Monday, May 22, 2017

Internet and Our Therapy Couch

Internet as Our Therapy Couch

            I have been fascinated by human behavior since about the 9th grade and that has not changed some 35 years later. Having been trained as a clinical neuropsychologist it is of interest to me that so many people use the Internet as their vehicle for expressing a wide-range of emotions, personal feelings, and even innermost secrets. In no small way, the Internet with FB and other social media has become the “therapy couch” of today.

            There is perhaps a good thing about using the Internet in such a personal way and that is it provides all a means of expression and personal reflection. It is also true that much of what I see reflects a searching, sometimes a hint of desperation, loneliness, and cry for help. Sitting behind the keyboard is a person emoting, searching, and reaching out. I get concerned about the sense of personal isolation and lack of in person connection or relatedness such a person might be experiencing.

            The emotions certainly are wide ranging to include sadness, anger, happiness, pride, hostility, anxiety, fear, and other. The other reality of such emotional catharsis on social media is that readers of the catharsis can experience surprise or even a type of recoiling. It is true some have gone so far as to stop their participation on social media because of the evaporation of personal boundaries.

            I am often asked about the role of technology on the human brain and there is no doubt it is and will continue to affect our brain structurally and functionally. There seems to be less attention paid to the psychological aspects of our use of social media. I am not sure if it primarily good or bad, but I do believe there are many who are using social media for cathartic expression and that the psychotherapy couch of today is rapidly becoming keyboard-based.

Dr. Nussbaum
Brain Health Center

Monday, April 3, 2017

Time to Rethink Brain Health and Dementia

Common Sense for Brain Health and Alzheimer’s Dementia

            I have studied dementia for many years and have cared for hundreds and probably thousands of persons suffering Alzheimer’s Dementia (AD) over the past 30 years. At this time I continue to believe this is a very complex disease and unfortunately, I do not believe we have a comprehensive and national strategy to understand, research, manage, and combat this disease. If we do not change our approach AD will eventually overwhelm our emotional, practical, and economic resources.

            Our research programs have really been far too targeted on cellular bases and this has not lead to any advancement of treatment. It is refreshing to see research turning somewhat to the immune system and inflammation as other avenues of insight. True, we continue to develop more sensitive technologies to detect earlier presence of the disease, but it is the treatment and prevention that is most important and we should just presume this disease starts in childhood in the brain as some research suggests and as I indicated from common sense even without research years ago. It is a proactive and neurodegenerative disease process. Are we to believe there is a magical age threshold when normal turns to disease in the brain? That is possible, but more likely is the idea that we need to think about neurodegeneration as lifelong and therefore need a strategic plan for brain health that is equally lifelong.

            Proactive health promotion is rather foreign to the United States and to our medical institutions. We are great at detecting disease and intervening, a rather reactive model. It is not of value to conditions that are proactive and degenerative. We need a proactive strategy built on the pillar of health promotion that is lifelong in duration. That means beginning at the earliest of ages, indeed in the womb.

            We certainly have no cure or even prevention of AD. However, while research is needed to continue on searching for such, we can and should add a National Strategy for Brain Health that is integrated into the very fabric of our society. The goal is to not only educate the general public of our ability to shape our brains for health, but to encourage and assist in the application of such shaping where we live, work, and interact daily. While I am not alone, I have worked on educating the general public for over 15 years on my own Brain Health Lifestyle ® that includes: physical activity, mental stimulation, nutrition, socialization, and spirituality.

Consider the following ideas:

1.        I have long championed a basic set of behavioral tips be given to   every mother-and-father-to-be so they can be empowered with             what behaviors can help shape their baby’s brain while        developing in the womb. Imagine if every hospital and birthing     center in the US provided such information. A few basic tips            might            include the parents talking and even singing to the baby in the      womb, the importance of brain health nutrition for the mother      and baby, and proper exercise for the mother that will be             experienced by the baby.

2.        We need to create Brain Health environments with proper stimulation and approaches that shape our toddlers’ brain that    occurs prior to onset of oral language. One example is the power   of sign language to propel the development of the articulatory    system and to help increase IQ. The latter has been found to relate           to reduced risk of AD later in life. Certainly, promoting each child’s      sensory systems and curiosity, filling the environment with love   safety and attention, and promoting brain health nutrition are             good ideas. This is how proactive brain health works.

3.        Our education system is not built on the premise of shaping            brains for health. Our children tend not to sleep enough, eat             unhealthy foods, and schools now have safety issues as major         concerns and unsafe environments are not conducive to learning.        Once again, even without focusing on curriculum, the school            environment, timing of classes, and even basic education on what            foods can help brain processing is needed. Teachers should all             understand they are shaping brains and hence can benefit from    knowing what structures in the brain are critical to learning and          how environment has a major role in brain health. Schools should            all begin with meditation and mindfulness as well as stretching     and even some aerobic exercise to prepare the brain to learn.         Obviously, we need to promote better sleep patterns and a           healthy breakfast and lunch to assist the brain in learning,   creating, and thinking.

4.        Our corporate and work environments can promote brain health by understanding that the Brain Health Lifestyle ® can be           integrated into the work culture. Some examples are promoting    less sitting,             more movement, more socialization and critical           thinking, more brain health nutrition in the cafĂ© and vending         machines, and methods of stress reduction such as meditation,           prayer, and             yoga onsite. Communication between men and women (a brain function) should be emphasized to enhance         understanding and even the bottom line.

5.        Our medical system can be encouraged to conduct mental status   examinations with neuropsychological testing each year   beginning at age 50. It strikes me as odd that we have set ages for            different medical procedures for men and women across the            lifespan, but nothing for the brain! Medical students should have brain health and lifestyle placed in their curriculum so they can          teach their patients how to shape their brains for health       regardless of age.

6.        Technology can certainly help educate persons on the power of      the brain and continue to create fun and engaging tools such as           we find in brain fitness and cognitive monitoring to keep people    thinking and creating. The same can be said for media and           educational organizations that can help to tell the story of our        individual empowerment to lead a brain health lifestyle ®.

7.        Physical fitness companies and the entire mindfulness industry    can do a better job of integrating brain health into their focus and      understanding so all clients and consumers know that when they             exercise, meditate, do yoga, etc. they are shaping their brains for       health.

8.        Home is our primary brain health environment and it is        worthwhile to review how brain healthy your home is. Novelty        and complexity promotes brain health as does socialization,            spirituality and stress reduction, nutrition, and physical activity. Is             your home promoting these lifestyle domains and can some small            changes be made to enhance the home environment.

I would hope that such understanding of our own individual role in shaping our brains across our lives continues to become available to more persons. Those who cope with fewer resources are most vulnerable and in need for the things I mentioned above, but all can benefit. Beyond individual responsibility is our society and our approach as promoted by our nation. The time for a real comprehensive and proactive approach to brain health is desperately needed now. It will require a national effort with changes made to all the institutional sectors of our life as noted above. As such, many leaders are needed to work together on such a national strategy that ultimately will define us as a nation. It will require money and effort, but the payoff is beyond measurement.

The cruel reality of AD is that a brain loses access to its life story and we all lose some access to those we love so much who fall victim to this disease. We all hope and pray for a cure for this devastating disease that will cripple our society and world in the next 30 years if we do not change. I hope we can consider a change in our approach, with an emphasis on proactive brain health promotion at the earliest of ages, and a comprehensive national strategy that not only seeks to cure, but also champions brain health!

Paul D. Nussbaum, Ph.D., ABPP
Board Certified Clinical and Geropsychology
Fellow National Academy of Neuropsychology
Adjunct Professor of Neurological Surgery
University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine
President Brain Health Center


Tuesday, December 13, 2016

A Few Thoughts on a Thought

A Few Thoughts on a Thought

Neuroscience continues to report research findings underscoring the importance of our mental activity and its impact on our health and wellbeing.  For years we have debated the mind-body interface and while that fascination continues today, I have little doubt that we are narrowing in on a rather foundational idea: Our ability to heal and to alter our physiology might lie in the neurochemical and electrical impulses originating from a thought.

I have spoken and written about our Reward System, the highly intricate and older structures deep in the brain that not only provide us with pleasure and joy, but also when stimulated apparently enhances our immunes system. If true, we have discovered one pathway for the internal healing power I (and others) have promoted for years.

Interestingly, spiritual and religious behaviors continue to be forwarded as a powerful stimulator of the Reward System. We have the power to choose our thoughts and to experience the consequences of such thoughts and thinking. Some research even suggests the brain is guided by our thoughts and perceptions and that this is paramount our body’s defense mechanisms in fighting disease.

In short, I want to emphasize the continued import of a single thought, of a thematic pattern of thoughts and how such thinking on your part has a direct and significant impact on your overall health and wellbeing.

Here is to happy and positive thoughts.

Dr. Nussbaum

Friday, July 29, 2016

Massaging Your Reward System Might Bring Healing Power!

For some time I have written and spoken about the power of the human brain and my speculative belief that the brain contains the power to heal. We are simply at a point in our evolution that such power has not been tapped or understood. In some circles, such speculation is routinely refuted as nonsense. I will remain fixed on my belief and time will evince what I believe.

The Human Brain is simply too complex for us to not have the ability to manage our health from within. The brain carries the blueprint for what the rest of the body is to do and this is precisely why we are alone in our ability to derive happiness or misery from a single thought!

In my recent book, What is the Purpose of My Brain: Spiritual Healing and Salvation (2016-Tate Publishing), I explore the importance of the reward system in our brain. This relatively old collection of neural structures deep inside our brain is the area that is responsible for us feeling pleasure, joy, and most importantly Love. Love is the greatest medicine we have and trumps all others. Love is God and in my book I make the argument that our brains have been granted us to commune (or refute) God.

I argue that we have the ability to massage our reward system through expression of love, forgiveness, faith, humility, kindness, and hope. These are the lessons taught us by St. Paul many years ago and I am simply suggesting they are the neurospiritual medicines that can bring us health and peace. We have to practice though on a daly basis and our brain will flood with positive neurochemicals and hormones.

I read a recent published article with great interest as it seems to back my speculation. The paper was published in Nature Medicine and the argument is that by "ticking" our reward system we help to enhance our immune system. This is a specific example of my idea that the brain carries the blueprint to affect the body. It underscores again the mind-body connection. While this study was done in mice there is reason to believe that such a response may also occur in humans.

If we fiind that the immune system is enhanced and triggered when our reward system gets engaged we have the potential for an entire new therapeutic approach and indeed a pathway to self-healing!

It is my contention, that our technological advancement is simply exposing what we should expect, the brain has the mechanism for health and healing!

Dr. Nussbaum

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Thanks Mom

A Day for Mom

My Mother
My Mother, my friend so dear
throughout my life you're always near.
A tender smile to guide my way
You're the sunshine to light my day.
Author Unknown

I can recall being taught in my earlier days that I should love and respect my mother because you only get one in this world. To this day, I remember that free advice and do my best to follow it. My mother is 92 and blessed with a keen mind, a strong spirit, and complete independence. She is quite stubborn though I do believe one needs to be stubborn to live to 92 and beyond. Getting older and keeping one’s health is not a passive sport. That is why living a healthy lifestyle is so important beginning early in life.

We have a day in the United States called “Mother’s Day” and it is meant to be a time to stop and reflect on the blessings of having a mother. I understand and respect that not all relationships with a mother are positive. However, most are indeed not only positive, but powerful and everlasting. Mother’s Day is a celebration world- wide typically celebrated in the months of March or May and honors the mother of a family as well as motherhood, maternal bonds, and the influence of mothers in society.

History of Mother’s Day

In the United States, the Mother’s Day celebration began in the early 20th century. It is not related to the many celebrations of mothers and motherhood throughout the world over thousands of years, such as the Greek cult to Cybele, the Roman festival of Hilaria, or the Christian Mothering Sunday celebration. Mother’s Day is celebrated by at least 40 countries on an annual basis.

According to Wikipedia, the modern holiday of Mother’s Day was first celebrated in 1908 when Anna Jarvis held a memorial for her mother at St. Andrew’s Methodist Church in WV.  The International Mother’s Day shrine is now housed at St. Andrew’s Methodist Church. Her campaign to make Mother’s Day a recognized holiday in the U.S. began in 1905, the year her mother died. Her mother was a peace activist who cared for wounded soldiers of the American Civil War and created Mother’s Day Work Clubs to address public health issues. Ana wanted to honor her mother by continuing the work she started and to set aside a day to honor all mothers, because she believed mothers do more for you than anyone.

In 1908, the United States Congress rejected a proposal to make Mother’s Day an official holiday. However, Anna Jarvis’ efforts lead to all states observing Mother’s Day by 1911 with some recognizing it as a local holiday, the first being West Virginia in 1910. In 1914, Woodrow Wilson signed a proclamation designating Mother’s Day, held on the second Sunday in May as a national holiday to honor mothers.

Early Ideas on the Roles of Mothers

I can recall in my early studies in psychology the strong emphasis placed mothers with raising children. Indeed, there was an almost overt neglect of the role of fathers, something that has now been recognized as wrong since both the mother and father are so important to children’s development. However, the role and importance of the mother in our lives cannot be overestimated.

Throughout the years the roles that mothers have assumed have varied by generation. In the early part of the 20th century mothers took on a traditional role of raising the children and fortifying the home. Today in the 21st century it is quite common to see women working as hard and as much in the workforce as men. It is also true that some women continue to choose to stay out of the workforce and to manage the home. Still others serve many roles such as employee or business owner, homemaker, and spouse. The modern day mother in the United States is incredible, but the same is true since our nation was born.

Value of Mom

You are the only one who can determine and define the value of your mom. Mothers in general provide so much that it is nearly impossible to list. Mothers first give unconditional love in big doses, care and compassion, an unending ear always present to listen, common sense, direction, support, confidence, and the ability to forgive and forget. Mothers are our biggest cheerleader and best friend. Mom knows exactly when things are not right with us and she can set us straight using some tough love, soft love, but always with love. Maybe we get all these goodies from mom because we came from mom and we are always a part of mom.

I call my mother every day and we discuss sports, family, politics, current events, her day and memories. At 92 I realize these calls are a blessing and that time on our planet is not infinite. I continue to try to live by the lesson taught me earlier in my life that we only get one mother. In some ways, Mother’s Day is really every day especially if we understand how important she is in our lives.

I hope every mother who reads this will feel appreciated, loved, and respected. You are a great person and someone so vital to your children and family. As a grown man, I am grateful to my mother, the mother of my children, and to all mothers who provide everything to us so that our lives can be filled with joy, love, and grace.

Happy Mother’s Day,

Dr. Nussbaum