In the first study of its kind, veterans and civilians with traumatic brain injury showed improved cognitive performance and psychological and neural health following strategy-based cognitive training. The Department of Defense-funded study, published this week in Neuropsychological Rehabilitation, was conducted by an interdisciplinary team of cognitive neuroscientists, rehabilitation specialists, and neuroimaging experts from the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas.
“Veterans and others who have sustained traumatic brain injuries often experience persistent cognitive and psychological difficulties, such as depression and/or post traumatic stress disorder, which hinder day-to-day life activities,” said Dr. Sandra Bond Chapman, founder and chief director of the Center for BrainHealth and principal investigator on the study. “This study shows that strategy-based cognitive training focusing on abstract and innovative thinking not only improves cognitive areas critical to everyday life success but also improves brain blood flow to key regions of the brain and lessens depressive and stress-related symptoms.”
The study examined 60 individuals between the ages of 19 and 65 years of age who had sustained at least one traumatic brain injury previously. More than two-thirds of the participants had sustained a traumatic brain injury more than 10 years ago.
The participants were randomly assigned to either receive strategy-based brain training focused on complex abstraction and innovation or an educational, information-based program about how the brain works. Both programs offered 18 hours of training that was completed in 12 group sessions over an 8-week timeframe. All participants underwent extensive cognitive assessments and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). The researchers also measured symptoms of depression and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
The group who received the strategy-based cognitive training improved complex abstraction scores by more than 20% and memory scores by more than 30%. Participants in the strategy-based cognitive training group also reported 60% reduction in depressive symptoms as well as almost 40% reduction in symptoms related to post traumatic stress disorder. Regional brain blood flow to the frontal lobe, anterior cingulate and precuneus was also found to increase significantly following the strategy-based training as compared to the active comparison group.
“Previously, reduction in precuneus blood flow has been linked to severity of traumatic brain injury and symptoms of PTSD,” said Dr. Daniel Krawczyk, associate professor of cognitive neuroscience and cognitive psychology at the Center for BrainHealth and principal investigator on the study.
“Our results show that following the strategy-based training, blood flow increased more than 25% to this region, implying the brain is undergoing changes suggestive of improved neural health. Enhanced neural health of the frontal region has been associated with increased abstract thinking, the anterior cingulate to superior cognitive performance, and the precuneus to emotional regulation of stress and severity of brain injury symptoms,” said Krawczyk, who holds the Debbie and Jim Francis chair at The University of Texas at Dallas.
Researchers suggest that the improved abstract thinking and improved executive functioning appear to help individuals to down-regulate emotional reactions, resulting in better mood and fewer stress symptoms.
“Our research suggests that interventions that improve frontal lobe reasoning, induces positive brain changes that support higher-order thinking and down-regulation of negative emotion. The converging patterns identified biological validity for the cognitive and mental health improvement,” said Chapman, who holds the Dee Wyly Distinguished University Chair at The University of Texas at Dallas. “The cognitive, psychological and brain blood flow benefits continued to be realized three to four months following training, suggesting that participants continued to improve after the training ended.”
She continued, “The benefits of the strategy based training were experienced months and years after injury suggesting that brain injuries should be treated more like a chronic health condition rather than a single short-term event.”
This study received funding from the US Department of Defense (DOD) Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs (CDMRP) (Award W81XWH-11-2-0194) and (Award W81XWH-11-2-01945). Additional supporters named in the study included the Lyda Hill Foundation, the Meadows Foundation, and the Dee Wyly Endowed Chair fund.
A study of former National Football League players led by neurologists and neuropsychologists at the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas and The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center has found cognitive and structural brain changes in athletes with a history of concussion who experienced loss of consciousness.
Researchers say their novel study, published online today in JAMA Neurology, identified, for the first time, a correlation between concussion severity, hippocampal volume and memory performance. Results show the hippocampus, a part of the brain involved in memory, was found to be smaller in the aging NFL players who had memory complaints and who experienced loss of consciousness concussions as compared to a control group of men of similar age and education. The ex-NFL players were also found to have lower verbal memory performance.
"This is a preliminary study, and there is much more to be learned in the area of concussion and cognitive aging," said Dr. Munro Cullum, Professor of Psychiatry and Neurology and Neurotherapeutics at UT Southwestern, a co-author of the study. "While we found that aging individuals with a history of concussion and loss of consciousness showed smaller hippocampal volumes and lower memory test scores, the good news is that we did not detect a similar relationship among subjects with a history of concussion that did not involve loss of consciousness, which represents the vast majority of concussions.”
In the study starting in 2010, 28 ex-NFL players, ranging in age from 36 to 79, underwent structural Magnetic Resonance Imaging and detailed neurologic and neuropsychological assessments. Researchers also gathered detailed retrospective histories of concussion experiences. Twenty-one healthy men of similar age, educational level, and intelligence with no history of concussion or professional football experience served as control subjects. Study authors found that after age 63, athletes who reported a loss of consciousness concussion were significantly more likely to have Mild Cognitive Impairment, a preclinical stage of Alzheimer’s disease.
“We know that traumatic brain injury can negatively affect memory and has also been reported as a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias,” said Dr. John Hart, medical science director at the Center for BrainHealth and study co-author. “What we have not known before is how loss of consciousness affects brain function longitudinally. While the sample size for this study was small, it does illustrate the need for continual monitoring of athletes following a concussion.”
Other researchers on the study included Dr. Jeremy Strain, Dr. Nyaz Didehbani and Heather Conover all of UT Dallas; Dr. Kyle Womack and Dr. Jeffery Spence, who hold appointments at both UT Dallas and UT Southwestern; and Dr. Michael A. Kraut, who holds appointments at both Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and UT Dallas.
The study was supported by the Center for BrianHealth’s Institute for Athletes and the National Institute on Aging.
Memorial Day. Many Americans celebrate this national holiday as an extended weekend with backyard barbeques and a time for discounted shopping at their favorite stores. One organization, Carry The Load, is on a mission to restore the true meaning of Memorial Day with opportunities for all Americans to honor and remember the sacrifices of our nation’s military and first responders. The Center for BrainHealth’s Brain Performance Institute is honored to be a nonprofit partner of Carry The Load for a second consecutive year and will proudly participate in the Carry The Load Dallas Memorial March Sunday May 24 and Monday May 25.
“At the Brain Performance Institute, we recognize and celebrate the sacrifices of our nation’s heroes each and every day and are thrilled about the opportunity to partner with Carry The Load again this year, uniting our efforts to reach the entire network of military service members, veterans, and first responders across the nation,” said Eric Bennett, Brain Performance Institute executive director.
In addition to hosting a national relay that spans from the United States Military Academy in West Point, NY along the East Coast to Dallas, and City Rallies across the nation, Carry The Load raises funds to support seven national nonprofit organizations and nine local nonprofits in Texas. Click here to see the full list of beneficiaries.
More than 800 service members, veterans, military spouses and caregivers, and first responders have participated in our high performance brain training programs as a result of partnerships like Carry The Load. “Our mission this year, and every year until we’ve reached as many as we can, is to continue delivering this scientifically validated program to those who have voluntarily endured service and sacrifice,” said Chris Talcott, Brain Performance Institute deputy director and retired U.S. Army Colonel. "The strategies we provide in our programs maximize brain performance, minimize stress and improve productivity, instilling healthier brains, healthier families and ultimately, a healthier nation.”
“We are honored to have the Brain Performance Institute as a Dallas Non-Profit Partner again this year,” said Stephen Holley, Carry The Load co-founder and former U.S. Navy SEAL. “The Brain Performance Institute’s mission to arm our nation's heroes with the tools to achieve successful, fulfilling lives by optimizing brain performance through effective, evidence-based programs is so important in the rehabilitation and transition from active duty to civilian life. The opportunity for Carry The Load to provide support to further this mission is something we are excited to be a part of for another year.”
During the Dallas Memorial March, the Center for BrainHealth and Brain Performance Institute will “carry” the ten warriors on staff at both organizations, and the more than 800 service members, veterans, military spouses and caregivers, and first responders who have benefitted from our high performance brain training programs. If you are interested in joining our team, please register here.
Who are you carrying?
The Center for BrainHealth is proud to share with you for the first time, full-length videos of The Brain: An Owner’s Guide annual sell-out lecture series.
Watch the four-part series and behind-the-scenes interviews with our lecture speakers here:
The Emy Lou & Jerry Baldridge Lecture The Winner Effect: How Power Affects Your Brain with Dr. Ian Robertson
Dr. Robertson's Interview
The Terry & MG (R) Lee Baxter Lecture Heartbreak to Healing: How One Warrior’s Parents Are Waging War Against Veteran Suicide with Dr. & Mrs. Howard Somers and moderated by Krys Boyd (from KERA’s Think!)
Dr. & Mrs. Somers' Interview
The Bert Headden & Cindy Thomas Lecture Utilize Your Brain’s Plasticity For Brain Health with Dr. Michael Merzenich
Dr. Merzenich's Interview
The Brain Science Behind Golf: Why Some Experience the Yips with Dr. Debbie Crews
Dr. Debbie Crews's interview
The Container Store’s visionary sponsorship has made possible The Brain: An Owner’s Guide February lecture series for the last eight years.
The Reprogramming the Brain to Health Research Symposium brings together the most distinguished brain scientists to share and learn up-to-the-minute breakthroughs in brain research and recognize a pioneering neuroscientist whose innovation has made a tremendous contribution to the area of brain research with the Dr. Charles L. Branch BrainHealth Award.
This year, the ninth annual Symposium focused on emerging methods being used and developed to study brain function and recognized Dr. Marcus E. Raichle for his seminal contributions to the study of human brain function.
"The talks at this year's symposium provided a broad overview of the current state-of-the-art technologies that are dramatically changing how neuroscientists can unravel the mysteries of the brain, in our effort to promote brain health," said Dr. Mark D'Esposito, UC Berkeley neuroscience and psychology professor. "The highlight of the symposium was a keynote address from Dr. Marcus Raichle, one of the pioneers of the study of brain function using brain imaging. His talk highlighted how far we have come in the past 30 years in understanding the brain yet how much is left to discover."
Held at UC Berkeley on March 27, 2015, the Symposium was presented by the Center for BrainHealth and its partners at the Henry H. Wheeler Jr. Brain Imaging Center and the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute at UC Berkeley. The Symposium featured the following speakers:
David Feinberg, M.D., Ph.D.
Pushing the limits of MRI
Dr. Feinberg is an Adjunct Professor of Neuroscience at UC Berkeley and of Radiology at UCSF and president of Advanced MRI Technologies (AMRIT). He is an MR physicist with expertise in pulse sequences and MR scanner design.
John Clarke, Ph.D., Sc.D. and Ben Inglis, Ph.D.
Ultralow field MRI
Dr. Clarke is a Professor of Physics at UC Berkeley. His main research interest is in the development, noise limitations and applications of Superconducting Quantum Interference Devices (SQUIDs). Dr. Ben Inglis is the chief physicist and the main force behind the UC Berkeley Brain Imaging Center. He is an expert in MRI data acquisition specifically in the context of functional MRI
Jose Carmena, Ph.D.
Brain-Computer Interface Technology
Dr. Carmena is an Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering and Neuroscience at the UC Berkeley, and Co-Director of the Center for Neural Engineering and Prostheses at UC Berkeley and UCSF. His research program is aimed at understanding the neural basis of sensorimotor learning and control, and at building the science and engineering base that will allow the creation of reliable neuroprosthetic systems for the severely disabled.
Jyoti Mishra, Ph.D. and Joaquin Anguera, Ph.D.
Dr. Mishra is a postdoctoral fellow in the lab of Adam Gazzaley, M.D. at UCSF and at the Brain Plasticity Institute at PositScience. Her research examines cognitive training tools in randomized controlled trials and is interested in the interaction between attention & working memory, dynamic multi sensory audiovisual environments, and the neural mechanisms underlying behavioral performance. Dr. Anguera is a Research Scientist in the labs of Adam Gazzaley, M.D. and Patricia Arean, Ph.D. at UCSF. The goal of his research is to examine how unique aspects of cognitive and motor performance contribute to the process of skill acquisition.
Marcus Raichle, M.D., Ph.D.
Keynote Address: The Restless Brain
Professor of Radiology, Neurology, and Anatomy & Neurobiology
Washington University School of Medicine
William Jagust, M.D.
Positron Emission Tomography
Dr. Jagust is a Professor of Public Health and Neuroscience and Associate Dean of Academic Affairs at UC Berkeley. His research is aimed at understanding the structural, functional and biochemical basis of brain aging and neurodegenerative diseases associated with brain aging.
Robert Knight, M.D.
Dr. Knight is a Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at UC Berkeley. His laboratory studies the contribution of prefrontal cortex to human behavior.
Center for BrainHealth founder and chief director. Dr. Sandra Chapman, UC Berkeley's Dr. Mark D'Esposito, and retired U.S. Navy SEAL, Lt. Morgan Luttrell, led "Brain Health Breakthroughs: Good News for Service Members, Students and Seniors" at the inaugural Congressional Neuroscience Caucus briefing co-chaired by Reps. Earl Blumenauer and Cathy McMorris Rodgers, on Thursday, March 19, 2015 in Washington D.C.
Helping spur the important discussion of our nation's brain health and the objectives necessary to make headway were two of the brain health movement's most stuanch supporters, Congressmen Earl Blumenauer and Pete Sessions.
"There is no more important area of inquiry and involvement than dealing with the many facets of neuroscience," said Rep. Blumenauer. "It touches every single family... neuroscience disorders are the leading cause of disability [and yet, n]euroscience actually is one of the few areas we haven't been able to show the remarkable progress that we've seen fighting cancer, or heart disease... It's not for a lack of trying and it's not because there aren't some good things going on, and more that we can do."
Fellow Texan, Rep. Pete Sessions affirmed the "incredible strides [we] have taken to improve cognitive brain performance in former members of our military, as well as students and seniors" and his pride in having "such an innovative and cutting-edge facility in the 32nd Congressional District."
After being introduced by Rep. Sessions, Dr. Chapman didn't waste any time, sharing the latest cognitive neuroscience discoveries, which reveal there are ways to improve brain health in people of all ages and stages. She went on to share the tremendous efforts Center for BrainHealth researchers have taken to improve cognitive brain performance in service members and veterans, students and seniors, with great focus on the Center's high performance cognitive training program designed to enhance brain processes such as mental flexibility, innovation, problem-solving, reasoning and strategic thinking.
As brain health among military service members has risen to the forefront of our national discourse, advanced reasoning skills in American students continue to fall behind those of other developed countries, and cognitive brain performance peaking, on average, in the early 40s of healthy adults, no cause is going to be more globally urgent, more beneficial, nor as staggeringly complex as discovering ways to build healthy brain function.
Sandra Bond Chapman, Ph.D., is the Founder and Chief Director of the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas, Dee Wyly Distinguished University Chair, and Professor of Behavioral and Brain Sciences. She is actively studying and discovering informative pathways to improve brain function and cognitive performance in health, injury and disease. As a cognitive neuroscientist with more than 40 funded research grants, Chapman collaborates with scientists around the world to solve some of the most important issues concerning the brain and its health.
Mark D’Esposito, M.D. is a Professor of Neuroscience and Psychology and Director of the Henry H. Wheeler, Jr. Brain Imaging Center at the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute at the University of California, Berkeley. He is also Director of the Neurorehabilitation Unit at the Northern California VA Health Care System and Adjunct Professor of Neurology at UCSF. He has authored over 300 research publications as well as six books on the topics of behavioral neurology and cognitive neuroscience.
Lt. Morgan Luttrell is a retired United States Navy SEAL. After nine combat deployments in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, he enrolled at The University of Texas at Dallas to pursue an advanced degree in applied cognitive neuroscience.
This is one briefing in a series of Congressional Neuroscience Caucus Briefings that seek to promote a better understanding of how the brain develops, functions, and ages. The Caucus also seeks to raise awareness about the millions of Americans afflicted with neurological disorders or mental illnesses.
Watch the full briefing here:
In celebration of bringing brain health awareness and empowerment to the community through a longstanding partnership with The Container Store, the Center for BrainHealth is thrilled to share an innovative and truly impactful addition to the relationship's eight meaningful years.
On March 21 & 22, 2015, The Container Store's Northwest Highway location in Dallas, will donate 10% of the proceeds directly to Center for BrainHealth research.
A commitment to continuously pursuing creative and innovative ways to impact the community, The Container Store's support of the brain health movement furthers the Center for BrainHealth's mission to understand, protect and heal the brain.
The "Organized Life. Sharp Mind." partnership between The Container Store and the Center for BrainHealth is the driving force behind the annual sell-out lecture series The Brain: An Owner's Guide, held each February at the Center for BrainHealth.
What if your most daunting aspiration was to make a friend?
For many on the autism spectrum, reading facial expressions and knowing how to respond are confusing daily challenges that create barriers to relationships and career goals.
Cognitive neuroscientists, clinicians and game developers at the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas have created a virtual reality platform to help individuals on the autism spectrum and those with social cognition differences achieve social and economic independence. Currently part of a research collaboration between the Center for BrainHealth and Yale University, the scientifically validated brain enhancing therapy is a fun, high-tech game with state-of-the-art graphics, real-time face tracking and personalized avatars that may also have implications for combatting bullying in schools.
Center for BrainHealth Founder and Chief Director, Dr. Sandra Chapman, and Brain Performance Institute Creative Director, Carl Lutz, shared virtual reality’s potential to build healthier social brains at SXSW Interactive Tuesday, March 17 at the Hyatt Regency Austin.
The Center for BrainHealth and Brain Performance Institute also had a booth at SXSW’s Health & MedTech Expo at the JW Marriott March 16th and 17th sharing the latest Center for BrainHealth research discoveries and Brain Performance Institute programs.
Watch the presentation here:
For one UT Dallas employee, having a role in Clint Eastwood’s blockbuster film American Sniper meant more than fifteen minutes of fame.
A Kyle family friend and wounded warrior himself, Jake Schick, knew the film would send strong messages of hope and perseverance to his fellow brothers and sisters-in-arms and offer America a glimmer of the strength and bond many military families, including Navy SEAL Chris Kyle and his family, shared.
The film depicts the daunting toll of four deployments to Iraq and being touted the most lethal sniper in U.S. military history took in Chris’s professional and personal life, and emphasized the uniquely challenging and intense journey he and so many other warriors returning home face on a daily basis.
“I know the Kyle family well and I wasn’t going to be a part of something that didn’t accurately portray the family’s commitment to this country and to each other,” said Schick, Center for BrainHealth Brain Performance Institute Warrior Relations Specialist. “Knowing Chris’s story could serve as a platform to break down barriers for other warriors who may be struggling reaching out for help, I couldn’t not take the roll when Warner Bros. called.”
Jake landed the role of injured Marine “Wynn” after receiving what he thought was a scam Facebook message. “I called Chris’s little brother to make sure this was the real deal and after he gave the green light, it wasn’t long before I was on the phone, making plans. The rest is history.”
Medically retired from the United States Marine Corps after being severely wounded in combat, Jake says he “better have nailed the part.”
“I’ve been living the life of a severely wounded Marine for more than 10 years. On September 20, 2004, I was on a mission in the Sunni Triangle, driving a Humvee through soft sand when I hit an improvised explosive device. It blew up beneath me blowing me 30 feet in the air. I lost my right leg below the knee and parts of my hand and arm, but not all of my injuries were visible. I was diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder. The physical pain and recovery was intense, but it was nothing compared to the mental pain that followed. Physical pain lets you know you’re alive. Mental pain tests your will to stay that way.”
Jake believes seeing one of America’s elite struggle with the transition from military to civilian life may be a conversation starter for other service members and their families. “We’ve been fighting two wars for more than a decade. A warrior’s resolve and mindset is often to not seek help. The stigma associated with PTSD and other invisible injuries has got to go.”
Helping other warriors, like Chris did, is how Jake heals. “When you leave the service, your life changes,” said Schick. “The world you knew intimately as a member of the military is left behind and you begin again as a civilian. For those struggling with PTSD and TBI, it’s challenging to say the least. You’re often going through the motions, hour-by-hour. I want warriors to know you can do something. For me, it was coming to the Center for BrainHealth’s Brain Performance Institute after my friend, a former Navy SEAL, urged me to attend their high performance brain training program, because it had helped him so much. And now, I help other warriors on a daily basis as an employee.”
The Center for BrainHealth’s Brain Performance Institute offers warriors high performance brain training at no cost thanks to scholarships provided by private philanthropy. Boosting cognitive performance in areas of attention, reasoning, decision-making, problem-solving and innovation equips warriors with an essential tool kit to become strategic learners, deeper-level thinkers and innovation generators.
A partnership with La Quinta Inns & Suites™ has also afforded military spouses and caregivers the opportunity to attend the high performance brain training program, supporting healthier brains in the entire family network of warriors.
To date, more than 650 warriors across eight states have participated in the training through the Brain Performance Institute.
“Take that first step,” said Schick. “Talk to a fellow warrior; reach out to a professional. Call the Center for BrainHealth. I’m living proof there is hope.”
To read more from Jake, click here.
A new study reveals that individuals with traumatic brain injury (TBI) have significantly more difficulty with gist reasoning than traditional cognitive tests. Using a unique cognitive assessment developed by researchers at the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas, findings published Friday in the Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology indicate that an individual’s ability to “get the gist or extract the essence of a message” after a TBI more strongly predicts his or her ability to effectively hold a job or maintain a household than previously revealed by traditional cognitive tests alone. The study also further validates the Center for BrainHealth’s gist reasoning assessment as an informative tool capable of estimating a broad range of daily life skills.
“Gist reasoning characterizes a meaningful complex cognitive capacity. Assessing how well one understands and expresses big ideas from information they are exposed, commonly known as an ability to “get the gist”, is window into real life functionality. I do not know of any other paper and pencil test that can tell us both,” explained Asha Vas, Ph.D., research scientist at the Center for BrainHealth and lead study author. “Although performance on traditional cognitive tests is informative, widely-used measures do not paint the full picture. Adults with TBI often fare average or above on these structured measures. All too often, adults with brain injury have been told that they ought to be fine; in reality, they are not doing and thinking like they used to prior to the injury and struggle managing everyday life responsibilities years after the injury. Gist reasoning could be a sensitive tool to connect some of those dots as to why they are having trouble with real-life functionality despite falling into the range of “normal” on other cognitive tests.”
Study participants included 70 adults ages 25-55: 30 suffered a TBI one year or longer prior to the study and 40 were healthy controls. The TBI group and matched controls were of similar socioeconomic status, educational backgrounds, and IQ. Researchers administered a series of standard cognitive assessments, including working memory, inhibition, and switching. Researchers also gave the gist reasoning assessment, which studies the number of gist-based ideas (not explicitly stated facts) participants are able to abstract from multiple complex texts. Daily life functionality in TBI participants was evaluated using a self-rated questionnaire that included topics such as problem solving at work, managing finances, organizing grocery lists at home, and social interactions.
Although the two groups had similar IQ, reading comprehension and speed of processing scores, nearly 70% of the TBI group scored lower on gist reasoning compared to controls. The TBI survivors’ decreased gist-reasoning performance showed a direct correlation with difficulties at work and at home. Interestingly the cumulative score of all standard cognitive tests only predicted daily function with 45% accuracy in individuals with TBI. Adding the gist reasoning measure boosted accuracy to 58%.
“TBI needs to be treated as a chronic condition. While acute recovery care is essential, long-term monitoring and effective interventions are necessary to mitigate persistent or later-emerging deficits and ensure maximum brain regeneration and cognitive performance,” said Sandra Chapman,Ph.D., founder and chief director at the Center for BrainHealth and Dee Wyly Distinguished University Professor in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences at UT Dallas. “We don’t want anyone who has survived a TBI to think that if gist reasoning and day-to-day life is challenging today that it will always be that way, because gist reasoning can be improved. In an earlier study conducted at the Center for BrainHealth, we found that individuals with TBI can improve gist reasoning. This is very promising outcome, because increased gist reasoning is associated with improved functionality and greater brain blood flow, a sign of increased brain health.”
The researchers theorize that gist reasoning impairments could reflect losses in flexible and innovative thinking andthat losses in these areas hinder optimal daily life functioning, including job performance and social relationships. “Deficits of this nature may manifest in a lessened ability to problem solve in unexpected situations and understand others’ point of view,” Vas said.The Center is currently conducting multiple projects to study the effectiveness of high performance brain training strategies in individuals with TBI and other populations, to help improve brain function across the lifespan and enrich daily life.
This research was made possible by a Friends of BrainHealth Distinguished New Scientist Award.
For people with depressed mood, memory and concentration difficulties are often a day-to-day reality, greatly affecting job performance and personal relationships. While those with the disorder report that these cognitive problems are some of the most deeply troubling, previous studies have been unable to observe this phenomenon in a laboratory setting. In a study published online today in Cognition and Emotion, researchers at the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas are the first to substantiate memory deficits in individuals with depressed mood. The findings may have implications for the way cognitive deficits are diagnosed and treated in depression.
In the study, individuals with depressed mood show as much as a 12% reduction in memory compared to individuals without depressed mood when depressive thoughts are present, but perform similarly to individuals without depressed mood when depressive thoughts are not present. “The results suggest that individuals with and without depressed mood generally have a similar ability to actively remember information. However, when depressive thoughts are present, people with depressed mood are unable to remove their attention from this information, leading to deficits in their memory,” explained Nicholas Hubbard, the study’s lead author and a doctoral candidate at the Center for BrainHealth under Bart Rypma, Ph.D.
“Depression is an interference phenomenon. Rumination and negative thought-loops interfere with a person’s ability to think. We hypothesize that when individuals with depressed mood are exposed to stimuli, such as a meaningful song or a place that evokes sad feelings, the brain fixates on that and can’t focus on daily tasks such as a phone conversation or completing a grocery list,” explained Dr. Rypma, Meadows Foundation Chair and Associate Professor in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences at The University of Texas at Dallas. “In a traditional laboratory setting, external cues that induce depressive thoughts and therefore interfere with cognitive performance are eliminated. In our study, we found a way to incorporate them and observe their effects on memory.”
The study included 157 undergraduate students. All participants completed a computer-based depression inventory that measures self-reported, depressive symptoms experienced over the previous two-weeks. 60 participants were classified as having depressed mood and 97 as having non-depressed mood.
Researchers assessed working memory, the cognitive function that allows the brain to store information for short periods of time so that other cognitive processes can occur simultaneously.
Participants with and without depressed mood were asked to respond ‘True’ or ‘False’ to a sentence featuring either depressive thoughts (e.g., “I am sad,” “People don’t like me”) or neutral information (e.g. “Most people agree that Monday is the worst day of the week”), and then remember a string of numbers at the end.
People with depressed mood forgot more numbers than people without depressed mood when they responded to the sentence featuring negative information, but remembered just as many numbers when they responded to neutral information.
“Depression affects 151 million people worldwide and costs Americans $83 billion per year. Much of these costs are related to loss of productivity and increased rates of disability. Understanding and accurately diagnosing memory loss in depression is paramount for developing an effective therapeutic approach,” Hubbard explained. “Our findings implicate that therapeutic approaches such as teaching one to recognize and inhibit depressive thoughts could be a key aspect to treating cognitive deficits in depression.”
Using the new study paradigm, the research team plans to study individuals who meet the clinical diagnosis for depression. “In the past, imaging studies have shown brain differences between depressed and non-depressed individuals, but the cognitive tests did not match up,” said Dr. Rypma. “Now that we can reproduce the cognitive deficits in the laboratory, we can look at neural imaging studies with more confidence.”
This work was supported by the Friends of BrainHealth, the Linda and Joel Robuck Distinguished New Scientist award, and the Diane Cash Fellowship award.
Social cognition is what allows us to relate to others; it informs our ability to read facial expressions and take turns during a conversation. People on the autism spectrum and individuals with schizophrenia score lower than healthy controls on social cognition tests, leading scientists to believe for years that the two populations may have comparable social skills. However, a new Center for BrainHealth study found that despite similar social cognitive abilities, individuals with autism are more adept at reasoning when it comes to understanding analogies.
“The findings are actually quite surprising,” explained Dan Krawczyk, Ph.D., Debbie and Jim Francis Chair in BrainHealth. “Social cognition and reasoning go hand in hand; individuals with mild autism spectrum disorder seem to be immune to their social cognitive deficits when it comes to reasoning in similar situations.”
The study, published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, is the first to examine analogical reasoning in schizophrenia. Forty-three participants were tested on 24 analogies of varying content. Individuals with schizophrenia demonstrated lower reasoning ability than individuals on the autism spectrum and healthy controls. Interestingly, the autism spectrum group showed more success with scenes depicting living objects (people/animal) than non-living.
“These findings are really counterintuitive. We expected the autism group to do better with problems that contained non-living objects,” said Dr. Krawczyk. “Apparently, when it comes to reasoning ability, problem content and social dynamics really matter.”
As you may know, my motto is ‘no status quo’. Forcing the mind to ratchet up from one idea to the next, charging upwards and onwards keeps life exciting, engaging and, as our research continually reinforces, enhances brain performance.
We have had a prolific year challenging status quo.
Our Brain Performance Institute grew from a staff of three to 25 in less than a year. Using the Center for BrainHealth as its base of operation and through mobile units, the Institute served the brain health needs of teens, corporate executives, individuals with autism, and, thanks to private philanthropy, provided free brain training to more than 500 warriors. Groundbreaking on a new, state-of-the-art facility is scheduled for 2015.
We published several internationally recognized research papers on various subjects including healthy aging, traumatic brain injury, fear, autism and addiction; collaborated with elite military forces to cognitively enhance the minds of our treasured service members; cumulatively reached more than 38,000 middle school students through our adolescent reasoning program; and launched many new research initiatives for a total number of fully funded projects exceeding 60.
None of this would have been possible without the tremendous backing of our steadfast donors, philanthropic partners, and scientific collaborators. Our supporters are vast and diverse. In addition to the generosity of private philanthropy, corporate citizenship and government funding, our dedicated circle of donors, the Friends of BrainHealth, raised more than $302,000 this year to fund innovative research initiatives of young scientists. Our young professionals organization, the Think Ahead Group, contributed $50,000 to research that aims to help individuals on the autism spectrum achieve social and economic independence.
Our hearts overflow with gratitude for this unique opportunity to push the boundaries of brain science while embracing the chance to improve the human condition. In 2015 we will continue to search for biomarkers of brain health and ways to strengthen brain function, structure and performance at all levels in health, injury and disease. We proudly do this in the interest of empowering our brains to contribute to the best possible quality of life, fueling our ever-expanding lifespans.
Wishing you a happy, safe, and brain healthy holiday season,
Sandi Chapman, Ph.D.
Founder and Chief Director
More than 150 of Dallas’ most beautiful and talented young-professional females took the field at the Cotton Bowl for the 7th Annual BvB Dallas Powder-Puff Football Game presented by Bud Light on August 16. Founded by sisters whose father was afflicted by Alzheimer’s, BvB exceeded its 2014 goal of $400,000 to raise more than $441,000 toward eradicating the grave disease. This year’s game benefited the Center for BrainHealth and UT Southwestern Medical Center.
Over the last seven years, BvB has raised more than $1.8 million. Each year Team Blonde, Team Brunette and coaches spend the months of May through August preparing for game day, running training drills and raising at least $1,000 each for the cause. More than 3,500 fans brave the triple-digit temperatures to cheer on their favorite team.
“Big D Powder Puff Tackling Alzheimer’s (BvB Dallas) was thrilled to announce the Center for BrainHealth as one of our Season 7 beneficiaries,” said BvB Dallas Board President, Jennifer Bergman. “The Center for BrainHealth has impressed us with their innovative research and programs dedicated to Alzheimer’s disease. Our partnership with the Center is important not only to our mission, but also to our participants, many who are personally affected by Alzheimer’s. We have greatly enjoyed working with the Center, their staff and volunteers. Their support during our 7th Season has been instrumental in our success, and we look forward to seeing what BvB Dallas can help the Center for BrainHealth accomplish.”
“Alzheimer’s disease is a formidable foe, listed as number 3 of America’s top killers behind heart disease and cancer. And while the brain disease is a frightening diagnosis, scientific discoveries are bringing new hope for those living with the disease and those at risk for developing it,” said Sandra Bond Chapman, Ph.D., Founder and Chief Director of the Center for BrainHealth. “Our research at the Center for BrainHealth is contributing to solutions that will one day reduce risk, and help to earlier diagnose and treat Alzheimer’s disease effectively. With the support of BvB, we can continue to make great strides in building brain resilience and maximizing cognitive performance across the lifespan in health, injury and disease.”
We have been at war for more than a decade. Since 9/11, more than 2.5 million have worn a uniform to protect America’s freedom. Now they are coming home and facing the dynamic challenges of reintegration to civilian life. For many warriors, shedding the uniform signifies the surrender of purpose, mission and the camaraderie of their military service. Finding a new way to channel their intelligence, resilience, and drive to succeed is imperative to ensuring the next greatest generation’s ultimate victory, being able to enjoy the life they have so courageously defended.
In a move to support our nation’s most patriotic citizens, the Hamon Charitable Foundation donated $1 million to the Center for BrainHealth’s Brain Performance Institute to establish the Hamon Endowment for Veteran Support. The permanent endowment will help fund treatment and training that helps bridge the transition from the battlefield to life as a civilian for returning veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces.
“We recognize the need to help the veterans who have encountered traumatic situations in fighting our foreign wars. Our goal is to endorse programs that provide a real-time and direct benefit to the veterans,” explained Kelly Roach, President of the Hamon Charitable Foundation.
“The Center’s leading scientific research and humanitarian benefits are consistent with the mission of the Foundation,” said Mr. Roach. “We knew when we had the opportunity to meet with veterans at the Center, that our foundation’s founders, Jake and Nancy Hamon, would have recognized and appreciated the work being done.”
Foundation board members met with retired U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Jake Schick and retired U.S. Navy SEAL Lt. Morgan Luttrell who shared their stories of survival from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and their gratitude for the Institute’s high performance brain training programs that positively and significantly changed the course of their lives. While Cpl. Schick’s prosthetic leg and extensively rebuilt hand serve as reminders of the extreme physical injury he endured, both warriors described their unseen scars and reported that their invisible wounds were far more painful and difficult to overcome than any visible ones.
“The strategies I learned assisted me as a leader in the SEAL teams while at home training or deployed on combat missions around the world,” said Lt. Luttrell. “Today, I continue to apply the strategies and benefit as a husband, father, student and an active member in society.”
Cpl. Schick confirmed, “Out of all of the drugs I was prescribed and therapy I was forced to attend, the training I received at the Center for BrainHealth helped tenfold.”
Debbie Francis, Center for BrainHealth Board Chair, explained the spark that led to the generous gift from the highly regarded Dallas-based foundation. “The Hamon Foundation is known and respected for making meaningful gifts in the community. When I approached the Foundation, I knew that they would only be interested in a partnership that would create a lasting and meaningful impact for warriors. We were most grateful they chose to include us as one of their beneficiaries.”
The Center for BrainHealth has been selected by CultureMap and Briggs Freeman Sotheby's International Realty to participate in the CultureMap Charity Challenge, an initiative that empowers readers to pick CultureMap’s signature non-profit partner for 2015! Twelve non-profits will be featured on the CultureMap Charity Challenge voting page, here.
How can you help? We would love your vote! BrainHealth supporters can vote once a day starting today, December 10, through December 24 and the winner will be announced January 5. With your help, we are in the running for an advertising package from CultureMap valued at $10,000 in addition to the broad reach social media exposure and advertising will bring us throughout the challenge. Winning this challenge would launch our message of brain health far and wide. Please share with your friends, family, neighbors, and community.
The cognitive effects of poverty can be mitigated during middle school with a targeted intervention, according to researchers at the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas.
In a paper published today in the open-access journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, researchers for the first time examine the efficacy of cognitive training in a large and diverse group of 7th and 8th grade public middle school students as compared to typically developing students who received no specific training.
“Previous research has shown that growing up in poverty can shape the wiring and even physical dimensions of a young child’s brain, with negative effects on language, learning and attention,” said Dr. Jacquelyn Gamino, director of the Center for BrainHealth’s Adolescent Reasoning Initiative and assistant research professor in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences at The University of Texas at Dallas. “What this work shows is that there is hope for students in poverty to catch up with their peers not living in poverty.”
The research team studied 913 middle school students from varying socioeconomic backgrounds, accounting for any diagnosed medical or learning differences. Five hundred and fifty six students received the cognitive intervention and 357 served as a comparison group. The protocol included pre- and post-training assessments, in which all adolescents were asked to read several texts and then craft a high-level summary, drawing upon inferences to transform ideas into novel, generalized statements, and recall important facts. For the 556 students who received the Center for BrainHealth-developed cognitive training called SMART (Strategic Memory Advanced Reasoning Training), they completed 10 45-minute sessions over a one-month period. The SMART program was provided by research clinicians and consists of hierarchical cognitive processes that are explained and practiced through group interactive exercises and pen and paper activities using student instructional manuals.
“Much focus has been put on early childhood learning and brain development – and for good reason,” said Dr. Gamino. “However, extensive frontal lobe development and pruning occurs during adolescence making middle school a prime opportunity to impact cognitive brain health.”
“Existing studies show that a large percentage of students in middle school are not developing inferential thinking entering high school,” explained Dr. Gamino. “The cognitive gains demonstrated after short-term, intensive training in this research suggest that middle school is an appropriate and beneficial time to teach students strategies to enhance understanding and the ability to infer global meanings from information beyond the explicit facts.”
Cognitive tests indicate that students living in poverty showed as much as a 25% increase in gist reasoning, or the ability to derive abstracted meaning from information presented, after training, comparable to the gains made by their peers living above the poverty line. Additionally, the SMART-trained group, regardless of socioeconomic status, showed significant generalized gains and as much as an 18% improvement in increased memory for facts, even though this skill was not specifically targeted in training.
“The ability to use inference to abstract meaning from incoming information as trained in the SMART program is a skill crucial to future life success and applies to both academic and informal learning activities such as reading a school assignment, listening and taking notes from a lecture, watching a movie or television program, or having a conversation with a friend,” Dr. Gamino continued.
Findings revealed gender differences among the students studied as well. Seventh and eighth grade girls showed significant improvement after receiving the SMART program, as did 8th grade boys, regardless of socioeconomic level. After training, 7th grade boys showed improvement in fact retention but not gist reasoning.
The Center for BrainHealth’s Adolescent Reasoning Initiative has provided training to more than 300 teachers and 30,000 teens across the country. The research team is planning to expand their study to determine if cognitive training closes the academic achievement gap by conducting longitudinal research and comparing standardized test scores.
The research was funded by the State of Texas, The AT&T Foundation, The Meadows Foundation and The Pickens Foundation.
Center for BrainHealth founder and chief director Dr. Sandra Chapman shared insights on the power of the human mind in “Flex Your Cortex: 7 Secrets to Turbocharge Your Brain” at the Bay Area TEDx Talk.
Joining 17 speakers from around the country, Dr. Chapman encouraged us all to focus on the most fascinating of scientific discoveries – our brain – and provided strategies that maximize our cognitive potential.
Center for BrainHealth research has challenged conventional wisdom and societal pressures that the brain is static and unchangeable with more than 30 years of research leading to the development of scientifically validated strategies proving it is dynamic, adaptable, flexible and repairable. A commitment to applying these strategies has the potential to dramatically improve lives regardless of age and even in those with brain injury or disease.
Click here to read Dr. Chapman's Huffington Post blog about the seven secrets.
TED is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to sharing big ideas and created independently organized events called TEDx in an effort to bring together communities for a TED-like experience.
The Center for BrainHealth at the University of Texas at Dallas announced its annual sell-out public lecture lineup today. The Brain: An Owner’s Guide, made possible by the generosity and vision of The Container Store, was designed to translate the latest brain research and treatment developments into cutting-edge topical lectures for the community. The four-part series, held at 2200 W. Mockingbird Lane, begins February 3, 2015 at 7:00 p.m. and continues each Tuesday night throughout the month.
"At The Container Store we believe that being organized promotes a sharp mind, so we continuously pursue creative and innovative ways our employees and customers can live their best, most productive and organized life," said Melissa Reiff, President and Chief Operating Officer of The Container Store. "We are proud to be partnering again on the lecture series as it is truly an amazing opportunity for everyone in the community to hear about groundbreaking research and advocacy efforts directly from the experts."
Prominent brain research leaders and advocates from across the country will speak about a variety of topics including ways power influences cognitive performance, combatting suicide and mental health barriers among our nation’s warriors, our brain’s inherent capability to constantly repair and rebuild itself, and the brain science behind a golfer’s optimal performance.
This is the eighth year the Center for BrainHealth and The Container Store have partnered to bring brain health awareness and empowerment into the community. “Our brain is the most adaptable and modifiable organ in our body,” Dr. Sandra Chapman, the Center for BrainHealth’s founder and chief director, said. “This lecture series is an invitation for our community to join the brain health movement and take charge of their cognitive well-being.”
The Brain: An Owner’s Guide Lecture Series schedule:
February 3: The Emy Lou & Jerry Baldridge Lecture
The Winner Effect: How Power Affects Your Brain
Ian Robertson, Ph.D.
Dr. Robertson, founding director of Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience and co-author of the leading international textbook on cognitive rehabilitation, will share how we can harness the effects of power and empowerment to get the most out of our brains at every age. Dr. Robertson is currently Chair of Psychology at Trinity College Dublin and has visiting professorships at University College in London and Columbia University in New York.
February 10: The Terry and Major General (Retired) Lee Baxter Lecture
Heartbreak to Healing: How One Warrior’s Parents are Waging the War Against Veteran Suicide
Jean and Howard Somers, M.D.
Jean and Dr. Howard Somers’ journey began on June 10, 2013 after their son, Daniel, took his own life following his return from a second deployment in Iraq. At the time, Daniel suffered from post traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury and Gulf War Syndrome. The Somers are determined to use their son’s death to raise awareness of the struggles veterans face once home from war, expose gaps in healthcare for service members and repair a broken Veterans Affairs System. They will share how they are taking their fight from Washington D.C. to the California coast and how you can join their efforts to effect positive change today.
February 17: The Bert Headden & Cindy Thomas Lecture
Utilize Your Brain’s Plasticity for Brain Health
Michael Merzenich, Ph.D.
Dr. Merzenich, one of the scientists responsible for our current understanding of brain plasticity, the notion that the brain can change itself at any age, and co-founder of three brain plasticity-based therapeutic software companies, will share how we can marshal our greatest asset – our brain – to optimize our health and well-being. Dr. Merzenich and his research have been highlighted in hundreds of books about the brain, learning, rehabilitation, and plasticity, and covered in the popular press including New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Time, Forbes, Discover, and Newsweek in addition to many television appearances.
April 16: Rescheduled due to inclement weather
The Brain Science Behind Golf: Why Some Experience the “Yips”
Debbie Crews, Ph.D.
Dr. Crews, founder of the International Journal of Golf Science, will share the fascinating behavioral, cognitive, and psychophysiological science behind getting the “yips” in the game of golf and learning to play with the yips. Dr. Crews is a Sports Psychology Consultant for the Arizona State University (ASU) Women’s Golf Team and a Faculty Teaching Associate in Exercise and Wellness at ASU. Dr. Crews is also a Master Professional in the LPGA Teaching and Club Professionaland serves on the LPGA National Education and Research Board.
The price is $35 for a single ticket to one lecture, $45 for a ticket at the door and $130 for a series pass to all four lectures.
“With my mother, we went from everything being normal to being scared very quickly. Just a year and three months after her diagnosis, she was a danger to herself, and we had to move her into a facility. In retrospect, the signs were there much earlier than we realized. So many things we look back on - what she was doing, what she quit doing- if we had more education or more exposure to the disease, we may have done things differently,” explained Shelley Tims.
In August 2012, at age 65, Shelley’s mother, Kathy Tims, was diagnosed with frontal dementia and possible early onset Alzheimer’s. Warning signs appeared as early as 2005, but were misattributed to personality quirks and stubbornness.
“Until we can solve [the disease],” said Shelley, “we want to help make the transition easier.” Shelley and her father, Lamar, have pledged an ongoing commitment to the Center for BrainHealth for what they have deemed the Initiative for Early Discovery, starting with a $50,000 donation to help families who will find themselves in a similar situation. The initiative takes a three-pronged approach to improve quality of life after diagnosis and raise awareness about the signs of dementia.
“People deal with this in a lot of different ways. Shelley and I wanted to find the opportunity,” said Lamar Tims. “There are things that you can see and pick up on, and we want people to know what they are and what choices you can make to make it easier for you and your loved one.”
The unique program engages the patient, the caregiver and healthcare graduate students in building a framework for moving forward. For individuals newly diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia, the Discovery Group puts focus on preserved abilities, emphasizing remaining strengths and creating a supportive atmosphere where individuals with Alzheimer’s or dementia can find camaraderie, learn about the disease, medications, and beneficial lifestyle factors. Families receive and are connected to useful resources, practical information and build lasting relationships with others in the same situation. Student clinicians learn and practice techniques to stimulate the brain and extend its performance through the early stages of dementia.
“We are so grateful for the Tims family and their desire to help others navigate this challenging life adjustment,” said Audette Rackley, Head of Special Programs at the Center. “The diagnosis can feel terrifying, but the Tims Family Initiative is helping people get on a right path.”
To learn more about the Discovery Group, contact Elanor Schiffmann, CCC-SLP at 972.883.3269 or click here to email.
The effects of chronic marijuana use on the brain may depend on age of first use and duration of use, according to researchers at the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas.
In a paper published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), researchers for the first time comprehensively describe existing abnormalities in brain function and structure of long-term marijuana users with multiple magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) techniques. Findings show chronic marijuana users have smaller brain volume in the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), a part of the brain commonly associated with addiction, but also increased brain connectivity.
“We have seen a steady increase in the incidence of marijuana use since 2007,“said Dr. Francesca Filbey, Associate Professor in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences at the University of Texas at Dallas and Director of the Cognitive Neuroscience Research in Addictive Disorders at the Center for BrainHealth. “However, research on its long-term effects remains scarce despite the changes in legislation surrounding marijuana and the continuing conversation surrounding this relevant public health topic.”
The research team studied 48 adult marijuana users and 62 gender- and age-matched non-users, accounting for potential biases such as gender, age and ethnicity. The authors also controlled for tobacco and alcohol use. On average, the marijuana users who participated in the study consumed the drug three times per day. Cognitive tests show that chronic marijuana users had lower IQ compared to age-and gender-matched controls but the differences do not seem to be related to the brain abnormalities as no direct correlation can be drawn between IQ deficits and OFC volume decrease.
“What’s unique about this work is that it combines three different MRI techniques to evaluate different brain characteristics,” said Dr. Sina Aslan, founder and president of Advance MRI, LLC and adjunct assistant professor at The University of Texas at Dallas. “The results suggest increases in connectivity, both structural and functional that may be compensating for gray matter losses. Eventually, however, the structural connectivity or ‘wiring’ of the brain starts degrading with prolonged marijuana use.”
Tests reveal that earlier onset of regular marijuana use induces greater structural and functional connectivity. Greatest increases in connectivity appear as an individual begins using marijuana. Findings show severity of use is directly correlated to greater connectivity.
Although increased structural wiring declines after six to eight years of continued chronic use, marijuana users continue to display more intense connectivity than healthy non-users, which may explain why chronic, long-term users “seem to be doing just fine” despite smaller OFC brain volumes, Filbey explained.
“To date, existing studies on the long-term effects of marijuana on brain structures have been largely inconclusive due to limitations in methodologies,” said Dr. Filbey. “While our study does not conclusively address whether any or all of the brain changes are a direct consequence of marijuana use, these effects do suggest that these changes are related to age of onset and duration of use.”
The study offers a preliminary indication that gray matter in the OFC may be more vulnerable than white matter to the effects of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main psychoactive ingredient in the cannabis plant. According to the authors, the study provides evidence that chronic marijuana use initiates a complex process that allows neurons to adapt and compensate for smaller gray matter volume, but further studies are needed to determine whether these changes revert back to normal with discontinued marijuana use, whether similar effects are present in occasional marijuana users versus chronic users and whether these effects are indeed a direct result of marijuana use or a predisposing factor.
The research was funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse to Dr. Filbey (R01 DA030344, K01 DA021632).
Jake Schick, a former Marine who was severely wounded conducting combat operations in the Sunni Triangle of Iraq in 2004, writes an open letter to his fellow warriors addressing the invisible wounds of war.
In 2004, the Humvee I was driving hit a triple stack tank mine that was pressure plate ignited. It detonated directly beneath me, throwing me 30 feet into the air, and I landed on my head. Needless to say, it was a long day at the office.
I was in the hospital for a year and a half. I’ve undergone 46 operations and 23 blood transfusions and endured countless hours of rehabilitation. I lost parts of my hand, arm and leg, but those weren’t the “worst” of my injuries.
I was labeled with two of the diagnoses we dread: PTSD and TBI. As we say in the Marines, “Small price to pay to be one of the world’s finest!” And those labels haunted my every day for years. As I like to say, they are the gift that keeps on giving.
It's no secret that transition from service to civilian life is challenging to say the least. We’re each longing for that same sense of purpose and guiding mission; we’re searching for the ultimate sense of community we developed as brothers in arms.
But, there are three things we’re facing that we must overcome. We owe it to each other.
Twenty-two of our fellow warriors commit suicide everyday because they are simply sick and tired of battling to survive just one more day as a civilian. I must confess the same demon has reared its ugly head in my own life multiple times. Because of who we are and what we have accomplished, I know none of us want to be a statistic. One, much less 22 a day, is too many.
Our warrior brothers are who we listen to. We can change the culture among us to not be fearful or ashamed of what’s going on inside our heads and instead encourage each other to seek appropriate help and proper training. Why? Because we can do something about it.
You can change your brain; you’re not stuck with what you’ve got. Trust me, I’ve done it because another fellow warrior encouraged me. And because of that opportunity, I’ve become a better husband to my wife and a better father to my son. Ultimately, I’ve become a better man.
We’ve each trained for countless hours on how to do things some of us never thought possible or even in the realm of reality. We pushed ourselves physically and mentally further than we ever imagined. We must take that same drive and determination and channel it toward our brain’s health.
I spent several years in the Marine Corps training how to perfect various weapons and weapons systems to be the most effective warrior I could possibly be. But, what more powerful weapon do we have than our very own brain? The Center for BrainHealth’s programs empowered me; now I am able to give back to my fellow warriors through its new Brain Performance Institute.
I challenge you to stop thinking in terms of what is and start thinking what could be.
Cpl. Jake Schick USMC (RET)
Where were you born, and where did you grow up?
I am a Texas girl all the way. Dallas has been my primary home except for a few years living in Palo Alto where I worked as an assistant to the Chair of the aeronautical space engineering department at Stanford – the first academic program degree in space travel.
What event in your life inspired you to work in brain health?
Early on, I wanted to be involved in space travel - specifically to be involved in the Moon Shot. Every country around the world focused major financial resources and their top talent on trying to be the first to get to the moon. As a daughter of a math teacher, a degree in math was a natural for me with a secondary focus on computer science. But before I could even complete my studies – the US made it to the moon. I figured that was already done – I needed to move on.
So, I then became fascinated by the brain – an even more complex challenge. To this day, brain science and the ability to improve its functions remains the most important and unchartered frontier of discovery. I eventually pursued a doctoral degree in communication sciences with a focus on cognitive neuroscience. I still remember Steve, who had suffered a brain aneurysm 2 years before he participated in my doctoral research. After I tested him on complex measures, I told him how bright he was as he could quickly synthesize novel big ideas from lengthy information – no easy mental task. He said “No, I’m not. My doctors told me I could only be a car parker." I told him not to let that stand in his way – what did he want to do? He said he always wanted to go to college. So he did and with our help, he graduated magna cum laude on full scholarship from SMU and went on to complete graduate work and help others with brain injury – not accept a disabled label.
This experience and many other similar ones across the age span in individuals with a broad array of brain issues made me realize how little was known about our brain’s function and its immense ability to adapt and repair. I was challenged by the realization that there wasn’t going to be just one right answer, like in math. Rather, each individual’s brain was a uniquely new and complex challenge and only deep knowledge and hands on experience would make a difference for them. I realized that I was powerfully and passionately drawn to that human element and as well as the limitless need for greater discovery about the human brain and its operating systems.
What event/person prompted you to conceive of the Center for Brain Health?
From the beginning of my research career, I saw, time and time again, patients repeatedly being told by medical professionals that the limitations of their brain capacity, resulting from injury, disease, or socioeconomic status, were irreversible. And yet, I had observed much the opposite – that with effort and training they continued to make gains well beyond what had been predicted.
Early on in my career, I worked with a young man with severe autism. My tape recorder broke during our session and he took the entire thing apart, put it back together again and it worked perfectly. He was able to get a job at a local dry-cleaners at a very young age – because he could expertly operate the equipment better than the adult employees. Why was this person was labeled as incapable of learning? Then, there was a young woman who had been born prematurely and weighed 2.8 pounds at birth. Her family was told that she would never be able to live independently. I encouraged them to keep expecting and stimulating her brain development. She went on to get a graduate degree and is now an executive.
I knew at that point that a new approach to researching the brain was needed. It would require viewing the brain with a new lens - since the ‘facts’ I had learned from books that brain injury was permanent and the time window for repair was limited to one year were clearly wrong. Instead – the brain needed to be studied and appreciated as a complex organ that has more back-up systems than any space shuttle where other brain regions and new connections could work around areas that were injured or compromised to some degree and that improvement could take place for life. I am impatient about new findings taking too long to help people – at best 20 to 30 years. I was determined to create an innovative place where every scientist focused on, and was dedicated to, improving brain health, today. Voila – the vision for the Center for BrainHealth at UTDallas became a reality.
That is such a huge goal! What (or who) gave you the energy and confidence to move forward?
I was greatly encouraged by Dallas community leaders early on like Dave Fox and Norm Brinker to create a big vision for what a brain health focused research center could become. I was able to share with them the variety of successes our scientific team had achieved with diverse individual brain issues. That led to them trusting us to help them develop custom strategies to deal with workday deficits that they were experiencing as a result of brain injury and progressive brain disease. Both of these amazing men challenged me personally to help others, just as I had helped them, by creating a world class scientific center of excellence focused on brain health across the entire life span.
What is the secret to building such an important organization from the ground up?
Passion. Compassion. Not accepting Status quo. Impatience. At the Center for BrainHealth, we have been able to attract a group of highly skilled and focused scientists, highly trained clinicians and talented support staff that passionately embrace our collective goal of achieving meaningful scientific breakthroughs and immediately translating them into practice with people in need - now. In addition, I never accept status quo. The BrainHealth team is tenacious in their efforts to push the limits of current brain science and discover novel ways to enhance cognitive performance for all.
If you could pick one outstanding achievement of the Center for Brain Health, what would it be?
We have become the thought leader in championing the message that brain health is the cause of this century. We believe that it is critical for each individual to take steps to match their cognitive brain span to their body’s every increasing lifespan.
We’re letting the public know they don’t have to be let their brain performance lose ground – that they can change their brain. We’re giving them solutions and strategies that allow them to attain better brain function on all levels. We are also incredibly excited about being on the leading edge of proving that metrics of brain blood flow and advanced reasoning rather than IQ type tests are true biomarkers of brain health.
In your new book, Make Your Brain Smarter, you address the fact that memory is not the most important measure of brain capacity. If not that, what is?
Our educational systems and corporations continuously reinforce the importance of memorization and fact learning yet, when it comes to our brain, it really is a case of quality over quantity. Our brain functions best by using its core intellectual processes: abstract thinking, problem solving, reasoning, planning and judgment. These are higher order thinking skills that keep you independent throughout life such as making sound financial decisions and maintaining your household. We can compensate for memory glitches, but we cannot compensate for sound judgment.
What is your ultimate vision for the future of the Center for Brain Health?
My vision for the Center for BrainHealth at the University of Texas at Dallas is that it will be the catalyst in establishing Dallas as the world’s preeminent brain health focused research institute. And to further that goal, the Center for BrainHealth’s 135-strong scientific team, will be augmented by the recently announced Brain Performance Institute, the translational arm of the Center for BrainHealth, where once we have proven scientific trials to enhance brain health, training and treatment programs can be immediately made available to individuals across the life span in health, brain injury and disease. We are currently working with several inspiring populations including warriors, athletes, executives, and public school students. We are proving daily that brain health is necessary and possible for everyone regardless of age, health, status, or lifework.
The Center for BrainHealth’s Brain Performance Institute will host the Dennis Berman Brain Performance Lecture, “Firefight: Inside the Battle to Transform Health for America’s Warriors on Deployment and Here at Home,” featuring former United States Air Force Surgeon General, retired Lieutenant General PK Carlton Jr.
Tickets are available for purchase here. Complimentary tickets for warriors, military spouses and caregivers.
General Carlton will highlight the extraordinary impact of medical advances that led to the highest survival rate in the history of war and share how mere survival is not enough, how we can improve acute and long-term care to help service members thrive during and after service, and the path forward to transforming health for warriors. The lecture will be held at 2200 W. Mockingbird Lane on October 22, 2014 at 6:00 p.m.
“The brain is the last great frontier in medicine and the Center for BrainHealth and Brain Performance Institute are pioneers in arming the warrior community with tools to harness their best brain health,” said General Carlton.
A trailblazer in the field of military medicine, General Carlton is the author of the current war plan of far-forward surgical capabilities and in-air critical care, which resulted in a dramatic increase in survival rates. His revolutionary changes in battlefield procedure are directly responsible for saving at least one Brain Performance Institute team member. Jacob Schick is a retired Marine Corporal who was severely wounded in Iraq in 2004 after a triple-stacked tank mine detonated beneath his Humvee. “My immediate evacuation from the war zone was a direct reflection of General Carlton’s innovative medical efforts,” said Schick. “I know there are countless others that are alive today because of his extraordinary accomplishments.”
“The health and welfare of our nation’s warriors is of utmost importance,” said Eric Bennett, executive director for the Brain Performance Institute. “It is our responsibility to ensure these courageous men and women are equipped with the tools to lead fulfilling lives in and out of uniform. The Brain Performance Institute is paving the way for warriors to flourish and achieve their full brain potential and General Carlton’s work epitomizes innovation that capitalizes on emerging scientific discoveries. We are grateful for his courage and conviction to continue fighting for the best medical solutions possible.”
Tickets to the Dennis Berman Brain Performance Lecture featuring retired Air Force Lieutenant General PK Carlton Jr. are available here. Lecture sponsors include Linda and Joel Robuck and MG(R) Lee and Terry Baxter.
The Friends of BrainHealth, a donor circle dedicated to advancing research discoveries at the Center for BrainHealth, raised more than $302,000 this year and awarded four $25,000 research grants to young scientists at the annual Friends of BrainHealth Scientist Selection Luncheon.
2014 Friends of BrainHealth chairs, Tracy and Ballard Castleman along with membership chairs Helen and Rives Castleman spearheaded this year’s effort that supports a unique program to provide young scientists the invaluable opportunity to design and lead their own research studies at an early point in their careers.
More than ninety members attended the luncheon at the Dallas Country Club today that showcased six finalists selected from competing Center for BrainHealth graduate students, doctoral candidates, and postdoctoral fellows by the Friends of BrainHealth Scientist Selection Committee. Vanguard members who contribute at the Visionary Friend level ($25,000) announced recipients of three named awards and a vote proclaimed the final awardee live.
Joel Robuck, explaining his and wife Linda’s commitment to being a Visionary Friend, said, “We believe the research is of the highest quality and its emphasis on translating its findings into useful solutions uniquely positions the Center to address pressing brain health needs quickly.” This year’s Linda and Joel Robuck Distinguished New Scientist, Lee Ann Young, M.A., a doctoral student and research assistant for Daniel Krawczyk, Ph.D., the Debbie and Jim Francis Chair in BrainHealth, will use her award to establish a basis for future work that intends to develop a comprehensive, individualized diagnosis and treatment approach for traumatic brain injury. Using a virtual reality platform that mimics real-life cognitive load, the protocol aims to provide more accurate assessments than tests performed in a traditional clinical setting.
The Sapphire Foundation Distinguished New Scientist, Lori Cook, Ph.D., a recently appointed adjunct assistant professor who completed her post-doctoral fellowship in the lab of founder and chief director, Sandra Chapman, Ph.D., will investigate how to use strategy-based curriculum to prime the minds of elementary-aged children for complex learning. “Sapphire is very pleased to be able to support Dr. Cook's research as it aligns with the foundation's desire to impact education and the learning process in a meaningful way,” stated Dana Juett, Sapphire Foundation CEO.
The Katherine and Bob Penn Distinguished New Scientist award went to Nyaz Didehbani, Ph.D., research scientist and former postdoctoral fellow in the lab of medical science director John Hart, Jr., M.D., for her study that explores the efficacy of an ocular test that assesses youth sports concussions on the playing field. “Concussions are a serious problem for athletes at every level of sports, both professionals as well as students. We are excited about the research that Dr. Didehbani has done to address this issue and are so pleased to support the fine work on it,” explained Bob Penn who, along with wife Katherine, made the luncheon possible.
The final award went to member favorite, Bambi DeLaRosa, M.S., a doctoral student of John Hart, Jr., M.D., who will utilize EEG neurofeedback to help understand the relationship between brain waves and performance, with the prospect of implementing novel brain training to extend an individual’s cognitive abilities in healthy aging.
“These awards give our young scientists a career-accelerating opportunity that builds the foundation for making major breakthroughs on a grand scale,” explained the Center’s development director, Kimber Hartmann. “We are extraordinarily grateful to have such a forward thinking group of donors who are interested in cultivating future scientific leaders.”
Former honorary chairs of the Friends of BrainHealth include Toni and Norm Brinker, Sue Justice, Sammye Myers and Dee Wyly. Former Friends of BrainHealth chairs include Caroline Gehan with Ross and Anne Helbing,Kimber Hartmann with Angie Kadesky and Daffan Nettle.
The Friends of BrainHealth kicks off their 2015 campaign with incoming co-chairs, Lucy Billingsley and Lindsay Billingsley, on November 1.
Friends of BrainHealth offers seven membership levels: Junior Friend* ($250) Companion ($500), Friend ($1,000), Special Friend ($2,500), Esteemed Friend ($5,000), Distinguished Friend ($10,000), and Visionary Friend ($25,000). To join, visit www.centerforbrainhealth.org/friends.
An estimated 8% of Americans will suffer from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) at some point during their lifetime. Brought on by an overwhelming or stressful event or events, PTSD is the result of altered chemistry and physiology of the brain. Understanding how threat is processed in a normal brain versus one altered by PTSD is essential to developing effective interventions.
New research from the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas published online today in Brain and Cognition illustrates how fear arises in the brain when individuals are exposed to threatening images. This novel study is the first to separate emotion from threat by controlling for the dimension of arousal, the emotional reaction provoked, whether positive or negative, in response to stimuli. Building on previous animal and human research, the study identifies an electrophysiological marker for threat in the brain.
“We are trying to find where thought exists in the mind,” explained John Hart, Jr., M.D., Medical Science Director at the Center for BrainHealth. “We know that groups of neurons firing on and off create a frequency and pattern that tell other areas of the brain what to do. By identifying these rhythms, we can correlate them with a cognitive unit such as fear.”
Utilizing electroencephalography (EEG), Dr. Hart’s research team identified theta and beta wave activity that signifies the brain’s reaction to visually threatening images.
“We have known for a long time that the brain prioritizes threatening information over other cognitive processes,” explained Bambi DeLaRosa, study lead author. “These findings show us how this happens. Theta wave activity starts in the back of the brain, in it’s fear center – the amygdala – and then interacts with brain’s memory center - the hippocampus – before traveling to the frontal lobe where thought processing areas are engaged. At the same time, beta wave activity indicates that the motor cortex is revving up in case the feet need to move to avoid the perceived threat.”
For the study, 26 adults (19 female, 7 male), ages 19-30 were shown 224 randomized images that were either unidentifiably scrambled or real pictures. Real pictures were separated into two categories: threatening (weapons, combat, nature or animals) and non-threatening (pleasant situations, food, nature or animals).
While wearing an EEG cap, participants were asked to push a button with their right index finger for real items and another button with their right middle finger for nonreal/scrambled items. Shorter response times were recorded for scrambled images than the real images. There was no difference in reaction time for threatening versus non-threatening images.
EEG results revealed that threatening images evoked an early increase in theta activity in the occipital lobe (the area in the brain where visual information is processed), followed by a later increase in theta power in the frontal lobe (where higher mental functions such as thinking, decision-making, and planning occur). A left lateralized desynchronization of the beta band, the wave pattern associated with motor behavior (like the impulse to run), also consistently appeared in the threatening condition.
This study will serve as a foundation for future work that will explore normal versus abnormal fear associated with an object in other atypical populations including individuals with PTSD.
This work was supported by the Berman Laboratory of Learning and Memory at The University of Texas at Dallas and the Jane and Bud Smith Distinguished Chair.
Traumatic Axonal Injury is a form of traumatic brain injury that can have detrimental effects on the integrity of the brain’s white matter and lead to cognitive impairments. A new study from the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas investigated white matter damage in the acute and chronic stages of a traumatic axonal injury in an effort to better understand what long-term damage may result.
The study, published online July 21 in the Journal of Neurotrauma, looked at 13 patients ages 16 to 60 with mild to severe brain injuries from the intensive care unit at a Level I trauma center. This group was matched to a cohort of 10 healthy individuals resembling the age, gender, and ethnicity of the patients. White matter integrity was measured using diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) in the acute stage of injury, at day one, and again at the chronic stage, seven months post-injury. In addition, neuropsychological assessments measured cognitive performance including processing speed, attention, learning and memory at both stages after injury.
“We intended to determine whether DTI could not only identify early compromise to white matter, but also demonstrate an association with functional and neuropsychological outcomes months post-injury,” said Carlos Marquez de la Plata, Ph.D., Assistant Director of Rehabilitation Research at Pate Rehabilitation in Dallas, Texas.
The study’s findings suggest DTI may be used to detect meaningful changes in white matter as early as one day after a traumatic brain injury. White matter integrity measured at the chronic stage was also found to significantly correlate with cognitive processing speed.
“On the first day after the injury, we found white matter integrity was compromised due to swelling in the brain,“ said the study’s lead author Alison Perez. “As the swelling subsided over time and the brain began to repair itself, we found that many of the damaged neurons that were unable to repair themselves began to die off, which appears to slow the speed of cognitive processing.”
Interestingly, the degree of white matter compromise detected early after injury was associated with markers of injury severity such as the number of days in the intensive care unit and hospital, but not to outcomes months later.
At seven months post-injury, many of the patients’ cognitive performance improved including processing speed, divided attention, and short and long-term memory. In addition, patients with better white matter integrity at the chronic stage had the fastest processing speed.
By studying the long-term effects of a traumatic axonal injury at both the acute and chronic stages, researchers hope to assist in the advancement of future assessment and treatment options after a traumatic brain injury.
This work was funded through the U.S Department of Education, the National Institutes of Health/National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
According to the CDC, unintentional injuries are the leading cause of death for adolescents. Compared to the two leading causes of death for all Americans, heart disease and cancer, a pattern of questionable decision-making in dire situations comes to light in teen mortality. New research from the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas investigating brain differences associated with risk-taking teens found that connections between certain brain regions are amplified in teens more prone to risk.
“Our brains have an emotional-regulation network that exists to govern emotions and influence decision-making,” explained the study’s lead author, Sam Dewitt. “Antisocial or risk-seeking behavior may be associated with an imbalance in this network.”
The study, published June 30 in Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, looked at 36 adolescents ages 12-17; eighteen risk-taking teens were age- and sex-matched to a group of 18 non-risk-taking teens. Participants were screened for risk-taking behaviors, such as drug and alcohol use, sexual promiscuity, and physical violence and underwent functional MRI (fMRI) scans to examine communication between brain regions associated with the emotional-regulation network. Interestingly, the risk-taking group showed significantly lower income compared to the non-risk taking group.
“Most fMRI scans used to be done in conjunction with a particular visual task. In the past several years, however, it has been shown that performing an fMRI scan of the brain during a ‘mind-wandering’ state is just as valuable,”said Sina Aslan, Ph.D., President of Advance MRI and Adjunct Assistant Professor at the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas.“In this case, brain regions associated with emotion and reward centers show increased connection even when they are not explicitly engaged.”
The study, conducted by Francesca Filbey, Ph.D., Director of Cognitive Neuroscience Research of Addictive Behaviors at the Center for BrainHealth and her colleagues, shows that risk-taking teens exhibit hyperconnectivity between the amygdala, a center responsible for emotional reactivity, and specific areas of the prefrontal cortex associated with emotion regulation and critical thinking skills. The researchers also found increased activity between areas of the prefrontal cortex and the nucleus accumbens, a center for reward sensitivity that is often implicated in addiction research.
“Our findings are crucial in that they help identify potential brain biomarkers that, when taken into context with behavioral differences, may help identify which adolescents are at risk for dangerous and pathological behaviors in the future,” Dewitt explained.
He also points out that even though the risk-taking group did partake in risky behavior, none met clinical criteria for behavioral or substance use disorders.
By identifying these factors early on, the research team hopes to have a better chance of providing effective cognitive strategies to help risk-seeking adolescents regulate their emotions and avoid risk-taking behavior and substance abuse.
Advancing knowledge and realizing the human potential is at the core of the RGK Foundation's mission to improve society. "RGK Foundation recognizes brain science's immense capacity to transform individual health and productivity when translated into life-improving programs," said Gregory A. Kozmetsky, Chairman of RGK Foundation. "The Center for BrainHealth has developed solutions that are truly transformative, and we are excited to be collaborating with the Center on several fronts."
Based in Austin, TX, the RGK Foundaiton is an independent foundation that was established by Ronya and George Kozmetsky in 1966. Aaron, the founders' grandson, and his wife Tracey live in Dallas and have been contributing their personal gives of time, talent and funds to the Center for the last several years. A proponent of the Center's high performance brain training program called Strategic Memory Advanced Reasoning Training (SMART), Tracey explained her enthusiasm, "If you apply the Center's high performance brain training strategies, you will really see a difference in how your brain functions on a daily basis. Adopting the skills has helped me think more strategically, more creatively and more meaningfully." She added, "The principles span generations and apply to every lifestyle. We are able to incorporate them with our teenage children, our parents and in our professional and personal endeavors."
In its most recent grant to the Center for BrainHealth, the RGK Foundation donated $500,000 to expand two existing higher performance brain training initiatives in Austin, San Antonio, and the greater Central Texas area.
The programs will be delivered through the Center for BrainHeatlh's translational arm, the Brain Performance Institute. One initiative, known as Warrior SMART, is tailored to empower current and former military service members on and off the battlefiled. The other initative, called Adolescent SMART, focuses on helping middle school students reach their full academic and personal potential.
"These programs target populations dear to the foundation's heart: those who honor our country service in the military and our nation's youth," said Aaron Kozmetsky.
"The continued expansion of the Adolescent SMART program is important for advancing the Center's goal to increase student achievement and reasoning ability, regardless of socioeconomic status, in diverse communities," explained Jacquelyn Gamino, Ph.D., director of the Adolescent Reasoning Initiative.
As a kick-off to the RGK Foundation sponsored initiative, teachers from Central Texas School districts have traveled to the Center for BrainHealth this summer to learn how to implement SMART in their middle school classrooms. RGK funds will also support a regional liaison in Austin who will help the Adolescent Reasoning Dallas-based team maintain the SMART program's fidelity and collect research data.
RGK Foundation support for Warrior SMART began by deploying brain training teams to Texas State Technical College in Waco and The University of Texas at San Antonio where there are large veteran student populations.
"We are grateful for RGK's support in this strategic move that helped us reach an area with one of the highest concentrations of veterans and active-duty service members in the United States," said Matthew Neyland, head of the Warrior Training Team and former U.S. Marine Corps Officer. "Our training leverages leadership and strategic thinking skills learned in the military, bridging the transition from the battlefiled to civilian life."
"We are deeply grateful to The RGK Foundation and the Kozmetsky family," said Sandra Bond Chapman, Ph.D., the Center's founder and chief director. "They are truly agents of change pushing forward better brain health for all."
New research from the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas demonstrates that drug paraphernalia triggers the reward areas of the brain differently in dependent and non-dependent marijuana users.
The study, published July 1 in Drug and Alcohol Dependence, demonstrated that different areas of the brain activated when dependent and non-dependent users were exposed to drug-related cues.
The 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health shows marijuana is the most widely used illicit drug in the United States. According to a 2013 survey from the Pew Research Center, 48 percent of Americans ages 18 and older have tried marijuana. The National Institute on Drug Abuse states that 9 percent of daily users will become dependent on marijuana.
“We know that people have a hard time staying abstinent because seeing cues for the drug use triggers this intense desire to seek out the drugs,” said Dr. Francesca Filbey, lead author of the study and professor at the Center for BrainHealth in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences. “That’s a clinically validated phenomenon and behavioral studies have also shown this to be the case. What we didn’t know was what was driving those effects in the brain.”
To find this effect, Filbey and colleagues conducted brain-imaging scans, called functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), on 71 participants who regularly used marijuana. Just more than half of those were classified as dependent users. While being scanned, the participants were given either a used marijuana pipe or a pencil of approximately the same size that they could see and feel.
A comparison of the images revealed that the nucleus accumbens, the reward region in the brain, was activated in all users in response to the pipe. However, the strengths of the connections with other areas differed between dependent and non-dependent users.
“We found that the reward network is actually being driven by other areas unrelated to reward, like the areas in memory and attention or emotion,” Filbey said.
Non-dependent users showed greater activations in the orbital frontal cortex and hippocampus, suggesting that memory and attention were connected to the activation of the reward network. Dependent users had greater activations in the amygdala and anterior cingulate gyrus, suggesting a more emotional connection. Additionally, the areas of the brain activated resemble areas activated for other addictions, such as nicotine or cocaine, lending greater support to the addictiveness of marijuana.
These findings suggest that marijuana abuse intervention needs to cater more specifically to a user’s level of addiction.
"Clinicians treating people with problems with marijuana dependence should consider the different processes that trigger the reward response when determining possible pharmacological or behavioral interventions,” Filbey said.
The Think Ahead Group (TAG), the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas’ young professionals group, has awarded $50,000 to help individuals with autism achieve more socially engaged lives and advantageous futures.
“According to the Centers for Disease Control, one in 68 American children are on the autism spectrum, “ explained Tandra Allen, M.S., who is the lead clinician on the Center’s social cognition project. “Those diagnosed experience social cognition difficulties, or challenges with communication, social interaction and learning. Through our virtual reality training program, we provide a realistic, safe, no-fail environment to experience situations that are often difficult for those on the autism spectrum.”
Combining proven training methods with the latest in virtual reality face-emotion tracking software, the Center for BrainHealth’s program immerses participants in a virtual city -- complete with a coffee shop, apartment complex, movie theatre, grocery store, office building, playground, basketball court and school. Research utilizing the program shows documented improvements in recognizing emotions, understanding the intentions of others, and being able to respond appropriately in various social situations including job interviews, academic settings, and dating.
“Video games are fun, and this is therapy disguised as a high-tech game with state-of-the-art graphics, real-time face tracking and personalized avatars. Participants don’t realize that while they are having fun, their brains are changing to positively affect future real-world scenarios,” said Carl Lutz, head of Center for BrainHealth’s Virtual Reality Lab.
Until recently the program was only available to those research participants who were able to come to the Center for BrainHealth or visit the Child Study Center at Yale University Yale School of Medicine who is collaborating with the team at the Center.
TAG’s funding will support the development and expansion of the current program to a wider, in-home audience. The grant will allow Center for BrainHealth clinicians to provide remote training opportunities via laptops that have been outfitted with the virtual reality program. The funds will also supply portable technology components, such as a web-cam, that will be shipped to participants and mailed back with the laptop when the training is complete.
“With this gift, we will be able to reach those who cannot physically visit the Center for BrainHealth but who can still be positively impacted by this virtual environment,” said Allen. “We have seen so many inspiring success stories with those who have completed the 10-session program at the Center, but it has been heartbreaking to have to turn away people due to geographic limitations. Now we will be able to reach many more people of all ages on the autism spectrum.”
“As young professionals in Dallas, we are keenly aware that brain health affects everyone and every generation,” said TAG president, Dan Harris. “We are very proud to be able to reach diverse populations through the Center for BrainHealth’s life-changing programs. This year we are focusing on individuals with autism, but in previous years, grants have supported initiatives for military veterans as well as older adults facing mild cognitive impairment.”
Since TAG’s inception in 2009, the group has raised more than $360,000 in support of Center for BrainHealth research. The majority of funds are amassed via their annual Kentucky Derby Party, which was chaired this year by Katie Bivins and Halley Homen and sponsored by Sewell Automotive Companies. About 300 people attended the benefit held on May 3 at Dallas Arboretum’s DeGolyer Mansion.
Bipolar disorder is one of the most prevalent manic-depressive illnesses affecting approximately 5.7 million adult Americans every year. It causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, and hinders the ability to carry out daily tasks. Although it cannot be cured, it can be treated effectively. A new Center for BrainHealth study will investigate the effects of the Center’s high performance brain training program called SMART on the mental health and cognitive performance of individuals who have been diagnosed with the disorder.
The study is being funded by friends of the Center, Debbie and Bill Dunlap. “We realize that individuals with bipolar disorder are often very bright and creative,” explained Debbie Dunlap. “We want to help maximize their potential. Our desire is to see them achieve greater success in life through the SMART program.” Although not previously studied in bipolar disorder, SMART has been scientifically proven in several populations including healthy aging adults, those with traumatic brain injury and teenagers. This novel pilot study will measure changes in cognition, real life functionality, and brain imaging data. Erin Venza, M.S. CCC-SLP, the clinician spearheading the study, explained, “Working memory and attention are common complaints in individuals with bipolar disorder. We believe that this training will greatly enhance cognitive and neural functioning in this group of adults and also incite white matter generation.”
If you or someone you know may be interested in participating in the study, please click here for more information.
Traumatic brain injuries from sports, recreational activities, falls or car accidents are the leading cause of death and disability in children and adolescents. While previously it was believed that the window for brain recovery was at most one year after injury, new research from the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas published online today in the open-access journal Frontiers in Neurology shows cognitive performance can be improved to significant degrees months, and even years, after injury, given targeted brain training.
"The after-effects of concussions and more severe brain injuries can be very different and more detrimental to a developing child or adolescent brain than an adult brain," said Dr. Lori Cook, study author and director of the Center for BrainHealth's pediatric brain injury programs. "While the brain undergoes spontaneous recovery in the immediate days, weeks, and months following a brain injury, cognitive deficits may continue to evolve months to years after the initial brain insult when the brain is called upon to perform higher-order reasoning and critical thinking tasks."
Twenty adolescents, ages 12-20 who experienced a traumatic brain injury at least six months prior to participating in the research and were demonstrating gist reasoning deficits, or the inability to "get the essence" from dense information, were enrolled in the study. The participants were randomized into two different cognitive training groups – strategy-based gist reasoning training versus fact-based memory training.
Participants completed eight, 45-minute sessions over a one-month period. Researchers compared the effects of the two forms of training on the ability to abstract meaning and recall facts. Testing included pre- and post-training assessments, in which adolescents were asked to read several texts and then craft a high-level summary, drawing upon inferences to transform ideas into novel, generalized statements, and recall important facts.
After training, only the gist-reasoning group showed significant improvement in the ability to abstract meanings – a foundational cognitive skill to everyday life functionality. Additionally, the gist-reasoning-trained group showed significant generalized gains to untrained areas including executive functions of working memory (i.e., holding information in mind for use – such as performing mental addition or subtraction ) and inhibition (i.e., filtering out irrelevant information). The gist-reasoning training group also demonstrated increased memory for facts, even though this skill was not specifically targeted in training.
"These preliminary results are promising in that higher-order cognitive training that focuses on 'big picture' thinking improves cognitive performance in ways that matter to everyday life success," said Dr. Cook. "What we found was that training higher-order cognitive skills can have a positive impact on untrained key executive functions as well as lower-level, but also important, processes such as straightforward memory, which is used to remember details. While the study sample was small and a larger trial is needed, the real-life application of this training program is especially important for adolescents who are at a very challenging life-stage when they face major academic and social complexities. These cognitive challenges require reasoning, filtering, focusing, planning, self-regulation, activity management and combating 'information overload,' which is one of the chief complaints that teens with concussions express."
This research advances best practices by implicating changes to common treatment schedules for traumatic brain injury and concussion. The ability to achieve cognitive gains through a brain training treatment regimen at chronic stages of brain injury (6 months or longer) supports the need to monitor brain recovery annually and offer treatment when deficits persist or emerge later.
"Brain injuries require routine follow-up monitoring. We need to make sure that optimized brain recovery continues to support later cognitive milestones, and that is especially true in the case of adolescents," said Dr. Sandra Bond Chapman, study author, founder and chief director of the Center for BrainHealth and Dee Wyly Distinguished University Chair at The University of Texas at Dallas. "What's promising is that no matter the severity of the injury or the amount of time since injury, brain performance improved when teens were taught how to strategically process incoming information in a meaningful way, instead of just focusing on rote memorization."
Tina Bass, M.S., LPC is part of the Center for BrainHealth’s post traumatic stress disorder research team that is investigating new interventions to help returning service members. She shares her thoughts below on ending the stigma associated with mental health issues and post traumatic stress disorder. To learn more about the Center’s work with military service members, click here. For more information about our post traumatic stress disorder study, in particular, click here.
Bipolar. Anxiety. Schizophrenia. Depression. Post traumatic stress disorder. Matters of mental health often carry negative connotations and stigmas that are furthered by lack of public awareness, inaccurate knowledge, limited understanding of the realities of mental health issues and personal and societal fear.
Broadly de-stigmatizing mental health issues and post traumatic stress disorder, in particular, will require a long-term, sustained effort. A first step is knowing the science.
Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is defined as the failure of the natural recovery process to unusual stress or trauma. Sustained symptoms can be the outcome of experiencing an event or series of events that are life threatening or can cause serious injury to an individual or others close to the individual. This often results in feeling intense fear, horror, or feeling an inability to control what is happening. Almost all individuals who are exposed to these types of situations have to cope with some of the 20 symptoms associated with PTSD. These symptoms are classified into four categories including: re-experiencing events, hyper-arousal, avoidance, and negative changes in thoughts and feelings. If these symptoms do not resolve on their own over time, an individual may meet criteria for PTSD.
PTSD is an injury like a broken arm. It is a neurobiological adaptation sustained as a result of an overwhelming or stressful event or events, and the chemistry and physiology of the brain are changed. This change need not be permanent, and, like a broken arm, is treatable. PTSD is not a mental weakness, nor is it some self-inflicted emotional problem. No one seems to think that it is a character issue if you have a cavity, a broken arm, or multiple sclerosis.
Individuals affected by mental health issues experience quality of life limitations personally, socially, and occupationally, and have the additional burden bearing the stigma of mental health issues as well. The most serious outcome is that stigma becomes a barrier to seeking treatment and typically forces individuals to pursue other forms of relief such as self-medication via drugs and alcohol or complete avoidance and isolation, which only add another layer to the problem.
Let’s each do our part to know the science and end the stigma associated with mental health challenges.
To learn more about the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation's campaign, “Know Science. No Stigma”, click here.
Strategy-based cognitive training has the potential to enhance cognitive performance and spill over to real-life benefit according to a data-driven perspective article by the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas published in the open-access journal Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience. The research-based perspective highlights cognitive, neural and real-life changes measured in randomized clinical trials that compared a gist-reasoning strategy-training program to memory training in populations ranging from teenagers to healthy older adults, individuals with brain injury to those at-risk for Alzheimer’s disease.
“Our brains are wired to be inspired,” said Dr. Sandra Bond Chapman, founder and chief director of the Center for BrainHeath and Dee Wyly Distinguished University Chair at The University of Texas at Dallas. “One of the key differences in our studies from other interventional research aimed at improving cognitive abilities is that we did not focus on specific cognitive functions such as speed of processing, memory, or learning isolated new skills. Instead, the gist reasoning training program encouraged use of a common set of multi-dimensional thinking strategies to synthesize information and elimination of toxic habits that impair efficient brain performance.”
The training across the studies was short, ranging from 8 to 12 sessions delivered over one to two months in 45 to 60 minute time periods. The protocol focused on three cognitive strategies -- strategic attention, integrated reasoning and innovation. These strategies are hierarchical in nature and can be broadly applied to most complex daily life mental activities.
At a basic level, research participants were encouraged to filter competing information that is irrelevant and focus only on important information. At more advanced levels, participants were instructed to generate interpretations, themes or generalized statements from information they were wanting or needing to read, for example. Each strategy built on previous strategies and research participants were challenged to integrate all steps when tackling mental activities both inside and outside of training.
“Cognitive gains were documented in trained areas such as abstracting, reasoning, and innovating,” said Chapman. “And benefits also spilled over to untrained areas such as memory for facts, planning, and problem solving. What’s exciting about this work is that in randomized trials comparing gist reasoning training to memory training, we found that it was not learning new information that engaged widespread brain networks and elevated cognitive performance, but rather actually deeper processing of information and using that information in new ways that augmented brain performance.
Strengthening intellectual capacity is no longer science fiction; what used to seem improbable is now in the realm of reality.”
Positive physical changes within the brain and cognitive improvement across populations in response to strategy-based mental training demonstrate the neuro-regenerative potential of the brain.
“The ability to recognize, synthesize and create the essence of complex ideas and problems to solve are fundamental skills for academic, occupational and real-life success,” Chapman said. “The capacity to enhance cognition and complex neural networks in health, after injury or disease diagnosis will have major implications to preventing, diagnosing and treating cognitive decline and enhancing cognitive performance in youth to prepare them for an unknown future and in middle age to older adults who want to remain mentally robust.”
On April 28, the Center for BrainHealth brought together national experts to discuss solutions to our most pressing brain-related challenges at its inaugural Brain Health Summit, titled "The Human Brain: Resilience and Regeneration."
Summit participants garnered insights to important initiatives designed to improve our nation’s brain health through research, education and implementation programs to improve brain performance. Panel discussions and keynote presentations focused on innovative research advances, awareness efforts and practical application to promote brain health fitness for all ages and stages including students, healthy aging adults, athletes and military service members.
Speakers and panelists included:
"Pioneering research has shown that the brain is capable of substantive improvement in cognitive capacity and performance across the lifespan,” said Dr. Sandra Bond Chapman, founder and chief director of the Center for BrainHealth. “The focus of the summit was to raise awareness of this important fact, to incite new research directions and encourage everyone to take steps to strengthen their brains today.”
The 2014 Summit kicked off the Center for BrainHealth’s new national effort to increase brain health fitness, which also includes the launch of BrainHealthDaily.com.
"We are thrilled to announce the launch of BrainHealthDaily.com which will provide visitors with timely insight into matters of the mind," Chapman said. "The safety, preservation and improvement of the human brain have risen to the top of our national discourse, and we are proud to provide a platform highlighting the very latest on brain health, brain injury and brain disease.”
BrainHealthDaily.com is the gateway to curated, scientifically relevant news and opinion on the brain from around the world. The site houses video from the inaugural Brain Health Summit, including panel discussions and keynote speeches. Watch videos of the keynote presentations and panel discussions here.
Problem solving is a critical skill, particularly for young children whose brains are rapidly developing. Navigating complex problems and exercising innovation is at the core of brain performance and student readiness.
Fortunately, this is an area where U.S. students are proving strong – though there is still room for improvement when compared to their international peers.
The latest results released by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, show that American scores on the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) exams assessing problem-solving skills were above the average of those in the developed world. While I don’t want to diminish the good news here, the bad news is they trailed several countries in Asia and Europe as well as Canada. And let’s not forget U.S. scores for the PISA exams in reading, math, and science haven’t improved in a decade.
I say we can do better. The key is teaching how to think, rather than what to think. This idea is central to an approach developed at the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas-- one that emphasizes the fourth “R” of education: reasoning.
Based on our research about adolescent brain development, we have begun implementing a curriculum we call Strategic Memory Advanced Reasoning Training, or SMART, which focuses on enhancing brain processes such as mental flexibility, innovation, problem-solving, reasoning and strategic thinking among middle-school students. SMART is a top-down approach to learning that helps students develop context and meaning from the massive amount of information they take in every day. The idea is to encourage students to glean the big picture first, and then support it with details next. Research shows our brains work better that way, and yet it’s opposite of what’s put in most schools.
Students in our program are given over one month, 10 sessions by a trained SMART teacher who offers techniques for uncovering deeper meanings and discarding irrelevant information. Instead of asking students to underline key points, the training challenges students to mark out at least 50% or more of the extraneous information so the major ideas rise to the top. We find trying to learn every piece of information presented without being selective overwhelms students’ brains. Nationally, more than 25,000 students have received SMART training and the benefits have been profound.
Our research shows that the approach helps affluent and poor alike. In fact, we have already seen that SMART can be a catalyst for academic success for students in the Dallas Independent School District, many of whom have grown up in poverty.
Results from a pilot project for eighth graders at Thomas J. Rusk Middle School in Dallas are extremely promising. Rusk’s student body is 82 percent Hispanic and 13 percent African-American, and 91 percent of children received free or reduced-price lunch because of low household income (nationally, 68 percent of students get free or reduced lunch).
Prior to participating in SMART, 95 percent of students did not meet age-based criteria for critical reasoning skills. But after four weeks in the program, SMART participants showed more than a 50 percent improvement in critical reasoning scores, while their peers in the control group did not improve significantly. Additionally, all of the SMART participants passed the reading portion on TAKS. So did the benefits last? Four years later as seniors, 80% of those students were on track to graduate and 74% of them were in more than three Advanced Placement classes.
Teaching our students to reason enhances their abilities to think strategically, allowing them not only to remember important facts but also to create new ideas.
Einstein once said: “Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”
I couldn’t agree more. Innovative thinking is the richest natural resource that we have. Developing critical skill will help with all subjects, and prepare students to thrive in the complex world of adulthood.
Underperformance in academics among American teenagers is a problem we can solve. Focusing on critical reasoning skills through programs like SMART will improve the ability of all students, regardless socioeconomic status, to succeed at school and in life, and help close the gap with our global neighbors.
Two Center for BrainHealth researchers have been awarded a grant to study a common complaint among many multiple sclerosis sufferers — difficulty understanding spoken language.
The National Multiple Sclerosis Society has awarded Dr. John Hart, the Center for BrainHealth’s medical science director and Jane and Bud Smith Distinguished Chair, and Dr. Gail Tillman, research scientist and electroencephalography lab director at the center, more than $690,000 for a three-year study to investigate neural markers related to the frequent problem.
“Understanding language is very complex,” Hart said. “In addition to good hearing, it requires remembering what was said earlier in a conversation and even what was said earlier in each sentence. It requires being able to pay attention and knowing what words mean.
"Because being unable to follow conversations can have such a substantial and negative impact on social and work functioning at many levels, understanding this deficit is vitally important to the quality of life of those diagnosed with MS.”
Multiple sclerosisis a disease of the central nervous system that affects more than 2.3 million people worldwide. Although not usually fatal, the disease can be debilitating since it involves the body’s immune system attacking its own central nervous system including the brain, optic nerves, and spinal cord. Almost half of all people diagnosed will develop problems with cognitive functions, such as following conversations.
As part of the study, Hart and Tillman will use electroencephalography (EEG), which measures electrical activity in the brain, to gauge the speed from the point at which the sound of a word enters the ear to when the brain has processed its meaning.
“Compared to other imaging technologies, EEG is much more sensitive to processing speed,” Tillman said. “We can measure how quickly the brain is moving from one process to the next using the millisecond time scale of the EEG. This is critical because MS damages the brain’s white matter, which is vital for the fast and accurate transmission of signals from one part of the brain to another.”
The study will include 50 multiple sclerosis patients who suffer from speech comprehension problems, 50 other multiple sclerosis patients who do not and 50 healthy people. The aim is to identify specific characteristics and associations between patterns of disability and evidence of the disease at key locations along the auditory and language processing streams.
The Center for BrainHealth will work closely with the Clinical Center for Multiple Sclerosis at UT Southwestern and its director, neurologist Elliott M. Frohman.
The Center for BrainHealth hosted Reprogramming the Brain to Health, an annual symposium that brings together top neuroscientists and medical investigators to share breakthroughs in brain research, on April 10.
This year’s symposium focused on the topic of “Brain Connectivity in Health and Disease.” Keynote speaker Dr. Floyd Bloom, chairman emeritus of the department of neuropharmacology at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif., received the Dr. Charles L. Branch BrainHealth Award for his contributions to the understanding of the dopamine system and its role in brain health and brain decline.
The symposium is held in partnership with the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute at the University of California, Berkeley.
Since 2010, the Branch Award has honored neuroscientists who have made noteworthy breakthroughs in brain discoveries. Bloom was the first to receive the award since its namesake, Dr. Charles Branch Sr., died last year. Branch was a leading research scholar, neurosurgeon, humanitarian and brain-mapping pioneer.
“Dr. Bloom has been a major force urgently pushing forward the need for biomedical discoveries to be more rapidly transformed into meaningful advances in health care for society today,” said Dr. Sandra Bond Chapman, BrainHealth’s founder and chief director, and Dee Wyly Distinguished University Chair. “For that reason, the Center for BrainHealth is closely aligned with his life mission.”
A leading medical expert in neuroscience, neurology and psychiatry, Bloom is a renowned physician-combined neuroscientist and editor of a book written as the consumer’s “bible” for the brain, The Dana Guide to Brain Health. Dr. Michael Gazzaniga, the first Branch Award recipient, will present the award.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has awarded a $500,000 grant to fund the Imaging Data in Emerging Adults with Addiction (IDEAA) Consortium — a large marijuana research data collection undertaking.
Center for BrainHealth is partnering with Harvard University, the University of California, San Diego and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee to gain a greater scientific understanding of marijuana and its effects.
“As part of the consortium, we will collect and pool brain-imaging data from marijuana users and nonusers, focusing on regions that control rational decisions and emotional responses," said Dr. Francesca Filbey, associate professor in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences and director of cognitive neuroscience research of addictive behaviors at the Center for BrainHealth. "In healthy individuals, these highly interconnected regions maintain a balance. However, in individuals suffering from addiction, emotions and cravings can overturn reasoning and hijack decision-making.”
Filbey’s team will process the consortium's imaging data investigating the brain at rest. The consortium will help answer the larger questions of marijuana addiction: What are the risk factors that leave some more vulnerable to addiction? What are the detrimental effects of marijuana? What factors promote brain healing and addiction recovery?
Each IDEAA consortium partner will collect a uniform set of neuroimaging measures and will share data on a central IDEAA server, where it will be analyzed. The compiled results will culminate in a large dataset of adolescent to emerging adult marijuana users.
“Researchers are often kept from answering some bigger questions due to the limitations of smaller neuroimaging studies,” said Tim McQueeny, a research associate who recently joined Filbey’s team to help support the new initiative. “The consortium reduces many of those restrictions."
Large datasets that are too costly for one research site to accrue will now be available to all four institutions. The combined data represents all regions of the nation, and can therefore be generalizable.
“Perhaps most important, the IDEAA Consortium will give investigators the power to detect large and small differences, which will promote the discovery of new treatments,” McQueeny said.
The transition into adulthood is rarely smooth, but autism poses communication challenges that can derail typical milestones. Establishing relationships or beginning a career are hard to do when knowing how to interpret and react to others’ emotions and body language does not come easily.
For the first time, the Center for BrainHealth and the Child Study Center at Yale University Yale School of Medicine are collaborating to help young adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) achieve economic and social independence. “It is the technology of tomorrow, today,” explains Daniel Yang, Ph.D., postdoctoral researcher at the Child Study Center at Yale University. “Combining BrainHealth’s virtual reality service model with Yale’s fMRI and EEG techniques, we are able to help individuals with autism and, at the same time, track changes in the brain.”
For more than six years, BrainHealth’s virtual reality program has provided realistic and dynamic opportunities to succeed in social situations. Study findings published recently in the Journal of Autism Developmental Disorders reveal that this cutting-edge technology is a promising tool for improving social skills, cognition, and functioning in autism. “Participants’ scores significantly improve in areas of emotional recognition, as well as the ability to understand and respond to what others are thinking, in as little as five weeks,” said Tandra Allen. “They feel that the training improves their conversation skills. It’s very exciting to be taking this initiative nationwide.”
Carl Lutz, the head of BrainHealth’s virtual reality lab, explained why this works.
“Video games are fun, and this is therapy disguised as a high-tech game with state-of-the-art graphics, real-time face tracking and personalized avatars. Participants don’t realize that while they are having fun, their brains are changing to positively affect future real world scenarios.”
Carly McCullar, a recent UT Dallas graduate who was diagnosed several years ago with ASD, went through the Center’s social cognition training during her senior year. The training taught her to handle dynamic situations such as job interviews, a problem with a neighbor, and
“This is real life. If you can succeed in the alternate reality, you can do it for real,” Carly explained. This summer she passed her TExES 191 Early Childhood - 6th Grade Generalist Exam and was subsequently hired to teach Pre-K at W.W. Bushman Elementary School in Dallas. “I wouldn’t have been able to interview and do what I’m doing if it weren’t for the training,” she said. Ms. McCullar also reports, “I have now made real friends, long-lasting friends whom I know I will maintain relationships with. I now truly understand what friendship means and value its importance.”
The researchers hope to prove that the social brain in autism can be rewired with training.
Dr. Yang expounded, “I hope through this collaboration we will help build a service model that can generalize to many other regions in the United States.”
A crowd of family members, colleagues and benefactors gathered to pay tribute as UT Dallas celebrated 15 of its most accomplished faculty members with a formal Investiture Ceremony and reception March 18.
The ceremony honored both the distinguished faculty members and the far-sighted donors who helped establish the endowed chairs and professorships, President David E. Daniel said.
“Without this partnership — key leaders who help invest in the future of the University and great faculty members who bring that vision to realization — we would not be the kind of University that we are,” Dr. Daniel said.
For their enduring commitment and generous support, the Center for BrainHealth established two named chairs in honor of Debbie and Jim Francis and The Meadows Foundation. Daniel Krawczyk, Ph.D. and Bart Rypma, Ph.D. hold the Debbie and Jim Francis Chair in BrainHealth and The Meadows Foundation Chair in Behavioral Brain Science, respectively. Both have made significant research contributions to advance the Center for BrainHealth’s mission to understand, protect and heal the brain.
“The Meadows Foundation Chair will provide a tremendous opportunity to deepen our understanding of changes that take place in the aging brain, “ said Dr. Rypma. “It will also aid in revealing the complex underpinnings of multiple sclerosis and new avenues to improved treatment outcomes.”
“Debbie and Jim have been inspiring forces for a long time,” said Dr. Krawczyk. “Holding this chair in their name is really a permanent tribute to their efforts and all of the treatments, interventions and trainings that will result because of it. By creating new knowledge we are improving peoples’ lives and their brain health.”
UT Dallas has more than 100 chairs and professorships, the highest academic awards that the University can bestow on a faculty member. Funding generated by the establishment of a chair or professorship plays a critical role in assisting faculty members to advance their instructional programs and research.
Investitures are one of the oldest traditions in academia, dating back more than 500 years. They originated in England as a way for universities to honor their most accomplished scholars.
This week is Brain Awareness Week; while most people only focus on their brain after an injury or disease diagnosis, so much can be done to maximize brain performance in health. Just as we've come to realize that we can better our bodies through diet and exercise, so, too, can we improve our own brain's performance.
Hubertus von Hohenlohe, an alpine skier, turned 55 shortly after the Winter Olympics began in Sochi, becoming the oldest competitor at the Games. While he didn’t win a medal, Von Hohenlohe – who is also a businessman, pop singer, and photographer – was a worldwide inspiration as he competed alongside athletes less than half his age. He demonstrated that physical health doesn’t have an age limit. Neither, you might be surprised to learn, does brain health.
Thanks to scientific advances, many people now live to 100 and beyond; there are 12,000 centenarians in England alone, a five-fold increase in 30 years and one in three infants born today is predicted to live to 100 years. Yet few healthy aging adults maintain peak brain performance throughout their lives. In fact, science has shown that cognitive brain performance peaks in our early 40s. With better public health policies, we can improve the brain health of everyone – including the oldest Americans – to better extend our brain span to match our extended lifespan.
Unfortunately,we have grown to expect cognitive decline as an inevitable consequence of aging. Some cognitive skills do slip with age such as speed and quantity of learning capacity. However, a healthy aging brain can continually strengthen drawing on its rich knowledge, experience and wisdom to enhance the decision-making and critical reasoning skills that are essential to independent living. In fact,the majority of seniors aged 85 and older manifest a potential for well-preserved intellect, capacity for new learning, and sound decision making.
Yet, most of us still believe that our best brain years are in the past. Changing this way of thinking is imperative to improving the cognitive health of this nation. In order to do this, we must recognize two major misconceptions about aging in a healthy brain:
First, aging itself is not a disease. Differences exist between healthy brain aging and brain disease in an aging brain. For example, Alzheimer’s is a disease that afflicts the elderly, but it is not, nor are other kinds of dementia, an inevitable consequence of aging. Age alone is not a key predictor of hindered or impaired cognitive abilities later in life.
Second, we are not stuck with the brain that we have today. Consciously maintaining brain health must become an integralpart of managing our overall health and wellness. Responsible lifestyle choices are necessary to promote and enhance brain health throughout life.
The truth is that our brain changes and adapts moment-to-moment depending on how we use it. Thus, it is important to know what habits enhance brain performance and which ones are detrimental to healthy brain performance. Putting healthy thinking strategies into practice and stopping toxic habits will help to add years to cognitive brain performance to more closely match the increased life expectancy.
Brain overuse equals underutilized potential. Just like unrelenting and constant physical exercise causes overexertion and bodily injury, constant mental work is harmful to the brain. Not giving the brain the downtime it needs depletes its overall health, productivity and ability to innovate.
For better brain health it is also important to avoid cruising on automatic pilot. Life moves fast, and we often compensate by falling into routine, sticking to the path of least resistance, and letting our thoughts, conversations and activities become stagnant. Rote memorization and regurgitation of information at the lowest level fails to challenge our brain to do what it loves best: innovate. Allowing your brain to function at this low level fails to strengthen the connections in your brain. Your brain is changing, but in an unwanted negative decline. Instead, start thinking like a reporter, and synthesize ideas in new ways. After enjoying a movie, book or news article think deeply, and formulate succinct take-away messages.
Research shows that higher performing minds are not more efficient at knowing what to pay attention to, but rather, what to block out. Our brain is exposed to an unrelenting stream of information via various sources of technology and media as well as an overabundance of input from family and social responsibilities. This constant state of information-overload degrades the brain’s natural ability to block out irrelevant information, decreasing efficiency and performance. To help boost your brain’s blocker, limit what you take and make it your prerogative to temporarily unplug from technology daily. Start with 15-minute intervals and work your way up. You will find that disconnecting will prime your brain for deeper thinking.
Our brain is at least as modifiable, if not more so, than any other part of our body. Taking advantage of a unique quality known as neuroplasticity, the brain’s inherent ability to adapt and change throughout life, you can train your brain for health and productivity. You would not go through life sitting on the couch or running a marathon every day and still expect to remain in perfect physical health. Nor can you expect your brain to remain in prime condition if you leave it on autopilot exempt from new challenges or keep it constantly exhausted with nonstop work.
We should all make a concerted effort to take advantage of the vast opportunities for modifying declining brain performance, keeping in mind that the window for action is not restricted to early life, but extends throughout life – in health, in injury and in disease.
Let’s change the negative framing of brain aging and instead harness the potential of our brain’s capacity across the lifespan. It is not likely that any pill or quick fix alone will make a lasting difference on cognitive performance. And why should we expect that? The human brain may quite possibly be the most complex engine ever designed. Public policy and individual efforts should focus on encouraging strategies to maintain and optimize brain health fitness. In doing so, we will reap the rewards of nurturing our greatest asset and natural resource – the brain – for the rest of our lives.
The middle school years are when students gain crucial skills necessary for future academic and life success. Today, the Center for BrainHealth announced a partnership with LaDainian & Torsha Tomlinson's Touching Lives Foundation and its flagship initiative called Project XXI to further impact adolescent students, teachers and leadership at Thomas A. Edison Middle Learning Center in West Dallas.
The Center for BrainHealth and Project XXI have created SOAR (Students’ Outstanding Academic Rise) to promote healthy life habits and inspire teachers, students and parents to partner together for continued academic achievement. SOAR will complement the Center for BrainHealth-developed brain training program called SMART (Strategic Memory Advanced Reasoning Training) and is based on responsibility that requires all parties to attain specific conduct, activities, and academic enhancement on a daily basis.
“Our work with faculty and leadership at Edison is ongoing; it is the first middle school where we have infused the entire campus with our brain training program,” said Dr. Jacque Gamino, Director of the Center’s Adolescent Reasoning Initiative. “While we know that our brain training program induces cognitive change which leads to improved academic performance, we want to ensure that the students, teachers and parents at Edison are bolstered by support for healthy lifestyle goals and emboldened to be accountable to themselves and each other in their quest for academic success.”
"Torsha and I have become increasingly aware in the communities we serve that there are subsets of disadvantaged youth who are given up on because society deems they cannot be reached,” said LaDainian Tomlinson. “That is wholly unacceptable to us. Project XXI’s vision ultimately is to help children reach their full potential. Not some of them...all of them. Center for BrainHealth and Project XXI’s SOAR program is designed to address the students, educators and parents who are most responsible for individual success."
SOAR will include accountability measures from the students, teachers, and parents, such as educator-led curriculum enhancements and student demonstration of personal responsibility for learning. The focus of the initiative is to increase academic achievement and instill the resolve to succeed in the more than 600 students that attend Edison. Students, teachers and parents exhibiting the greatest improvement will be rewarded for their participation and accountability with Leadership Awards, memorabilia and even an unforgettable outing with LaDainian and Torsha to be announced at launch.
“To effect change, we must promote self-esteem,” Torsha Tomlinson continued. “We cannot let good enough be good enough, and parents must be a part of the solution. SOAR will provide monitoring and management of specific activities, goals, and incentives for students, teachers and parents and aims to improve academic performance individually.”
Center for BrainHealth researchers trained Edison teachers to implement SMART in their classrooms effectively and are continuing to work with the faculty to reach optimum outcomes. SMART encourages students to use higher-level thinking skills such as asking thoughtful questions and make meaningful connections to real world situations and discourage rote thinking and responses. Since 2006, Center for BrainHealth researchers have trained more than 25,000 students in five states, more than 300 teachers and more than 95 principals and school administrators.
“From our recent professional development training with Edison teachers, our team could not have been more impressed with the courageous commitment of the leadership and teachers on campus to positively impact and mentor the learning confidence of their students,” said Dr. Gamino. “By bringing research-based best practices to the school and encouraging accountability inside and outside of the walls of Edison, we hope to engage students in learning, spark innovation in the classroom, and dramatically affect student outcomes in life.”
Center for BrainHealth advances the vital role of sleep to improve cognitive performance.
One of this year's renowned speakers for The Brain: An Owner's Guide lecture series made possible by the generosity and vision of The Container Store was Dr. James Maas.
His sold-out Sleeping for Success lecture sponsored by J. Baxter Brinkmann was held on February 11, 2014. Please enjoy this brief video interview in which Dr. Maas shares his expert sleep insights, tips and reasons why getting enough sleep is more important than you might think.
The recent census has our population at roughly 319,000,000, and simple math tells us that 1% of the above number equals 3,190,000. So much attention has been given to the 1% of wealthiest Americans, but I would like to focus on the post 9/11 veterans that, coincidentally, are also about 1% of our population. This 1% is truly worth talking about.
This 1% protects the freedom of the other 99%. Without them, our country is not as safe, and without them, we could not enjoy the liberties we have daily.
You don’t have to agree with the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan or even agree with war at all. But, how can we not be anything but absolutely grateful and honored that so many men and women would fight selflessly to protect our country?
As citizens of this great nation, we have an obligation to do our part. The government trains these brave men and women and supports them to a high degree throughout their active military duty. But, when they leave military service, our veterans need our support.
I have never served in the military. Before I joined the Center for BrainHealth’s Brain Performance Institute, I can honestly say that I did not know many veterans. I certainly did not know them well enough to form an opinion about how they could contribute to the civilian sector.
I can now say with the upmost confidence that because of their military experience, warriors are among some of the finest employees I have ever had. They are team players, dedicated professionals, possess a great work ethic and are adaptable. Military service members are tenacious. In short, they get the job done.
So, what should we do as executives in corporate America, leaders in the non-profit world and influencers in our communities? I know for sure that veterans don’t want us to feel sorry for them. They are not victims that need our pity. They are Americans that want what we all want – opportunity. An opportunity for a career that is fulfilling, challenging and provides for their family. An opportunity to grow and find meaning and purpose in their lives. An opportunity to continue serving others.
I challenge you to the following to help bridge the civilian military divide and prepare some of America’s finest for their next mission as productive and successful citizens.
Don’t stigmatize them as being different. Diagnoses such as traumatic brain injury and post traumatic stress are not unique to combat and military experience.
Look at military service as incredibly valuable experience. With their unique perspective, veterans can enrich the fabric of our communities, our working environments, our friendships and this nation.
Welcome these post 9/11 veterans into your workplace -- whether you are a business owner, in the human resources department, or a colleague. Their military training and experience should be as meaningful as an advanced degree.
Give time and/or money to veteran service organizations that are worthy. There are more than 40,000 non-profits who in some way provide support to military service members. These organizations are providing support and services the government does not.
We often fear what we don’t understand, and we can’t possibly understand what its like to serve in the military if we have not done it. Hopefully, we can agree that supporting this 1% is a much more important conversation.
At Bush Institute's Empowering Our Nation's Warriors Summit yesterday, President George W. Bush highlighted the Center for BrainHealth as a "pioneering program" to address traumatic brain injury (TBI) and other invisible wounds of war.
In his remarks, President Bush charged the American public, military, non-profit, community and corporate leaders to help end the false stigma surrounding post-traumatic stress (PTS) and provide veterans with innovative programs that address PTS and TBI.
The Center for BrainHealth and Brain Performance Institute are working to help bridge the military and civilian divide and break down barriers that prevent our brave military service men and women from achieving the American dreams that they have so valiantly defended.
To see and read President Bush's speech about empowering our nation's warriors, click here.
To learn more about our warrior intitiatives, click here.
The Simmons Family Foundation is betting on the power of brain science to revolutionize one of our nation’s most pressing concerns – education of our youth. They have invested $2.5 million to implement programs, developed at the Center for BrainHealth, across Texas to create a model for national education reform.
Worldwide, the United States has fallen from number one in high school graduation to number 22 out of 27 ranked countries, according to the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD). Domestic advances are failing to compete with other developed countries that have worked aggressively at education reform. Curricula in top performing countries have evolved to emphasize creative thinking, problem solving and the ability to innovate, an OECD report points out.
U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan emphasizes, “I think in other countries, there’s a greater understanding that education is the path to a middle-class life. And somehow we have to get back that sense of urgency, that commitment that other countries have.”
The Simmons Family Foundation gift to the Center for BrainHealth’s Brain Performance Institute aims to help bring the U.S. back to its former global esteem. Priming teens for high school success, the generous donation will be used to integrate scientifically-proven high performance brain training, known as SMART, into several public middle schools of low socioeconomic status across Texas beginning in fall 2014. Moreover, it will provide extra support to students affected by two issues also in the national spotlight: the growing number of children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and the 20% increase in bullying in the last 10 years.
“The Simmons Family Foundation is dedicated to affecting change on important issues,” explains Lisa Simmons, trustee of The Simmons Family Foundation. “Transforming our education system is at the top of the list, and we believe the SMART training is vital to teach middle school students to learn and think strategically. With the number of young people facing social challenges, such as bullying, on the rise, the opportunity to promote social and emotional well being really appealed to us.“
The two programs will be delivered on a wide scale and are based on decades of research. Both inspire creative, insightful and resourceful thinking and are proven to strengthen the part of the brain responsible for critical thinking, reasoning, decision-making and problem solving – key aspects necessary to compete on an international level.
“With the campus-wide approach, SMART will be infused into the school’s culture and curriculum,” says Jacque Gamino, Ph.D., Director of the Center for BrainHealth’s Adolescent Reasoning Initiative. “When students are inspired to be involved in the learning process, innovation and creativity lead to engagement and academic success. Involving entire faculties and parents in the SMART program helps bolster student achievement.”
The social cognition program targeting those involved in bullying, individuals with an ASD diagnosis and other teens who face significant social challenges will be made available to students based on teacher recommendation. The cutting-edge virtual reality program, complete with personalized avatars and face tracking software, is a safe learning environment disguised as a fun video game that allows participants to triumph at real-life situations such as peer pressure, disagreements and building friendships.
Dr. Gamino and Sandra Chapman, Ph.D., the Center’s Founder and Chief Director, recently visited with officials in Secretary Duncan’s office to discuss scalability and future prospects for SMART on the national level. “We are grateful to The Simmons Family Foundation for the opportunity to expand these proven programs,” says Dr. Chapman. “Expanding SMART on this scale not only improves the minds of more students, but also continues to validate our research and the program’s potential to have a monumental impact on the U.S. education system.”
BrainHealth’s Dr. Sandra Chapman weighed in on the discussion about sports-related concussions yesterday at the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA)’s annual convention, saying the benefits of youth football “far exceed the risk of permanent brain damage.”
In a speech delivered to hundreds of football coaches, Dr. Chapman said it is a myth that a single concussion always causes permanent cognitive impairment. She explained that, in most cases, an individual will fully recover after a concussion given proper management, therapy and time to heal.
“A concussion, a typically mild and common type of brain injury, usually results in only temporary disruption of brain functions as long as there is adequate recovery time and no repeated injury. Even after more serious brain injury…research indicates that – especially with the help of therapy – the brain may be capable of developing new connections and “reroute” function through healthy areas.”
Dr. Chapman, who has been funded by the National Institutes of Health for 25 years to study the long-term effects of concussion in pediatric patients through age 25, acknowledged that the most important aspect is concussion prevention and continuing to make football safer. The interdisciplinary team she works with includes cognitive neuroscientits, rehabilitation specialists, speech-language pathologists, neurologists, psychiatrists, neuropsychologists, brain imaging experts and neurosurgeons. She also emphasized that monitoring cognitive and emotional symptoms is key to addressing any later-emerging deficits and that having a clear process for handling concussions increases the likelihood of recovery and improvement. Dr. Chapman said that once an athlete has experienced a concussion, it needs to be treated like a chronic condition and monitored annually to make sure the symptoms remain in remission.
During her presentation, Dr. Chapman explained that playing football and other sports provide rich and proven opportunities to:
She also shared some guidelines for treating concussions; additional resources are listed on the CDC website here.
A. Treat brain injuries with the same care you would treat other serious injuries. A player who breaks an ankle would not be sent out to play the next day.
B. After an injury, have the player immediately see a qualified medical professional—preferably a neurologist with experience in concussions—for diagnosis and treatment.
C. Remove the player from play until symptoms have disappeared.
D. Restrict the player from strenuous activity and weightlifting.
E. Remove the player from complex mental activity, such as school work and tests, for 1 to 3 weeks, with gradual return depending on the individual’s rate of recovery.
F. Restrict use of screens—computer, phone, video games and texting—for approximately 3 weeks; these can delay the brain’s healing process.
G. Keep the player from driving while symptomatic.
H. Limit the player’s intake of caffeinated drinks.
I. As symptoms improve, make incremental academic adjustments with a gradual “return to learn.”
So instead of swearing off sports, which provide benefits such as warding off depression, mitigating risks of lifelong addictions and promoting better sleep habits, Dr. Chapman suggests all of us – athletes or not -- focus on training our brains to build life-long cognitive resilience.
Dr, Chapman has no conflict of interests.
Major General Lee Baxter, USA (Retired) served in the United States Army for 31 years; his military career revolved principally around command assignments in Europe and the United States. General Baxter also served in Israel, Egypt, and the Sinai desert as a United Nation's peacekeeper. His career culminated with command of the Army Personnel Center, where his responsibilities included implementation of U.S. Army Human Resources policy worldwide, and then as Commanding General of the United States Army Field Artillery Center and School at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. He is a Senior Advisor for Warrior Initiatives at the Brain Performance Institute.
Physical fitness is as old as the military and has progressed over time as new and superior methods have been developed, honed and deployed to the masses. Physical readiness for our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines focuses on keeping their bodies prepared to endure the rigors of extreme conditions in combat. In recent years, and for the first time in over 20 years, the Army has considered substantive changes in how we assess our soldiers physically. No more two-mile runs against a time standard, no more simple sit-ups and push-ups; but now physical fitness requirements which attempt to replicate the needs of the body while in combat. This includes an Army Combat Readiness Test, and such regimens as carrying heavy ammunition, walking on balance beams, and simulating the dragging of casualties over rough terrain to safety. These changes and this progress are intended to reflect the true physical readiness of an individual, not just a snapshot of how he or she has been able to “peak” for the PT Test.
However, less progress has been shown in terms of deployment of programs developed to assess and increase the mental, emotional and psychological readiness of our troops. We now know the seriousness of the impact the repeated and multiple deployments to combat theaters have caused in our post-9-11 veterans. Estimates suggest more than 30% are experiencing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and nearly a quarter million of those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan have moderate or severe traumatic brain injury. Suicide rates among returning veterans are climbing, and experts indicate that an unprecedented number are ending their lives every day.
Dealing with these mental phenomena are critical to the long-term health and combat readiness of our forces, both active duty and retired. It’s about brain health and the non-profit, research-focused Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas in Dallas is doing something about it.
In my 32 years in the Army, spanning the decades of Vietnam to Desert Shield and Desert Storm, I can't recall an initiative more in tune with what our veterans need so badly. The newly established Brain Performance Institute, the delivery arm of the Center for BrainHealth, is now supporting veterans of all services with free (funded by private donation) high performance brain training that has been proven to be remarkably effective not only for those suffering physical head trauma but also those diagnosed with PTSD. The program, called Strategic Memory Advanced Reasoning Training (SMART), provides the tools and strategies needed to improve brain health; it’s essentially push-ups and sit-ups for the mind to stay in prime shape.
It is my belief that thorough the Brain Performance Institute, the potential exists to not only provide cutting edge treatment and research-based therapies and training to thousands of veterans across the United States, but to indeed establish Dallas as the Center of Excellence in the country for such programs.
Licensed clinicians, supported by warriors with military backgrounds who have completed the training and reached new life goals, conduct the training program. It is available now in Dallas or via Mobile Training Teams who are reaching out to veterans from Maine to Washington, and all states in between.
The military has turned some cultural corners, and the negative, macho stigma associated with seeking assistance, such as marital counseling, has somewhat dissipated; the acknowledgement of vulnerabilities is more widely accepted and has encouraged other service members to seek support and help with their own difficulties.
However, the challenges facing our veterans returning from multiple deployments are well documented and more challenging in scope and scale than ever before. Homelessness, joblessness, education, families, and the particular issues of military women are daunting, need resourcing, and prioritization on a national scale. Principal among these, though, is wellness; physical and mental wellness. And the Center for BrainHealth and the Brain Performance Institute are at the cutting-edge...bringing our veterans back from an abyss to become, once again, national assets, but this time off the battlefield.
Major General Lee Baxter will be participating in the high-performance brain-training program known as SMART next month and will be chronicling his experience online. For additional information about the programs available for military service members at the Center for BrainHealth and Brain Performance Institute, click here.
A study published online in Brain and Cognition shows that the Center for BrainHealth’s SMART program does more than just improve classroom performance; it improves core brain functions essential for academic achievement and daily living.
The program focused on teaching teens strategies to “get the gist” out of dense information and improve comprehension, reasoning, and problem-solving. For the study, middle school students ages 12 to 15 were shown visual images that cued them to press a button as quickly as possible except in rare instances that required them to withhold button pressing.
The test, designed by the Center’s Medical Science Director, John Hart, Jr., M.D., measured inhibitory control, an executive brain function involved in comprehension and reasoning that allows for the suppression of irrelevant information. The researchers also non-invasively measured brain activity using electroencephalogram (EEG). Compared to the control group, students who completed SMART showed improved inhibitory control and EEG signal changes associated with deeper thinking.
“The results show that SMART strengthens inhibitory control, which has been shown to affect higher-order thinking,” said BrainHealth’s Michael A. Motes, Ph.D., the study’s lead author. “The results also demonstrate the potentially broad implications of teaching higher-level thinking skills to students in general, but also to certain groups who have trouble with inhibitory control such as students with ADHD.”
A new study conducted by researchers at the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas published online in the open-access journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience found that engaging in a physical exercise regimen helps healthy aging adults improve their memory, brain health and physical fitness. This finding is significant considering that among adults 50 and older, “staying mentally sharp” outranks social security and physical health as the top priority and concern in the United States.
“Science has shown that aging decreases mental efficiency and memory decline is the number one cognitive complaint of older adults,” said Sandra Bond Chapman, Ph.D., founder and chief director of the Center for BrainHealth, Dee Wyly Distinguished University Chair and lead author of the paper. “This research shows the tremendous benefit of aerobic exercise on a person’s memory and demonstrates that aerobic exercise can reduce both the biological and cognitive consequences of aging.”
For the study, sedentary adults ages 57-75 were randomized into a physical training or a wait-list control group. The physical training group participated in supervised aerobic exercise on a stationary bike or treadmill for one hour, three times a week for 12 weeks. Participants’ cognition, resting cerebral blood flow, and cardiovascular fitness were assessed at three time points: before beginning the physical exercise regimen, mid-way through at 6 weeks, and post-training at 12 weeks.
“By measuring brain blood flow non-invasively using arterial spin labeling (ASL) MRI, we can now begin to detect brain changes much earlier than before,” said Sina Aslan, Ph.D., founder and president of Advance MRI and collaborator on the study. “One key region where we saw increase in brain blood flow was the anterior cingulate, indicating higher neuronal activity and metabolic rate. The anterior cingulate has been linked to superior cognition in late life.”
Exercisers who improved their memory performance also showed greater increase in brain blood flow to the hippocampus, the key brain region affected by Alzheimer’s disease. Chapman pointed out that, using noninvasive brain imaging techniques, brain changes were identified earlier than memory improvements, implicating brain blood flow as a promising and sensitive metric of brain health gains across treatment regimens.
“Physical exercise may be one of the most beneficial and cost-effective therapies widely available to everyone to elevate memory performance,” Chapman said. “These findings should motivate adults of all ages to start exercising aerobically.”
Chapman cautioned that while physical exercise is associated with a selective or regional brain blood flow, it did not produce a change in global brain blood flow.
“In another recent study, we have shown that complex mental training increases whole brain blood flow as well as regional brain blood flow across key brain networks,” Chapman said. “The combination of physical and mental exercise may be the best health measures to improve overall cognitive brain health. We have just begun to test the upper boundaries of how we can enhance our brain’s performance into late life. To think we can alter and improve the basic structure of the mature brain through aerobic exercise and complex thinking should inspire us to challenge our thinking and get moving at any age.”
The research was funded by the National Institute on Aging at the National Institutes of Health (RC1-AG035954), the Lyda Hill Foundation, the T. Boone Pickens Foundation, and the Dee Wyly Distinguished University Endowment.
There are 1.6 million veterans in Texas, making it one of only three states with a veteran population greater than 1 million. The DFW area ranks as one of the nation’s top places for veterans to live, but yet the national September 2013 unemployment rate of male veterans age 18-24 reached nearly 30%.
It begs the question: how can we bridge the gap from deployment to employment?
On November 12, Admiral Patrick Walsh, former commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet and Blue Angel pilot, will address the barriers and bridges warriors face transitioning from service to civilian life during a public lecture presented by the new Brain Performance Institute at the Center for BrainHealth. He will share why warriors are the nation's best and brightest to help businesses and corporations flourish and what the private sector can do take advantage the qualities service members embody.
“One of the most pressing needs of military veterans is gainful, steady employment,” said Eric Bennett, Executive Director of the Brain Performance Institute. “How we treat and reintegrate our nation’s greatest national assets both in and out of uniform will directly affect the success of companies and communities across the nation. By capitalizing on the valuable leadership, decision-making, strategic thinking and problem-solving skills learned in the military, the Brain Performance Institute is dedicated to raising awareness of the challenges warriors face and helping them reach their brain potential and civilian life success.”
In advance of the lecture, Admiral Walsh answered a few questions about the barriers and bridges warriors encounter when transitioning from service to civilian life.
Why is this topic of such importance to you?
It is our social and moral imperative to ease the transition of our all-volunteer force back to the civilian world. These men and women are the 1% of the population who has raised their hand to defend the constitution and our country no matter the sacrifice. It is our responsibility to make sure these soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines are given every opportunity to achieve successful, enriching and fulfilling lives in the civilian workforce.
What qualities do our veterans encompass that make them an asset to the business world?
I would be first in line to hire a veteran. They are dedicated leaders. Veterans are self-disciplined, resilient and willing to work toward the greater good. The stamina veterans must maintain to be successful in a military environment is an asset in the civilian world. They are accustomed to maintaining and sustaining high-level performance in no-fail environments, which translates to an ability to learn, adapt and thrive in the most difficult circumstances.
What would you tell a potential employer about how to leverage warrior capabilities for success in the private sector?
You don’t want to compete against a veteran; you want them on your team. They are proven professionals who understand how to operate and execute a mission; they subscribe to a set of ethics and fully understand principal decision-making. While their resume may not be traditional by business world standards, their qualifications make hiring a veteran a worthwhile investment for any company.
What do you see as the biggest barrier to the warrior transition from military to civilian life?
In previous generations, there were leaders of companies who could look at veteran applicants and direct where those people would best fit within the corporation. Today, because there are so few employers who have hands on experience in the military world, the operating principal is that the service member themselves must find a way to translate their experience and fit within the corporate culture. This mode of operation is a detriment to not only the company but to the veterans themselves.
What is your message to warriors who are in the transition right now?
Come to Texas. Don’t hesitate. Don’t think twice. We need you here and will put you to work.
To purchase tickets to the Brain Performance Institute lecture at the Center for BrainHealth featuring Admiral Patrick Walsh, click here. The lecture is sponsored by Dennis Berman, Jana and Bob Dransfield, Linda and Joel Robuck, Nancy and Bob Wilber and the Texas Irish Foundation.
The Friends of BrainHealth, a circle of donors whose significant financial contributions directly impact scientific study at the Center for BrainHealth, has raised $1.1 million to advance brain research since the program began four years ago.
“The Friends of BrainHealth was established to empower members of the community to participate, stay up-to-date and significantly shape the scientific study happening at the Center for BrainHealth,” said Dr. Sandra Bond Chapman, the Center’s founder and chief director and Dee Wyly Distinguished University Chair. “With the funds raised through the program, we are able to give young scientists an invaluable opportunity to design and lead their own research studies under the tutelage of UT Dallas faculty.”
Graduate students, doctoral candidates and postdoctoral fellows at the Center for BrainHealth compete for $25,000 research grants that are awarded at the annual Friends of BrainHealth Toni Brinker Scientist Selection Luncheon.
2012-2013 Friends of BrainHealth co-chairs Caroline Gehan and Ross and Anne Helbing doubled Friends membership during their tenure, raising more than $360,000. The unprecedented fundraising year supported four awards to exceptional neuroscientists who will be able to make their mark on the field of brain science at an early point in their careers. Their work will contribute to the foundation of future medical breakthroughs and advance the Center for BrainHealth’s mission to understand, protect and heal the brain.
Linda and Joel Robuck joined Friends of BrainHealth at the Visionary Friend Level for the second year in a row and chose to further a study that investigates the neural mechanisms of depression developed by doctoral candidate Nick Hubbard.
“Joel and I see the firm commitment of the Center for BrainHealth’s young scientists to achieve research results,” said Linda Robuck. “We are inspired by the potential to solve real world brain health problems and enhance brain performance.”
Under the guidance of faculty member Dr. Bart Rypma, Nick will use innovative brain imaging to document and understand brain changes that occur as an individual recovers from depression and enters remission. Knowledge gained will inform new treatments aimed at improving the quality of life for millions suffering from the disorder.
The Sapphire Foundation awarded a $25,000 grant to Dr. Nyaz Didehbani, whose research will focus on developing brain biomarkers to improve concussion assessment accuracy. Her work, under the direction of the Center’s medical science director, Dr. John Hart, Jr., will expand current understanding of concussion recovery and help to optimize treatment regimens to ensure a safe return-to-play.
“Sapphire is honored to be able to support such an expert team in a study of great significance,” said Kate and Dana Juett. “Understanding of sports-related concussions and their short and long-term effects is not only topical, but of vital importance.”
Friends of BrainHealth members listened to research proposal presentations from four finalists at the annual luncheon and voted to award the final two grants.
Alison Perez, a doctoral candidate working under the Center’s chief director, Dr. Sandi Chapman, was awarded the Friends of BrainHealth Distinguished New Scientist Award to examine decision-making abilities in adults at risk for developing Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI), often the precursor to Alzheimer’s disease. Her research seeks to identify harmful decision-making behavior through cognitive testing and brain imaging in order to develop interventions that extend healthy decision-making ability and autonomy in older adults.
Dr. Asha Vas, a postdoctoral fellow in Dr. Chapman’s lab, was awarded $25,000 to test the efficacy of an online high performance brain training program developed by Center researchers to improve higher-level thinking skills in military veterans who have suffered a traumatic brain injury. Her research will adapt the existing training that is currently conducted in-person into a real-time online delivery method that enables veterans across the country access to the scientifically proven program.
“Dr. Chapman's incredible leadership at the Center for BrainHealth creates an environment where brilliant minds can explore the complexities of the brain,” said Toni Brinker, who has sponsored the luncheon for the past two years. “Thanks to the generosity of the Friends of BrainHealth, young neuroscientists change lives through innovative scientific study.”
The 2013 Friends of BrainHealth Toni Brinker Scientist Selection Luncheon was co-chaired by Brian and Betty Schultz. Distinguished Friends for 2013 are: Mr. and Mrs. Chuck and Ann Eisemann, Mr. and Mrs. Ralph and Susan Hawkins, Ms. Lyda Hill, Mr. Al Hill, Jr., and Mr. and Mrs. Kenny and Lisa Troutt. Former honorary chairs of the Friends of BrainHealth include Toni and Norm Brinker, Sue Justice, Sammye Myers and Dee Wyly. Former Friends of BrainHealth chairs include Kimber Hartmann, Angie Kadesky and Daffan Nettle.
The Friends of BrainHealth kicks off their 2013-2014 campaign November 1. Incoming co-chairs are Ballard and Tracy Castleman. Friends of BrainHealth offers six membership levels: Companion ($500), Friend ($1,000), Special Friend ($2,500), Esteemed Friend ($5,000), Distinguished Friend ($10,000), and Visionary Friend ($25,000). To join, visit www.centerforbrainhealth.org/friends.
New research illuminates definitive brain alterations in troops with Gulf War Illness (GWI) thought to result from the exposure to neurotoxic chemicals, including sarin gas, during the first Persian Gulf War.
“More than 250,000 troops, or approximately 25% of those deployed during the first Persian Gulf War, have been diagnosed with Gulf War Illness (GWI). Although medical professionals have recognized the chronic and often disabling illness for almost two decades, brain changes that uniquely identify GWI have been elusive until now,” explained principal investigator Bart Rypma of the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas.
This study, published in Clinical Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, is novel in that it confirms GWI deficits in working memory, a critical cognitive function that enables short-term retention of information for higher-level thinking ability. In addition, brain alterations revealed in the study show a consistent pattern representing a neurobiological marker that could potentially be used to positively identify GWI.
The research team assessed three aspects of working memory: accuracy, speed, and efficiency. Results showed that participants with GWI performed significantly slower and less accurately than matched healthy veterans, and their efficiency decreased with increasing task difficulty. During these difficult conditions, the participants showed relatively lower levels of activity in prefrontal brain regions which may compromise their ability to implement effective, higher-level thinking strategies in cognitively demanding situations.
“Our results revealed that at the root of cognitive issues in GWI patients are profound working memory deficits that correlate with a unique brain change visible in the fMRI scanner. These results support an empirical link between exposure to neurotoxic chemicals, specifically sarin nerve gas, with cognitive deficits and neurobiological changes in the brain,” said Rypma. “Implementing interventions that improve working memory could have positive effects on many aspects of daily life from the ability to complete a shopping list, match names with faces, all the way to elevating mood.”
“Difficulty remembering has been the most common, unexplained impairment resulting from service in the 1991 Persian Gulf War,” said Robert Haley, co-investigator and Chief of Epidemiology at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. “This functional MRI study provides the first objective evidence showing the exact malfunctions in the brain’s memory circuits that underlie these chemically induced memory problems.”
The new findings may also have implications for the treatment of several disorders involving similar neural systems, including one Alzheimer’s disease.
“Both GWI and Alzheimer’s disease result in profound cognitive impairment and share similar neurochemical underpinnings,” explained the study’s lead author Nicholas Hubbard. “The distinct neural markers associated with cognitive performance and GWI revealed in our study can be useful for future research to objectively measure the efficacy of treatments for GWI as well as other brain disorders related to the same neurotransmitter system, like Alzheimer’s disease.”
My experience as director of a brain research institute indicates that Peter Schmidt, the author of the letter, is absolutely right when he says that “students’ independent thinking…and, ultimately, intellectual and moral development” are stunted by the current obsession with testing based on how much you can memorize. Testing is only one manifestation of an emphasis on mechanistic learning that has squelched curiosity and imagination and kept American students behind their peers in most developed countries.
The problem is that rote learning fails to address the fourth “r” in education: reasoning. Research shows that, no matter how old we are, we boost our cognitive development (that is, our brains become beneficially rewired) when we’re engaged in creative and higher-order thinking instead of in efforts to dig up facts from memory. We should be training students how to think – especially by trying to identify and construct unique, big ideas from complex information – rather than what to think.
When teenagers move away from robotic regurgitation of factoids, they get a big payoff in improved grades, more advanced reasoning skills, and, yes, higher test scores. Jacqueline Gamino, a neuroscientist who heads our Adolescent Reasoning Initiative, finds that the gains accrue across the socioeconomic spectrum, from young people mired in poverty to gifted students bored in classrooms focused on facts.
Teaching students how to become innovative thinkers produces longer-lasting and more intrinsically valuable results than teaching them what to know. Generalized strategic thinking spills over to real-life applications beyond the classroom and empowers students to take responsibility for their own learning and become more creative and adaptive.
Einstein once said: “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces…all there ever will be to know and understand.”
Our brains couldn’t agree more.
The Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas presented Jane and Henry J. (Bud) Smith with its highest honor, the Legacy Award, on October 9, 2013 at The George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum. The BrainHealth Legacy Award recognizes the pioneering spirit of individuals whose vision and dedication to brain research enable the Center to explore the vast potential of the human mind.
“My goal in creating the Center for BrainHealth was to make a difference in people’s lives through innovative research,” said Dr. Sandra B. Chapman, founder and chief director of the Center for BrainHealth and Dee Wyly Distinguished University Chair. “Jane and Bud Smith were instrumental in laying the foundation for our future to truly make an impact not only in Dallas, but across the country and around the world. With their leadership, we are on our way to making world brain health a reality.”
The Smiths graciously gifted the funds necessary to endow a chair for the Center’s medical science director, Dr. John Hart, Jr., and have become actively involved in the Center’s Leadership Council.
“We put much focus on our physical health, which is necessary, but to reach our potential and the next level of performance, we must turn our attention to our brains,” said Jane Smith. “The Center for BrainHealth has developed and scientifically proven training and treatment programs to make our brains work smarter and more efficiently; programs that open the door to a new world of opportunity for those diagnosed with brain injury or brain disease.”
“The Center for BrainHealth is helping children who are struggling in school, veterans adjusting to civilian life, people who have had concussions or other brain injuries and those of us who are simply aging,” said Bud Smith. “Supporting the Center is one of the best investments that we have made; every one of us can benefit from strengthening our brains.”
Rita and Henry Hortenstine chaired the Legacy Dinner. The host committee included Nancy and Randy Best, Toni Brinker, Ed Cox, Nancy Dedman, Ginny and John Eulich, Gail and Wallace Hall, Susan and Boots Nowlin, Mary Watson and Wallace Stone.
“Henry and I were very honored to be able to recognize Jane and Bud Smith in such a special way, two great visionaries who invested in the Center for BrainHealth when it was in its infancy,” said Rita Hortenstine. “Dr. Chapman demonstrated great courage when she pushed the envelop on brain health research nearly a decade ago and now the world is trying to catch up.”
Past BrainHealth Legacy Award recipients include Dianne Cash, Debbie Francis, T. Boone Pickens, James Huffines, Dee Wyly, Daryl Johnston and Lee Roy Jordan.
Major donors at the Center for BrainHealth Legacy Award Dinner included:
Mrs. Charles J. Wyly, Jr./Mr. Charles J. Wyly III
Patty and James Huffines/PlainsCapital Bank
Ruth and Ken Altshuler
Emy Lou and Jerry Baldridge
Nancy and Randy Best
Lucy and Henry Billingsley
Tiffany and Patrick Boyce
Edwin L. Cox
Rita and Henry Hortenstine
Gene and Jerry Jones
Tolleson Wealth Management
When you think of the word creative, what comes to mind? Colored paper, paste and glitter strewn about a kindergarten classroom? High school students sketching still life with pastels? A bawdy theater troupe? Slick ad execs? All too often we relegate the term creative to the context of early childhood development or the arts –in profession or hobby. We define creativity as a gift possessed by a privileged few who are genetically predisposed to some innate trait, instead of as a resource to be cultivated or honed.
In truth, our brains were wired to be inspired; creative capacity and innovative ingenious work synergistically to energize the brain. Research shows that being innovative and creative builds new brain synapses. Creativity cannot only be taught, but because our brain changes daily by how we use it, it can be trained.
Our creative epicenter lies within the complex connections of our brain’s frontal lobe networks. Brain plasticity studies offer high promise that creative capacity can be positively altered by exercising innovative thinking. Whatsmore, science shows that inspiring innovation enhances our cognitive performance, and the process of learning and creating something new changes brain structure in positive ways.
There is only one caveat to enhancing creativity: we have to put in the effort.
Sure, not all of us are going to discover the theory of relativity, but innovation, creativity and imagination require practice, just like your body must be trained before performing physical feats. All to often, however, we let our brain go on automatic pilot and fail to nourish our curious nature. Rote, rigid, and routine are toxic to creativity and innovation. Exercise your innovative potential and train your brain to be creative with these exercises:
Do not let your creativity go dormant from not being properly exercised, and move beyond thinking of creativity as a trait exclusive to children or artists. Instead, embrace your capacity to think creatively, innovatively every single day.
Yoga instructor, Trina Hall, gained 40 pounds to prove that her body image was not tied to her self-worth, but instead discovered unexpected feelings of self doubt. Others’ judgments weighed more heavily than she expected on her self-confidence. In a follow-up comment to her now viral blog post she said, “This story was meant to engage myself and others in a bigger conversation about what we value. I do value health and I value conversations that encourage people to look at the way they think.”
I immediately thought, “What about brain image?” No, not brain image as in MRI or CT Scan, but how we feel about our brain – and even more specifically about our brain’s performance. What is our value as a thinking human being? How does how smart or how stupid we feel influence the way that we let others treat us or what we think we deserve? Does our perceived intellectual aptitude influence the goals that we set for ourselves? If we thought we could do more - be smarter, wittier, more insightful – would we want to be?
Intrigued by the untapped potential that lay inside our heads, I began my career as a cognitive neuroscientist more than 30 years ago. As a researcher, I have seen brilliant people trapped by self-deception, haunted by a label from their youth, believing that they are not smart when in actuality they are incredibly bright. The truth is, pedigrees rarely predict who will be the most successful in life. Defining our worth and potential by our IQ, grades, test scores, and degrees (or lack there of) is detrimental and excessively limiting.
Our brain is the most changeable part of our whole body. It is rewiring everyday by how we use it – or don’t. We – to a great extent - determine its destiny. We can skillfully drive it to perform at an optimal level, race it into the ground or slowly smother its brilliance by submitting to life on autopilot. The ever-evolving nature of intelligence, our brain’s ability to adapt to incoming information, update our thoughts and feelings and recharge each night as we sleep demonstrates our brain’s incredible prowess. Being able to extract meaning from the world around us, from the most highbrow literature to the most inane television show, is ingenious. New ideas and innovative plans of action spring from our minds everyday, and yet we only notice when someone else tells us our brain has value or when our brain fails to perform as nimbly as we expect.
I have seen many people achieve what they once thought was inconceivable after embracing their capacity to change their mind, by overcoming their negative brain image and freeing themselves from whatever label has haunted them. For example, the young man who was told he would only achieve a minimal job after a stroke went on to graduate magna cum laude from a prestigious university. Or the Fortune 500 executive who had been told at age nine that he was just average but went on to start multiple successful companies.
And the young Navy SEAL who believed he would never be any better than the C or D high school student he was 10 years prior, who was recently accepted to a graduate program to study cognitive neuroscience and continues to raise the bar for his brain.
What science has proven and what each of these individuals embody is the fact that the way we think drives our overall brain health and performance.
Ultimately, we must all awaken to the fact that our brains are adaptable, repairable and trainable. Body image or brain image, both threaten to mask our true human potential and extraordinary value. My hope is that we all embrace a healthier life exercising, not only our bodies, but, also, our brains.
After a conversation with her nephew, an Air Force F-16 pilot and Iraq war veteran, about the need for philanthropic support for military causes, Lyda set her sights on finding the answer to the question, “What are we doing to help military men and women thrive after their time of duty?” She realized too little, too late. Now, Lyda is on a mission to make sure our troops, both in and out of uniform, get to enjoy the quality of life they so courageously defend.
Although much effort is dedicated to repairing the physical wounds of war, very few programs in the sea of goodwill address the invisible injuries of the mind with meaningful, long-term life change. “The lack of attention to brain health is creating a preventable barrier to attaining future financial, social and emotional success,” said Lyda. “Brain health is like physical health. You can actively pursue it. It’s up to you.”
Lyda’s passion to ease the transition to civilian life for service members, her unparalleled community leadership, keen visionary insight and generous two-million-dollar gift has ignited the creation of mobile Warrior Training Teams that will deliver scientifically proven programs, developed at the Center for BrainHealth, to a wider audience. The goal of the Brain Performance Institute Warrior Training Teams is to arm veteran and active duty service members with the necessary tools to achieve successful, enriching and fulfilling lives by proactively optimizing brain performance, building resilience in cognitive brain function, and reversing losses in cognitive capacity. “It’s a way to help bridge the gap from deployment to employment,” Lyda explained.
“Lyda’s gift has been truly transformative for the Brain Performance Institute and has allowed us to immediately begin realizing our vision to provide high performance brain training to a larger group of warriors around the country,” explained BPI executive director, Eric Bennett. “By capitalizing on the valuable leadership, decision-making, strategic thinking and problem-solving skills learned in the military, we will help warriors reach their brain potential and civilian life success.”
With Lyda’s donation, a Warrior Training Team has already been dispatched to assess a group of 38 select special operation forces before their deployment. Upon their return, these elite service members will complete Strategic Memory Advanced Reasoning Training (SMART), which has been scientifically proven to spur dramatic brain change after just hours of training.
“I am honored to be a part of the Warrior Training Team and to deliver a proven program, that profoundly affected my life, to my brothers and sisters in uniform,” said Jake Fuller, former Navy SEAL and inaugural Warrior Training Team member. “When I came back from deployment in November 2012, my stress level never dropped. I was subconsciously trying to keep my stress level at what I had become accustomed to in Afghanistan. SMART gave me the ability to move forward in the civilian world because I now know I am the driver of my most important tool for life success - my brain. To be able to give that opportunity to other service members is a privilege.”
When reflecting on those served by her magnanimous gift, Lyda said, “I am in awe of their willingness to protect our country for those they don’t even know. I want to thank each of them and let them know that the private sector is here to help. My greatest hope is that all of our military can be reintegrated into civilian society and enjoy the life that they have defended for their families.”
Strategy-based cognitive training has the potential to reverse age-related brain decline according to the results of a study conducted by researchers at the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas published online in Cerebral Cortex. The novel study examining brain and cognitive changes associated with brain training has found that complex cognitive training significantly improves cognitive brain health.
“The world’s aging population is growing disproportionately. Our expected lifespan has reached an all time high of more than 78 years, yet previous research shows cognitive decline may begin in the early 40s,” said Dr. Sandra Bond Chapman, founder and chief director of the Center for BrainHeath and Dee Wyly Distinguished University Chair at The University of Texas at Dallas. “Until recently, cognitive decline in healthy adults was viewed as an inevitable consequence of aging. This research shows that neuroplasticity can be harnessed to enhance brain performance and provides hope for individuals to improve their own mental capacity and cognitive brain health by habitually exercising higher-order thinking strategies no matter their age.”
The study found that 12 hours of directed brain training can alter brain function, inducing increased blood flow, enhanced information communication across key brain regions, and expansion of the structural connections between brain regions related to new learning. Using three MRI-based measurements, researchers examined brain changes across three time points in a randomized sample of individuals – 56 to 71 years of age. The study found three significant training-related brain changes at rest: increases in global and regional cerebral blood flow (CBF), greater synchrony in important brain networks, and increased white matter integrity, which is the wiring of the brain that allows information to travel between brain cells.
“Advances in imaging are allowing us to measure brain change in a short time period,” said Dr. Sina Aslan, founder and president of Advance MRI and collaborator on the study. “Through this research we are able to see that cognitive training increases brain blood flow, which is a sensitive physiological marker of brain health. Previous research shows brain blood flow decreases in people beginning in their 20s. The finding that global brain blood flow can be increased with complex mental activity, as this study demonstrates, suggests that staying mentally active helps reverse and potentially prevent brain losses and cognitive decline with aging.”
The capacity to increase whole brain blood flow after complex mental training may have clinical implications in both healthy aging populations and those diagnosed with brain disease such as Alzheimer’s, Dr. Aslan said.
“Greater levels of brain blood flow are associated with higher cognitive performance,” said Dr. Chapman. “With upwards of 8% increase in brain blood flow, this research shows that participants are regaining measurable brain health. The brain and cognitive gains may help achieve a ‘younger working’ brain with all the benefits of rich experience, knowledge-base and wisdom as manifested in an older brain.”
Chapman also suggested that the findings are important for younger adults and encourages adoption of healthy brain habits in early adulthood to stave off cognitive decline.
Also noteworthy was that researchers found significant improvement in cognitive performance as well as a significant relationship between brain changes and improved cognitive performance. Among the participants who were randomized into the brain training group, researchers saw improvement in two cognitive domains: strategic reasoning, which is the ability to synthesize generalized meanings or extract larger ideas from lengthy input, and a measure of executive function that demonstrates the ability to abstract concepts. As a follow up to the study, researchers have investigated how long the improvements have been maintained and have found that the brain gains measured have been maintained at one year post-training and longer.
Both the brain and cognitive plasticity changes in response to strategy-based mental training demonstrate the neurogenerative potential in the cognitively healthy aging brain.
“We are increasingly interested in examining cognitive change with age,” said Dr. Molly Wagster of the National Institute on Aging, part of the National Institutes of Health, which co-funded the study.
“Most older Americans likely will experience subtle changes in their ability to learn and remember, and studies such as this, examining one way to possibly affect cognitive change, are important," she continued. "It advances our understanding of how cognitive training might affect brain changes associated with cognitive decline. While further study is needed, this research suggests that it may never be too late to participate in activities to maintain or even improve our cognitive health."
The research was funded by the National Institute on Aging at the National Institutes of Health (1RCAG035954-01), the T. Boone Pickens Foundation, the Lyda Hill Foundation and the Dee Wyly Distinguished University Endowment.
Advanced reasoning skills in American adolescents are falling behind those of other developed countries. To combat the issue, Communities Foundation of Texas has awarded a $250,000 grant to the Center for BrainHealth to provide research-based high performance brain training for all students, teachers, leadership and parents at Thomas A. Edison Middle Learning Center in West Dallas.
“The brain’s frontal networks are undergoing extensive changes during adolescence, making middle school an optimal time to train innovative thinking and reasoning skills,” said Dr. Sandra Bond Chapman, founder and chief director of the Center for BrainHealth. “Elevating brainpower during this impressionable life stage is imperative to promote success in school, in the workforce and in life.”
Edison is located in the 11th poorest zip code in the nation; its student body consists of low socio- economic status (SES) Hispanic and African American students. Recent scientific studies show that growing up in poverty can shape the wiring and even physical dimensions of a young child’s brain, with negative effects on language, learning and attention.
The Center for BrainHealth-developed brain training program called SMART (Strategic Memory Advanced Reasoning Training) has been scientifically proven to yield measurable results in middle school students at all socioeconomic levels. Longitudinal studies have showed higher grades and standardized test performance in SMART-trained students as well as improved higher-level reasoning ability by as much as 50%. Research shows students who participated in the SMART program are more likely to take higher-level classes, graduate from high school on time, attend college and lead productive, successful lives.
“We have seen the SMART program transform classrooms across the country,” said Dr. Jacquelyn Gamino, director of BrainHealth’s Adolescent Reasoning Initiative who has trained more than 200 teachers and 15,000 teens across the country. “Teachers who have implemented the program report a more energized, creative and thought-filled classroom, and parents have stated their children are more confident and excited to learn. By bringing the interactive and engaging SMART learning environment to an entire school, we will give every child at Edison greater opportunity to reach his or her academic potential.”
The generous Communities Foundation of Texas grant will fund comprehensive professional development training for all teachers and school leadership at Edison as well as provide parent education opportunities aimed at creating a supportive home environment. Nine English Language Arts and Reading teachers have been intensively trained to teach a series of 10, 45-minute SMART sessions, which encourage students to use higher-level thinking skills such as asking thoughtful questions and make meaningful connections to real world situations and discourage rote thinking and responses. The remaining 70 teachers and school leadership will be given skills to help incorporate the high performance brain training concepts into their existing curriculum. Once the initial professional development takes place, the Center for BrainHealth will remain a vital resource, providing additional in-classroom modeling and support for teachers, lesson planning, curriculum extension and additional professional development.
“This grant to Center for BrainHealth’s SMART program is one of the many ways Communities Foundation of Texas is strategically investing in at-risk middle school youth,” said Brent Christopher, Communities Foundation of Texas President and CEO. “Through the SMART program, teachers and students will have a new approach to learning that will have a life-changing impact thanks to BrainHealth’s innovative neuroscience-based approach.”
“Our teachers and students would not be able to receive this remarkable and invaluable program without the Communities Foundation support,” said Principal Derrick Spurlock. “Edison students are deserving of available resources to further their personal growth and development. The SMART program will provide a tremendous start to our middle school students and provide parents with the tools to support the strategies at home.”
The Center for BrainHealth hopes to scale the SMART program initiative even further to engage more public middle schools in Texas and across the country. “We hope to build on this momentum and eventually saturate other Texas middle schools with the SMART program,” said Kimber Hartmann, Center for BrainHealth’s development director. “With Communities Foundation of Texas’s initial investment, we are just beginning to create a proven model for national education and transformative academic excellence.”
Click here to learn more about the Communites Foundation of Texas.
Click here to learn more about the Center for BrainHealth's Adolescent Reasoning Initiative and SMART.
When do you think your brain was operating at its peak performance? I ask this question frequently because it always amazes me how people respond. Invariably, they throw out ages at least ten to twenty years younger than they are currently. “When I was fifty,” say some, while others say, “When I was twenty-five,” and still others, “When I was six years old”—all are frequent ages that I hear.
The typical reaction reflects the assumption that our best brain years are behind us:
Then I ask people, if you think you were smarter back then, could you perform what you are doing today, say, some twenty or thirty years ago? Not likely. Then why do we think we were sharper back then and not now? It is appalling that in a world where more people are living to be older than ever before, aging is still seen as a form of disease. We have grown to fully expect that cognitive decline is an inevitable consequence of aging, even though the majority of seniors aged eighty-five and older manifest a potential for well-preserved intellect, capacity for new learning, and sound decision making. We live believing our best brain years are in the past.
Brain aging is not, in fact, a vexation to be avoided; rather, it is a developmental process that adds valuable perspective to the brain’s existing higher-order thinking abilities. Your brain may be getting older; but if continually fine-tuned, it should also be getting more efficient. And smarter, too. In healthy brain aging, your goal should not be to look for the fountain of youth mythical elixir to return to our younger brain state. Rather, the goal should be to maintain and strengthen your brain’s robustness.
Keep reminding yourself, if you do not work to improve your brain, you will go backward. For your brain’s well-being, you want to keep progressing. If I were to take ten or twenty years off your brain, you would beg me to have the years back because they are packed with such rich developments, that is, if you properly fostered your brain fitness. If you think brains are optimally performing in thirty-something-year-olds, have them make a decision or two for you.
Even more exciting is the news that brain aging can have some clear advantages when compared to the young adult brain. There are more decisive pieces to your brain puzzle as you age than speed and amount of fact recall. Certain pivotal brain functions do not have to get slowly worse and can even get better.
As a thriving society, we must change the negative framing of brain aging and instead harness the full frontal potential of our brain’s capacity throughout life (where more wrinkles on the brain, by the way, are a good thing since brain wrinkles indicate a larger cortex—gray matter!) and more fully strive to achieve the brain potential that is yet to come.
I’m often asked if brain games such as crossword puzzles, Sudoku or even training websites are beneficial to brain health. The answer – yes and no.
Your brain is the most complex and truly amazing organ in your body. The key to investing in our brain now and our cognitive reserve for the future lies largely within our remarkable frontal lobe and its deep connections to other brain areas, as well as ceasing many of our brain habits that work against healthy frontal lobe function.
There is not sufficient evidence to suggest brain games can significantly improve an individual’s cognitive ability. What we do know is that brain games improve the specific function that is being trained, but the learnings do not spill over to other untrained areas of function and do not elevate critical frontal lobe brain functions such as decision making, planning and judgment. Games such as crosswords and Sudoku or online brain training programs make you better at those specific games, but do not improve your greater cognitive function.
To my knowledge, there has been little to no research to validate long-term benefits from brain games beyond improvement in specific tasks. Although fun and engaging, just like in exercise, when you stop doing the exercises, your brain loses the immediate gains.
What I have found through my research are three key frontal lobe processes that are responsible for higher-order brain function: strategic attention, integrated reasoning, and mental flexibility. These cognitive processes are keys to building robust frontal lobe function that will promote mental independence throughout life. To boost your brain power and maximize your cognitive performance, write down the take home messages of the next movie you watch or book you read. For more information on practical steps to build and maintain healthy brain function, click here.
America is facing a brain drain, especially as Boomers age. Innovation and critical reasoning are sinking compared to other developed nations, and general population studies indicate cognitive decline begins in the early forties. So, how do we insure ourselves against the increasingeconomic and social costs of cognitive decline?
Dr. Sandra Bond Chapman has spent the last 30 years investigating the immense capacity of the brain to rewire itself in health, after brain injury or in the presence of brain disease. Her findings reveal that most everyone has the capacity to increase their intellectual capital and maximize their cognitive potential.
Since founding the Center for BrainHealth in 1999, Dr. Chapman and her team have made incredible strides translating rapidly emerging innovations into solutions that improve cognitive health for research participants. Armed with hard evidence that humans can strengthen their brain performance, regain cognitive losses, and reverse declines, the Center for BrainHealth is now compelled to make available to the public its scientifically proven techniques that extend the brain span to more closely match the gains in the human lifespan.
In a show of support that will bring brain science research benefits to the community, the UT System Regents approved construction of a $33 million extension of the Center for BrainHealth that will be known as the Brain Performance Institute. Once funding is secured, the newly constructed 67,500-square-foot-facility will house the Institute’s national headquarters, where the latest brain research and training techniques will be available to all individuals to help them increase their mental edge.
Financial services leader and entrepreneur, Eric Bennett, is leaving his position as CEO of one of the largest and most successful wealth management firms in Texas to become Executive Director of the Brain Performance Institute. Mr. Bennett, co-founder of Tolleson Wealth Management, has been on the Advisory Board to the Center for the last several years. “I have never seen an idea that could have a bigger and more positive impact on the world. BPI will allow the incredible brain research done at the Center to come alive and improve the lives of others. I wanted to have a key role in making this happen.”
The Institute’s location near the Center for BrainHealth and UT Southwestern Medical Center will allow scientists, research clinicians and graduate students to use technologies and methodologies to help expand and strengthen brain performance at all ages. Brain training experts will work with diverse individuals, the majority in health, but also those with brain injury and disease. Targeted programs will benefit corporate executives and community leaders, middle schoolers and teens, veterans and athletes, and individuals diagnosed with autism, multiple sclerosis, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, Alzheimer’s disease and other ailments.
The Brain Performance Institute will guide and train people to transform their cognitive brain health, and therefore their lives. One of the Institute’s first offerings will be BrainHealth’s signature program, Strategic Memory Advanced Reasoning Training (SMART). Research revealed increases in brain blood flow in healthy adults equivalent to regaining years of brain health and 30% gains in higher-order reasoning in teens across socioeconomic levels. SMART also showed increases in cognitive performance and decreases in depressive symptoms for veterans and civilians who experienced a brain injury as recently as six months ago to more than 30 years ago.
“Expanding and extending the cognitive brain span is the next major frontier to further explore and solve,” Chapman said. We are grateful that the UT System Regents have taken the first step to make our vision of an epicenter of brain health fitness a reality.”
A study led by the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas examining the brains of former National Football League players has found that structural brain differences in athletes with concussion histories may predict developing depressive symptoms.
Researchers from the Center for BrainHealth say their novel study, published online in the May 24, 2013 issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, identified for the first time, a correlation between depression and cerebral white-matter abnormalities in former players with a remote history of concussion. Among the players who were found to have depression, researchers found disrupted integrity in the brains’ white matter, which is connective tissue that allows information to travel from brain cell to brain cell.
“Football players often sustain numerous concussive and subconcussive head injuries,” said Dr. John Hart, director of the BrainHealth Institute for Athletes at the Center for BrainHealth and corresponding author of the study. “With these biomarkers, we may one day be able to predict who is at risk for developing depression after a concussion.”
Since 2010, 26 ex-NFL players, ranging in age from 41 to 79, underwent diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) scanning and detailed neurologic and neuropsychologic assessments. Researchers also gathered detailed retrospective histories of mental status and concussion experiences. The retired athletes, on average, had more than eight years experience in the NFL and reported having from 1 to 11 concussions, with an average of 3.85.
“Depression can develop years after a head injury in these players and at times go undiagnosed. Knowing that an individual is at risk could one day improve detection and diagnosis,” reports Dr. Hart.
Other researchers on the study included Dr. Nyaz Didehbani, Dr. Elizabeth Bartz, Jeremy Strain, Heather Conover and Sethesh Mansinghani, all of UT Dallas; Dr. Kyle Womack, who holds appointments at both UT Dallas and UT Southwestern; and Dr. Michael A. Kraut, who holds appointments at both UT Dallas and Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
The study was supported by the BrainHealth Institute for Athletes at the Center for BrainHealth.
On May 4, 2013 Dr. Sandra Chapman presented Make Your Brain Smart: It's Not What You Think at TEDxRockCreekPark.
Your brain is wired to be inspired. Now, that is an idea worth spreading!
I am honored to announce that on May 4, 2013, I will present my first TED talk at TEDxRockCreekPark in Alexandria, Virginia. That day, it will be my privilege to join a diverse group of ten inspirational thought leaders, which include NY Times best-selling authors David Shenk and Alan Fine as well as award-winning director, Pat Solomon (Finding Joe).
I am so excited to be a part of this globally recognized platform from which I will share with you, and the millions who visit TED.com in search of “ideas worth spreading,” that being smarter is possible just by changing the way you think. My talk, “Make Your Brain Smarter: It’s Not What You Think”, aims to dispel outdated misconceptions about what smart is, share cutting-edge advancements in technology that reveal how thinking smarter rewires the brain, and provide insights to achieving higher brain performance across the lifespan.
Popular TED talks in the past have reached upwards of 15 million views and TEDx events have generated more than 78 million views on YouTube. Imagine what we can accomplish by inspiring an audience of that magnitude to achieve better brain health. Imagine the potential of millions of people embracing their ability to think smarter. It is my dream to let the world know that we are no longer confined by the old definition of smart and that the brain is the most changeable part of the entire body, possessing a scientifically proven ability to strengthen at any stage of life.
The TEDxRockCreekPark event is designed to celebrate the hero’s journey; a call to adventure that is refuted before it is accepted and ultimately obtained after overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Greater cognitive performance arises when we embrace healthy brain habits and refute commonly held beliefs that limit our potential. The path to maximizing brain performance and the social, economic and personal benefits that follow are attainable, but first, we must all recognize that attending to brain health is important whether you are young or old.
My talk on May 4 is the culmination of over 30 years of research combined with months working with experts at TEDxRockCreekPark to pack the most powerful message possible into 10 thought-provoking minutes that explore the possibilities of harnessing your cognitive potential and inspire you to take charge of your brain health and make sure that your best brain years are yet to come.
I hope that you will join me on this exciting journey as I share with you the transformative research revealing the immense capacity of the human brain and its infinite potential. Invite your friends and family as we embark on the next step to taking the brain health movement worldwide.
Dr. Francesca Filbey
The Reprogramming the Human Brain Symposium, an annual research and treatment conference organized in part by the Center for BrainHealth, will concentrate this year on the cognitive neuroscience of decision-making and addiction.
The event, which brings together some of neuroscience’s most advanced researchers, is co-sponsored by the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute at The University of California, Berkeley, where this year’s symposium will be held March 28.
In a talk titled “Reward-Centricity in Marijuana Users,” the Center for BrainHealth’s Dr. Francesca Filbey will present data showing that the compulsion for chronic marijuana use is driven by a heightened sensitivity to rewards, not a desire to avoid adverse states.
Other symposium topics will include reward-based decision-making; neural mechanisms of goal-directed and habitual control; state and trait modulators of immediate reward bias in alcohol-use disorders; dopamine and decision-making; and the role of dopamine in food-related behavior.
Held alternately at the Center for BrainHealth and the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute, the symposium has featured some of the most distinguished neuroscientists and medical investigators in the country.
Dr. Daniel R. Weinberger
This year’s keynote speaker will be the Charles L. Branch BrainHealth Award recipient, Dr. Daniel R. Weinberger, director and CEO of the Leiber Institute for Brain Development in Baltimore. The award was created in 2010 to honor neuroscientists who have made noteworthy breakthroughs in brain discoveries.
Weinberger, who will discuss gene networks and brain networks, has an international reputation as the pre-eminent scientist in schizophrenia research. He has been at the forefront of scientific investigation into this illness and related disorders for a generation. He is most noted for his expertise in genetic components of schizophrenia, but is also recognized for his insights into dopamine’s role in the brain, which has implications for many other disorders, including addiction.
For more information, visit the symposium page.
To learn more about participating in Dr. Filbey's study, click here.
President of The Container Store, Melissa Reiff, answered questions from Center for BrainHealth’s founder and chief director, Dr. Sandi Chapman, including how her definition of smart has changed and how The Container Store's focus on brain health helps build smarter employees.
The “Organized Life. Sharp Mind.” partnership between The Container Store and Center for BrainHealth is the driving force behind the annual sell-out lecture series, The Brain: An Owner’s Guide, held each February at the Center. This April, the series will feature an additional presentation from Dr. Chapman on April 23. For more information or tickets click here.
Sandi: Do you think people realize they can become smarter?
Melissa: I think as people mature and grow older, they sometimes have a misconception that there’s a stopping point to becoming smarter. We know that is just not true and we have to continue to educate and inform everyone about how the brain works and how they can continue to grow their knowledge as they age. I think we all crave tangible tips and tricks that help exercise our brain, expand our experiences, and push us to try things that might be new and challenging. And we all must spend much more time studying brain health and what it REALLY means to be SMART. We know it’s not about simply having a good memory - there is much more to learn.
Sandi: How have you reframed what it means to be smarter versus the things you thought were making you smarter, but actually work against brain health.
Melissa: Well, as someone who really used to pride myself on how many plates I could keep spinning at one time, successfully I thought, I’ve learned over the last few years – with much help from the Center for BrainHealth – that by focusing on one particular thing at a particular time truly forces you to clear your mind and concentrate. It forces you to truly be present on the particular task, or project, or conversation at hand, AND, most importantly, the outcome produces even BETTER results! I’m still working on this “not multi-tasking as much” and yes, I still have to work on it. It’s hard. And with all of the devices and technology we have access to these days, it’s very distracting and adds to multi-tasking syndrome. But, I’m determined, and through strong will and discipline, we can all get better at practicing this focus every single day.
Sandi: What was the most important take-home message for you about how our missions interconnect?
Melissa: As the Original Storage and Organization Store, we believe that being organized promotes a sharp mind. When things are orderly, less cluttered and we can access things easily, that means we are less stressed and have more time to focus on the things we need to be focusing on – not in a frenzy searching for things or feeling overwhelmed that our surroundings are unorganized. Brain health is a topic that we know continues to resonate with our customers and employees alike. Unfortunately, we all do get older...but that doesn’t mean we don’t want to grow our knowledge, intuition, and live the best, most intelligent, sharp lives as possible.
Sandi: How do you think The Container Store builds smarter individuals – both employees and customers?
Melissa: We know our employees and our customers are similar – people who strive to learn more, communicate more effectively and be more productive. Through our extensive training programs for our employees, we want to strengthen our strategic thinking skills and creative innovation every day – whether that’s in our personal or our professional lives. And through our interactions with our customers, we hope to help them create an organized life – sharper, smarter life. Brain health is critical to all of our futures in leading full, vibrant and impactful lives.
Sandi: How has that affected the company's culture and its customers?
Melissa: Our employees really appreciate that we pursue creative, innovative partnerships like the one we’ve had for more than five years with the Center for BrainHealth. It’s definitely now a topic that’s more at the forefront of our employees' and customers' interests. And the subject of brain health is prevalent and referred to often as part of our employee-first culture as we learn more as a company about how to grow and exercise our brains to be the very best we can be as colleagues, salespeople, friends and family members.
New concussion guidelines focus on assessing, diagnosing and managing concussions on an individualized basis, emphasizing a more conservative approach for younger people. The guidelines released Monday by the American Academy of Neurology, signal a departure from the old three-tiered grading scale, which allowed return to play for athletes classified with the mildest concussion just a few minutes after impact. Now, all concussions require that a player “sit it out” until a licensed health care professional has determined that the concussion has resolved, and there is no set time limit for that.
Of the new guidelines, Center for BrainHealth’s head of pediatric brain injury, Lori Cook, Ph.D., said, “I think it’s great that they put an emphasis on the developing brain versus the mature brain. The after-effects of injury can be very different and could be much more detrimental to a developing child or adolescent brain than an adult brain.”
“They do a great job of addressing how to manage and facilitate short-term recovery, which is so important, because, if managed well, it ameliorates the chances of long-term difficulties. However, some evidence indicates that as many as 20% may still have trouble even if their case is managed well. Establishing guidelines for long-term monitoring is still needed. We know there is a lot that can be done if deficits do appear. Brain training interventions like the SMART program we developed at the Center for BrainHealth, can promote increased brain performance. In cases of pediatric concussions, individuals need to be followed, utilizing short monitoring sessions, until the brain fully develops at around age 25 to make sure deficits are addressed as they appear. ”
She explained that for a child who experiences a concussion, cognitive deficits may not manifest until adolescence when the brain is called upon to perform higher-order reasoning and critical thinking tasks. Signs of cognitive deficits include problems with learning, change in personality, or decline in attention span. Anxiety and depression may also appear years after a concussion. Including a psychiatric assessment during the recommended neuropsychological testing at the time of the concussion’s diagnosis would help characterize potential risk factors.
When asked when is the best time to implement brain training to help individuals regain brain performance, Dr. Cook explained, “There is so much spontaneous healing that goes on in the brain in the early days, weeks and, sometimes, even months after an injury. We would want to wait to address the cognitive aspects after those physical signs of healing have resolved. When to introduce SMART is largely dependent on an individual’s age and the seriousness of the injury.
BrainHealth’s founder and chief director, Dr. Sandi Chapman, worked with the guidelines’ lead author, Christopher C. Giza, M.D., and several other experts to help develop a national pediatric acquired brain injury plan, which is scheduled to go before the U.S. Senate this summer. Dr. Chapman commented, “It’s phenomenal to have this set of guidelines. People in the field want to know what to do, and now everyone will be better informed, from players and parents, to coaches and medical professionals.” Dr. Chapman was pleased with the “pre-participation counseling” aspect of the guidelines, which stressed the importance of educating parents and athletes about the risks associated with concussions. “We differ [from the published guidelines] in that we believe in a more pro-active approach to follow-up. If cognitive difficulties persist after other concussion symptoms have disappeared, it’s really important to get brain training to rebuild the brain to pre-concussion levels.”
Both Dr. Chapman and Dr. Cook agree that the new guidelines are an important starting point for concussion prevention, diagnosis and acute treatment, but more needs to be done to understand risk-factors and solutions for long-term concussion deficits.
A study led by the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas examining the neuropsychological status of former National Football League players has found that cognitive deficits and depression are more common among retired players than in the general population.
But researchers from the Center for BrainHealth and from The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center say their study, published online today in JAMA Neurology, also is significant for what it did not find: evidence of cognitive impairment in the majority of ex-players.
Many former NFL players who took part in our study, even those with extensive concussion histories, are healthy and cognitively normal,” said Dr. John Hart Jr., medical science director at the Center for BrainHealth and director of the BrainHealth Institute for Athletes that was created to address the long-term effects of sports-related traumatic brain injuries. “In 60 percent of our participants – most of whom had sustained prior concussions – we found no cognitive problems, no mood problems and no structural brain abnormalities. Many former NFL players think that because they played football or had concussions, they are certain to face severe neurological consequences, but that is not always the case.”
Dr. Hart, who is the study’s lead author and holds a joint appointment at UT Southwestern as a professor of neurology and psychiatry, said the investigation is the largest comprehensive study of former NFL players that involves the use of neuropsychological testing, neurological assessments and neuroimaging.
Former Dallas Cowboy fullback Daryl Johnston, who participated in the study and helped recruit other players to take part, said: “Having played 11 years in the NFL and taken countless hits, I’ve heard about the struggles of the players who came before me and the challenges regarding their quality of life. Through the Center for BrainHealth, former players can find out if there is an issue, and if you catch it early or late, there are things you can do to improve your condition. The brain is regenerative for life, and we can restore faculties that just a few years ago were thought to be lost forever.”
Since 2010, 34 ex-NFL players with a mean age of nearly 62 underwent detailed neurological and neuropsychological assessments measuring aspects of intelligence, cognitive flexibility, processing speed, language skills, memory and mood. Researchers also gathered detailed retrospective histories of mental status and concussion experiences, and examined motor and sensory functions, gait and reflexes. Twenty-six of the ex-players also underwent detailed diffusion tensor MRIs. All but two of the 34 players reported having experienced at least one concussion, with 13 as the highest reported number.
Also noteworthy was that, for the first time, researchers identified a correlation between cognitive impairment and cerebral white-matter abnormalities. Among the players who were found to have cognitive deficits or depression, researchers found disrupted integrity in the brains’ white matter, which is connective tissue that allows information to travel from brain cell to brain cell. There were also associated brain blood flow changes in those who developed cognitive impairments, providing clues to the active brain changes resulting in deficits.
Some of the players do have some form of cognitive impairment. Four were diagnosed as having fixed cognitive deficits, eight as having mild cognitive impairment and two had dementia. When compared to healthy, age-matched control subjects, the former football players generally had more difficulty on neuropsychological tests that dealt with naming, word finding, and visual and verbal episodic memory.
About 24 percent of the players were diagnosed with depression, including six who never before had been diagnosed or treated. The rate of depression in an age-matched general population is about 10 percent to 15 percent, said neuropsychologist Dr. Munro Cullum, the study’s senior author and a professor of psychiatry and neurology at UT Southwestern.
The findings could have implications beyond the football field, particularly in the areas of aging and Alzheimer’s disease, Dr. Cullum said.
"There is still so much we don’t know about concussions and later life function, nor do we know who is vulnerable to cognitive problems later in life,” Dr. Cullum said. “Severe and moderate head injuries have been identified as a potential risk factor for Alzheimer’s. We’re still learning about concussions.”
Other researchers on the study included Dr. Nyaz Didehbani, Dr. Elizabeth Bartz, Jeremy Strain, Heather Conover and Sethesh Mansinghani, all of UT Dallas; Dr. Kyle Womack, who holds appointments at both UT Dallas and UT Southwestern; Dr. Hanzhang Lu of UT Southwestern; and Dr. Michael A. Kraut, who holds appointments at both UT Dallas and Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
The study was supported by the BrainHealth Institute for Athletes at the Center for BrainHealth.
Contrary to conventional wisdom that cognitive function declines beginning in the mid-forties, aging does not correlate with deteriorating ability to think for ourselves. These are the findings of “Healthy Brain, Healthy Decisions: The MetLife Study of Decision-Making Potential,”one of the first projects to investigate the connection between cognitive health, aging and decision making capacity. The research was conducted with men and women in their 50s, 60s and 70s by the Center for BrainHealth and the MetLife Mature Market Institute. The study demonstrates that age alone is not a key factor in predicting the ability to make decisions.
Focusing on healthy adults in their 50s, 60s, and 70s, the researchers found that those who demonstrated smart decision-making also excelled at strategic learning—the ability to sift more important information from the less important.
Although study participants in all three life stages had about the same strategic learning abilities, the oldest participant group slightly surpassed the rest, implying strategic learning capacity may actually increase with age in normally functioning adults.
Additional findings show that older study participants (those in their 70s) were more conscientious, remained vigilant (i.e., considered their options before making a decision) and avoided being hyper-vigilant (i.e., focused on immediate solutions without considering other outcomes) when compared to the younger group (those in their 50s).
Researchers gauged participants’ financial conscientiousness (i.e., being careful and organized) using a series of questions regarding monthly budgeting practices and financial retirement plans. The full study, along with consumer tips Is Your Decision-Making Style Healthy?, is available here.
The Healthy Brain, Healthy Decisions project contends that previous large sample studies documenting declines in the ability to think logically and solve problems, starting as early as age 40, fail to identify individual factors which contribute to declining decision-making capacity, such as early dementia or other medical causes. Moreover, they ignore such positive age-related aspects as extensive life experience, reasoning ability and accumulated knowledge that may preserve or even enhance decision-making.
“Combining these findings with emerging evidence of retained cognitive brain health in aging suggests that policies aimed at protecting those most vulnerable to poor decision-making should focus on impairment caused by an underlying medical condition, rather than age itself, as a risk factor,”said Sandra Timmermann, Ed.D., director of the MetLife Mature Market Institute. “Rather than attributing impaired decision-making to age alone, approaches that assess an individual’s strategic learning ability and cognitive function can improve our understanding of decision-making capacity at all ages and between genders.”
“The study findings are a crucial first step to move beyond age as a demographic factor used to explain impaired decision-making,” said Sandra Chapman, Ph.D., founder and chief director of the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas. “Policies and practices that focus exclusively on age-related declines in decision-making will unnecessarily curtail the autonomy of older adults with preserved cognitive function. Age is not a disease, therefore noticeable drops in mental decline warrant medical attention to determine cause and best course of action. Maximizing cognitive potential is possible across the lifespan.”
Among the study’s key findings are the following:
Healthy aging adults show no decline in decision-making - Older decision-makers were as logically consistent as younger decision-makers. Increased age alone — from the early 50s through the late 70s — was not a key factor in predicting impaired decision-making capacity.
Strategic learning capacity may actually increase with age- All three age groups were comparable as strategic learners. Those in their 70s performed at least as well as the 50s age group on a cognitive measure of strategic learning. All groups performed similarly when asked to filter the most relevant information from the extraneous.
Strategic learners are less likely to fall victim to bias toward riskier options - Participants who performed well in sifting important information on the strategic learning measure, a tool used by researchers, made more logically consistent financial decisions. Those who performed poorly on strategic learning were less logically consistent and showed more bias toward riskier choices resulting in potential financial gain or loss.
Conscientious decision-making intensifies with age – A self-assessment revealedolder decision-makers were more conscientious (i.e., careful and organized) than those in the younger age group.
Risk tolerance can be linked to cognitive ability - Overall, men and women performed equally at logically consistent decision-making and at strategic learning. In both men and women, strategic learning proficiency was associated with the ability to make logically consistent (risk averse) decisions.
There were differences between men and women in the relationship between decision-making and traditional measures of cognitive function- Men with average cognitive function demonstrated the highest risk-seeking (lowest logical consistency) in decision-making of any group. Men in the superior cognitive range were the most conservative followed by women in the average cognitive range. Decision-making and what impacts risk-aversion and risk-seeking are of particular interest since women become the lead decision-makers later in life due to loss of spouses and longer life spans.
The Healthy Brain, Healthy Decisions study, available online, was conducted by the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas and the University of California, San Francisco in partnership with the MetLife Mature Market Institute from October 1, 2011 through June 30, 2012. A sample of 72 adults (31 men and 41 women) was recruited from the Dallas-Fort Worth community. Ages were evenly divided between men and women within each of the three decades (50s, 60s, and 70s).
The Center for BrainHealth announced its annual sell-out public lecture series lineup today. The Brain: An Owner’s Guide, made possible by the generosity and vision of The Container Store, was designed to translate the latest brain research and treatment developments into cutting-edge topical lectures for the lay community. The four-part series, held at 2200 W. Mockingbird Lane, begins February 5, 2013 at 7:00 p.m. and continues each Tuesday night throughout the month.
“The lecture series provides a rare opportunity to hear about groundbreaking research directly from experts in the field,” Melissa Reiff, president of The Container Store, said. “We are always looking for innovative opportunities to become ingrained in causes and community endeavors that help allow our customers to live their best, most productive and organized life. The lecture series fits that description perfectly,” she explained.
Prominent brain research leaders from across the country will speak about ways to enhance and maintain brainpower across the lifespan; the mind’s influence over our thoughts and actions; secret decisions and emotions that shape our lives; and the Internet’s effect on the brain and information perception. “The more knowledge we can share about the brain, the more we can empower individuals to take charge of their cognitive health,” Dr. Sandra Chapman, the Center for BrainHealth’s founder and chief director, said.
For the first time in several years, Dr. Chapman will join the series to discuss her latest undertakings. “Research at the Center for BrainHealth has shown the majority of humans can increase their intellectual capital, build cognitive resilience, and harness the immense capacity of their brain to strengthen and rewire itself in health, injury and disease. To achieve such gains requires concerted and lasting effort. Brain health fitness is not a quick fix,” she explained. “My vision is to change the way individuals think and act about their brain and its health daily. Through the lecture series, we are shining a spotlight on the vast potential of the human mind.”
February 5: The Dee Wyly Lecture - SOLD OUT
Make Your Brain Smarter
Sandra Chapman, Ph.D.
Dr. Chapman, the founder & chief director of the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas, Dee Wyly Distinguished University Chair and author of Make Your Brain Smarter – Increase Your Brain’s Creativity, Energy and Focus, will share why your brain health matters today and provide a proven plan to maximize your cognitive potential. Learn how to enhance your brain performance and how to continually strengthen your greatest natural resource: your brain.
UPDATE: New Lecture Date Added - April 23, 2013 - Click here to purchase tickets
February 12: The Emy Lou & Jerry Baldridge Lecture
Who’s in Charge? Free Will & the Science of the Brain
Michael Gazzaniga, Ph.D.
Dr. Michael Gazzaniga, founder of the Cognitive Neuroscience Society and Editor-in-Chief Emeritus of the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, will share his theories on how the mind “constrains” the brain. With ingenious insight and humor, hear from the world leader of modern cognitive neuroscience about the science of our responsibility and culpability. Dr. Gazzaniga currently directs the SAGE Center for the Study of Mind at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
February 19: The J. Baxter Brinkmann Lecture
The Secret Lives of the Brain
David Eagleman, Ph.D.
Dr. David Eagleman, author of New York Times bestseller, Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain, will take you on a thrilling exploration of the mind, leaving you asking: how much of our lives are steered by decisions and emotions that fly under the radar of conscious awareness? Dr. Eagleman directs the Laboratory for Perception and Action at the Baylor College of Medicine.
February 26: The Philip R. Jonsson Foundation Lecture
How the Internet is Molding Your Mind
Mr. Lapham, founder and Editor of Lapham’s Quarterly, will describe how we encounter various subjects on the Internet and rely on labels to dictate our responses and ways of thinking. Learn how the Internet has changed the brain and the ways in which we perceive information. For almost 30 years, Mr. Lapham was the editor of Harper’s Magazine, the second oldest continuously published magazine in the United States. He remains Editor Emeritus for Harper’s in addition to having authored numerous books.
All lectures will be held at the Center for BrainHealth, 2200 West Mockingbird Lane in Dallas. The price is $35 for a single ticket to one lecture, $45 for a ticket at the door and $130 for a series pass to all four lectures.
UPDATE: Only Reception Hall seating remains. Auditorium seating is sold out. For more information or to register, please visit http://lectureseries13.eventbrite.com/#.
In a speech at the Harvard School of Public Health, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell spoke of the cultural shift needed within the league to help reduce the risk of head injuries and significant brain traumas.
“Changing the culture in a way that reduces the injury risk to the maximum possible extent — especially the risk of head injury,” he said. “We want players to enjoy long and prosperous careers and healthy lives off the field. So we focus relentlessly on player health and safety, while also keeping the game fun and unpredictable.”
As Founder and Chief Director of the Center for BrainHealth, I am passionate about bringing more awareness to the issues of brain health and what we can be doing to improve cognitive performance – not just for professional athletes but for athletes of all ages.
Fear has been a common theme in the discussion of concussions in athletes – particularly in our youth. Dr. Robert Cantu recently published an editorial in The New York Times where he argued that children under the age of 14 should not be playing tackle football, heading a soccer ball should be against the rules until age 14, body checking should be banned in ice hockey until age 14 and headfirst slides should be eliminated in youth baseball and softball.
While the conversation about concussions and their effects is a good one to have, it should not be clouded by overwhelming fear. Here are my thoughts on this often controversial subject.
I am inspired by the words of a Navy SEAL with whom I recently worked.
“Advances in modern medicine, science, and exercise physiology have taken our athletes to accomplishments that ten years ago were considered impossible. Ussan Bolt ran faster than any human alive at the Olympic games. Mark Inglis climbed Mount Everest on two prosthetic legs. We are growing stronger, and going faster, longer and higher than ever before.
Do you realize that the winner of a contest whether it is physical or mental is the one that has endured the most pain in training? The champions of the world are the ones that accept the idea that no matter the cost they will sacrifice everything to win. Champions want to be champions, and winners are winners no matter what they are doing at the time. How far can we take the ability of our brains if we actually focused on training it like we do our bodies?
My training at the Center for BrainHealth taught me many things. One, that anyone can think smarter. Two, you can join the fight sharper than before. Three, none more important than this, I will not fail, and I can be better, stronger and smarter. Why? Because it’s up to me, and I will succeed."
We can achieve far greater good by training the brain in health and by repairing and retraining the brain after injury – even years after injury than by banning sports. Team sports provide positive benefits for individuals of all ages; team sports are a cost effective avenue and training ground for socialization, fun and important life lessons. Sports may be one of the most important activities to promote physical activity and to counteract the vulnerability and risk of addiction which is becoming all too common in early adolescence. The conversation surrounding concussions must change from one of fear, doom and gloom to one of resilience, recovery, safety and hope.