Tag Archives: Dementia

Music+Dance=Festive Fitness

When auditory hair cells vibrate in your inner ear you perceive sound.  But when auditory hair cells dance you perceive music.

The relationship between music and dance is rooted at the sensory level.   Both music and dance result when space and time form an intimate bond that takes on a life of its own.   The power of music and dance on the brain and body has a profound healing potential that is part of the future of preventive and restorative health care.

In 1905 Einstein introduced the idea that space and time are not separate but rather form a spacetime continuum.   In his new book, ‘Reality Is Not What It Seems’, Italian theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli explains that the past, present and future exist together in an ‘extended present’ that is interconnected by timeless light beams.  I say ‘timeless’ because if you were traveling on a light beam time would stand still for you.  For example, the sun that we see in the sky is the sun from 15 minutes ago, because it takes 15  minutes for light to travel 90  million miles to the earth.  However, the light is not 15 minutes old!  In essence we are witnessing a direct connection through time and the sun’s past is directly connecting to our present through spacetime energy fluctuations.

In a metaphorically similar way, music and dance also connect the past, present and future in the brain resulting in powerful stimulation and regeneration of brain cells.   In the 2014 film, Alive Inside, by  Michael Rossato-Bennett, Dan Cohen of Music and Memory discusses how music awakens elderly people suffering from dementia by reviving brain circuitry from the past that has remained dormant for long periods of time.

The Alive Inside video shows dramatic examples of the power of music for combating brain degeneration resulting from illnesses such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.  One can only imagine the power of music, when used properly, to keep the brain vibrant, healthy, and free from illness.

Now consider that by combining music with dance we can magnify the beneficial effect on the brain in a way that is more than just the sum of the parts.  This approach is being promoted by a nonprofit organization named ‘Dance for PD.’   As shown below, this approach appears to trigger brain activation that allows Parkinson’s patients a greater degree of freedom to move.

Researchers led by neuroscientist Joseph DeSouza at York University in Toronto believe that dance can rebuild the brains pathways.  He states that dance is a very effective form of brain training because it involves complex brain functions associated with timing, movement, coding and decoding.

Participants claim that dancing helps them not only physically but cognitively as well.  In paper published in January 2015 by Prabhjot Dhami , Sylvain Moreno and Joseph F. X. DeSouza, it is argued that dance appears to be a tool that combines both cognitive and physical rehabilitation strategies.  The authors state:

“Not only does it incorporate physical and motor skill related activities, but it can also engage various cognitive functions such as perception, emotion, and memory, all while being done in an enriched environment.”

But of course, dance is not only a good tool for rehabilitation, and the authors also mention a study by Kattenstroth et al. (2010) in which elderly individuals with multiyear dancing activity were able to prevent cognitive decline when compared to non-dancing controls.

So what are we waiting for?  Let’s get our dancing on!

References

Kattenstroth, J. C., Kolankowska, I., Kalisch, T., and Dinse, H. R. (2010). Superior sensory, motor, and cognitive performance in elderly individuals with multiyear dancing activities. Front. Aging Neurosci. 2:31. doi: 10.3389/fnagi.2010. 00031

Neuro-Genesis

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Your brain creates the world in which you live. Image by jdurham at morguefile.com.

Brand new baby brain cells (neurons) are crawling around inside your head as you read this!

This process, called neurogenesis, is very exciting because neurons create your world, and the birth of new neurons  is like a re-creation of the world taking place in your very own brain.  Let’s pause to consider this.

Most everyone is familiar with the account in Genesis of how the world was created.  In this account man was created on the sixth day.  But what is not mentioned is that once man was created, the whole world had to be re-created inside his head.   We cannot perceive objective reality directly.  In Kantian philosophy, this objective reality that is unknowable is referred to as the noumenal world.  Neurons are the living entities responsible for creating the subjective or phenomenal world which we can perceive.  The phenomenal world created by neurons is a simulation of the noumenon, and it includes everything that is perceivable through the senses, thoughts and emotions.

Thus each individual is the creator of a unique phenomenal world.  Although neurogenesis refers only to the birth of neurons in the brain, in reality we can extend the significance philosophically by thinking of it as neuro-Genesis, the re-creation of an individuals phenomenal world by the brain.

Unlike the noumenal world that is made up of objects, the phenomenal world is made up of memories.  It is very important to appreciate how our worlds are constructed by a constellation of living entities (neurons) each assembling memories like LEGO blocks to create a phenomenal world.

When neurons involved in this process die or malfunction our world shrinks.   This is why a patient with Alzheimer’s, though technically not blind, can forget how to see.  At first the patient may fail to recognize new acquaintances.  As the disease progresses, family members are not recognized, and finally even the concept of a face is forgotten as neurons continue to die or malfunction.

The Birth of Worlds

Research published this month by David Briley, et al., at the Mitchell Center for Neurodegenerative diseases, Department of Neurology, University of Texas Medical Branch, has shown that the birth of new neurons in the hippocampus may be responsible for preventing symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) in individuals with brain degeneration  that is normally associated with full AD symptoms.  These rare individuals were referred to as  Non-Demented with Alzheimer’s disease Neuropathy (NDAN).  This research shows the importance of promoting the continuous birth of neurons throughout life for retaining mental health in increasingly toxic environments that we are creating.

The perspective I am promoting is that the birth of neurons in the brain is like the birth of new worlds, because these cells directly create our phenomenal world.  This can work in two ways.  The first is that death of cells which would cause our world to shrink can be counteracted.  The second is that our world can continue to expand as these new neurons find their place in our phenomenal world of memories.

In her Ted Talk (see link below), Sandrine Thuret mentions the strategies we can employ to promote the birth of new neurons in our brains.  She discusses research showing that aerobic exercise (running) is is a potent method for stimulating neuronal birth when compared to sedentary behavior.

Her list of do’s and don’ts for birthing brain cells include the following:

Do’s

  1. Learning
  2. Sex
  3. Running (Aerobic Exercise)
  4. Omega 3 fatty acids, blueberries, curcurmin, resveratrol (skin of red grapes, etc.
  5. Intermittent Fasting (increased spacing between last meal and first meal the next day)

Don’ts

  1. Stress
  2. Sleep Deprivation
  3. Alcohol
  4. Vitamin Deficiencies (A,B,E)
  5. High Sugar

Ultimately the best strategy for keeping your world growing is to protect both your old neurons as well as promoting the birth of new neurons.  Some neuroscientists think the birth of new neurons is hyped by the media of wishful thinkers.  According to these researchers the best advice is to take good care of the neurons you already have rather than hoping to gain new ones.  However, mounting evidence indicates we are in for more budding heads in the future, as the stream of baby neurons explore their place in the palace of our memories, our phenomenal world.  Enjoy!

Sleep Apnea and its Children

Sleep_and_Death,_the_Children_of_the_Night_-_Evelyn_de_Morgan_(1883)
Sleep and Death with their mother The Night. Images by Evelyn De Morgan [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
In Greek Mythology, Hera the wife of Zeus “sought out Sleep, the brother of Death,” in order to deceive Zeus.

But did you know that (as of today) sleep also has a cousin named  “Sleep Apnea”  with six children named Dementia, Depression, Diabetes, Stroke, Heart Failure, and High Blood Pressure?   This is a cousin we need to get to know before allowing him into our homes!

Sleep Apnea is a condition that causes a person  to stop breathing  during sleep.   This not only disrupts sleep but is also an indication of looming problems ahead as you can surmise from its list of “children”.  Estimates indicate that up to 22 million Americans have sleep apnea.  The startling fact is that 80 percent of people with moderate and severe  obstructive sleep apnea may not know they have it.

Because Sleep Apnea strikes while you are asleep, many people do not detect it as the cause of their daytime symptoms.  The sad truth is that this condition is often missed by doctors who attempt to treat its symptoms without ever directly targeting the underlying sleep apnea.  This results in years of poor treatment and slow degradation in the quality of life of the individual, due to daytime fatigue,  depression, dementia, etc.

Is Sleep Apnea Knocking At Your Door?

Symptoms of sleep apnea include:

  1. Daytime sleepiness – such as difficulty staying awake while driving
  2. Complaints from your partner about loud snoring.
  3. Choking and gasping for air at night.  This can begin as bouts of deep breathing followed by shallow breathing. 
  4. Morning headaches – indicates lack of oxygen during the night. 
  5. Memory problems and difficulty concentrating
  6. Irritability
  7. Waking up frequently throughout the night.
  8. Dry mouth or sore throat when you wake up – caused by breathing through the mouth instead of the nose.
  9. Restless sleep
  10. Puffy eyes in the morning

What Can We Do To Fight back?

Discuss any of the above symptoms with your doctor and determine if you should have a sleep test.  Perhaps the sleep test can even be performed more cheaply in the comfort of your own home.  Don’t put this off because brain degradation is often irreversible and symptoms of dementia may not appear until a large percentage of neurons in critical areas have been lost.

If it is determined that you have sleep apnea, find out if it is Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), Central Sleep Apnea (CSA) or a mixture of the two.  OSA is caused by a blockage or collapse of the airway.  In some cases this can be prevented by:

  1. Losing weight
  2. Changing sleep position
  3. Other forms of natural treatment.  
  4. Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) is required .

In cases of CSA the problem originates when the brain ceases sending the correct breathing signals to the body through the brain stem.   CSA can be caused by any of the following:

  1. Congestive heart failure or stroke
  2. Side effects of medications
  3. Symptoms can develop while on CPAP therapy for OSA
  4. Other medical conditions may affect the brain stem, such as kidney failure, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, ALS, etc.
  5. Idiopathic (unknown origin) –  Some believe that environmental toxins / pollutants such as mercury from dental fillings can cause CSA.

If you have CSA you must try to find and eliminate the root cause of the problem if possible before the damage to the brain stem progresses or becomes permanent.

Other strategies that may help reduce the symptoms of sleep apnea are:

  • Improve your air quality while sleeping by using an air filter, keeping windows cracked during sleep (assuming the air outside your bedroom is less polluted than the air inside),  and by keeping the air from becoming stagnant through the use of a small fan.
  • Avoid using foods with excitotoxins in their ingredients since it has been shown that sleep apnea kills the brain cells of guinea pigs by promoting glutamate-induced excitotoxicity.
  • Avoid alcohol consumption

Sleep is a precious gift – sleep apnea we can do without!