before returning to the US, my canine teeth started aching and I had difficulty sleeping from all the coughing I was doing when in the prone position. I hacked all the way home aboard the aircraft and the change in pressure altitude just made things worse.

Once home I started my usual routine of 2 – 250 mg of erythromycin tables four times a day and I felt so bad I did two nasal rinses with my Waterpik each day. It was almost three weeks before I felt back to normal for me; about a week longer to recover than my usual 10 to 14 days.

I spent the summer at the family summer cottage in Grand Lake, CO at an elevation of 8269 feet as I do each summer. This summer was a little different in that I drove back to McCook (elevation 2510 feet) for my 50th high school reunion the last weekend in September. I had a good time with my old classmates and on the following Monday drove the 350 miles back to Grand Lake. I felt fine the entire drive.

That Monday night after going to bed I started coughing from the drainage coming from my sinuses. I got very little sleep but did my usual routine of coffee with the other old geezers at The Hub, then worked on one of my older out buildings in town. After spending most of the day applying red cedar shingles to the north side of the old building, my arms were so tired I quit a little early and downed a couple of iced teas at The Hub before driving back to the cottage. That night, I again spent most of my time coughing and did little sleeping.

out-bilding-siding

Wednesday was almost a carbon copy of Tuesday and my level of energy was about the same. I was not getting more than four hours of sleep. Thursday started out just like Tuesday and Wednesday but by 1400 hours I had no energy to do more shingling. Some how I was able to get more sleep that night (slept in a more upright position) so I was able to do a full day’s work on Friday. I took Saturday off to run some errands and help a friend on his computer. I had very little energy but kept at it until late in the afternoon. On Sunday I had used up all my shingles by 1330 hours so I went to one of the sports bars to watch the Bronco’s win another game while downing a couple iced teas.

Monday morning arrived and it started out like it was the end of the day. I did make it The Hub for coffee but did not feel well enough to down even one cup. Finally, about 0900 hours I threw in the towel and drove Mia and myself to Granby to find a physician to give me a prescription of erythromycin. The local small hospital was not going to be able to get me in until Tuesday so I drove across the highway to a private physician’s office only to be turned away because I am on Medicare and they were not taking any Medicare patients because Medicare was too difficult with which to work. I even told them I would pay for the service in cash but they told me they could not do that either. If Medicare learned about it, they were in trouble.

It was back to the ER half of the hospital and I was immediately seen. After completing a couple of forms my vitals were taken and shortly the ER doctor on duty sat down with me and I explained what I needed. After a few questions he asked me what dosage I usually took. I told him 500 mg. Shortly after that I left the ER with my prescription and drove the 1/4 mile to City Market to get the solution to my sinus problem.

Once the pharmacist filled my order I went to their drinking fountain, took a sip of water, threw in two tablets and swallowed. I had always taken two initially on direction from my primary physician, my father. I then drove back to the cottage to wait for them to kick in and start my recovery. Only it did not happen.

Once home, I laid down on my bed to see if I could get some sleep. I did manage get a few minutes but awoke when I started having difficulty breathing. I was so tired I kept dozing off only to be awakened by my need for more oxygen. It reminded me of the time when I was scuba diving and got very low on air. Eventually, I called the ER and told them I was coming back in and was going to need some oxygen.

When I arrived back at the ER, they immediately took me to one of their examining rooms, started me on 3 liters of oxygen and took my vitals, then some blood. Once on the oxygen I started feeling much better. Shortly after that the doctor came in looking rather concerned. He told me I was in atrium fibrillation, had some high liver enzymes and my blood sugar was also high. In just a few minutes I was hooked to an IV and Mandy, my beautiful blond nurse, was explaining they were giving me something to try to lower my heart rate, which was in the 140 bpm range, to a more normal resting rate and to try to convert me back to a normal heart rhythm.

Once the first round of the medication was gone they put me on a second one. My heart rate was lower but Mandy pointed out to me that I had not converted. My initial heart rate was 145 with a blood oxygen of 92. I had six liver enzymes out of the normal range with a blood glucose of 281 and elevated WBC of 18.6 (probably due to the sinus infection).

The doctor came back and said they were not staffed to handle my heart problem and I would need to go to Denver. He also did not understand how I could have gone from normal vital signs at 1000 hours to the state I was presently in at 1400 hours. He tried to get me admitted to the VA hospital in Denver but they turned me away. He was able to get St. Anthony’s to accept me and ordered an EMS crew to drive me there. By this time my heart rate was down to 126 bpm.

Knowing that I had been in the ER for several hours and had not used the toilet and the ride was going to be about 1.5 hours, I asked to be able to go to the bathroom. Mandy handed me a portable plastic male urinal and told me to use it. My output was not much but what I did deposit was not dark yellow, as I had expected, but brown. I just shrugged it off and pulled my trousers back up and got ready for transport.

The ride to Denver was uneventful and before I knew it I was disrobed and in a different bed. I still had not converted so they continued the IV drip with medication. As usual, with all the in and out traffic I did not get much sleep. I must have dozed off at some point because I awoke and noticed that the IV was gone so I had to have finally converted. At some point they did take some more of my blood to see how I was doing. Eventually during the night, a tall blond female doctor visited me. Other than initially getting me confused with another patient she told me I was doing fine and ordered several tests for me in the morning.

Once it was light out, they took pictures of my beating heart, two x-rays of my chest and photos of my liver. At some time that morning a lady come in and told me I probably had type 2 diabetes and talked about what it was and some techniques to manage it. Shortly after that the lady doctor came in and said I was being discharged in the afternoon. I wanted to be out by 1500 hours so my lifetime friend, Roger could pick me up. She also handed me a small plastic bottle of pills, called them beta blockers, and told me to take one each day at the evening meal. I was out of there by 1400 hours and waiting for Roger to show up. He was right on time and we were gone by 1500 hours.

The next day Roger drove me back to Grand Lake where I closed the cottage and boathouse down for the winter, packed up my stuff, retrieved Mia and followed Roger back to Denver. The following day, Thursday, I drove the 265 miles back to McCook. On Friday, I called North Platte VA and set up an appointment with my primary care doctor for the following Friday.

I still had my sinus problem so I started taking the erythromycin, one pill every eight hours and with the help of nasal rinses I was able to start feeling better.

On Friday, October 16th I drove the 70 miles to the North Platte VA clinic for my blood letting and to talk to my primary physician. I explained to my doctor what had happened, gave him a copy of all the reports I was given by Granby ER and St. Anthony’s. He looked through the material, had it copied and asked a couple of questions. He also ordered a prescription for my beta blocker and suggested that I use the VA choice program to get a local doctor in McCook to deal with my heart problem.

When I returned from visiting the Denver VA (skin and eye checkups) the following week, a VA letter was waiting for me. My glucose had dropped to 79 so I was not a type 2 diabetic and 5 of the 6  liver enzymes had returned to their normal ranges. He ordered another follow up blood text in 30 days, Nov. 20th and I was told not to consume any alcohol until after that test. I now have those test results back and all of my liver enzymes are in the normal range. 

The next week, while resting in bed waiting for the clock to finally get to 0420 hours, I got to thinking about the latest blood test results and Dr. Paulsen’s statement about not understanding how I could go from normal vitals to atrial fibrillation in such a short time.

Shortly after that a thought drifted through my mind. One that my father had been making for year, “The young doctors today do not take a good patient history. You have to look at more than just the medical tests.” So I decided to go back through that day, Monday October 5th, step by step. I ask myself what happened between my first visit to the ER and my second one? All that came to mind was that I had taken two of the erythromycin at City Market and tried to eat a PB &J once back at the cottage. I could not even force that 1/2 sandwich down. It was more than I could swallow. Once I started having trouble getting enough oxygen I had returned to the ER.

When I returned from my workout at the YMCA that morning I looked at the empty erythromycin bottle and noticed each tablet was 500 mg. Then I compared it to the one in my medicine cabinet and it contained 250 mg tablets. Ah, the light came on. I took my first cup of coffee to my online computer and started researching the side effects of erythromycin.
erythromycin-bottles-2
 
It turns out there are quite a few possible side effects but most are rather minor ones like skin rashes and itching. The list is rather long but when you looked toward the bottom of the lists I discovered some which fit my situation; rapid irregular heat rate, liver problems, dark yellow or brown urine, swallowing difficulty, and finally, difficult breathing. It certainly looked to me like I had over dosed by taking two 500 mg of the antibiotic at the onset.

At the end of the first week in November I took myself off the beta-blocker. About the only things that have changed since withdrawing that med ss that I am less lethargic and sleepy. I’ve given myself a clean bill of health from my self-inflected overdose of erythromycin. Ah, my becoming aware.

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Posted in becoming aware, Health, medication | Tagged | Leave a comment

“Younger Next Year” by Crowley and Lodge

younger-nx-year

This copy of “Younger Next Year:” A guide to living like 50 until you’re 80 and beyond is about:

  1. How men can turn back their biological clocks.
  2. How they can become functionally younger every year for years to come, and continue to live with vitality and grace into their eighties and beyond.
  3. How they can avoid 70% of the decay and eliminate 50% of the injuries and illnesses associated with getting older.

I have taken what the two authors researched and recommended to heart. I’ve been working out at the McCook YMCA since I moved back here in January 1989 and now have stepped it up to make sure my heart rate reaches what they recommend. I’ve also added weight workouts two days a week. So now my schedule meets their six day recommendation for exercise. It’s the diet part that I have not followed. I’m now starting to intergrade more fruits, vegetables, fish and olive oil.

A Real Life Example: My father lived a full and vibrant life until just shortly after his 98th birthday in August of 2012. When I returned to McCook in 1989 one of the first things he did was reintroduce me to the YMCA. It was not the same one I had spent my youth in but a much larger one with all the modern exercise equipment. Dad, as I have always called him, had started swimming 5 days a week once he retired in 1985 and possible before, I just don’t know. Dad loved swimming and did a half mile each morning about 0630 hours. He did that until some time in his late 80s he fell and broke his shoulder. Once he recovered for that he switched to a stationary bike and did that until one day in his 90s he caught his foot on the bike while dismounting, fell and had to have his hip replace.

Dad never had a problem keeping his weight at 185 pounds. I can remember in my youth watching him drop five pound prior to Thanksgiving so he could enjoy all the wonderful food Mom used to cook. If he needed to he would do it again just prior to Christmas.  He never did eat much of the crap food Chris and Harry talk about in the book.

I didn’t mention that my father was a small town country doctor, and like Dr. Harry, an internist. He was a member of the “Greatest Generation” and served our country in the USN and spent two year taking care of soldiers and sailors in the Pacific. Our family returned to McCook in 1947 and both were very involved in the community. Dad was a member of the McCook Rotary Club for over 60 year and practiced the organizations motto “Service above self.” In fact, as I got to really know Dad once I matured and moved back to McCook, service to others was his life’s passion and it applied to his family, patients, friends, town of McCook, and the state of Nebraska.

Dad had is first pacemaker installed just before I moved back to McCook then in 1992 his first prosthesis, his left knee abut three months after Mom passed away. While going through PT at the hospital he met Devonnabelle from Culbertson, NE. Debelle, as he called her, was going through PT for a broken leg.  Debelle and Dad became a item and ended up sharing a retirement unit in McCook after they could not travel the world together. By the time Dad called it quits he had both hips replaced, his left shoulder and three more pace makers. In the fall of 2012 he dislocated his left hip twice and went into left congestive heart failure. In December he entered the hospital for the 3rd time that fall for fluid in his lungs. He actually recovered from that but was so weak he needed to stay there. One day his cardiologist came in from Kearney to check up on him. While there Dad asked him if he placed a strong magnet over his pacemaker would it shut off so he could peacefully check out? His doctor said no, that it would only default back to 60 beats per minute. Then Dad asked him if he could shut off the pacemaker. The doctor’s answer was “Yes.” Dad’s next words were, “Let’s do it!” They scheduled the shutdown for a few days later.

After everyone had left Dad told me that he had made the decision because he could no longer be useful and could not  take care of Debelle any longer. Taking care of others had always given his life meaning and now that he could no longer do that it was time to “check out.” “I’m 98 years old and it’s time to go.” My heart was broken as tears flowed down my face  but I knew it was his life and his decision. The doctor ended up coming back that afternoon and turning off the pacemaker. A very simple procedure and I watched as Dad’s heart monitor dropped from 60 beats/minute to 34.  Over the next couple of days Dad, Paul my younger brother, and I had several nice conversations as we watched him fading away. Finally, on January 11, 2013 Dad raised his right hand, took his last breathe and slipped away from us. Since that time my life has had something missing it, Dad. God is this hard to do.

I forgot to mention that Dad developed dry macular degeneration in both eyes so he could no longer see the television and struggle to read but one word at a time. He could bake his magical cookies and  cook jellies and syrups. He mostly gave them to his friends and anyone who showed up at their retirement home door. He never stopped trying to learn something new and loved his music, especially opera. But mostly he loved taking care of Devonnabelle and others.

My reason for writing about Dad is that he lived the retired life just as Chris and Harry recommend we all should. He exercised, ate the right foods, cared about others, connected with them and had a passion for continuous learning, Devonnabelle and improving other’s lives.

Back to the book:

I located two youtube videos of the coauthors. I thought you might like a sample of Chris and Harry so when you read your own copy of their book you will see them. Neither is very long.  Chris’s is very entertaining and Dr. Harry just gives the facts.

Dr. Henry (Harry) S Lodge, an internist from NYC.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EZp3ew4YCuc

Chris Crowley, a retired NYC attorney.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rCqw7V_33Ss&autoplay=1&app=desktop

They say the secret, as taken from their book, is: “Over the millions of years of human development, both body and the brain have developed a system of messages that signal growth or decay. Now, because of the latest developments in fields as diverse as cell physiology, evolutionary biology, anthropology and ecology, we understand the messages – and how to control them.” 1) Exercise tells the body to grow. 2) Sitting too long tells the body to decay. 3) Eating a normal, balanced meal, tells the body to grow. 4) Overeating tells the body to decay 5) Connecting with family and friends tells the body to grow. 6) Isolation and stress tell the body to decay.

Harry’s seven rules can realistically be combined into the the follow three rules:

  1. Exercise six day a week for the rest of your lives.
  2. Stop eating Crap!
  3. Care, Connect and Commit.

A little more detail on each of the three rules:

  1. Exercise 6 days a week – for at least 45 minutes a day at 65% of your maximum heart rate. That’s 4 days doing aerobic exercises then the other two days doing weight training.
  2. Stop eating crap – They say not to go on a diet but to eat more fish, olive oil, vegetables and fruits. Cut back on the sugars and starchy foods. They are really bad for our bodies. They mention that the Mediterranean Diet is one that fits our body’s needs. We also need adequate sleep, somewhere around eight hours.
  3. Care, Connect and Commit Care about others, family and friends. Connect with them and Commit to a purpose.
    Harry say this: “This has been a deeply optimistic look at aging and for good reason. You have a choice in how the rest of your life goes, and it can be great. The rules are straightforward: Exercise hard and you will grow younger. Care about other people and you will grow happier. Build a life that you think means something and your will grow richer.”

I recommend you purchasing your own copy of this book so you can learn exactly why you need to exercise, eat better and care/connect & commit. I purchased my used copy from Amazon for a grand total of $4.00 to include shipping. There is a different copy for women which shows up at the bottom of the page. It has pink on the cover instead of the yellow one for me.

Here are two additional videos I felt complemented the information in the book.

1. Level of Exercise Predicts Quality of Life and longevity

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WaBudlj54nE

2. Dr. David Servan-Schreiber’s A new way of life. When you watch this short video check out the books he has set up behind him. Might be some more good reading about diet.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2lwiQm5QaTs&index=2&list=PL928D40AC6B7EFC38

3. Here’s a short online white paper author Dr. Harry Lodge wrote that pretty much sums up the biology side of the book.
http://www.throughyourbody.com/dr-henry-lodge-move-reverse-aging/

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Good Intentions are not Good Enough

quote-hell-isn-t-merely-paved-with-good-intentions-it-s-walled-and-roofed-with-them-yes-and-furnished-aldous-huxley-90395

“Life is short and if you’re looking for extension, you had best do well. ‘Cause there’s good deeds and then there’s good intentions. They are as far apart as Heaven and Hell.” Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/b/benharper330663.html#fxQq5mGUTzco1QML.99

“Best of Intentions” – Singer Andrea Bocell’s “Quotable Quote” in the February 2002 Reader’s Digest disappointer her. “All that counts in life is intentions.” What were the intentions of Enron’s and Arthur Anderson’s leadership as they played their financial games? Intentions are very self-serving, feel-good things. A wise friend once told our son, “We judge ourselves by our intentions; others judge us by our actions. – Mary Blair Watts, Smith County, Texas. March 2002 Reader’s Digest.

My Story: Good intentions were what my second manager in the Old Bell System had in mind when I approached him with a question about a problem I was having shortly after I went to work for him in Corpus Christi. I can still see in my mind’s eye walking into his office and asking for some advice on a problem I was having.

Some background: Our organization was responsible for certain reports done each month but it didn’t end there. We were also responsible for the service results of several small rural Texas telephone offices but actually had very little power to get the result improved. Basically all we could do was insure the service measuring equipment was sampling and recording properly and report the measured results each month. If the measurement results were not good then we coordinated with our field maintenance personnel to visit the offending office and fix the problem(s).

Occasionally the maintenance people had priorities on their to-do lists that were more important to them than taking care of what they felt were “our problems”. I was having a couple of offices whose dial tone speed was slow and I needed maintenance to checkout the causes and remedy them so the measured results and customer service improved. Maintenance seemed to be ignoring my requests so I went to my manger for some suggestions on how to remedy the situation.

The first thing the manager did after hearing me out was to swivel around in his chair and start dialing his counterpart in the maintenance department. In a few short minutes he was able to get a commitment out the other manager to have the two offices checked out later that day and the problems fixed within one business day.

This was all well and good but I felt like a child who had to go to his father to get the class bully off his neck.  The phone call did fix the problem but after this happened a time or two more I discovered it had injured the relationship with my counterpart in the maintenance department. Fortunately I had a good relationship with my manager and was able to sit down one day and explain to him the side effect or “collateral damage” of his attempts to help me. Besides, all I learned from the encounters was that he would solve my problems if I took them to him. That is not what I wanted or needed so we worked out a little strategy to keep him from swiveling and calling instantaneously when I asked for a little helpful insight to solve a problem. His intentions had been good but they were also causing problems for me. I also learned how effective a case of beer left at the local pub can be in getting maintenance issues fixed in small central dial offices in southeast Texas.

A more recent personal example occurred this past fall of 2013. I wrote about it on a different blog site of mine:

“I want to mention that across the street from me lives a single mother with her four children. Nick, her oldest, is eight and in third grade. Nick and I have become friends and we have walked Mia around the block many times over the years. Eventually he learned how to ride a bike so his trips around the block became much shorter than mine. During the winter we even helped each other shovel our walks.

When I returned to McCook this past October I decided that his mother could use a little help so I offered to keep Nick two afternoons after school so she only had three children to contend with for a few hours. I also offered to help Nick with his home work during our time together. On Nick’s first afternoon with me he brought his home work along with math flash cards.

Our routine settled in and each day we would do a little homework, reading and bake cookies or use an easy to make cake mix. We would practice reading the directions. He would measure out the ingredients, set the over temperature and timer. Mia got to lick the mixing bowl clean.   I quickly learned that Nick was in the special education classes at school, he read at an early 1st grade level and his math was not much better. He also did not understand what he was reading if he did get most of the words correct in a sentence. I noticed that he tended to talk in short sentences and to leave out words. He would say “I go home.” In place of “I want to go home.” He also struggled with remembering how to pronounce many words. He would struggle through trying to pronounce it out then just guess at a word it might be. Never the correct one.

One morning, while reading The Brain That Changes Itself,  Doidge wrote that children with learning disabilities can leave out the central words of a sentence. Immediately I thought of Nick and his learning problems. Up until that time I did not realize that his  problems might be due to LDs. There were areas in his cerebral cortex under developed, possibly since birth. It was at that point that I seriously started to learn about brain plasticity and learning disabilities in children.  I began spending more time each day searching through The Brain That Changes Itself for anything that might help me work with Nick.”

The thing I failed to mention about this example was that I had, on a couple of occasions, gotten stern with Nick when he was having trouble staying on task while attempting to read. When that happened he would look up at me and say “Don’t you  like me?” When I realized he could not read because of the lack of the necessary connections in his brain I pretty much felt like a louse. In other words I had become away of his real problem and I immediately changed my behavior toward him and also my teaching methods. My intention to help Nick had been a good one but I did not have the necessary knowledge to start off using the correct methods to really help him.

Here is an interesting online article from FT Magazine: The Shrink & The Sage: Are good intentions enough?

Now, take a minute to think back and answer this question. Is there a time in your past where your good intentions in managing others (even your children) turned sour and backfired? Did the employee get hurt, quit, retaliate against you or take it out on your business? If so, then you might want to purchase and read the book or at a minimum, read on. 
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Neuroplasticity-part 6 Strokes and Brain Plasticity

The understanding of neuroplasticity and stroke recovery go hand in hand.

The following are the first 3 paragraphs from this site. I found the material good but at the end they offer a VHS video for sale. I not sure about the value of the video but I did find the written material very informative.
    “Brain plasticity, also known as neuroplasticity, suggests that the location of a given function in the brain (for example, speech) can move to another area of the brain. This transfer can be activated by repetitive learning.
    In the case of stroke, brain plasticity refers to healthy brain cells taking over the functions of damaged brain cells.
    This means that certain lost functions, such as speech and language, may reemerge as the result of intensive rehabilitation.” http://www.speech-therapy-on-video.com/brainplasticity.html 

I found lots of videos and material on strokes and the plasticity of the brain. The following are just a few of what I watched. If you need/want something different or more just go looking. If you should find something you feel I should put on this page to share with others please let me know. Steve

Listen to this 9 minute video from a recovered stroke survivor.

 

A good, straight forward talk about strokes and what happens.

………………………………… Dr. Jennifer Yao …………..

The Doctor has several more videos out there that you can watch on Youtube.com

 

Steve
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Neuroplasticity-part 7 Aging and Brain plasticity

I’ve arrived where my journey started; trying to learn what I need to do to sharpen my brain.

Here’s a quick 4 minute video to get started:

The following 2006 video by Dr. Michael Merzenich (Calisthenics for the Older Brain ) on youtube is a little old but I think it is just as valid today as it was in 2006. If you are only interested in the part on the aging brain start viewing at 50 minutes and 24 seconds (50:24).  In the video he mentions the site http://positscience.com as under construction. It’s up and going today. In the video he gave me lots of reasons why I should change my daily habits and need to learn new things, i.e. exercise my brain. View the video and I think you will come away with a good reason why you too need to make a positive changes.

Here is a page from positscience.com which you should probably read before going any further: http://www.positscience.com/news/use-it-or-lose-it-principles-brain-plasticity

So now that we know we need to change our brain lifestyle, what do we do? Here is Dr. Daniel Amen’s TED video. I don’t know much about his brain scans but his list of what is bad for the brain and what is good look about right to me. You should probably do your own research.

Here is the list of things that Dr. Amen says hurt our brain:

  • Brain injuries
  • Drugs and alcohol
  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • SAD diet
  • Environmental toxins
  • Lack of exercise
  • ANTS (automatic negative thoughts)

Here is his list of things we should be doing to Enhance our brain:

  • Positive social connections
  • New learning
  • Great diet
  • Sleep
  • Exercise
  • Physical health
  • Healthy anxiety
  • Meditation
  • Gratitude
  • ANT killing

More material will be forth coming as I research the topic more.

Steve

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