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Brain Gym: 16 Activities That Will Help Your Brain Stay Younger

Brain Gym for a healthy mind. A few years ago, we started to learn about the importance of training our brains. Today we know that in order to enjoy life to the fullest, our brain needs to be in shape as well. Find out the 16 brain gym exercises that will help your brain health.

Life expectancy has risen, and as we age, our brain starts deteriorating. A few good habits can help slow down cognitive aging and help keep the human brain in shape. In this article, we’ll talk to you about different brain gym strategies that will help you build new neural connections and boost your cognitive reserve. Lifestyle and our habits play an important role in the physical changes that our brains undergo. The sooner you start training your brain, the longer it will stay in shape. Sign up for your brain gym!

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Is it really possible to improve a specific cognitive skill by training with a brain gym routine? Sometimes you may find yourself wondering if a brain gym routine will actually make it possible to improve our memory, planning, spatial orientation, processing speed, reasoning, creativity, etc. While there isn’t any magic recipe to keep cognitive aging at bay, you can start some exercises to slow it down and improve cognitive reserve. Take your brain seriously and try some of the brain gym exercises that we have below.

Brain Gym can your brain plasticity. The brain has the amazing ability to adapt and change depending on our experiences. Brain plasticity is what makes this adaptation easy, and is what allows us to help mold and adapt our brains to different circumstances or surroundings.

There is one notable type of brain plasticity, called functional compensatory plasticity, that causes a small group of elderly people to achieve almost the same amount or higher cognitive activity than their younger counterparts, despite their age. If we think of the average aging individual, we can expect their cognition to slowly decline as they age. However, in the case of functional compensatory plasticity, the brain actually compensates for the lack of cognitive activity, ultimately activating more brain parts than others of their own age or supposed cognitive state.

Brain gyms help the brain adapt, which we have shown is an essential part to brain health, especially as we age. Changing some simple habits and practicing mentally stimulating activities can help keep the brain active which makes it easier for the brain to create neurons and connections. Take a look at our suggestions and put them into action.

Brain Gym: 10 ways to keep your brain sharp

Exercising these powerful cognitive skills helps regenerate neural connections. Brain gyms can help slow down cognitive decline, which can delay the effects of neurodegenerative effects.

1. Brain gym while you Travel

Travelling stimulates our brains, exposes to new cultures and languages, and helps us learn about the history of a new place. According to a study, having contact with different cultures gives us the ability to learn about different cultures, which helps improve creativity and has important cognitive benefits.

Brain Gym: If you have the resources to travel, do it! Visit new places, emerge yourself in the culture, and learn from the natives. If you can’t travel, make an effort to surround yourself with different cultures and people, and visit new places right in your own city.

2. Brain gym while you Listen to music

Listening to music can be a great activity because music is a powerful stimulus for our brains. Certain studies have shown how listening to music activates the transmission of information between neurons, our ability to learn, and our memory. Listening to music can also slow neurodegenerative processes (this effect was only present in those who were familiar with music).

Listening to music can also positively affect our mood and activate almost all of our brain, which makes it a great way to stimulate the brain.

Brain Gym: You can add music to so many parts of your day. Turn on the radio when you’re cooking or driving in the car. Play your favorite “cardio” or “pump-up” playlist when you’re at the gym… and remember, it’s never too late to learn how to play an instrument! There are tons of video tutorials on YouTube that can help you get started.

3. Brain gym while enjoying nature

The best gym is being in nature. It helps us disconnect from our daily routines and obligations, and reduces stress and anxiety. According to this study, being in nature, whether it be out at a park or seeing trees from the window, helps reduce attentional fatigue. Living in areas with gardens or trees improves attention and inhibits our impulses. Being in nature also gets us moving and helps us increase the amount of physical exercise we do.

Brain Gym: Being in nature is good for our health and well-being. You don’t need to go live in the countryside to get these benefits- talking away in green areas, or even hanging some pictures of nature, can give us some of these benefits. Try to get away on the weekend and go to the mountain or beach. Find a great hiking route and make it a weekend activity. You’ll get some exercise and it’s a great brain gym!

4. Write things by hand and train your brain

Take handwritten notes rather than typing on a computer or tablet. Writing by hand is a brain gym exercise because it helps boost memory and learning, according to this study. Writing also helps us process and integrate learned information.

Brain Gym: Leave your laptop at home and get yourself a notebook. You can also think about getting a tablet that allows you to write and later turns your words into text.

5. Brain gym: Physical exercise

According to many studies like this one, doing and enjoying exercise created new neurons within our brain, improves learning, cognitive performance, and boosts neuroplasticity. A recent study established that starting physical exercise when there are already signs of dementia might not be that a beneficiary as starting while being completely healthy. Therefore, you should start exercising as soon as possible.

Brain Gym: According to studies, aerobic exercise is the best for us. Get out and run, dance, swim, skate, or even just walk around. Getting started can be difficult, but just think about the pay-off!

Brain gym and exercise

6. Brain gym: Keep your work area clean and organized

A recent study has shown that doing work that doesn’t challenge your brain, as well as working in an untidy environment, can actually cause damage to your brain health in the long-run.

Brain Gym: A clean work environment makes us feel calm, which allows our brain to work better. Throw out papers and things that you don’t need. Clean up your desk and the space around you.

7. Learn a language and exercise your brain

According to a study, speaking two or more languages helps protect from cognitive deterioration. The study discovered that bilingual people had a higher IQ and received higher points in the cognitive tests compared to others in their age group. This can happen even after learning a language as an adult.

Brain Gym: Sign up for a class in French or Spanish or Portuguese or any other language you’ve ever thought about learning! Try to watch movies in their original languages (with or without subtitles), you’ll start to pick up the sounds and your brain will get a great workout. Today, we have access to great resources online, all it takes is a little searching!

8. Brain gym: Sleep

According to a study, sleeping too much or too little is associated with cognitive aging. As an adult, it has been shown that less than 6 or more than 8 hours of sleep leads to worse cognitive scores as a consequence of premature aging in the brain.

The right amount of sleep is vital for the proper function of our bodies, as well as our well-being. Both sleeping too little and sleeping too much can have negative effects on cognitive performance, response time, recognizing errors, and attention.

Brain Gym: Try to keep an adequate sleep schedule by creating a routine. Try to go to sleep and wake up everyday at the same time. If your one of those people who tends to sleep too little, try going to bed a little earlier over time. Put your phone, TV, computer, etc. away at least 30 minutes before bedtime to reduce any symptoms of technological insomnia. Make sure your room is a comfortable temperature, there’s not too much light or sound coming in, and that your room is clean and ready to be slept in. Doing this can even help you become a morning person!

9. Brain Gym: Read

People who don’t read a lot have been shown to have lower cognitive performance compared to avid readers, according to a study. Those who don’t read often receive lower scores in processing speed, attention, language, and abstract processing.

According to researchers, this low performance in subjects who read little affects their brain’s ability to adapt after suffering from brain damage. More highly educated people use their brain’s resources to compensate for the cognitive deterioration due to aging. In others words, they have a higher level of functional compensatory plasticity, as we mentioned before. This can be applied the same was for people who read often.

Brain Gym: If you like to read, you’ve got it pretty easy. If you don’t like reading and it doesn’t appeal to do, don’t worry! There are tons of different genres to try out. You’ll find that some things are easier to read, like graphic novels. You can read magazines, newspapers, etc. about anything you like, and you’ll still get all the benefits of reading. It’s just a matter of keeping your brain active.

10. Brain gym: Practice yoga and meditation

Meditation can have long-term changes in your brain, according to this study. People who have been meditating for years have more gyri in the (ridges in the brain that are used in quickly processing information). This is also another proof of neuroplasticity, as our brain can adapt and change depending on our experiences.

According to another study, practicing yoga for 20 minutes improves speed and precision in working memory and inhibitory control (the ability to inhibit behavior when it’s necessary) tests. These measurements are associated with the ability to pay attention, and hold on to and use new information.

Yoga and meditation help us use our mental resources more efficiently, and helps us reduce stress and anxiety, which improves our performance.

Brain Gym: Meditation and yoga are “in” right now, so it shouldn’t be hard to find classes and get started. If you don’t want to go to a class, there are tons of instructors on YouTube to show you how to meditate and do yoga, without having to leave the house.

11. Brain gym: Eat well and avoid drugs

What we eat affects our brains. Eating well helps keep our brains young and prevents cognitive decline. We already know that there are “superfoods” can work together to help keep our bodies healthy. However, a diet of varied fruits, vegetables, beans, grains, and few processed foods, can also greatly improve our overall health. A healthy diet doesn’t only help prevent a large number of diseases caused by diet, but it also helps slow down physical and cognitive aging. Brain Gym comes also from the consumption of different nutrients. Watch below to discover how food affects your brain.

Alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs all contribute to an increased risk of suffering from different types of diseases and contributes to premature aging.

Brain Gym: If you want to learn how to eat well, you should talk to a nutritionist or doctor who can best guide you to the best diet for you. Don’t trust “miracle diets”, they don’t work and can be dangerous for your health. Choose fruits and vegetables over sweets and whole grains over white bread. Keep an eye on how much sugar and fat your eating, and cut out as much alcohol as possible. It can be hard to get started, but ask for stop smoking tips if you need it!

12. Brain Gym: Control your stress levels!

Take care of your mental health! Mental health issues and constantly thinking negatively affects our overall well-being. However, this study has shown that it also affects our brain in the long-term. Having suffered from depression or anxiety disorders increases the risk of having dementia.

Brain Gym: Control your stress levels with some relaxation techniques. Listening to relaxing music helps relieve stress, and practicing yoga or meditation can also help keep stress at bay. If you’re not sure if you have a mental health issue, get in touch with a mental health specialist.

13. Brain Gym: Try new things

New studies have shown that immersing yourself in new hobbies that require some kind of mental challenge helps improve and maintain cognitive function and can help prevent cognitive deterioration.

Brain Gym: Take the time to try to learn new things. It doesn’t matter if you’re good at them or not! The important thing is that you have fun and you challenge your brain. Try learning how to play chess, how to sew, take on a DIY project, draw, write, learn how to play an instrument, etc.

14. Brain Gym: Spend time with your family and friends

Social relationships stimulate our brains, which helps keep it active and younger for longer. Socializing also helps reduce stress and improves our mood, which helps with our overall mental health.

Brain Gym: Spend more time with your loved ones (especially those who transmit positivity), meet new people, make new groups of friends, etc.

15. Brain Gym: Use your brain whenever you can

“Use it or lose it”, kind of. The best way to make sure your brain keeps working the best that it can is to constantly use and challenge it. We have access to new technology, which makes our lives easier, but it also makes our brain lazy. Before, we had to make an effort to learn and remember something. Now, many tasks have become computerized, which makes our brains go on autopilot. Try to give your brain the chance to work before reaching for the calculator or the GPS or Google.

Brain Gym: Try to solve math problems without a calculator, limit how often you use your GPS, and try to remember information on your own.

Memorize a list of words. For example, try to memorize your grocery list before leaving the house and time how long it takes you to remember it.

In the following video, you’ll see how you can help your brain work well and stay young. We can help our brains create new neurons, even as adults. Sandrine Thuret explains how we can help create new neurons.

This post was originally written in Spanish by CogniFit psychologist Andrea Garcia Cerdan

Brain seizures: When The Brain Has Too Much Energy

Brain seizures: Some of us have to deal with them every single day, whilst others can be witnesses of someone having a  brain seizure. Most commonly, people having to experience someone suffering from a brain seizure are overwhelmed when their loved ones jerk uncontrollably and subsequently lose consciousness. Not only are the witnesses clueless about which steps to take, but also the patients if his/her seizure occurs for the first time. This article will give you a guide on what brain seizures are, their symptoms, treatments and what steps to take in order to increase the quality of life of the patient. 

What are brain seizures?

What are brain seizures?

Brain seizures are changes in the brain’s electrical activity. This change can cause dramatic, noticeable symptoms or it may not cause any symptoms. Patients that experience brain seizures possess abnormal neural activity which is uncontrolled and happens spontaneously.

The brain function, however, is often not abnormal. The involuntary change in neural activity is considered epilepsy, in which the brain seizures are the symptoms. Though, brain seizures can also be induced in a normal brain under a variety of conditions different species, from humans to flies. Brain function is not abnormal but cognitive aspects might be threatened by many brain seizures.

Brain Seizures Types

Generally, we differentiate between three different types of seizures. Usually, they are dependent on the number of brain cells showing abnormal activity. This is crucial in order to select a suitable treatment for the patient, as different medications have to be used for each seizure type.

  1. Generalized onset brain seizures: In this case, there is no identifiable onset meaning a starting point in the brain cannot be determined. The seizure starts and spreads too quickly making a reliable decision about the trigger impossible. For this reason, treatment using surgery to suppress the symptoms is not available.
  2. Focal onset brain seizures: Whereas in generalized onset seizures the location is not known, in this type of brain seizure, doctors are able to determine the starting point of the seizures. Focal brain seizures can start in one area of the brain or in a specific group of cells either in the left or right hemisphere. Furthermore, patients can have full or impaired awareness during their fit.
  3. Unknown onset brain seizures: If the nature of the seizure cannot be determined, they belong to this group. This is mostly at the beginning or if the patient lives alone without witnesses observing the person with the seizure. As more information is obtained, the seizure is later classified as generalized onset brain seizure or focal onset brain seizure.

How is a brain seizure caused?

Aspects of the brain affected by different brain seizure

The emergence of a brain seizure can be down to several reasons, but determining the exact cause has proven to be challenging. At least half of all patients display idiopathic seizures meaning the cause is unknown. Nevertheless, depending on the age of the patient, determining the trigger of a brain seizure can be narrowed down.

Generally, genetics plays a large role whether someone will experience a seizure in their lives or not. Pinpointing the specific genes which are responsible for the symptoms though is a struggle. This diagnosis is mostly very vague as the relationship between the genes in the brain and the nature of seizures is poorly understood.

What is known on the other hand is a prevalence of about 3 out of 10 patients having a change in brain structure which leads to some sort of brain seizure. Mostly this is the case for children born with alterations in brain regions.  For the elderly, incidence such as a stroke is usually the cause of developing recurrent seizures.

When suffering from epilepsy, an imbalance in the brain’s chemistry is frequently observed. This refers to the neurotransmitters being present in the wrong concentrations (too little or too much in the brain). In general, everybody has got two kinds of neurotransmitters with opposing functions: Neurotransmitter of excitatory and inhibitory qualities, with the former increasing the firing rate and the latter reducing the activity of the neurons. The balance of both kinds has to be maintained and if not given, can result in hyperactivity of the neurons causing epilepsy.

The best-studied neurotransmitter is GABA, or gamma-aminobutyric acid, which possesses inhibitory qualities counterbalancing neuronal excitation. GABA’s counterpart glutamate, the principal excitatory neurotransmitter, plays a crucial role in the initiation and spread of brain seizures. This was demonstrated by During and Spencer in 1993 when they tested the concentration of these two neurotransmitters in the hippocampus before and during a seizure. Before seizures, the glutamate concentration in this brain area was found to be higher than in the control group, whereas the concentration of GABA was observed to be lower. During the seizure, GABA concentrations increased in both groups, however in the control group a greater increase was found. Consequently, drugs to treat epilepsy revolve around these two neurotransmitters, by either reducing the concentration of glutamate or by increasing GABA content in the synapses in order to reduce hyperactivity of the neurons.

Brain Seizures Symptoms

Clinicians group the symptoms into two categories, generalized and partial or focal seizures, in order to find out if a patient suffers from epilepsy.
The different types are:

Generalized brain seizures (produced by the whole brain)

  • “Grand Mal”: The most known form where the patient loses consciousness and collapses. The body stiffens and violent jerking begins usually lasting for about 30-60 seconds. Afterwards, the patient goes into deep sleep.
  • Absence: Individuals experiencing an absence seizure stare into space for a few seconds. They are most common in children and a brief loss of consciousness is reported.
  • Myoclonic: These seizures are brief, shock-like jerks or twitches of a muscle or a whole muscle group. This usually does not last for a long time (only about 1-2 seconds) and the person experiencing it retains full consciousness.
  • Clonic: This type of seizures is very similar to the myoclonic seizure with the difference of a more regular and sustained jerking.
  • Tonic: The muscle tone, the muscle’s normal tension at rest, is highly increased leading to tense feelings in arms, legs or body in general. Awareness usually does not change much and the symptoms subside within 20 seconds.
  • Atonic: Atonic seizures are substantially the opposite of tonic seizures. Instead of the muscles becoming stiff, a person experiencing an atonic seizure will feel their muscles going limp. For instance, a person standing might fall to the ground when suffering an atonic seizure. As tonic seizures, they do not last for a long time either.

Partial or Focal brain seizures

Focal brain seizures are known to originate from a specific brain region causing a variety of symptoms depending on the brain area affected. Generally, doctors differentiate between seizures causing a (partial) loss of consciousness and the ones where consciousness is preserved.

Symptoms of focal seizures with impaired awareness (once called complex partial seizures) could be the following:

  • Staring into space
  • Response to the environment is abnormal or impaired
  • Execution of repetitive movements (hand rubbing, chewing, walking in circles, etc…)

Symptoms of focal seizures without loss of consciousness (once called simple partial seizures):

  • Change of emotions
  • Difference in perception
  • Involuntary jerking of a body part
  • Sensory symptoms (eg. tingling, dizziness and flashing lights)

Note: If an individual experiences seizures repeatedly (once a week or even once every single day), their symptoms will most likely remain similar.

Brain seizures: Diagnosis and what to expect when visiting a doctor?

If a person suffers from a brain seizure (or thinks they have suffered one), the first stop will be consulting your general practitioner. Make an appointment and if the seizure was witnessed by someone, ask this person to join.

Depending on the type of seizure, most likely you were unconscious which makes it difficult for you to describe what happened. However, the doctor will ask you a series of questions, also called the medical interview, in which he will ask you about your general health and incidences before, during and after the seizure. Especially for the medical interview, it is advisable to have someone near you answer questions which you might not be able to answer.

The doctor will most likely be able to diagnose a brain seizure based on the answers of the patient. However, to obtain a clearer idea of the clinical picture of the patient, more tests will be necessary.

The primary physician will ask a neurologist to take a look at the inside of the individual’s brain. Every single brain is different and finding the most suitable treatment for a patient is far from straightforward. The following tests are used when attempting to diagnose brain seizures in detail:

  • Blood tests: The most common blood test is the CBC (Complete Blood count) in which the doctor determines important parameters in your blood, e.g the number of red blood cells, white blood cells, hemoglobin, etc. Therefore a blood test serves to determine the appropriate medication for infections, allergies, and other abnormalities are revealed.
  • Metabolic tests: This test assesses the functioning of your organs, more specifically your body’s ability to metabolize. The evaluation is also done via a blood sample and includes an assessment of the content of important molecules in your blood. The sodium, potassium and blood sugar levels are evaluated. Not only will this help determine an electrolyte imbalance, but also reveal any malfunction of the kidney or the liver. The importance of looking at these organs is to find out whether a disease could trigger the brain seizures, which was found to be the case for instance in patients with diabetes. In this case, doctors focus on treating the symptoms of the illness causing the brain seizures (in this case diabetes) rather prescribing drugs targeting the brain seizures directly.
  • An EEG (electroencephalography) test: The term might sound familiar to most of us, but what is this exactly and how can it help doctors make a more accurate diagnosis? An EEG can reveal the electrical activity of the brain and in which regions abnormal/normal activity is present. The specialists can make conclusions if the brain seizures come from a single area or are more widespread looking at the EEG pattern.
  • CT and MRI scan: Computer Tomography (CT) and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) are two techniques that will look into your brain. The aim here is to find physical abnormalities that cause the seizures. Although for a lot of people suffering from brain seizures the test results will be negative, it is still an important procedure. In cases where brain seizures are very frequent and strong, determining the exact cause is crucial since the possibility to undergo surgery could be an adequate treatment option.

What to do and not to do when faced with a brain seizure?

If we see our loved-ones suffering from a seizure, it would be normal to be frightened and expect the worst. However, most brain seizures are not dangerous and the person regains his/her normal state within a few minutes without permanent damage. Fact is: Once a seizure is going, you cannot simply force the person to stop jerking, however, you can protect the person inflicting damage to his own body.

The DO’S!

  • Make sure other people are not standing too close to the person having a seizure
  • Remove sharp or hard objects from the surroundings
  • Do not stop the movements of your friend
  • Take a look at his/her watch to record the seizure duration
  • To keep the airway clear, put the person on his/her side
  • And most importantly: Keep calm!

The DONT’S!

  • Do not restrain the person as you might injure him or get injured yourself
  • No offering of food or drinks to the sufferer: A sip of water might be a trigger for choking
  • Do not insert anything into his/her mouth! They will not swallow their tongue
  • No CPR (unless the patient is not breathing after the seizure)

Tips to reduce brain seizures

Since the underlying trigger for a brain seizure is often unknown, it is crucial to reduce the odds of a brain seizure to a minimum. Take the following provisions:

  • Reduce stress by getting enough sleep (it is best to adhere to a regular sleeping schedule)
  • Physical activity or yoga may help feeling more relaxed, as well as deep breathing
  • Limit noise sources and make sure the room is well illuminated when watching TV or when playing video games
  • When going for a run you should do it in the park, rather than in high-traffic areas or unpaved trails
  • But most importantly: Stick to your medication your doctor prescribed you unless he/she tells you otherwise!

Have you witnessed a brain seizure or are you suffering from this condition? Please feel free to comment below.

Significant learning: How do we internalize information?

What is significant learning? Learning is an essential part of our lives. We need to constantly acquire new knowledge and put it into practice in order to adapt to the environment. Sometimes it is not enough to retain long lists of data, we must internalize them. Ausubel’s significant learning theory explains how we integrate information into our brain. In this article, we will give you tips on how to learn significantly.

Significant Learning

Significant learning: Definition and characteristics

What is significant learning? To answer this question, we must be clear about what “learning” means. This term does not only involve the knowledge we are taught at school. It involves any lasting changes that we may observe in our behavior or that take place in our minds. Learning is essential in every area of our lives. Understanding and communicating the basics is the key to progress.

Psychologists and other professionals try to develop learning theories to explain how the brain learns. There are several proposals that address this issue from different angles. At present, an attempt is being made to understand this process through brain-based learning. Answers must be sought to provide future generations with better education.

In this article, we will talk about significant learning, which was proposed by the American psychologist David Ausubel. This author is one of the greatest exponents of constructivism. This perspective is based on each person building their own world through their own experiences. Piaget is also one of its most prominent exponents, which profoundly influenced Ausubel.

Ausubel’s significant learning theory states that we add and adapt the new information to our previous knowledge. It is a conscious process. Significant learning is an active process in which the subject is the protagonist.

This type of learning contrasts with rote learning, which is a more passive procedure. This constructivist theory contrasts with other proposals that focus on external influences.

Significant Learning: What do we need?

It is imperative that we have:

  • A cognitive structure: The existing basis with which the latest data interact is of great importance. It is made of the ideas we have, how they relate to each other and their degree of clarity.
  • New materials to learn: They need to be related to our previous knowledge. If it is difficult for us to find a link, we must make an effort to achieve a link that unites the new and previous concepts.
  • Willpower: The most important thing is the willingness of the person to form and structure knowledge. We are in charge of organizing the information in our brain.

Significant learning: Types and examples

Significant learning is used throughout our lives. Learning as machines can help us in specific cases like knowing our telephone number, our ID card or reciting a poem.

If we are interested in a topic, we will have to investigate the subject and retain it in a deeper and more lasting way. In fact, even if we don’t want to be experts, the results will improve if we learn significantly.

1. Feature learning

It is the most basic type of learning. From it comes the others. It consists of connecting meanings with certain notions. For example, it happens when we learn that an instrument that tells us the time is called a “clock”. It is not a simple association between concepts, the person connects them in a meaningful way.

2. Concept Learning

It is based on grouping the different representations into categories. It happens when we discover that although there are different types of clocks, they all have common attributes.

3. Learning statements

This is the most elaborate form of learning. It implies that the meanings of concepts are processed in depth in order to express them in the form of statements. It’s about creating logical connections.

For example, if we are asked everything we know about clocks, we will comment on their definition, uses, classifications, examples, etc. In order to do this task, we must have gone through the two previous types of learning.

Significant learning: Applications

Significant learning in the classroom

Significant child learning is vital for us to acquire new knowledge later on. Throughout our lives, we will find ourselves in a variety of situations where we have to settle new information deeply in our minds to overcome an academic challenge.

It doesn’t matter if we do it in college, for competition or to get a job. The sooner we implement strategies that enable us to learn meaningfully, the better.

Here are some significant classroom learning activities that will allow you to retain information more deeply.

1. Make concept maps

This will clarify and organize our ideas. Visually capturing the new concepts and linking them with others we know is a great way to firmly establish the latest data.

2. Explain the lesson to a friend

If we begin to talk about the topic we are studying to someone else, we take the trouble to structure the information. By answering your questions and looking for examples, our understanding of the subject will improve considerably.

3. Work in teams

Listening to people’s views helps us to better internalize information. Our colleagues will also benefit from our skills. We will discover new methods and data to incorporate into our learning process.

Significant learning in companies and organizations

Any type of institution requires its members to acquire new knowledge. There are completely mechanical jobs. Others imply a flexible way of thinking that adapts to continuous changes. However, in all jobs, you need to learn.

Recently it is difficult to keep up since it develops so fast. The future is uncertain and changing. This context does not imply that our future is negative, but that we must work hard to be efficient and adapt.

Companies and organizations should promote significant learning for their employees. This will encourage the involvement of workers and increase their productivity. Also, if we know what we are learning for and link it with our previous knowledge, we will be more motivated.

Significant learning in everyday life

We continue to learn throughout the life cycle. David Ausubel’s theory can be extrapolated to countless situations. For example, since childhood, we have some knowledge about cooking. We see people preparing food and exchanging recipes. In addition, we know a large number of dishes and know what we like and what we don’t like.

One day we may become independent and have to put everything we know about cooking into practice. We can ask our father to teach us his best tricks. He will see what our level is and act accordingly. In this way, knowledge will be mixed with those we have been learning all our lives.

In everyday life, we have to learn to live harmoniously with our flatmates, to drive in different cities or to behave in a party. The new situations will provide us with new knowledge that will interact with what we already knew about how to act in those circumstances.

Significant learning: Benefits

Ausubel’s significant learning is a simple theory that guides us to improve both education and interpersonal relationships.

  • Improved student-teacher relationship: If the teacher is concerned about knowing and adapting to the student’s knowledge, the student will adopt a more proactive attitude, be more motivated and study better. This may also apply to other contexts, such as family or peer groups. We may all need to teach something to our acquaintances at a certain point in time.
  • Ease the acquisition of new knowledge: It consists of “learning to learn”. It improves our learning habits and our understanding of the world.
  • The information is stored in long-term memory: The connections we create are thus firmly anchored in our cognitive structure. This way we can easily recover them in the future.
  • It’s personal: Each person has gone through previous experiences that affect their way of perceiving reality. This makes it easier for us to be able to form our own associations in an active and meaningful way. However, it requires a more personalized education that requires more time and dedication from educators.

Significant learning vs. rote learning

We all know people who are able to memorize immense lists very quickly without making practically the slightest effort (rote-learning). You may even be one of them. Or maybe you’d love to have that ability. On the other hand, there are people who, after reading a text, know how to summarize it and explain it perfectly, even if they don’t say it with the same words (significant learning). Which is better?

Each type of learning is more appropriate for a particular situation. It depends on the context, each person’s abilities, and motivation. In addition, everyone has had different experiences that have encouraged them to try to retain information in one way or another.

If we want to pass a subject and forget about it forever, we will probably try to memorize its contents as quickly as possible in order to pass the test. Next, we’ll forget about it when we’re done. On the other hand, if we are particularly interested in an issue, we will do our best to deepen it and internalize everything we learn.

These two types of learning are not opposites. They can perfectly complement each other. In fact, in tasks such as learning a country’s history, there are parts that we learn significantly and others that we memorize (such as dates). In most cases, however, it is preferable to learn significantly in order to make further progress.

Significant Learning Tips

1. Adopt a healthy lifestyle

This advice is valid for all areas of our life. Healthy habits are fundamental to our mental and physical health. Doing sports, eating well, keeping a regular schedule and getting enough rest will help us learn better. Likewise, contact with nature will help us to disconnect and de-stress from everyday life.

2. Be curious

Amazement is the key to wanting to inquire into why things are happening. If we ask questions and look for answers, we will be able to build new and lasting partnerships in our memory. Reflecting encourages us to learn more and better.

3. Don’t lose motivation

We are not always motivated to learn. Many times we are lazy to learn or read something new that might not contribute to what we need in the moment. However, we never know when the knowledge we get in certain moments might be needed.  we acquired years ago will be phenomenal. Taking a flexible attitude and accepting all tasks as challenges will bring us countless benefits in the long term.

4. Acquire good study habits

If we organize ourselves and have well-established habits, it will less difficult to study or carry out any similar task.

5. Prevents information overload

We have to face a lot of challenges at once every day. Sometimes we sacrifice doing things right for more activities. However, multitasking worsens our performance. It is preferable for us to know what our priorities are, how much time we have to carry them out and act accordingly. If we focus on a single issue and are clear about what we have to do, we will improve our performance.

6. Create your own summaries and outlines

If you are preparing for an exam, significant learning is the key to success. You can underline the most relevant aspects of the text after reading it a couple of times. Afterwards, when you are clear about what is most important, try to make your own notes with the essentials.

Think about what you know about the topic and connect it with the new information. New associations will emerge to help you master the content. You can use color psychology to make your summaries more memorable. In this way, you will be able to link the contents to emotions, keep attention and highlight the essential.

7. Make Examples

If every time you try to learn something you relate it to previous experiences or knowledge, you will make memorable connections. This way you can go from memorizing a concept to visualizing it and knowing how to explain it. Understanding an issue is the basis for meaningful learning.

Look for examples that excite you. You will create associations that go straight to your amygdala, which is a survival-associated part of the brain and is closely related to learning.

8. Take your time

Sometimes, fatigue or lack of time leads us to take the fastest path and avoid focusing on significant learning. With the rush we probably won’t retain the most important things.

If we are really interested in learning something, it is best to look at a time when we are not overwhelmed and to focus all our attention on this issue. We do not always have this option. But if we make an effort, our concentration will increase and we will appreciate it after seeing the results.

9. Rely on technology

Information and communication technologies allow us to improve our attention and keep us motivated to continue learning. New resources are continually being developed that simplify our daily activities and improve our quality of life. More and more means are being used to enable people to interact with them as they develop new skills.

10. Benefit from brain-based learning

CogniFit is the leading cognitive assessment and stimulation tool. Through an entertaining online brain-based platform, it enables both the specialized and general public to learn more about the brain and train cognitive skills such as memory, attention, perception, and reasoning.

If you have any questions or wish to deepen this topic, do not hesitate to comment. Thank you so much for reading this article.

 
This article is originally in Spanish written by Ainhoa Arranz, translated by Alejandra Salazar.
 

Cerebellum: Much more than motor coordination

It is likely that a few seconds ago before you arrived here you were typing on your computer or phone. We do it quickly and automatically, but… have you ever wondered how precise and harmonious the movement of your fingers is when you type? To get you to write correctly and efficiently, various structures are activated in our brain. The part of the brain in charge of coordinating these movements is the Cerebellum and it participates in many of the activities that we do every day: from walking to organizing a sentence.

Cerebellum: Much more than motor coordination

What is the Cerebellum?

The Cerebellum is a brain structure partially concealed by the cortex. Classically it was thought that it was only in charge of harmonizing body movements, but for some years now it has become evident that it is involved in various cognitive functions. The Cerebellum has a shape similar to that of the brain, although a much smaller size. In fact, his name means “little brain.” It is divided into two hemispheres, and the portion of the cerebellum between them is called vermis. It is also the only part of the brain that has Purkinje Cells, a type of neurons essential for its functioning that allows the integration of the information it receives.

What is the Cerebellum?

Where is the Cerebellum located? What parts does it consist of?

The Cerebellum is located in the back of the brain at the level of the brainstem bridge, under the occipital lobe (slightly above the nape of the neck). It binds to the rest of the brain through the lower, middle and upper cerebral peduncles, which are a set of nerve fibers that carry information from the rest of the body to the Cerebellum (afferent), or from the Cerebellum to the rest of the body (efferent). In fact, if it weren’t for the cerebral peduncles, it would be separated from the rest of the brain.

Cerebellum

What is the Cerebellum for? Definition

The precision, harmony, and beauty of ballet dancers’ movements require a lot of dedication, practice and, above all, cerebellum. Each step of the choreography has a very determined force, rhythm, amplitude and, without the help of the cerebellum, all movement would be reduced to a set of spasms and falls (something that few people would be willing to pay for). However, in addition to this very important function of motor coordination, the cerebellum also participates in cognitive functions, without which ballet professionals could not, for example, reproduce movements by heart. Thus, the functions of the cerebellum are divided into motor functions and cognitive functions.

  • Motor Functions of the Cerebellum: This structure receives information about, among other things, our equilibrium, the position of our body, which muscles we must move to perform a specific action, the direction of that movement and integrates it (gathers and works all of the above). When he has developed the information (something he does very, very quickly), he tells the rest of the brain how to carry out the movement. Thus, it regulates the intensity, speed, precise direction, travel and other characteristics of the movement so that, as a final result, we make a harmonious, precise and coordinated movement. To perform this function, the different parts of the cerebellum specialize in specific body parts, following a correspondence between the muscles and the surface of the cerebellum. A topographical representation has been made with this correspondence, called “homunculus of the Cerebellum”, which indicates which parts of the Cerebellum are in charge of which parts of the body.
  • Cognitive Functions of the Cerebellum: For a relatively short time we have begun to study in depth what cognitive and emotional functions the cerebellum participates in. The most common way to investigate the functions of brain structures is to study the cases of people who have suffered some brain damage and, consequently, their cognitive abilities have been altered. Thus, more or less accurate conclusions can be drawn from the areas involved in the various functions (if X brain area is damaged and the person stops speaking, it is understood that this brain area participates in the ability to speak). The problem is that brain damage (such as stroke or head injury) is usually quite extensive, with more than one area affected as a result. This makes it difficult to study, as it is not known whether loss of function comes from damage in the X or Y area. However, different studies have investigated cognitive functions as well as the most recent advances, which allows us to know that the cerebellum contributes to the following cognitive processes:
  1. Language and Cerebellum: Participates in syntactic composition and grammar in general, in the articulation (that is really a motor function of the phonatory apparatus muscles), in the hidden articulation (that is, when we speak for ourselves in an internal dialogue, without making any noise), in the generation of words, in oral comprehension and in the establishment of a semantic relationship between words.
  2. Visuospatial skills: Complex visuospatial tasks such as the construction or mental rotation of images.
  3. Memory and learning (motor and non-motor): The cerebellum, along with other brain structures (basal ganglia), plays a major role in procedural memory (cycling, driving, writing your name in pencil or reading on the mirror) and in learning motor skills, habits and behaviors. It is also related to habituation and awareness, and to classical and operative conditioning. It is also activated by learning motor sequences and learning complex sequences. In conjunction with other structures (supplementary motor area and frontal operculum), the cerebellum participates in verbal operative memory, although it is not clear whether in internal coordination, in error settings, or both. On the other hand, the cerebellum can also take part in spatial memory.
  4. Executive Functions and Cerebellum: Executive functions are intimately related to the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. However, being such a complex series of cognitive functions, they require the participation of other brain structures, including the cerebellum. The functions in which the cerebellum participates (although there is not much consistency in some of them) are planning, cognitive flexibility, abstract reasoning, working memory, verbal fluency, and inhibition. Some studies suggest that the cerebellum may be active during decision making or coordination of two tasks at the same time, increasing speed and automating new movements.
  5. Attention and cerebellum: In selective attention activities or other more complex functions that require attention, such as calculus, the cerebellum is involved.
  6. Personality, emotions, and cerebellum: Some studies point to the role of the cerebellum in controlling and modulating emotions. It has also been linked to personality in regulating appropriate or inappropriate behaviors.

Do you want to know the state of your cognitive processes?

There are currently clinical tools for this. The program that specialists recommend is CogniFit, the leading tool in neuropsychological assessments, cognitive training and stimulation tools. This brain stimulation program is based on cognitive reserve and neural plasticity to measure and improve mental performance through online games. The activities presented in this tool combine different neuropsychological batteries, therapeutic exercises, rehabilitation techniques and learning oriented to retrain and improve the skills that each person needs most.

This program can be used by health professionals, researchers, teachers and teaching staff, families, etc. It is a very easy to use the tool, so it is available to anyone who wants to know and improve their cognitive status.

CogniFit’s cognitive assessment and training tools enable you to measure, activate, exercise, and strengthen important cognitive abilities (attention, memory, executive functions, planning, perception, etc.) and the more than 20 components that comprise them.

All CogniFit cognitive stimulation programs have been validated so that children, adolescents, adults, and seniors can evaluate, activate and strengthen their mental capacity and compare their cognitive state with the rest of the world’s population.

Damage to the cerebellum does not paralyze any muscle, but it has important consequences. Some of these are:

  • Ataxia: Ataxia is probably the most characteristic disorder derived from the alteration of the cerebellum. It consists of a movement disorder due to the inability to properly coordinate the different parts of the body involved. Errors of amplitude, speed, direction or force occur involuntary motor movements. Patients try to compensate for these errors, making coarse movements. Cerebellar ataxic gait is easily recognizable by uncoordinated and unbalanced walking. The problem is especially evident if the patient tries to walk with his or her eyes closed.
  • Cerebellar dysplasia: Characterized by a scandalized or explosive speech (speaks in a jerky manner, with different intensities, in a disharmonic manner).
  • Cerebellar nystagmus: It is an erratic, rapid and involuntary movement of the eyes.
  • Dysmetria: This is the inability to properly coordinate the movement of your limbs with the visual information you receive. If you try to touch your nose, you miss since the moment has passed.
  • Asynergy: The movements performed are carried out in a nonsynergistic way, that is, without coordination or harmony. The person tends to lose balance and adopt strange postures to compensate for this loss of balance.
  • Adiadochokinesia: The inability to predict the positions of body parts when movement is performed.
  • Intentional tremor: The tremor that occurs when a movement is made. Conversely, people with damage to the cerebellum do not usually have tremors at rest (being still).
  • Hypotonia: The muscles are flaccid, as they have a lower tone than normal. Because of this and lack of balance, patients with cerebellar damage tend to perform many limb movements. Coordination tests show rebound phenomenon.
  • Cognitive-affective cerebellar syndrome: When the cerebellum is affected, cognitive abilities and the control of related emotions are also altered, causing “inordinate thinking”. Cognitive abilities such as executive functions, attention, visual-spatial abilities, memory, language, or personality may undergo minor or severe changes.

Now that we know this, it is time to thank our cerebellum not only that we are able to walk, talk, type or dance in such a coordinated way, but also that it allows us to learn, structure the language correctly and plan our behaviors. In short, thank you for making it possible for us to live our daily lives with normality and harmony.

Anatomy: What are the cerebellum parts?

The cerebellum is a relatively large structure with a surface full of transverse grooves. According to these furrows, the Cerebellum is divided into the following lobes:

  • Anterior lobe (Spinocerebellum or Paleocerebellum): It connects to the spinal cord. It is in charge of muscle tone, trunk, and limb movement.
  • Posterior lobe (Brain cerebellum, Pontocerebellum or Neocerebellum): This is the portion of the cerebellum that is located near the Posterolateral Fissure. It takes care of voluntary movements and cognitive functions.
  • Flocculonodular lobe (Vestibulocerebellum or Archicerebellum): It is the portion of the cerebellum below the Posterolateral Gap. Connects with vestibular and reticular nuclei. It takes care of balance, body position, head displacement and eye movements.

What nuclei is the Cerebellum composed of? What are they for?

The nuclei are a set of neural bodies that work in a coordinated way to carry out a series of more or less specific functions. The most important nuclei are:

  • Nucleus fastigium (or of the roof). It receives the projections from the bark of the vermis.
  • Globose nucleus (back interposition). The cortex that remains between the vermis and the two cerebellar hemispheres (paravermis) is projected into this nucleus.
  • Emboliform nucleus. This nucleus also receives projections of the paravermis crust.
  • Dentate nuclei: It is divided into three parts. It receives afferent, or incoming, signals from the premotor cortex and supplementary motor cortex via the pontocerebellar system

Cerebellar connections

In order to perform all its functions correctly, the cerebellum establishes a large number of input and output connections with various areas of the nervous system. However, it is an “isolated” structure from the rest. The only gateway to and from the information is the cerebellar peduncles. The peduncles are a set of afferent and efferent fibers that, depending on their position, can be divided into three pairs:

  • Lower Cerebellar Peduncle: A set of fascicles that connect the spinal cord to the cerebellum and vice versa. It is mainly made up of afferent and some efferent fibers.
  • Middle cerebellar peduncle: A set of fascicles that connect the brainstem bridge with the cerebellum and vice versa. It consists almost exclusively of afferent fibers.
  • Upper cerebellar peduncle: A set of fascicles linking the midbrain to the cerebellum and vice versa. It is mainly made up of efferent fibers and some afferents.

In this way, the different connections of the cerebellum enter or exit through one or more of each pair of peduncles. If we look at what direction the information is going (if they enter or leave the Cerebellum), we distinguish between afferent and efferent, respectively. The afferent carry information from different parts of the body to the cerebellum. The main fascicles or tracts of afferent fibers are:

  • Vestibulocerebellar fascicule: vestibular system – PCI – flocculonodular lobe.
  • Spinocerebellar dorsal fascicule: Spinal cord – PCI – anterior lobe.
  • Spinocerebellar ventral fascicule: Spinal cord -PCI and PCS -anterior lobe.
  • Cuneocerebellar fascicule: Spinal bulb- PCI -anterior lobe.
  • Olivocerebellar fascicle: Spinal bulb- PCI- anterior lobe.
  • Reticulocerebellar fascicule: PCI and PCM-spinal lobe.
  • Tectocerebellar fascicule: Mesencephalon – PCS – anterior lobe.
  • Trigeminocerebellar fascicle: Mesencephalon – PCI and PCS -anterior lobe.
  • Rubrocerebellar fascicle: Mesencephalon – PCS – anterior lobe.
  • Corticoponticocerebellar fascicle: Cerebral cortex – PCM- posterior lobe.

On the other hand, the efferent refer to fibers that come out of the cerebellum and send information to other parts of the brain. The main efferent is:

  • Cerebelovestibular fascicule: flocculonodular lobe- PCI-  vestibular system.
  • Motor flocculo-occulomotor fascicle: flocculonodular lobe -PCS – motor-occulo-vein.
  • Cooked fascicule: flocculonodular lobe -PCI -vestibular system and oculomotor cores.
  • Intermediateolivary fascicle: anterior lobe – PCS- the inferior olive core of the spinal bulb.
  • Interproposedorreticular fascicle: anterior lobe – PCI – reticular formation.
  • Interproposedorubic fascicle: anterior lobe – PCS – Red nucleus – Cerebral cortex.
  • Interpostectal fascicule: anterior lobe – PCS -quadrigeminal tubers.
  • Dentadotalamic fascicle: posterior lobe- PCS – Thalamus.

This article is originally written in Spanish by David Asensio, translated by Alejandra Salazar. 

Hippocampus: the orchestra director in the deepest part of our brain

Hippocampus. Have you ever gone blank and forgotten what you were going to say? Our brain is full of important data and information that we have stored over the years. Sometimes we have so much information that we force our brain to get rid and ignore some data. The part of the brain in charge of such important functions as memory and learning is the hippocampus. Without this brain structure, we would lose the ability to remember and feel the emotions associated with memories. You want to know more? Keep reading!

Hippocampus

What is the Hippocampus?

The hippocampus is named after the anatomist Giulio Cesare Aranzio who in the 16th century observed that this brain structure bears a great resemblance to a seahorse.

The word hippocampus comes from the Greek Hippos (horse) and Kampe (crooked). In his discovery, this part of the brain was related to the sense of smell and he advocated the explanation that the hippocampus’ main function was to process the olfactory stimuli.

This explanation was defended until in 1890 when Vladimir Béjterev demonstrated the actual function of the hippocampus in relation to memory and cognitive processes. It is one of the most important parts of the human brain because it is closely related to memory functioning and emotions. It is a small organ located within the temporal lobe (approximately behind each temple), which communicates with different areas of the cerebral cortex in what is known as the “hippocampus system.” It is a small organ with an elongated and curved shape. Inside our brain, we have two hippocampi, one in each hemisphere (left and right).

The hippocampus is known as the main structure in memory processing.

Where is the Hippocampus?

It is very well located, connected to different regions of the brain. It is located in the middle temporal lobe.

The hippocampus along with other brain structures such as the amygdala and hypothalamus form the limbic system and are responsible for managing the most primitive physiological responses. They belong to the most “ancient, deep and primitive” part of the brain, in a part of the brain known as “archicortex” (the oldest region of the human brain) that appeared millions of years ago in our ancestors to meet their most basic needs.

The blue part is the hippocampus

What does the Hippocampus do?

Among its main functions are the mental processes related to memory consolidation and the learning process. As well as, processes associated with the regulation and production of emotional states and spatial perception. How does the brain learn?

Some research has also linked it to behavioral inhibition, but this information is still in the research phase as it is fairly recent.

Hippocampus and Memory

The hippocampus is primarily related to emotional memory and declarative memory. It allows us to identify faces, to describe different things and to associate the positive or negative feelings that we feel with the memories of the lived events.

It intervenes in forming both episodic and autobiographical memories from the experiences we are living. The brain needs to “make room” to be able to store all the information over the years and for this, it transfers the temporal memories to other areas of the brain where memory storage takes place in the long term.

In this way, older memories take longer to disappear. If the hippocampus were damaged, we would lose the ability to learn and the ability to retain information in memory. In addition to allowing the information to pass into long-term memory, it links the contents of the memory with positive or negative emotions that correspond depending on whether the memories are associated with good or bad experiences.

There are many types of memory: semantic memory, visual memory, working memory, implicit memory, etc. In the case of the hippocampus, it intervenes specifically in declarative memory (it covers our personal experiences and the knowledge we have about the world), managing the contents that can be expressed verbally. The different types of memory are not governed solely by the hippocampus but are formed by other brain regions. It does not take care of all the processes related to memory loss but it covers a good part of them.

Hippocampus and Learning

It allows learning and retention of information since it is one of the few areas of the brain that have neurogenesis throughout life.

That is, it has the ability to generate new neurons and new connections between neurons throughout the life cycle. Learning is acquired gradually after many efforts and this is directly related to it. For new information to be consolidated in our brains, it is vitally important that new connections are formed between neurons. That is why the hippocampus has a fundamental role in learning.

Curiosity: Is it true that the hippocampus of London taxi drivers is bigger or more developed? Why? London taxi drivers must pass a hard memory test where they must memorize a myriad of streets and places to get the license. In the year 2000, Maguire studied London taxi drivers and observed that the posterior hippocampus was greater. He also noted that the size was directly proportional to the time the taxi drivers were working. This is because of the effect of training, learning and experience changes and shapes the brain.

Spatial perception and its relationship with the hippocampus

Another important function in which the hippocampus stands out is the spatial orientation, where it plays a very important role.

Spatial perception helps us to keep our mind and body in a three-dimensional space. It allows us to move and helps us interact with the world around us.

There have been different studies with mice where it is stated that it is an area of vital importance for orientation capacity and spatial memory.

Thanks to its correct functioning, we are capable of performing acts such as guiding us through cities we do not know, etc. However, the data concerning people are much more limited and more research is needed.

What happens when the hippocampus is disturbed?

An injury to the hippocampus can mean problems generating new memories. An brain injury can cause anterograde amnesia, affecting specific memories but leaving intact learning skills or abilities.

Lesions can cause anterograde or retrograde amnesia. Non-declarative memory would remain intact and uninjured. For example, a person with a hippocampal injury may learn to ride a bicycle after the injury, but he would not remember ever seeing a bicycle. That is, a person with the damaged hippocampus can continue to learn skills but not remember the process.

Anterograde amnesia is memory loss that affects events occurring after the injury. Retrograde amnesia, on the other hand, affects the forgetfulness generated before the injury.

At this point, you will wonder why the hippocampus is damaged when there are cases of amnesia. It is simple, this part of the brain acts as a gateway to brain patterns that sporadically retain events until they pass to the frontal lobe. One could say that the hippocampus is key to memory consolidation, transforming short-term memory into long-term memory. If this access door is damaged and you can’t save the information, it won’t be possible to produce longer-term memories. In addition to losing the ability to remember, when injuries or damage to the hippocampus occurs, you may lose the ability to feel the emotions associated with such memories, since you would not be able to relate the memories to the emotions that evoke it.

Why can the Hippocampus be damaged?

Most of the alterations that may occur in the hippocampus are produced as a result of aging and neurodegenerative diseases, stress, stroke, epilepsy, aneurysms, encephalitis, schizophrenia.

Aging and dementias

In aging in general and dementias such as Alzheimer’s disease in particular, the hippocampus is one of the areas that has previously been damaged, impairing the ability to form new memories or the ability to recall more or less recent autobiographical information. Memory problems, in this case, are associated with the death of hippocampal neurons.

Most of us know of someone who has suffered or suffers from some kind of dementia and has experienced memory loss. It is curious how the memories that remain are childhood memories or the oldest memories. You may wonder why this happens if the hippocampus is supposed to be damaged.

Well, although it is severely damaged (whether by dementia or any other type of illness), the most common memories are the oldest and they are also the most relevant to the life of the person. This is because over time these memories have been “becoming independent” of the hippocampus to be part of other structures related to long-term memory.

Hippocampus and stress

This region of the brain is very vulnerable to periods of stress because it inhibits and atrophies the neurons of this structure.

Have you noticed that when we are very stressed and we have a billion things to do sometimes we feel forgetful?

Stress and specifically cortisol (a type of hormone that is released in response to stressful moments) damage our brain structures sometimes causing neuronal death. That is why it is fundamental that we learn to remain calm and manage our emotions to get our hippocampus to remain strong and continue to exercise their functions optimally.

To know more watch the following video.

If you like this super interesting subject about memory, I recommend you watch the movie “Memento”. I’ll leave the trailer here so you can see what it’s about.

If you liked this post, leave your comment below. I will be happy to read it and answer your questions :).

This article is originally in Spanish written by Mairena Vázquez, translated by Alejandra Salazar.

Synapses: How Your Brain Communicates

A synapse is the space between two neurons which allows for neural communication, or synaptic transmission. Synapses are found throughout the body, not just located in the brain. They project onto muscles to allow muscle contraction, as well as enable a multitude of other functions that the nervous system covers.

It might be helpful to familiarize yourself with neuron cell body and structure and function when understanding the synapse!

Synapses

Parts of a Synapse

As a synapse is the gap in between two neurons, we need to establish which neuron sends out the signals and which neuron receives those signals.

Parts of a Synapse: The Role of the Presynaptic Neuron

The presynaptic neuron is the neuron that initiates the signal. At many synapses in the body, presynaptic neurons are vesicles filled with neurotransmitters. When the presynaptic neuron is excited by an action potential, the electrical signal propagates along its axon towards the axon terminal. This excitation signals the vesicles in the presynaptic neuron, filled with neurotransmitters, to fuse with the membrane of the axon terminal. This fusion allows for the neurotransmitters to be dumped into the synaptic cleft.

Once the neurotransmitters are released, they can act on receptors on the postsynaptic neuron.

Types of neurotransmitters

Parts of a Synapse: The Role of the Postsynaptic Neuron

The postsynaptic neuron is the neuron that receives the signal. These signals are received by the neuron’s dendrites. When there are neurotransmitters present in the synapse, they travel across the gap in order to bind to receptors on the postsynaptic neuron. When a neurotransmitter binds to a receptor on the postsynaptic neuron’s dendrite, it can trigger an action potential. That action potential can then be propagated and influence further communication.

Where Are Synapses Located in the Brain?

Synapses are found throughout the nervous system. They allow for complex thought, coordinated movement, and most of our basic functions. Synapses are located in the brain and spinal cord, which make up the central nervous system, and the peripheral nervous system, which includes neural projections onto muscle cells.

The Neuromuscular Junction

A good example of the location of synapses in the body is the neuromuscular junction. A neuromuscular junction is made up of a motor neuron and a muscle fiber, which is part of the peripheral nervous system. In this case, there is no postsynaptic neuron, but the muscle fiber has a specialized area that acts synonymously to how a postsynaptic neuron would respond. This area is called the motor end plate and has receptors that bind with the neurotransmitters released into the synapse.

In a neuromuscular junction, presynaptic neurons release acetylcholine as the neurotransmitter. At the neuromuscular junction, acetylcholine excites the muscle fiber and causes muscle contraction.

The presynaptic neuron in the neuromuscular junction needed to be told to release acetylcholine into the synapse. This doesn’t occur through the neuron’s own volition, but rather through a series of other neurons communicating with each other through synapses.

What do Synapses do?

It has been established that synapses are important in neural communication, but what do synapses actually do? How do they really allow for neural communication, and who starts the conversation?

When introducing the role of the presynaptic neuron above, the excitative qualities of an action potential were mentioned. Action potentials are the way that neurons can send information they receive down their axons and, hopefully, initiate the continuation of the signal to another neuron. These action potentials are created by a depolarizing current.

Action potentials allow for electrical signals to be sent down a neuron’s axon, and then the signal can be transmitted to the other neurons by a synapse. As stated before by introducing the role of the presynaptic neuron, neurotransmitters are released into the synapse in order for the signal to be transmitted to the next neuron. The chemical release is then received by the postsynaptic neuron and then converted back into an electrical signal in order to reach other neurons.

Although, not all synapses function on chemical or neurotransmitter release. Many synapses in the brain are purely electrical.

Types of Synapses

In the nervous system there are two main types of synapses: chemical synapses and electrical synapses. Thus far, for simplicity and understanding the basics of how a synapse functions only chemical synapses have been discussed. This poses the question: why does the nervous system need two types of synapses?

Types of Synapses: Chemical Synapses

Chemical synapses are any type of synapse that uses neurotransmitters in order to conduct an impulse over the small gap in between the presynaptic and postsynaptic neurons. These types of synapses are not in physical contact with each other. Since the transmission of a signal depends on the release of chemicals, a signal can only flow in one direction. This direction is downward from presynaptic to the postsynaptic neuron. As previously stated, these types of neurons are widely spread throughout the body.

The chemicals released in these types of synapses ways excite the following neuron. The neurotransmitters can bind to the receptors on the postsynaptic neuron and have an inhibitory effect as well. When inhibition occurs, signal propagation is prevented from traveling to other neurons.

Chemical synapses are the most abundant type of synapse in the body. This is because various neurotransmitters and receptors are able to interpret signals in a large combination. For instance, a neurotransmitter and receptor combination may inhibit a signal on one postsynaptic neuron, but excite a large amount of other postsynaptic neurons. Chemical synapses allow for flexibility of signaling that makes it possible for humans to engage in high-level tasks. However, this flexibility comes at a cost. Chemical synapses have a delay due to the need for the neurotransmitter to diffuse across the synapse and bind to the postsynaptic neuron. This delay is very small but still is an important point when comparing the two types of synapses.

Types of Synapses: Electrical Synapses

Synapses

Electrical synapses are types of synapses that use electricity to conduct impulses from one neuron to the other. These synapses are in direct contact with each other through gap junctions. Gap junctions are low resistance bridges that make it possible for the continuation of an action potential to travel from a presynaptic neuron to a postsynaptic neuron.

Due to their physical contact, electrical synapses are able to send signals in both directions, unlike chemical synapses. Their physical contact and the use of sole electricity make it possible for electrical synapses to work extremely fast. Transmission is also simple and efficient at electrical synapses because the signal does not need to be converted.

Another key difference between chemical and electrical synapses is that electrical synapses can only be excitatory. Being excitatory means that an electrical synapse can only increase a neuron’s probability of firing an action potential. As opposed to being inhibitory, which means that it decreases a neuron’s probability of firing an action potential. This can only be done by neurotransmitters.

Despite being extremely fast, these types of excitatory signals can not be carried over great lengths. Electrical synapses are mainly concentrated in specialized brain areas where there is a need for very fast action.

The best example of this is the large amount of electrical synapses in the retina, the part of the eye that receives light. Vision and visual perception are our dominant senses, and our eyes are constantly receiving visual sensory information. This information also runs on a feedback loop when we interact with our environment, which means that we receive information from our surroundings and immediately create an appropriate response to it. This is why it makes sense that electrical synapses are seen in a large concentration here. The fast action, multiple directions, and efficiently all allow for prime functionality.

Synapses in Neuroscience

Understanding synapses allow neuroscientists to further understand how communication within the brain works. This is extremely important when trying to decipher causes, and eventually, develop treatments for neurological diseases and disorders.

Knowing about synapse function is not just beneficial to neuroscientists, it is beneficial for anyone with a brain! Increased synaptic density can improve the quality of life for anyone, it is essentially a tactic for making your brain work smarter.

Natural Ways to Improve Your Synapses

1. Reduce Stress

Too much stress, as well as long periods of stress, can have harmful impacts on the body, especially the brain and nervous system. By reducing stress, you are reducing the amount of cortisol that is circulating throughout your body. Cortisol is important if you need to outrun a bear, but elevated levels in your daily life can damage chemical synapses all over the body. Stress and aging are also closely related, so controlling your stress levels may help you prevent early aging.

Chemical synapses are susceptible to desensitization, which will occur is abnormally high concentrations of a neural transmitter are fighting to stimulate a neuron.

2. Stimulate Your Brain With CogniFit Brain Games and Cognitive Assessments

It is important, at any stage in life, to keep your brain stimulated. Our synapses play an important role in keeping our brains healthy and helping them improve over time, rather than fall victim to the natural cognitive decline that occurs as we age. With the consistent training and challenging of the brain, the synapses work to perform better and more efficiently, ultimately making it possible to improve the cognitive function that may have seemed lost. This is the idea behind brain or neuroplasticity and is the basis of CogniFit’s program.

CogniFit’s  brain training system works by adapting the games and tasks to each user’s cognitive level, ensuring that the brain, its neurons, and all of the synapses involved are being trained and challenged as efficiently as possible.

3. Exercise

Exercise is very important in keeping the brain healthy. People often get frustrated within the first few weeks of a new workout regime when physical changes are not yet visible. It turns out that the first changes of regular exercise are actually neurological, starting in the brain. Exercising promotes brain growth by increasing oxygen levels in the brain. Brain growth first starts at the synaptic level. Read more about the benefits of exercise on the brain!

Your Synapses

Hopefully, now that you’re familiar with the basic structure, ins and outs, functions, and types of synapses in the brain you can think about what is happening on a microscopic level to ensure your body is functioning at top notch. Small improvements on the synapse level can have a large effect on your overall health.

Test Yourself!

1. What is a presynaptic neuron?
2. What is a postsynaptic neuron?
3. What is one difference between an electrical and chemical synapse

Hypothalamus: the importance of hormones in the brain

What is the hypothalamus? Let’s start by painting a picture: Your stomach starts churning. It’s been hours since you last ate and you can feel the hunger intensely. You start craving every food available and it starts to become difficult to concentrate. The only thing you can think about is food and it becomes too uncomfortable to bear so you decide to eat. Does this sound familiar?

If you want to learn in depth about the hypothalamus don’t miss “the extend further” section at the end of this article!

The responsible of this whole process is the hypothalamus, a small sub-cortical structure located in the center of the brain. Being only the size of a pea, the hypothalamus is in charge of regulating different functions that are essential to our day to day life, such as eating and homeostasis. If it weren’t for the hypothalamus, we wouldn’t know when we needed to eat and we would end up dying of hunger.

It modules the food intake by increasing or decreasing hunger and satiation awareness. – Ali Inay on Unsplash

What is the Hypothalamus?

The hypothalamus and the thalamus are part of the diencephalon. They are part of the limbic system and contain the main diversity in neurons of the whole brain. It’s in charge of the autonomic nervous system and the endocrine system. It’s an endocrine gland that releases hormones in charge of modulating behaviors relating to species maintenance. It also regulates hormone secretion of the hypophysis (pituitary gland) with whom it shares the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. It’s made of two different secreting neurons: The parvocellular (who secrete peptidic hormones) and the magnocellular (which secrete neurohypophysial hormones).

Where is the Hypothalamus located?

Having a perfect spot in the brain is important. It is located in a brain part just beneath the thalamus (from there the name) and right above the brainstem. It connects with the hypophysis through the pituitary stalk. The hypothalamus central position allows it to communicate perfectly, receiving information from different body structures and sending information to others.

What does the Hypothalamus do? How does it keep us alive?

Its functions are essential to our daily life. It is responsible for maintaining the body’s systems, including body temperature, body weight, sleep, mating, levels of aggression and even emotional regulation. Most of these functions are regulated by a chain of hormones that inhibit or release between themselves.

  • Hunger: when our body detects that we have don’t have enough energy saved, it sends Ghrelin (hunger hormone) to the hypothalamus, telling us we need to eat. It then releases a neuropeptide that produces the hunger feeling in our body. In the painted picture above our body is producing so many neuropeptides that we feel overwhelmed by hunger.
  • Satiation: when we have eaten enough, our body has to tell our brain that we don’t need any more food and that we need to stop eating. While we are eating our body produces insulin which in turn increases the production of a hormone called Leptin. Leptin travels through our blood until it reaches the ventromedial nucleus of the hypothalamus. This inhibits the production of neuropeptides, therefore, stopping the hunger sensation.
  • Thirstiness: Similar to hunger, when the body is thirsty it releases an antidiuretic hormone (vasopressin) that allows for the body not to lose water and stimulate drinking more.
  • Temperature: The blood temperature when it arrives at the hypothalamus will determine if we need to reduce or increment our body temperature. If the temperature is too high, we need to lose heat, therefore, the anterior portion with inhibit the posterior, producing certain events such as sweating, in order to lower heat. On the other hand, when the temperature is too low, the posterior portion will inhibit the anterior. This will enable the release of a thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) and the adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), both helping heat conservation.
  • Sleep: The reason why it’s so difficult to sleep with the light on is because of the hypothalamus. The sleep cycle is regulated by circadian rhythms, which in turn are managed by a set of neurons in the medial hypothalamus called the suprachiasmatic nucleus. This nucleus receives information from ganglion cells in the retina through the optic nerve tract. This way the retina is capable of detecting a change in lighting and sends the information back to the hypothalamus. The set of neurons process the information and then it is sent to the pineal gland. If there is no light, the pineal gland will secrete melatonin (sleep hormone). If there is light, the gland reduces melatonin levels which promotes wakefulness.
  • Mating and Aggression: Even though these behaviors are opposites they are highly related in the animal world and are also regulated by the hypothalamus. Some neurons are stimulated when there is mating behavior present while others when there is aggression. However, there are other neurons that happen to respond to both scenarios. The amygdala sends in information related to the aggressive area in the hypothalamus so that it can release important and pertinent hormones depending on the situation.
  • Emotions: when we experience an emotion this comes with many physiological changes. For example, when walking in a dark alley by yourself the natural response is to feel fear. Therefore the body has to prepare to respond appropriately given the circumstance. So, the hypothalamus sends information to the different parts of the body (increasing our breathing rate, contraction of the blood vessels, pupil dilation and muscle contraction). This way, the hypothalamus allows us to detect threats and run if necessary away from it. That being so, it enables the physical response to the emotion.

What relationship does the hypothalamus have with love?

One of the most important brain functions is processing emotions. These emotions are processed in the limbic system. The hypothalamus is a big part of this system since it’s in charge of letting the whole body know what emotion the brain is feeling. How emotions work in the brain is a complex task, nevertheless, the hypothalamus is responsible for how we feel love. The hypothalamus produces phenylethylamine, a type of neurotransmitter with similar effects to amphetamines. This is the reason why when we fall in love we feel happy and euphoric. This neurotransmitter also leads to an increase in adrenaline and noradrenaline, which rises the heartbeat, oxygen levels and blood pressure (triggering the sensation of your “heart skipping a beat”).

On the other hand, the brain also produces dopamine and serotonin, which allows us to focus our attention on the person that makes us feel these emotions and regulate our emotions accordingly. Consequently, the hypothalamus is very important since without it, we wouldn’t be able to fall in love.

Without the it, we wouldn’t be capable of falling in love.

What link is there between the hypothalamus and the hypophysis (pituitary gland)?

The hypothalamus regulates the emission of hormones from the hypophysis. The hypophysis is also an endocrine gland and its under the hypothalamus, protected by the sella turcica (bone structure in the base of the cranium). The pituitary gland function is to secrete hormones, under the hypothalamus command, through the blood that our body needs to maintain homeostasis (level our temperature or balance different hormones). Their relationship is so close that they form the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and they couldn’t work separately. The hypophysis allows for the hypothalamus to extends its effects to the rest of the body.

What happens when the hypothalamus is disturbed? In what disorders o diseases is the hypothalamus involved?

Given the relevance of the hypothalamus, an injury in any of the hypothalamus’ nuclei can be fatal. For example, if the satiation center is damaged (not being capable of being satiated), we wouldn’t stop eating and therefore eat non-stop with a high risk to what this conveys. Some of the most frequent pathologies are:

  • Diabetes insipidus: It is when the supraoptic, paraventricular and the supraoptic hypophysial fasciculus nuclei are injured. Due to low production of ADH, there is more liquid intake and more urine output.
  • Injury in the caudolateral hypothalamus: If this region is damaged all sympathetic activity of the nervous system will diminish including body temperature.
  • Injury in the medial hypothalamus: all parasympathetic activity of the nervous system will be damaged but the body temperature will rise.
  • Korsakoff Syndrome: with the mammillary nucleus (related to the hippocampus) altered, there will be anterograde amnesia, the person will have difficulty remembering new information in long-term memory. Since remembering is difficult, people with this syndrome tend to use fabrications to fill the gaps. This disorder is usually associated with chronic alcoholism it can also happen as an alteration in the mammillary tubers and their connections.

To extend further…

What hormones are produced in the hypothalamus?

The hypothalamus function is through hormone release. Some of the hormones are:

  • Neurohormones: Antidiuretic hormone and oxytocin.
  • Hypothalamic factors: The hypothalamus uses corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH or corticoliberin), thyrotropin-releasing hormone (TRH), gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH or gonadoliberin), growth hormone–releasing hormone (GHRH or somatoliberin).

Of what nuclei is the hypothalamus made of and what is their purpose?

Each nuclei has a main purpose:

  • Arcuate nucleus: it’s part of the emotional function of the hypothalamus. Its endocrine function consists of synthesizing hypothalamic peptides and neurotransmitters. In charge of liberating the gonadotropin hormone.
  • Anterior hypothalamic nucleus: it’s in charge of releasing the heat when sweating. It’s also in charge of liberating thyrotropin in the hypophysis.
  • Posterior hypothalamic nucleus: Its function is to keep the heat inside the body when it’s cold.
  • Lateral hypothalamic nucleus: it regulates thirst and hunger. When it detects a lack of sugar or water it tries to find homeostasis.
  • Mammillary nucleus: given its connections with the hippocampus, it’s related to the memory.
  • Paraventricular hypothalamic nucleus: It regulates hormone release from the hypophysis (oxytocin, vasopressin, and corticotropin).
  • Preoptic Nucleus: it influences functions such as nutrition, locomotion, and mating.
  • Supraoptic nucleus: It regulates arterial pressure and liquid equilibrium through the antidiuretic hormone.
  • Suprachiasmatic nucleus: In charge of hormones relating to circadian rhythms.
  • Ventromedial nucleus: its role consists of regulating satiation.

From where does the hypothalamus receive information? Where does it send it?

The hypothalamus has great different connections due to the brain area where it’s located. On one side, it receives information from other structures (afferent) and then sends information to other parts of the brain (efferent).

Afferents

  • Reticular cephalic flexure: From the cephalic flexure to the lateral mammillary nucleus.
  • Median prosencephalic fasciculus: from the olfactory region, septal nuclei and amygdala region to the preoptic lateral and lateral hypothalamus.
  • Stria terminalis: from the hippocampus to the septum and mammillary nucleus.
  • Precommissural fornix fibers: connect with the dorsal hypothalamic area, septal nuclei and preoptic lateral nucleus.
  • Postcommissural fornix fibers: takes the information to the medial mammillary nucleus.
  • Retinohypothalamic fibers: Take information from the amount of light in the retina and sends it to the suprachiasmatic nucleus for circadian rhythm regulation.
  • Cortical projections: receives information from the cerebral cortex and sends it to the hypothalamus.

Efferents

  • Dorsal longitudinal fasciculus: from the medial and periventricular regions of the hypothalamus to the grey matter.
  • Mammillary efferent fibers: From the medial mammillary nucleus to the anterior thalamic nuclei, and also from the mesencephalon to the ventral nuclei.
  • Supraoptic nucleus: from the supraoptic nuclei to the posterior lobe of the hypophysis.
  • Tuberohypophyseal: from the nuclei arcuati to the infundibular stalk.
  • Descendent projections to the brainstem and spinal cord: from the paraventricular nucleus to the solitary nucleus and the ventrolateral regions of the medulla oblongata.
  • Efferent projections to the suprachiasmatic nucleus: it connects directly with the pineal gland.

Questions? Leave a comment below 🙂

This article was originally written in Spanish by David Asensio Benito, translated by Alejandra Salazar.

3 Main Parts of the 3 Pound Human Brain

3 Main Parts of the 3 Pound Human Brain

3 Main Parts of the 3 Pound Human Brain

The brain is a powerful and vital organ that is essential to
being alive. With that said, it would not hurt to have knowledge of the main
parts of the brain and their functions. Basically, the brain has 3 parts: the cerebrum, the cerebellum and the brain
stem. Each of these parts provides different functions for the brain, and we
cannot survive without them.

1. Cerebrum: also called cortex is by far the largest
portion of the brain, and weighs about two pounds. For the record, the entire
brain weighs three pounds. The cerebrum is home to billions and billions of
neurons. These neurons control virtually everything we do. It controls our
movements, thoughts and even our senses. Since the cerebrum has so many functions,
if it’s damaged, there are many different consequences.

The cerebrum consists of four different lobes that control
all of our movements. The four lobes include: the frontal lobe, parietal lobe,
temporal lobe and the occipital lobe. The frontal lobe controls our emotions,
judging and planning skills. The parietal lobe controls our senses such as
taste, temperature and pain. The temporal lobe controls our auditory processes
and hearing. The occipital lobe controls our vision.

Lastly, the cerebrum consists of two layers: the cerebral
cortex, which controls our coordination and personality, and the white matter
of the brain, which allows the brain to communicate.

2. Cerebellum: from Latin “little brain”, the cerebellum is
a two-hemisphere structure located just below the rear part of the cerebrum,
right behind the brain stem. Representing about 11 percent of the brain’s
weight, it is a deeply folded and highly organized structure containing more
neurons than all of the rest of the brain put together. The surface area of the
entire cerebellum is about the same as that of one of the cerebral hemispheres.

The cerebellum is the second largest part of the brain, and
it plays a significant role for our motor
skills. It is located at the base of the brain, and damage to it can
lead to decline in your motor skills. Besides motor control, the cerebellum has
other different functions. One function that it has is to maintain our balance
and posture. Another major function of the cerebellum is that it helps control
the timing and force of various muscles. Motor learning is another function of
the cerebellum, and it has the biggest impact on skills that require trial and
error. Even though it is mostly associated with motor control, the cerebellum
has some control of our cognitive functions, such as language.

3. Brain Stem: The brainstem is the smallest part of the
brain, sits beneath your cerebrum in front of your cerebellum, and it connects
the cerebrum to the spinal cord. Parts of the brainstem include: the midbrain,
medulla oblongata and the pons.

The brain stem is the oldest and deepest area of the brain.
It is often referred to as the reptilian brain because it resembles the entire
brain of a reptile.

Even though the brainstem is small, it controls many
important functions in our bodies. Some functions of the brainstem include:
breathing, arousal, awareness, blood pressure, heart rate and digestion. It
also controls our sleep patterns, body temperature, heart rhythms and even our
hunger and thirst. In addition, it regulates the central nervous system.
Lastly, the brainstem is where information is sent between the cerebrum and
cerebellum.

Learn more about Brain Parts and What They Do.

Brain changes in kids learning math

Brain changes in kids learning math

Many kids ask their math teacher why learning a particular mathematical concept or skill is important. When helping kids out with their homework, many parents may wonder the same thing. Now scientists are unraveling the earliest building blocks of math — and what children know about numbers as they begin elementary school seems to play a big role in how well they do everyday calculations later on.

The findings from the National Institutes of Health have specialists considering steps that parents might take to spur math abilities, just like they do to try to raise a good reader. This is not only about trying to improve the nation’s math scores and attract kids to become engineers. It is far more basic, such as how rapidly can you calculate a tip? Do the fractions to double a recipe? Know how many quarters and dimes the cashier should hand back as your change?

About 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. lacks the math competence expected of a middle-schooler, meaning they have trouble with those ordinary tasks and are not qualified for many of today’s jobs. “Experience really does matter,” said Dr. Kathy Mann Koepke of the National Institutes of Health, which funded the research.

Healthy children start making that switch between counting to what is called fact retrieval when they are 8 years old to 9 years old, when they are still working on fundamental addition and subtraction. How well kids make that shift to memory-based problem-solving is known to predict their ultimate math achievement. Those who fall behind “are impairing or slowing down their math learning later on,” Mann Koepke says.

But why do some kids make the transition easier than others? To start finding out, Stanford University researchers first peeked into the brains of 28 children as they solved a series of simple addition problems inside a brain-scanning MRI machine.

Kids from seven to nine years old saw a calculation flash on a screen (e.g. 3+4=7) and pushed a button to say if the answer was right or wrong. Scientists recorded how quickly they responded and what regions of their brain became active as they did.

In a separate session, they also tested the kids face to face, watching if they moved their lips or counted on their fingers, for comparison with the brain data. The children were tested twice, approximately a year apart. As the children grew up, their answers relied more on memory and became faster and more accurate, and it showed in the brain. There was less activity in the prefrontal and parietal brain parts associated with counting and more in the hippocampus.

Next, the team put 20 adolescents and 20 adults into the MRI machines and gave them the same simple addition problems. It turns out that adults do not use their memory-crunching hippocampus in the same way. Instead of using a lot of effort, retrieving six plus four equals 10 from long-term storage was almost automatic, the team said.

In other words, over time the brain became increasingly efficient at retrieving facts. Think of it like a bumpy, grassy field, NIH’s Mann Koepke explains. Walk over the same spot enough and a smooth, grass-free path forms, making it easier to get from start to end.

If your brain does not have to work as hard on simple math, it has more working memory free to process the teacher’s brand-new lesson on more complex math.

While schools tend to focus on math problems around third grade, and math learning disabilities often are diagnosed by fifth grade, the new findings suggest “the need to intervene is much earlier than we ever used to think,” Mann Koepke adds and even offers some tips:

Don’t teach your toddler to count solely by reciting numbers. Attach numbers to a noun — “Here are five crayons: One crayon, two crayons…” or say “I need to buy two yogurts” as you pick them from the store shelf — so they’ll absorb the quantity concept.

Talk about distance: How many steps to your ball? The swing is farther away; it takes more steps.

Describe shapes: The ellipse is round like a circle but flatter.

As they grow, show children how math is part of daily life, as you make change, or measure ingredients, or decide how soon to leave for a destination 10 miles away,

“We should be talking to our children about magnitude, numbers, distance, shapes as soon as they’re born,” she contends. “More than likely, this is a positive influence on their brain function.”

CogniFit offers you an online platform to assess and train the cognitive abilities of children such as their concentration, memory and attention: CogniFit for Families. CogniFit personalized brain training program helps boost reading skills and cognitive functions. The program also includes a specific training for mental arithmetic.

A long childhood feeds the energy-hungry human brain

A long childhood feeds the energy-hungry human brain

Humans are late bloomers when compared with other primates. For example, they spend almost twice as long in childhood and adolescence as chimps, gibbons, or macaques do. Researchers claim to have found out why human children grow slowly and childhood lasts so long in a new study.

The study led by anthropologists at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) on August 25th 2014, shows that a child’s brain is “an energy monster,” consuming twice as much glucose, the energy that fuels the brain, as that of a full-grown adult.

Horses are up and running soon after birth and thoroughbreds are racing by age two. Chimps are adults at between 12 and 15 years. But human toddlers seem to grow particularly slowly and researchers believe this is because the brain claims most of the calories consumed.

“Our findings suggest that our bodies can’t afford to grow faster during the toddler and childhood years because a huge quantity of resources is required to fuel the developing human brain,” said Prof. Christopher Kuzawa a professor of anthropology at Northwestern University’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. “As humans we have so much to learn, and that learning requires a complex and energy-hungry brain,” he added.

First, the researchers used a 1987 study of PET scans of 36 people between infancy and 30 years of age to estimate age trends in glucose uptake by three major sections of the brain parts. Then, to calculate how uptake varied for the entire brain, they combined that data with the brain volumes and ages of more than 400 individuals between 4.5 years of age and adulthood, gathered from a National Institutes of Health study and others. Finally, to link age and brain glucose uptake to body size, they used an age series of brain and body weights of more than 1000 individuals from birth to adulthood, gathered in 1978.

Kuzawa found that when the brain demands lots of energy, body growth slows. For example, the period of highest brain glucose uptake, between 4.5 and 5 years of age, coincides with the period of lowest weight gain. This strongly suggested that the brain’s high energy needs during childhood are compensated for by slower growth.

However, the costs of the human cognitive development are still unknown. “The mid-childhood peak in brain costs has to do with the fact that synapses, connections in the brain, max out at this age, when we learn so many of the things we need to know to be successful humans,” said Kuzawa.

“To compensate for these heavy energy demands of our big brains, children grow more slowly and are less physically active during this age range,” said co-author William Leonard of the Northwestern University.

“Our findings strongly suggest that humans evolved to grow slowly during this time in order to free up fuel for our expensive, busy childhood brains,” Leonard added.

Help your child’s brain today thanks to CogniFit’s scientifically validated personalized brain fitness program. Not only can children enjoy fun and engaging video games, they are actually training their brains with scientifically validated tasks. Go to CogniFit for Families now and register your child.

Babies’ brains rehearse speech mechanics months before their first words

Babies’ brains rehearse speech mechanics months before their first words

Babies’ brains rehearse speech mechanics months before their first words

Baby sounds are cute and funny, but they also represent important developmental milestones in speech, motor, social and cognitive development. A new study shows that despite the lack of comprehension indicated by all that incoherent babbling, when infants of a certain age hear speech their brains kick into gear to try to figure out the mechanics of how to talk.

The study by the University of Washington researchers and published on July 14th, 2014 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests that baby brains start laying down the groundwork of how to form words long before they actually begin to speak, and this may affect the developmental transition.

“Most babies babble by 7 months, but don’t utter their first words until after their first birthdays,” said lead author Patricia Kuhl, who is the co-director of the UW’s Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences. “Finding activation in motor areas of the brain when infants are simply listening is significant, because it means the baby brain is engaged in trying to talk back right from the start and suggests that 7-month-olds’ brains are already trying to figure out how to make the right movements that will produce words.”

In the experiment, researchers recruited 57 babies who were 7 months old and 11 months old then put them in a scanner to measure brain activation through a noninvasive technique called magnetoencephalography. Each baby listened to a series of native and foreign language syllables such as “da” and “ta” as researchers recorded brain responses. They listened to sounds from English and Spanish.

Researchers observed brain activity in an auditory part of the brain called the superior temporal gyrus, as well as in Broca’s area and the cerebellum, cortical regions responsible for planning the motor movements required for producing speech.

This pattern of brain activation occurred for sounds in the 7-month-olds’ native language (English) as well as in a non-native language (Spanish), showing that at this early age infants are responding to all speech sounds, whether or not they have heard the sounds before.

In the older infants, brain activation was different. By 11-12 months, infants’ brains increase motor activation to the non-native speech sounds relative to native speech, which the researchers interpret as showing that it takes more effort for the baby brain to predict which movements create non-native speech.

This reflects an effect of experience between 7 and 11 months, and suggests that activation in motor brain parts is contributing to the transition in early speech perception. However, it’s been unclear how this transition occurs.

“Infants’ brains are preparing them to act on the world by practicing how to speak before they actually say a word,” said Kuhl.

These results also emphasize the importance of talking to kids during social interactions even if they aren’t talking back yet.

“‘Parentese’ is very exaggerated and when infants hear it, their brains may find it easier to model the motor movements necessary to speak,” Kuhl said.

Brain region associated with selfishness

Brain region associated with selfishness

Brain region associated with selfishness.

People with damage to a specific part of the brain entrusted unexpectedly large amounts of money to complete strangers. In an investment game played in the lab, three women with damage to a small part of the brain called the basolateral amygdala handed over nearly twice as much money as healthy people.

The results suggest that normally, the basolateral amygdala enables selfishness — putting the squeeze on generosity.

Electric stimulation of brain releases powerful, opiate-like painkiller

Electric stimulation of brain releases powerful, opiate-like painkiller.

Researchers used electricity on certain brain parts of a patient with chronic, severe facial pain to release an opiate-like substance that’s considered one of the body’s most powerful painkillers.

The findings expand on previous work done at the University of Michigan, Harvard University and the City University of New York where researchers delivered electricity through sensors on the skulls of chronic migraine patients, and found a decrease in the intensity and pain of their headache attacks. However, the researchers then couldn’t completely explain how or why. The current findings help explain what happens in the brain that decreases pain during the brief sessions of electricity.