If music be the food of health, play ON!


How is music processed?
How might we use it to support memory & brain health?

© Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC
Source: MedicalNewsToday

Music and Physical Health

In last week’s post, an original Tallis Steelyard tale from author Jim Webster, we saw how music awakened the soul of a woman who was struggling with dementia, barely alert until called by the song.

As I noted at the end:
Music has been well documented to remain in the minds of Alzheimer’s patients long after other memories and much of their Executive Functioning capabilities have faded.

Patients often retain memories of well-loved songs, which gives them a great deal of pleasure, and some can still play instruments. The description of life flooding back into formerly vacant eyes in response to music has been reported repeatedly.

Medical researchers have long noted that listening to or playing music can result in changes in our bodies, regardless of our age or current state of mental alertness, however.

For example, lowered levels of the stress hormone cortisol have been observed in the presence of music. Better sleep and a lowered heart rate are associated with listening to music as well.

Even when you are a bit out of sorts, don’t you feel better immediately when a song comes on that reminds you of a particularly happy memory?

Science rings in

Dr. Charles Limb is a musician and surgeon who specializes in cochlear implants at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD. He has been researching how our brain makes that happen. He and his team analyzed neurological responses to a variety of music, especially jazz and hip-hop.

In studies with magnetic resonance imaging [MRI], they have been particularly interested in finding out which areas of the brain “light up” when jazz musicians are improvising or rappers are “freestyling.”

The Universal Language?

They observed that the areas of the brain activated when jazz players are improvising are actually the language centers of the brain (the inferior frontal gyrus and the posterior superior temporal gyrus).

When rappers were freestyling with their eyes closed within the MRI scanner, the researchers observed major activity in the visual and motor coordination areas of the brain.

  • Connection to movement centers certainly makes sense, if you think about it. Since rappers are usually moving when they rap, those areas are likely to be brain-linked.
  • But the visual areas?  Hmmmmmm . . . neurolinked to a video perhaps, or choreography?

Seeing when you listen

Haven’t you noticed that when you listen to music your brain sends you visual information as well — a flash of the club where you first danced to the tune, or the face of your partner when it came on the radio, right before you kissed for the first time?

Some people imagine scenes of their own private movie as they hear certain orchestral arrangements. Others report seeing abstract colors and shapes that flow and change with any music they hear. Maybe you see a few moments of a particular marketing video?

I challenge anyone who’s ever watched one of Michael Jackson’s music videos to listen to that track on the radio without at least a flash or two of a moving image!

Even in a Scanner

The brain seems to call upon its language, visual and motor coordination mechanisms when imagining and responding creatively to music both, even when the participants are lying still, eyes closed, and within a scanner.

In fact, Dr. Limb’s team found that the areas of the brain that were formerly associated with interpreting music – the angular gyrus and the supra marginal gyrus, which process semantic information (meaning, vocabulary, etc.) – are deactivated while musicians are improvising.

So what does that indicate about memory and healthy brain aging?

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Brains Need SYSTEMS to Develop


Learning CHANGES the Structure of the Brain:

Impossible in the face of chaos

by Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, A.C.T, MCC, SCAC

“You don’t cure a different organization of the brain;
you find ways and strategies of helping that brain learn [. . .] in a different way.
It’s not about cure, it’s about teaching different ways.

~ Maryanne Wolf
reading expert & author of Proust and the Squid

Building a Brain

While it is true that no two brains develop in a manner that is exactly the same, babies come into this world with a brain specialized for learning – a pattern-recognition device designed to bootstrap learning into a structure of additional patterns.

The brain develops in a manner not dissimilar to the way in which a computer uses certain hardwired sub-routines to locate and activate still more code that allows for the loading and interpretation of additional programs — which facilitates their use for creating new ideas.

The human brain builds the new structures and networks it needs to allow it to continue to learn.  The process by which it does that work is known as neuroplasticity.

Not all that long ago, most of the science-crowd mistakenly believed that there was a relatively early window in which neuroplasticity operated. It was once thought that all of the neurons our brains were ever going to have developed within that window, and the systems the brain used to learn were set after a particular point in childhood.

Baby brains develop amazingly quickly

If you’ve ever spent any time at all around an infant, you might recall their unfocused stare and their unselfconscious movements and facial expressions.

It may not be immediately apparent to parents who spend day to day time with the baby, but adults who visit only occasionally are usually amazed at how much more that child is able to interact with the world each time.

Suddenly, it seems, that tiny child is able to focus on an object of fascination.  S/he responds to the direction of a particular sound and reaches for things. The baby exhibits what adults recognize as curiosity about the world around them and develops preferences.

Order out of Chaos

Babies come into a world of seeming chaos: sights, sounds, temperature, texture and more, with little in place to help them make sense of it all. They have to build the brain that will help them learn for the rest of their lives.

The task of their amazingly neuroplastic infant brains is to learn to recognize the constants that help them to derive meaning from a cacophony of stimulation that the majority of us learn to filter out – eventually.

And it is the task of the adults around them
to provide those constants.

As infants learn to recognize the simplest thing, as far as adult sensibilities are concerned, their brains grow and change their structures. As the baby’s brain learns that certain types of vibrations need to be visually interpreted, others audially, and so forth, it reorganizes its pathways for the most efficient recognition and interpretation of incoming data. It condenses the complexities of sensory awareness to comprehend “meaning.”

Assimilation of the basic concept of Mom, for example, requires a complex network of connections that, very quickly, allows the baby to understand that the source of his or her food is mother, and that she is one single element:

  • those hands are part of my mother,
  • those arms are part of my mother
  • that face is my mother smiling
  • that other face is still my mother, frowning
  • those sounds make up my mother’s voice
  • and I have a voice too

A lot of brain-based learning must take place before the baby assigns emotional or intellectual meaning to what s/he observes, eventually able to extrapolate expectations of sensory awareness to form new ideas about his or her world like, “I have a voice too.”

A LOT for our brains to learn

It makes sense that it might have seemed that brain-development is essentially a childhood task. Because young children have so much to learn so quickly, brain growth and change seems, by comparison, to stop in adulthood.

It has been postulated that, because of the size limitations of the birth canal in an upright-walking human being, our babies are born essentially nine months premature.  The increase in size of the infant’s brain after birth is phenomenal, compared to the growth in an adult brain. A baby’s brain doubles in size in their first year alone. By age three it has reached 80 percent of its adult volume.

Highways and Byways

It is a logical extrapolation that after a certain point, the brain would use what it has built in a manner similar to the way in which a city uses it’s roads to connect grocery store to neighborhood to a particular location in the center of town. There may be a hundred ways to drive from place to place, but nobody sober cuts through yards to form new roads that were never there before.

Except, with the brain, that hasn’t turned out to be exactly true.
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Good news on brain-aging from The Nun Study


Healthy Brains for a Lifetime

We really DON’T have to lose it as we age

by Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, A.C.T, MCC, SCAC
Reflections on Cognitive Impairment and Dementia Protection

Cognitive decline is NOT inevitable

A quick review before some data that will bring smiles to a lot of worried faces (especially for writers!):

There is still a lot to learn from School Sisters of Notre Dame “Nun” Study — the longitudinal scientific exploration of aging and Alzheimer’s disease originally funded by the National Institute on Aging.  Data, tissue, and genetic material collected in this landmark study will, no doubt, prove invaluable to a great many meta-studies long into the future.

Thanks to the Sisters’ unprecedented generosity of spirit, however, we now know a lot more about how the brain ages than we did, even a few years ago.  We also know more about dementia and what factors seem to be neuro-protective.

The oft-cited study centers on a group of a relatively homogeneous order of 678 Roman Catholic sisters (American, no drug use, little or no alcohol or tobacco, similar housing and reproductive histories, etc.) — which minimizes extraneous variables that may confound other similar research.

Along with, ultimately, hundreds of others in their order, a few brave nuns agreed to volunteer for a long-term study of aging and Alzheimer’s disease, hoping to provide evidence that might be used to teach the rest of us how to escape the worst ravages of this heartbreaking illness.

To repeat a comment from my last article [You don’t HAVE to lose it as you age: Moving Past Mind-Blips and “Senior Moments”]:

Upon autopsy, even some of the individuals discovered to have what used to be accepted as “positive Alzheimer’s identifiers” (senile plaques and neurofibrillary tangles), managed to escape the behavioral devastation of the disease.

Others had only recently begun to exhibit signs of mental decline in the year or two before their deaths (at 80 and beyond), despite brains that would have predicted a significantly earlier onset of dementia.

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You don’t HAVE to lose it as you age


Moving Past Mind-Blips and “Senior Moments”

Maintaining & improving your brain’s vitality as you age

by Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, A.C.T, MCC, SCAC
Reflections on Cognitive Impairment and Dementia Protection

“A mind equipped with a wide range of
previously formed
pattern recognition devices
can withstand the effects of neuroerosion
for a long time.”

~ Dr. Elkhonon Goldberg, PhD, from
The Wisdom Paradox 


Along with suggestions designed to help, this article begins to debunk the myth of “to be expected” age-related cognitive decline — as it explains the mechanics of memory and outlines the functional trajectory of the healthy brain as time marches on.

In the Memory Issues Series, anyone currently struggling to fit into a neurotypical mold, even if you are GenX or younger, will find a lot of information that will help you develop effective you-specific strategies to work around some of the things that give you fits and shut you down.


Our Worst Nightmare

Staying in SHAPE as we age (Source HERE)

Most people who have lived with cognitive decline in an up close and personal fashion (in particular, the ravages of any of the dementias in a loved one), frequently report a back-of-the-mind concern that they are looking into a mirror of their future selves.

Time marches on, and we’re all getting older. The first wave of Baby Boomers – that spike in the population statistics once Johnny came marching home from World War II – turned 65 in 2012.

With the third-act aging of more and more of the Boomers, this conversation will become increasingly frequent, as those back-of-the-mind concerns rise to conscious awareness and become the worries of a greater portion of our population.

Take a D-E-E-P breath — you don’t HAVE to lose it as you age!!

Prevention is the better part of valor

You wouldn’t wait until the day before the marathon to train for it, would you? Same thing with healthy brain aging! Don’t wait until decline begins to start doing something about it — if you want to experience the rosy finish you can expect if you begin to employ neuro-protective techniques NOW

Good news for most Boomers –
it’s not too late to start turning things around!

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Cognitive Impairment and Dementia Protection


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Maintaining Cognitive Vitality

by Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, A.C.T, MCC, SCAC

treadmill_GreenSuit“A mind equipped with a wide range of
previously formed
pattern recognition devices
can withstand the effects of neuroerosion
for a long time.”

~ Dr. Elkhonon Goldberg, PhD, from
The Wisdom Paradox 

Our Worst Nightmare

How we hate the idea of losing our
hottie-bodies as we get older!

But that’s not the worst of it.

Probably the most frightening thing — for most of us old enough to truly understand that we will not live forever, anyway — is the idea that we might lose control of our MINDS as we age.

What strikes fear in our hearts is that we’ll lose the links to words, places, our fondest memories, the names of our children — the very things that define our sense of SELF.

Those who have lived with cognitive decline in an up close and personal fashion (in particular, the ravages of any of the dementias in a loved one), frequently report a back-of-the-mind concern that they are looking into a mirror of their future selves.

The first wave of Baby Boomers – that spike in the population statistics once Johnny came marching home from World War II – turned 65 last year.

Wow.

With the third-act aging of more and more of the Boomers, this conversation will become more and more frequent, as those back-of-the-mind concerns rise to conscious awareness.

Take a D-E-E-P breath — you don’t HAVE to lose it as you age!!

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