Sunday, May 2, 2010

Hands-free phones also risky: study

Cellphone calls -- whether made on a hand-held or hands-free device -- contribute to driver distraction and risky behaviour on the road, according to a new report by the U.S. National Safety Council.
The report, Understanding the Distracted Brain: Why Driving While Using Hands-free Cellphones is Risky Business, references more than 30 scientific studies and reports. It concludes that using the phone requires the brain to multi-task, a process it cannot safely do while driving.
Cellphone use while driving not only impairs driving performance, but also weakens the brain's ability to capture driving cues, the reports said.
It found that drivers who use cellphones tend to "look at" but not "see" up to 50 per cent of the information in their driving environment. A form of "inattention blindness" occurs where drivers are having difficulty monitoring their surroundings and identifying potential hazards and responding to unexpected situations.
The NSC estimated that one out of every four motor vehicle crashes involves cellphone use at the time of the crash.
"Cellphone use while driving has become a serious public health threat," said Janet Froetscher, president and CEO of NSC. "This white paper provides the necessary background and context for lawmakers and employers considering distracted driving legislation and policies.
Several U.S. and Canadian jurisdictions have passed laws banning the use of cellphones but allowing hands-free devices while driving.
"These laws give the false impression that hands-free phones are a safe alternative, when the evidence is clear they are not," said Froetscher. "Understanding the distraction of the brain will help people make the right decision and put down their cellphones while driving."

Widows take up brain cancer fight

BRAIN cancer strikes so fast it takes your breath away. Or in the case of Sue Dale, widow of the late great Matt Price, it took her loved one's breath away in just seven weeks from his diagnosis. Or in the case of Sue Dale, widow of the late great Matt Price, it took her loved one's breath away in just seven weeks from his diagnosis.
Three days before that, there was no sign anything was wrong.
"Seven weeks -- we went from a normal, happy, healthy Matt to one day him saying, `I'm not feeling that well'," she recalls of her husband, The Australian's much-loved and respected parliamentary sketch writer, who died in November 2007.
Seven weeks is fast, even for brain cancer, but many patients with the disease fare only slightly better. This creates problems not just for their doctors, but for researchers trying to find the cause of the illness.
"It's what we call a `black box' disease -- we don't know what causes brain cancer, we don't know how to identify it or to catch it early, and there have been no fundamental changes to treatments for over 30 years," says Andrew Penman, chief executive of the Cancer Council NSW.
The figures say it all. There were just over 1400 new cases of the disease in Australia in 2006, representing 1.3 per cent of all cancers -- but 2.7 per cent of cancer deaths. Five-year survival is just 19 per cent -- one of the lowest success rates in the nation.
Encouraging awareness, and fundraising to improve research into the illness is the purpose of the council's inaugural Brain Cancer Action Week, launched yesterday at the Prime Minister's Sydney residence of Kirribilli House by federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon.
Sue Dale helped to launch the week with three other widows of famous Australians claimed by the disease: Gail O'Brien, whose cancer surgeon husband Chris O'Brien died in June last year; Marcella Zemanek, wife of broadcaster Stan Zemanek; and Annette Olle, whose husband Andrew died in 1995.
Ms O'Brien said her husband's diagnosis was "so shocking" and that the public had little idea of the "agony and anguish" his illness had caused.
"I would hate to think that in 10 to 20 years someone gets the same diagnosis as Chris, and still has the same prognosis, and still has to go through what we went through," she said.

Eye Blinking Signs Woolgathering

Eye Blinking.Sensed an unwanted barrier between you and your surroundings, even when your mind is in attention? That’s when your eyelids provide this barrier and tend to blink too much, not interested to see the world, a research by Neuroscientists said.
When 15 volunteers were tested to read a book on the computer screen, a sensor was put up to record their eye movements and the time and frequency of each eye flicker. This experiment became successful to check the focus of the participants in reading, in accordance to the number of blinks their eye does. Whenever the partakers blinked their eyes constantly, it was a sign of wandering of their minds from reading.
Neuroscientist Dr. Daniel Smilek , University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, said, "What we suggest is that when you start to mind-wander, you start to gate the information even at the sensory endings – you basically close your eyelid so there's less information coming into the brain".
This study has led to a swing over how scientists used to think about the human mind. Both the mind and the body are in its place and aren’t ignorant about the world, but its only when your eyes start closing by itself too often, you realize that your thoughts too, are roving. The journal Psychological Science publishes the research.

Sharpen your brain

Learning is said to be stored in our brain. To my understanding learning never ends as long as we live. Tuning of our brain at regular intervals is must to keep your mind agile and to sustain or enhance good memory power. Keeping and tuning your brain and mind to be young, lies in your constant effort to pamper and massage it in the right direction. Different kind of reading, thinking, understanding and innovative thoughts can be a good workout for your brain to maintain its health for long. Take a new hobby by your side along with your hectic schedule at home and work. It will work wonders for you. Patients who come to me do vouch such initiatives made them feel younger, boost energy and also they were able to play a pivotal role at work even under extended stressful pattern.

1. Read your way
Develop a habit of constant reading if you don’t have one. Read different kind of articles and try to analyse what you have read. This would help you to understand what you have read more effectively. This is a way to challenge your brain and think for yourself. This is a long-term solution to keep your brain healthy and young.

2. Learn your way
Good way to keep your brain young is to start learning something new at every stage of your life. I was surprised to know about Dr. John Samuel, who at almost age 80 tries to learn something new, unlearn, refine and design his own life at this stage of his life. His look at his life is to be both physically and mentally active at all times. To me, he is an evergreen person. The charm of a person increases the way a person learns, unlearns and sharpens his/ her brain and adapts to positive change. Such individuals are a blessing to their family and to the nation at large. The lesson we can learn from him is learning in the ways we can and challenge our brain to keep it healthy.

3. Teach your way
Each individual is good at something and have the ability or creative approach to understand or improvise that particular task he/she is good at. While teaching he/she develops an attitude to learn more systematically and in detail to master that subject as he/she have to describe it and also answers all questions raised by the learner. The learner’s question sometimes helps him/her to find out more details and refining knowledge of that particular subject.

4. Workout your way
Physical exertion is also essential to detox not only your body but brain. It is wise to work out for at least 20-30 minutes a day with some kind of activity to suit your interests like jogging, swimming, walking, aerobics, dance etc. The point to be kept in mind is that you should be enjoying what you do. This will help you in improvising your concentration and would spring you with a feel-good factor. One of my patients who is a Ph.D student and her loving husband would vouch for the same. Most important, learn to relax after your work out. Sleep for not more and not less than 7 hours. Meditate to keep your mind at rest for some time each day.

5. Play your way
Did you think games are for kids alone? Play games that challenge your brain to think like crossword puzzle, jigsaw etc. The idea here is to put your brain to task with fun. In playschool, kids are taught with fun games. This would ease burden of learning, would help brain to relax even while on work and also de-stress evenly while being stressed. Games can be very innovative when it comes to learning.

Dr.Kurien S Thomas is a writer, columnist, corporate trainer, psychotherapist, yoga therapist & counsellor; founder & executive director of Effective Living Inc., a global counseling& stress management clinic, which has an unique approach to psychotherapy, counseling, yoga therapy & wellness therapy. He also conducts seminars and workshops for corporate, schools, colleges and various organisations. His personal / online counseling on family issues, teenagers, parenting, health issues, obesity, slimming and other issues has been a boon to many.

Yawning may be brain’s way of controlling temperature

When she worked in banking, Nana Gigolaeva used to shift her eyes from left to right during her boss’ presentations.
“It made me focus so I wouldn’t yawn,” said Gigolaeva, 30, of Walnut Creek, Calif. “If I yawned while he was talking, well, God help us.”
If Gigolaeva’s boss knew a little something about thermoregulatory function, the maintenance of a consistent temperature, he’d take her yawn as a compliment. Psychologists and researchers who study such things said yawning has nothing to do with boredom, rudeness or even fatigue. Quite the contrary. Yawning helps cool down our brains so they function better, explained Andrew Gallup, a researcher who specializes in yawning at New York’s University of Binghamton.
“Our brains are like computers,” said Gallup, who conducted yawning studies in 2007 with his father, Gordon Gallup, of the State University of New York at Albany. “They operate most efficiently when cool. Our research indicates that we yawn in response to increased brain or body temperature.”
In fact, he added, comparative support shows that yawning provides a means for achieving increased alertness and arousal, especially when changing from one mental state to another, such as activity to inactivity or sleeping to waking. So, if anything, it’s a mechanism to recharge so you can better absorb information.
But try explaining that to a friend or colleague. When Sharon Sorscher of Walnut Creek is talking to someone and feels a yawn coming on, she closes her mouth to stifle it. “If I’m conscious of it, I’ll keep my mouth closed and try to do an internal yawn in the back of my throat,” said Sorscher, a 22-year-old student at Cal State East Bay. “It doesn’t always work.”
Nevada City, Calif., therapist and educator Patt Lind-Kyle isn’t concerned with the social stigmas attached to yawning. In fact, Lind-Kyle, a former health education professor at Foothill College in Los Altos, is such a believer that she encourages clients to induce yawning.
In her work, Lind-Kyle uses neuro-monitoring tools such as yawning to help increase health and manage stress. Slowing down your breath, flaring your nostrils while inhaling or watching someone else do it are all ways to induce yawning, she said.
“Yawning helps us relax,” said Lind-Kyle, author of “Heal Your Mind, Rewire Your Brain” (Energy Psychology Press, 2009). “It lifts our moods. It’s good stuff. And it’s free.”
And how’s this for trivia: The reason yawning is so common before sleep and upon waking is because those are the times when body temperature is at its highest, Andrew Gallup said.
“Sleep and body temperature vary inversely,” he explained. “So, extended sleep deprivation significantly increases brain and body temperature.” Think of it this way — if you’re suffering from chronic insomnia and yawning every 10 minutes, you need to catch up on sleep. But, you might also try taking a cold shower or jumping in a pool, the younger Gallup said.
You’ll be glad to know that one of the most commonly held beliefs about yawning — its contagiousness — is fact.
“We believe contagious yawning is a byproduct of primitive empathic mechanisms,” said Gordon Gallup, a psychology professor at State University of New York-Albany. “In a group situation, we evolved to yawn as a way to raise our overall mental processing and collective vigilance, say, against predators.”
Although all vertebrates yawn, only humans, chimps and baboons are contagious yawners, Andrew Gallup noted. Domesticated dogs are as well, but only when they see humans yawn, he added. Surprisingly, reading about or thinking about yawning or even hearing someone yawn is all it takes, Gordon Gallup said.
“It’s a very ubiquitous phenomenon,” he said. “Yawning begins in the womb, probably because it’s going to become a very important behavior later in life.”

Stroke (brain Attack) Part Iii– Ischemic Stroke

As we mentioned in part I, besides cancer and heart diseases stroke is the third leading cause of death. Recent estimates of stroke occurrences in U. S. place the number between 700,000 to 750,000 yearly, approximately 1/4 of all stroke victims die as a direct result of the stroke or its complications. Stroke is caused by uncontrolled diet that is high in saturated and trans fats as a result of bad cholesterol building up in the blood vessels that block the circulation of blood to the body including the brain. If oxygen is not delivered to the brain cells, some cells die off and can not reproduce, then you may have stroke. Other strokes happen when a blood vessel in the brain ruptures causing the cells in your brain to be deprived of oxygen. In this article, we will discuss ischemic stroke in great details since 80% of all strokes are ischemic.
A stroke occurs when there’s a problem with the amount of blood in your brain. The cause of ischemic stroke is that there is too little blood in the brain. They occur when the arteries to your brain are narrowed or blocked, causing severely reduced blood flow (ischemia). This deprives your brain cells of oxygen and nutrients, and cells may begin to die within minutes. The most common ischemic strokes are:
1. Thrombotic stroke:
These strokes are also sometimes referred to as large-artery strokes. The process leading to thrombotic stroke is complex and occurs over time. Thrombotic stroke might be caused by the arterial walls slowly thickening and hardening as a result of arteries being injured. Such injures signal the immune system to release white blood cells to the site causing stroke. Thrombotic stroke also occurs when the inner wall of arteries were injured in result of less nitric oxide being produced, causing the hardening of the arteries. If the blood clot then blocks the already narrowed artery and shuts off oxygen to part of the brain, we have a thrombotic stroke.
2. Embolic stroke
An embolic stroke occurs when a blood clot or other particle forms in a blood vessel away from your brain. It is usually caused by a dislodged blood clot that has traveled through the blood vessels until it becomes wedged in an artery. It is also caused by irregular beating in the heart’s two upper chambers. This abnormal heart rhythm can lead to poor blood flow and the formation of a blood clot.

Right brain learning

Hickein says that all children have the potential to be gifted in something.
Computers, television and video games are almost a part of nature for children growing up in this day and age, but if left unmoderated, exposure to these devices may endanger a child’s brain development.
While computer games may be good for the left brain development, parents need to know that it is important to strike a balance between their child’s right and left brains, said right brain education expert Pamela Sue Hickein.
Hickein, who is the founder of TweedleWink, a right brain education centre said: “There is a corpus callosum, which is a bridge linking the right and left brains and this is important because a person needs both the right and left brain to do things.”
She said that parents have a big role to play in contributing to a child’s brain development.
“If a child is gifted, it’s probably because the parent spends time with them.”
Emphasising the importance of a parent’s role, Hickein said that a young child has a very active right brain, and often there is no filter because the left brain is not yet active.
“This is why parents need to act as that filter, and make sure that only the positive things go in.”
She described the right brain as a sponge, with the ability to absorb everything the child sees or hears.
“The left brain only starts to develop when a child starts to talk. This is why toddlers and early pre-school children do matching, and they learn about shapes and colours. All these activities are developing the left brain.”
Using a right-to-left brain approach in educating children, Hickein said the classes at TweedleWink trained a child’s visual ability, vocabulary, geography and world customs education, music education, reading, maths, science and art.
As an example, Hickein said, “Art is a thought form that goes through the right brain, and is expressed by the left brain. So while artists need a very active right brain, they also need their left brain to express themselves, because without the left brain, their artistic thoughts cannot be processed.”
She said she also believed that it was important to find out what a child is interested in, and what their natural strengths are.
“It’s the same concept as work. If a child likes what they are learning, they will not feel like they are learning.”
After all, “All children have the potential to be gifted in something, they simply need to maximise their potential.”

Leptin action in brain associated with sepsis survival

The hormone leptin works within the central nervous system (CNS) aiding the body's defence mechanism to keep sepsis at bay, a new American research has found.

Sepsis is a life-threatening medical condition in which the entire body is overwhelmed by infection.

The study led by Matthias Tschvp, of University of Cincinnati's Metabolic Diseases Institute, and Charles Caldwell, of UC's surgery department, is the first to describe leptin's role in the control of immune response via the CNS.

Findings of the research have appeared in the Journal of Neuroscience, the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience.

Tschvp said: "Indirect evidence has previously indicated that the central nervous system might have a role in maintaining the immune system.

"For example, people with brain injuries appear to be at a higher risk for infection and sepsis. Sepsis is also a serious complication for stroke patients. What was lacking was any molecular mechanism to explain that relationship."

Researchers know that obesity causes an overproduction of leptin.

High leptin levels make receptors "deaf" to the hormone, resulting in a loss of leptin function (leptin resistance) that leads to higher food intake.

Diet-induced induced obese mice have a survival advantage in sepsis.

Because of this, the team hypothesized that leptin resistance, which is seen at neurons regulating body weight, may not be happening at the brain centers that regulate the immune system. To prove this, the team studied several leptin-deficient mouse models, including one that was missing leptin receptors everywhere except within the CNS.

They report that leptin, long thought to act directly on immune cells themselves, also mediates actions in the CNS.

They showed that leptin replacement improved the host response to a standard model of sepsis.

Leptin-dependent neurocircuitry, the authors say, is required for a proper immune response to sepsis, and damage to this circuitry, or even leptin deficiency, may lead to higher risk of death from sepsis.

The authors write: "Human congenital leptin deficiency is rare...with less than a few dozen patients reported worldwide to date. But there is a stunning number of recorded cases of death due to sepsis in this patient population."

Moreover, Tschvp said, this new finding gives researchers clues that could help in developing therapeutic targets for treating infection in people with damaged leptin-dependent neurocircuitry.